Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Being remembered in a utopian history of the future

The great American defence lawyer Alan Dershowitz recently told a New Zealand crowd the threat to free speech in Western countries worries him a lot. He hasn’t observed this kind of problem since the 1920s and 1930s.

Back then, there were obvious reasons why freedom of speech was being crushed. Europe had disastrously ended WWI, inflation was rampant, and countries were ungovernable. The major parties were the Communist party on one side, and Fascist parties on the other. None of that is true today.
American lawyer and author Alan Dershowitz

You don’t have to read Stephen Pinker’s great work The Better Angels of Our Nature – in which the professor proves the world is on an upward trajectory – that things really are getting better by almost every measure.

“Look at the US, things are going very well. Even the poor are richer than they have ever been. The inequality gap is widening, but we don’t have hunger, starvation and unemployment problems. The circumstances that normally lead to this kind of extremism in political discourse are not present. So other factors must be at work,” he says.

And yet, extremism certainly exists.

Humans don’t do very well with utopia. Philosophers have long understood that if utopia could be realised, the first thing people would do is break a window. Maybe they’d be bored and want something – anything – to happen, even if it’s dangerous. But I think it has more to do with the desire for utopia itself.

We all say we want to avoid death, but the only way to do that is to remove all the things that make us vulnerable. As those vulnerabilities are taken away, the core of what it means to be human disappears, placing us in an eternity in which nothing can grow and nothing can become. Utopia is something we think we want, but we want it only because we don’t know what we want.

I often think New Zealand is the closest any country has come to utopia. The US too has moved near to utopia. It’s not everyone’s version of utopia, sure, and that’s why some people are breaking windows. More than eternal bliss, some people simply want to be remembered.

The US is a young country, relatively speaking. It’s had a handful of versions of the same government lo these 240 years and things have by-and-large been stable (the Civil War excepted.) But at some point, the US will at least mirror Europe’s ideological, economic and social divisions. These tore Europe apart, united it under any of at least a dozen empires, and triggered countless, devastating wars. At some point in the future, maybe 1000 years from now, that stuff will happen in the US. It's inevitable.

So, if it’s going to happen eventually, why not secure your place in history as the one who sets it in motion? That way, you will drive history rather than be yet another forgotten political figure when the Big Change comes. I think this explains why people start and join movements.

Think of it another way. In all aspects of life, things exist on a continuum evaluated in relation to their opposites. Music must have high notes and low notes, soft notes and loud notes. When the music of an era holds for too long on one thing, the next era of music is inaugurated when someone plays from the other end, re-establishing a dynamic equilibrium. It defines not only the new thing but also the old thing.

Likewise, in art. Beginning in the Renaissance, painters worked to paint more accurately and realistically. But as the centuries passed, it became repetitive. They didn't know at the time they were the realistic painters – they simply assumed they were being good painters. The impressionists came along and proved a person could be a good painter by painting completely unrealistically. This new art form was distinctly unrealistic and emotional, but the impressionists also defined their predecessors as too formal and literal just as much as they closed the book on them.

The same goes for politics, law and everything else. We know our Western legal system requires lawyers to defend people we hate, so no one has ever really criticised that before.

But what if you were to demonise, intimidate and discourage lawyers from wanting to fill that role? You could ensure that people the public hates don’t get a fair trial, not by rigging the trial, but by changing the culture so no one performs the role the system assumes at least one person will fill for it to be valid.

You can affect all kinds of social change this way. The long-term trend does seem to be more freedom and prosperity due to science and technology. It feels normal, expected, just like the expectation of defence lawyer for a mass murderer. We don’t think anything of it. So, the only way to make a name for yourself is to reverse that trend. By defining the new era as the antithesis of the previous era. By using science and technology to make people less free and less prosperous.

If the trend instead was that human existence is getting more miserable with each generation, then the agitators would be out in the streets leading the revolution. They act either way because they want to be remembered generations after they are dead. You don't get that today by curing disease or doing something amazing. Can you name the inventor of chemotherapy or the microchip? Did you even know they have a chicken pox vaccine now?

