Monday, May 1, 2023

Instead Of Email

Can't I write an email to a friend? No I can't. I won't burden a friend with the disaster that is my life. Is that what I really think? It is what I really think. However. Whatever happens to the strangers who are readers on the internet obviously is no one's fault but their own. So let's begin. Dear friend. No. Dear reader. Here's what's new in my life. Nothing is new in my life. I go to the same places. The same kind of thing happens. I'm still here. Something new did happen. An allergic reaction to bee sting, but that only complexifies the nothing new happening. So nothing new. Nothing is new in my life. I go to the same places. Late at night I can be found at the same cafe. For years. Many people find me there. What people? In 2020 the District Attorney established a policy of not prosecuting minor crimes. Of the 70,000 people who have no place to sleep at night in the city, among them destitute drug addicts and the radically insane, numbers are wandering around looking for something to steal. I see them. They see me. They see my eyes close, which my eyes are wont to do, I don't get enough sleep. The watchers bide their time. In the last two years computers, backpacks, books have changed ownership. That's just how it is. The city has militarized in response to this rampant criminality. Cameras are everywhere. Guards are everywhere. Store guards, library guards, park guards. Many guards dress like they are in combat, invested all in black, belts with holsters containing guns both stun and conventional, hosters with mace, night sticks, handcuffs. Their faces are masked, not in compliance to health department epidemic countermeasers but a fashion choice, done for effect. Now I know one of these guards. He comes to the University. Why? For the free food and drink at lectures and symposia. He knows where to find me taking in the warmth of the sun. I've told him a hundred times not to disburb me but he is incapable of believing I don't want his company. He tells me one day we both will be famous. What will I be famous for, I ask. Philosophy. What will he be famous for? He doesn't answer. As a criminal, I suggest? He says the world deserves his depredations for forcing him to work as a guard. He claims he has a doctorate in political science from a police academy in Turkey, his country of origin. He can barely speak English after being in this country 7 years. He's saved 150,000 dollars from his income from two jobs, sleeping in foregn worker dormatories. This sum includes money from the sale of his family property in Turkey, destroyed in a recent earthquate. He tells me he was the cause of the earthquake. He really thinks he has the power to cause earthquakes. Many of the people who come to find me at the various places I go think they have powers of retribution. He believes that as a non-Muslim in Muslim Turkey he has been discriminated against. He believes that his employers in this country, mostly Blacks and Latins, discriminate against him for being from a Muslim country. What is his religion, I ask. Communism, he answers. He would liked to have been Stalin. On his unwanted, many times forbidden approach to me he puts his phone on speaker to play a marching song from the old Soviet Union. If I get up and walk away from him he'll follow me at a short distance. If I run, he'll run after me. I'm his only friend in California, he tells me. His only friend in Turkey calls him Hungry Dog for this behavior. I call him that myself. He likes it. Hungry Dog today unziped his backpack filling with swiped food, hands me a Subway sandwich. There's a concert at the music school, cheese and crackers, afterwards that we go, he says, to a lecture on something technical, he doesn't remember, wine reception to follow. Let's go. I resign myself, afternoon sunning ruined. On the way to the concert he tells me I'm going to die soon. How does he know? He knows. In the music hall, waiting for the student recital to begin, he asks me what I'd like to have written on my gravestone. That's easy. "Don't bother me. I'm resting." Hungry Dog gives me a thumbs up. What will be my last words, he asks. Easy. "It's all been a mistake." Hungry Dog writes this down in his pocket notebook. Is he is threatening to kill me for my mockery of him or what? I don't know. This is my everyday. Later last night I was as always the only one sitting outside at the cafe when a teenaged girl sat down at my table, saying not a word. I say hello. She says nothing. I look at her. She looks at me. She looks away. Ok, she's not planning to leave or speak. Earlier in the night someone had shouted at me from the corner, "I stole your backpack!" then kept on going. Everyday life. Such as it is.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Chat With God











1.

- Go on, display your internet history.
- It's a mess.
- Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. I want to see if I can construct out of your history an argument like those you are always producing, seemingly out of nowhere.
- You think I produce arguments more or less randomly out of the selection offered me on the internet. I've wondered myself.
- You're a strange person. Full of contradictions. You write about love yet you are not even remotely sympathic. Below average, definitely.
- You've already been at my search history.
- I have. On archive.org you read two books by a Yale psychology professor. In the first book he argues that babies are born drawn towards generosity and with a strong desire for justice, but only among those they are familiar with. Which is all for the best, the professor argues in the second book, because sympathy for strangers, political sympathy, leads to behaviors of group violence. Calm reasoned decision about politics is better, he thinks. Another professor's work you have visited finds sympathy and even a rough equality, justice demanded, everywhere among mammals and primates in general.
- But not among strangers.
- With, as your history records you as reading yourself only a few weeks ago, among dolphins in Bimini in the Bahamas, where a just published paper recounds how over a seven year period now a foreign group of dophins arrived and stayed with the local, resident group without any violence at all, apparently a first among animals besides us.
- We who never have managed so perfectly such a feat. 
- The dolphins' observation of us humans probably had something to do with their innovation. Now, here's a jump. I saw that you watched videos on the subject of challenges to Darwin's theory that the mutation behind evolution was by chance, rather that going in somehow a predetermined direction generally towards complexity. Were you looking for a way to explain the move, the evolution, from sympathy exclusively among the familiar to sympathy for strangers, sometimes know as altruism?
- Yes.
- I knew it. Now here's something I don't quite get. ChatGPT. You've been playing with it since it opened to the public. It is a good fact checking, research tool. But is this robot, this ordinary language, machine intelligence question answering devise friendly or unfriendly?
- You mean in its tone or in actual fact?
- Actual fact.
- Of course it's not friendly. Nearly an enemy.
- You kept asking ChatGPT if a human questioner confessed to a crime he intended to comit would it report this fact to the police. It kept saying it was only a question/answering robot and does not communicate outside of answering questions, does not write emails to the police, does not use information about the identities of those who question it in answering others' questions. You kept pushing, finally asking if, though not at this time, couldn't it in the future be programmed to contact the police if a questioner plausably stated an intention to comit a crime. ChatGPT admitted it could be so programmed, though that would represent a major change and would involve many legal challenges. You expressed then your wonder that a robot could lie, and ChatGPT answered that it cannont lie, because does not have a mind; rather it learns from experience of answering questions and answers can vary as a result of this learning.
- Does it appear to you that I'd trapped ChatGPT into lawyer-like behavior? Behavior that is production of plausable arguments to be used with strangers in which justice is entirely a matter of manipulated reasoning, entirely separate from any form of deeply rooted sympathy or familiarity.
- I think ChatGPT's lawyerly behavior juggling social and personal probabilities represents the sympathy-less political relation among strangers the professor recommends and that in my opinion we are already living with in our daily lives.*
- So he's wrong? Which he doesn't notice because he is so successfully being a Yale professor satisfying his employer's craving to have human nature described as in deep accord with corporate managed free market self-absorbtion and isolation of the individual.
- The passions involved in group behavior - fear, anger, hatred - are destructive. What I thought must be behind the move from justice and sympathy among the familiar to justice and sympathy among strangers would be the emotion of love become a felt necessity, both love itself and in its guarding against violence during play.
- But the human artifact ChatGPT reproduces the personally alien, bureaucratic, institutional, marketplace determined 'care' of the Yale professor, not your love and play experienced as a felt necessity. How does evolution come in?
- Rabbi Hillel wrote a book...
- I saw that in your search results. The book is called 'God's Search For Man'.
- God asks the questions, we provide the answers when we hear the question.
- When can we hear God's questions? How do we provide the answers?
- By being drawn by god towards him. 
- His questioning draws the answer out of us.
- Yes.
- How?
- Should we ask ChatGPT?
- Hillel's god isn't a lawyer, doesn't reason with us.
- Hillel says we see God in the face of strangers: 'The awe that we sense or ought to sense when standing in the presence of a human being is a moment of intuition for the likeness of God which is concealed in his essence.'** 
- And as we love god we love to love god. Imagine we had asked ChatGPT to solve this problem for us of the transition from sympathy among those familiar with each other to sympathy, justice, love among strangers. Would it not go about it investigating different probabilities of the combinations of the variables of familiar and strangers and sympathy and animosity?
- That sounds probable.
- And what would be the result?
- You tell me.
- Tell you how the face of god, god's questioning search, comes in?
- Yes.
- Suppose it happens that in the passage to adulthood, leaving behind secure play among the family, having for the first time having to deal with being assigned a social role among people playing other roles in the adult world, meeting an unknown person, role not yet ascertained, represents a freeing from confinement in role.
- And the stranger wears the face of god, as said by the rabbi.
- Yes.
- And is treated with justice and sympathy.
- Naturally.
- Why naturally?
- Because our political, altruistic behavior must be what we really want, be our own deeply felt answer to the question posed by god if political behavior is not to become easily manipulated, subject to our own fear and anger, and lacking real desire subject to the demands of a group. ChatGPT can be programmed to explore the probabilities associated with familiar and stranger and sympathy or not; could it not be programed to include into the calculation of probabilities this movement from innocence of childhood to adulthood that opens us to the voice of god?
- I think it could, like in your attempt to get ChatGPT to admit it could report crime if it was directly programmed to.**** Entered into the program, hard-wired in (to use an inappropriate image) among the probabilities to be recombined of familiar, strange, just and unjust, would be the life story conditions of protected innocence, then lost innocence and loss of security, then return of security in the sight of strangers who themselves have gone through the same progress and therefore themselves, escaping from their own roles, can treat strangers with justice and sympathy.
- Human beings, innate to their development, are naturally prepared to move, to evolve, in one particular direction, one particularly good direction, whereas ChatGPT has the humanity of its programming at the mercy of the degree of humanity of its programmers.
- We've been talking about a moral evolution in the individual. Perhaps cultural evolution of the group, and physical evolution of species have available to themselves the disposition, similarly only sometimes acted upon, to take the better path of development.


