Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, August 06, 2016

The Phony Radicalism of Presidential Politics

ADDED: It is also curious to observe those who grasp and affirm the force of this point as it pertains now in the context of the general election alternative of Clinton against Trump, but who did and do not grasp its pertinence in the context of the alternative, during the primary contest, of Clinton against Sanders.

To the extent that a presidential campaign is a public job interview rather than an occasion for fandoms to exhibit and enjoy the enthusiasms of membership, it seemed to me that Clinton was as obviously the better choice over Sanders as she is over Trump. As a democratic eco-socialist feminist anti-racist queer I always had quite a bit in common with the subculture of Bernie enthusiasts. Not to open old wounds, but I will admit that what seemed to me the too slow investment of his class politics with an intersectional critique of a kind that has to be foregrounded in any American-relevant class analysis, coupled with the campaign's early and ongoing dismissal of Obama coalition voters in the South, and then the abusive non-representative but noisy minority of racist, sexist brosocialists his campaign did little to discipline undermined my feelings of solidarity considerably, whatever our shared radicalism otherwise.

But for me the larger point is that I have simply never been particularly interested in treating the primary campaign as a symbolic space to harangue people about ideal outcomes and indulge in purity cabaret. (Admittedly, as a college lecturer by profession who teaches critical, political, and cultural theory to an audience greater and more abiding than I manage to reach in my online efforts I have a very real space in which to lecture and engage people about ideal outcomes, which is rare and very lucky for me.)

I view the presidential primary as a vetting of candidates mostly as a professional matter, to gauge their personal knowledge, flexibility, incisiveness, and thoughtfulness under pressure and in their more well-considered published positions as well as the fitness, diversity, reach, and pragmatic effectiveness of their campaigns as organizations. I don't think there is much of a contest on any of these grounds now -- nor then. HRC is politically to my right by all appearances, a bit more so than Bernie was but less so than her monsterologists and his sanctifiers would have it.

Be that as it may, HRC is a Democrat on the partisan left -- whatever my disagreements with and worries about her -- and to the extent that partisan reform politics and real-time stakeholder problem-solving politics are indispensable if inadequate to the work of progress toward sustainable equity-in-diversity, then HRC's elevation to the presidency (an actually-existing Constitutionally defined position in real governance whether you approve of it or not) is to be appreciated and her qualifications over her actually-available rivals to the position seem to me pretty obvious.

But... let's say your political focus is a larger or more radical one for which HRC remains a disturbing symptom. Let's say you have concerns about the ongoing anti-democratizing militarization of public life. Or let's say that you are worried about the ongoing consolidation of the unitary executive in the context of legislative dysfunction in the context of general partisan/geographic polarization in the context of the eclipse of white-racist patriarchal extractive-industrialism in the context of a diversifying, secularizing, planetizing America.

As it happens, I completely share such concerns. I've been writing about them here, not to mention discussing them in classrooms, for years. Nevertheless, I regard as incoherent at best and frivolous at worst the choice to express such concerns, let alone to pretend to do work to address them, primarily or even entirely through ineffectual and symbolic "presidential" politics, rather than educating and agitating to change understanding and laws at a local level while at once organizing for better representatives at the state and congressional levels.

The unitary executive won't be dismantled by the executive, especially so long as congressional obstructionism and dysfunction leaves fewer and fewer avenues available for functional governance but those smuggled through the war-making powers of the commander-in-chief wreathed in the terrifying mass-mediated glory of celebrity qua pater patria.

Similarly, the military-industrial complex won't be dismantled so long as war is profitable and Defense remains the primary space in which an assertively "market-based" economy stealthily does its economic planning. It sure would be nice if our congress-critters would actually take their responsibilities for war declarations and budgets seriously as presently they obviously do not, refusing even public debates and hence on-record stands on by-now generationally-ongoing and amplifying and ramifying military conflicts -- though the record is pretty dismal all around, it is worth noting that the Clinton's vice-presidential nominee has taken public stands on this issue -- and in the long term it is pretty obvious that it will be Congress and not the President who rectifies the dangerous unbalance in the separation of powers in a time of wars without end. As far as the executive is concerned, given the work of the cabinet, it seems that supplementation of belligerent military threats and actions with multilateral diplomacy and diversion of military spending into green investment to subsidize a green economy are both ways to aid in the likely multi-generational work to dis-inter democracy from the military-industrial complex.

Not to be unkind, but none of this involves the ineffectual tantrums (zOMG Impeach Obama!) in the face of real crimes and atrocities nor wish-fulfillment fantasies (Look, a "World Peace" Birdie!) of total spontaneous dis-invention or domestication of the armed services scarcely more realistic than levitating the Pentagon via meditation (much as I might approve of that gesture as a form of performance art or might enjoy participating in it as a form of partying) that pass too often for presidential politics.

