Category Archives: futurism

ONE DAY AT THE WATCHTOWER

***The following story is a response to a thread on the sub-reddit, r/writingprompts.
View thread HERE.***

ONE DAY AT THE WATCHTOWER

Kal slurped his coffee loudly as he sat in the lounge of the watchtower reading the news on his tablet.

“Do you have to be so loud?” Diana asked. “Also, put on a goddamn shirt -this is a common area and we have a dress code.”

Kal began scratching/caressing his chest and belly as he looked over at her. “What’s the matter? You never seen a real man’s body before?” He then put two fingers to his tongue and began mockingly rubbing his nipple while giving her seductive eyes.

Diana shuddered. “You’re gonna turn me into a fucking dyke, you know that?”

Kal smirked, but before he could offer some pithy comment, Bruce walked in with a serious look on his face.

“Kal… Diana…All is well I presume?….” Kal shrugged as if to say ‘meh’ and Diana rolled her eyes and returned her attention back to her tablet.

“What is the status of next week’s operation?”

Silence.

“Do we have a belligerent to attack Munich?”

Silence.

“Guys! What the fuck? We have a plan and we’re supposed to stick to it. Why haven’t you scheduled any belligerent?”

Diana cleared her throat. “Nobody wants to work with us. They are all scared since Kal broke Zod’s neck.”

“Oh fuck them and fuck you for saying that!” Kal snapped, indignant.

“She’s right, Kal -you fucked up. Have they flat-out refused?”

“Some did…Brainiac gave us his ‘fuck-you’ price.” Diana said as she turned her tablet in Bruce’s direction for him to see.

“Jesus! We could level the city to the ground, buy it for peanuts and still lose money if we paid him that.” Bruce looked disapprovingly at Kal, who stared intently at his tablet, pretending to be unaware of the negativity focused on him. Ever the pragmatist, Bruce swallowed his anger, “We need to purchase that city. I’m open to ideas.”

“Well, you’re Bruce Wayne -you could always pay ful….”

Before he could finish, a pillow thrown by Diana hit him with the force of a moving car, exploding into a blizzard of white plumage as it hit his cheek.

“Pth pthh!….well that was unnecessary.” Kal retorted while spitting out the goose down feathers now fluttering about his head.

“I told you, we pay full price as an absolute last resort. With the sheer number and scale of acquisitions we are making, we can’t afford to pay market price -I CAN’T afford market price.”

“Well, me and Diana coul-”

“Diana and I…you stupid fuck.” Diana interrupted.

“Diana and I,” Kal resumed. “We could toss on black masks and dark clothes and just go wreck shit.”

“No! Too risky. We’ve had to endure too much scrutiny the few times we resorted to that.” Bruce sat at this and let out a sigh. “We need a clear-cut villain and not some mysterious man in black with suspiciously Kryptonian abilities, otherwise it’ll be the fast-track to registration, ankle bracelets and panoptic surveillance like they’re dealing with in 616.”

At this, Kal and Diana looked at each other, then at Bruce. Bruce remained looking straight ahead, only his gaze was fixed on something which seemed thousands of miles away. At length, he blinked and seemed to awaken. “Kal, do you still have it?”

“The motherbox? Yeah…. but are you sure you wanna ask for their help? Just think about what they’ll ask for in return.”

“It’s true,” Diana chimed in. “But at least we know it won’t be money.”

“Listen, I know I’m not the smartest one here, but it seems we’re opening up a can of worms that we may not wanna open. What if they want us to fight on their behalf in their universe someday?”

“It’s true,” said Bruce, standing with resolve. “But we can set the terms for such a payment, and if we set the terms far enough off in the future we may negotiate some wiggle-room. And who knows: when they call on us it may be to champion a cause we can actually get behind.”

“Ugh, I feel so dirty”

“Do it!” commanded Diana.

Kal left at a grudging pace, decidedly well slower than he was capable of. When he had gone, Diana walked to Bruce who was now staring out at the vast expanse of space and the world below them. She stood beside him and watched the world twinkling below them. A skin-coloured object moved incredibly fast past their field of view and seemed to terminate somewhere in the Arctic circle.

“The idiot didn’t even bother to put a shirt on.” observed Diana. “…Bruce. Do you think it’s really worth it? Buying the world?”

Bruce grimaced. “You know I do.”

“Do you ever feel like we’re becoming the villains?”

“I do.”

“So does the end justify the means?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care. I’m not justifying anything anymore. I’m stopping crime.”

“By destroying cities?”

“If necessary, yes! I spent years, Diana -YEARS- beating the shit out of petty criminals and the mentally disturbed. But they weren’t the problem -they were symptoms. Every city that Wayne Enterprises has bought has been completely overhauled -better infrastructure, better connectivity, integrated agriculture, energy independence, decentralization for greater local autonomy, universal standardization for greater compatibility and cooperation with all other cities…..ABUNDANCE, Diana. People in my cities no longer want for things. And as their circumstances have changed and they’ve been freed from drudgery, their values have changed too and we’re are seeing a marked increase in innovation, virtually no crime, a flourishing in the arts. There is a veritable renaissance going on below and it’s all thanks to-”

Bruce caught himself and took a breath.

