2 weeks ago in Stuff

Coronavirus - What is at stake?

by Noam Chomsky
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This video has been removed for violating YouTube's Community Guidelines.

That is amazing. Amazingly scummy, that is.
Same video:

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 2 weeks ago in Contrast

Responsibility

And though a propaganda machine has power... like all things it creates and equal an opposite power that eventually destroys it. The question for individuals is only: where am I in the cycle, how long will this cycle last, and what is my role to play?
The salvation of the world depends only on the individual whose world it is. At least, every individual must act as if the whole future of the world, of humanity itself, depends on him. Anything less is a shirking of responsibility and is itself a dehumanizing force, for anything less encourages the individual to look upon himself as a mere actor in a drama written by anonymous agents, as less than a whole person, and that is the beginning of passivity and aimlessness.
There was a widespread conviction that it is impossible to withstand temptation of any kind, that none of us could be trusted or even be expected to betrustworthy when the chips are down, that to be tempted and to be forced are almost the same, whereas in the words of Mary McCarthy, who first spotted this fallacy: "If somebody points a gun at you and says,'Kill your friend or I will kill you,' he is tempting you, that is all." And while a temptation where one's life is at stake may be a legal excuse for a crime, it certainly is not a moral justification.

[..]

It is fortunate and wise that no law exists for sins of omission and no human court is called up onto sit in judgment over them. But it is equally fortunate that there exists still one institution in society in which it is well-nigh impossible to evade issues of personal responsibility, where all justifications of a nonspecific, abstract nature - from the Zeitgeist down to the Oedipus complex - break down, where not systems or trends or original sin are judged, but men of flesh and blood like you and me, whose deeds are of course still human deeds but who appear before a tribunal because they have broken some law whose maintenance we regard as essential for the integrity of our common humanity. Legal and moral issues are by no means the same, but they have a certain affinity with each other because they both presuppose the power of judgment.

[..]

What mattered in our early, nontheoretical education in morality was never the conduct of the true culprit of whom even then no one in his right mind could expect other than the worst. Thus we were outraged, but not morally disturbed, by the bestial behavior of the stormtroopers in the concentration camps and the torture cellars of the secret police, and it would have been strange indeed to grow morally indignant over the speeches of the Nazi big wigs inpower, whose opinions had been common knowledge for years. [..] The moral issue arose only with the phenomenon of "coordination," that is, not with fear-inspired hypocrisy, but with this very early eagerness not to miss the train of History, with this, as it were, honest overnight change of opinion that befell a great majority of public figures in all walks of life and all ramifications of culture, accompanied, as it was, by an incredible ease with which life long friendships were broken and discarded. In brief, what disturbed us was the behavior not of our enemies but of our friends, who had done nothing to bring this situation about. They were not responsible for the Nazis, they were only impressed by the Nazi success and unable to pit their own judgment against the verdict of History, as they read it. Without taking into account the almost universal breakdown, not of personal responsibility, but of personal judgment in the early stages of the Nazi regime, it is impossible to understand what actually happened.
I have spoken here of what ought and ought not to be done, of what is morally repugnant, and of what is dangerous. I am, of course, aware of the fact that these judgements of mine have themselves no moral force except on myself. Nor, as I have already said, do I have any intention of telling other people what tasks they should and should not undertake. I urge them only to consider the consequences of what they do do. And here I mean not only, not even primarily, the direct consequences of their actions on the world about them. I mean rather the consequences on themselves, as they construct their rationalizations, as they repress the truths that urge them to different courses, and as they chip away at their own autonomy. That so many people ask what they must do is a sign that the order of being and doing has become inverted. Those who know who and what they are do not need to ask what they should do. And those who must ask will not be able to stop asking until they begin to look inside themselves. It it is everyone's task to show by example what questions one can ask of oneself, and to show that one can live with the few answers there are.
"Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation" (1976)
There exists in our society a widespread fear of judging that has nothing whatever to do with the biblical "Judge not, that ye be not judged," and if this fear speaks in terms of "casting the first stone," it takes this word in vain. For behind the unwillingness to judge lurks the suspicion that no one is a free agent, and hence the doubt that anyone is responsible or could be expected to answer for what he has done. The moment moral issues are raised, even in passing, he who raises them will be confronted with this frightful lack of self-confidence and hence of pride, and also with a kind of mock-modesty that in saying, Who am I to judge? actually means We're all alike, equally bad, and those who try, or pretend that they try, to remain halfway decent are either saints or hypocrites, and in either case should leave us alone.
These men were able to give the counsel they gave because they were operating at an enormous psychological distance from the people who would be maimed and killed by the weapons systems that would result from the ideas they communicated to their sponsors. The lesson, therefore, is that the scientist and technologist must, by acts of will and of the imagination, actively strive to reduce such psychological distances, to counter the forces that tend to remove him from the consequences of his actions. He must -- it is as simple as this -- think of what he is actually doing. He must learn to listen to his own inner voice. He must learn to say "No!"

