Undoing Dystopia

Douglas Rushkoff Wants Us to Rewind

Buy Team Human from an indie bookstore

Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff (W.W. Norton, 2019, 256 p. hardbound), ISBN 987-0-393-65169-0, $23.95. Also available in eBook and audiobook formats.

The entities called computers were originally human beings, people like the accounts clerk Bob Cratchit in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. In the mid-20th century, computers were (mostly) women who worked calculators and slide rules, tasked with tabulating data and solving numerical problems. Nowadays, says Douglas Rushkoff, computers run us as extensions of applications that abuse us for fun and profit. Rushkoff has had it with the soul-sucking “innovation economy”; to retrieve the human agency and dignity that technocracy has usurped, he proposes not a revolution but a renaissance of pre-industrial, even pre-enlightenment, societal values. Rushkoff emerged as an early member of the digerati, but has since been a longstanding critic of those who control digital media and manipulate its users, not to mention capitalism itself. Now a professor of media studies (CUNY Queens), public intellectual, and podcast host, he’s quietly assembling an army of change agents. Their mission is to “challenge the operating system that drives our society” by organizing the (better-educated) masses to throw off their (block) chains by imagining and building human-scale alternatives to giant financial institutions, public corporations, and their enablers. Given how overarching and well-wired global capitalism is, that’s a tall order, but Rushkoff asserts that the battle can be won if we stick together. Continue reading “Undoing Dystopia”

The Daily (or whenever) Eruption


Archive

DIY Sex Ed: Wednesday 5/22/19

As a callow, overweight youth just having graduated from Tween University with a degree in Acne, I felt certain stirrings and had heard certain rumors about “doing it.” One day I repeated a crude joke from the playground to my mom and followed up with:

“What’s a cunt?”

“Well,” she said, drawing a breath and letting it out, “it’s part of the female anatomy and I’ll leave it at that. I think you and your father should have a little talk about the birds and the bees.”

Assuming she had prepped Dad to have “the talk,” I waited for it to happen, face flushing whenever we menfolk were by ourselves, but he never did tell me anything about reproductive rites. But it wasn’t long before a little book that I didn’t think had been in our library mysteriously appeared on my bedspread, called Facts of Life and Love for Teenagers by a nice lady whose name I forget.

So I did what any 13-year-old would do: I immediately hid the book, lest a friend come by and notice it, and furtively read it in bed by flashlight, looking for the good parts. There was, alas, no mention of birds or bees. It occurred to me that I had never witnessed birds doing it, and certainly not bees, but perhaps those two houseflies I remembered seeing united in flight were making whoopee. It must be a thing, I figured, recalling listening to Noel Coward croon “Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it” from our phonograph, but really, how do birds do it? Do they take off their feathers first? Do Bees lay aside their little stingers?

And whatever was “doggy style,” I wanted to know. I consulted the book, but failed to find anything that concerned canines. Recalling that dogs spend a lot of time sniffing each other’s butts, I wondered if that was something grown-ups did in bed. Another term I had heard, “Missionary Style,” also baffled me. I figured Bibles played some role, but couldn’t imagine what it might be.

I did pick up some useful info from the book, like what clitoris, vagina, semen, and vas deferens denoted (enabling me to nickname Anthony Spinelli Spermatozoa), but precious little about technique; that I would have to do myself.

And so, I did it myself, for quite a while. Truth be told, I only managed to do it with an actual female when I was 21. And speaking of technique, do you know how she responded at the peak of passion?

“Hey! That’s my anus!”

 

B(u)y the Book: Friday 5/3/19

Here’s prematurely alopeciated Jeff Bezos, proudly displaying Amazon wares looking part goofball, part nerd, and part used car salesman. The photo of the now-richest human being is undated, but I place it in the late 1990s.

One clue is that book he’s holding, Fluid Concepts And Creative Analogies: Computer Models Of The Fundamental Mechanisms Of Thought, 1st Edition, by Douglas Hofstadter, published in 1996 and currently selling for $20.17 at Amazon.

Amazon’s blurb for it reads: “Driven to discover whether computers can be made to ‘think’ like humans, Hofstadter and his colleagues created a variety of computer programs that extrapolate sequences, apply pattern-matching strategies, make analogies, and even act ‘creative.’ As always, Hofstadter’s work requires devotion on the part of the reader, but rewards him with fascinating insights into the nature of both human and machine intelligence.”

