Without the doing of some thing brand inappropriate Something unmonetizable Unclickable Untraceable Untradeable | If i don't rend the cloth of this Culture Fit soon i will die Like the coral Like two-thirds of the wild Like the humans on the edge of a rising shoreline In a ceaseless world With iceless poles And icy proles | As the planet heats, Civilization chills; Swallowing our red or our blue pills; Interned into camps of grievers and shills | Grieve i do and for the West Our president the Bigly Best! We'll come and go at his behest Put down your Freedom of Info Requests Baby, you just ain't seen nothin' yet | Joe Walsh got his balls out, and his musket too The Lefties dream of Saskatoon We're all gonna get that Change real soon You'll see when fascism hits High Noon | We'll finish tearing ourselves apart In the streets and in the dark Can no longer recreate in this park Leslie Knope didn't fit the part | She had the mighty audacity To take purview over Benghazi Once Bush and Blair left Qaddafi Those GOP goons would never get off me | My God, all the emails The Chaffetz' anemic security details At least we're swaddled by all this retail Black Friday's never been so beyond the pale | Pale as a ghost White as a sheet Our New Balance host Circle jerks its meat | Of all the PUAs and all the Teas Even the most mundane of these See the female as a tease Hang the browns up in the trees We're all strange fruit upon our knees | Ain't no more reason to appease Already done killed off all them bees Turnt up the thermostat a few degrees TVs blaring back our postmodern sleaze | Found ourselves a favorite scapegoat And a good long length of real strong rope The corruption will be all excised By the 'tubes chock full of Russian spies This revolution will be televised As America just dies and dies
The creator of the also excellent Century of the Self film series released his latest film in October, 2016. Dubbed HyperNormalisation, it offers both a history lesson of the complicated relationship between the West, the Middle East, and Russia, as well as an unflinching look at the roles played by technology, surveillance, and the media on our modern condition of general confusion, destabilization, and surrealism.
Russian aggression is mercurial — it’s getting harder to tell anymore who is being paid to push pro-Russian messages, and who has just been sadly taken in by them. For all this braggadocio (braggadocious, even!) about “building a wall” to keep supposed Mexican rapists out (although net migration has been falling with our southern neighbor for some time and is now net negative), no matter what the outcome of next Tuesday’s election, the “borders” around the internet will remain difficult — if not impossible — to police for the foreseeable future.
This all makes our breathless, behind-closed-doors hand-wringing over Soviet Communist influence over the population in the 1960s seem like child’s play. No need to train up a double agent over a lifetime and infiltrate the corridors of state power anymore — just fire up Twitter (or Medium).
The Cold War is thawing
It thus probably shouldn’t be as shocking as it has been to find the pro-Russian lovefest coming just as hard from the far-left as it has from the far-right. It stems from a good place (for the most part): a heartfelt desire for peace and the youthful misunderstanding of how difficult (read: impossible) that has been to achieve throughout history. Still, we always want to believe we’ve cracked the nut — that Mutually Assured Destruction now keeps us safe from all the power-hungry demons of the world.
Unfortunately, the Cold War is thawing. With the Russian economy reportedly in dire straits thanks to fragile over-reliance on oil and gas production combined with the precipitous drop in oil prices over the past 18 months, Putin is in a state. A state of keeping the angry ailing Russian classes distracted by the drums of war, while aiming to keep the pampered, self-absorbed American classes distracted from the drums of war. So far to great success — at least on the latter front. It’s hard to speak to the former, although all the paid trolls do seem mighty angry.
