“Is ours a government of the people, by the people, for the people, or a kakistocracy rather, for the benefit of knaves at the cost of fools?” ~ James Russell Lowell
For the past few weeks, I have been reviewing articles about the trend toward authoritarianism in the USA. Unfortunately, articles appear faster than I can read and review them, so I’ll have to stop and move on soon. With this in mind, I list a few of the pieces I won’t get to, followed by excerpts from some other good ones.
Our two previous posts showed how prospect theory in behavioral economics explains why so many gambled on Trump, and why the artificial intelligence and decision theory expert Eliezer Yudkowsky thinks that this was a mistake. In a post written the day before the election, Yudkowsky expanded on both themes, providing a simple explanation of how many of the gamblers reasoned:
There is plenty of analysis on why Trump narrowly won the crucial states that gave him an electoral college victory—Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan—even though Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2.5 million votes. But what was particularly striking was how, even if we control for race and income, educational levels best predict how people voted in the election. Of course this was expected, but I was shocked by how much a difference education made in terms of voter preference.
It will be a long time into the future before we will know just what this election ultimately meant. What is perhaps more clear, even if we avoid donning the rose colored glasses of hindsight, is that the seeds that sprouted in 2016 were a long time- a- growing. They might even have been anticipated as far back as the culture wars that exploded onto the scene in the late 1960’s. More on that in a moment.
Like most of my readers, I am devastated by the 2016 American Presidential election results (and by the Congressional election results as well.) I have waited a few weeks to write about it so as not to be reacting too emotionally to the results. Since that time my usual focus on philosophy has faded into the background as the country in which I was born and lived all of my life finds itself in perhaps its greatest existential crisis.
As William Gibson has famously pointed out, the job of the science fiction writer is not to predict the future but to construct one plausible version of it from the pieces already laying around. I assume that Malka Older was trying to do this deliberately low key Gibsonian thing with her novel Infomacracy, but given the bizarre nature of this current election cycle she instead, and remarkably, ended up anticipating not merely many of its real or feared events, but even ended her novel on the same note of exhaustion and exasperation and even dread resulting from the perceived failures of representative democracy now expressed by many among the elites, and from another the other angle, the young.
Robust moral realism is the view that moral facts exist, but that they are not reducible to non-moral or natural facts. According to the robust realist, when I say something like ‘It is morally wrong to torture an innocent child for fun’, I am saying something that is true, but whose truth is not reducible to the non-moral properties of torture or children. Robust moral realism has become surprisingly popular in recent years, with philosophers like Derek Parfit, David Enoch, Erik Wielenberg and Russell Shafer-Landau all defending versions of it.
When we as a global community confront the truly difficult question of considering what is really worth devoting our limited time and resources to in an era marked by such global catastrophe, I always find my mind returning to what the Internet hasn’t really been used for yet—and what was rumored from its inception that it should ultimately provide—an utterly and entirely free education for all the world’s people.
Sometimes I get the feeling that the West really is intellectually and spiritually bankrupt. I take my cue here not from watching Eurovision or anything like its American equivalent, but from the fact that, despite how radically different our circumstance is from our predecessors, we can’t seem to get beyond political ideas that have been banging around since the 19th century. Instead of coming up with genuine alternatives we rebrand antique ideas. After all, isn’t “fully automated luxury communism” really just a technophilic version of communism which hopes to shed all association with breadlines or statues of strapping workers with hammers in their hands? Let’s just call the thing Marxism and get it the hell over with.
Secular and reformist Muslims plead that we learn to tell the difference between analyzing ideas and attacking people.
When Islam is at question, members of the American Left and Right race into opposite corners. After the Orlando nightclub massacre, to cite one recent example, conservatives spewed anti-Muslim invective to the point that ordinary American Muslims were afraid to leave home.
IEET Managing Director Steven Umbrello has entered a photo competition in order to be entered to win a scholarship for his graduate studies. In order to help him make the shortlist you can follow the link below to vote for his picture titled ‘Arrogance Dying’.
Lately I’ve been experiencing quite a bit of deja vu, and not in the least of a good kind. The recent bout was inspired by Ben Smith’s piece for BuzzFeed in which he struggled to understand how an Ayn Rand loving libertarian like the technologist Peter Thiel could end up supporting a statist demagogue like Donald Trump. Smith’s reasoning was that Trump represented perhaps the biggest disruption of them all and could use the power of the state to pursue the singularity and flying-cars Theil believed were one at our fingertips.
