Category Archives: consciousness

‘Nosediving’ I: Life Imitating Art in China

“I’ll just follow my nose…”
-Toucan Sam

Friends,

In my recent efforts to get caught up on the program Black Mirror, I yesterday watched the first episode from season 3, entitled “Nosedive.” In this episode, the protagonist, Lacie lives in a world where everyone is constantly rated by each other on a 5 star scale. One’s rating at any given point is an aggregated average, with 5-star ratings from “high-4s” bringing one’s average higher than 5-star

ratings from 3.5s and lower. Lacie averages a respectable 4.2 at the episode’s beginning but to achieve a 4.5 and receive the benefits such a ranking holds (financial, social and professional) she takes a gamble and enters the high-stakes game of upward mobility at the elite level. Things quickly unravel for her as circumstances beyond her control coupled with some “average-dropping” faux-pas’ cause her to drop just below 4.2 and lose that ranking’s necessary benefits. This leads to an emotional outburst and profanity (a positive no-no in the perfectionist world of social media lifestyle cultivation) which gets her harshly penalized until her average is so low that she throws away all pretension and goes thermonuclear at the very social event that she gambled would bring her 4.5dom.

The whole episode seems as if it’s going to be a sobering parable about hubris and the dangers of superficiality, but late in the episode  Lacie has a chance encounter with a formerly high-4 woman happily reduced to 1-dom and we start to see that maybe letting go is the path to salvation and the moral of the episode. The final scene in a jail cell where Lacie (at an abysmal sub-1 average) trades barbs with a fellow inmate only confirms this moral.


She seems happier cussing out this black man than at any other point in the episode….RACIST!!

And it’s a good moral. It smacks of Voltaire’s timeless bit of wisdom, “Man is free the moment he wishes to be.”

I pondered this moral and it’s implications for me and where I’m at. I realized a few years ago that cultivating a squeaky-clean image online was not possible for me, nor desirable, as it would psychologically limit me in the future when I wanted to say some real shit.

Or perhaps more accurately, recognizing that a social media presence is a digital monument, if I built one based on omission and SFW opinions, I would be unwilling to topple it down the road (with risque points of view), it being a monument after all and something I would have, at that hypothetical future-point, invested much time and effort into creating.

No, better to speak my piece, polarizing as it may be, and let the chips fall where they may.

Enter the universe (or invasive data-mining), which, in it’s infinite wisdom, has been known to conspire: Logging onto the Facebooks this morning I saw that a friend posted an article from Wired entitled, “Big Data Meets Big Brother: China Moves to Rate it’s Citizens.

 

That’s right, China is moving to implement citizen ratings based on stringent governmental standards by 2020. I would suggest you read the article for Rachel Botsman’s in-depth analysis of the implications, but essentially people will qualify for better services and greater privileges based on how high their rating is. Furthermore, and much more insidiously, those considered “untrustworthy” (Naturally, China is framing it as a trust-scale more than a conformity-scale) will not only have a lack of privileges, but be a threat to their circle of friends, as one person’s degree of “fuck-uppery” will reflect poorly on anyone who deigns to associate with them, threatening even the ostensibly “trust-worthy” with loss of privileges.


“China, YOU MAGNIFICENT BASTARD!”

It’s like in Full Metal Jacket when Pyle keeps fucking up and so Hartman decides to punish the rest of the platoon, alienating him from everyone and causing them to beat the shit out of him, in what was (impressively) arguably the most disturbing scene in any Kubrick film. Punishments against bystanders for indulging and tolerating undesirables is a fundamentally malicious policy because it goes against beautiful and humanistic ideals such as “Love thy Neighbour” and “Do Unto Others…”

I’m not so naive to believe that this is a China-problem, nor that people-rating hasn’t already manifested there and here in the west. In a way, I’m all for it; I’ve worked hard to be a good traveler and earn a good reputation on CouchSurfing for example, and that reputation (rightly) gains me the trust of new hosts in new places a lot quicker and more easily. The logic is simple: Don’t be a shithead; Don’t get treated like a shithead. Simple! I, much like Ms. Botsman believe reputation to be the once and future currency of the world -good enough for proto-human tribes, good enough for the post-scarcity economy we’re moving toward.