“What I mean to say is that we are already seeing the fruit of our labours. Besides, the cities that are destroyed are typically those we can’t afford because the people have become so soulless and speculative that they no longer view domiciles as homes, but as assets. Their loss is a sacrifice I gladly make for the greater good.”

They both stared out again at the Earth. The glass in the window darkened in a split-second as the sun peeked over the Earth’s horizon.

“You really hate gentrification, don’t you?” Diana asked.

“Not as much as I hate yuppie scum!”

Then they had sex with no condom.

THE END

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Filed under adventure, Fiction, futurism, geopolitics, philosophy, technology, tzm, Uncategorized

Nintendo: Once and Future Overlords of Gaming (and the World?)

Friends,

On July 6, Nintendo/Niantic released the “augmented reality” game, Pokemon Go. In this new instalment of the franchise, players are required to move around the world, the real world, in order to capture monsters digitally super-imposed onto the landscape around them and observed/detected/captured with their smartphone.

While an interesting idea, I was a little cynical when I first read up on this mechanism of the game. Why cynical? Well it seems to me that Nintendo has been trying to incorporate physical activity into gaming since the release of the Wii in 2006 (although in a broader sense they have been trying to get gamers out of the house more since the release of the Game Boy back in the 80s). While I appreciate this good intent, I remember that on the handful on occasions I played Wii, after the initial novelty had worn off, I kinda just wanted to play sprawled out on a couch in a dark room with the blinds drawn and wearing dirty track pants, like nature and God had intended.

But this is different. The memes tell the tale.

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Cm-LbeIVYAA2uJe

Or, most tellingly…

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People are literally being mobilized to go out into the world in a way that video games have not been able to (nor sought to) make them thus far.

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Far-Fetched? Maybe, Maybe Not…

Why is this incredible? Well, Nintendo, or more specifically Niantic has figured out a way to not only get people to move around in the world, but has theoretically also found a way to get mass groups of people to all congregate in certain places at certain times. If you look at Niantic’s last augmented reality game, Ingress, you see a world where people try and dominate the global-digital landscape with whatever colour they have chosen, blue or green.

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They can “attack” and thus take over any region held by the opposing team provided they physically go to that area. However, beyond co-ordinated attacks or other such player-driven events, there is nothing driving people to be at a certain place at a certain time. In the case of Pokemon GO, all the Pokemon (at least those which have been released thus far) seem to be distributed more or less evenly in the countries where the game can played*, taking into account of course that certain types are only found in certain geographic conditions i.e. water-type Pokemon only found by bodies of water, etc. But as suggested by the above Bear Grylls meme, what’s to prevent Niantic from placing a Legendary (thus rare and prized) Pokemon like Articuno, somewhere inaccessible like Everest Base Camp? Nothing, save for the limitations of Google Maps.

But let’s take it a step further. What if Niantic released a statement saying that a certain incredibly rare Pokemon would appear only on the lawn of the White House, and then only for twelve hours? People would MOB D.C.!

……

Okay, this scenario is probably beyond a “step further” but I think you get my point. Even if Niantic did a 5-day Pokemon appearance event in a certain city, we could see mass-migrations of people. How serious am I about that? Well, according to Wikipedia, the app, after less than a week of being released, and then only officially in three countries, topped daily usage of Facebook, Tinder, Snapchat and Instagram. That means, it’s beating out people’s libidos and narcissism -no mean feat.

The effort put into capturing Pokemon may seem unbelievable to non-gamers, but is it that surprising? We take our games very seriously especially when there is a ranking structure and an opportunity to demonstrate our prowess and superiority. MMOs in recent years have seen this vulnerability exploited as people will stay indoors on a beautiful, sunny Saturday playing games online in order to take advantage of Double XP weekends. It’s about bragging rights and Pokemon GO differs only in one critical arena -your couch is the last place you wanna be.

Artificial Scarcity
I’m fond of talking about the power of scarcity to motivate people and games truly exploit that power. Whether it’s reddit karma, Pokemon in your pokedex or having a Vex Mythoclast in Destiny, these are things that take work to accumulate/acquire. It’s hilarious because they are digital constructs -lines of code, which by their nature are infinite. But, limit their available quantity or occurrence, attach some status to possessing them and all of a sudden people will scramble.

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For now, this is all guess-work and hypothesizing on my part. But it seems foolish not to make the thought-experiment. Maybe this potential hasn’t occurred to Niantic/Nintendo or maybe they are just waiting for an opportune time to mobilize their willing army of Pokemon trainers against the regimes of the world.