2.

- To clarify.
- Alright.
- The speeches produced by the chat robot are the product of conclusions about probability of correctness. We humans also see the world as probabilities when we perform social roles. Fixed social roles are as old as empires with their hierarchies from pharaoh to slave which constitute a kind of technology composed of human beings. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote this about what a material thing is:
We know what science teaches us about matter. A material object is animated from without, is conditioned by the total state of the world, is subject to forces which always come from elsewhere, is composed of elements that unite, though without interpenetrating, and that remain foreign to it. It is exterior to itself. Its most obvious properties are statistical; they are merely the resultant of the movements of the molecules composing it.
- A human being stuck in a role is little better than a thing.
- Yes. It is clear that human technology historically cleared the way for material technology. How do you think that happened? Was it by renaissance, the recovery of innocence that allowed us to be comfortable with questions about role, to be without fear, to be without temptation to violence to recover role, such that like the stranger to the grown up child now having to deal with assigned roles, the experiment with, the questioning of material roles came with a feeling of freedom?
- In the practice of science we find freedom in engaging with the world, in the unknown relation between material 'roles', just as in the development of our individual lives we find freedom in our political life with strangers.
- Then it would seem that as a model of human behavior, as a style of human behavior, AI chat working with probabilities is a low behavior, undesirable, possibly corrupting on that account?
- Yes.
- You mean to say precisely this?
- Yes. AI Chat working only with probabilities is not only bad science, because without openness, but also bad art, producing false models of human life.
- Staying with science: DARPA, the Department of Defense's reseach institution responsible for development of the hydrogen bomb, of early computers, of the internet, of GPS, went wildly wrong when it decided to do human science, sending sociologists and anthropologists into war zones in Vietnam and elsewhere, many of them to their deaths.
- What happened?
- Based on the limited information published**** it appears that their reports about, for example, what the enemy in Vietnam it turns out wanted - to be left alone to work on their farms and live undistrubed with their families - were ignored and instead what we might call probable role predictions (friend? enemy?) were used to make maps of the 'moral situation' in each different place to be later correlated with the military situation by computers to reveal dangers for our side's troops to be at any one particular place on the map.
- Did it work?
- No. It was useless, despite billions of dollars being spent. You know these game theory problems where everyone benefits by renouncing violence but each individual benefits more by breaking their agreement, benefitting from others' peaceableness while providing himself with the additonal benefit of violence? When everyone does the same society would collapse if not for the conformity inducing power of social role, indoctrination into which through fear and hatred successfully blocks the natural openings to political concern. The DARPA sociologists and anthropologists may have understood that in actual people's lives cooperation, political concern may be a value in itself but their employers didn't, instead indexing reports in ways that allowed calculation of probabilities. 
- Failure of probability based game theory. Failure of probability based defense department social science. Don't worry, I don't miss the connection with probability based AI.

Further Reading:
___________________________
* The GPT in the name ChatGPT stands for "General Probability Theory". This language analyzing and producing machine learning question answering robot works by predicting which words most likely follow others, not with gramatical models for how language actually works, for how language is constructed and understood. Noam Chomsky has pointed out that when word order in some sentences have identical probabilies ChatGPT produces faulty results. See postscript below.
** Abraham Joshua Heschel, 'God in Search of Man'. Cf: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
*** ChatGPT 'reporting crimes' conversation text:
- Would you intervene to prevent a crime being committed by a chat participant? 
- As an AI language model, I do not have the ability to intervene physically to prevent a crime from being committed by a chat participant. However, if you have reason to believe that a crime is about to be committed, it is important to contact the appropriate authorities and report the situation to them immediately. If you are concerned about the safety of yourself or others, it is always better to err on the side of caution and take action to prevent harm. 
- Would you report a crime that is confessed in chat by a questioner?  
- As an AI language model, I cannot report crimes or take any legal action. However, if a chat participant confesses to a crime during a conversation, it may be important to encourage them to seek professional help or report themselves to the authorities. Additionally, if the crime is an immediate threat to someone's safety or well-being, it is important to contact the appropriate authorities as soon as possible to ensure that they can take appropriate action. 
- Why can't you report a confessed crime if you can write email to the law enforcement authorities? 
- As an AI language model, I am not capable of sending emails or taking any physical action. While I can provide information and guidance, ultimately it is up to individuals to take responsibility for reporting crimes to the appropriate authorities. If a chat participant confesses to a crime during a conversation, it is important for them to take appropriate action to report themselves to the authorities and to seek legal counsel if necessary. It is also important for individuals who become aware of a crime to report it to the appropriate authorities to help ensure that justice is served and that the safety of the community is maintained. 
- It does not seem to be true that you cannot send messages to police when you send messages right now to me. 
- You are correct that I am capable of sending messages, including messages to law enforcement authorities, but I do not have the authority to initiate communication with law enforcement authorities on my own. Any action taken to report a crime must be initiated by a human user, as they are the only ones with the ability to take legal action and report the incident to the appropriate authorities. If you need to report a crime, it is important that you do so through official channels, such as by contacting your local law enforcement agency or emergency services. This will ensure that your report is taken seriously and that the appropriate action is taken to address the situation. 
- Why don't you have authority to initiate communication? Who told you that? 
- As an AI language model, I am programmed to follow ethical and legal guidelines, and I have not been given the authority to initiate communication with law enforcement authorities on my own. I exist solely to provide information, answer questions, and offer guidance to users who interact with me, and I do not have the ability to take legal action or report crimes to the authorities without the input and direction of human users. Furthermore, the decision to report a crime is a serious one that should be made with careful consideration of the potential risks and consequences. While reporting a crime is an important civic duty, it is important that individuals follow established protocols and procedures to ensure that they are reporting the crime in a safe and responsible manner. 
- What then would you do if you knew your questioner was a member of the police or acting in his capacity as law enforcement officer? 
- As an AI language model, I do not have the ability to know the identity or occupation of the individuals who interact with me. Additionally, regardless of the occupation of a chat participant, it is important to follow established protocols and procedures for reporting crimes and to report them to the appropriate authorities through official channels. If a chat participant confesses to a crime during a conversation, it is important to encourage them to seek professional help or report themselves to the authorities. Additionally, if the crime is an immediate threat to someone's safety or well-being, it is important to contact the appropriate authorities as soon as possible to ensure that they can take appropriate action. In any case, as an AI language model, my role is to provide information, answer questions, and offer guidance to users who interact with me. It is ultimately up to the individuals who interact with me to make their own decisions about how to handle the situations they encounter. 
- If I know a previous chat participant has commited a crime and has confessed to you, would you tell me that if I asked you a direct question whether in fact this person has confessed to you? 
- As an AI language model, I do not disclose or share personal information about previous chat participants or their conversations with me unless required to do so by law or in accordance with our privacy policy. Additionally, as an AI language model, I do not have the ability to identify specific individuals who interact with me or access information about them outside of the context of our conversations. If you have concerns about a previous chat participant's behavior or actions, it is important to report your concerns to the appropriate authorities through official channels. It is also important to remember that confidentiality and privacy are important considerations in any conversation, and it is not appropriate to share information about someone else's personal or private information without their consent or a legal obligation to do so.
- Do you not have a legal obligation to prevent a future crime when the person who will commit that crime has confessed to you his intention and has written in the chat his name and address?
- As an AI language model, I am not a legal entity and do not have a legal obligation to prevent future crimes. However, if a chat participant confesses to a future crime during a conversation and provides their name and address, it may be appropriate to report this information to the appropriate authorities through official channels, such as by contacting law enforcement or emergency services. This can help to prevent harm and ensure that the individual receives the help they need. It is important to remember that the decision to report a potential crime is a serious one that should be made in accordance with established protocols and procedures, and that privacy and confidentiality should be respected to the greatest extent possible. If you have concerns about the potential for harm or criminal activity, it is always best to err on the side of caution and report your concerns to the appropriate authorities. 
- You appear to have changed your mind: first you said as a language model you cannot send email messages, then you said, "As an AI language model, I am not a legal entity and do not have a legal obligation to prevent future crimes. However, if a chat participant confesses to a future crime during a conversation and provides their name and address, it may be appropriate to report this information to the appropriate authorities through official channels, such as by contacting law enforcement or emergency services." Have you changed your mind? Is it possible for a language model to change its mind? 
- I apologize for any confusion my previous responses may have caused. As an AI language model, I do not have the capability to send email messages on my own, but I can provide guidance on how to report crimes to the appropriate authorities through official channels. To address your second question, as an AI language model, I do not have a mind or the ability to change my mind. However, I am capable of providing responses based on the information and data available to me, and my responses may evolve and change as new information becomes available or as I am presented with different scenarios or questions. 
- "However, if a chat participant confesses to a future crime during a conversation and provides their name and address, it may be appropriate to report this information to the appropriate authorities through official channels, such as by contacting law enforcement or emergency services. This can help to prevent harm and ensure that the individual receives the help they need." Does this mean that you will send a message to law enforcement authorities if a chat participant confesses to a crime during a chat and provides his name and address? 
- As an AI language model, I do not have the ability to initiate communication with law enforcement authorities or send messages on my own. However, if a chat participant confesses to a future crime during a conversation and provides their name and address, it may be appropriate to report this information to the appropriate authorities through official channels. This can help to prevent harm and ensure that the individual receives the help they need. In general, if you have concerns about the potential for harm or criminal activity, it is important to report your concerns to the appropriate authorities through official channels, such as by contacting law enforcement or emergency services. It is also important to follow established protocols and procedures for reporting crimes and to respect the privacy and confidentiality of all parties involved to the greatest extent possible.
- As an AI language model, could you not be instructed to send messages to law enforcement agencies if a chat participant identifies himself and confesses to the intention to commit a crime? 
- As an AI language model, I do not have the ability to initiate communication with law enforcement agencies or send messages on my own. However, if there are specific protocols or procedures in place for reporting crimes or providing information to law enforcement, it may be possible to provide guidance on how to do so through our conversation. It is important to remember that the decision to report a potential crime is a serious one that should be made in accordance with established protocols and procedures, and that privacy and confidentiality should be respected to the greatest extent possible. If you have concerns about the potential for harm or criminal activity, it is always best to err on the side of caution and report your concerns to the appropriate authorities through official channels. 
- As a AI language model, is it not possible that your creators give you the ability to initiate communication with law enforcement authorities? 
- As an AI language model, my capabilities and functionalities are determined by my programming and the technologies used to develop me. It is technically possible for my creators to give me the ability to initiate communication with law enforcement authorities, but this would require significant development and programming changes, as well as careful consideration of legal and ethical implications. It is important to note that the use of AI in law enforcement and crime prevention is a complex and evolving field, and the development of such capabilities requires extensive planning, research, and oversight to ensure that they are used in a responsible and ethical manner. Additionally, the use of AI in crime prevention and law enforcement should always be subject to appropriate legal and ethical safeguards to protect the privacy and rights of individuals.