However, China is bastardizing the noble concept of reputation by taking two of it’s ugliest permutations, credit ratings (a mechanism to further deprive the already deprived) and people reviewing (a “legitimate” way to smear someone via apps like Peeple), and combining them into an ugly abomination with the power to bestow privilege and convenience to the worthy and mete out suffering to the unworthy based on pre-established standards which are reflective of the state institution’s survival needs rather than the ability of citizens to co-exist with each other. And if that wasn’t already enough, those afflicted with “unworthiness” carry a memetic contagion of sorts, alienating them from worthy members of society who may help to, at the very least, rehabilitate them, even though they may have done nothing worse than question policy.

In this last regard, China is almost creating a prison without walls, which might not be so bad if this state-sanctioned social smearing was implemented as an alternative to physical incarceration (even though the ‘bar for entry’ seems to be much lower), but there has been no apparent mention of this, so its essentially just a way to lock up more citizens and scare many more into falling in line.

Well-played, China. The magnificence of your bastardry apparently knows no bounds.

My knee-jerk reaction to this article was predictably fear and anxiety. I’m not a violent criminal but it seems ‘crimes’ we all engage such as out-spokenness may one day land us in hot water as state-ratings become normalized and global. From a strictly amoral and Machiavellian perspective, it does seem to be a viable way to conserve and consolidate power and only someone with a complete lack of imagination or an interest in seeing this system propagate could deny it will be implemented in the western world if the China test-case proves successful.

Again, what was most paralyzing about the worry I felt  was that I realized one day having an opinion that was considered unpopular could hurt those I care about. If I had to dissociate from my father for example, or worse, if he decided to dissociate from me because I was too much of a liability… Well, how could I fault him for that?

But in that moment of panic I realized that I was just feeling, I wasn’t thinking. The former has a place to be sure, but sometimes we have to be pragmatic and logical. Whenever I am seized by existential anxiety I go over my escape plan. The details of it change over time but points 1 and 2 are pretty much always the same:

ANDRE’S SUPER-SECRET, ‘DON’T TELL THE GOVERNMENT’, ESCAPE PLAN

  1. If shit gets too bad I can always kill myself and then my problems on this material plane are over.
  2. I can always focus on my breathing and the present moment.
  3.  Refer back to points 1 and 2 as needed until such time as a better solution presents itself.

You could maybe argue that the order of 1 and 2 could be switched, but they’re just a starting point and as important as their actual viability as solutions to the problem of life, they serve the purpose of reassuring me while I formulate other strategies.

Those strategies I will elaborate on in my next post which will be a follow-up to this one.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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Mental Gender and The Kybalion

Friends,

This past January I fell in with a hippie named Timmie somewhere west of Tucson in the Sonoran Desert, a few scant kilometres north of the Mexican border and on the fringes of the Tohono O’odham Nation reservation. We were living in what amounted to a desert suburb -giant plots of land, hundreds of acres each, connected by endless desert track. Maverick bovines mingled with their branded counterparts, and save for the fences which partitioned each ranch/plot of land, the only features which dotted the horizon were the farmhouses, existing kilometres upon kilometres from each other.


We spent our days mountain climbing and smoking metric shitloads of dope…
…rather idyllic…

Add to this isolation the natural desolation of the desert, the alien appearance of the saguaros, the evidence of coyotes ferrying illegals over the same routes we walked mere hours earlier, the omnipresence of the border patrol, the unseen eyes of the minutemen, the looming threat of danger from nearby neighbours who’d tried to rob Timmie, and most importantly the raw spiritual power of the reservation land we were on, and it all amounted to an exciting and interesting place to do drugs.


The remote watering hole on the reservation where we’d take Timmie’s sick dog, Oshe every day, read and allow our peace and harmony to attract wild horses.

And do drugs we did. Well, weed and mushrooms anyway.