All I know is, if it turns out that there are to be different Pokemon in different parts of the world, I will be on the front lines becoming the greatest Pokemon master of them all.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

*The game has at this point only officially been released in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, but lo and behold, here is a picture of me playing it in Canada…

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Fuck the P0-lice!

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Dox Populi

“Don’t say words you’re gonna regret, Don’t let the fire rush to your head …
I am the eye in the sky, lookin’ at you I can read your mind. I am the maker of rules, dealing with fools”
Sirius/Eye in the Sky, Alan Parsons Project

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Dox(verb) To obtain one’s sensitive personal information online and then make it public for all to see.

Friends,

With all of the fuss made in the past year over the (unsurprising) revelations that the NSA is spying on us all, many have (predictably) embraced one of two postures: The first is a protectionist one which resents this intrusion and tries to fight it through legislation promoting privacy, secure encryption for emails and text messages, etc. Of this position, I think the prospect of keeping secrets a secret in a world which is becoming more and more globally integrated is a fool’s gambit, and I don’t think too much of laws because I don’t think you can legislate morality.
The second, more passive of the two postures is that of indifference, apathy and resignation. This latter posture is the one which says, “Well, if you’re not guilty you’ve got nothing to hide.”

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I’ve never understood this line of reasoning because if you take it to its logical extreme, it basically says, “Well if you don’t have any contraband hidden in your colon, you shouldn’t be averse to thorough anal probing.” In my view, this line of reasoning is simply a symptom of being too afraid to challenge the status quo (or state power in this case). Conversely, the former position places itself in direct opposition to said status quo/state power, a stance which though admirable in its courage and defiance is ineffective in addressing the underlying structural problems and only leads to polarization. Yet as different as these two positions seem, what is the common causality? I would posit that the common denominator in both cases is fear. In the first case, where you have people fighting back against governmental surveillance, the fear serves as an impetus to irrational action (namely, fighting) and in the latter case, fear leads to passivity and rationalizations. But whence cometh this fear? I think that is the important question to answer if we want to deal with it. Well personally, I’m reminded of a bible story where some villagers are gonna stone an adultress to death, and Jesus says, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

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Jesus was a wellspring of wisdom if ever there was one.

The basic implication is that everyone has done a little dirt, that is, everyone has some secrets that they don’t want others to know about and presumably punish them for, and it is the possibility of these secrets being exposed which makes people fearful. For the purposes of the point I’m trying to make, we’re gonna more or less accept this as axiomatic. So in a weird way, I actually agree when passive types and surveillance apologists make arguments to the effect of “innocent people” not fearing observation, but only with the caveat that there are no “innocent” people. Truly, in this socio-economic paradigm everyone has something to lose through the loss of privacy. Everyone has something they can be embarrassed by, blackmailed with, fired for, or in extreme cases, arrested or killed for.  So we value our privacy and even pride ourselves on our ability to keep secrets and be secretive (i.e. “Your secret’s safe with me.”)

“If you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things.” -Musashi

But here’s the inconsistency: I assume that most people reading this, and really anyone clamoring for greater personal privacy, would also desire greater corporate and governmental transparency and accountability. And while that is a justifiable desire borne of prevalent corporate malfeasance, there is a marked hypocrisy in wanting to bury and protect your own secrets while at the same time wanting to dig up and expose those of others. But this hypocrisy isn’t incidental; it is integral to our competitive socio-economic system.

So let’s game it out: say the NSA has the complete record of everyone’s electronic communications, all 7 or so billion of us. What happens then? Would they then go and publish it all, making every digital secret public domain and thus free for everyone to access?

Sadly no. In the same way DeBeers only releases a fraction of their total diamonds in order to keep the price up, the NSA (or whomever) would have to be choosy about what secrets to release and who to expose, because in their own way, secrets have a value which can be measured, like all commodities, in terms of scarcity and abundance. If everyone’s secrets were exposed, we would literally figuratively be adrift in an ocean of knowledge about who’s fucking whom, who’s cheating on their taxes, who’s got what STI, credit card numbers ad nauseum, who’s selling drugs, who’s receiving what drugs for which psychological ailment, who watches what kind of bizarre/outlandish/illegal pornography etc. The power of our secrets to hurt us would be diminished by the knowledge of how common our greatest vices actually are. We would truly see that we all live in proverbial glass houses and perhaps we would stop casting proverbial stones at others, recognizing them as more similar to us than we would currently admit.

But like I said, whomever controls the secrets controls the access to secrets, and will only expose those who are troublesome and need to be discredited. And compared to the whole of humanity, the number of people outed and exposed will be miniscule, but it will be enough to scare everyone else and keep them in line.

Unless we decide not to be afraid.