Well gosh, isn’t that just what young Jeff went on to do? Amazon’s AI inference engines are among the best in the biz. Everything you do on the site is tracked to predict what you will want next and put up for sale to assorted merchants and data brokers. All that shopping and just clicking around made Jeff a media plutocrat by giving people what they were urged to want, but also by selling their souls. We might have gotten the hint then, but who was paying attention to all that profiling or knew AI would come after us with it? My advice: resist one-click shopping.

Childfree Doesn’t mean Carefree: Saturday 3/30/19

WIRED this week features a rather joyless essay, Why Don’t You Want Kids? Because Apocalypse! that makes a case for the Childfree movement, as is evidenced on Reddit and in several recent or forthcoming books and academic articles. I can relate to these young folks who spurn parenthood; newly married in my mid-twenties, I decided I didn’t want to have any kids. Now the childfree folks say its to spare potential offspring from one or more coming collapses. Back then, Vietnam, Nixon, assassinations, and civil disturbances, not to mention overpopulation, made bringing a child into the world seem risky, if not futile. But the real reason I didn’t want to was that I had decided I did not want my wife to be the mother of my children. That was a problem, and after three years together we sensibly broke up.

It took many relationships and 30 years for me to change my mind, and now my only child, my special daughter, is about to enter college. Of course I’m glad we had her, and gratified that she’s plotting a career to fight for environmental quality justice. We—and she—know her path won’t be easy, but we wouldn’t have it otherwise.

Now, many of today’s childfreebies may have staggering loads of student debt, which wasn’t so much of a problem when I graduated from college. No doubt, having a baby when one is under such a financial cloud can feel daunting. But even if they manage to pay off their own college and grad school obligations, they’ll still need to save the money they might have spent to educate their unborn. That’s because, come the time when they grow old and feeble, they’ll need to pay for support that adult children typically provide ageing parents; such services don’t come cheap and may go on for a number of years, if not decades. Are they prepared to put their money where their mouth is, their faith in the kindness of strangers, and their fates in underpaid hands, or have they already decided that the world will soon end and take them with it? If so, good for them. Who needs another generation of nihilists?

File under End Days

Continue reading “The Daily (or whenever) Eruption”

Deval Patrick for President?

For Democrats, the 2020 primary season could come right out of their 2008 playbook, with a black man contesting a white woman for nomination to the highest office in the land.

It’s unlikely that the name Deval Patrick does more than ring a bell for most Americans, yet he is seriously considering running against Donald Trump in 2020 and just might garner considerable corporate cash. Democrat Patrick succeeded Mitt Romney as Governor of Massachusetts in 2006, beating Republican Kerry Healey in the general election to become the first black governor of the Commonwealth. Healy had been Romney’s Lieutenant Governor who became Acting Governor when Romney resigned to run for President. Cherchez la femme, as we shall see. Continue reading “Deval Patrick for President?”

Fair and Balanced Opinion at the Times

Democratic Socialism is awful as a slogan and catastrophic as a policy. And “social democracy”—a term that better fits the beliefs of ordinary liberals who want, say, Medicare for all—is a politically dying force. Democrats who aren’t yet sick of all their losing should feel free to embrace them both.

~ Bret Stephens, “Democratic Socialism is Dem Doom,” New York Times op-ed, 7/7/19, p. A19.

So much for my false hopes for a progressive renaissance. Bret Stephens, the Great Gray Lady’s newest white male conservative columnist hath spoken. He came on board a little over a year ago, straightaway from the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. When he was hired, NYT’s Editorial Page Editor James Bennet gushed “Bret, who won the 2013 Pulitzer prize for commentary, brings to the job profound intellectual depth, honesty and bravery – the qualities our audience expects from a Times columnist. He’s a beautiful writer who ranges across politics, international affairs, culture and business, and, for The Times, he will bring a new perspective to bear on the news.”

So now, out of a dozen regular Times columnists there are three white male Republican opinionators who don’t like Trump. I guess it’s up to Bret Stephens, Ross Douhat, and David Brooks to change the hearts and minds of the 7 out of 10 Republicans who do like him. Be my guest. Continue reading “Fair and Balanced Opinion at the Times”

When Momma Ain’t Happy

Downsides of Innovation Mania

(Revised and expanded July 4th, 2018. Happy Independence from Consumerism Day!)

You probably sense as I do that normality isn’t what it used to be, even a few years ago. I’m talking not about Trump or politics but of the magnificent panoply of digital technologies we are immersed if not drowning in. The speed at which technologists are shoving stuff at us has bugged me for quite some time. Understanding innovation mania has caused me to spend years puzzling out what’s driving the complexification of nearly everything and how the new ways we are obliged to adopt might transform concepts of what human nature is.

