I don’t know what I’ve been doing all week. Mostly I’ve been trying to draw pleasure from the same old things that have given me pleasure in the past. But it’s not working. Maybe it’s the law of diminishing returns, but I think that only affects people below a certain level of capitalization. It seems like the über-wealthy follow a different law, the law of infinitely increasing returns.
By the time I’m on This Is Hell radio, with your host Chuck Mertz and your producer Alex Jerri, who knows what part of the world will be in flames?
Then again, maybe everything will be resolved nicely by then, wrapped up with a bow, and I will have stopped agonizing about World War III.
It all makes me worry about Hillary Clinton. How it must eat at her, believing she could have saved the world from its now immanent destruction. Has anyone checked on her? I just think someone should console her, tell her, “It’s all right. Yes, your management of our forever war would’ve been much more discreet, but Australia would still be on fire. Don’t worry, you wouldn’t have done much to fix most of the problems, which we might not have even known existed if we didn’t have Dump to highlight them and to blame them on, when a lot of them were actually results of Obama, Bush, and even Bill Clinton policies. So, rest easy. You were never going to save us from what started long before Dump, only from the pain of his most flagrant vulgarities. You certainly wouldn’t have saved the world, get over yourself.”
What I should do, rather than worry about the world or Hillary, I’ll pick a distraction, that usually works. Eating, that’s something to do. What shall I eat? How about that piece of farm- raised salmon I got for such a reasonable price at the Armenian market? Color added for appeal!
Yes, I know, I know. Everything I do, every move I make, adds to the destruction of the planet. Well, at least I’m not assassinating anyone. At least I’m not provoking a region’s largest military in order to distract from the untimely publication of evidence of my crazy, ego-driven crimes. At least I’m not Donald Dump.
I agree, faithful listener, that is not a very high standard to hold oneself to. No, you’re right. I ought to expect more from myself. At least I don’t damn people to a cold darkness of eternal torment! No, I guess that’s not much better.
Was that a bomb?! Jesus, no, it was just someone closing the garage door.
You know, it occurs to me, in quiet moments of reflection like this one here, that the longer one lives, the more chance there is for something truly devastating to happen right in front of your eyes. Personally, I’ve been spared most of the horrors of human existence. I’ve only read or heard about them secondhand.
I’ve met people who were in Nazi concentration camps. I met a woman who had to watch her three-year-old daughter washed out to sea during Hurricane Iris. I’ve met people who had to escape from Cambodia, people who went through the Bosnian war, people who were tortured in Chile and Morocco and Iraq and Israel and Chicago, and who lost friends to terrorism and to serial killers. People who survived ruining their lives with drugs, and people who’ve lost the ability to walk. People who lost their children to cancer and drug overdose or their parents to suicide.
What a time to be alive!
There’s no point in dwelling on the terrible and the sorrowful. There’s no point in anything, really, if you get right down to it. But especially in dwelling on the terrible and the sorrowful.
Reminds me of some advice my father gave me. Or, no, not advice, more a chastisement. He said, “Quit dwelling on it!” I don’t remember what it was I was dwelling on, all those years ago, in our old house in Oak Park, Michigan, that starter ranch house with its olive linoleum tile in the kitchen, olive, orange and yellow starbursts scattered on the wallpaper, very hand-scrawled looking, like multicolored versions of Kurt Vonnegut’s famous sketch of a butthole.
I learned a lot about the sun in those days, that it came up in the morning and went down in the evening, sometimes as late as ten pm, even a little later, thanks to Daylight Savings Time, and Michigan being on the far-western end of the Eastern Time Zone.
In the middle of winter, it appalled me how much suffering we were expected to endure – little did I know about suffering, or of being appalled – going to school hours before the sun came up, while traffic struggled in the deep, heavily-falling snow. I was a crossing guard for a while. It was a privilege. We were given hot chocolate before having to go to class.
See, this is what happens when you get old, you reach back into your memories, clawing for any respite from the god-awful present! Yeah, it’s gonna happen to you, too. That’s how it happens, that’s how we wind up descending into going from glen to glade, burbling in the foggy forest of reverie, wandering till we’re lost in its seductive and mind-addling verdure.
This is how it happens, you sprouts, you babies, you young people with your stickball and your glue-huffing! You think it won’t happen to you! Good! Keep thinking that! It’ll happen whether you expect it or not, might as enjoy the bliss of ignorance.
Yes, this how our minds become old and foolish. But how do our minds become vile and fascist? That’s the question, which, if we ever answered it, ah, then maybe we could change the fascist mind. Then we wouldn’t have to wrap them all in a giant cloak of plastic wrap and suffocate them. Hey, that’s a great idea! Drop a big Saran Wrap on a Dump rally!
Aw, gee. Remember suffocating? They changed it to asphyxiating, I don’t know why. It’s suffocate! Why did they change that?! I liked it better when it was “suffocate!” They mean the same damn thing! Trust me! Uch, everything was better back when it was “suffocate.” Ah, remember when we used to suffocate? None of that fancy asphyxiation for us, we were down to Earth. It was a simpler time.
When did we lose “suffocate?” When we went off the gold standard? When people started saying, “I could care less,” instead of, “I couldn’t care less?” When all the candy became “sour” and “gummy” and all the chips and Cheetos became hot?
I promise you, I did not intend to wax nostalgic. Oh, remember wax lips? Why did we have those? Anyway, I had fully intended to examine the rightwing imagination, I was going to go back to Leo Strauss and his quarrel with certain aspects of the Enlightenment, and then proceed to when William F. Buckley joined the battle with his attack on academia in his early tour de force of extreme Christian fascism, God and Man at Yale. And follow that through the imaginary communist conspiracy that gave rise to Nixon, then Reagan’s inability to tell fantasy from reality, then mention the One Percent Doctrine where the reality-based community parted ways permanently with those who make policy in the clouds of the world in which they desire to live.
But then, Donald Dump, the man who has manifested desires more outlandish than Sardanapalus or Caligula, out of the thinnest air, assassinated Suleimani, Qassem Suleimani, the Quantum Salami, igniting what infernal future we will only discover when we would most wish to remain in the above-mentioned bliss of ignorance. Donald Dump, whom the worst of us conjured into being, and conjured into authority and power, and who himself conjures a mirage of statesmanship, a mirage of competence, of responsible behavior, handed as he was an imperialism conjured by the hubris of men playing at being kings and philosophers.
And that attack, that assassination – and, hey, I have nothing against assassination, especially if it spares the innocent, which this one most likely will not – it was just too much. I’m fretting over the repercussions, the revenge. So, much like Hillary Clinton, after having her ass handed to her by the Electoral College – itself yet another imaginative creation of men playing at creating a democracy but too afraid of the real thing to allow it to happen – I turn to the woods, and wander in, to lose myself in dreams of what was and what might have been.