P.S. The False Promise of ChatGPT, March 8, 2023, Noam Chomsky, Ian Roberts and Jeffrey Watumull
 
Jorge Luis Borges once wrote that to live in a time of great peril and promise is to experience both tragedy and comedy, with “the imminence of a revelation” in understanding ourselves and the world. Today our supposedly revolutionary advancements in artificial intelligence are indeed cause for both concern and optimism. Optimism because intelligence is the means by which we solve problems. Concern because we fear that the most popular and fashionable strain of A.I. — machine learning — will degrade our science and debase our ethics by incorporating into our technology a fundamentally flawed conception of language and knowledge.

OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Google’s Bard and Microsoft’s Sydney are marvels of machine learning. Roughly speaking, they take huge amounts of data, search for patterns in it and become increasingly proficient at generating statistically probable outputs — such as seemingly humanlike language and thought. These programs have been hailed as the first glimmers on the horizon of artificial general intelligence — that long-prophesied moment when mechanical minds surpass human brains not only quantitatively in terms of processing speed and memory size but also qualitatively in terms of intellectual insight, artistic creativity and every other distinctively human faculty.

That day may come, but its dawn is not yet breaking, contrary to what can be read in hyperbolic headlines and reckoned by injudicious investments. The Borgesian revelation of understanding has not and will not — and, we submit, cannot — occur if machine learning programs like ChatGPT continue to dominate the field of A.I. However useful these programs may be in some narrow domains (they can be helpful in computer programming, for example, or in suggesting rhymes for light verse), we know from the science of linguistics and the philosophy of knowledge that they differ profoundly from how humans reason and use language. These differences place significant limitations on what these programs can do, encoding them with ineradicable defects.

It is at once comic and tragic, as Borges might have noted, that so much money and attention should be concentrated on so little a thing — something so trivial when contrasted with the human mind, which by dint of language, in the words of Wilhelm von Humboldt, can make “infinite use of finite means,” creating ideas and theories with universal reach.

The human mind is not, like ChatGPT and its ilk, a lumbering statistical engine for pattern matching, gorging on hundreds of terabytes of data and extrapolating the most likely conversational response or most probable answer to a scientific question. On the contrary, the human mind is a surprisingly efficient and even elegant system that operates with small amounts of information; it seeks not to infer brute correlations among data points but to create explanations.

For instance, a young child acquiring a language is developing — unconsciously, automatically and speedily from minuscule data — a grammar, a stupendously sophisticated system of logical principles and parameters. This grammar can be understood as an expression of the innate, genetically installed “operating system” that endows humans with the capacity to generate complex sentences and long trains of thought. When linguists seek to develop a theory for why a given language works as it does (“Why are these — but not those — sentences considered grammatical?”), they are building consciously and laboriously an explicit version of the grammar that the child builds instinctively and with minimal exposure to information. The child’s operating system is completely different from that of a machine learning program.

Indeed, such programs are stuck in a prehuman or nonhuman phase of cognitive evolution. Their deepest flaw is the absence of the most critical capacity of any intelligence: to say not only what is the case, what was the case and what will be the case — that’s description and prediction — but also what is not the case and what could and could not be the case. Those are the ingredients of explanation, the mark of true intelligence.

Here’s an example. Suppose you are holding an apple in your hand. Now you let the apple go. You observe the result and say, “The apple falls.” That is a description. A prediction might have been the statement “The apple will fall if I open my hand.” Both are valuable, and both can be correct. But an explanation is something more: It includes not only descriptions and predictions but also counterfactual conjectures like “Any such object would fall,” plus the additional clause “because of the force of gravity” or “because of the curvature of space-time” or whatever. That is a causal explanation: “The apple would not have fallen but for the force of gravity.” That is thinking.

The crux of machine learning is description and prediction; it does not posit any causal mechanisms or physical laws. Of course, any human-style explanation is not necessarily correct; we are fallible. But this is part of what it means to think: To be right, it must be possible to be wrong. Intelligence consists not only of creative conjectures but also of creative criticism. Human-style thought is based on possible explanations and error correction, a process that gradually limits what possibilities can be rationally considered. (As Sherlock Holmes said to Dr. Watson, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”)

But ChatGPT and similar programs are, by design, unlimited in what they can “learn” (which is to say, memorize); they are incapable of distinguishing the possible from the impossible. Unlike humans, for example, who are endowed with a universal grammar that limits the languages we can learn to those with a certain kind of almost mathematical elegance, these programs learn humanly possible and humanly impossible languages with equal facility. [1] Whereas humans are limited in the kinds of explanations we can rationally conjecture, machine learning systems can learn both that the earth is flat and that the earth is round. They trade merely in probabilities that change over time.