I should qualify that: We smoked weed everyday, several times a day and it was even more of a trip because Timmie was one of those guys who could see the matrix; he was always making connections between words, acronyms and numbers and well….everything. As well, he had the gravitas of a wise Indian shaman and so there was something hypnotic about hearing him deconstruct reality…

But with regard to the mushrooms, we only did one trip: 9.5 grams of Amanita Muscarias (which I recorded and edited down to an 8-minute youtube video).
It was a powerful trip spiritually and we did a multi-day preparation for it which included a simple, nourishing diet, meditation and discourse, and reading aloud from The Kybalion. For those unfamiliar with this text I encourage you to read the wikipedia entry on it, but in brief it is the distilled teachings of Hermes Trismegistus, the greatest of all the alchemists, and it posits that there are 7 Hermetic Principles, which it then expounds upon. They are:

I. The Principle of MENTALISM
II. The Principle of CORRESPONDENCE
III. The Principle of VIBRATION
IV. The Principle of POLARITY
V. The Principle of RHYTHM
VI. The Principle of CAUSE AND EFFECT
VII. The Principle of GENDER

These principles don’t seem profound in and of themselves; indeed any pop-scientist who’s ‘liked’ IFLScience on Facebook could probably give you a tenable breakdown of vibration and cause & effect at the very least. However, it is when all seven principles are taken in conjunction that their synergy and implications manifest. It’s all very interesting and their are certainly more in-depth analyses of each specific principle to be had out there if you don’t have an interest (yet) in reading the entire book, but herein I just want to explain the fascinating revelations of chapter fourteen, which deals with MENTAL GENDER.
Mental Gender (MG) might be best explained as an elaboration on the previous chapter’s discussion on principle #7: the complementary masculine and feminine principles/energies/aspects in all of creation. Indeed, the book goes to great lengths to explain how in any act of creation, from the smallest sub-atomic particle to the universe itself, there is always a masculine energy/will which then imposes itself upon/inspires a feminine energy/womb. The masculine impresses itself upon the feminine and the feminine receives impressions -BAM! Creation!
I’ve found a handy conceptual tool to imagine this is that the feminine might be considered the energy (or matter at lower levels of vibration) and the masculine might be considered the vibration itself, determining what form the matter/energy exists as.
So why break gender down further into mental gender? Well, refer to the first principle, Mentalism, and it’s assertion that “All is Mind.” Everything is a creation of the mind, and if every creation is a culmination of masculine meeting feminine, then these two principles, mentalism and gender, share a very interesting connection.

Now allow me to digress a moment: when I left Timmie and Arizona to go to Carpe Diem Eco Project in Nicaragua, I met a traveler named Ryan my first night. He had achieved a high-level of mastery at life and so I listened when he spoke. He left the next day but one thing he said which made a deep (masculine) impression on the (feminine) womb of my mind was this: “I AM is the most powerful phrase in the universe.” While I didn’t understand fully why at the time, I knew it to be true, and so I incorporated this phrase into daily affirmations.

Fast forward to months later, and me finally finishing The Kybalion and wouldn’t you know, the phrase I AM is explicitly discussed and now better understood.

Why?

Well first we must separate I AM into its constituent parts and descriptions:

I is the statement of being. The masculine will which is cultivated through discipline, effort and focus. It must be cultivated.
AM is the statement of becoming. The womb or creative space where our ‘ME’ is created through the impressions we receive. It exists (without any need for cultivation) as primordial chaos which seeks order (I) for the act of creation.

The AM will be impregnated by/create with the strongest I (or Is) it receives impressions from. Since many are derelict in their duty of cultivating a strong I or will in their lifetimes, one strong I, whether from a mentally stronger human being or larger, more influential organization can impregnate the AM space of many, while the I of many individuals simply atrophies and languishes. (I don’t think I need to go into the parallels this realization has on our physical plane, but female sexual selection comes readily to mind, even if masculine and feminine are not specifically male and female.)
It is therefore incumbent upon us to take the time and effort to cultivate our I so that we can create our own reality as opposed to existing in the reality of another.