I think these people know intuitively that the best way to be great in the eyes of history is to seize the machinery of civilization and throw it into reverse. It would imply you are one of the few who sees and understands the machinery. It further implies you are one of the few among the few who have seized the lever. And finally, it means you are the singular one of the fewest of the few with the courage – or insanity – daring to pull the lever knowing exactly what will happen.

Terrorists are defined by their desire to do break the status quo, but they neither see the machine nor have any control of it. As for these kids, I don’t think their heart is in it. They didn't come to this reversal idea emotionally. They are anti-freedom because these are the times which will reward such a stance.

Uncovering the conspiracy of the Deep State

I tripped on a step the other day and wondered if I should sue the “deep state,” or maybe US President Donald Trump.

By now, everyone with an internet connection knows the term "deep state." But consider that if you find yourself in complete agreement with the public, especially when "public" includes people you wanted to murder in the last election, then your position is not only wrong, it's not even yours. You have been trained to think about the deep state, so the money is in understanding why.

The question isn't whether the deep state exists, it is why so many people intuitively knew about it before they learned the term. Humans are pattern-seeking creatures, so when I tripped on that faulty step, my instinct was to blame the step, but that gets the problem backward. The issue isn't the faulty step, it is all of the correctly laid steps. I didn't trip because the step was too high or because I should have been more careful. I tripped because the city taught me not to be careful.

On the one hand, we live in a society which values free choice and personal responsibility, but we are told it is safe to value such things only because we expect a certain amount of absence of choice and freedom from responsibility. We assume we will not be allowed to make a truly dangerous choice because our judgment of risk is based on belief in God – and this is even more true if you think you don't believe in God. Hence the “deep state.” Let me explain.

The reason I thought personal responsibility is the answer to the faulty stair is that stairs already exist, and if they already exist they must be safe or "some other omnipotent entity" would not have permitted them to come into existence. That is the problem of modern culture in a nutshell. All the metaphors of modernity imply this omnipotent other, from "free market" to "inalienable rights" to "peace in our time."

This entity can be heard in language such as “globalists” and “New World Order” or "patriarchy." We all see a man behind the curtain. Conservatives say progressives are secretly ruining the world, while progressives say conservatives are holding back freedom. No one ever stops to think: “hang on, if everyone sees a conspiracy and yet no one I meet is ever a part of that conspiracy, why am I not in a padded cell?”

What stops the men in white coats from taking you away is there are no men in white coats. We think only in terms of ourselves and multiply by 7 billion. Take Turkey for instance. In Turkey, a man can be judged on his intelligence based on the complexity of his conspiracy theories. The more moving parts, the smarter he is. Who cares if these pieces don’t fit together, that just proves the conspirators are more powerful than we thought! It's easy to laugh, but what would happen to Americans if a multi-century empire and religion collapsed within a few decades? Actually, that is what happened in the US.

Turkish people were “freed” from Islam in 1924 when Kemal Ataturk founded his secular state but left the gene-deep superstition and pattern-seeking tendencies of Turks completely alone, creating a psychological vacuum. Religion in Turkey didn't disappear, God just switched ownership. The proliferation of conspiracy theories proves the Caliphs weren’t magical, they were simply redirecting the natural human desire to see meaning in a non-meaningful world.

The Christian West switched to the same omnipotent entity: science. Whereas Christians once believed in seven-day creation, now many believe in Intelligent Design. Of course, this is exactly what progressives did by changing Providence into the “arc of history.” That is: they take a belief system which is clearly religious in historical origin and try to disguise it as something that has nothing to do with God as a way to install their religious doctrines as public policy.

It used to be, when the church still had power, the bible needed to be believed entirely for a person to be a Christian. Now that the church doesn’t have power, and Science does, it’s suddenly acceptable to “apply science” to the word of God to “better understand how He did it.” This is how people talk when they align with a new status quo power structure. Nietzsche was wrong, we didn't kill God, we enslaved him and changed his nametag.

