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

Saturday, March 04, 2017

What Is Happening?

My working theory is that Scalia's passage into hell seems to have deranged the timeline for us all ever since...


jimf said...

So who **is** on first?
The Hard Truth About Refugees
MARCH 7, 2017

The Swedes have a word, “asikstkorridor,” which translates as
“opinion corridor” and describes all those things considered
incorrect not only to say but to think. . .

The situation is different here. Since the United States has
no real refugee problem, save one fabricated by Mr. Trump and
conservative activists, and no immigrant crime wave, the
chief answer has to be on the level of the opinion corridor:
Liberal urbanites have to accept that many Americans react
to multicultural pieties by finding something else — sometimes
their own white identity — to embrace. If there’s a culture war,
everyone loses; but history tells us that liberals lose worse. . .


James Traub, a columnist and contributor for Foreign Policy,
is writing a book about the rise and fall of liberalism.
Winning the Culture Wars, Losing the Country?

BooMan directs his readers to this post of mine
[ ]
from yesterday. About it, he writes that "there is some good advice in"
it (thanks!) then goes on to disagree, which is much more interesting. He writes

> The "idea that we've won the Culture War is premature and inappropriate at the moment."

I have elaborated the chestnut "We Already Won the Culture Wars"
many times here and there, most recently here
[ ]
, and I think it is important for the left to grasp what it means that we
won the culture wars because too many of us mischaracterize a lot of what
is going on across the right because so much of that energy and incoherence
responds quite legibly and functionally to their own sense of having
lost the culture wars. . .

Hey, was the Culture War -- gasp! -- **rigged**? :-0

jimf said...
Why We Believe Obvious Untruths
Gray Matter
MARCH 3, 2017

. . .

[C]ollective delusion is not new, nor is it the sole province of
the political right. . .

The truth is obvious if you bother to look for it, right? This
line of thinking leads to explanations of the hoodwinked masses
that amount to little more than name calling: “Those people
are foolish” or “Those people are monsters.”. . .

Here is the humbler truth: On their own, individuals are not
well equipped to separate fact from fiction, and they never will be.
Ignorance is our natural state. . .

What really sets human beings apart is not our individual
mental capacity. The secret to our success is our ability to
jointly pursue complex goals by dividing cognitive labor. . .

Each of us knows only a little bit, but together we can achieve
remarkable feats.

Knowledge isn’t in my head or in your head. It’s shared.

Consider some simple examples. You know that the earth revolves around
the sun. But can you rehearse the astronomical observations and
calculations that led to that conclusion? . . . Most of what you “know” —
most of what anyone knows — about any topic is a placeholder for
information stored elsewhere, in a long-forgotten textbook or in
some expert’s head. . .

The key point here is not that people are irrational; it’s
that this irrationality comes from a very rational place.
People fail to distinguish what they know from what others know
because it is often impossible to draw sharp boundaries between
what knowledge resides in our heads and what resides elsewhere.

This is especially true of divisive political issues. Your mind
cannot master and retain sufficiently detailed knowledge about
many of them. You must rely on your community. But if you are
not aware that you are piggybacking on the knowledge of others,
it can lead to hubris. . .

[C]ollective delusions illustrate both the power and the
deep flaw of human thinking. It is remarkable that large groups
of people can coalesce around a common belief when few of
them individually possess the requisite knowledge to support it. . .

That individual ignorance is our natural state is a bitter pill
to swallow. But. . . [i]t also can prompt us to demand expertise
and nuanced analysis from our leaders, which is the only tried
and true way to make effective policy. A better understanding of
how little is actually inside our own heads would serve us well.

jimf said...
Data Firm Says ‘Secret Sauce’ Aided Trump; Many Scoff
MARCH 6, 2017

. . .

[Alexander] Nix’s little-known firm, Cambridge Analytica, claimed to
have developed something unique: “psychographic” profiles that could
predict the personality and hidden political leanings of every
American adult. . .

Capitalizing on its work for the man who is now president, Cambridge
has pitched potential clients in the United States ranging from MasterCard
and the New York Yankees to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. . .

“They’ve got a lot of really smart people,” said. . . [the] managing partner
of. . . a rival business. . . “But. . . I think there’s a big question
about whether we think psychographic profiling even works.”

