Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Transparency: sense and nonsense

Every breakthrough in communications was misused, before it gradually made us better. The printing press horribly exacerbated Europe’s religious wars. Radio and loudspeakers amplified the voices of demagogues and helped make the 1930s-40s hell on Earth. But eventually each new tech does expand what people can know and feel and understand.

Concerned about the malignant effects of social media?  Watch this video.  Of course it is 90% public relations. Still, I consulted with Facebook a year ago about the problems of misinformation and “echo chambers” on the web and social media, and I’m pleased they are implementing some of my suggestions, though it will be far from enough. As predicted in my 1989 novel EARTH (it had web pages), these poisonous effects will grow and expand before our more mature angels lead us back to amiably and positively argumentative citizenship.  

In the same theme: 3,517 Facebook ads were bought by Russians. Their dominant strategy: Sowing racial discord. Often taking both sides of the argument, as in vaccination, in order to sic Americans against each other.

Still, be pragmatic. You could be one of those people who actually sets your settings for privacy.  This article shows how.

== A ‘landmark’? ==

This is an important ruling and a minor victory for liberty -- but hardly a "landmark." 'A U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued Friday barred police from accessing cellphone records such as call listings and location data without first obtaining a search warrant.' It sounds marvelous right? But all such restrictions on the ability of elites to see will prove ephemeral. Accelerating tech ensures that any "walls" you erect will become transparent or useless across the following decade. Please, name one counter-example? Those who tried to ban face-recognition systems learned that the ability is proliferating into scads of apps.

There was a recent "landmark" -- in 2013, the best year for civil liberties in this century, so far -- when both the U.S. courts (Glik v Cunniffe) and the Obama Administration declared it to be "settled law" that a citizen has the right to record his or her interactions with police in public places.

No single matter could have been more important because it established the most basic right of "sousveillance" or looking-back at power, that The Transparent Society is all about. It is also fundamental to freedom. For in altercations with authority, what other recourse can a citizen turn to, than the Truth?

Notice the crucial difference. One 'landmark' encourages us to limit the power of an elite by hiding from them. It won't -- it cannot possibly -- work for long. 

The other encourages us to limit the power of an elite by looking back at them (sousveillance.) The first can be rendered moot, tomorrow. The second can be tech-enhanced ever onward, if we choose the braver-assertive path of active citizenship.

== The same old foolishness ==

An interesting article by Mariana Mazzucato on MIT Tech, suggests that many of our modern information age problems – such as being “farmed” by Internet giants for our information – might be addressed with a socialist approach… making most of the information about us into a “commons” where we all might benefit.  While I have some problems with some details, it is certainly in such a commons that we might at least get to see what is being done with our information, who is using it, and possibly even get paid for “interest” in knowledge about us, in a manner talked about by Jaron Lanier.

Caustically rejecting Dr, Mazzucato’s proposal is Aral Balkan, who insists that every individual should have sovereign control over his or her own portion of a balkanized infosphere, many billions of isolated cells, with every human attentive to which items of personal information are allowed to pass.  

“The crucial point here, however, is that this toxic way of building modern technology is not the only way to design and build modern technology. We know how to build free and open, decentralised, and interoperable systems where your data originates in a place that you – as an individual – own and control.”

What stunning, staggering towering malarkey. An example, please. Show us one example of such a system that has worked, persistently, at closing information flows in ways that stymie elite view and empower privacy and citizenship through concealment. There are no large scale examples, because it is technologically, logically and historically impossible. Nor is it even distantly related to the methods that we have used, across 200 years, to create a briefly flourishing era of individual creativity and freedom.

Again and again, since writing The Transparent Society, I’ve asserted. It’s not a important to fret over what elites know about you, as it is to have active, assertive power over what they can do to you. And that power is only derived from your knowledge of what they are up to. Balkanization of a secretive, cellular infoWeb can only benefit the mighty, who will have every tool to exploit cracks in those cell walls… and show me one such system – one, ever! – that did not have such exploitable cracks. 

But when elites are also naked, then they are limited in the number of henchmen they can hire without springing their own leaks. And…

…no, I will not try to summarize The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? Where I argue we should stay faithful to the impudent method that worked for the only 200 year stretch of rising human freedom and happiness.  If you are actually curious, here are articles and speculations by David Brin about transparency, freedom and technology.  