This was and might have been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Spiders are spinning their webs in the grass: pretty, tiny, black jumping spiders, with turquoise rings around their abdomens. Spiders have spinneret glands to poop out their web strands. That’s one way to do it, I guess!
Kids with excellent eyesight can watch the spiders spin. So can old people who once had good eyesight but now have excellent reading glasses. From the vantage point of the kids, it all looks like an arachnid multi-scene diorama. The spiders appear to be weaving rustic booths in the grass, tiny bamboo booths with roofs of foliage, like tiny sukkahs for Sukkot, the harvest festival. These are Jewish spiders. Their turquoise comes from their retired Uncle Nate in Arizona.
One spider, I don’t know if he’s Jewish or not, spins his webs out of gold. His name is Epstein. I heard this story about Epstein on “The Daily,” the New York Times podcast, hosted by Michael Barbaro. It was one of many gruesome tales I’ve read or heard about this gold-spinning spider. Like all the stories about him, it’s appalling. I don’t even like thinking about them, any of them, but this one especially sickens me. Nevertheless, it should be known, so that you can understand only the smallest fraction of the way Epstein wielded his wealth. It’s illustrative of the weaponization of power through, not only wealth inequality, but gender inequality and age inequality, and a slew of other inequalities that come together to make up status inequality.
This is the story of an artist in her mid-twenties, so she wasn’t under the age of majority, as many of Epstein’s victims were. We’ll leave behind the spider metaphor for a bit, though we’ll come back to it.
Maria was an artist, not a spider. The only reason I couple spiders and the story of Maria is that what Epstein did to Maria was a violation. And the thing I think of when I think of good things being violated is industrious, busy spiders of the variety I’ve described above, weaving their tiny sukkot in their tiny diorama world in the grass, and that impulse of pure endeavor being invaded by conquistadors. It’s a world like that one, being violated. A world of effort and beauty, of individual and communal spirit, and of ritual, being violated by a creature weaving webs of gold and injecting his prey with venom that liquifies their insides for him to drink.
Maria did paintings depicting often subtly disturbing narrative scenes, slices of narratives frozen in time, in which she employed nude studies, sometimes of girls in their early teens. And she was gaining notoriety in the New York art scene at the time in question. She’s originally from Kentucky, and studied art in various schools across the country and in France, and at the New York Academy of Art.
I have a friend, we’ll call him BG for privacy purposes, and about the same time as, or a few years earlier than, Maria, BG was becoming known in the art world. His paintings, too, when he first burst on the scene, were narrative. His were monochromatic, large-format pencil paintings of surreal scenes, often involving nudity, teenage alcohol and drug use, sex, and sundry details both banal and fantastic that, somehow, brought across a sad past, looked back on in anxious, immature, haunted memories.
I want to describe one of BG’s early pieces I saw at a New York gallery show, a piece illustrating a comical, embarrassing, fraught memory. He told me the story behind it: in his early teens, he’d invited a girl over, and was fairly certain they were going to have sex. But he was a little shy about having no pubic hair at his age. So, he glued some of his head hair right above his penis. And that’s the painting: all in shades of green-gray pencil on butcher paper, just the section of his body between his bellybutton and his thighs, no explanation, his hands brushing rubber cement and about to place a tiny, thready moustache on his lower abdomen above his genitals.
I don’t know if Maria was working through similar memories in her art, or similar emotional transformations from childhood to adulthood, but she was living in her visual sense of mind and experience, building little scenes, like dioramas, some of which seem charged with the threat of sexual violence. One, in particular, she says, was inspired by Degas, and it’s been referred to as“kind of rapey.” And that was the one Epstein’s henchwoman, Ghislaine Maxwell, spotted. I believe her name is pronounced with a Greek fast food G. Like the one at the beginning of “gyro.” When Maxell saw the rapey painting, Maria says, Maxwell told Maria she had just the buyer for it, and that was who Maria was going to sell it to, and to no one else. And Epstein the spider bought it. Epstein the spider, who had already woven his big web of gold and influence in the New York art scene.
Maria was first employed as Epstein’s art procurer, and then as his door person, sending up teenage girls and old lascivious men to Epstein and Maxwell. Maria was always told that the girls were being sent up for auditions or meetings of one type or another. Maria says her unwitting role in this charade pains her to this day.
It’s not easy to make your living by making art, especially if your art is personal. It’s an incredible gift to be able to work out your demons and angels, your memories, or even just your interests and imaginings, and be recognized and paid for it. It’s a dream come true. Unless it’s a gift used as bait in a spider’s web, a false promise in an Epstein’s web.
Eventually, according to Maria’s affidavit, Epstein and Maxwell manipulated both her and her 15-year-old sister into situations of extreme discomfort. Maria says she was sexually assaulted by Maxwell and Epstein, and that Maxwell threatened to destroy her art and her career after her father came up from Kentucky and drove her away from the awful situation she was in.
There’s a quotation I return to from time to time. It’s on the opening pages of suicidal author Juan Butler’s truly unhinged book, The Garbageman. I do not advise reading this book. I abridge the quotation below for comprehensibility:
Tell me, in the anarchist society that you envisage, where all men will be free, where no one will ever be in a position to impose his will upon his fellow man, where "doing your own thing" will be the norm rather than the exception [,] who will pick up the garbage?
The garbage collector, in the nomenclature of today. The garbage collector will pick up the garbage when it’s their turn. Not because society threatens them with starvation, homelessness, and the myriad ravages of poverty. In our world, those are the incentives. It’s how otherwise good-hearted, industrious people get swindled, coerced, raped, and destroyed. The threat hangs over everything. Even the very wealthy feel it. That’s why they fear so viscerally losing their status. That’s why they have a compulsion to accrue more and more, like a child of the Great Depression at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
It’s Epstein the spider’s predatory opportunism, with which he exploited Maria’s good faith and dreams, that makes me sick. Of course, his using the same strategy in order to rape girls also makes me sick. It’s the force. Have you felt it? The coercive force of obligation to your benefactor?
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. It feeds you, after all, so it must be a kind hand, even if it sometimes places itself between your legs and expects you to comply with every whim. How dare you refuse? Have you no gratitude? And eventually: Do you not know that we can destroy you?