Globalists, Big Pharma, Jews, Nazis, communists, Satan, God, Allah, djinns, karma, Vishnu, Tao, voodoo, Nirvana. It’s all the same thing: a desperate attempt not to shine a light into the abyss to see just how abyssy it is. Nietzsche warned us not to stare into the void, lest it stare back into us. He wasn’t telling us to avoid the truth about meaninglessness, he was saying not to make Heidegger's eventual mistake and let this vanity be the conclusion for our lives – and to rise above this need for an "omnipotent other."

If conspiracy theories are just wish-fulfilment, then why do people always envisage nasty plans? Well, when the symbols of superstitious expression are undermined, yet our collective superstitious psyches are untouched, conspiracy theories aren't just optional, they are psychologically necessary. It doesn’t matter who is in charge, so long as someone is in charge. Billions of secular people may scream: “we live in a totalitarian world!” but they will simultaneously whisper “and thank God!”

That's why the deep state is so attractive to our atheistic brains. People often say, “Washington needs to sort Mr Trump out until the politicians can get their act together." Wow. Leave aside policy controversies for a second, observe how easily – naturally – we go over the government to a higher authority. Observe how easily people can find "some other omnipotent entity" to save us from ourselves.

The deep state is this generation’s omnipotent other, and if it fails we will always locate another such an entity because we cannot live without it. Our allegiances to grand plans constantly shift but we will never permit ourselves to live only in the abyss-mal world of our actions. We are always on the side of "who can fix this," never on the side of "I helped cause this." It isn't a political problem, it's a psychic problem: this is how all of us think.

The omnipotent other has three characteristics: it is omnipotent, it opposes the existing (dis)order, and its sole job is to protect you from yourself. Not from the world – from your bad decisions. Now can you see why conspiracies are necessary? After all, the alternative would be to live truly free. And none of us is ready to stare into that void, no matter how much we believe God is dead.

Hence the deep state.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Unsocial media

I don't like any of these kinds of social sites because whenever I create a profile no one ever wants to be my friend, so my page sits there, alone and unseen. The dark matter of the internet.

But I would still create the profile and mark my interests, diligently tagging, listing and ranking, and I would write funny things and watch and wait for people to come and like me. I am nothing if not patient, and when I was a shy little child standing by the edge of my neighbourhood pond hoping for a friend to play boats and chase the ducks with me, my mother always said good things come to those who wait. So, I wait and wait. My waiting punctuated only by the occasional page refresh. But it never changes. No one clicks me.

"What if you built a website and no one came?" they would say. They would look at my profile full of empty div tags. And they'd laugh because in my profile all my friends are placeholder jpgs in silhouette.

Surely someone would come, eventually. They must. I have the same interests as others, we have things in common, things we share. Aren't I just like everyone else in some unique way? I would wait, but nothing would change.

As I got older, and computers grew smaller, still no one came. No one clicks me, no one likes me. I am an old man now, and spend my days one after another after another sitting by the pond feeding the new ducks, reflecting on my life and all the interesting things I had to say that no one heard because I went my whole life unfriended.

And as more years passed and I grew frail, I would realise that in truth I had nothing interesting to say. I am not like everyone else, not the same in some special way. I am unlike anyone else. I am not special, I am not compatible, I am not loved. I look at the ducks and see happiness that I could have found in simple things, had I not been waiting for the friends I never made.

My profile, showing a handsome young man in the prime of his youth, is decades old, untouched and unedited. No one has seen it. Does it even exist? Did it ever? Did I?

And then one day my phone would chirp and I would check my profile to see that I had a new friend. My First Friend. This Friend looked so happy and vibrant in their picture that my heart would break with joy and I would feel young again because on the internet there is no age or arthritis, no twilight, just our ideas. I knew even as an old man the few years I had left would be spent in the virtual company of my First Friend and all the other friends who would surely follow in his wake. The days would be filled with love, chatter, kindness, tears and more life than an old man could take.