Since we can barely pull our heads out of our navels in the U.S. to remember there’s a whole other world outside of our Big Orange Terror Bubble (which is by turns understandable and deeply concerning), I wanted to record here a timeline of Russian aggression events in the lead-up to where we are today (re-purposed from this post with some additional backstory on the Green Party candidate’s Jill Stein involvement with Putin):
- 2008 — Putin invades Georgia, an event regarded as the first European war of the 21st century
- 2011 veto of UN Security-Council Resolution to end violence in Syria and institute sanctions (with China)
- 2014 annexation of Crimea and arming of an insurgency in eastern Ukraine
- Downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 by Russian Buk missile transferred into rebel-held territory
- Sept. 2015: Russia begins airstrikes in Syria — supposedly against ISIS, but international observers identify other anti-Assad insurgencies and civilian facilities as the actual targets of the bombing campaign
- Nov 2015: Turkey shoots down a Russian jet after repeated airspace violations
- July 2016: Russian aircraft bomb a base of operations for British and American forces in Syria
- July 2016: Violation of Bulgarian airspace an alleged 10 times
- Aug 2016: Russia uses Iran as a base of operations for bombing Syrian targets for the first time
- Aug 2016: Attacks on civilian targets increase; Human Rights Watch posts video of the aftermath of air-dropped incendiary weapons in violation of the Geneva Convention
- Aug 2016: Alleged 4 violations of Estonian airspace
- Sept 2016: Russia provides air cover to Assad’s troops in a bid to seize Aleppo, the last urban holdout of the 2011 Arab Spring revolt
- Oct 1, 2016: Combined forces destroy Aleppo’s main hospital
- Oct 3, 2016: Moscow pulls out of plutonium disposal agreement in place since the end of the Cold War
- Oct 5, 2016: Russia suspends nuclear cooperation pacts and research agreements with the US
- Oct 8, 2016: Russia transfers nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles into the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad
- Oct 28, 2016: Russia is voted off the UN Human Rights Council, accused of war crimes in Syria
This doesn’t include any of the Russian aggression “soft” lobs like the cheeky offers to monitor our elections, or the material connections to the alt-right movement here as well as the swell of right-wing political insurgencies around the world.
Perhaps history will one day show that the deepest destruction wrought by globalization was not the disintegration of America’s manufacturing sector, nor its incentivization of capital flight, but its damage to the last pillars of an aging democratic architecture slowly corroded by neoliberal economic policies in fashion since the Reagan years.
If any history still remains.
- a. The Alfa Bank pinging server
- b. Connections in the Trump campaign
- 1. Paul Manafort — former campaign manager who helped rig elections for Ukrainian pro-Moscow former president Viktor Yanukovich
- 2. Sergei Millian — head of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the US
- 3. Ivanka’s friendship with Putin’s girlfriend
- c. Russian hacking of the DNC emails
- d. Russian attempted hacks on state vote registration rolls
- e. Russian bots and paid disinformation operatives influencing public opinion in the US presidential election
- 1. Twitter
- 2. Medium
- 3. Facebook (?)
- 4. Darkweb
- f. High probability of significant Russian investment in the Trump Organization, its subsidiaries, shell companies, or off-shore protectorates
Regardless of whether or not you agree that slashing spending, fiscal austerity, balanced budgets, and a low federal deficit are good ideas, the fact remains that the Republican Party does not generally live up to its aims of expense reduction and small government.
As hard as it is to believe, there are still some people who think that Reagan cut the size of government, although Reagan was a big spender and laid the groundwork for the immense national debt we live with today.
Then there was Ol’ Dubya with his two disgraceful wars, TARP bailout, auto bailouts, fiscal stimulus, and tax cuts. Not to mention yanking the election out from under Al Gore’s popular win via a leg up from Florida governor brother Jeb.
Turns out, not even gridlock is a decent strategy for preventing escalating expenditures, under the theory that not getting anything done would prevent the government from growing. Apparently not:
Total gridlock is the worst outcome, where impact to the budget is concerned. Total Democratic control of the White House and Congress is the most fiscally responsible since the presidency of Richard Nixon.
So the idea of Republican leanness is a fallacy whether you believe that’s a worthy goal or not — and there’s a lot of evidence to suggest the tide is turning toward a wider appreciation of John Maynard Keynes’ approach to sensible fiscal spending when there is unemployment (puts idle resources to work and reduces government welfare expense; gives people a sense of purpose; builds community), if it is accomplished by debt financing (i.e., issuing Treasury Bonds — allowing individuals, pension funds, and so on to invest in the United States as sort of national asset class) and is used to build goods and structures that benefit the public at large: infrastructure, research and development, public resources, public health services, job training, paid volunteer work, parks and public spaces, etc.
Keynesian and Classical theory have oft been at odds, but are better understood now as complements: in a healthy, roaring economy, government should take its boots off the throttle and avoid tipping over into the kind of speculatory gamesmanship that got us into hot water in 2007-8. But in a depression or recession, or when the economy is recovering sluggishly, it should be a goto solution to start thinking about where to apply government funds (i.e. our money!) to things that need doing anyway; services that invest in our economy’s greatest resource: its citizens; programs that position us for the future by having the luxury to think ahead boldly.