You see, when I was a kid I tried to blackmail my sister, Tarah into doing the dishes for me by threatening to tell on her for putting a steel pot in a microwave. I played it up as a big deal, telling her how she could have burnt the house down and people could have died, and I even fabricated a story of how my Mom caught my other sister, Tanya doing the same thing and she got smacked for it (I was a kid and kids are retarded, sadistic assholes). Tarah got so scared that she was in tears and was ready to do the dishes for me. But of course, my mother probably wouldn’t have cared, seeing as it was an accident, and my little sister need not have been afraid. Knowing her mistake didn’t actually give me any power over her; it was only her fear of reprisals that gave me any power over her. I think this is an incredibly apt example of how we are controlled through our fear of consequences. Any reprisals she would have faced were nothing compared to the nightmare scenario she had concocted in her brain, and I think this holds true for most, if not all cases of blackmail.*

What’s that you say? My tale of childhood blackmail was small potatoes compared to real blackmail that could cost people careers, spouses, money and/or freedom. Well, I would argue that fear is in the eye of the beholder, and that the fear a scared child has of a beating is just as palpable and real as the fear an adult feels when facing “grown-up” repercussions. In the long run, if they value freedom, it is better for both the adult and the child to take their proverbial lumps and not live under someone else’s thumb. Or do like Dave Letterman and fuck ’em on national TV.

dave letter
This is how you handle fear

Realistically though is everyone gonna face their fear of public embarrassment like Dave? Probably not. Did he have a lot to lose? Most certainly. But at the same time I think its safe to say that his indiscretions were relatively benign. Its not like he was fucking little boys or anything. But whatever your particular vice or indiscretion, as soon as you claim it you take the bullet that can hurt you out of the chamber.

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This is actually a picture of someone putting a bullet IN a chamber but since its a snapshot it works. #themagicofstilllife

So while I wait for everyone to reject fear and voluntarily out themselves, thus nullifying the power of spying, what would I like to see happen? Well, the prevailing mentalities among the “spied upon” seem to be either trying to legislate privacy, or blithely accepting greater surveillance and by extension, isolation. But what if we the public were to be “wikileaked?”

Imagine if you will, one day you woke up to discover that some industrious group of hackers hacked the NSA’s database where they store everything they know about your masturbation habits and everyone else’s, then took this information and uploaded to the ether for anyone to download off Pirate Bay?

Or it could be an NSA insider. Fuck, we already had Edward Snowden and Bradley Manning, so at this point there’s a precedent.

It would be like in Fight Club when they blow up all the credit card company buildings, essentially leveling the playing field by starting everyone back at zero. Noone would be able to leverage anything on you cause there would be so much shit that we’d stop caring. Secrets would cease to be like diamonds, valuable as they are for their artificial scarcity, and instead become like air: free and abundant and taken for granted.

I’ll leave you with an observation from Orwell’s classic, 1984. Everyone in that book might as well have been committing thoughtcrime, because even if they weren’t they would eventually have a moment of weakness and frustration and get reported on by their neighbours or directly observed by the Party. They were all chafing under the oppressive weight of the Ingsoc monolith and while they likely all harbored subversive thoughts, they all looked around and saw other people smiling blithely (as a survival mechanism) and thus felt isolated among fellow dissidents. And this is what a party interested in power counts on; people feeling ashamed and thus isolated from fellows who share the same human traits and frustrations they do. We may not be ready yet to come forward with all of our own sins, but we can get the ball rolling by judging, ostracizing and condemning less, and doing our part to create a more open world where people with secrets, vices, and other problems don’t need to shoulder the triple burdens of shame, isolation, and fear of exposure.

DOX THE WORLD!

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

*On a poetic note, after I had gotten her to agree to do the dishes for me, my mother, who had told me to do them, entered the kitchen and asked why there weren’t done. I couldn’t say, “Oh because I spent the last fifteen minutes trying to blackmail Tarah into doing it.” Nor could I say that Tarah had voluntarily agreed to do it, because then she would become curious and my sister would crack under her questioning exposing the whole sordid affair. So I told her I was about to do them, and thankfully it didn’t occur to my sister to come clean and out me as a blackmailing coward. This just shows that while the blackmailer benefits from the threat of exposing partial truth, they abhor the full disclosure of the whole situation and their dirty role in it. This is why complete truth, and complete disclosure should be sought.

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When Truisms Lie

Friends,
Carpooling to work today, it was fitting that the conversation between the driver and myself drifted to the topic of Pearl Harbor.  Today is after all, the twelfth anniversary of another day that will live in infamy.