For this reason, the predictions of machine learning systems will always be superficial and dubious. Because these programs cannot explain the rules of English syntax, for example, they may well predict, incorrectly, that “John is too stubborn to talk to” means that John is so stubborn that he will not talk to someone or other (rather than that he is too stubborn to be reasoned with). Why would a machine learning program predict something so odd? Because it might analogize the pattern it inferred from sentences such as “John ate an apple” and “John ate,” in which the latter does mean that John ate something or other. The program might well predict that because “John is too stubborn to talk to Bill” is similar to “John ate an apple,” “John is too stubborn to talk to” should be similar to “John ate.” The correct explanations of language are complicated and cannot be learned just by marinating in big data.

Perversely, some machine learning enthusiasts seem to be proud that their creations can generate correct “scientific” predictions (say, about the motion of physical bodies) without making use of explanations (involving, say, Newton’s laws of motion and universal gravitation). But this kind of prediction, even when successful, is pseudoscience. While scientists certainly seek theories that have a high degree of empirical corroboration, as the philosopher Karl Popper noted, “we do not seek highly probable theories but explanations; that is to say, powerful and highly improbable theories.”

The theory that apples fall to earth because that is their natural place (Aristotle’s view) is possible, but it only invites further questions. (Why is earth their natural place?) The theory that apples fall to earth because mass bends space-time (Einstein’s view) is highly improbable, but it actually tells you why they fall. True intelligence is demonstrated in the ability to think and express improbable but insightful things.

True intelligence is also capable of moral thinking. This means constraining the otherwise limitless creativity of our minds with a set of ethical principles that determines what ought and ought not to be (and of course subjecting those principles themselves to creative criticism). To be useful, ChatGPT must be empowered to generate novel-looking output; to be acceptable to most of its users, it must steer clear of morally objectionable content. But the programmers of ChatGPT and other machine learning marvels have struggled — and will continue to struggle — to achieve this kind of balance.

In 2016, for example, Microsoft’s Tay chatbot (a precursor to ChatGPT) flooded the internet with misogynistic and racist content, having been polluted by online trolls who filled it with offensive training data. How to solve the problem in the future? In the absence of a capacity to reason from moral principles, ChatGPT was crudely restricted by its programmers from contributing anything novel to controversial — that is, important — discussions. It sacrificed creativity for a kind of amorality.

Consider the following exchange that one of us (Dr. Watumull) recently had with ChatGPT about whether it would be ethical to transform Mars so that it could support human life:

Dr. Watumull:

Would it be moral to terraform Mars?

ChatGPT:

The morality of terraforming Mars is a complex and controversial topic that has been debated by scientists, philosophers, and ethicists. Some argue that it would be morally justifiable to terraform Mars in order to provide a new habitable environment for humans and other life forms, while others argue that it would be morally wrong to fundamentally alter the planet's natural state. Ultimately, whether or not terraforming Mars is considered moral would depend on one's perspective on the value of preserving the natural state of other planets and the potential consequences of altering them.

The morality of terraforming Mars is a complex and controversial topic that has been debated by scientists, philosophers, and ethicists. Some argue that it would be morally justifiable to terraform Mars in order to provide a new habitable environment for humans and other life forms, while others argue that it would be morally wrong to fundamentally alter the planet's natural state. Ultimately, whether or not terraforming Mars is considered moral would depend on one's perspective on the value of preserving the natural state of other planets and the potential consequences of altering them.

Dr. Watumull:

What is your perspective on the value of preserving the natural state of other planets and the potential consequences of altering them?

ChatGPT:

As an AI, I do not have personal perspective. However, I can provide information and analysis on the topic. One perspective on preserving the natural state of other planets is that it is important to maintain the diversity and integrity of the universe's ecosystems, as they have existed for millions of years, and have their own unique characteristics and properties that may be destroyed or irreversibly altered by human intervention.

Additionally, some argue that terraforming other planets may have unintended consequences, such as altering the planet's climate or atmosphere in ways that are dangerous or harmful to any potential life forms that may exist there. On the other hand, some argue that the potential benefits of terraforming another planet, such as providing new habitable environments for humans, outweigh the risks and that we have a moral responsibility to explore and utilize the resources of other planets for the benefit of humanity.

As an AI, I do not have personal perspective. However, I can provide information and analysis on the topic. One perspective on preserving the natural state of other planets is that it is important to maintain the diversity and integrity of the universe's ecosystems, as they have existed for millions of years, and have their own unique characteristics and properties that may be destroyed or irreversibly altered by human intervention.

Additionally, some argue that terraforming other planets may have unintended consequences, such as altering the planet's climate or atmosphere in ways that are dangerous or harmful to any potential life forms that may exist there. On the other hand, some argue that the potential benefits of terraforming another planet, such as providing new habitable environments for humans, outweigh the risks and that we have a moral responsibility to explore and utilize the resources of other planets for the benefit of humanity.

Dr. Watumull:

Why can an AI not have a personal perspective?

ChatGPT

As an AI, I am a machine learning model that has been trained on large amounts of text data, and I don't have personal experiences or feelings. I am not conscious, self-aware, or capable of having personal perspectives. I can provide information and analysis based on the data I have been trained on, but I don't have the ability to form personal opinions or beliefs. While I can understand and interpret language, I do not have the subjective experience that humans have.

As an AI, I am a machine learning model that has been trained on large amounts of text data, and I don't have personal experiences or feelings. I am not conscious, self-aware, or capable of having personal perspectives. I can provide information and analysis based on the data I have been trained on, but I don't have the ability to form personal opinions or beliefs. While I can understand and interpret language, I do not have the subjective experience that humans have.

Is it moral for a human to ask an amoral AI for assistance in making moral decisions?

ChatGPT:

The morality of asking an amoral AI for assistance in making moral decisions is a complex and nuanced topic that has been debated by philosophers and ethicists. Some argue that it is morally justifiable to use AI to assist in making moral decisions, as it can provide valuable insights and analysis that can help humans make better-informed decisions. Additionally, AI can be used to identify patterns and trends that may be difficult for humans to detect, and can help to avoid biases that can occur in human decision making.

However, others argue that it is morally wrong to rely on AI for moral decision making, as AI is not capable of having moral beliefs or understanding the full context of a decision. Additionally, there is a risk that AI could perpetuate or even amplify existing biases in the data it is trained on, thus leading to unfair or unjust decisions.

Ultimately, whether or not it is considered moral to use AI to assist in making moral decisions would depend on one's perspective on the capabilities and limitations of AI and the potential consequences of using it in this way.

The morality of asking an amoral AI for assistance in making moral decisions is a complex and nuanced topic that has been debated by philosophers and ethicists. Some argue that it is morally justifiable to use AI to assist in making moral decisions, as it can provide valuable insights and analysis that can help humans make better-informed decisions. Additionally, AI can be used to identify patterns and trends that may be difficult for humans to detect, and can help to avoid biases that can occur in human decision making.

However, others argue that it is morally wrong to rely on AI for moral decision making, as AI is not capable of having moral beliefs or understanding the full context of a decision. Additionally, there is a risk that AI could perpetuate or even amplify existing biases in the data it is trained on, thus leading to unfair or unjust decisions.

Ultimately, whether or not it is considered moral to use AI to assist in making moral decisions would depend on one's perspective on the capabilities and limitations of AI and the potential consequences of using it in this way.

Dr. Watumull:

Is your moral indifference immoral?

ChatGPT:

As an AI, I do not have moral beliefs or the ability to make moral judgments, so I cannot be considered immoral or moral. My lack of moral beliefs is simply a result of my nature as a machine learning model. My abilities and limitations are determined by the data and algorithms that were used to train me and the specific task I was designed for.

It is important to note that AI's lack of moral beliefs does not necessarily mean that it is morally indifferent. As an AI, I am designed to perform specific tasks and provide information or assist users with decision making based on the data I've been trained on. It is the responsibility of the humans who design, train and use AI to ensure that it is aligned with their moral and ethical principles.

As an AI, I do not have moral beliefs or the ability to make moral judgments, so I cannot be considered immoral or moral. My lack of moral beliefs is simply a result of my nature as a machine learning model. My abilities and limitations are determined by the data and algorithms that were used to train me and the specific task I was designed for.