It is worth noting that the Obama administration and HRC's tenure as Secretary of State engaged explicitly in both of these very efforts -- very imperfectly, convulsively, in the context of complex historical vicissitudes, making all the while many mistakes and committing what seem to me unacceptable and even criminal acts against civilians -- that is what HRC's "Smart Power" and "Green Superpower" rhetoric are all about, and they should be recognized and welcomed as such even as we remain enormously aware and critical about their implementation -- a criticism that should recognize the contexts at home and around the world pressuring, often beyond recognition, these efforts at implementation.

Again, I share such concerns but I insist that we recognize how long-term and compromised their effective address will be as a matter of fact. And since Americans are all beneficiaries of imperial war crimes and ongoing exploitation of manufactured precarity (from slavery to Native American genocide to the Monroe Doctrine to Pacific colonization to world war to military-backed globalization to "Tech"s digi-financial fraud and managed climate catastrophism) the fraught complexity and infuriating pace of this necessary address means that we are and will remain complicit in horrors hard to square with a sense of self we can live with -- and this in turn will invite denialisms that amount to complacent acquiescence to evil and ineffectual perfectionisms that amount to pre-emptive surrender to evil. It is not enough to see clearly what is wrong, one has to do something about what is wrong with the tools at hand and the tools that can be made, for as long as it actually takes to do it, however hard it is, however heartbreaking.

Whether or not you approve some notion of revolutionary politics as the right level to pitch collective efforts to make historical change adequate to our shared problems, it should not be that difficult to recognize that anybody calling a presidential election, let alone a primary contest over a party presidential nomination, a "Revolution" is peddling embarrassing nonsense. To fall for a revolutionary marketing of partisan politics is hard to distinguish from falling for a revolutionary marketing of a soft drink or handheld app: It is a recipe for disappointments accumulating into disaster.

Don't choose a political candidate so you can wear a tee shirt that makes you feel like you are the Revolution, choose a political candidate who can do the job on offer in a way that is most compatible with your values and understanding in the context of the limits of partisan governance such as they are. And if your values and understanding cannot be compassed within the present limits of partisan governance, then do not confine your politics to making choices constrained by those limits, supplement (and I do say supplement, not substitute, because that which is inadequate may still be indispensable) those politics with education, agitation, organization, expression to change the terrain of the possible and important in which legislation plays out. Let partisan politics do the work that partisan politics can do, participate in partisan politics to facilitate its best work... and then do more.


jimf said...

Stop the presses!

Calling all transhumanists and singularitarians -- global warming
is, after all, the most important (short-term) existential risk,
because the social chaos coming on its heels will make it
impossible to develop "Friendly AI" (and may even lead to
an "AI arms race"), which isn't OK because superintelligence
is still the most important (long-term) existential risk.
Climate Change Is the Most Urgent Existential Risk
By Phil Torres
Future of Life Institute
Aug 7, 2016

Climate change and biodiversity loss may pose the most immediate
and important threat to human survival given their indirect effects
on other risk scenarios.

Humanity faces a number of formidable challenges this century.
Threats to our collective survival stem from asteroids and comets,
supervolcanoes, global pandemics, climate change, biodiversity loss,
nuclear weapons, biotechnology, synthetic biology, nanotechnology,
and artificial superintelligence.

With such threats in mind, an informal survey conducted by the
Future of Humanity Institute placed the probability of human
extinction this century at 19%. To put this in perspective,
it means that the average American is more than a thousand times
more likely to die in a human extinction event than a plane crash.*

So, given limited resources, which risks should we prioritize?
Many intellectual leaders, including Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking,
and Bill Gates, have suggested that artificial superintelligence
constitutes one of the most significant risks to humanity.
And this may be correct in the long-term. But I would argue
that two other risks, namely climate change and biodiveristy
loss, should take priority right now over every other known threat.

Why? Because these ongoing catastrophes in slow-motion will
frame our existential predicament on Earth not just for the rest
of this century, but for literally thousands of years to come.
As such, they have the capacity to raise or lower the probability
of other risks scenarios unfolding. . .

[I]magine trying to solve these problems amidst a rising tide
of interstate wars, civil unrest, terrorist attacks, and other
tragedies? The societal stress caused by climate change and
biodiversity loss will almost certainly compromise important
conditions for creating friendly AI, such as sufficient funding,
academic programs to train new scientists, conferences on AI,
peer-reviewed journal publications, and communication/collaboration
between experts of different fields, such as computer science
and ethics.