== And more of the same ==

Continuing in the same vein: In a perfect example of the Aplha-Minus Effect, Rochelle Gurstein rails in the Baffler against “Self-Invasions and the Invaded Self,” denouncing the trend toward self-exposure in the modern world, as if she invented what is - in fact - the hand-wringing stance that’s standard across the depth and breadth of modern intelligencia, denouncing how we live in “a society that offers boundless opportunities for men and women to expose themselves (in all dimensions of that word) as never before, to commit what are essentially self-invasions of privacy.” 

Continues Dr. Gurstein: “Although this is a new phenomenon, it has become as ubiquitous as it is quotidian, and for that reason, it is perhaps one of the most telling signs of our time.”

No, it is not a new phenomenon, not even remotely. Across all the history of our species, most humans lived in either tribes or villages in which power was disproportionately wielded by chieftains and their thugs and priests… and by the busybody gossips who pounced on every minor indiscretion or exposed weakness.  And exposed we were, in those ancestral villages, vastly more than we are today, when both physical walls and the law protect the interior spaces of our large homes.  

No. What is new is not our degree of exposure, but the extent to which it is voluntary - a choice taken by many millions to step out and preen in the open. A choice that wins them patronizing contempt from those who… like Rochelle. Gurstein… are waving their arms and shouting “look at me, instead!” from the page-screens of hifalutin intelligencia zines, not Instagram. This elitist contempt is richly expressed: 

“To get a sense of the sheer range of unconscious exhibitionism, we need only think of the popularity of reality TV shows, addiction-recovery memoirs, and cancer diaries. Then there are the banal but even more conspicuous varieties, like soaring, all-glass luxury apartment buildings and hotels in which inhabitants display themselves in all phases of their private lives to the casual glance of thousands of city walkers below. Or the incessant sound of people talking loudly—sometimes gossiping, sometimes crying—on their cell phones, broadcasting to total strangers the intimate details of their lives.”

To be clear, I agree that much of this modern self-exposure is both puerile and somewhat unwise. Though it does go way back, as she herself refers. 

“As (Henry) James put it in his description of the newspaperman in The Bostonians: “For this ingenuous son of his age all distinction between the person and the artist had ceased to exist; the writer was personal, the person food for newsboys, and everything and everyone were everyone’s business.””

Professor Gurstein proceeds to erect a series of strawmen to knock down, like the notion that anyone of note today might actually, actually be saying “Why seek privacy; do you have something to hide?” 

Um, please cite one example of that cliché being uttered by anyone of significance? One example? Even just one? Oh, but the series of strawmen continues:

“It is no wonder, then, that the world we inhabit together feels ever more ugly, coarse, and trivial. When the boundary between public and private becomes as extremely porous as it is today, we lose far more than “that kingdom of the mind, that inner world of personal thought and feeling in which every man passes some time,” which would have been disastrous enough.”

In fact, the private individual has never had more sovereignty than in today’s west, wherein personal eccentricity is vouchsafed protection by both law and relentless Hollywood messages. Yes, we continue to reform, always in the same direction of more tolerance, not less. Again and again we find just one limitation that consistently is applied to check that expansion of individual sovereignty, one criterion - is there a victim? 

If your eccentricity is one that hampers the livelihood or eccentric freedom of others, then you face opprobrium.  And note: if my assertion makes you angry, because we do not live up to that image well enough, consider that your very reaction is an example! 

Your eagerness to make it more true is shared by millions. In truth by a majority of your neighbors.

Among her article's few moments of lucidity, Rochelle Gurstein asks: “How can we begin to think about protecting our private experiences and our common world from more and more brazen indifference to their inherent fragility? The first thing we need to recognize is that the law is no help.”

Here we agree. No, law won’t protect you from the tsunami of light, nor will whining, or commanding the tide to go back out. 

What does have a chance of helping individual humans maintain some degree of safety, sovereignty, and even a little privacy is exactly the thing that dour svengalis rail against… light itself. If average people are empowered to see all elites, enforcing MYOB or “Mind Your Own Business”, then they may have deterrence.

This is not theoretical. Everywhere in the West that light has poured, oppression gained stigma and eventually began to fade. It is the thing – the only thing – that works.