It may never be possible, or even desirable, to remove status inequality from all societies. It’s a positive thing, for example, when a patient’s organs are failing, that a doctor who has accumulated immense knowledge and skill in curing diseased organs should be deferred to over, say, a careening golf cart full of drunk currency speculators, regardless of their collective self- confidence. Just as it would be desirable to allow Superman to address the opening of canned goods when a group of otherwise helpless Earthlings are stranded on an island without a can opener. Let him open the cans, what do you think you have to prove? And of course, the abuse of status inequality is possible in almost any situation wherein such inequality exists. And it often is abused. And I think there are two ways to remedy this undesirable situation: 1) identify and then inhibit, neutralize, or destroy, sets of criteria that raise the status of people vis-à-vis others unjustifiably – and here, wealth inequality, the artificial merit of having more money than others, seems a perfect example; and, 2) try your hardest to be responsible with whatever power you have over others, for whatever reason, be they people, plants, animals, buildings, celestial bodies, or other.
Defuse opportunities for abuse of power. Where inequality is unavoidable, be a spider in good faith. It sounds so simple, but nothing is ever simple. Every strand is tangled. Only patience and diligence will ever sort them out.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day.
Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.
Everything old is new again, as the saying goes. Whitey is back, have you noticed? Not the word, the guy. Whitey. The guy who went to the Moon while Gil Scott Heron’s sister Nell done got bit by a rat. Whitey, rapey, assassinatey, pollutey, corrupty, flag-wavy, and Nazi. The seven warpeds. They’re all back. It’s almost like they never left.
Ever since their crushing defeat in WWII (Francisco Franco a notable exception), fascists have been on what the English call, “the back foot.” Governments from 1945 onwards have been dominated by non-fascists and crypto-fascists, in numbers far greater than their percentage in the population at large, if recent exercise of the public franchise in the West is any indication. What qualifies non-fascists and crypto-fascists to take such an outsize chunk of the pie of governance? Have you seen how they’ve mismanaged things so far? The Western democracies today suffer from shaky currencies, inter-cultural strife, municipalities hamstrung by austerity caused by corporate corruption and justified by false shortages, and the icing on the cake, a sure sign of decaying social cohesion and the failure of the ruling class: these nations are all teetering on the brink of fascism!
So maybe it’s time to give fascism another look. If the best the current non-fascist and crypto- fascist rulers can deliver, at the end of three quarters of a century of having it their way, is a collapse into fascism, why not give fascism a try? Fascism has been in remission for longer than anyone expected. Like a case of shingles, why not just accept it and try to make the best of it? When life gives you shingles, or fascism, surely there’s lemonade to be manufactured. That’s what the fascists would have done. Or would have had some prisoners do for them.
Fascism clearly has some very attractive qualities. Rigid, brutally-enforced order, for one. It kept the trains running on time, the streets clean (when they weren’t coursing with blood or littered with broken glass), and the working class in an appropriately terrorized, or “eager to please,” condition.
Fear was the great motivating force. You could always tell where you were in the social order by who it was you were afraid of. The ambitious aspired to rise from fearing the bureaucrat immediately above them to being intimidated only by the cream of the crop. On the bottom rungs, you were simply afraid of suffering the fate of those pushed completely outside the social order: removal, mass incarceration, forced labor, and extermination. Being a worker under fascism was not unlike it is today. We could call the condition, “precarity.”
But more than a precarious working class terrorized into obedience, the fascists brought clarity. A man was a man, a woman was a woman, and everyone else was erased. Even a hint of gender fluidity marked a person for destruction. “Gender fluid” wasn’t even a term at the time, but if it had been, it would have meant semen, if anything. But the fascists didn’t talk about secretions, they spent most of their time sublimating their ferocious heterosexuality, and their repressed homosexuality, as well as other, more esoterica urges, into athletic contests, military parades, and corporal punishment.
By the mid-1930s it was clear that the horrors of the Great War, which the fascists considered so great that they wanted another one, had left artists and writers in a state of deranged modernism. The fascists preferred tidy modernism: art deco eagles, leather boots, bundled sticks, lightning bolts, and stylized skulls, much of which was adopted decades later by bondage and fetish culture, fortified as it was with “subliminal” sexuality we would now consider ridiculously overt.
And yet, somehow, fascists considered it all so clear and orderly. It’s that kind triumph of the will, the will to turn chaos into order, simply through coerced belief, to turn shingles into lemonade through angry, violently-enforced lies, that the fascists could bring to us once more.
Can fascism tackle global warming? That depends. Is the American public ready for Green Fascism? Like the Planetary Management Authority science historian James Burke predicted in his overly optimistic 2-part speculative mockumentary, After The Warming, from 1989, in which a benevolent dictatorship forces humanity to adopt sustainable living choices? Or can the regular white fascism do the job? Can plain old, run-of-the-mill white fascism lie climate chaos away?
It’s trying to lie racism away. How is that going? The answer you get depends on who you ask. If you ask a racist, there is no racism.
Ask a polluter, there is no pollution, that’s the fascist way to fix things.
Another fascist solution to racism, in addition to lying about it, is to exterminate the other races. There are advantages to this, except to the races in question: other races are the real racists. Just ask a racist! And extermination opens up job opportunities. There are the jobs of leading people to extermination, carrying out the exterminations, and of course, disposing of the bodies. But in the aftermath, so many millions will have been killed, presumably, that housing will be abundant, and jobs will be vacant for the taking. Ask the non-Jews playing klezmer music in Germany! Somebody’s gotta do it! The point is, mass murder and war involving armies of millions, that’s like economic rocket fuel. By which understanding, fascism is nothing if not a job creator. Like the Great Plague! Talk about an economy firing on all cylinders!
We are plagued by artificial shortages, engineered by capitalists to keep commodities profitable, including arms, never mind the resultant starving and bloodshed. But one thing you can’t fake a shortage of is alive people. Too few workers to exploit is the only pressure to raise wages to which capitalism responds. Therefore, unchecked, bellicose, nationalistic fascism is sure to work in the workers’ favor. The workers lucky enough to survive, that is.
In summation, we have a choice to make. We can choose to choose fascism, or we can choose to let it happen to us. Let me put it this way: as a free people living in the freest nation on Earth, albeit with the largest incarcerated population (though admittedly that’s not really a gauge of anything besides how many people we have locked up), don’t we owe it to ourselves and our posterity to take something like control over our inevitable future? What good is all this freedom if we can’t use it to freely choose inevitable tyranny?
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth, the thirst that is the drink.
It’s so ironic and strange to me that every morning begins with birds announcing the dawn, accompanied by a feeling of dread. It’s such a funny contrast to me, the pretty bird song and the hopeless, dying heart. The night recedes as the day trickles in, and I wake up to nature’s bucolic musical optimism meeting my own deep pessimism. And fear. Let’s not forget the fear. Pessimism is just an amateur activity if unaccompanied by dread.