Another chirp. My new friend leaving his first comment! "Sorry man, I thought you were someone else" and then he is gone and they are all gone and my future full of friendship collapses back to the desert of me. I look agape at my profile whose pristine emptiness is stained only by that comment, that network traffic accident of a once and momentary friend, and in that moment, I realise what my profile is to the internet and what I am to the world – the thing you bump into on your way to someone else. My greatest conversations with my fellow man are "excuse me" and "sorry didn't see you there." Humanity has passed me by. It has moved on. But I'm left behind.

My top eight is empty. I am empty. I have spent my life inside my head, and I have come to loathe me.

And only then will I understand that my life was more than an infinite series of page refreshes. Standing there by the pond that was home to that little boy and the ducks who have since moved on, I delete my profile and vanish from the virtual world.

I will be an old man then. But I will have a warm coat on my back and bread in my pocket. And I will walk. I will walk the hills and the highways and the untread kilometres. I will walk on past it all, past the shyness and the loneliness, past the what-ifs and could-have-beens.

I will be old, but my eyes will work and my mind will work and I will walk and I will see what I will see.

Me alone. With no friends but the new rays of an ancient sun.

Bonfire of the summer clerks

In case you haven't heard (and why would you have?), a handful of Russell McVeagh lawyers - male, of course - were caught up in sexual assault claims over "a recent summer". Yes, that's exactly what the story says

First thing's first, what does the author wish to be true?:
"The complaints from the summer programme are similar to the revelations of harassment and inappropriate workplace behaviour which have propelled the global #Metoo movement."
Remember that word. No, not the one with a hashtag, I mean "workplace," because it relates only to this part:
"It is understood two incidents which provoked appeals for help to those in authority arose from Christmas functions that year."
But the next cited incident is a mirror - will you look into it?:
"A third incident was at a Wellington venue, El Horno Bar. A complaint to police about the actions of one man in attendance arose from the El Horno incident."
Do you see the long con? Do you see what the author wishes to be true?

Read me very closely: the sexual assault claims are important, but they are not the story. The real story is the quiet assumption that a person's job and personal life overlap. Everybody involved in this investigation is playing the same game, that you do not have a job AS a lawyer, you ARE a lawyer. You are not a female studying, you ARE a female student. You are not a young woman working as a summer clerk, you ARE a clerk. And you are not a person doing journalism, you ARE a journalist.

In this sneaky framework of modern workplaces, people are given an identity - a title - instead of a raise. Becoming a lawyer makes a person feel more important, more powerful, and therefore is perfectly comfortable answering the phone at 8pm during dinner. After all, it's who they are. They never once think: "huh, why does my contract say I'll be paid for labour between X and Y, but my clock says Z?"

This sort of sneakiness has consequences. You see, now Russell McVeagh is responsible for what its lawyers and clerks do outside of the workplace, because, according to this system, there is no outside. I have no idea how to fix this, but I also know that Russell McVeagh doesn't want to fix this because the longer its employees think a title or an identity is equivalent to or better than a raise, then guess who gets to keep the money? This is called controlling the capital.

Television has always leaked out into the real world, rather than the other way around. Who hasn't watched those legal shows where the camera follows a lawyer from her swanky corner office to the bar, hotel, apartment, the Bahamas, mum's house, etc? We thought it was just an act. Turns out the gimmick has always been that the protagonist's job and personal life overlap. That's called propaganda. You lose.

Actually, it sounds like everyone in this story lost except Russell McVeagh.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Go on till you come to the end: then stop

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place.
And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”


By now you’ve probably heard of the Deepfakes. Essentially, it’s software that superimposes a celebrity’s face (re: a female) onto a live-action pornography video. It’s a serious test of the uncanny valley, but it really does look like Katy Perry.

Sorry, no links. Let's keep this PG.

I

I'm not sure this sort of Cartesian doubt is going to be good for society. It's already way too easy to pick which facts you prefer to believe. But we've had Photoshop for a long time now and it hasn't ruined photographic evidence. The sky hasn't fallen. Most Photoshop jobs are amateurish and easy to spot. Video fakes will be the same, at least for the foreseeable future.