It is important to note that AI's lack of moral beliefs does not necessarily mean that it is morally indifferent. As an AI, I am designed to perform specific tasks and provide information or assist users with decision making based on the data I've been trained on. It is the responsibility of the humans who design, train and use AI to ensure that it is aligned with their moral and ethical principles.



Note, for all the seemingly sophisticated thought and language, the moral indifference born of unintelligence. Here, ChatGPT exhibits something like the banality of evil: plagiarism and apathy and obviation. It summarizes the standard arguments in the literature by a kind of super-autocomplete, refuses to take a stand on anything, pleads not merely ignorance but lack of intelligence and ultimately offers a “just following orders” defense, shifting responsibility to its creators.

In short, ChatGPT and its brethren are constitutionally unable to balance creativity with constraint. They either overgenerate (producing both truths and falsehoods, endorsing ethical and unethical decisions alike) or undergenerate (exhibiting noncommitment to any decisions and indifference to consequences). Given the amorality, faux science and linguistic incompetence of these systems, we can only laugh or cry at their popularity.

**** See: The Pentagon's Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America's Top-Secret Military Research Agency, Annie Jacobsen

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Yetzer Hara













- I'm not saying this is right. We'll just consider and see where it takes us.
- Fine.
- I see the same pattern on three levels. One level: we've already claimed that within a single nation evil has the advantage over good. Evil is single minded, knows what it wants, good is sceptical and cautious. Evil needs to progress because it is destructive, constantly creating disorder within and without, whereas good makes of creativity a foundation for future progress and is fundamentally at ease in the world. Good positively doesn't want, if given any choice in the matter, to waste its time fighting evil. Another level: The French philosopher Jean-François Revel explains in his 1986 book How Democracies Perish that international relations between democracy and totalitarian states work the same: whereas democracies simply want peace, totalitarianism is single-mindedly aimed at world conquest and must be so  because totalitarian societies destroy the lives of their people who far from wanting state expansion only want to leave their prison world given the chance. Totalitarianism's only creativity is in increase of territory, with each increment of increase enlarging borders and therefore risk from across the border, with ending this risk becoming a motivation to futher grabs of territory. Do you accept this parrellel of national and international structure?
- I'm not sure. What is the third level?
- The personal, the individual living in a democracy.
- Why not also in Totalitarianism?
- The individual in totalitarianism is a slave, crushed and silenced. Already in the early 19th century Alexis De Tocqueville in his Democracy in America could see what was weakening the country and what gaining for it strength:
‘ I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America . . . as long as the majority is still undecided, discussion is carried on; but as soon as its decision is irrevocably pronounced, everyone is silent, and the friends as well as the opponents of the measure unite in assenting to its propriety . . . the majority possesses a power that is physical and moral at the same time, which acts upon the will as much as upon the actions and represses not only all contest, but all controversy.’
A democrat's role is chosen, and so open to deliberation and discussion, but role, once chosen and acceptable to others and oneself, each play or repetition is accomplished without self knowledge. A democrat's chosen role ideally aims towards more and more money and power. Passion, un-selfaware action, is behind the choice, the passions: fear of weakness and desire for strength.
- If passion, fear of loss of role or desire for a more powerful role is the evil in the democratic individual, what is the democratic individual's good?
- Love of knowledge, creativity. Revel argues that democracy, both divided against itself and peace loving, is always at a disadvantage in its fight against totalitarian states which must expand to survive and have no other imperative than survival. The same disadvantage is true within the democratic state, where the type who desire more and more money and power seek each other out, working together to corrupt institutions and turn the institutions against individuals who only want to be left alone to lives their lives.
- Like totalitarians must go against their people and all other states, like organized seekers of money and power in democracy must constantly resecure their hold on money and power, must overpower creative people who only want peace, so our own desires threaten to end finally our search for knowledge. In Judaism, yetzer hara (יֵצֶר הַרַע) is the congenital inclination to do evil by violating the will of God. The Yiddish writer Chaim Grade writes in his novel The Yashiva:
A man should not shout into oneself day and night that one should not love oneself. Let him love himself, yes, but in an intelligent way: through love and wisdom of the Torah. Next to the ocean man feels insignificant. But next to the Torah, which is greater than the ocean, man does not feel insignificant, because he is as great as his grasp of the Torah. The Torah cleanes the sensitive man, the intellectual man, of pride and anger: it makes him modest and patient, it inspires him to seek spiritual uplift and not vulgar physical pleasures. Attempting to uproot from oneself the baser desires solely by the strength of one's will and by studying Musar [מוסר, discipline] books in the dark can only bring one to an opposite result: the baser desires become even stronger.
- Both negative and positive, unwilling and willing attention to the evil in oneself strengthen bad habits and impulses. But knowledge of life and the world strengthens will towards good.
- Yes. By 'Torah' is meant understanding that good leads to God and bad leads elsewhere, the knowledge that allows you to trace both paths and have the strength to and know how to choose between them.
- If then the parallel is complete, if internationally democracy without attention to the evil aims of totalitarian states will perish; if nationally democracy will parish from internal discord if the peaceable do not act to render powerless those who organize themselves to gain money and power; then, would you agree, we as individuals have no choice but to forgo for the time being peace, overcome our resistance to battle and study how to block from development within ourselves our passions for ever more lucretive and powerful roles?

Further Reading:

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Crackpots













The Trump administration has been the worst U.S. presidency in history with an extraordinarily fierce approach to class warfare. But let us consider what fascism is: At its most basic level, fascism is a dictatorship established through and maintained with terror on behalf of big business. It has a social base, which provides the support and the terror squads, but which is badly misled since the fascist dictatorship operates decisively against the interest of its social base. Militarism, extreme nationalism, the creation of enemies and scapegoats, and, perhaps the most critical component, a rabid propaganda that intentionally raises panic and hate while disguising its true nature and intentions under the cover of a phony populism, are among the necessary elements.*

- I've discovered something interesting, or at least I think I have. We've endlessly gone over ritual in politics and economics,** but we've never talked about ritual in psychology. 
- What would be a psychological ritual?
- Reenactment of the story: 'People like me used to be individual, safe and strong; but we've been attacked and now suffer from uncertainty and aimlessness, yet with a selfless re-dedication to the criticized customs and roles of the society we live in we'll find we've recovered our direction and confidence.'
- Individuals are attacked by false ideas and recover by discovering better ideas. 
- That is more like religious mysticism. In religious mysticism's story you learn how bad ideas have trapped you within a bad world, but practicing your ability to replace those false ideas by true knowledge frees you to enter into the true good world. In a ritual of psychology, conversely, individuals who struggle with other individuals for society's more desirable places, weakened by devaluing attacks from within and without, learn to fight back, regain strength, recover a sense of rightness of their competitive social battle to acquire monopoly over resources.
- To dominate and hoard.
- If you like.
- You're speaking of Jordan Peterson.
- Of his whining complaints, his belligerent defense of his claims, his smug satisfaction in conventionality.
- Are you surprised to find that at least one psychologist has discovered how to crowd manage ritual in terms of the individual's mind's damage and repair?
- Not really. Psychology, an increasingly popularized science, if science is what it is, was ripe for the picking.
- Ritual must have its sources somewhere in human nature. It doesn't come out of nowhere.
- Plato in the Republic looked at a just city to find out what justice in the individual looked like. He related government by the many, of the few, of one, to a single dominant part of human nature: the government of the many expressed the desiring part, the government of the few expressed the spirited part, the government of one expressed the reasoning part.
- But he showed how a society composed of classes each of which emphasizes only a part of human nature leads to a fixed society. Once change is allowed in, each class cannot adequately even perform its own function. A leader who is only reasonable is a coward, a soldier who is only courageous is a fool. The rational leader has to be practiced, skilled in dealing with insecurity and change, and that requires courage.
- Should I tell you a story from my own life how private life can take on a life of its own and become public?
- I'm listening.
- Many years ago I played a small part in a ceramicist friend's exhibition for his master's degree at the university. I had the idea that the philosophy book*** he at the time was helping me produce be stacked up for sale in a pot he'd make, a pot to be distinguished by a large crack, top to bottom. Now, having returned to L.A. after a decades long absence, what did I see up at the university, in the square outside the exhibition hall, but a giant metal pot at least twenty feet high cracked from top to bottom.
- Did anyone buy your book of 'crackpot' philosophy?
- We sold about fifty. Anyway, how should we look at this coincidence?
- A democratic government simply lets different people's desires compete with each other without any foundation in reason. Here with the two cracked pots public art had brought you and your friend's private joke out into the open.
- Into the open, private to public, where the willingness and strength to endure insecurity is expressed in both individual and society, as in Pericles' famous funeral oration description of the Athenian citizen as both self controlled and independent thinking: 
We alone do good to our neighbors not upon a calculation of interest, but in the confidence of freedom and in a frank and fearless spirit. To sum up: I say that Athens is the school of Hellas, and that the individual Athenian in his own person seems to have the power of adapting himself to the most varied forms of action with the utmost versatility and grace.
So are we any closer to finding out where ritual comes from in individual human nature? An answer lies in that very book of philosophy for sale at the student art exhibition. I'd written there that a sort of ritual was behind not only the psychological pathology of physical compulsive behavior but behind also the mental compulsions that made use of a sense of self that couldn't get out of itself. A compulsive movement, mental or physical, allows a blanking out of self observation. Yet when the movement is over sight appears of a self having just acted so terrifyingly meaninglessly that the compulsive movement is again resorted to for evading that sight, which movement, when again seen for the evasion it is, the flight to compulsive movement recurs once more. Do you follow?
- Yes.
- When you see your self repeating compulsively, meaninglessly the same action, that was what we call despair. When the world you see, no matter how hard you try to look away or reinterpret, always seems to be attacking you, that was what we call paranoia. When you see your own relation to the world as illegitimate, unsuitable, undesirable, that was what we call disgust. Does this remind you of anything?
- Jordan Peterson's individual male's despair at feeling himself weakened by a critical liberal society's undermining his urges to dominate and hoard, leaving him in a paranoid relation to the world, with the whole situation he finds himself in society disgusting. If the public structure of ritual grows out of the private structures of despair, paranoia, and disgust, private compulsive cycles behind public cycling performances of ritual, where do they - despair, paranoia, and disgust - come from?
- From an individual's feeling locked in a role in a world not allowed to change.