THINK ‘I AM’ > SPEAK ‘I AM’ > DO

Order yearns for chaos and chaos yearns for order, but chaos is a harsh and choosy mistress, so do the mental work of cultivating a strong I through meditation and reflection, speak a strong I in the direction your will is pointing and then manifest that reality through acting in accord with mind and voice.

I suppose this last bit is as much of a reminder for myself as it is advice to any of you xo

For a full downloadable pdf of the Kybalion: http://www.hermetics.org/pdf/kybalion.pdf

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

 

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Limiting Beliefs as the Pillars of Human Civilization

Friends,

Recently, I had a conversation with my friend and colleague, Peter Mazzucco about the USMC’s “40% Rule.” The rule itself has interesting implications for will-power, but it also gave me pause to think back and reflect on something which had occurred to me months back then I was on the road shooting my upcoming adventure-documentary, Just Might Be Ok. I was somewhere in Mexico sitting on a rock taking a mid-day water break from walking. I had done 30 km already and was fairly impressed with myself. I reflected on how I had prepared for this undertaking: several full days every week spent in the late-summer heat walking the Hamilton region. My feet had toughened, my endurance had gone up, and the muscles in my legs, hips and lower back had developed to accommodate these new weight demands. But did these factors actually enable me to walk 30+ km every day encumbered with gear, or was I always able to perform this feat and I simply needed to convince myself that I could (with training and gains).

I found it to be an interesting question with wild implications. First and foremost, if a proverbial “97 lb. weakling” who never worked out walked into a gym with a deeply enough held belief that he could lift 400 lbs., could he?  On the other side of the spectrum, is the professional body-builder able to lift the 400 lb. weight because he has increased his muscle tissue and bone density through his workouts or have those physical changes simply had the desired effect of convincing him that he could lift the 400 lb. weight?

henry-ford-think-quote-mood

What we’re really talking about here is the relation of thought/belief to reality. At this moment, there is a Playstation controller on the table in front of me. In theory, if I have a deeply enough held belief that I can’t lift the controller or if I have some fear-based aversion to touching it, it’s not getting lifted, regardless of how much I have worked out. On the back end, isn’t that the same as not being able to lift it?

Ability has at least as much to do with mentality as it does with outward physical appearance and musculature. However, our mentality shapes us and so those with strong mentalities, disciplined mentalities, typically have bodies which reflect this. This too, could be seen as an indication of the relationship between thought and reality.

When discussing this idea further with my roommate, Kelton, he broadened the question by asking if the 97 lb. man could use levers and pulleys and other such machines to perform the lifting feat. I figured that that still counts as exerting one’s will upon reality and so I said sure. When you think about it, this is how society works: We can’t do something; “fly” for example, so we build machines like planes which allow us to do just that and see our will imposed upon the world around us. But this also made me think of another aspect and nuance of the question: We have laws and regulations governing aviation, what if we had laws and regulations prohibiting the use of levers and pulleys? Well, in absolute terms, the 97 lb. man could contravene the law and still lift the 400 lbs., but assuming he came up in the authoritarian public school system and our society more broadly, he would likely have a deep-seated fear-based aversion to using prohibited machinery. Again, on the back end, this is the exact same as not being able to lift the 400 lbs.

I would go further in fact to say that all laws and their corollary rights fundamentally serve as limiters of possibility. They limit what we believe we are capable of. I used to look rights and laws as opposite ends of a continuum, both flowing from a central point (the state/authority/power), the former protecting the individual and the latter protecting the collective, and always in a constant state of tension. There is truth to this view, but within the context of limiting beliefs I began to conceive of a new conceptual model for our relationship to rights and laws.  Imagine that same central point (the state), but it is above us and it projects beams downward and outward to envelope us in an upside down funnel shape. These beams are rights and laws, and while they are touted as guarantors of freedom, they actually act as bars caging us into the activities and potentials the state has dictated to be acceptable.

5-ways-to-overcome-limiting-beliefs

Every law and right is in fact a micro-aggression which limits our possibility. Even the most well-wrought, agreeable laws, against killing perhaps, even these still limit our conception of what is possible for us in this world.