Yet the faking of truth fundamentally rewrites the enlightenment understanding of communication in which each idea was hand-crafted meticulously by its maker and sent out into the world with love and affection. In that world, caging ideas is obviously cruel. And how could any person object to hearing a message, when the cost of sending a message is so high?

But now the costs of message transmission have hit absolute rock-bottom, so ideas aren't hand-crafted artisanal items anymore. They are like junk food turned out from the dirtiest factory. A person can broadcast 1000 ideas a day into the meme ecosystem and only one of them needs to make it for you to become a hero. But treating these mass-produced ideas with the same respect as actual ideas is just wrong.

Hand-crafted artisan ideas still get made and distributed to family and friends, but there's just so much information out there to drown it out.

But go ahead and Tweet your “profound insight” anyway.

II

Is Deepfakes a crime? If the celebrity wasn’t in the room during “Naughty Babysitters #439,” then is it really a video of her? How is this different to some girl wearing a cardboard mask of Katy Perry? You decide. But make sure that once you choose, you accept the logical consequences of your choice.

The first layer is the porn. I suspect – although I haven’t done the survey – that porn frustrates women not because it makes them feel inadequate, but because porn is just a proxy for disengagement. A man who chooses to watch TV rather than have sex is just a loser, whereas the husband who uses porn is “bad,” but I am telling you they are the same person. Porn is not causing men to disconnect from women, they are already disconnected, and the only person that will have them is Katy Perry’s superimposed face on some random girl’s body.

I get it, porn “objectifies” women. Blah, blah, blah. But just because a woman is on the screen, doesn’t make that thing about women. The agency of a female celebrity is being disregarded, no question about that. But that’s not the full story. Porn isn't making men feel impotent (metaphorically), men choose to consume porn because they feel impotent. Deepfakes isn’t misogyny, it’s apathy. Does the man want it to be true that he's impotent? No. He wants to be true that the reason he has sexual problems is the porn.

Free sex has changed men and women. Females thought they wanted release from the shackles of shame to have sex anytime they wanted. She could already do this, of course, but social ostracism and risky pregnancy kept her in check. Yet from what I can tell, it’s men that want to have sex with as many women as possible.

Free sex doesn’t really work for women because they want to have sex with one man as many times as possible. This reversal of natural instincts and desires, under a false impression of equality among the sexes, has resulted in a disconnection from both sexes, by both sexes, and a collapse into this practised indifferent self-absorption we call Western civilisation.

On the bright side, GDP goes up as interpersonal engagement goes down. So go long on any investment with 1s and 0s in the prospectus.

III

As mentioned elsewhere on this stupid blog, the female wants to lock a man down to limit his sexual promiscuity. If she wants a powerful man, she should be comfortable with a certain level of promiscuity in that man, otherwise, he will cease to be the man she fell in love with and the relationship will end. But men need a reason to see women as more than a sex object, it doesn’t magically happen.

Instead, women have chosen to live as sexual objects, just like advertising advertised, and sex was watered down to become masturbation with another person's warm body. The man sees the girl, but he doesn’t see her. It’s the neckline, the breast, the hipbone, the thigh – isolated and fetishised as pieces of sex. He stores up sexual imagery for later when he'll replay the mental tape, fitting the pieces of his wife with the girl on the train and Katy Perry's ankles into the ultimate sexual object - for him. Nothing else comes close to sexual pleasure, nothing else could. Now, most guys over 30 would choose to masturbate rather than have sex with an actual girl. Why?

Well, why bother? Men have heard nothing but nihilism and castigation their entire lives. I know, we’re not supposed to care what other people think, sticks-and-stone and all that. But when it gets mixed with the poison message of narcissism – the logical end-point of Christianity – you don’t feel a part of anything bigger, everything seems distant, unreal. Men don’t feel impotent because they are unimportant, narcissism depends on them believing they are the centre of the universe, the divine individual. They’re just waiting for something to happen to them, for their life to start.

