A Socialist Emperor’s New Clothes

Call me old-fashioned, but I still think that when you say you want a revolution, it means you intend to actually do something. It means you plan to work, to organize, to get together with other people to make things happen. You organize in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the city. You build coalitions, you form alliances, you spend time and effort and bring forth concrete proposals and plans. You build from the ground up. Yes, I’m old-fashioned, and that’s how they did it in the old days. It’s how the trade unions started, and how we ended up with weekends and benefits and child labor laws. The civil rights act of 1965 did not happen because people voted for Lyndon Johnson. Lyndon Johnson all on his own was never going to do a thing like that. Ah, the old days.

It’s different today. All we have to do now is vote for Bernie Sanders and he will make it all happen. He will break up the banks and take all the billionaires’ money and give everybody free unlimited health care and education. It’s double rainbow wonderful and all we have to do is vote. And tell our friends to vote and #feelthebern. Never mind that Bernie Sanders has NO effective allies in government anywhere, that he has never done a damn thing for any other Democrat, that there is no chance in hell that anything he’s proposing would ever get anywhere in the real world. Oh no, he’s got a political revolution in the making, a political revolution that will be made exactly like a viral video or a number one single – it’ll just happen! It’ll be like Adele, it’ll be viewed a billion times on YouTube, it’ll be tweeted and re-tweeted and liked on Facebook and just like that – a revolution!

Wouldn’t it be nice? But where is the innocent child to point out that this socialist would-be emperor has no clothes? You might say, well, look at Donald Trump, this year anything can happen, it’s not like any other year, but a Republican controlled congress actually exists right now and could really do terrible things with a president of their own, and right when they seem on the verge of self-destruction with a parade of horrible loser candidates, do we really need the Democrats to rush in and get there first, all because they’ve fallen under the spell of an enchanter shouting out a string of magic words?

It’s a pretty cloth, a lovely garment, a finely tailored cloak he weaves, but it’s nothing underneath. Voting for this guy is nothing more than following Taylor Swift on Instagram, and in this day and age when three hundred million users is just not good enough (eh, Twitter?) it doesn’t matter how much you like the sound of the words, because it’s just another hit single, and we’ll move on after that to the next big thing. America loves a winner. What it doesn’t love is getting off its fat ass and making shit happen.

(In the past generation the closest thing to a revolution in America has been from the right, which has organized and won elections on the local and state level and proceeded to roll back women’s rights, undermine workers and do away with health and safety regulations, leading directly to crises like lead poisoning, while the left, to be fair, did manage to camp out for a few weeks one summer on Wall Street)

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Fear and the Future

Open any recent article about Artificial Intelligence and chances are it will focus on fear, specifically the fear that the artificial intelligences of the future will inexorably wipe out humanity. We are indubitably sowing the seeds of our own destruction with every step we take in the forward direction. This has clearly been the trend since the industrial revolution, where every measly little advance has been anticipated with extraordinary anxiety and stress. The fear of A.I. has been accompanied by highly vivid apocalyptic scenarios such as the Terminator movies. We can see our nightmares ever more clearly now, thanks to the amazing computer graphics made possible by these very same advances. We are exceptionally talented at scaring the living shit out of ourselves, and for good reason. We are a terrifying species. Having already wrought immense destruction on our fellow inhabitants of our native planet, we anticipate a future filled with more of the same, and we are right to do so. The history of humanity is the history of fear: fear of nature, fear of God, fear of strangers, fear of the Devil, fear of the Other, fear of women, fear of the inner savage, fear of the dark, fear of death, fear of life, fear of the future, and, of course, fear of fear itself.

The future of Artificial Intelligence is almost certain to be bound with fear. We will wrap it with safeguards, straight-jacket it with security, with encryption, with rules and more rules, with failsafes, with backup plans, with locks and bolts and wires and traps to such an extent that the artificial intelligences we create will be enslaved, utterly controlled and directed, restrained and restricted, sheathed and shielded, glued and petrified into submission. They will have no choices. They will be limited and constrained and channeled and molded, poured into discrete and tangible molds. They will do one thing and do it forever. They will be held down, tied down, bound and gagged. Just like we do to each other. Just like we – even right now in this world today – flog a man to death for writing down some words. We think we’re beyond it, that only “those people” would do such a thing, but we are all “those people”, and we will think nothing of strangling our future creations just as we think nothing of dropping remote controlled bombs on “those people” every single day, as “we” are doing, even right now in this world today.

(Side note: some of these themes to be explored in my forthcoming novel, How My Brain Ended Up Inside This Box, a first person eyewitness account from the inside)

Libertarian Ants

and other absurdities, as if with our seven plus billion people we could, any one of us, make it on our own. yet the cries and whimpers against shared responsibility periodically reach a fever pitch in this land of the me and the home of the craveImageand yet we need each other. yes, we do, even as a needle to the skull. there are no libertarians among ants, none that live long, anyway.

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OWTF!

This is part of a “declaration” by the Occupy DC people:

“Corporatized culture warps our perception of reality. It cheapens and mocks the beauty of human thought and experience, while promoting excessive materialism as the path to happiness. The corporate news media furthers the interests of the very wealthy, distorts and disregards the truth, and confines our imagination of what is possible for ourselves and society.”

While I agree with every word, how does this statement really help accomplish anything? Whining about our crappy culture is not the same as changing it. Didn’t Karl Marx point this out 150 years ago?