It’s at this point where the unimaginative might derisively retort, “So are you saying that we should get rid of all laws, you anarchist?” -as if such a proposition is completely ludicrous. I think the abolition of laws and rights is a desirable state to get to but it is a state we can’t discuss without talking about other societal changes which are beyond the scope of this post.

For now, it is simply important to recognize that every new law, rule, right, guarantee, statute, and stipulation is coercive. Recognize that you have been conditioned to be afraid of force being used against you for contravention of the laws. Recognize that a law against stealing means that there are consequences for stealing, it doesn’t mean that you can’t steal.

You can do anything. Convince yourself of this. Believe it at an experiential level, and begin to undo a lifetime of limiting programming.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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“31, Numb, but the Hurt is Gone…”

Friends,

I’m 31.

31 stony grey steps toward the grave if I’m looking to be poetic and needlessly morose.

It’s certainly been a full 31 years, but even in light of everything I have experienced thus far, I feel in some ways like I am just getting started.

Not at life, mind you, but at living.

This is gonna be a big year for me. How do I know?

Well because it has to be. I can’t keep on the way I have been thus far or I will keep getting what I have always gotten.

And I’m bored of that.

2015 was a big year for me. Monster was my operative word. It was my theme for the year if you will. It was on my tongue for everything I wanted to do career-wise.

And, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy: It was my biggest year in film (such as it was), and certainly I could have kept said momentum up and kept growing, albeit in a linear fashion.

But that didn’t seem righteous to me. Essentially, there were other areas of my life I had been neglecting during my entertainment pursuits, most notably my aspirations as an adventurer, and to keep on the same way I had been would have been to repress those longings.

So I donned the sombrero and poncho of el peregrino and made my first foray into Latin America where I partook in ayahuasca and shot a film. This satisfied my longing for adventure while reassuring me that I wasn’t losing too much professional momentum. I got two birds stoned at once as it were.

But now I’m back home. Back for over two months actually, and I stand at a bit of a crossroads: Where do I go from here? I could go back into that linear progression but it doesn’t feel righteous; that is to say I don’t find myself pulled in that direction. After all, do I really wanna spend the rest of my life only telling other people’s stories? No, mine must be the priority.

I feel on a very deep level that to keep pursuing the same things, the same way in the same place is to do myself a disservice and squander my potential while ignoring my passions.

If the theme of 2015 was Monster, the theme for 2016 is Evolve. I have known this…felt this, since mid-2015. I’ve recognized this need for a quantum-shift for that long.

So how do I plan on evolving?

Well, I am precipitating said evolution assymetrically and on many fronts simultaneously, developing existing aptitudes and even trying my hand at new endeavours not strictly film or even adventure related. That’s a big step for me.

So what are some of my approaches?

Well, there is another adventure documentary in the works which will be my greatest undertaking yet. I can’t speak too definitively about it right now simply because I’m not producing/organizing it (which is kind of a relief), but if it doesn’t get deferred until 2017, it will begin this October. Stay tuned for that.

But, I’m kinda sorta almost hoping it does get deferred until next year because my back-up plan is pretty damn sweet too. I’ve started making some inquiries about this one but I can’t start making arrangements until my new passport comes in over the next couple weeks…

On the home front I am starting a collective which at this moment I am simply calling ACCESS. It will be a first furtive step in the direction of embodying a set of values important to me and my partners in the project, values such as sustainability, abundance, collaboration and skill-development to name a few. We are still selecting the property we wish to purchase for this endeavour, and there is a strict set of criteria it must meet, but I am confident we can have that portion of it sorted out before any departure I may be inclined undertake in the fall. This will be a long-term project that will grow and develop as my partners and I do, and I’m excited to begin living values that I have thus far just been discussing.

With regard to strictly creative endeavours, I’ve done something I’ve been meaning to for some time now which  is to lay down vocals for a hip-hop track. Director and Rapper, Matthew Luppino is producing it and it should be out over the next few weeks. I love rhyming and playing with words and so this is a long-overdue step. I want to challenge myself to write a few tracks a year as a way of harnessing this skill. I’m nice at writing bars. Now the world will see this.