Why, I wonder, is everything possible being digitized as quickly as possible? I hate to use the phrase, but might there be some “intelligent design” that drives humans to churn out technology, faster and faster? More importantly, whom or what are we serving with our clever innovations, especially those that render what once was tangible into bits? Continue reading “When Momma Ain’t Happy”

Deep State 101: A primer and prescription

Every nation worth its salt has a deep state, a loose network of rich and powerful players who ratify, veto or formulate state social, economic and military policies. Whether monarchy, dictatorship, or constitutional republic, no government worthy of the name lacks for a shadowy unelected élite with hands on the tiller and in the till, influential persons with inherited or recent wealth, upper crust social connections, and old school ties, often found sitting on boards of directors and golf carts in isolated settings.

Like Sand Hill Cranes, they are rare and difficult to spot in their habitats, seamlessly blending as they do with their inaccessible surroundings. Amongst themselves, however, they are highly convivial. Partial to receptions, they bibulate and circulate as they joust over canapés. Not to worry they are but degenerates just killing time, important things get done under the buzz. Small talk can have big consequences and decadent environs make deal-making a sport. Continue reading “Deep State 101: A primer and prescription”

Innovators, Mind Your Mother

This article is an excerpt from a book in progress, titled The Silica Papers: Who Technology Is and What She Wants. Silica is the name I have given to the technosphere—the totality of human artifacts constructed over eons by human beings that allows us to survive and improve our lot. Except that things don’t necessarily get better in every way. To underscore how technology drives us as much as we drive it, I have personified Silica as sort of a demigod-in-waiting, a female force of nature I also call Stepmother Earth, who’s not quite sentient but quickly becoming so.
Continue reading “Innovators, Mind Your Mother”

Guest post: How Cambridge Analytica wants to bend your mind

If you are upset that in behalf of Trump’s campaign, Cambridge Analytica siphoned  personally identifying information on 50 million Americans from Facebook to microtarget voters, chances are that you may be missing the point about what they do and what it signifies. They are involved in psy-op electioneering on at least five continents similar to their efforts for Trump. Their data revelations are consulted in military and intelligence operations around the planet and their gluttony for personal data knows no bounds.

To get a handle on how these machinations play out, take a look at Roberto Gonzales’ (chair of the anthropology department at San José State University) recent article in CounterPunch, which shines a light on how CA and its parent company operate; by no means a complete accounting of the technologies or aims involved but enough to make you lose a few hours of sleep.

The Mind-Benders: How to Harvest Facebook Data, Brainwash Voters, and Swing Elections

Read it, and let me know how happy you are now to expose yourself to social media. The task ahead for the citizenry, as I see it, is to immunize ourselves to behavioral manipulations, regardless of source or intent.

One Regime to Rule them All

It is considered bad form for journalists to refer to the US government as a “regime.” Apparently, that moniker is reserved for our country’s enemies, of late Russia, North Korea, Iran, and Syria. Maybe Myanmar too; that’s still being sorted out. But what is a regime, really, and is it really true that we don’t have one here? Continue reading “One Regime to Rule them All”

Guest Post: We the Sheeple

Even if you’re already convinced that the United States of America is a rogue nation under financial-military-industrial overlords, it’s well worth reading Jason Hirthler’s article in this weekend’s edition of CounterPunch, We the Sheeple: the Blind Reading the Blind, if only for the revealing quotation in its opening paragraph:

Shortly after the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, made a candid confession to the Army Times, “I’m running out of demons, I’m running out of villains. I’m down to Castro and Kim Il Sung.” Amid the general bonhomie of the military interview, Powell nicely encapsulated a central truth of empire: it doesn’t want peace. Never did. Imperialism, the monopoly stage of capitalism, is based on conquest. Peace is little more than an aftermath in the imperialist vision. It is the dusty rubble-strewn silence that descends on Aleppo when the jihadists have been bussed out. It is the silent pollution of the Danube when the NATO jets have flown. It is the quiet that settles on the Libyan square once the slave auction has concluded. Peace is an interlude between the birth of avarice and the advent of aggression. Little else.

Read the rest on CounterPunch.

One must also appreciate his spot-on assessment of the function that corporate media serve in legitimizing suspicions of uncooperative regimes and aggression on them, papering over the devastation created by US aggression, and fear-mongering terrorism while pretending it isn’t blowback. Depressingly few Americans understand how our empire works. It takes a while for it to sink in because we the people have been systematically deceived about America’s role in the world since the founding of the Republic. Hirthler’s superbly written diatribe is a badly needed civics lesson in how that works today. Read and share widely.