At stake are not merely bragging rights, but also an emerging science
that many believe could reshape American politics and commerce.
Big data companies already know your age, income, favorite cereal
and when you last voted. But the company that can perfect psychological
targeting could offer far more potent tools: the ability to manipulate
behavior by understanding how someone thinks and what he or she fears.

A voter deemed neurotic might be shown a gun-rights commercial featuring
burglars breaking into a home, rather than a defense of the
Second Amendment; political ads warning of the dangers posed by
the Islamic State could be targeted directly at voters prone to
anxiety, rather than wasted on those identified as optimistic.

“You can do things that you would not have dreamt of before,” said. . .
[the] chief data scientist at. . . a consulting firm that offers
“emotion analysis” of social networks and has worked with the
center-right Republican Party in France.

“It goes beyond sharing information,” he added. “It’s sharing the
thinking and the feeling behind this information, and that’s extremely powerful.”

Both conservatives and liberals are eager to harness that power. . .


Cambridge is principally owned by the billionaire Robert Mercer, a
Trump backer and investor in Breitbart. . .

The promise of psychometrics appealed to Mr. Mercer, a computer scientist
who made a fortune helping to lead Renaissance Technologies, a
Long Island-based hedge fund. Mr. Mercer and his daughter Rebekah
presided over a growing political empire that included millions of
dollars in contributions to conservative groups and a stake in Breitbart. . .

Mr. Mercer became Cambridge’s principal investor. . .

Mr. Mercer has never spoken publicly about his policy views in depth,
but his giving is eclectic: He has financed anti-Clinton documentaries,
right-wing media watchdogs, libertarian think tanks and both
Senator Ted Cruz, a religious conservative, and Mr. Trump. . .

“The genius here is Bob, and the billionaire in this is Bob, and the
person with the extreme views of how the world should be is Bob,”
said David Magerman, a Renaissance research scientist who was recently
suspended after criticizing his boss’s support for Mr. Trump. . .

At the moment, according to former employees, Cambridge has relatively
few well-known corporate clients in the United States. Among them are. . .
Goldline, which sells gold coins and markets heavily to listeners
of conservative talk radio. . .

Data science is about to reshape marketing, Mr. Nix maintained, and the
big advertising conglomerates would survive only by developing their
own targeting technology — or acquiring companies like Cambridge. . .

jimf said...
_The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism_
Emmanuel Goldstein
Chapter 3, "War is Peace"
[George Orwell, _1984_]

. . .

In Oceania at the present day, Science, in the old sense, has almost
ceased to exist. In Newspeak there is no word for 'Science'.
The empirical method of thought, on which all the scientific achievements
of the past were founded, is opposed to the most fundamental principles
of Ingsoc. And even technological progress only happens when its
products can in some way be used for the diminution of human liberty.
In all the useful arts the world is either standing still or going
backwards. The fields are cultivated with horse-ploughs while books
are written by machinery. But in matters of vital importance - meaning,
in effect, war and police espionage - the empirical approach is still
encouraged, or at least tolerated. The two aims of the Party are to
conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for
all the possibility of independent thought. There are therefore two
great problems which the Party is concerned to solve. One is how to
discover, against his will, what another human being is thinking,
and the other is how to kill several hundred million people in a few
seconds without giving warning beforehand. In so far as scientific
research still continues, this is its subject matter. The scientist
of today is either a mixture of psychologist and inquisitor, studying
with real ordinary minuteness the meaning of facial expressions, gestures,
and tones of voice, and testing the truth-producing effects of drugs,
shock therapy, hypnosis, and physical torture; or he is chemist,
physicist, or biologist concerned only with such branches of his
special subject as are relevant to the taking of life. . .

But none of these projects ever comes anywhere near realization. . .

jimf said...

_Documents Relating to the Sentimental Agents of the Volyen Empire_
(Vol. 5 of Canopus in Argos: Archives, by Doris Lessing, 1983)
Grice vs. Volyen

. . .

In this disturbing setting did the Trial start today. . .

"I accuse Volyen of not providing me -- representing for the purpose
of this Trial all of Volyen's citizens -- with real information as to
our basic nature, thus enabling us to avoid certain traps into
which we are likely to fall and. . ."

But I am enclosing herewith a copy of the Indictment. . .