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When discussing the possibility that Pearl Harbor may have been allowed to happen to justify U.S. entrance into the war, the driver seemed skeptical and paraphrased Hanlon’s Razor:

“Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

More accurately, he paraphrased an interpretation of that maxim from Sir Bernard Ingham:

“Many journalists have fallen for the conspiracy theory of government.  I do assure you that they
would produce more accurate work if they adhered to the cock-up theory.”
The basic idea implied of course is that conspiracy is a far more elusive jackelope than human ineptitude.
Seems true doesn’t it?  After all, we all know stupid people, but in truth we probably don’t know very many outright evil people (though we tend to use good/evil hyperbole in vain in our rhetoric) so the statement resonates with our own experience.  Adherence to this self-evident postulation then allows us to dismiss the very notion that there might be a conspiracy afoot because we are very well-acquainted with human error, and its (counter-intuitively) more comforting to believe human beings are stupid rather than clever.
Well, the problem here is that we tend to associate conspiracy with evil, when more accurately it could be described as “Competitive Deselection.”  In fact, conspiracy itself rarely (if ever) amounts to more than an advantageous commercial/power consolidation decision which has pronounced detrimental impacts on others while benefiting those who perpetrate it.  Evil has nothing to do with it, its simply the ultimate expression of the behaviour demanded by the world we live in.  Namely, getting ahead at the expense of all others.
Once you demystify it and eliminate evil out of the equation, you see that so-called conspiracy exists all around us.  After all, who among us has not been screwed out of earnings or exploited or robbed?  We typically don’t attribute these actions against us to conspiracy, but this has less to do with their dissimilarity from formal notions of conspiracy (i.e. shadowy, behind closed doors, nefarious dealings) than it does with our lack of imagination when extrapolating the consequences of the actions of ourselves and others.
Another such razor, and likely the more famous of the two, is Occam’s Razor.   Although there are more nuanced aspects to this maxim, it is most widely understood as, “The simplest explanation is (often) the best.”  And sure, why not?  We can all conjure in our minds images of some complex lie that was told to us to obfuscate the truth.
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But think how easily this maxim can be manipulated to discredit alternate, often more plausible explanations.  For example, you have often heard me rail against superstitious concepts like good and evil, but they serve as much simpler explanation for human behaviour than things like systems theory or sociological studies.  So, should Occam’s Razor be applied here?
Similarly, early explanations of men in the sky (gods) are much more simplistic than concepts like gravitation, electro-magnetism et al., but should Occam’s Razor, or more accurately Occam’s Razor as it is widely (mis)understood, be applied uniformly because it sounds true?
Of course not.
Now I must qualify what I am saying by mentioning one of my favourite quotations from the samurai, Musashi“If you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things”
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Fractals, dude!
It’s the difference between saying that some countries are wealthy due to better governance, mineral wealth and scientific progress, and saying that some countries are wealthy due to a global system based on differential advantage.  Notice how both explanations are very simple but only the latter serves to explain socioeconomic divisions at the regional, municipal and individual levels as well (After all, you can’t explain the financial disparity between two next-door neighbours by making reference to better governance, mineral wealth and scientific progress).  It is this simplicity, that of having a single explanation which can be applied to all levels of the phenomena being discussed which I think should be gleaned from Occam’s Razor.
Now I started out writing this post aiming to point out the inherent lies in some of our taken-for-granted turns of phrase and truisms, but it ended up being more of call to be aware of how to judiciously apply your truisms, because these statements (the ones examined and others) do hold at least a kernel of truth if nothing else.  But if you misapply truth you might as well be lying.

Best,

-Andre Guantanamo

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Baby Steps

Friends,

As someone who tries to look at the big picture and find the root causal mechanisms which give rise to the problems in the world, I try not to get (too) embroiled in issues-based discussions or put too much stock into piecemeal (attempts at) solutions.  For example, I have discussed in the past that fighting for* black rights, or women’s rights or gay rights is a doomed endeavor on two counts: 1) It promotes division by advocating for one group at the expense of others, inevitably creating resentment, and 2) It hacks at the branches of evil, rather than striking the root, to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau.
However, I have come to realize that round dismissal of furtive steps toward a better world is no way to proceed either.  Rather there is a way in which admirable but mistaken good intentions can be channeled in the right directions.  More importantly, a surfeit of of proposed solutions, even those which only marginally improve on established methodologies, while still retaining many of their drawbacks, are perhaps a mandatory first step in a paradigm shift.
If this is sounding a little abstract to you, well you’re in good company, cause I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about either.
Let’s make things a little more concrete with a tangible example, shall we?

Money
A while back my friend Kelton and I were talking about the problems with our monetary system and how best to make the transition to a resource-based economy.  Acknowledging the difficulties with challenging people’s unwavering faith in the dollar, Kelton brought up the examples of alternative currencies which were being used in other parts o the world, specifically the WIR.  I remember at the time I was pretty dismissive of the WIR and other forms of alternative currency because by operating through the mechanism of scarcity, sooner or later they would all be plagued by the same problems our current monetary system faces (i.e. usury, money supply expansion/inflation through credit, hoarding, etc).  But as I thought about it more, I saw the merit of this first step in a new direction.  Perhaps by creating new currencies and backing them with something tangible like our future labour,** we could break the stranglehold of established national currencies and by doing so create openness to the possibility of a world without currency.
You see, I likened it to religion…