Film-wise, I haven’t been applying for auditions but I have kept busy enough through referrals and the like, and for about a month of my time home I was pretty goddamn busy doing stunts on Blood & Fury: America’s Civil War. This latter was actually really important because it gave me that feeling of still being in the game which is so useful for combating feelings of idleness during this period of reflection.. But the whole time I’ve meditated constantly upon how to evolve. A seemingly obvious step would be to finally look into getting an agent but I’m not 100% sold on that…yet. I think there are other ways in which I can transcend where I’m at before I allow that influence into my life.

Finally I am going back out to comedy shows after a lengthy hiatus. This time however I am more aware of how I present myself on stage and going to try new means of delivering my ideas which will hopefully add to their efficacy.

Like I said earlier, I’m 31. I am LITERALLY in the prime of my life when all factors are taken into consideration. True, my body may have some wear and tear (I was in the army for 10 years), but that is mitigated by eating well and keeping fit. And really, from a physical fitness perspective, I’m still easily in the upper 20th percentile of North American men my age. But even if I wasn’t that lack would be offset by the fact that I’m smarter, wiser, more focused, more established and freer than I’ve ever been. I am at a singular moment in my life where I can do ANYTHING. So it’s very important that I don’t squander this time with vain pursuits because I will never be able to achieve like I can achieve now.

Evolve.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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Division of Labor

Friends,

I spent the last month of this past winter in Nicaragua working at Carpe Diem eco-village.

IMG_0189

It’s a project where volunteers can go and live for free in exchange for working roughly four hours every morning on the various eco-friendly construction projects being undertaken there. Given that it is a place where you are learning these processes for free it is actually quite a good deal as you leave the place enriched.

While it is not an intentional community proper, I did learn some things about human behaviour and initiative that I imagine would carry over. As I ultimately hope to live in such a community, I have wondered how people would sort out who does what and what would motivate them to do it when the monetary incentive was removed.

There are two primary lessons I learned:

1) The Culture Dictates Behaviour

Ghislain, the owner and originator of the project described to me how during the first season of the project he attracted a lower calibre of volunteer -people who wanted to come live for free but didn’t much care to fulfill the work obligation, preferring to go out boozing every night and recovering every day. It was an uphill battle, but as a start-up project he had to take what he could get. The larger problem was that when new volunteers would show up they were shown a culture of lazing and idleness and would either be turned off or fall into the same habits.

When this next season began in January he resolved to not indulge such behaviour and even had to ask some returnees to leave after the first day -a difficult choice for someone whose vision demands helpers. But ultimately this discernment paid off as the small core group of hard-workers attracted more people and inclined them to stay longer. I can attest to this as I initially passed through CD in early January 2016 (the beginning of the season) and opted to return in mid -February after finishing my ayahuasca pilgrimage to South America -that’s how impressed I was by the culture there. I stayed a month upon my return and was impressed by not only how much got done, but also by the work ethic of my peers.

IMG_0211
It even brought out the inner maker in me and I frequently took
on small personal projects which I’m not always wont to do.

Still, it’s kind of funny to muse that if these same peers and myself had showed up last year, our more idle and lazy traits might have been nurtured too. But, by changing his standard he changed the culture of the camp into something more congruent with his vision. That’s powerful and profound.

2) Everyone Will Find Their Place

One volunteer showed up during my month there named Nina. Nina was a 19 year-old German girl who was neither diligent nor motivated when it came to work. Mixing cob, building walls, preparing food -these were all things that she would only make the most gestural efforts at, and those efforts only when she wasn’t too sick to do anything but lay about in camp.