It’s a relief to know that friends in Puerto Rico have been partying all night getting rid of a lousy governor, and preparing to do more. It’s pleasant. It makes the singing of birds seem not so out of place, as if what we call “nature” and what we call “humanity” might be able to coexist. It’s like finding that the missing piece of the puzzle wasn’t missing, you were just placing it backwards. It fits! Like a revelation.
Once I see people doing it in one instance, I notice others. But I’m not here to talk about them. That would be wonderful, but I’m not in a wonderful mood.
Having a reason to get out of bed has never been my forte. I suppose that’s why God or nature or whatever trickster-ish cosmic force gave me a bladder and bowels. Once I’ve got my wits about me, it’s too late, I’m already up and functioning. The decision to get up into the world has been taken out of my hands. From then on it’s do-or-be-done-to.
And it seems like I’m getting done-to lately more than I’m getting things done.
Like what it seemed was happening to the people of Puerto Rico. Getting blown and flooded by a hurricane. Getting ignored and insulted by the various governments whose job it is to aid them. Getting austeritied. Getting privatized. Throughout it all, they took the wheel whenever they could. They helped each other in the hurricane’s aftermath, which certainly must have had a unifying effect, preparing them for these days of wonderful, inspiring action.
They’re turning it around. I should be able to turn it around, too.
BTW, I’m just so excited to hear Dave Buchen report live from San Juan, that I can barely think of dreading anything right now. And by this point, unless something has gone wrong, I’ve probably heard it already! Was it great? Answer:
Listen, it’s been a rough week. Last Saturday I awoke to find my left leg wouldn’t respond to the commands of my brain. I could walk on it, but it seemed drunk while the rest of me was sober. This caused my very dear friend Paula to send me to her chiropractor, who gave me some very effective stretches to do, but also checked my blood pressure and found it to be sky high! Luckily another dear friend, Monique, had filled out my MediCal application a few months earlier, and it turns out that in a couple weeks I’ll be choosing my first primary care physician since the Writers Guild cut me off COBRA 12 years ago. So I’m overdue to get all my health numbers, see how this past 12 years of Dorchen-style living has affected my cholesterol etc. I’m sure I’m in for some lousy news, but until then I’m off alcohol, coffee, sugar, dairy, and red meat. And it’s back to exercise and yoga, like I used to do when I thought it would make women attracted to me.
More than that, I’m committed to finding some purpose in my life. I know I’ve been peddling the Socialist Leisure Party line, and I still believe in it, but I think I’ve been overdoing it before the time is ripe. I’m trying to fly before I’ve even broken my chains. And people have been inspiring me. My friend Kristina ran for Sub-district 5 Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council and won, and she’s working on a proposal right now to keep ICE from kidnapping and disappearing our LatinX neighbors, like they did just a few days ago in Echo Park. My friend Tanya is Artistic Director of the Santa Monica Rep, and she and a whole lot of other theater artists of color have been working on creating safe space in the theater for themselves. I’ve been seeing the varied multitude of people I admire doing things to fight the negative current this country seems determined to ride down in an inner tube with a beer can hat on. And the worse things get in the news, the more inspiring these people and their actions become.
I guess it’s time for me to knuckle under to peer pressure and do something worth doing.
So, yeah, it’s not just Puerto Rico that’s turning things around. They’re just doing the coolest job of it at the moment. Our day will come. Maybe someone will turn the Panama Papers into an animated cartoon. Then there’ll be no stopping us, till every exploiter gives up goods.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
Welcome to the Moment of Truth, the thirst that is the drink.
I drove by two older white people arguing. Each seemed to be the representative of a group of onlookers. One demanded heatedly, belligerently, “Do you know what a stork is?” Challenging. But in a flash I’d driven past. And I could only wonder what this challenge was in reference to. Was it in fact a duel of ornithological knowledge?
Did you hear me? Was it? Are you listening? Are you even present?
Oh look at you. Good for you. You're here. That's more than most people can say. There are a few ways to look at it. Either we're all among a select few, or we're among a crappy few, or we're just a random set.
Don't be mean to me. I will cry. That's my trademark. That's what I was known for, as a baby. Oh, like you never cried when you were a baby. Well, I cried a lot. I cried every day. I cried and cried. I was known as the town crier.
I got the creative bug. Just feel creative. No ideas. Just a general feeling of creativity. I bet I could spread this bug. I bet I could spread creativity. Don't you all feel it? In your mind? And in your imagination? Which is also up here. Knock knock. Creativity. It's a feeling. You don't need ideas if you're creative. Think about it.
Everyone thinks they have imagination. Everyone in LA. People come here for three reasons: they think they have talent, or they think they have imagination, or they imagine they have talent.
So it shouldn’t be a total loss, I'm gonna get some work done while I'm up here. I got some vegetables to chop. Gotta make a stock. Got some dinner parties coming up. Gotta have homemade stock.
Stock is good as a basis for soup, sauces, and reheating/rehydrating savory leftovers. Rice, buckwheat groats, faro, and other grains are nice when made with stock. Some vegetables need to be blanched or boiled, and stock is the way to go. It adds richness and flavor to boiled things, things people are enamored with roasting these days, such as root vegetables, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts. These can profit from a bit of blanching or even boiling in a stock before being put in the oven or under a broiler.
Hills, or even mountains, rise from the mist in the distance. Not really mist, more like haze, although unlike most days the haze is white with only a slight off-white tinge of smog and dust. Later today, I imagine, it will brown to an unsightly umber.
Ah, life. Life is a death sentence.
Do you know what a stork is? Was it, maybe, an argument about reproductive rights and female body sovereignty? Because our national discourse is polarized these days, to use the current term, and one of the most contentious divisions, and one in which the opposing parties seem all but impossible to bring eye-to-eye, is a woman’s right to medically terminate her pregnancy. Or even to terminate it by magic. A rational basis for argument seems to elude both sides, because positing the primacy of one or another state of being is an inherently irrational activity.
The idea that when a sperm penetrates an ovum, something sacred is created, is irrational, sure. The idea that a fully-grown woman has sovereignty over tissue gestating in her own body, as well as whether or not she should undergo the extreme biological metamorphosis that gestation will catalyze, well, that has a much more persuasive basis, to me, and certainly to most fully-grown women I know... but is it rational? Sovereignty is an agreement, an agreement about control, about autonomy, about freedom, about the ability to determine one’s possibilities. Whereas the sacred is an agreement about... what is sacred. It’s a circular agreement. But in the end, the decision over which holds more weight, adult sovereignty or invisible or microscopic sanctity, is irrational.
But, even knowing this, admitting this to myself, I still couldn’t puzzle my way back to what the argument would be that would be met with the throwing down of such a gauntlet. When is it appropriate to cross that line, to step up to someone, stand one’s ground and force the other party to summarize their stork knowledge?