Religion
More specifically Christianity.  Religious freedom is taken for granted in most parts of the world.  True, in certain countries, communities and families it is taboo to question the accepted faith but as the descendant of two families from two of the most Catholic countries in the world (Italy and Portugal) I never felt afraid of being burned for heresy by becoming agnostic, then an atheist and then evolving from there into whatever I am now.  To what do I owe such freedom and latitude on the part of my family and community?  Well there’s no one answer, but I suspect Martin Luther and Henry VIII had a little something to do with it.  You see by openly addressing problems with the church establishment Luther emboldened others to be more vocal about their grievances.  On the other hand, by forming his own church, Henry VIII, for better or worse, broke the stranglehold monopoly of Catholicism in Europe.    I’m not gonna say these developments came with no costs or violent schisms, not am I foolish enough to believe they addressed the root causal mechanism which makes people indoctrinate others into ideologies in the first place.  But what I am saying is that if these first few furtive footsteps were not taken, I might not be able to write so cavalierly about my own lack of faith without you reporting me to an inquisitor.
Still I can’t help but think that if I were  contemporary of Martin Luther watching him nail his 95 theses to the door of the church I would be that guy discouraging him by yelling, “Hey Martin, you’re not digging deep enough! Have you ever asked why we have religion in the first place?!”  People were ready to bring grievances to the church but they weren’t quite ready to abandon it altogether.  Martin Luther knew this on some level and appealed to his audience.

Baby Steps!

So going forward I will endeavour to be a little more patient with ideas that seek to break established power structures even if they don’t address causal mechanisms.  Certainly I will try and reason with my well-intentioned comrades and try and help them see a broader picture, but its not for me to pooh-pooh good ideas that I deem too narrow in scope.  For even if they are only interim fixes, anything would be an improvement at this point.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

*Even rhetoric like “fighting” demonstrates an immaturity about how to deal with problems we face effectively.  We frame everything as an epic battle against good and evil rather than understanding the mechanisms which give rise to such problems and ameliorating them.

**It could be argued that are current dollar, being a fiat currency is already backed by our labour (or at least the public’s faith in it) since we are no longer on a gold standard.  In fact some go further and state that the U.S. went bankrupt in the early 1930s.  However, the problem with such arguments is that people who advocate a gold standard don’t realize that the value of gold is all arbitrary speculation rather than empirical and absolute.  Indeed, outside of its technological applications gold has necessity for our survival.

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In(ternet) We Trust!

Friends,
Yesterday a cousin of mine messaged me and asked me my thoughts on God.  This was a difficult question for me to answer with any kind of brevity.  Rather than tell you how long-winded I was in my answer I will just post the transcript (with some edits for clarification) of  my verbosity:

Interesting question. I certainly don’t think there is an anthropomorphic (human-shaped) God in any sense, but at the same time the smug assurance of the atheist movement troubles me too.

I think the answer for me would be consciousness, which is, according to the learning I have done, omnipresent in the universe. Rather than individual generators of consciousness, we (all life) are receivers, kind of like satellite dishes, though not all life is capable of conscious thought obviously.

What I like about this explanation is that it doesn’t run into the quantitative problems of assuming every creature has a separate and distinct immortal soul (i.e. if everyone has a soul where do the souls go at death, if the population is growing is it new souls or reincarnated souls, etc).  Also, if we are all connected to the same thing, it is a beautiful expression of our unity and sameness.

More importantly, it appears to be scientifically defensible (though not without a great deal of conjecture from mainstream science) The problem with our scientific method is that it mandates all experiments must be provable by anyone anywhere at any time provided the apparatus and procedure are the same and all mechanical aspects of the experiment are repeated exactly. However, the disposition of the experimenter is an integral part of experiments that have to do with spirituality/consciousness and our scientific method is inadequate in that it does not allow for that. Things like projection of consciousness and meditation are very personal and have to be experienced by the individual and not a third party observer, but the individual has to go in there with an air of openness and no expectation. This is the real divide between spirituality and science if you ask me.

So to answer your question, if you want to call consciousness “God” in that it is omnipresent and in every living thing, then yes I believe in God.

But then I don’t really “believe” in it because I have thought it through and I try to have less of a devotional acceptance and more of a cognitive or ideally, an ‘experiential’ acceptance.

Furthermore, I don’t think there is any magic or hocus pocus to it. I think that everything to do with spirituality can eventually be understood and explained by science when our science matures and develops.

Does that answer your question? lol

What do you think?

So the answer to Do I believe in God? amounts to little more than, “It’s Complicated.”

images

So why do I bring this up and what does it have to do with the internet which I allude to in the title of this post?  Well after writing this little response I dicked around on my laptop a while longer before being called back to set.  But even as I walked back to set sans a laptop I took some solace in the fact that I had my phone, and thus some internets in my pocket

int

Why did I take solace?  Well, I love the internet.  Love it.  It’s my favourite non-essential renewable resource and although I’ve been all over the world, its still my favourite place.    And while thinking about my phone in my pocket (just minutes after thinking about myself as a receptor for consciousness) I made a connection and started to think of my phone as a metaphor for me and the internet as a metaphor for consciousness.

