The Great Big Thing(tm): Reductio Ad Absurdum Editium

I did my best in a previous rant to point out the [possibly malicious] polarization of the national conversation. I tried to express my concern over the simplification of complex ideas into rhetorically convenient narratives. Unfortunately, my self-righteousness got the better of me and I don’t think I quite captured that the heart of the issue is a reduction of ideas. This essay really captures the issue for me without needing to watch 3 hours of Adam Curtis documentaries to achieve understanding. In essence, the essay likens the focus by Western Society on [predatory] exponential financial gain to the mutation of cells into a form of cancer:

Values and complexity are focused more and more on prioritizing exponential financial growth, led by for-profit corporate entities that have gained autonomy, rights, power, and nearly unregulated societal influence. The behavior of these entities are akin to cancers. Healthy cells regulate their growth and respond to their surroundings, even eliminating themselves if they wander into an organ where they don’t belong. Cancerous cells, on the other hand, optimize for unconstrained growth and spread with disregard to their function or context.

Reducing the American experiment down to unfettered corporate growth is a gross reduction of ideas. Reducing ideas essentially reduces people. Reducing humanity down to statistics is dangerous because it eliminates most, if not all, of the complexity that makes humanity so different from everything else. I did a fair amount of whining about the hypocrisy of our polarized media landscape without talking about how absurd it is to reduce people down to being cogs in a machine. I have touched on this idea in the past pondering the nature of freedom. This reduction is absurd because the idea of advancing one ideology (which is really just a subset of human struggle) at the expense of another ideology (which is itself another subset of human struggle) is basically pitting half of society against the other half, while deliberately ignoring everything that they have in common.

Rejecting absurdity means embracing irreconcilable ideas

Much like the geardo cargo cult that worships gun culture, there is another cargo cult that worships technology. Much like the cult of the gun that has no real concept of military doctrine, the cult of code has no real concept of software engineering. Just like guns are falsely ascribed the power to help realize white-male-power fantasies, math is also falsely ascribed the power to achieve techno-Utopian fantasies. I understand how seductive both kinds of fantasies can be. The cult of the gun seeks to take control over the violent chaos that threatens to destroy so much. The cult of code wants to cede control to powerful algorithms that promise logic and objectivity and free us from the responsibility of making hard choices. The gun can’t protect you from an uncaring universe, and algorithms just crystallize the biases of their creators.

The desire to take control from those we perceive to be tyrants and to give control over to systems we believe to be objective is a paradox. Like the idea of a benevolent dictator or a truly free market, the perfect system is a great idea that always fails when implemented. Any complex system, be it an economy or a social network, was engineered by people to be used by other people. Engineers are as flawed and fallible as anyone else ergo the systems they build will also be flawed. End users aren’t the sheep that engineers wish that they were. Any imperfect thing (i.e. all things) will eventually be misused by someone with an understanding of its flaws. This isn’t hacker self-righteousness, just look at all of the government programs that get defrauded or the tax increases that billionaires find ways of avoiding. These are flawed systems designed by people that other people have chosen to capitalize on. It doesn’t matter how much time, effort, and money you put into developing a system, someone will invest more in order to exploit it.

The problem with both cults is that neither the gun nor the algorithm is a substitute for humanity, nor is either a hedge against tyranny. In fact, with frightening frequency, both tools harm humanity and encourage tyranny. Guns empower tyrants and are mostly brought to bear against the innocent. Computers empower the reduction of ideas down to data sets, where they confine us to platforms run by big corporations, another form of tyranny. The AK-47 was supposed to be a Communist gift to liberate oppressed peoples, but they mostly got used by death squads. Facebook was supposed to help us to connect with each other, but it mostly pits us against each other while shady marketers peddle divisive media for money and political influence.

Like most of my pseudo-intellectual deep thoughts, the thought began with watching an Adam Curtis documentary but is became fully actualized by watching Rick and Morty. The Adam Curtis idea, that there is a “positive liberty” which is born out of violent struggle, and a “negative liberty” which is born out of apathy. In Rick and Morty, Rick is the epitome of both the gun and the code cults. He has all the weaponry and all the technology, yet most of what he uses it for is to allow himself to get drunk and watch TV. He literally sells a gun to an assassin so he has enough money to spend the day at an arcade. He gets involved with all manner of epic adventures, mostly so he can be an asshole to everyone close to him. He is forever ridiculing the beliefs of others, yet he believes in nothing.

This is probably where I should look to the Asian philosophies I studied as part of my martial arts training should come into play, but Confucianist parables and Taoist paradoxes just aren’t the right medicine for this species existential dread. I’m pretty fucking far from being an Uncarved Stone and trusting the process. If anything, I am an *over* carved stone, and the process is light years away from trustworthy.

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The Great Big Thing(tm): Nazi Bullshit Edition

I have been unable to write for a while now, and so I figured I would just write about not being able to write. That ended up being this long rambling screed about my frustration with my friends and family over their obtusely two-dimensional socio-political views. It came across really angsty and disjointed. Then all this Nazi bullshit happened and I just kind of retreated again.