Oh, I know what’s going on in China. The Social Credit system is turning light into the enemy of eccentricity, or freedom, or diversity and accountability. It could have that effect here, too. Which is why it’s all the more urgent that we study the west’s immune system against oppression and conformity. Light can be the enemy of those things, if it empowers feudal elites and gossips to push us around, as in the villages of old.  

Or it can empower us to hold elites and busybodies accountable and hold them at bay. What matters is our shared value system. And the pivot could not be more clear:

If I am right about our value systems re: eccentricity and tolerance and MYOB, then we have a chance. If I am wrong, then what does Dr. Gurstein think she’s accomplishing with her jeremiads?

Will transparency be used that way?  Here, at last, I have some overlap with the writer – (disclosure: she and I have had tussles, before) -- because the choice will be ours and it will depend upon our “sensibilities” or values. 

“How can we revive those aspects of the reticent sensibility that we need in circumstances radically different from the world in which they originally emerged? What would be their new foundation? I am sorry to report that I find myself at a complete loss for an answer.”

Yes, yes. That much is truthful and clear. That admission of failed imagination may indeed be the first step on the road to wisdom. The next is admitting that some things have actually worked, in our recent past. And squinting to perceive what they were.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Spreading disinformation - we can fight it with wagers

Alas, the "Union" side in this already-ignited civil war appears to have no generals. At least none with any sense of where the battlefield really is.  

It is all about the notion of "fact" or objective reality.  The top-foremost aim of the other side -- the mafiosi who have taken Washington and who are sweeping the globe -- has been to undermine every profession that deals in evidence, proof and the testing of assertions. From science to journalism to "deep state" law and intelligence agencies and the U.S. military officer corps -- all are denounced at every rally and Fox show.

No other issue matters like this one, because almost all other matters would swing their needle hard toward sensible negotiation and resolution, if factual reality itself weren't Enemy Number One. 

Efforts to counter this calamitously clever assault do exist. The Annenberg Public Policy Center set up and we all know about Snopes. There are dozens of worthy efforts and you can find many more below, under comments. But these earnest endeavors all suffer from a fatal flaw. As soon as each one starts operation, its tally of lies and misleading statements will point overwhelmingly at right wing pols and media, leading to denunciation as a "clearly biased" liberal mouthpiece or an attempt to impose a "Ministry of Truth."

My own 12 part proposed Fact Act would get around this, by emphasizing fact-adjudicating methods that are inherently competitive. For example one provision would re-introduce five minutes of rebuttal per every five hours of one-sided opinion on any channel or station that takes advertising. You know who would oppose this! But the proposal does sound fair, and that is the first step to winning the war of polemic.

But we needn't wait. I have found one thing rocks our mad uncles out of their trances. One thing halts the spew of canned fox-incantations about Clintons and climate change hoaxes. One tactic always works! It is the one area where a good-old-boy still admits that facts matter. I've said it till I was blue in the face.

Wagers. Offer to find a neutral bartender or lawyer or scientist to first hold the stakes, then demand: "Put money on it!" Watch.  Most of them will flee, of course. But a certain fraction... the ones we need, to tip the balance, will blink and start backpeddling, and at minimum you'll get some amusement.

"You are so sure that climate change is a hoax (or supply side tax cuts work, or there's massive voter fraud, or Republicans are better for market enterprise...) that you're willing to stake our children's future on it, but you aren't sure enough to make a bet and take my money? Then the issue here isn't facts. It is cowardice and hypocrisy. It's weaseling and hot air!"

Here I detail six surefire-killer wagers that are NAME ONE EXCEPTION challenges. For example, name one fact-centered profession, from science to the FBI, that's not under direct assault by Fox. Or: name a single factor that won us the Cold War that’s not been dismantled by the Trump-Fox-GOP. Our mighty alliances like NATO? Our peerless and admired American science? Strong and confident intelligence agencies, or a public that’s united against Kremlin scheming, or IRS auditors tracking KGB cash flows? Protection of Russian defectors, or an American tradition of adult negotiation based on evidence. Oh and climate change has given Russia twelve new seaports along a valuable, ice-free Arctic they now control.

Oh, sure, your mad uncle won’t wind up taking an actual fact-centered bet. But use that fact! The macho may never recover. 