Finally, it is the act itself that matters. When instrumental reason is the sole guide to action, the acts it justifies are robbed of their inherent meanings and thus exist in an ethical vacuum. I recently heard an officer of a great university publicly defend an important policy decision he had made, one that many of the university's students and faculty opposed on moral grounds, with the words: "We could have taken a moral stand, but what good would that have done?" But the moral good of a moral act inheres in the act itself. That is why an act can itself ennoble or corrupt the person who performs it. The victory of instrumental reason in our time has brought about the virtual disappearance of this insight and thus perforce the delegitimation of the very idea of nobility.
"Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment To Calculation" (1976)
 2 weeks ago in Quotes
Virtuous intelligent people, the wise, are habituated and developed in the direction of truth and away from lies, deceit and bullshit. They have a sensitivity to the truth and the value of truth. Bullshitting requires and in turn reinforces a kind of mental dullness and blindness. It leads to a kind of degeneration of the mental faculties. If you don't care about the truth—only the parochial effects of your petty machinations—then you are frustrating the intellect and its grasp of reality. You are reinforcing vices while weakening the capacity for discernment and the strengths and virtues needed for proper intellectual function and receptivity.

It's a bit like what happens when an intelligent coward is met with contrary evidence. He will turn away from the truth and go to great lengths to rationalize it away, and in doing so, he will blind himself to the truth. Making that a habit through repetition only deepens the vice and unravels the mind, making it increasingly difficult to dig yourself out.
 2 weeks ago in Quotes
In the United States, we have 260,000 billboards; 11,250 newspapers; 11,556 periodicals; 27,000 video outlets for renting video tapes; more than 500 million radios; and more than 100 million computers. Ninety-eight percent of American homes have a television set; more than half our homes have more than one. There are 40,000 new book titles published every year (300,000 worldwide), and every day in America 41 million photographs are taken. And if this is not enough, more than 60 billion pieces of junk mail (thanks to computer technology) find their way into our mail-boxes every year.

From millions of sources all over the globe, through every possible channel and medium — light waves, airwaves, ticker tapes, computer banks, telephone wires, television cables, satellites, printing presses — information pours in. Behind it, in every imaginable form of storage — on paper, on video and audio tape, on discs, film, and silicon chips — is an ever greater volume of information waiting to be retrieved. Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, we are awash in information. And all the sorcerer has left us is a broom.

Information has become a form of garbage, not only incapable of answering the most fundamental human questions but barely useful in providing coherent direction to the solution of even mundane problems. To say it still another way: The milieu in which Technopoly flourishes is one in which the tie between information and human purpose has been severed, i.e., information appears indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, in enormous volume and at high speeds, and disconnected from theory, meaning, or purpose.

All of this has called into being a new world. I have referred to it elsewhere as a peek-a-boo world, where now this event, now that, pops into view for a moment, then vanishes again. It is an improbable world. It is a world in which the idea of human progress, as Bacon expressed it, has been replaced by the idea of technological progress. The aim is not to reduce ignorance, superstition, and suffering but to accommodate ourselves to the requirements of new technologies. We tell ourselves, of course, that such accomodations will lead to a better life, but that is only the rhetorical residue of a vanishing technocracy.

We are a culture consuming itself with information, and many of us do not even wonder how to control the process. We proceed under the assumption that information is our friend, believing that cultures may suffer grievously from a lack of information, which, of course, they do. It is only now beginning to be understood that cultures may also suffer grievously from information glut, information without meaning, information without control mechanisms.
"Technopoly"
 3 weeks ago in Quotes
The Screen and the Job have displaced almost everything else is our lives. Loneliness is just a primary symptom.

The Screen, whether it’s TV, computer, or phone, has supplanted almost all social interactions. This manifests itself in things like SitComs on TV (just a bunch of friends or family hanging out) or Social Media on phones. It’s very easy to fill the social needs of right now with a Screen. But under even a minuscule amount of self reflection these are revealed as hollow substitutes for real human interaction.

The Job has completely taken over as a driving force in evaluating choices. The average person has to consider all options in the light of both the current employer and the specter of tomorrow’s. Moving across the country for a high paying job? Great! Moving to be closer to friends? That’s a career killer.

No wonder we are lonely. We make choices in the short term that optimize happiness, often at the expense of our relationships. Ghosting is not just for dates now. Then turn around and make choices in the long term that optimize employability at the expense of all else.
 3 weeks ago in Quotes
I've noticed a fairly big distinction in what I learned as science and the philosophy of science as it was practiced up until around the last 20 years or so and now.

Science was based on rigorous falsification. Scientists actively tried to prove themselves and other scientists wrong. Science has always been more about, 'well we know it's not all of these things, so it's probably that until we prove that wrong too'.

Sometime in the last couple decades, it's stopped being like that. Instead it's, 'my models and data say this, so it is this and everything else is wrong'.