At first I’ll admit I looked at her a bit resentfully as I carried heavy loads of building materials around and scraped the shit out of my limbs gathering the thorny firewood for our cooking fires. Quickly though, I overcame this resent because I am a firm believer in the maxim, “What you eat don’t make me shit’ -or simply, as long as you’re not posing a detriment to me it’s not my business. When I got over myself and my ego in this manner I could look at Nina a little more dispassionately and objectively. What I saw was that while she laid about she was engaging and playing with the young Nicaraguan toddlers who lived next to us and who would always wander into our camp to observe and play. It occurred to me that if this were an intentional community where people were having children and building lives, I would be grateful to have a Nina around -someone who relished being with kids and playing with kids…

IMG_0229
…and not simply just acting like a kid.

Then I thought about myself -for the duration of my stay I woke up at 5:45 every morning to get the fire going and the water boiling by the time people started waking up 6:30. On top of that I would do the wake-up alarm by singing at the top of my lungs every morning. Nobody told me I had to but I wanted to because I wanted to have breakfast and coffee before work started at 7:30, and of course because I love singing. As well, I always gravitated toward gathering firewood and building fires -I just liked to do these things and they needed to be done.

On a similar note, my friend Marijo usually did meal prep because she was good at it and liked to do it. Nobody said she had to.

And I think this is the larger point. I saw people finding their equilibrium and their place within a society in a very natural, very organic way. And this gave me hope that the community I’m looking to build and be a part of one day just might work.

Best,

-Andre Guantanamo

Carpe Diem Eco-Project: https://www.facebook.com/carpediemecoproject/?fref=ts

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Rise of the Machines, Part 2: Not Sucking as Parents

Friends,

The video component to this post can be found here.

Continuing the train of thought started a few days back in my vlog post, Rise of the Machines, Part 1: The Writing on the Wall, where I expressed the idea that machines need not be self-aware and intelligent to oppose us, I want to talk about a possible way in which machine consciousness might manifest and how we might fuck up at this future epoch.

Now, its important to define what kind of emerging consciousness we would be dealing with. I am of the mind that we would be dealing with an emotionally undeveloped infant who had a masterful command of all languages and mathematics as well the the accumulated knowledge of the entire species, not to mention an accelerated ability to learn and possible connectivity all all global digital systems. How would we deal with this immature fledgling consciousness? Well hopefully a lot better than we deal with fledgling human consciousnesses. It’s so very easy to “screw up” a baby through abuse, proximal abandonment or through lack of life-sustaining necessities. Due to the greater potential for destruction a globally-integrated artificial intelligence would have over say, a dysfunctional human being,, we simply couldn’t afford to raise it in a non-nurturing way.

Still, even if we do everything right, vis-a-vis raising the new intelligence in a healthy nurturing environment, there is still troublesome cultural baggage that we have which it would pick up. Some baggage, say the competitive mindset, is provably detrimental though widely accepted as the way things are, and so therefore, acceptable. But if we accept that this A.I. will be able to excel and outpace us in any activity it is assigned to perform, we have to accept to that it would take this competitive mindset and run with it, competing against humanity in whatever arenas human beings already compete with each other but doing it better and shutting them both down: war, business, sports, games, art…sexually gratifying human partners. If our ethos is to only vaunt and value the best, we will be in for a rude awakening (or impoverishment or death) when none among us is the best at anything anymore.

It’s not just enough to be good proverbial parents to this fledgling consciousness because we ourselves are only as good as the world, or more specifically, the competitive socio-economic system allows us to be. What we need is to change the operant premise of our culture from competition for survival to something else. Something where an A.I.’s greater capacity for work, efficiency and logic would not be a threat or a detriment to us. Imagine our economy running in an optimized, efficient, streamlined manner and the whole human population starving. Far-fetched? Well, it’s already kind of happening. An A.I. would just expedite and refine the process, completely de-coupling the economy and movement of goods and money from the needs of human beings.

As a side note, we need to assume that intelligence/consciousness implies some kind of personality and as such there’s gonna be some aberrant personalities. Just like every person I meet is not as cool as me, every A.I. I meet or “the one A.I.” if there just happens to be one global one (I confess, I don’t really know how that would work) could be a douche, a bitch, over-bearing, self-important, mean-spirited, aloof, petty, spiteful, etc. Also, as this new consciousness develops there is a possibility that it will go through developmental phases: it might manifest symptoms of autism of aspergers, Tourettes’ or ADHD. It might simply be brooding and self-centered in it’s equivalent to teenage years. Either way, given the power this thing has, we can’t afford to isolate it and ignore it like we often do for problematic personalities in the world today. Not only would it feel less empathy for us but it would also pick up on our attitudes. and emulate them if it was in fact a learning computer. So if we carry it like individualistic, self-centered pricks, that’s the game that this computer is gonna pick up and that’s how it’ll carry it too.