I've discussed this elsewhere, earlier this year and other years, yet not one other public figure-centrist I know of has tried this simple gambit. It was tried, briefly, against Rick Perry by Mitt Romney, who blew it, letting it be portrayed as bullying by a rich man... one of many wriggling excuses they'll use, and that incident may have deterred others from trying. But there are a million ways around such squirms: "Let's bet 5% of your wealth (or income) against 5% of mine," or "one day of your income vs. one day of mine," or "let's pick any random five people off the street and let them choose the stakes!"

Oh, the squirming that ensues. The specific terms of the bet, who holds the stakes... and none of that is the point!  The point is to let the public see who is doing the squirming!  And if it is just you vs. your uncle?  If he is an honest person, deep inside, then he will be the one to notice that.

I'll finish this time with a recommendation for his wife... your aunt... or any other American female who feels repelled by the current madness, but helpless in the face of political mania by the man she loves.

== More ammo for wagers ==

Elsewhere I list some great wagers, like demanding your Mad Uncle (MU) go with you to the beach to personally measure ocean acidification. (Watch him squirm!) Now on to some fresh items from the news.

A recent NY Times exposé on Trump family finances is just the tip of the spear in our guts. In his new book "House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia," veteran investigative journalist Craig Unger presents a detailed and exhaustively researched account of how Donald Trump has for decades laundered billions of dollars for Russian organized crime figures and other oligarchs. This fits a larger pattern in which Trump and his inner circle have shown a great comfort with financial crimes and other forms of unethical or illegal behavior to personally enrich themselves at the expense of the American people.

The bet? That the tally of Donald Trump's foreign 'friends' is nearly all mafia states, while those he rails at the most are traditional allies and democracies. The folks standing in Putin's way.

 Study patterns! In 1930 the German Junker aristocracy and the industrial moguls threw money behind a populist-nationalist movement that they thought would prove an effective way to destroy the Social Democrats... who were the only force keeping the communists out of power. It worked. Both communists and social democrats were slaughtered by the Nazis en masse. Then - too slowly - came the "what have we done?" realization that the rabid beast the aristos had released was no longer saddled. At which point they could only hold on for dear life... and many lost their lives and everything else.

Now we see something similar, in eerily ironic ways as Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson is pumping tens of millions of dollars more into Republican Party coffers in an 11th-hour push to save their congressional majorities. Confront your mad uncle (MU) with this! How conservatives reversed from hating gambling as a sin/vice to the GOP being owned and operated by casino moguls like Adelson, Wynn and Trump - the one profession on Earth that absolutely requires daily mob ties.  BTW, Adelson’s most  uncannily profitable casinos are in Macau — almost certainly laundering and channeling PRC money straight into our elections.

The bet? Find a core element of morality that the confederacy hasn't reversed, from gambling to accepting the vastly higher divorce rate among GOP politicians than democrats, to acceptance of dozens of sexual predators and child molesters as high officials, including one who spent ten years as Speaker of the House and the nation's top Republican. Dare him to bet on that! Or on relative rates of teen sex, teen pregnancy, STDs and so on, in Red America vs. Blue.  Oh, you'd win the bet! But watch, he will flee, rather than put up honest stakes

Is this more "fake news"? Concocted by the "deep state"? The same U.S. intelligence agencies that your Mad Uncle used to root for, when they struggled against the very same Kremlin foes, back when they wore hammer-and-sickle pins? Again, ask your MU to explain how the GOP swung from hating gambling to being owned by Casino moguls, slumlords and Cayman bankers. And who on Earth is more likely to have mob ties?

== As for your aunt? ==

Married Women May Be Moving Away From The GOP. That’s fine. Loving him doesn’t mean you have to adopt his loony politics, especially when you are alone in the booth. But you can do more. 

On election day, vote early, with friends - maybe dragging along some young people? Then bring home a case of his favorite beer. Put on a good game. Nag him to go vote half an hour before the polls close, but dress in a way that makes him want to stay. Think of Lysistrata. Save the world for your children.