Science at this point is really only authority driven because journals and even governments charge exorbitant prices for access to them, cutting out a vast majority of the population from actually partaking in any part of the scientific process.

When all you get is contradictory news reports on a handful of selected research from journalists that barely understand what they're reading, you're going to be stuck with an elitist authority driven system.

There's zero reason for this in todays world other than control and profit. Even within the scientific community, there's 'caste' systems, financial guardianship and other such barriers, keeping again, many people from learning and partaking.

Science isn't hard, it isn't magic, it's a systematic way of looking at the world through observation and falsification. That is all science is. Anyone can do science. I've taken groups of kids, volunteers and many people and in short time, taught them to do science.

It's just people don't really get taught to do this. It's easier to control a population that's trickled information through 'authoritative' sources than it is one that's educated and capable of thinking for themselves.

This is stuff I was literally taught in school, by other scientists. Like, we were actually taught that most people need to be given only the information they need to know, because essentially they're too dumb to understand and scientists should just run things in the world. I'm not making this up, we were actually told this by several of our professors.
 3 weeks ago in Quotes
Personally I'm a major proponent of native GUI applications conforming to their platform's UI standards, and I'm also a proponent of users being able to theme their environments. In my opinion the purpose of personal computing is to empower the user. Users should be able to control their work environments and their workflows as they see fit. Unfortunately I feel that this philosophy of user empowerment has been slowly challenged, where the user experience is being controlled.
 3 weeks ago in Quotes
Ideology may set rough attractors and no-go areas, but it's naive to think that our current battle lines have been drawn by individuals independently pondering their own positions.

At a deep level, our experience of reality has become wholly moderated by mass media. Reds and Blues are watching different channels, and thereby experiencing different realities. It's as simple as that.

Nonconformance to a media narrative is punished by all, in a distributed fashion. If you express an independent point in a Blue flavor, you will be attacked by both the ever-present Reds as well fellow Blues for breaking rank (and vice-versa, obviously).
 4 weeks ago in Quotes
Centralized communications are, on a long enough timescale, an existential threat to a free society.
 4 weeks ago in Quotes
I would never call the existence of bloated software a consequence of progress, but rather a sign of decadence.
 1 month ago in Quotes
Success today has to be defined in formal or quantifiable terms not because anyone actually consciously chose to do it, but because it's the only way you can put it in a computer, which actually was supposed to exist to empower people. It's pretty sad honestly.
 1 month ago in Quotes
I know this goes against the ethos of high-tech, but humans don't have an imperative to be as productive as possible. They don't have to make the most use of their time. They don't have to get as efficient as they could. These are metrics that work fine for our machines, our code. But humans are not machines. Sure, we shepherd the machines, and sure sometimes we are in rivalrous dynamics that increasing efficiency has a payoff, but it is never the goal in itself.

The real "currency" we have, if we are using the term in the sense of denoting essentialness, is our humanness, our mortality, our psyches, our connection with other people and seemingly mundane but meaningful parts of our lives. I mean, look how many of us started baking their breads and enjoying it. It is not a wise use of the "currency of time", but it is part of life very well spent, as our internal reward mechanisms have been telling us.
 1 month ago in Quotes
It's also a really convenient place to get news, because since all news sources are government approved then there's no fake news to worry about.

Comments like this remind me that totalitarianism doesn't need to be forceful or hostile, implemented by a shadowy government from above. People themselves will often happily serve as salesmen for the regime - with a 0% commission, to boot.
 1 month ago in Favourite Demos

Way Too Rude

by Logicoma & Loonies
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 1 month ago in Stuff

Wildlife Collapse from Climate Change Is Predicted to Hit Suddenly and Sooner

Climate change could result in a more abrupt collapse of many animal species than previously thought, starting in the next decade if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, according to a study published this month in Nature.

The study predicted that large swaths of ecosystems would falter in waves, creating sudden die-offs that would be catastrophic not only for wildlife, but for the humans who depend on it.

“For a long time things can seem OK and then suddenly they’re not,” said Alex L. Pigot, a scientist at University College London and one of the study’s authors. “Then, it’s too late to do anything about it because you’ve already fallen over this cliff edge.”
 1 month ago in Quotes
These articles scare me. Another one with exactly the same message: Things are worse than we thought, it was already bad, we are not coming close to doing enough to save us, there isn't even much of a plan.

And then I see most of the west handling covid-19 just like we handle everything: No clear direction, minimal effort, leaders asleep at the wheel, politicians trying to get the better of each other, rich people get richer.

Climate was an important theme in our last elections, but even the green party had no clue whatsoever, and the voters made it clear they did not even remotely care.

Now Covid-19 is easy stuff compared to the climate. I was hoping Covid-19 could serve as a wake up call for the cost of incompetence in our organisations. But that does not seem to happen.

Covid-19 has a pattern I also see in the climate: First, nobody cares for some theoretical crisis far away, then its in our countries but still not personal, and by now everybody knows about a specific person who died. Climate is a theoretical crisis far away for now.

So how do we proceed from here?