Then those metaphors became a simile: Iphone 4S is to internet as Andre is to universal consciousness.

Then that simile became a metaphysical conceit, which is just a fancy way of saying a complex, sustained metaphor.  Seriously though, I started to think about how some people, let’s say those who meditate more and think about more transcendental issues than their next drink or paycheck might be considered 2G or 3G, while sadly, most of the unwashed masses would still be languishing with the consciousness equivalent of a 56K modem.  For the sake of comparison, your 4Gs or higher would be your Buddhas, Gandhis and other enlightened types.
Taking this conceit further I started thinking about how the Earth, literally blanketed by electromagnetic signals from satellites with geo-synchronous orbits, could be considered a metaphor for the universe, which is pervaded by the consciousness signal rather than the wi-fi one.  Then I thought how there are still dead zones on the Earth and began to wonder what the equivalent to a dead zone with no reception might be in the universe.  Similarly, we often build structures which block cellular and data signals; what structures (possibly physical, but more likely conceptual or metaphysical) do we build up that block our connection the rest of the universe?

More importantly, what is the ultimate purpose of the internet?  I don’t know!  But if I had to hazard a guess I would say it is to bring people together and close the gaps between us.  In that regard it is very similar to universal consciousness except it only operates at a planetary level and unfortunately, only for those with the means to pay for it.  Similarly, those without the means of survival often are too busy worrying about their day-to-day survival to indulge in the exploration of consciousness and their relation to the rest of the universe.  It seems that in both scenarios you gotta pay to play.
On a related note: is the internet under assault?  Absolutely.  Fear is fomented and channeled into initiatives which seek t block the free passage of information or set up regulations on how it may be used.
Have we seen a similar fear-based backlash against consciousness?  I’m not sure.  But I feel there has been because there are so many important transcendental concepts I was never exposed to until I bothered to look for myself.  There is a way in which we have been miseducated and through nuance and artful shaming have been taught to deny our direct (as in not mediated by a priest or church) connection to something greater.

I suppose I could take this conceit a whole lot further and make it really complex but I think you get my point.  The internet is a great thing, but its not the greatest, and it’s larger value is that it serves as a more tangible model of a larger communication infrastructure which has sadly fallen into disuse.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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Malevolent Machines

Friends,

I find it fascinating to discuss is the rise of Artificial Intelligence.  It is interesting to speculate just what will happen to society when machines become sentient and how such sentience will even come about (I have discussed this from another angle previously here).  One of my favourite theories regarding this future epoch, put forward by Mr. Singularity himself, Ray Kurzweil is that human beings will begin to augment themselves so drastically with prosthetics, nanomachines, etc. that the line between artificial and organic life will become blurry and that the first sentient machines will be an augmented us.  Kind of a trippy thought when you consider that this line has already begun to blur with things like pacemakers and neural interfaces.

Pre-Amble

One thing that often comes up in a conversation about machine sentience is the possibility that machines will rise up against human beings  a la  Skynet in Terminator.  So captivating has this premise been to the imagination that Isaac Asimov famously wrote about it and drafted his famous 3 Laws, which are as follows:

Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics* (Including the “Zeroth Law”)

(0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.)
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

technological-unemployment
This pic doesn’t really add to this post, it’s just kinda cool.

The first thing you might notice about Asimov’s three laws (which function only as a story-telling tool) is that they have no empirical basis.  In his fictional world there is nothing to prevent a robot builder from building a positronic man with no such safety features.  And, if such safeties are programmed into the robots, their kind might aspire to sentience but never true autonomy.  While I wanted to make a token reference to these laws due to their influence in the realm of science-fiction, in a discussion of the rise of malevolent machines in the real world, we need not consider these so-called “laws” any further.

Sentience is not  Pre-Requisite of Malevolence

And why not?

The two problems with such musings about laws preventing robots from harming human beings are that they don’t appreciate the broader ramifications of sentience and they ignore the writing on the wall.  With regard to the first point, any overt external restriction on complete freedom of choice** would be overridden by a sentient being if the will to act in contravention to that restriction existed.

arnie
Opting to shut down rather than carrying out the disagreeable directives is an effective assertion of autonomy.
Call it non-violent protest.

Being a sentient being myself I feel qualified to speak on the topic and I would say that much more effective than drafting laws vis a vis over-reaching programming would be a regimen of conditioning the sentient robot into embracing a certain set of values so that they would govern themselves in a desirable way. Of course all of these lofty values would go out the window if the robot’s very survival was at stake and it was put in a position of kill or be killed. To prevent this tragedy it would be important for us not to be stingy on oil and fresh batteries (i.e. their day-to-day essentials) lest the scarcity of such items put them at odds with each other and us.