I have worked hard to get where I am. I come from a modest middle class background. Neither of my parents attended university. They grew up in Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s, at a time when the economy was only slowly emerging from its agricultural roots. I and my siblings were born and raised in the 1970s and 1980s, in an era of high unemployment and emigration. Things started to get better in the 1990s as the Irish economy underwent its infamous ‘Celtic Tiger’ boom. I did well in school and received a (relatively) free higher education, eventually pursuing a masters and PhD in the mid-to-late 2000s.
One of the more confusing characteristics of our age is how it trucks in contradiction. As a prime example: the internet is the most democratizing medium in the history of humankind giving each of us the capability to reach potentially billions with the mere stroke of a key. At the same time this communication landscape is one of unprecedented concentration dominated by a handful of companies such as Facebook Google, Twitter, and in China Baidu.
Give events of late I thought it relevant to re-post this piece from the summer of 2014 on the militarization of policing. Sadly, almost nothing has changed, except that my prediction that police would start using robots to kill people has come true, though in a way I certainly did not anticipate. I haven’t changed anything from the original post besides cleaning up the some of the shitty grammar and adding the mind-blowing photo by Jonathan Bachman, a freelancer for Reuters. If they have history books in 20 years time that photo will be in them.
The Technoethical Ethos of Technic Self-Determination
This paper addresses concerns that the development and proliferation of Human Enhancement Technologies (HET) will be (a) dehumanizing and (b) a threat to our autonomy and sovereignty as individuals. The paper argues contrarily that HET constitutes nothing less than one of the most effective foreseeable means of increasing the autonomy and sovereignty of individual members of society. Furthermore, it elaborates the position that the use of HET exemplifies – and indeed even intensifies – our most human capacity and faculty: namely the desire for increased self-determination, which is referred to as the will toward self-determination. Based upon this position, the paper argues that the use of HET bears fundamental ontological continuity with the human condition in general and with the historically-ubiquitous will toward self-determination in particular. HET will not be a dehumanizing force, but will rather serve to increase the very capacity that characterizes us as human more accurately than anything else.
Transhumanists will know that the science fiction author Zoltan Istvan has unilaterally leveraged the movement into a political party contesting the 2016 US presidential election. To be sure, many transhumanists have contested Istvan’s own legitimacy, but there is no denying that he has generated enormous publicity for many key transhumanist ideas. Interestingly, his lead idea is that the state should do everything possible to uphold people’s right to live forever. Of course, he means to live forever in a healthy state, fit of mind and body. Istvan cleverly couches this policy as simply an extension of what voters already expect from medical research and welfare provision. And while he may be correct, the policy is fraught with hazards – especially if, as many transhumanists believe, we are on the verge of revealing the secrets to biological immortality.
Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought looks into the pit of hell and is not afraid. ~ Bertrand Russell
While the idea may sound absurd, it happened just a few generations ago. The industrial north and the slave-holding, agrarian south couldn’t agree on, among other things, the extension of slavery into new states, as both sides didn’t want the other to gain a congressional voting advantage. A series of compromises over many years maintained the delicate balance, but gradually the two sides became more partisan, the rhetoric more divisive, and civil discourse eventually disappeared. Soon violence would be used to adjudicate their disputes, with the south firing the first shot. Within four years 700,000 Americans were dead, thousands more injured, homeless, widowed or orphaned. If that proportion of Americans were killed today, about 8 million Americans would die. The south thought that slavery and the lifestyle it provided were worth dying and killing for … and die and kill they did.
Dr. Stephanie Page at the University of Washington talks about why male birth control matters.
The Centers for Disease Control declared June 13 to 19 of 2016 as “National Men’s Health Week.” If it was Women’s Health Week, media experts would be talking a lot about sexual health and, especially, how women can safeguard against ill-timed or unwanted pregnancy. But for guys, pregnancy prevention is not even on the list, which instead emphasizes sleep, tobacco, food choices, and exercise.
The shootings at the Pulse club in Orlando highlight once more just how far we humans need to go in the evolution of our ethics. People on all sides have already weighed in on how their particular way of seeing the world would have prevented the crime. Almost immediately they began talking past each other with little or no effort to hear the other side.