". . . Very well, where are your witnesses?" . . .

[A]n attendant wheeled in a trolley laden with about a hundred
and fifty books.

"These are my witnesses." . . .

"You are proposing that we should read all these books?" . . .

"Not at all; I shall summarize." . . .

"In a few words. . . The human animal, so recently evolved from a condition
of living in groups, groups within herds, packs, flocks, troops, and clans,
cannot exist without them, and can be observed seeking out and joining
groups of every conceivable kind because he -- "

"And she," enjoined the Chief Peer.

"-- and she have to be in a group. When the young animal -- sorry, person --
leaves the family group, he, she, has to seek another. But has not been
told that this is what he, she, will do. She has not been informed, 'You
will thrash about looking for a group, because without one you will be
uncomfortable, because you are denying millions of years of evolution.
You will do this blindly, and you will not have been informed that once
in the group, you can no more refuse the ideas that the group will spin
to make a whole than a fish can refuse to obey the movements of its shoal
or a bird the patterns made by the flock it is part of.' This person
is completely unarmed, without protection against being swallowed whole
by some set of ideas that need have no relevance to any real information
that moves or drives the society. This person -- " . . .

"Just a minute, dear, but are you saying that young people like the
company of their own age?"

"Yes, if you want to put it like that. . ."

"But everyone knows that, don't they, love?"

"If **everyone** knows it, then **everyone** does not take it the
necessary step further." . . .

"When I left home my mother said to me, 'Now, take care, and don't get into
bad company.' Is that what all those tomes of yours are saying? Excuse
me for asking like that, I don't want to upset you at all." . . .

"Well, it's the gist of it, but the point is, were you told that you were
a group animal and would have to absorb, whether you liked it or not,
all the ideas of your group?". . .

"As it happened, I did meet up with some boys and girls, particularly boys
of course, but I didn't go along with their ideas for long. They weren't
up to much."

"Madam, how fortunate you are." . . .

jimf said...

"But if we, and others like us, had been told when we were at school, as part
of our education, that the need to find acceptance within the group would
make us helpless against its ideas --" . . .

"Helpless, is it?. . . Helpless? Some are and some are not."

"It's a question of people's characters. . . People with some basic decency
and common sense can stand firm against wrong notions."

"If we are governed by mechanisms, and we are, then we should be taught them.
In school. At the age when one is taught how the body functions or how the
state is run. We should be taught to understand these mechanisms so that we are
not controlled by them."

"Just a minute, love. . . [D]on't tell me that you believe that if you say
to some young thing, all ready to take off for independence, and of course
knowing much better than her elders. . . His or her elders. . . Keep a cool
head and watch the mechanisms. That's the one thing they aren't capable of." . . .

"I don't agree with her. She's negative. She's pessimistic. Volyen can't
jettison its responsibilities like that! Besides, Volyen has promised in
its Constitution to -- "

"Have you read Tatz and Palooza on Group Mechanisms?" . . .

"No, should I have?"

"They are in total disagreement with Quinck and Swaller. . . For instance, in
the percentages of possible resistance to authority."

"Well, . . . I'm handicapped, aren't I? I've been in captivity. . . and I
was in no position even to know if all the relevant literature was there.
But it seems to me that this is evidence enough. . ." indicating the tomes.

"I'm just pointing out that the consensus isn't one hundred percent. . ."

"I want this court to condemn Volyen utterly, root and branch, for failing to
instruct its young in the rules that its own psychologists and anthropologists
have extracted from research and study; for failing to arm its youth with information
that would enable it -- the youth -- to resist being swept away into any
system of ideas that happens to be available. I want this court to say, clearly
and loudly, that at least three generations of Volyen youth, and may I
say at this point that I am one of the victims" -- boos, cheers, hisses --
"have been left unprotected because of the failure to provide knowledge that is
readily available to any specialist in the field of group function. That
Volyen has allowed, nay, connived at, a situation whereby its specialists acquire
more and more expertise about groups, the primary unit of society, but where
this information is never allowed to affect the actual institutions of society,
which continue to be archaic, clumsy if not lethal, ridiculously inappropriate
machineries. Our left hand does not know what our right hand does. On the one
hand, ever-increasing facts, information, discovery. On the other, the
lumbering stupidities of our culture. I want Volyen condemned." . . .