Getting into the Nazi thing is kind of a waste of my time. I’ve dealt with Nazis in one form or another for most of my early adult life. I had a few clashes with Nazi skins when I was a teenage punk, and when I went into the military I clashed with a few more in the US and in Germany. Beefing with German skins was weird. What I didn’t realize, was how prevalent these hard right-wing white power types were in the Ohio National Guard. I had a squad mate that was an ex-skin and he and a few like him were treating their Guard service as free training for their race war. They were conservative gun nuts prepping for a “Shit Hitting The Fan” scenario. This was in the late 90’s. I know these dudes didn’t go anywhere, they just got pushed into silence by polite society, and the specter of a global Islamic Jihad deflected the world’s attention from them. I figured that at some point those dudes would get their lives together, but not only did they not, I guess they all had kids?

I spent a lot of time with these dudes; I got to know them. One guy hated blacks because he was divorced and his wife was dating black dudes. Another was raised to be that way by his father who was a blue collar guy who got laid off in some recession and he blamed immigrants. All of it just sounded like fear and weakness to me. These guys hate people of color because people of color have the power to make them feel inferior. Good job Master Race! You’re doing a great job! It’s no different than those “nice guys” that hate women because women have the power to make them feel lonely and pathetic. It’s ironic when you think about it, white supremacy threatens the lives of so many, yet all it does is protect the egos of a few. Also, these dudes go on and on about liberty, but they are the worst sort of authoritarian apologists.

Maybe I am lucky to have more than one identity, or I’m just lucky that my identity isn’t threatened by women or minorities. Being a geek is a pretty white identity, but it’s not like John Boyega, Gal Gadot, or Rochelle are going to take that away from me. Glenn from The Walking Dead can kill all the zombies and bed all the white women he wants, it doesn’t affect me in any way. The same goes for female Ghostbusters, Daisy Ridley or Imperator Furiosa.

One thing that this new Nazi bullshit did was cause more debate about the First Amendment. The Intercept was nice enough to illustrate my point about how controlling hate speech ends up suppressing progressives, which confirms my bias on these things and helps me feel a little vindicated.

The other thing about Nazi bullshit that pisses me off is that it takes so much Nazi related self-aware/ironic humor off the table. You can’t deliberately invoke Godwin’s Law anymore. You can’t dismiss Xbros as “Filthy Console Peasants”. I have to work so much harder to be simultaneously pretentious and fake-edgy. It’s BULLSHIT.

What disturbs me the most about all this Nazi bullshit isn’t the presence of White Power. You can’t police thought, so you can’t eliminate hate. It’s the lack of conscience on display from leaders of all kinds. Of course the President had nothing to say, those Fashy creeps put him into office, but what about basically everyone else? A bunch of corporations took a stand, and that is probably the worst possible result. They’re Nazis For Fuck’s Sake. They are literally the worst human beings there are. The USA fought a war against them. They’re the definition of an easy target. There will never be any collateral damage when you take a swing at them. They are literally Hitler, literally. When the organizations whose General Counsel advises them against any course of action, any course of action that a corporation ends up taking is the absolute least that could be done. Where in the fuck is everyone else?

My lamentations about corporate power also seem to have been vindicated a little, again thanks to The Intercept. I get that we as a country have lost faith in the political process, but corporate oligarchy is not the answer. Let’s not forget that no one served any time for crashing the economy in 2008. Let’s not forget that everyone looked the other way in the interest of keeping “the system” stable. What else are we going to look the other way on? Using a private army to violate the civil liberties of a group of indigenous people? Those people aren’t white, BTW. Just thought somebody should know that.

UPDATE: This:

Video Games and Depression

Ispidey_skyrim have battled with clinical depression for most of my adult life. The primary reason that I have maintained a weblog in one form or another is that writing is one of the ways that I deal with my depression. I also play video games. Writing and exercise are positive things that help me to feel productive. Video games are a tricky balance. In moderation, gaming helps me vent frustrations, much like exercise does. If I am not careful, however, gaming can go off the rails, and become basically the only thing that I do, outside of the bare essentials like not getting fired from work and keeping the children alive.

About 12 years ago I was working this horrible job as a help desk agent, taking borderline abusive tech support calls from cognitively-impaired corporate lusers. I was completely miserable and when I started playing Asheron’s Call, I slipped into full-blown video game addiction. My work day consisted of working on auto-pilot while surfing Maggie the Jackcat’s website for quests to run and items to craft. I would then stay up all night running various toons through said quests, and crafting said items. I even wrote a blog chronicling my adventures. It was pathetic 🙂 Then suddenly, I burned out on AC and when I stopped playing, I suddenly realized how miserable I was at work, and invested my energy into finding a new job.

A few years later, I got into City of Heroes pretty seriously. I was especially into multi-boxing and at one point, I was running 8 toons at once. Multiboxing turned my altaholism into a superpower. While I logged many hours playing CoH, it was not nearly as life-consuming as AC.

Today, my drug of choice is Skyrim. In many ways it’s less compelling than an MMO, but the story has caused me to have more than a few spiritual and philosophical reflections. One idea in particular is the attitude of many NPCs that the prophecy of the return of the dragons makes the end of the world a foregone conclusion. In the context of the game, if you are going to affect change, you are fighting not only dragons and undead, you are also fighting a culture of apocalyptic pessimism. As a parable for combating depression, I can’t think of a better interactive story.

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