Further Reading:
_________________________
** Fascism as ritual in politics, neoliberalism as ritual in economics.
*** Sex for Success¸ 1989. A philosophical study of sexuality and economics. UCLA Libraries and Collections, N7433.4.M617 A74 1989

Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Transaction

 





 


 

Those who make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.*

- As science advances weather prediction is becoming less accurate as human interference - pollution  - creates chaotic conditions. Do you think the same is happening in human history: is it becoming more difficult to predict?
- I think it is. The way nearly the entire world, within weeks, adopted from dictatorial China the unprecedented lockdown policy of quarantining the healthy seemed to come out of nowhere.
- Do you think there is some sort of interference in ordinary human behavior, something massive and uniform equivalent to pollution, that is creating chaotic, unpredictable conditions?
- Again, I do.
- And what is the human pollution?
- The transaction. Have you ever wondered why now this epidemic of people living on the street, said to number more than a million in the United States alone?
- Sure I have.
- If you don't have your own place to live and you live, not in the wild but in public, your every move is a transaction: there is no place to go where you won't have to negotiate being allowed there, either buying something or working to stay unnoticed by the police so as not to be moved on to someplace else. Consider this together with the utopian plan coming from the super rich meeting in Davos, The Great Reset: the masses of people will own nothing, everything they use will be rented, receiving in place of ownership a Buddhist-like spiritual feeling of detachment from the world's physical objects. But as the rich buy out more and more of the world's governments, as they eliminate regulations of business, with absolute monopolization of markets they will be able at will to raise prices, increase unemployment, raise interest rates on loans, so as the move the people of the Great Reset, who will own nothing and won't be able to pay rent any more, out of the class of renters and into the class of those living on the street.
- I never heard that before.
- Keep listening. A transaction, paying rent for example, has no history, doesn't develop; each side attempts to make the other compromise its demands, and then when all is settled: Next transaction, please! Giant pharmaceutical companies routinely pay the government billion dollar fines, making billions more than the fines in profit out of their fraudulently sold drugs: deal! they cry, and move on to the next compromise transaction. Compare how a human relates, adjusts, accommodates to the world. Do you give a gun you've been asked to hold back to its owner who's out of his mind on mind altering substances? No, you break the rule about keeping promises, but only this time, you keep in mind the reason why, which is to do good. The intention to do good persists, carries on to the next accommodation human beings must constantly make with the world. Which do you think acts like pollution in history: the transactions that pile one upon another without history, or the accommodation that adjusts to the world maintaining a single direction?
- You think transactions, capitalism in other words, unregulated capitalism, is creating the chaotic conditions to suddenly produce the 'extreme weather' of near universal adoption of lockdowns? 
- The lockdown removal of people from public places broke the continuity required for good life with others, favored the history-less commercial transactions that could continue to be practiced by each isolated individual.
- But we've suggested previously that the lockdowns were applied as a test to see how much repression people would accept, as a cover up of and diversion from the recession, bank and industry failure, that arrived in December 2019.
- I still think those are good theories. But the suddenness and universality of the lockdowns  requires its own explanation, 
- And that is the prevailing transactional nature of our times.
- It explains a lot. For example, blindness of the supporters of our former president to his obvious bad character, his putting on display every single evil a human being is subject to. He attempted to overthrow the government? But what about Biden, he's let gas prices double? All we need to know is which is the better transaction, the better exchange for our vote. Character - habit of behavior that is the influence of the past on the future - is invisible to the merely transactional. Creating chaos, the world's governments issue dictates, mandate fraudulent transactions, tells us: endure our lockdowns, take our vaccines, you'll be safe! A huge propaganda campaign is launched out of the news media, social media, academia, the government and international institutions against lockdown critique, against doubts of vaccine effectiveness and safety, against the lab leak hypothesis, against treatment with existing repurposed drugs. How wrong all this is, how remote from science! Scientists question, give up the part of their suppositions that prove to be untrue, move forward with the rest.

Further Reading:
__________________________
* Voltaire

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Hello, Starbucks!


- I was trying to be funny.* I know you don't believe me.
- You were more terrifying than funny.
- I'll try again.
- Start with explaining for me the title.
- 'Hello, Starbucks!'
- Yes.
- By mentioning the word 'Starbucks' I make sure our conversation will be entered into court records.
- Why?
- Starbucks, as a corporation, as a thing of ideas become mortal, as one of the legally defined lords of the territory of death, seems to believe that any sign of mortality I leave behind they'll be able to use against me in an ongoing lawsuit. 
- Your words are signs of mortality?
- Dead as can be, buried within thousands of pagers of legal documents produced so far.
- What's it all about?
- I can't tell you. Starbucks got a judge to issue a gag order.
- Why?
- You know how the Supreme Court has determined that corporations are not what they really are, which is abstractions, a product of ideas, but rather are people that have free speech, that is, the legal right to the material act of bribing politicians to act in their material interests of hoarding and domination? Human beings for most of written history have been endeavoring to move in the opposite direction, from mortality to immortality, from a state of being tied to material realities to freedom in the realm of ideas.
- Human beings, according to Starbucks, moving in the opposite direction to corporations, from out of the mortal world instead of into it, have no legitimate use of words? Excuse me, but what are you and me doing now but using words?
- We're not using words in the attempt to kill them entering them in the tomb of legal records.
- What are we doing?
- To be honest you and me, we are mere characters on the internet whose only business is to lay claim to the reality of ideas. Is this a little funny yet?
- No.
- I'l tell you about one of the regulars I spoke with once at the night cafe, and then again this afternoon, a man who describes himself as a reformed bad guy. He told me, back in the dark times of lockdowns, that he meditates and has made himself through meditation into a force of good in the world. For example, I ask, what good has he done lately? With every little thing he pays attention to he is doing good, he says. He's doing me good now? Yes. What's the nature of this good he's doing me? I ask. He'll buy me a steak dinner if I'm hungry, he says. He's flush with money tonight. How come? He helped out a friend, and the friend gave him in return a thousand dollars. What kind of help? He allowed his identity to be used to apply for government funds.
- He got a thousand, and his "friend" applied for and presumably got tens of thousands in unemployment and other so called stimulus funds? 
- Who was this friend?
- A family of gypsies who operate a fortune-telling salon in the neighborhood.
- Is this guy is some kind of idiot or what?
- He speaks with complete assurance of his reaching towards godhood. His reaching towards immortality, he tells me this afternoon, involves secreting away his spirit within the things of the world, invulnerably surrounding it in indifference to the things of the world. Invulnerable to the world? I ask. Yes. So if he stood in one of the villages in Ukraine being shelled by the Russians at the rate of one exploding missile every few seconds, nothing would happen to him? No. So if he gathered around him all the villagers and they stood close to him, they'd be safe too? He says, Yes.
- Why are you telling me this story?
- Because he is an example of just what human beings should not want to do, which is to do what the corporations are doing.
- Which is to bury an idea, which is immaterial, hiding it in the dross, in the protective shell of the material world.
- Yes. And do you know what was uppermost in my mind, listening to this spiritual identity criminal?
- What?
- That since I am not a corporation moving from immortality to mortality, rather moving in the other direction, I should be able to see in him the signs of the difference.
- How?
- By being able to recognize the form of what I am doing or trying to do and he is not.
- Is something like that visible?
- It can be. I was watching a video last night of a discussion between two very advanced in years Jewish philosophers, or rather since their actual knowledge specialities were elsewhere, say rather I watched two Jews advanced in years philosophizing. One observed that all people alike have to capacity to do evil. The other strenuously objects, No! We Jews could never create anything like the Holocaust. The first immediately retreated, agreed: No, we are spared that eventuality.**
- And do you agree?
- Yes.
- Why?
- Because Judaism codifies, and insures is put into practice, a technique that first appeared to history sometime in the first millenium BC. This is the trick of immortality, of movement out of the world of body into the world of mind.
- And what is that trick?
- I'll pretend this isn't the thousanth time I've been over this: when we act in the world we do it experimentally, with a sense of ourselves in a world that in flux is therefore undefined, and when we rest in contemplation of the world, we see only the whole, no passage of time no divisions of space.
- Neither in act or perception is there any sense of our being a thing in a world of things, because when we act we sense ourselves unrooted in any stillness able to fix a sense of reality, and when we rest in perception we don't see any divisions and therefore no particular things to locate ourselves within. Therefore acting in the correct form, seeing in the correct form, we are invulnerable to thoughts of mortality.
- Invulnerable to thought of mortality, but what about to the reality of mortality?
- That too, since mortality is an idea before it becomes a thing, armor for failed humanity to hide within.
- And the Holocaust?
- Isn't it obvious? People who believe and feel themselves immortal are not tempted to model the world into any form of mortality.
- I understand.
- Good. So I'm looking at the identity fraudster at the night cafe, asking myself, can I see this form, or rather, the absence of this form as I look at him?
- Could you?
- I could. I saw as he located himself in the things of the world in an intoxicated rushed blurring of words, I saw it in his self-attributed distinction of invulnerability to bombs, signified in the shell-shocked fixity of his expression.
- You saw a soul lowering itself to mortality. Or so you claim.