Although the economy has recovered nicely for some — especially those in higher tax brackets — it has clearly left a number of Americans behind. It’s only added to a trend that had already started in the 70s, when inequality began widening in the U.S. The populist white nationalist ire unleashed in the 2016 presidential election was something perhaps few saw coming, even though in hindsight the far right has been whipping their base into a frenzy for years — arguably since Reagan, if not with Nixon. That means there’s still a healthy place for government spending, especially in areas we already know we’re in sore need of a boost: roads and bridges, a public health care option, basic research, advanced manufacturing, the pivot to a renewable energy economy, to name a few.
Luckily, that’s what Hillary Clinton wants to do:
- Use the revenue from closing corporate loopholes and cracking down on tax inversions to invest in small business, long-term growth, R&D, advanced manufacturing, and job training
- Manufacturing Renaissance Tax Credit: to help revitalize communities hit hardest by the collapse of manufacturing
- Paid family and medical leave in the workplace
- Fundamentally reform veterans’ health care and build a 21st-century Department of Veterans Affairs to deliver world-class medical care
- Close oil and gas loopholes, using the proceeds to pay for the transition to a renewable energy economy
- Close loopholes and raise tax brackets for the very wealthy, using the funds to invest in youth services and infrastructure
- Modernize America’s energy infrastructure, address the growing threat of cyberattack, and support clean energy job creation and innovation in the process
- Create a Clean Power Market across the North American continent
- Offer competitive grants for phasing out old, polluting energy infrastructure (fuel oil, propane, coal)
- Reduce air pollution by converting / deploying high-efficiency trucks, buses, ships, and trains in the transportation sector
- Increase public R&D in renewable natural gas, low-carbon gas, and carbon dioxide sequestration
- Offer apprenticeship programs in high-skilled jobs in the new energy economy and construction
- Modernize housing policy, curb skyrockeeting rents in major cities, reforge a path to homeownership for middle America
- Create a public health care option to incentivize competition in the ACA exchanges
- Launch a national campaign to modernize and elevate the teaching profession
- Provide school district funding to develop computer science curriculum
- New municipal school bonds program to help finance repairs and re-investment in unsafe and unhealthy schools
- Offer free community college tuition and debt-free public college tuition for families who make up to $125,000/year
- Allow student loans to be refinanced at current low interest rates; forgive any debt remaining after 20 years
- 3-year student debt deferment for social entrepreneurs and eligibility for up to $17,500 in debt forgiveness
- Institute a 3-month moratorium on student loan payments to allow borrowers to consolidate and refinance
- Make preschool universal for every 4-year old in America; double investment in Early Head Start
- Increase child care investment significantly to ensure to family pays more than 10% of their income
- Double the size of the outdoor economy within 10 years, adding $700 billion in new annual economic activity
- Create an American Parks Trust Fund to invest in the country’s natural preserves
- Restore and refresh more than 3000 city parks within 10 years
- Create a new Water Innovation Lab and a Western Water Partnership to help manage our water challenges over the coming decades
- Become the world’s clean energy superpower: install more than half a billion solar panels by the end of term 1; generate enough renewable energy to power every home in American within 10 years; create a grant and award-based Clean Energy Challenge with states, cities, and rural communities; Solar X-Prize; tax incentives for renewables; foster energy innovation
- Help build the new tech economy on Main Street: create a lifelong learning system more geared towards 21st-century jobs; invest in STEM education; invest in science and tech R&D; help ensure benefits are flexible and travel with workers, not their employers; commit to 100% of households with broadband access by 2020; deploying the 5G wireless network; building free wi-fi infrastructure in punlic places and transport hubs; launch digital community projects to improve connectivity more affordably
- Offer tax credits to companies who hire apprentices
- Offer tax credits to companies who offer profit sharing programs to their employees
- Public health initiatives: substance abuse treatment and prevention; expand mental health services; services for autism spectrum disorder; reduction of co-pays and deductibles; reduce the cost of prescription drugs; double funding for community health centers
- Expand the role of national service, both paid and volunteer, with expansions of programs like the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, and the creation of a National Service Reserve for millions of Americans to contribute volunteer time to local challenges in their own communities
by the way: Her plan plans to finance itself by making wealthy individuals and corporations pay their fair share in taxes, and would not appreciably add to the deficit beyond any existing projections from the OMB;but here’s the best explainer I have found about why we should seriously loosen our collars over the national debt. There is no reason to pay it down; and indeed, it would be dangerous and deleterious to even try to, because we’d be starving the economy of the circulation it needs to keep operating and growing:💰money💰.