== And if you know one of the masters of this treason? ==

The notion that shortsighted plutocrats are actually smart is one cultivated by their sycophant flunkies and it proved catastrophic in every past oligarchy, feudal or royal or theocratic or leninist. In EXISTENCE I tried to portray what some trillionaires might do, if they truly want to stay on top, while riding a healthy civilization upward. A civilization never angry enough to turn and look closely at the aristocracy. It was a pretty good scene, if I do say so... and I see no signs that any of today's oligarchs are smart enough to know how badly they need this.

Instead, we have (1) a war on all fact-using professions... how will that go, when you've angered all the folks who know nuclear, bio, nano and every other technology? and...

(2) A riled up, know-nothing, mass-populist movement that will either swing hard to the left, when folks remember their parents' devotion to FDR... or much worse...

... that the rabid populism stirred up by Fox-Jones-Breitbart will stay fascist and turn on the oligarchy with ferocity. We are seeing the latter now, and Charles Koch would do well to prove he truly is smarter than the average billionaire. If he and a few others don't waken, they had better learn the word "tumbrels."

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Toward a transparent (and safer, tolerant and more free) world

In an important step toward an accountably transparent world, offshore owners of British property will be forced to reveal their true identities or face jail sentences and unlimited fines under draft laws that aim to end the UK’s reputation as a high-risk jurisdiction for money laundering. Overseas criminal gangs were using British property transactions to launder billions of pounds in corrupt funds. Parliament’s foreign affairs committee went further earlier this year, saying that corrupt Russian funds laundered through the UK, including via property, posed a threat to national security.

The Brits and Europeans are the ones with guts right now, peeling away layers of what amounts to open warfare against the West by wold mafias. See how Russian GRU (KGB) agents have been running amuck, committing acts or sabotage, espionage and murder with increasing impunity, while Russian agent-hackers are caught red-handed spying on the investigation into the crash of flight MH17, as well as the World Anti-Doping Agency. 

And now the thing I've been demanding for 25 years. What is an 'Unexplained Wealth Order'? A UWO is a new power passed by the British Parliament to target suspected corrupt foreign officials who have potentially laundered stolen money through the UK. Take this example of the wife of a former Azerbaijani state banker who risks losing her £15m home near the London Harrod's store where she has spent another 15 million pounds, if she fails to explain the source of her wealth to the High Court. Now, if only some of the laundered money can make its way back to the poor citizens of the original nations.

God bless Europe for keeping a candle lit. Light is our last, best weapon. This has got to be just the beginning, or we will have that Helvetian War.

== The How and Why of using light to save civilization ==

So how does this relate to China’s Social Credit system? It’s probably the largest social engineering project ever attempted, a way to control and coerce more than a billion people… Smartphone apps will also be used to collect data and monitor online behavior on a day-to-day basis… The system will be enforced by the latest in high-tech surveillance systems and facial recognition as China pushes to become the world leader in artificial intelligence.”  

Moreover, as in the chilling Black Mirror episode “Nosedive,” your crucial score will be harmed if you associate with the “wrong people,” meaning anyone who dissents or even displays eccentricity.

How do I reconcile one form of coercive transparency while denouncing another? Duh? One is aimed at reinforcing the things that have kept us free, safe from coercion by topmost castes, by applying light to all elites who would exercise power. The other is a method elites can use to force obedience and conformity from the masses, from us. 

Dig it well, something like social credit is inevitable. We’ll see each other and adjust whom we want to hang or associate with. But there are two failure modes that we know how to evade, if we prove smart and wise and assertively determined.

1) If light is vigorously applied upward – thoroughly and habitually! – then these tools might hold elites accountable. More important, we can sic elites against each other, which was the great innovation set up under the U.S. Constitution. If that includes NGOs with millions of middle class members, then there’s a chance that transparency might serve and protect freedom, not crush it.

2) Okay, suppose we do that, then everything is open and democratic, right? No Big Brother. Only then what’s to stop a 51% prudish, oppressive majority from democratically and openly voting to cram conformity upon all the eccentrics and unusual folk out there? It’s happened before, and it is the style of democratic despotism portrayed in Ray Bradbury’sFahrenheit 451.  

Will a paramount Big Brother be replaced by millions of nosy, judgmental Little Brothers? See how there's great news... that the world population is now majority middle class! But that doesn't necessarily translate into pro-tolerance, diversity and eccentricity. Middle classes can be bigoted, too.