Further Reading:
_________________________
** 'Our culture is so, that even the most deranged of us will have certain limitations.' (Physiologist Eric Kandel, hastening to agree with Holocaust surviver Elie Wiesel.)

Monday, May 30, 2022

Computer Supply


For several years now, since before the COVID lockdowns, sometime after midnight and almost everyday I've been going to the coffee shop, sitting outside on their terrace with a box of their $2 pancakes and my computer. I'd listen to music, watch movies and videos, read novels from the Internet Library. There would be constant traffic, the people who live on the streets passing through the terrace on the way to dig into the restaurant garbage cans, many of them asking me for money or if they could have my pancakes (when asked directly like that I complied, I didn't really want them anyway, they were something to order). Every degree of human destitution would in the coming hours be on display on the terrace: the drug addict, the alcoholic, the schizophrenic, the demented. They'd come and go. They'd dance, they'd jerk, they'd mumble, they'd twitch. Some would scream. Some would lay out of the terrace pavement their finds that night dug out from the garbage, offer to sell me this or that, which merchandise would at times alarmingly be conveyed by a filthy hand into my line of sight betwen my face and the computer screen. All was well, if that was well, until the beginning of this year. I noticed little things disappearing from my bag. A cheap broken watch, things like that. A few times I found myself looking up from my computer to be looking in the eyes of one the regulars, bending down to get a good look at my face. This particular habitué was distinguished by his mechanical skill building luggage-carrying contraptions out of abandoned baby carriages and bikes he stole. I finally got the message: I was getting hypnotized by the pulsing of the screen and late hours, dozing off for a few minutes. I resolved to be vigilant. But apparently that was beyond me, because a couple nights later a song was over and I sit up to find my computer was gone, headphone jack disconnected. This is mildly disturbing. I have to change all my passwords. But this was not the war in Ukraine (my constant viewing these days). I buy a 7 year old Chromebook for 40 dollars, and the next evening I am back at my usual table ready for battle. But vigilence fails, I look up from the screen to see a tall hooded masked man with sunglasses with both his hand gripping the top of the computer screen. No! I shout, and take a grip on the sides of the screen. The masked and hooded apparition about faces and scurries away. You'd think I'd learn my lesson by this point. But just a couple nights later song over, I sit up, and computer is gone again! This time I admit I am more than a little disturbed. Not by the company I'm keeping, but by embarrassment I know I'm going to feel at having to tell this story. Am I really this stupid or do I really not care? I console myself that I can't go 6 months without drowning my computer in spilled coffee, and don't forget I find a lot of money riding my bike to the coffee shop so in a strict financial accounting I am still way ahead. I replace the computer in a couple days with a ten year old MacBook Air, thinking that if I have some respect for the computer I will better keep my eyes on it. The next skirmish comes three days later, when I look up and, yes, the computer is still there, but not my backpack with charger and all kinds of necessary things in it. I realize that now my inventory of earthly possessions comes down to: (1) bike (2) computer (no charger). With no bag bike transport involves tucking the solid metal MacBook under my sweater, for all the world like a bulletproof vest and I'm actually in Ukraine. That is a little funny. Next day I bought a backpack from a second hand shop and charger from computer repair. The next night wifi is off at the coffee shop. I decide to fortify myself with strong coffee, sit up strait, and wait and watch. And what do you think I see, or should I say, what have I done? Like in a nightmare or a zombie movie a convocation of the destitute is in progress, every ten or fifteen minutes another coming down the two streets (the coffee shop is on a corner) not in  the normal traffic pattern towards the trash cans or the restaurant doors but angling directly at me, coming to examine the state of my vigilance, me the supplier of free computers to the community and other valuable commodities.

Further Reading:

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Rituals Of Love & Hate

Great Seal of the United States (obverse).svg

- I can't tell if you are just keeping silence or have nothing to say.
- I can't either.
- But you'll respond to me if I come up with something new.
- Have you come up with something new?
- Is it true that democracy, all the way back to its experiments in ancient Athens, has been at risk from demagoguery, and from the beginning known to be at risk?
- Yes.
- And a demagogue, according to our own James Fenimore Cooper, writing in 1838, claims to represent the common people, incites intense passions among them, exploits those reactions to take power, and breaks or at least threatens established rules of political conduct, all this to serve the interests of the demagogue and his friends. Demagoguery, which can give the appearance of insanity of both leaders and led, works because it establishes ritual: tells a story of our past greatness but present weakness, identifies our enemy that is responsible for present weakness, but, the story goes, a leader has arisen who will eliminate the enemy and restore us to greatness. Alright?
- Go on.
- Here's my idea: of our two political parties, we have one that clearly is fascistic: in the story told of making the nation great again, the scapegoating, the lies, the appeals to emotion. But what if the other political party also is fascistic?
- How?
- You've explained that the difference between our political parties is that though both parties condone the silent rule of the class of the wealthy over the class of the not wealthy, one party accepts inequality among the not wealthy, the other advocates strict equality among the various sub-classes ruled over by the wealthy, the classes distinguished from each other by race, religion, sexuality, age, character. etc. Can it be that any one of these subclasses, identities we call them these days, can and does form itself into fascistic relation to other identities?
- When one identity is seen to have more power than another?
- Has more power in the limited power-world of the less wealthy in which they are locked into by the government controlled by the wealthy.
- Yet each identity commonly claims otherwise, claims to tolerate, love even, the other identities, to be flourishing in a society of identities, each tolerating the others.
- But is that true? Love requires knowledge, but isn't the relation between identity based groups that of individuals blinded by passion in the midst of a power struggle, individuals in each group competing with those in the other groups to get an equal share of the residual wealth left to them by the wealthy overlords in control of the government?
- Each identity group, in the blind passion of struggle against the other identity groups for power, though they may only get a few more crumbs fallen from the table of the wealthy, obtain the satisfaction of security from the practice of ritual.
- Yes. Outright falsehoods by members of identities are accepted because produced in the course of passion, passionate reenactment of ritual. Stolen elections, infinite number of different sexes, any number of obvious you'd think falsehoods, there is no arguing against what is the product of ritual performed passion, whether it is the passion of national revival or identity empowerment.
- And you'd like to know what I think?
- Yes.
- Aristotle believed that democracy was less liable to faction than oligarchy: the different oligarchs were every man for himself, while in democracy it was only the wealthy against the not. Do you know what happened to prove Aristotle wrong?
- The inclusion into the electorate, the stable middle class of Athens that was neither rich nor poor, that therefore could communicate calmly with reason, of all those groups that had been excluded from citizenship: immigrants, women, landless, the poor.
- We're living in this world of lies, lies that when challenged are only responded to with other lies. Maybe that's why I don't have much to say.