Do you know what conception is? Do you know what an embryo is? Do you know what pregnancy is? Do you even know what a stork is?
Come on, now, Jeffy, be rational. At least be coherent. You have imagination, or at least a talent for imagining you do.
Now, you bunch have a lot of damn nerve, demanding coherence from me. Here I am, driving around, minding my own business, and the human flesh on the street tosses out this question, this belligerent question, this question that’s delivered in a belligerent way, belligerent for no reason, and you ask me to be coherent? Do you know what a stork is?
The stork, like an idiot, brings the baby. But do you know what it is? You imagine you know what a baby is. You imagine you know what “bring” is. But a stork! A stork! A god damn stork!
Do you know how God puts the human soul into an embryo? Do you know how many different lives that zygotic collision could end up living? Do you know what diseases it could cure or what happiness it could bring? Do you know what a stork is?
And conversely, do you know how dangerous it is to grow a human being inside your body? Do you know how many women die in the process? Do you know how it changes someone’s life? Can you know how it changes someone’s life, for good and ill? Do you know what social, medical, and economic entanglements that endeavor involves a person in? And do you know what kind of myriad futures that woman could have had if she’d only had sovereignty over her own body? Shouldn’t she be able to decide what path her present takes toward the future? Do you know what possibilities the future holds? Do you know anything the future holds? Do you know what a stork is?
The answer is “no.” You don’t know what a stork is. No one does. You lack the most essential knowledge. And lacking all that knowledge, why are you meddling in someone else’s body and future? How dare you meddle in someone else’s body and future with your complete lack of knowledge?
It’s something we all need to ask ourselves, whenever we presume that we know what’s right for someone else. Before you act, before you make that sovereignty-molesting decision, before you dip your dirty fingers into someone else’s chili fries and take a glob, ask yourself:
Do I know what a stork is? Do I know what a stork is? Do I know what a stork is? This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!
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I don’t think we have to worry about the radical left persuading everyone not to vote, once the Democrats settle on a candidate that isn’t that ratty old chewed up bathrobe, Joe Biden. What we have to worry about is the rightwing pundits in the New York Times persuading the DNC to think like they do. “The Democratic Party is being pulled too far to the left,” is the refrain of these noted left-haters. David Brooks, Bret Stephens, Sydney Ember – these are the creeps of which to beware. Don’t listen to them, DNC. Brooks: “Democrats, don’t alienate me with your Medicare for all.” Man, if Medicare for all makes you vote for Dump, you’re the same asshole who supported W Bush, despite your “come to Jesus” BS of the last couple years. Climate change denier Bret Stephens also cautions the Dems not to be pulled too far left. The only person who’s not too far left for Stephens is maybe Duterte in the Philippines. And Sydney Ember, who you’ve probably never heard of, just deals in anti-Bernie clickbait. They’re all Mickey Mouse versions of urethra blockage Tucker Carlson, who also advises the Dems that “being pulled too far to the left will alienate the moderate undecided voter” or some similar sentiment. Really? If the Dems avoid being pulled to the left, you’ll stop calling them the party of evil socialism? Tucker? Tucker?
Our old friend George F. Will is certainly going to be making noises along these lines as the election actually approaches. You know, it’s not really approaching right now. It sits like a shadow in the distance, on the highway pavement, viewed through the reticulated air rippling in the heat. You can’t tell how far away it is, or even if it’s real, if it’s a dark wet stain on the horizon or merely a mirage. But we’re acting like this is the election year. That may be good. Maybe overreacting early in the game will avoid disaster later. This is how we should be responding to global warming. But our system only allows for political overreaction, as opposed to practical, methodical, well-advised, or sane overreaction.
George Will recently appeared on the local Los Angeles NPR affiliate, KPCC, broadcast out of Pasadena City College. That is how far he’s fallen. He’s had to enter the palace of liberal news. Or maybe it’s the palace of liberal news that has fallen.
He opposes Dump, and was an early rejector, to his great credit. But don’t let that fool you. He still doesn’t believe in the people having a voice beyond a tightly circumscribed limit. You might remember when last I wrote of George F. Will, back when he was mocking General Wesley Clark for having the temerity to consider running for president. An Army General who would be president! A jumped-up pantry general who never knew his place. If even he’s too big for his britches, naturally the normal, rank-and-file non-professional masses need to be kept in check. And here’s Donald Dump to prove that point! Look at all those rascally masses, loving Donald the demagogue! Aren’t you glad we put those baffles in the Constitution between the public and the helm of state? Wait ... but ... Dump is president. The baffles didn’t work!
George Will is a moderate market anarchist. What George Will is, well, what he is, is a quantum theorist against the antique Cartesian socialists. Will’s on the cutting edge. The world has grown too complicated for government to do much, says he. Only markets, with their self-propelled complexity, their instinctual, natural agility, can do what needs to be done. Markets, those automatic geniuses of nature, they can understand the dual states of particle and wave, they are undaunted by uncertainty. Socialism means the State runs everything, says George Will, the Heisenberg of economics. The State, however, can only operate in Euclidian space time according to slow, out-of-date Newtonian laws. Like some kind of fat prehistoric sloth trying vainly to catch delicious cockroaches.
At least Will, David Brooks, and the likes of Bill Krystol and David Frum, have had the good sense to oppose Dump. But Alan Dershowitz! Saints preserve us. “Don’t get pulled too far to the left.” He offers his thoughts, much as I do, on everything, whether those thoughts have any chance of receiving a welcome or not. The difference between Dershowitz and myself, though, is that, where I am merely unqualified to offer certain thoughts, he is an actively wrong, tainted source of them. Like a drinking fountain labeled “arsenic.” He long ago hitched his wagon to a child rape entrepreneur, and not merely out of legal duty. Hanging with Jeff Epstein and Donald Dump, back in the day, made him “someone” – his word. Very important for Dersh to be “someone.” Remember when he cried about not being invited to events on the Vineyard anymore since vocally supporting Dump? What did he think he was missing out on? Does he really think liberals on Martha’s Vineyard are offering up their children at sick New England rape parties? What a creep. At this point I wouldn’t even let him babysit my cactus. Sorry, Dersh, but if your only source for children to rape was Jeff Epstein, that’s dried up, man. You’re going to have to have Dump introduce you to Putin and see if you can weasel your way into that circle, you grotesque sex criminal.