And so they never act to become a person – “I am unique and special already” – instead they maintain cognitive balance by absorbing the identities the system presents to them. “I’m an actor.” I’m a great Modern Warfare player.” “I recycle.” Men want women to love them for “who they are,” even though that identity is entirely manufactured, not love them for what they do. There’s nothing worse for the soul.

And so you retreat to the .com world because at least porn prevents other people from finding out you aren't the identity you think you are.

IV

The result is disengagement and apathy. As men dissolve into inventing identities, they are less interested in establishing meaningful relationships with other people as an ultimate goal. Porn is never the problem. The issue is that men were never taught by their parents that masculinity is an achievement – something to earn, something to become, and something that can be taken away.

And I must point out that waiting for life to happen to you – passivity – is 100% a female archetype. Femininity isn’t earned, and no woman can’t lose her femininity by her actions. Every girl grows into her femininity by default when she hits puberty. I understand the business world is empty, pointless and tough to enter, but isn’t the parallel complaint to porn that women are feminising men?

“Well, maybe if men weren’t so discriminated in society, I’d have a chance to be successful.” Dude, you’re acting like a girl!

V

Identity won't get any better as the internet gets larger. But don't blame it. You're the one that clicks.

Who are you if you're not here?
Using a female image against her will isn't the problem. The anger and yelling about misogyny is hiding the quiet assumption that our online selves are identical to our offline selves. Don’t fall into this trap.

If more people understood Foucault, they would encourage the celebrities to embrace Deepfakes as a continuation of the persona (from the Greek for a pretend identity) they have created for themselves in the offline world. Katy Perry the celebrity is not the same person as Katy Perry the human. In fact, her name ISN'T EVEN KATY PERRY!!!

The creation of a persona or celebrity identity is the perpetuation of anonymity. That's a good thing. The point of anonymity online is to dig a moat between your real self and a pretend identity which you'll use to interact with other pretend identities. If you let the narrative that your online and real selves are identical be true, then you can be sold as a product. You must defend against this.

VI

The more our real selves are represented online as the most accurate representation of our identity (the default is plugged), the more we are subject to a new environment of power. And it changes not just life, but death as well. What does it mean to be dead? Doctors say death is the cessation of electronic activity in the brain. But that's not what I asked. I want to know what it means to be dead.

The closest I've ever come to understanding the meaning of death is trapped in the idea: "they say you die twice: first, when your heart stops beating, and second when someone says your name for the last time." In this reading, death is when an individual is no longer registered by other people.

Consider how a missing person is thought. In every important function of social life, they lack insurance, a passport, wants, needs, loves, a job, bills, a political opinion and even a library card. But they aren't necessarily dead, they just aren't registered as alive. The same can be said of a hermit. The moment the five senses can't detect your presence, you "might as well be dead."

Our online selves are being encouraged to represent who we are, and you demand the removal of anonymity to facilitate this transference. Add to this the constant development of new ways to digitally capture our human actions and couple them with an online personality creating an ever-more complex online character, and you can see how gradually our online selves become the prime "body" representing "you."

VII

But what happens when an "online" person does something bad in the "offline" world? What happens if the punishment is to exile their online "self" and turn off all their online access? It will be as if that person is dead because no one else will register the person's existence.

If you know anything about humans, you'll see the problem. Narcissistic rage is one response, but it's worse than this. The fear of death is so fundamental that we will do anything to avoid it. In fact, most people so despise being alone (which is why confinement is an effective punishment), they will prefer death over isolation. We even create stories about how we'll live forever in heaven if only we believe in this book, rather than that book.

I would say the invention of hell is really another defence against the terror of death. After all, no matter how frightening being forever prodded with a red-hot poker by smiling devils might be for a homo sapiens, at least it isn't the isolation of oblivion.

Anonymity is the best defence any of us has against creating a world in which unplugging becomes an existential question. I say, let Deepfakes happen and treat it as the thing it really is: an assault on a pretend identity in a realm that doesn't exist (digital). If you react in any other way, the system wins.

Do you think that's air you’re breathing now?


Huh...