I still see a lot of denialism on this point about the DNC email hacks from the far-left (or the alt-left, depending on your favored terminology), which is a bit devastating to see as it essentially parrots the pro-Russian ideology of the far-right (both the alt-right and the neo-libertarian flavors). Green Party candidate Jill Stein is an especially pernicious promoter of this myth that Vladimir Putin is a poor, innocent, peaceful world leader who is being bullied by NATO (when in fact, Russia has been the aggressor since its annexation of Crimea in 2014).
DNC email hacks forensic evidence
Two separate Russian-affiliated adversaries were behind the attacks, according to a post-mortem by cyber-security firm CrowdStrike when the news of the intrusion first broke in early June, 2016. This has since been confirmed by other independent security firms including Fidelis, Mandiant, SecureWorks, and ThreatConnect as well as corroborated by analysis from Ars Technica and Edward Snowden.
At this point the US intelligence community is confident enough to formally accuse Russia of involvement in the hacks, and are currently investigating other breaches of voter registration databases in Arizona and Illinois as well as in Florida — the key battleground state from the 2000 election that handed GWB an unfortunate victory. Elsewhere, there is ample evidence of Putin’s extensive disinformation campaign being waged online (including several experiences I have myself witnessed), which is the continuation of a long through line of wielding propaganda as a tool from the former head of the KGB.
- A timeline of recent Russian aggression
- A RussiaGate Dictionary: Lexicon for the New Cold War
- A RussiaGate Bestiary: Principal actors and related extras in the 2016 election scandal
- The Russian Mafia State: How the former USSR has become a sclerotic kleptocracy under the rule of former KGB agent Vladimir Putin, who vowed revenge on the West after his station in Dresden, East Germany was overrun by angry citizens during the month leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Be careful of our barnacled, crusty cynicism and the cavalier rabbit hole it could lead us down — away from the longest-running success story in human rights.
Democracy works only if political leaders put the common good ahead of personal interest. There is zero evidence Trump would even be equipped to deliver on this, should the interest in it ever be made to enter his mind.
Clinton restored the stature of American diplomacy around the world. Trump asked Russia to find her hacked emails and interfere with the US presidential election.
Mike Flynn leading chants of “lock her up!” from the RNC podium was a test for tolerance of persecution of political opponents. We don’t do that in this country. At least, not in modern times we haven’t.
Each new boundary pushed is a test for when we’ll snap, or when the base will have finally gone too far. We haven’t hit it yet. They’re snarling; out for blood.
This is what a bot will use to determine whether the agent it’s talking to is a human or another AI.
There are a lot of Silicon Valley engineers guzzling soylent in dark holes who ought to get out more and read a book that has lots of words in it and hasn’t been published by O’Reilly.
More people should stop and ask themselves if they even truly believe they’re “creating value,” or just furiously constructing Rube-Goldberg devices to fleece the last remaining dollars from the formerly middle class.
There’s a popular and somewhat understandable misperception of culture as a vehicle of reproducing “normalcy” throughout society. However, each historical era makes the cognitive mistake of assuming its particular version of Normal is, well, Normal. And that all eras which came before — that were obviously ruled by stupid people who could not understand the kind of objective truths we are now privy to in the New Modern era — were a series of mass delusions in which people fooled themselves into thinking they had The Answers, when they so clearly didn’t. Because The Problems continue apace.
The twisted social psychological paradox we have not yet managed to escape is our abject failure to understand that we Moderns, too, are trapped within an enormous cultural projection of our current set of utopian delusions. We are no different, nor more special, than all the well-intentioned optimists and sad charlatans of bygone eras we love to thumb our elitist noses at. But our cursed cross to bear is the historically inescapable belief in our own Exceptionism — that we are The Smartest Guys in the Room, and that our newfound flavors of scientific rationalism will allow us to Save The Day and prop ourselves up as the hero gods of humankind we deep inside know that we must be.