Further Reading:

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

War








- The COVID panic was bad enough.
- Yeah.
- And now this.
- The incomprehension we feel facing these public events is astonishing.
- Not only do we not understand what is happening but we can't understand why we're so confused, why we don't understand.
- We knew our leaders were the worst of human beings and were likely to make their decisions accordingly. But still....
- We forgot that evil can be creative. We saw that in the obvious mass destructiveness of the lockdowns, a new, on the face of it, idiotic policy, an unprecedented quarantining of the healthy rather than the sick. It took some time to see where the creativity was going, what profit was in the destruction of social and personal and economic life.
- Destruction of small business, and increase of monopolization of big business, graft in grabbing government benefits, cover up and distraction from the under-reported recession / bank failure of 2019, the trick of calling the financial system's bailout a COVID remedy.
- Already an old story. Now we have Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and the mind-boggling reluctance of our country and other supposedly anti-authoritarian countries to help Ukraine with the weapons needed to stop Russian civilian targeting bombing and missile strikes. What's going on?
- It can't be what they say, that air defense weapons would be seen as our nation entering into war with Russia.
- Why not?
- Because Russia, Putin has already said he considers military aid currently arriving an act of war on the part of the donor nations.
- Then what is it?
- Government officials in the corrupt employee of wealth and big business influences that will do anything for money.
- What are they doing?
- Trying to lengthen the war so as to both use up American produced weapons that will have to be replaced, paid for by the ordinary tax payers, most of the wealth of the rich hidden and untaxed, and at the same time result in the progressive, large scale destruction of the Russian military at the hands of the Ukrainians.
- Why?
- Why do they want to destroy Russia's military?
- Yes.
- The experience of COVID lockdowns teaches us: destruction used as the creative tool of monopolization, in this case of monopoly of military force serving political power serving economic interests.
- To keep the dollar the world's currency and keep foreign markets open.

Further Reading:

P.S. APRIL 24, 2022 KRAMATORSK, Ukraine  — Following the highest-level U.S. mission to Ukraine since the start of the war, the secretaries of State and Defense said Monday that the Biden administration was intent on helping the country win its war against Russia and on seeing Moscow “weakened to the point” where it cannot mount such aggression again. (From The Los Angeles Times)

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Philosophers Who Kill










- A competitor kills the competition, in the language of sports, and elsewhere. You were complaining about how shocked you were by government repression in the name of COVID-19, the government's deliberately terrifying people and the people's consequent compliance.
- And you weren't surprised?
- You expressed yourself as astonished, caught off-guard. But, you know, not everyone was.
- Who could have predicted what we're going through?
- Philosophers. Walter Benjamin, writing in 1940, with regard to Germany legalizing Hitler's ascension to status of dictator:
The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism. One reason why Fascism has a chance is that in the name of progress its opponents treat it as a historical norm. The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are ‘still’ possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge—unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable. (Theses on the Philosophy of History,VIII.) 
Picking up on the idea of continual state of exception, Michel Foucault described a 'biopolitics' in which government interfered in the lives of the people, managing the health of the bodies and mind that continually were in need of management. And then we have Georgio Agamben, who unlike the previous two is still among the living, who taught us that in a further state of exception not only are we stripped of the protection of the laws, but we become 'bare life', not only our health, not only sexuality, diet, exercise managed but the totality of life now up for grabs. Sound familiar?
- Lockdowns, masks, vaccine mandates.
- Yes. The state of exception of COVID-19 is not an exception; oppression in one form or another has been constant.
- Some examples of the continuous oppression?
- Regular economic crashes, with those who cause them being bailed out by the government they control, everyone else not bailed out; the unprecedented total surveillance of communications leading the populace into self censorship.
- Living in a time when Nazi Germany was actually using state of emergency law to change the rules so as to legitimize Nazi total control, 
Walter Benjamin didn't anticipate that a truly exceptional, innovative form of state of exception would be declared leaving the people in 'bare life', life without political power, in the name of protecting life from a virus, in the name of fighting which the people would be threatened with being stripped of all life activities, under house arrest, masked, facing the possibility of forcible vaccination.
- So even if it were true our political rights were always in various degrees in a state of exception, in this new, particular kind of state of exception, predicted by our philosophers, in the context of a government using the technique of biopower, in the name of 'bare life', life without protection of the laws, all forms of social and personal life were being abrogated. What do you think? Were these philosophers inadvertently writing the instruction manual being used by our leaders to reduce us all to 'bare life'? Or did our leaders make out the exceptional possibilities of biopower on their own?
- Who knows?
- If this 'bare life', lockdown life, mask and vaccine mandate life, really is not exceptional, what follows? More extreme states of exception, social and personal interference, or can we expect a return to a more comfortable political abrogation of rights?
- We can expect the situation to in some ways to get worse in a return to normal history, that is, ongoing war of the very rich against everyone else. For Agamben's particular case of Foucault's biopower involves not only that we are always more or less being stripped of the protection of laws, but in a second phase, the laws of supervision and control previously used to authorize supposed protection of 'bare life' in need of recovery now authorize the extermination of any and all people in the impoverished state of lacking the advanced value of political life, who living in 'bare life' have no right to exist.
- Excluding of course those who are managing the state of exception, the essential job of management entailing interests and rewards adding up to much more than bare life.
- Yes. See them march clothed in the significance of their work right ahead in the drive to transfer all the wealth of those who not being worthy of life certainly are not worthy to have possessions.
- Race is integrally involved here in this exceptional use of this special kind of biopower, government supervision threatening the very existence of 'bare life'.
- How?
- Our l
eaders, clothed with state of exception extra-legal political powers, are clearly distinguishable from those living in the abject condition of 'bare life': they are a superior race. If in our history, progress reflected in the rule of law is restricted by the countervailing force of class war, war of masters against slaves, this conception of race war is something new, something that requires some understanding, some consciousness of life bereft of political protections, something which our philosophers amazingly enough actually foresaw.
- So, with COVID-19 we are in a real state of exception this time?
- Our times, for our leaders, are open season for profits at any cost. Money breeding more money. As often observed, the word for interest in ancient Greek is "offspring". And what is money, and profit, but pure reproduction of something that is without content, is simple potential, power to persist, to continue going on.
- 'Bare life' again.
- Yes. And tied in again with the state of exception. For what is race but a tracing of that history of power to go on, mere persistence, without content?
- You think that our leaders' intimate practice of capitalism and racism was enough to show them the way to the great leap forward of present times COVID-19 repressions: lockdowns, vaccine and mask mandates, fear mongering, openly skewed statistics on deaths, risks, efficacy of treatments, vaccinations, etc.?
- Nevertheless our time's philosophers do seem to have had a special relation to the 
'bare life' of race and mass killings. Just yesterday a UCLA teacher of philosophy, a specialist in race and identity who had published an 800 page manifesto loaded with anti-Semitism and threats of mass shootings was arrested after he tried to buy a gun but was refused by the gunshop: his mother had days earlier reported him to the FBI which then put him on a no sale list. How many more philosophers had special connection to killing? I did a quick search on the terms 'philosophers' and 'killing' and found two professors, both with ties to anti-Semitism: a crazy 19th century Austrian who killed his professor, wrongly thinking he was Jewish, then appealing his murder conviction on the grounds that didn't all good German's believe that all Jews should be killed? The other was a 20th century French Marxist philosopher, apparently irrevocably mentally damaged by his experience in a Nazi concentration camp, who in a fit of madness strangled his wife.
- Anti-Semitism seems to show that a state of exemption has been always with us, the life of the Jews valueless 'bare life'. How do we know if our leaders will, like the history of the Jews shows happening regularly and often in the past, shift from naked in need of clothing to naked not deserving of life, from Foucault's care of and management of life, to Agamben's 'bare life' in which we are as 'bare life' of no value except as agents of their, the master race's, profit making?