Only step back. The fact that I am asking that pointed question… and YOU are nodding with shared worry… is a clue to the answer. 


Transparency will empower the majority to impose its values. But if that value system extolls diversity, tolerance and MYOB… or Mind Your Own Business… then think about the effect. Bullying others to repress their  differences will be deemed a worse crime than any harmless eccentricities they exhibit. Let me repeat that, because it is what you believe should  be our future. If bullying and conformity-oppression are among the worst social sins, then that is what gets socially punished. And light just might be our friend.

No. You still don't get it. In all my life, I've found no concept to be harder to convey. This is the fundamental wellspring of all our freedoms and individuality, yet it seems utterly counter-intuitive to most folks. So let me illustrate with an example from mass culture-media.

Picture that scene from the movie version of The Circle, in which nasty putzes use cell phone cameras to torment a shy person. Blatantly, that is the kind of thing the director wants you to hate! Only dig it, in today’s America, those bullies would likely be shot - in turn - by the cell cams of better folks, who will show the bullies' nasty behavior to their moms.

Oh, you are steaming now, I bet. Fuming that we aren’t that vigorous at defending diversity and eccentricity. And you’re ignoring the very value system that taught you to feel that way! That drives you to be unsatisfied with our partial progress toward tolerance. 

And you’re right! We’re only vastly more tolerant and diverse and eccentric than all other human societies, combined. It’s not good enough! Those values must be reinforced, before the tools of social credit sweep the world! 

And here is just one example - out of many happening every single day - that should inspire you!

Hey… I… am… on… your… side in this. Now is not the time for complacency. If we don’t achieve miracle #1, then modern tech tools will enable some cabal of the rich and Mafiosi and demagogues and other fanatics to shut down this Periclean renaissance, possibly forever. Ferociously upward-aimed transparency is the only thing that can prevent it, and bring us miracle number one…

…but in order to achieve the second wonder - and stymie the pernicious scheme to repress diversity with things like "social credit" - it will be up to us to ensure the coming flood of light empowers our best values, encouraging a humanity whose wide stance – based on diversity and tolerance and MYOB – leaves us ready for whatever may come.
== Five Myths about Transparency ==

There is a clever "five myths" feature that appears in the Washington Post outlook section every Sunday.  For example, detailing and appraising five commonly held assumptions about recycling, or artificial intelligence or presidential pardons. I’m occasionally told I should write one of these perspectives… or ten, on different topics… but I never find the time.

Philosopher Arnold Kling has suggested especially something related to transparency. "Five myths about each new revelation of surveillance"  — or things that happen every single time the news reveals that we’re being seen, starting with the mythology that any of it is surprising. These surveillance myths are:

Myth #1.  We should be shocked by the arrival of new tools for surveillance. We should be surprised that elites (e.g. government, criminal, foreign, corporate, aristocratic or technological) will try to exploit them in secret.

Myth # 2.  That laws limiting surveillance tools have ever worked in the past, or can possibly work in the future.

Myth #3.  That such tools cannot be turned around to equalize the playing field, by letting average folk look back at power (sousveillance.)

Myth # 4.  That it even matters what elites know about us, instead of controlling and deterring what they can do to us.

Myth # 5.  Our culture must ban technologies rather than adapt to them.

Your feedback on rephrasing this set would be welcome.

== Can we even believe our eyes, anymore? ==

Which photos are real? We’ve all seen the recent videos, showing Barack Obama saying (harmless, so far) things he never said. It’s only a matter of time, before counterfeit “reality” floods our perceptions, the way fake news did, earlier.  San Diego startup Truepic raises $8 million to develop methods to certify the authenticity of online photos - and debunk "deep fakes.”

It’s a problem with deep roots.  In my nonfiction book The Transparent Society, I had a chapter entitled “The End of Photography as Proof of Anything At All?”  Even earlier, in my novel EARTH (1989) I discussed the likelihood we’d be dealing with this, by now.

Google's DeepMind computer vision artificial intelligence showed that it can generate an accurate three-dimensional map or graphic from a set of two-dimensional images. For many years, computer “vision” was poor and image fakery easily detected.  But that was during the Moore’s Law Era, back when hardware advanced swiftly, but software remained leaden and far behind.