It could even make an “AI arms race” more likely, thereby raising
the probability of a malevolent superintelligence being created
either on purpose or by mistake. . .

Does that mean that "rational" >Hists and S^-ians need to switch
their vote from Trump to Hillary?

Say it isn't so!!! ;->

jimf said...

The real threat from "AI":
The Absurd Moral Authority of Futurism
August 5, 2016
Cathy O'Neil, mathbabe

Yesterday one of my long-standing fears was confirmed:
futurists are considered moral authorities.

The Intercept published an article entitled Microsoft Pitches Technology
That Can Read Facial Expressions at Political Rallies, and written
by Alex Emmons, which described a new Microsoft product that is meant
to be used at large events like the Superbowl, or a Trump rally,
to discern “anger, contempt, fear, disgust, happiness, neutral,
sadness or surprise” in the crowd.

Spokesperson Kathryn Stack, when asked whether the tool could be
used to identify dissidents or protesters, responded as follows:

“I think that would be a question for a futurist, not a technologist.”

Can we parse that a bit?. . .

I’d like to point out that futurism is male dominated, almost
entirely white, and almost entirely consists of Silicon Valley nerds.
They spend their time arguing about the exact timing and nature
of the singularity, whether we’ll live forever in bliss or we’ll
live forever under the control of rampant and hostile AI.

In particular, there’s no reason to imagine that they are
well-versed in the history or in the rights of protesters or
of political struggle.

In Star Wars terms, the futurists are the Empire, and
Black Lives Matter are the scrappy Rebel Alliance. It’s pretty clear,
to me at least, that we wouldn’t go to Emperor Palpatine for
advice on ethics. . .

jimf said...

In a more sinister vein (and this thing is apparently
actually being used):
Spy Tech That Reads Your Mind
Leaks, theft, and sabotage by employees have become a major
cybersecurity problem. One company says it can spot “insider threats”
before they happen—by reading all your workers’ email.
By Roger Parloff

On any given morning at a big national bank or a Silicon Valley
software giant or a government agency, a security official could
start her day by asking a software program for a report on her
organization’s staff. “Okay, as of last night, who were the people
who were most disgruntled?” she could ask. “Show me the top 10.”

She would have that capability, says Eric Shaw, a psychologist and
longtime consultant to the intelligence community, if she used a
software tool he developed for Stroz Friedberg, a cybersecurity firm.
The software combs through an organization’s emails and text messages --
millions a day, the company says—looking for high usage of words and
phrases that language psychologists associate with certain mental
states and personality profiles. Ask for a list of staffers who score
high for discontent, Shaw says, “and you could look at their names.
Or you could look at the top emails themselves.”

Many companies already have the ability to run keyword searches of
employees’ emails, looking for worrisome words and phrases like **embezzle**
and **I loathe this job**. But the Stroz Friedberg software, called Scout,
aspires to go a giant step further, detecting indirectly, through
unconscious syntactic and grammatical clues, workers’ anger, financial
or personal stress, and other tip-offs that an employee might be
about to lose it. . .

Scout was soft launched as a client service by Stroz Friedberg in
late 2014, though the firm has long used earlier versions for internal
investigations. The firm was founded in 2000 by Ed Stroz, a 16-year
FBI veteran in Manhattan, and Eric Friedberg, an 11-year Brooklyn
federal prosecutor. . .

jimf said...

> I think there is surely space to talk about narcissism
> as a cards-on-the-table moralist rather than as someone
> who plays a clinician on the internet.

How about the discourse of demonic possession? ;->

Narcissism is not a mental condition, it IS demon influence
Published on Jun 28, 2016

Don't laugh -- there was a very popular Christian psychiatrist
from 30 or so years ago named M. Scott Peck who wrote an interesting book:

People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil

Whatever you may think of his intimations of theologically-toned
etiologies (he gave one case history that he all but declares
was a case of a patient **inviting** possession by an evil spirit --
the patient had to summon up an act of "moral will" to banish this
malevolent influence from his life), he does give some case histories
that look (from today's perspective -- I don't think Peck ever
used the term) like rather chilling examples of narcissistic
personalities, the most salient being:
Bobby. . . [a]lthough he was seriously depressed and desperately
in need of help, the source, the cause of his depression, lay not
in him but in his parents' behavior toward him. . . [T]here
was nothing sick about his depression. . . The essential
sickness. . . lay. . . in the family environment to which is
depresson was a natural enough response. . .

Bobby, when he first came to the hospital, was literally gouging
holes in himself. . . Why?. . .

In the days immediately following [his brother] Stuart's [suicide]
he would have remembered. . . that only a week before he had called
his brother a stupid slob; that a month before he had kicked him
in the midst of a fight; that when Stuart picked on him, he
often wished that his brother would somehow be removed from
the face of the earth. . .