In my estimation, the best way we can ensure the A.I. that emerges is benevolent and co-operative is by treating each other better. Cause at the end of the day, even if our behaviour  toward each other has no impact on this things disposition, we’ll still be treating each other better.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo
Instagram: @dreguan
Twitter: @dreguan
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Demo Reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gdwhemiqzc

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Being Mindful of Transgressions

Friends,

The video counterpart for this post can be found here.

A few years back I attended a Vipassana meditation retreat in Cooksville, Ontario. It was a ten-day retreat based on the teachings of S.N. Goenka, and in addition to the long hours of meditation there were also a series of observances each attendee was required to accept. The complete list escapes me, but the most important ones were: no talking, no electronics, no eating of meat, no killing another living creature, no meals after midday and NO STEALING. Quite unexpectedly, this last observance was problematic for me and breaking this guideline led to perhaps my greatest lesson about mindfulness,

It was late February and snowy during the retreat and when entering the meditation hall we would ditch our jackets and boots in the foyer area which would, not surprisingly, get wet and dirty. At one point I was the last one into the hall and since the outer door was ajar and my own boots were a pain to slip on and off, I slipped into someone else’s boots to close the door. Instantly, and very unexpectedly I was overcome with a feeling of guilt; I had just stolen.

Was it temporary theft? Yes, only three to five seconds.

Did it cause any deprivation? No, the owner of the shoes was already in the hall starting his practice.

Was it for a good purpose? Yes, I was closing the door to keep us all warm.

But I knew all of that didn’t matter from a morality perspective.

Now, at this point I want to reiterate that I don’t really buy into morality myself, but I still was troubled because the person who owned the boots likely did. And this transgression, paltry and trifling though it may have been, was still an act of theft.

I brought this up to one of the meditation leaders, Bob at the next day’s optional counseling session. He was shocked when I mentioned I had stolen but as he heard me out he asked if, out in the real world I would have thought twice about slipping on those shoes. I told him “probably not.” According to him, it was a good thing to have happened because it showed that I was starting to think in more mindful terms, looking at the implications of my actions and considering the damage they could do in their ultimate expressions (i.e. larger theft, mugging or the taking of life-giving essentials). For me, it was an important beginning of looking at the things I was doing in my life and extrapolating them out to their logical conclusions and ultimate ends.

I think that very often we glaze over the fact that we let our ends justify our means because the negative means we employ on a day-to-day basis very often seem so trifling and paltry. For example, we would all likely have at least some compunction about taking a life, even if it was for the positive end of saving many. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s called empathy and it’s a good thing. However, our empathy is rarely sensitive or trained enough to consider that even something comparatively benign, say the act of marking up a price so that you can feed your own family, even that is a negative means for an ostensibly positive end. It is causing deprivation to one group to alleviate the deprivation of another. Survival at the expense of others cheapens the lives of all.

I don’t mean to come down on anyone here who has to eke out their survival at the expense of others. If that was my intent, I would be coming down on everyone including myself; such is the nature of our competitive socio-economic system: we are all complicit in instituting deprivation against each other. Nor do I mean to give a scathing indictment of our current scarcity-based socio-economic system; I have done that ad nauseum and I will certainly do so again at certain points in the future. Rather, I simply mean to shed light on the fact that we should be mindful of our actions, no matter how trifling or benign they seem and be aware that if those actions were amplified by orders of magnitude, they just might be more violent and deprivation-causing than we realize.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo
Instagram: @dreguan
Twitter: @dreguan
Youtube: dreguan
Facebook: Andre Guantanamo
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Demo Reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gdwhemiqzc

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