In what I’ve called the “Big Flip,” we see Moore’s Law finally in its long predicted taper-off… while suddenly software has gone on a tear, accelerating in capabilities almost exponentially. And nowhere is this more apparent than in image processing.  Or “deep fakery.”

And yes, there is a solution — I talk about it, in The Transparent Society. It can work, because it is the only thing that ever worked against skilled liars. Unfortunately, it will only be done after (as Winston Churchill put it) we’ve “tried everything else.”

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Looking for destiny ... in false historical parallels

Teleology is a quality of humans -- the pattern-seeking animals -- to ascribe foregone destiny to both history and the future.

Yes, I admit there are some undeniable historical patterns, like the tendency for groups of males who have an advantage -- muscles, swords, money  or persuasive voices -- to take advantage... using it to cheat, crushing fair competition by giving their sons overwhelming, inherited advantages.  Inheritance-hierarchies dominated across 99% of history. The truest "attractor state," feudalism (in its general sense) is what Adam Smith and the American Founders successfully (at last) rebelled against. 

Much of U.S. history has been about efforts by cheaters to restore feudal hierarchy  under a vaiety of excuses (including some lefto-Marxist ones), ending our brief experiment in flat-fair-open-Smithian systems. The Greatest Generation did a fantastic job of staving off that failure mode, resisting extremist temptations in all directions, establishing the most creative, productive, and progressively-improving nation ever seen. 

Alas, these things tend to be temporary. One of the worst oligarchy putsches is happening right now, but that’s not today’s topic, which is teleology.

Is history ordained or cyclical? I’ve been talking a lot about this human obsession. Religions fixate on it, almost everywhere. Mystics sought to predict using auguries and oracles and prophets. Recently I laid out a fascinating overlap -- how romantics of the left are remarkably similar those on the right. Both groups believe in a compulsory future. Leftists tend to see it as an often-violent upward climb toward zero-coercion utopia.  (In this end goal, they are amazingly like libertarians.)

The right is enamored of a different forecast of gloomy futility -- Cyclical History -- the notion that societies go through life cycles of youthful vigor, senescence and decay. Take Oswald Spengler's The Decline Of The West, for example. Or the Nazis’ notion of rhythmic collapse via plunging ice-moons, followed by a resurrected reich. 

Or the insipid Tytler Calumny.

As far back as Toynbee, historians have debunked this jibbering nonsense, yet pattern seekers keep rushing to embrace it, finding solace in a sense of "historical inevitability."  The latest version, beloved across the American right, is The Fourth Turning, by Neil Howe and William Strauss.  (Not related to the University of Chicago's Leo Strauss, who trained a generation of neoconservatives to undermine every American strength.)  I critique this just-so story in detail, elsewhere. But we need reminding that it has become a cult bible to many of our neighbors.

Yes, in this case, Strauss and Howe provide a lovely, symmetrical tale fitting the dyspeptic narrative. According to their story, it seems that, despite their near-total victory at demolishing the Greatest Generation's Rooseveltean social contract, every value held by today's U.S. majority is destructively self-indulgent. Hence (oligarchs and flacks tell themselves), cheating is justified to prevent that benighted majority from having any say.  Moreover, despite Republican dominance for 30 years, things have reached a pass where only a horrific cleansing will bring a new, vigorous generation out of the ashes.

There are countless problems with this narrative of hand-rubbing glee over looming catastrophe:

1)  Very few metrics suggest such a crisis is a foregone conclusion. Yes, there is a rising wealth and influence disparity, reversing the Greatest Generation's (GG) finest accomplishment: the flattest and most dynamic free market society the world ever saw.  And - oh, yes - there is a looming ecological crisis. But other than those two dangers, most indicators are rather positive. And those two could be fixed with some GG pragmatism. In other words, by not repressing all the creative castes.

2) Not satisfied with inevitability, the most vigorous Fourth Turning believers, like Steve Bannon, have openly declared their intent to provoke the crisis.  To thwart (as the Fox-GOP has done for 25 years) any processes of negotiation by which adults might resolve issues without crisis. They proclaim that they’ll be satisfied with nothing less than violent Civil War. 