One person I haven’t heard from is Mancow, the Glenn Beck-eque Chicago radio personality who made the difficult transition from shock jock to D-list Fox News friend. Now he’s back on a show on WLS. I have no idea what it’s like. I have no desire to hear that voice again. But I wonder what he thinks about this Epstein thing. The grooming and recruiting and prostituting and rape of children. Les Wexner, CEO of L Brands, parent company of Victoria’s Secret, was both a client and a tight mate of Epstein. He gave Epstein his 21,000 square foot mansion for little to no money. The home Epstein’s lawyers are suggesting he be confined to, instead of jail like a normal person. Wexner bought Abercrombie & Fitch at one time, and right after he did, they began their slutty-half-naked-teenager-on-heroin ad campaign. The one that prompted Mancow to dub the company “Abercrombie & Filth.” What does Mancow make of Wexner’s closeness with Epstein and Epstein’s closeness with Dump?
Mostly, though, I would brave the nerve-grating timbre of his tonsils just to hear Mancow warn the Democratic Party not to be pulled too far to the left. “If you’re going to talk about Medicare For All you’re going to lose moderate voters” he might say in his flat Morning Madhouse growl that is the very definition of an obnoxious voice.
All these people calling themselves conservatives, coming in with their helpful advice for the Democrats. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Who do they think gives a flying turd?
It would be like me advising noted billionaire fraudster and liar and felon Jamie Dimon not to get too attached to his money. Learn to live within your means, Jamie! Can you imagine anything more ridiculous?
I do have some advice for a few of these clowns though, including Bill Clinton: don’t sexually assault children. It’s not really a left or right issue, is it? I mean, of course I believe that fascists are more likely to facilitate the rape of children, but really, it’s something that bleeds across the entire spectrum of hyper-entitled pieces of shit. Just don’t rape children and don’t protect child molesters. Don’t get them miraculously light sentences and neglect to tell their victims what you’ve done. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your money or your position or your fake faith make it okay. If you haven’t done any of these things yet, just don’t. If you already have, get ready to receive your comeuppance. There’s going to be some Nuremberg-style repercussions for all these abusers of children and other human beings once this regime is toppled.
So, in short, my unsolicited advice for all Hyper-entitled Pieces of Shit and enablers of such: don’t allow yourselves to be pulled too far toward child raping. You run the risk of alienating undecided moderates.
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On Tucker Carlson’s show, Donald Dump, the would-be dictator, or, more formally, would-be penis potato, asserted that public excretion of human waste only began when he took office. This is a man ostensibly from New York City, long known for such street fragrances. He said it in the midst of producing a muesli of nonsense phrases. The comical thing was Tucker nodding and grunting in agreement, as if to say, “Right, that’s exactly when I started pissing on the streets. I think we all did. Yeah, yeah, George Soros paid us to do it.”
And then I realized – November 9, 2016 – that is in fact the date when I took my vow of public urination and defecation. I started pooping and peeing all over my neighborhood, as if I had no respect for myself or anyone else. It’s inappropriate and disgraceful, but, like incontinent fascist Tucker Carlson, I can’t help myself.
Astrocracy: rule by the stars. Not rule by asses, that’s any rule. And not rule by astro-crock, though it is a crock of magical thinking, much like the principle that ruthless, unbridled greed will somehow benefit the many rather than just the few. And put an end to poverty, which is a sick joke on us. Capitalism requires that a visible percentage of the would-be work force be in brutal poverty. Out of one crock into another crock. Actually, it’ll be the same crock. Either way, there are thousands upon thousands of people living on the street, right here in the most wealthy and spiritually airheaded nation on Earth, and that won’t change until we somehow un-brainwash ourselves from our radical capitalist indoctrination, and of course our worship of Disney magic, which I’ll get to later.
The advent of the reality TV president has of course led, inevitably, to the appearance of the flaky New Age self-help entrepreneur/guru as prospective nominee. I’m not saying that idiot has a chance in hell of becoming president, but after 2016, hell is apparently not the worst place to locate your chances. If you’re an idiot.
Do I belittle Marianne Williamson? With her prescription of solving the world’s problems with unicorn flatulence and echinacea enemas? Oh, by all means, I do belittle her. Is it sexist for me to do so? I feel the same way about Deepak Chopra, Bikram Choudry, Tony Robbins, Dr. Oz, any number of snake-oil life coaches and faith-healers of body and soul, the whole menu of Astrotwats. The astrotwat industry does aid predatory men while it takes the money of mostly women. I don’t know why. Probably because we haven’t progressed much as a society, regarding inequality of all kinds, especially patriarchal hegemony, since back when gullible women were mocked for buying into Ouija boards, seances, Swedenborg and Mesmer. This misogynist stereotype comes down to us from the age of whalebone corsets and hasn’t altered much, if at all, on the journey.
So, yes, I think of Marianne Williamson as Lady Bracknell with a physical trainer, crystals, a laptop, a copy of “The Secret,” and an MBA. But that’s not the worst I think of her.
She’s a practitioner of über-capitalist con-artistry of the type that gave us the instant blood- sample analyzer, the Fyre Festival, Elon Musk as civic savior, Bill Gates as philanthropic saboteur of the public education system, and Steve Jobs as Jesus Christ. Not that she’s not sincere. No con artist is as effective as the one who believes her own con.
We’ve got to destroy this magical thinking. It may seem cruel, like killing Bambi or refusing to clap for Tinkerbell, but we’re only hurting ourselves by remaining in thrall to the deification of Disney. We must wean ourselves from Disney magic. It’s an opioid of the people.
It really shouldn’t be that hard. Mickey Mouse is the most generic POS character ever created. He’s nothing. He has no traits. He’s doesn’t have urges, except perhaps to get married and have a small suburban house with a white picket fence. And a dog, and a Kramer-esque friend who’s also somehow a dog. He’s got no ethnicity, and you know what that means: he’s white. He’s a white mouse in blackface. Disney invented the anodyne minstrel show. He invented racism for the millions. Racism for everyone! A racist black caricature even black people can love! Where Al Jolson failed, Mickey Mouse has triumphed.
But rationalism sure can’t save us. Human beings don’t operate rationally. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some decent standard-bearers for the rational. Now, Harry Houdini used to go around exposing spiritualist frauds. In place of him we have Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, two of the most disagreeable rationalists around, who can’t even escape from a safe submerged in water, much less from the chains that bind their imaginations. As much as I would love for an asteroid to arrive and crush Williamson, I’d like to crush the religion-baiting atheists personally with an anvil dropped from an upper-story window. Like a cartoon! A Disney cartoon! Hoist with your own cartoon. You Disneyland fascists. You’re all Disneyland fascists, the Swedenborgian spiritualists and the rigid rationalists alike. Worthless, worthless, adding nothing but bland minstrelsy to the public discourse.
