Saturday, August 11, 2018



"Anyway, I like it now," I said. "I mean right now. Sitting here with you and just chewing the fat, horsing -- "
"That isn't anything really!"
"It is so something really. Certainly it is! Why the hell isn't it? People never think anything is anything really. I'm getting goddam sick of it."
(J.D. Salinger, 'The Catcher In The Rye')

- Have you lately been feeling dull, depressed, lethargic?
- Do you want to sell me a drug?
- Why haven't you been producing any new material, new ideas?
- Why should I all the time? Am I a robot?
- Funny you should say that. I was feeling guilty about calling the people around me robots.
- Because they thought only about doing things, never about whether they had good reason for what they did?
- Yes.
- Why feel funny about that?
- Remember what you wrote six years ago in a piece entitled Close Elections & The Fashion Business?*
- Why don't you leave my old ideas alone?
- Why don't you produce any new ideas?
- Why don't you?
- Maybe I will.
- Do it now. Why does calling people robots make you feel bad?
- Because the robots think they're still human.
- And they're not?
- They're stupefied humans.
- And what does that mean?
- With the earliest use in the 15th century, to be stupefied is to be struck numb, made senseless, resulting either in paralysis or convulsions. To be stupefied, for example by the words or the eyes of an orator or the beauty of a young man results in either inactivity or activity but in both cases with memory, will, desire of the victim nullified.
- And you think that defines the robots all around us, for example the 62.8 million people who voted for our president?
- Yes I do. How did the country get to have 62.8 million people without character to vote for a candidate without character?
- They were stupefied. By our president or others?
- By a hundred years of public relations and advertising, then by our president. I think I have something new here to say, but I want you to calm down and help me me with it.
- Not stupify you with my objections. I'll try. Go on.
- Trump voters feel like they are still human beings because when struck dumb they are in a state of rest and in a state of rest thought arises.
- Except that in the stupified state of rest one is dull and thoughtless.
- Yes. But remember along with paralysis stupefaction also leads to repetitive compulsive movement. In that dialog of yours you explain close elections by the need of the fashion business to provide consumers with clothing that suggest both a uniform and revolt from uniformity. Revolutionary design attracts many wearers who in their multitude weaken the expression of revolt but provide the compensating benefit of a crowd to hide in that wearing a uniform offers. But ultimately another fashion takes over with a new claim to revolutionary design. The two political parties produce close elections because as each gains an advantage in supplying the crowd the comforts of uniformity opportunity is given to the other side to take the revolutionary position. Is that a correct summary?
- It'll do.
- Perhaps you are not aware of it but two years after your piece was published a computer scientist, working on the problem of programming computers to create new images of given type, came up with the idea to have two neural network learning computers compete with each other, one randomly generating new image combinations, the other testing whether the new images fit into the class defining set of images it was pre-programmed with. To explain how this works one expert actually uses the competition between two political parties as an illustration.**
- And how does this relate to stupefaction?
- I know very well, don't try to deny it, you were stupefied like the rest of us not yet made into robots by the results of the presidential election; the president's bad character was a bad joke. You and the AI scientist described a learning mechanism. What took us by surprise was that in a democracy a learning mechanism could be operating in the service of stupefaction. Not merely close elections, but increased skill by politicians in stupefying the electorate to a compulsively expressed acquiescence. We looked on uncomprehendingly at each new outrageous falsehood and its immediately acceptance by his roaring crowd of followers, to be the same day or the next to replaced by another outrageous statement immediately taken up and repeated by his followers.
- Revolutionary calm followed by uniform repetition. Idiot Trump had stumbled into a self-learning politics, continuously playing revolutionary to his crowd's uniformity, withdrawing the rug from under his opponent, depriving her of any chance to play revolutionary to his uniform followers.
- That's possible, maybe even the right explanation. It assumes however that human character had already been lost, because only someone without character lowers himself to the uniformity and revolt of fashion and politics.
- Of course. You originally proposed the idea in 2012. Since 2014 computer scientists have been working on perfecting the process of adversarial learning applied to production of images of a required description. Trump two years later came along and applied it to politics.
- With stupefying success.
- Yes. Lost in the unending activity of revolution and uniformity is the reason we do things: to make life good. The good things in life are experienced in a reflective, not stupefied state of rest: in love, sympathy, contemplation.
- That politics and computer science can explain each other shows how far human character has atrophied and those capacities gone which identify us as human.

Further Reading:
How Stupid Are They?
A Machine For Making People Unhappy
Capitalism & Compulsion
How Do You Make A Computer Not Want To Be A Computer?
Close Elections & The Fashion Business
** 'In a way of an analogy, GANs act like the political environment of a country with two rival political parties. Each party continuously attempts to improve on its weaknesses while trying to find and leverage vulnerabilities in their adversary to push their agenda. Over time both parties become better operators.' From the article: Generative Adversarial Networks

P.S. (Me Too'Let me learn to love with the aid of philosophic discourse', or something like that ran Socrates' prayer. Because learning to live well assists in learning to love, and love attracts love, learning wisdom is itself attractive. Or once was. In our times love, or rather its simulation, has to be bought by the most successful; success for us is achieved by stupefaction: suspension of desire, memory, will. In our anti-Socratic times learning to succeed is training in unattractiveness.