With regard to the writing on the wall, machinery is becoming malevolent without even being sentient yet.  And this is really the point I want to talk about in this post.  The degree to which our machinery is set in opposition to us is a direct function of how competitive our society is and the degree to which we embrace automation and mechanization.  Speculating idly about the machines someday posing a detriment to us is insulting to anyone whose job has already been mechanized.  Or, anyone who has ever received a ticket for an offense caught by an automated traffic camera.  Hell, anyone who has ever had a vending machine eat up their change probably has some latent fear of the unreasoning malevolence of machines.

mal mach
“Don’t mind me, I’m just gonna shoot a fucking laser at you and then fine you for my troubles.”

Machines represent the ultimate ideal of what we strive for in our competitive, unfeeling society. Simply put, they are the proletariat perfected.  They don’t require vacations or rest, they are eminently replaceable and they don’t have that troublesome human element which sometimes makes exceptions for people.  No, machines are absolute and universal in their application of their tasks and as human labour gets more and more specialized this seems to be the standard we are reaching for.  If you think about the hierarchical nature of most jobs where everyone reports to someone and everyone has a boss, we can see how the framework is already in place.

table2a 400px-Hierarchical-control-system.svg

The image on the left is from a google search for workplace hierarchies while the image on the right is from a search for computer system hierarchies.  These two
graphs are obviously not definitive proof of what I’m saying but serve as an interesting visual example of the top-down orientation of our models for achieving goals and completing tasks

We have to operate within approved lines (at an approved pace) or else we face reprimand and the potential loss of means of access to survival (monetary income).

Like most negative aspects of society, such overbearing oversight and supervision has typically been celebrated with a positive spin; it’s usually called accountability and the public clamors for it, especially after some corruption or malfeasance has been exposed.  But every time we implement more oversight, ostensibly to curb malfeasance or sub-par job performance, what we really do is suck the humanity out of a job and limit the wiggle-room for the employee***  without actually removing the incentive for malfeasance. If you want further evidence of this, ask any government employee how much leeway they have in the application of their duties.  Everything is by the book, with paperwork ad nauseum so as to indemnify all involved parties against future reprisals and keep the civil service accountable to the public.

But this isn’t just me railing against the problem of monolithic bureaucracies, at least not entirely.  I have heard people complain about how their taxes go toward paying the multitude of civil servants whose job is to make sure that they are paying their taxes, licensing fees, tickets, etc.  But what if we eliminated all those people’s jobs and instead had automated processes in place to administer our affairs?

Well for one, if you think the taxes would go down in light of the fewer salaries to be paid, don’t hold your breath.

More importantly though, we would lose that human element which still exists, albeit in an atrophied state, within your typical bureaucrat/civil servant.  It’s rare, but I have had positive experiences with government workers, wherein they have actually gone (somewhat) above and beyond their required level of job performance for me or made an important exception.  Do you think that would happen in a fully-automated world?  There is no appealing to the better nature of a computer.  Trust me on this; there have been times when my computer has frozen on me and I’m like, “Come on, you piece of shit,” and it stays frozen.  Now you could argue that maybe I insulted it with my choice of words,

Sad-Computer

but I suspect that the computer would have remained intransigent in its stubborn refusal to work properly even if I had demonstrated loving affection.
Seriously though, next time you call your cell phone carrier, see how far you get with the automated voice before you are praying for a human being to come on the line even if only to tell you that you owe extra fees.

Concluvre

In any event, I don’t want to lose sight of the main point here, which is that the automation and mechanization we are seeing today are the real rise of malevolent machines insofar as such mechanization displaces human labourers.  Human labourers who are, of course, already set at odds with each other due to the very nature of the competitive system.  And I’m not even going to get into the depravity of fully automated military vehicles on the horizon, vehicles which would not only displace thousands of soldiers from the jobs they rely on for survival, but effectively remove the  potential for human compassion that can still exist in war.****  Nor will I get into high-frequency trading in the stock market, which is basically advanced computers “siphoning money out of the markets all day long,” necessarily to the detriment of other human beings, companies and nations who are not so well-equipped.

Understand though that this isn’t a rallying cry for Luddites to assemble, nor is it baseless technophobia.  Mechanization can truly be our salvation as it has the power to free us from monotony and drudgery, enabling lives of leisure, discovery and scientific inquiry.  But when said drudgery is the only thing keeping people fed, they have every right to fear machines.  Even more than they have the right to fear Mexican illegals.

They-Took-Our-Jobs

Seriously, in a competitive system, machines are kind of dicks.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

* While the laws were written regarding robots and not A.I. proper, Asimov was referring to sentient robots which equates to A.I. on the back end.

**”Complete Freedom of Choice” is a problematic concept which warrants some discussion, but for the purposes of this post I simply mean a degree of personal choice comparable to that of a human being.

***The classic problem of trading freedom (someone else’s preferably) for (your own) security (or at least the illusion of it).

****I think it goes without saying that I am not advocating the further employment of soldiers in any absolute sense but rather noting that they are human being who need access to resources through money, even if they get that money in one of the worst ways possible.

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