The process by which these clowns infiltrated our political process is obvious. Not that we didn’t have clowns before, but they were a slightly better class of clown. The clowns now are clearly buying their way through the filter. The filter that is supposed to sift out the fecal particulates. Ah, that filter never worked so well, anyway. It’s just that, you were supposed to... I don’t know, let’s just scrap this system that allows clowns to rule us, and start over. Reboot.
Nancy Reagan was an Astrocrat, and she was piloting the ship of state while Reagan was sliding down the slippery slope of dementia. Steering a course by the stars. There’s something romantic in that, isn’t there? Is it really so bad to guide the ship of state by celestial signposts? Is it any worse than what we each do every day literally with our GPS? Is it any worse than voting for any other run-of-the-mill rich person, or rich person’s tool, who has no incentive to solve the problems of ecological destruction, war, poverty, persecution, and hunger? Yes and no!
We’ve always had captains who say, You can’t have this, you can’t have that. You can’t have peace. You can’t have plenty. You can’t have justice. You can’t have freedom. You can’t even have an end to slavery. The system’s endgame is to make each of us the property of someone. I’ve been watching it happen since the 70s, because I’ve only been a conscious being since then. I’m sure the process began long before I was born.
The time will come when we will have our say. We’ll say, “Captain, we don’t accept your explanation of why we can’t have these things. The founding documents promise these things. The mythos and ethos of our society promise these things. We demand them now. Not later. Now. Feed the starving. House the homeless. Stop mutilating the weak. Stop sucking all the wealth off the street. Stop thwarting democracy. Stop destroying the Earth, and your rationalizing about why we can’t save it. We don’t believe you, and we won’t stand for it. We will smash you with our asteroids and anvils unless you shape up.”
The celestials were never our friends. Ask the ancients, who really knew them. They could, with one gesture, lend you luck, and then just as capriciously snatch it away. The only surefire way to go – which the Athenians tried to do but never could – is to live by the paraphrased advice of the bumper sticker: “Stop making stupid people president!”
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I didn’t watch the Democratic debate, part 1. I decided I’d prefer to catch up the next day, piecing the event together from memes on Twitter. Find out what the jokes are and mentally reverse engineer them to build a vague impression of the inciting incidents. Because everyone knows that, whatever members of the Twublic are making the most persistent jokes about, that’s what will be setting the larger public’s nerves vibrating throughout the news cycle.
The first meme I encountered was Beto speaking Spanish, while the camera slowly dollied in on Cory Booker’s amusingly taken-aback face, looking wide-eyed and side-eyed at Beto, as the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme played. I love those Curb memes. I hate to see the passing of the Sad Trombone, but the Curb theme says so much more. It says your discomfort is comically petty, yet at the same time there’s something serious, perhaps even sexually threatening, underlying it. Something transgressive, maybe fatal. Maybe you, on whom the camera is dollying in, have transgressed, and been exposed, if only to yourself, or perhaps your perturbation is due to a transgression on the part of the person you are observing, whose words or actions are causing your comical expression, a transgression of which only you, with your particular knowledge or singularly-informed pettiness, can understand the full significance.
And, of course, the entire situation is a comment on the myriad shallow frustrations of contemporary life. It conveys a comical disgrace far more fraught than any sad trombone can express, or indeed any morose, put out, or discomfited member of the brass section. Larry David has given post-modernism its last great cultural gift. That is, late post-modernism. The worst kind of post-modernism, a used-up post-modernism, worn like a groove in a broken record, to put things in a vinyl idiom. A post-modernism completely out of ideas. A post-modernism sorely in need of cultural gifts. Thank you, Larry.
Booker’s face as he observes Beto’s Spanish soliloquy says it all. “Oh no he di’n’t. That white boy did not just take the reins of the people-of-color bandwagon with his fluent Tex/Mexspañol.” Don’t worry, Cory, we all know what’s going on. We’re watching. We know Beto is only barely even an honorary Latino, with all the white privilege of a rebel-punk-rocker-in-his-youth suburbanite. But admit it, anyone on that stage is privileged, so why the hell shouldn’t Beto swagger outside the white lines on the electoral discourse freeway? Burn all the fuel you have in this debate, this is your one chance, the world ends tomorrow. Or soon. Next phase: Thunderdome. And then Fury Road. “Deedle-ee-deet dee deedle-ee-deet, dee deet dee-dee, dee-deet-dee deedle-ee-deet dee deedle-ee-deet dee-dee, boom boom.” It’s that tympani at the end that really sells it, as if there’s a bowel disturbance in the psychic pants of the distressed subject. That’s all of us, Cory. We’re soiling our drawers along with you. Not at you.
I could just leave it at that. What more do I need to know? Well, I need to know how Elizabeth Warren did. Remember, she’s the standard-bearer of anti-corporate rhetoric on this Day One of the debates. It sounds from all account fragments like she acquitted herself quite well. If the Nazi twitterati were at all upset, it didn’t register during the time I was exposed to the twitmosphere.
Even Ann Coulter, that orthopedic catastrophe, the right’s pseudo-intellectual Famine Horseman of the Apocalypse, whom one used to be able to count on for truly asinine comments on the regular, could only muster a backhanded compliment about Warren having a nice complexion for someone so old. There’s little doubt that, seeing the spectre of The Reaper beckoning on the horizon, Coulter is vainly hoping to bank some good will against the day when she will be wishing for exactly such a grudging compliment from the enemy quarter.
And then there was the tweet, “boring,” from our ever-articulate bladder-in-chief. Supposedly he tweeted it around the time the border atrocities were being discussed. Children abducted, caged, mistreated, neglected, how boring.
The camera dollies in on Bernie Sanders, played by Larry David, aghast but helpless, as the toilet-enthroned orator, off-camera, prattles on about how much he cares about everyone, how no one loves children more than he does, and they love him, too, more maybe than any other people do, believe me, children adore me, this is really all about humane, the humane, a humane immigration policy. Boom boom, oh, god, you know what that tympani means.
The last vibration I felt was the sentiment that Warren needs to pick a centrist running mate, and the best choices would be Kamilla Harris or Julián Castro, the latter because he’s a real Latino, unlike Beto. It would perfectly balance the ticket for almost all the Democratic voting base, fractured as they are along lines of identity politics, class consciousness, intersectional resentment, nihilistic rage, and fear of change – divided as those overlapping factions are between rebuilding the broken and bleeding system and putting a few Band-aids and some glue on it.
“Deedle-ee-deet dee deedle-ee-deet, dee deet dee-dee, dee-deet-dee deedle-ee-deet dee deedle- ee-deet dee-dee, boom boom.”