"Tatz and Palooza," murmured Krolgul.

"Oh, you keep out of it. . . I don't like the look of you at all. Volyen's
guilty. Of course it is. We should have been told all that kind of thing. . ."

"I hereby pronounce Volyen guilty on Indictment One. This is an intermediate
judgment, which will come into force if and when the Select Committee has
defined 'Volyen.' If and when Volyen is defined as an entity that can be
sentenced, Volyen will duly be sentenced. Right. That's that. We shall now
adjourn until tomorrow. We shall then take Indictment Two. . ."


jimf said...

You all wet.

jimf said...

Speaking of truth, belief, ideology, and propaganda,
there was a really weird full-page ad in the science
section of yesterday's New York Times, as described here:
Advertisement for Samsung Chemical Coating on page D5 -
full page - says there is no anthropogenic cause of
global warming, that instead this a natural evolution
to a new Ice Age starting in 2060.

I wonder if Trump saw it. (He does, they say, read the


jimf said...

Speak of the devil.
Talking Trumpism: A New Political Journal Enters the Fray
MARCH 8, 2017

. . .

[O]ne evening late last month, the Harvard Club in Midtown was
as good a place as any to go looking for the intellectual future
of conservatism.

The occasion was the unveiling of American Affairs, a tweedy
quarterly journal dedicated to giving intellectual heft and
coherence to the amorphous ideology known, for lack of a
better term, as Trumpism. . .

Julius Krein, the journal’s 31-year-old founder and editor, . . .
grew up in Eureka, S.D., and studied political philosophy at
Harvard with the noted conservative scholar Harvey C. Mansfield
before going into finance, working at Bank of America,
the Blackstone Group and smaller firms. (He now works
full-time on the journal.) . . .

The main event [at the Harvard Club] was a discussion of
globalization between Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley
entrepreneur and Trump supporter, and Anne-Marie Slaughter,
the president and chief executive of the left-leaning
think tank New America. (Mr. Krein said he met Mr. Thiel several
years ago though a reading group dedicated to the philosopher
Leo Strauss.)

During the cocktail hour, Mr. Thiel chatted with the philanthropist
and Trump donor Rebekah Mercer, while writers and editors from
The Washington Free Beacon, First Things, National Review,
The American Conservative and other mostly right-of-center
outlets worked the room. . .

Rebekah Mercer. . . where did I see that name recently? Oh yeah:

> Cambridge [Analytica] is principally owned by the billionaire Robert Mercer, a
> Trump backer and investor in Breitbart. . .
> The promise of psychometrics appealed to Mr. Mercer, a computer scientist
> who made a fortune helping to lead Renaissance Technologies, a
> Long Island-based hedge fund. Mr. Mercer and his daughter Rebekah
> presided over a growing political empire that included millions of
> dollars in contributions to conservative groups and a stake in Breitbart. . .

Billionaires gotta stick together. And philanthropists. ;->

jimf said...

> Billionaires gotta stick together. And philanthropists. ;->

Also Big Data gurus.

> Cambridge [Analytica] is principally owned by the billionaire Robert Mercer, a
> Trump backer and investor in Breitbart. . .

> Facebook’s successor at 156 University Avenue is
> Palantir Technologies, whose software helps government
> agencies track down terrorists, fraudsters, and other
> criminals, by detecting subtle patterns in torrents of
> information. Thiel co-founded Palantir in 2004 and invested
> thirty million dollars in it. Palantir is now valued at
> two and a half billion dollars, and Thiel is the chairman
> of the board.

And cf.

> Eric Shaw, a psychologist and longtime consultant to the
> intelligence community, [developed] a software tool. . .
> 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. . .

Oceania, 'tis for thee.

(I actually like the music. Very stirring! ;-> )

You know, the logo (as well as the name) has since changed, but it crossed my mind
a decade and a half ago that the original emblem of the "Singularity Institute
for Artificial Intelligence" must've been designed by somebody who hadn't seen that

I even mentioned that unfortunate resemblance (in an unsolicited e-mail ;-> )
to one of the principals back then, but as far as I know my kibitz went straight
to the memory hole, where it belonged. ;->

"Strong and peaceful, wise and brave
fighting the fight for the whole world to save. . ."