3)  It is assumed, because Fox succeeded at riling up proto-fascist populism among the more ill-educated white males, that this trend can be maintained forever, under tight control by the Murdochians. But history reminds us:
   a) The oligarchs in 1930s Germany lived to regret riling up a similar, Know-Nothing hate movement, that served its initial purpose against the left, but then turned on them, as we are now seeing Trumpist fascism start to turn on the Kochs and other oligarchs.
   b) In America, 1930s populism instead veered leftward, but not to communism. Rather, to Rooseveltean reforms and that flat-dynamic free market success story. The most successful – by all measures - social contract the world ever saw, and the very one that Republicans have proudly dismantled since 1981.

4) None of the scenarios promulgated by Bannon and others realistically assess whom the millennials – who are presumably the next "hero generation" according to Fourth Turning theory -- will blame for the crisis, and which direction they will veer.  Think about this irony: Bannon, Alex Jones and the Murdochs and Putin all utterly depend on riling-up unwise, precipitative wrath out of aging American white male Baby Boomers, exactly the "dupe Generation" disparaged by Howe and Strauss! So… why would Bannon assume that the subsequent hero generation will march in lockstep down the same path?

Um, doesn’t  the Fourth Turning theory suggest that millennials will reject everything crisis-making boomers like Steve Bannon have done? (Raising an intriguing deep-conspiracy notion, that’s probably occurring to you, right now.)

Millennials are already swinging soft-left, emulating the Greatest Generation and rejecting their grandparents' raving, boomer inanities.  (Like the insipidly self-indulgent "I'm as mad as hell" meme.) Millennials can clearly see what every single "reform" made by the GOP since 1981 has wrought -- steadily declining growth, except in skyrocketing debt, disdain of the science that delivered a myriad miracles, and a new gilded age of neo-feudalism. The works of Karl Marx – moribund in the 1990s – are now flying off the shelves.

Exactly where do the Murdochs, Kochs, Mercers and Bannons think this is likely to end?  Especially when the well-educated whites (and others) in the fact-professions feel warred upon every day, by every reflex of a mad right?

Sensible men and women conservatives need to try actually parsing this out. 

Even if Howe and Strauss are correct, the crisis scenario does not bode well for any aspect of a moderate, free-market American right. And every day that passes without U.S. conservatism awakening to its duty, we come closer to a climax that will make even Vladimir Putin writhe with regret over what he and Murdoch and the other rich fools awakened...

...either a Rooseveltean outcome of overwhelming, resurgent strength... or a Huey Long... or a Hitler.

== Prepare for a “U” to turn sideways ==

As Samuel Johnson wisely observed, scoundrels run to “patriotism” when they feel cornered and have no other recourse. And abandon patriotism when anything is asked of them, like keeping their word. In particular, confederates are always the most fervent wavers of the red, white and blue, swearing oaths to America… until it becomes even slightly inconvenient.  Like when a Lincoln wins an election.

Then just watch as the “U” in their shouted “U S A!” turns sideways, into a “C,” and the confederacy drops all pretense. Signs are already erupting. See this anecdotal preview: Neo-Confederates reach out to their ‘Russian friends’ in new project : "Once again, racist secessionists are looking to Moscow for succor.” Then the League of The South, an organization described by analysts as a neo-confederate hate group, has launched a Russian language page on their website to explore shared ideas on "Southern nationalism."

Yeah, yeah, one can find anecdotes for almost anything. Indeed, the #1 Fox trick is to show anecdotes of absurd-pathetic “social justice warrior” flakes and then declare that “all liberals and democrats are like this!”  I hope I’ll prove just as wrong about the trend toward a deeply violent phase of the American Civil War.

Still, you need to be thinking ahead. And there's still time to order that Halloween costume I’ve been urging on all loyal Americans for two years.  A blue, union Kepi hat.  It will speak volumes this fall, one week before the mid-terms.

== Another hat idea ==

I still prefer the kepi. But one of you chimed in with an alternative:

I want to have a hat made with the letters moved around: AWGA. ‘America Was Great Already!’"

Indeed, recall the trap I suggested for your mad, confederate uncle. Demand of him: “Okay then, when do you think America was great?”

Spring the trap! If they say “the 1950s,” you can both show that we got way-better, still… and that the “Greatest Generation” of that era were mostly liberals, who adored Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

(See my earlier posting: Was 1957 America better than today?