What should have happened at this point -- and what would have
happened in a healthy home -- would have been for his parents
to begin reassuring him. . .

[By] Christmas Bobby was already judging himself to be. . . evil. . .
Then, unsolicited, he was given his brother's "murder" weapon
[i.e., the rifle his brother had used to commit suicide]. How
was he to understand the meaning of this "gift"? Was he to think:
My parents are evil people, and out of their evil, desire my
destruction, just as they probably destroyed my brother? Hardly. . .

Let us turn now from the identified patient to the parents,
the true source of the problem. . . They should have been the
ones to receive treatment. Yet they did not. Why not?. . .

[T]hey did not want it. To receive treatment one must want
it. . . There are an enormous number of people in this world
with serious and identifiable psychiatric problems who. . .
are quite desperately in need of psychiatric treatment but
fail to recognize this need. . . [I]t is into this category
of persons most intensely resistant to psychiatric treatment
that the thoroughly evil fall. . .

They reacted only with rationalization and belligerence to my
intimations that they had been remiss in not earlier seeking
professional help for Bobby and that their judgment had been
poor, at best, in their choice of his Christmas present. . .
[T]he idea that it would be better for him to live elsewhere
was anathema to them because of its implied criticism of their
ability as parents. Rather than acknowledging any deficit,
they refused to assume any blame on the grounds that they
were "working people". . .

In case you're wondering -- no, I don't believe in the Devil, or
in evil spirits. ;->

jimf said...

And now I need to re-watch _Ordinary People_. ;->

Calvin Jarrett: She was upset, Conrad. Your mother was hurt
because you quit the swim team. I don't understand it myself.

Conrad: I don't mean just now. Don't you see? I don't mean
just today.

Calvin: What then? Explain it to me.

Conrad: I can't! Everything is German pudding with you, dad.
You don't see things!

Calvin: What things?

Conrad: [sighs]

Calvin: What things? Please, I want you to tell me.

Conrad: That she hates me! Can't you see that?

Calvin: Your mother doesn't hate you, Conrad!

Conrad: All right, all right. You're right. She doesn't.
Please leave me alone, now.

Dale Carrico said...

Yeah, I saw that Futurists As Moral Authorities thing. Quite apart from the profound unrepresentativeness of the "discipline" (a point I used to hammer quite a bit here, years back, a critique that eventually condensed into the hard diamond of an aphorism: "The futurists have seen The Future... and it is a white penis"), the fact that futurism is best understood as a public relations and marketing genre masquerading as a kind of policy analysis or even analytic philosophy makes it utterly inapt as a source of guidance in public or personal deliberation. One might as well be guided by late-nite infomercials or televangelist scams. And I mean that analogy more literally than many people seem to realize.

There are interlocking causes and contexts for the disastrous investment of the futurological with scientific and ethical authority when futurism is a pseudo-scientific moralism deserving nothing but rejection and ridicule: among these, first, a general American anti-intellectualism coupled with privileged insulation that has fed serial dysfunctions of this kind, second, the bankruptcy of Anglo-American analytic philosophy as a paradigm after the eclipse of pragmatism and given the endless know-nothing reactionary assaults against the "postmodern relativism" and "politically correct multiculturalism" of continental thought, third, the breakdown of the academy as a source of reliable expertise in the grip of the neoliberal pincer of an ongoing looting of public higher education and the treatment of the disinformational think-tank archipelago as equivalent to that embattled academy, fourth, the emergence of pseudo-disciplinary spaces like "bioethics" and "design" that rationalize tech sector abuses while pretending to autonomy from them, and so on.

jimf said...

> Conrad: . . . Everything is German pudding with you, dad.
> You don't see things!
How to Stay Sane Around a Narcissist
Understanding Narcissists
Aug 6, 2016


Some of the nicest, most grounded people I've ever seen,
just in their nature -- and sweetest people, most loving
people -- are enablers to narcissists, or have been, or
are vulnerable to it. Again and again. The most grounded,
reasonable, and often hard-working, virtuous people.
And I just mean that as just a character judgment, not
necessarily what they believe or what they do as far as
for a living or religious affiliation or any kind of moral
judgment -- just knowing them and being around them.
Some of the most lovely people. . .

The predators, and the prey. It's not surprising that people
had to invent Heaven and Hell to compensate. :-/

(This comment follows from the _Ordinary People_ one in this chain,
but the M. Scott Peck one prior to that I had intended to
add to the chain under "The Pathologization of Donald Trump".
It seems I missed the correct "comments" link when I first
opened up the "Post a Comment" screen. I think
I've done that a couple of times, recently. :-0 )