That Cory Booker Curb Your Enthusiasm meme is exquisite. It’s sublime. It holds everything about the current condition of the Democrats in its grasp, yet holds it lightly, the way Koko the gorilla held her kitten. If the Democratic Party were smart, or if they were to stop smarting from the 2016 disaster and become smart enough to stop outsmarting themselves, they would use it as their campaign slogan for 2020: “Curb Your Enthusiasm – Vote Democrat.” Believe it or not, there are a lot of rightwingers who love that show. You could pull them into the tent. “Oh, hell yes, I’m voting for the self-hating Jew Larry David party.”
It’s a sarcastic yet sincere call to arms: Curb Your Enthusiasm, it’s the Democrats(!) It would definitely be the necessary slogan for a Joe Biden candidacy: Curb Your Enthusiasm, don’t get excited, don’t get your hopes up. Simmer down. Sober up.
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After decades of failing to perfect it, humans still can’t admit that artificial intelligence is pretty stupid. Artificial intelligence is about as intelligent as artificial flowers are floral or artificial fruit is fruity. My favorite thing about humans trying to create artificial intelligence is our penchant for denial. We’re great at denying that things are going terribly wrong. Witness our reaction to global warming.
Have you seen HBO’s Chernobyl? All the young Stalinists today are calling it “anti-Soviet propaganda,” as if propaganda were necessary to find a totalitarian thought-policing bureaucracy unpalatable. Anyway, whether it hews to reality or not, it’s a great story of idiots in denial finally brought face-to-face with their hubris of thinking they can control technology.
Now, I don’t want to be a knee-jerk alarmist. People are so worried about artificial intelligence controlling us. I notice no one is worried about artificial legs walking all over us, or dentures biting us to death. And, listen, we’re going to need artificial intelligence as our natural intelligence rots and falls off. Which it seems to have been doing forever. You know who thought so? Seneca. Or Cicero. One of those bastards. Diogenes!
But we must recognize when enough is sufficient.
I saw a video of a robot being hit by humans with rods, wobbling a bit unsteadily but regaining its stability, taking the rods away from its assailants, then threatening to thrash them if they tried to attack again. One woman’s comment to this video, “Can we stop being mean to robots?” My comment, “Can we stop improving robots?” Because people act like it’s inevitable that robots are going to get more agile and effective. It’s not inevitable. We can say, “I don’t want to live in that Black Mirror episode where the robot dogs hunt people down. Don’t build those!”
It’s not whether you can think your way out of the paper bag, it’s with what style you get out of the paper bag, and what origami shape you fold the leftover bag into. Wait, no it’s not. It’s best to avoid getting trapped in the paper bag in the first place.
Think about the Turing test. Just think about it. There, you’ve already done more than the Turing test requires from a computer. All the Turing test requires is that a person not be able to tell whether they’re have a conversation with another person or with a computer. I think Turing would agree at this point that it’s a stupid test. Writing a program that mimics one side of a conversation turns out to be a completely different effort from creating an artificial mind. Turing himself always suspected his friends of being elaborate computer simulations, so he wouldn’t have been a reliable judge of the Turing test. The jury is still out on whether he would have been able to judge the Bechdel-Turing test, in which the point is to write a computer program able to convince a woman she’s having a conversation with another woman about something besides a man.
I have three points here: 1, the ability to create an electronic mind that can do what the human mind does is beyond us; 2, our mediocre attempts to do so will produce nightmarish results which our public policy authorities will deem acceptable; and 3, we have the choice not to go down this pathway of doom into the black forest of monstrous horror.
Point 1, We can’t even create an electronic chicken mind, let alone a human one. There’s nothing sacred about the human mind that prevents us. We simply don’t know what a mind is. 10,000 years or so of hanging around with the current model and we still can’t describe it, where it comes from, what it does, and how it does it. We don’t know where consciousness comes from. We don’t know what dreams do or why we need them. When it comes to creating even a model of the mind, we’re superstitious primates making images of gods out of mud. So, that’s point 1. We don’t even know why it’s such a difficult thing to understand, but it might have something to do with the fact that the thing we’re using to try to understand it is the thing itself. It might not be the right tool for the job.
Point 2, pretending our failure is success will lead to trouble. Take facial recognition software. It has trouble doing its one job, recognizing faces, particularly those of non-white people. This leads to all kinds of problems, one of which is injustice. Now, for most of our history, our justice systems have led to injustice. They’re very flawed. We know this, yet we continue to be shocked when someone like Ava DuVernay illustrates the flaws of our justice system in a streaming docu-drama. The only way bad artificial intelligence could make our justice system worse is by creating more injustice in it than we already currently tolerate. We can only foresee this: artificial intelligence, or our version of it, which we can confidently call “artificial stupidity,” will lead to previously unimagined opportunities for new, more thrillingly Kafkaesque, miscarriages of justice resulting in people being imprisoned, made to suffer, and put to death in novel situations marked by capricious cyberpunk cruelty. Our time-honored tolerance for our own society’s hypocrisy and inhumanity will really be put to the test.
Point 3, we have a choice. We think we don’t, but we do. After centuries of coming up with new ideas to make money, or profitable misery, we have come to assume that no one likes to put the genie back in the bottle, or the toothpaste back in the tube. “Look at the pretty genie,” we say, or, “look at all the sparkly toothpaste!” But recently some lunatic in China used Crispr gene editing technology to create genetically altered twin human beings. And the genie-bottle rubbers stopped rubbing their genitalia long enough to say, “Whoa. Not cool, dude.”
There was blanket medical and scientific condemnation from around the world. I like to imagine that this is the first shove to move the capitalist reflex off its pedestal, the reflex of developing every technology as soon it appears in the hopes of becoming the next rich person made of 99% perspiration. You know, people made of that much perspiration are bound to have some glandular issues.
The recent recognition that some types of technology are too immoral to pursue makes me irrationally exuberant. Yeah, we don’t need to capitalize on that new thing! It’s going to put the wrong people in prison, it’s going to put people out of work, it’s going to destroy irreplaceable manifestations of non-human creativity like forests and oceans, it’s going to create unintended genetic defects in our experimental subjects, like turning them into 100% perspiration, so we are going to choose not to pursue that activity. We are going to consider the consequences before they happen, which is how we tell our children to approach things like drugs or potentially dangerous behavior. We will be able to point to concrete examples. Yes, kids, we’ll say, we split the atom because we could, we dropped the bomb, we nearly China syndromed an entire continent, but when it came time to make mutant children in a lab, or robot policemen, or robot witnesses, or robot juries and judges, we used our common sense and said, No, we’re not going to go there. We have more sense than that. Our lives are about more than finding the next iPhone. Our lives are worth more than someone else’s ability to profit or some magical thinking about wealth concentration improving the economy for everyone. We are the human species and we will take control of our destiny. To the best of our ability.
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