For how can it be otherwise?
Whether God created us or we Him, it hardly matters — both narratives serve our deep-seated psychological ends: to prop ourselves up as the Platonically pure forms of human perfection we are eternally striving to be, despite all available evidence to the contrary. Whether mere mini-Gods or True Gods ourselves, we puff ourselves up with the pride of our uniquely gifted creationism vs. other species (and when it suits us, Other races, genders, ethnicities, or other demographical lenses that may be wielded to set The Best among us apart), which (in our minds) serves as the supremely obvious evidence of our planetary — and possibly (hopefully!) galactic — supremacy over natural reality.
All of this has happened before
But even a shallow skim through history could easily produce ample evidence in support of the opposing idea: that all such delusions of grandeur are false — which is part of the reason we (technologists, especially) love to avoid consulting history regarding such matters. The social proof of accolades in the Here and Now is far more exhilirating and, of course, less depressing.
And why look to the past, when all that is accessible can only lie before us? Yet both perspectives are false — neither the past nor the future are truly accessible to us. We live ever fixed within a singular bubbling moment of spacetime we have only barely begun to comprehend. In fact, all that our intellectual and scientific machinations have managed to reveal to us is the staggering lack of edgeness at the edges; and that the more deeply we pursue any sort of objective insight into any subject, no matter how narrowly defined, the more we only find an ever-widening gulf of ignorance opening up as if to swallow us.
Such is the fractal nature of reality, that it seems to slip further from our grasp the harder we struggle to know it — like flies in a vast inky darkness of transfixing ointment. Take for example two of the most theoretically “objective” fields known to modern scientific inquiry, and ask for their practitioners’ opinions on how the imaginary “coefficient of certainty” in their domains (that I am just now making up; bear with me — for you see, I too am a mini-God with powers of creation! Voila!) has fared over recent decades. They’re liable to tell you that physics only seems to be getting stranger, while mathematics may be brushing up against the limits of computational irreducibility, leaving a host of fundamentally unsolvable problems (although Stephen Wolfram does nonetheless leave us with ample hope of an infinite amount of discoveries to be made within the remaining territories of computationally reducible systems that we can continue to practically soldier on in. PHEW!).
Where shall we look for the Normal?
Outside of heady intellectual computational theory and the often esoteric pursuits of hard science, there is still a planetary majority of people who simply aren’t interested in this particular method of asking questions about the deep mysteries of life. Far from being irrational clods who lack the cognitive capacity to understand engineering and complex equations, they are seeking — and many have found — their answers to the profound mysteries of the meaning and purpose of life elsewhere, in other domains.
Whether it be hearth and home, creative pursuits, caretaking of others, careers and/or inquiries into other fields, or any of a dizzying variety of alternatives to the purely scientific-relational approach to values: these people are not wrong. They are not misguided, or necessarily simplistic in their searches for meaning — and neither is a simplistic approach itself objectively worse than a complicated one. In fact, as the economist-turned-philosopher Nassim Taleb so compellingly argues for via the concept of antifragility, our modern, rationalized, (predominantly) Western tendency to hyper-complexify matters often only ends up making things worse. We can’t resist the urge to meddle, and insert ourselves into the micromanagement of many processes that ought to be left well enough alone, such that the natural, organic forces of time and randomness can perform their mysterious acts of self-healing.
Instead, we exhaust ourselves with frantic over-interventionism in our quest to “smooth everything out,” eradicate the uncertainties of risk, and tamp down the erratic edges of non-conformity into the kind of straight lines and perfect curves that makes it easier for us to manipulate them within our clever mathematical models. We embark on ever more ambitious projects of forcing people to fit the models we create, so that we may pat ourselves on the back for our obvious brilliance and sophistry with prediction (and, of course, justify the collection of enormous financial rewards for being so clever).
When some people begin to rationally feel spiritually and emotionally lost within this framework, scientific rationalization once again comes to the “rescue,” via medicalization of a vast and growing array of commonly routine experiences and phenomenological traits. From the most trivial and mundane “disorders” such as “inadequate or not enough eyelashes” to the more Orwellian “oppositional-defiant disorders” that tend to land the less obsequious amongst our children on a regimen of expensive drug cocktails, Big Pharma has got The Cure for YOU!
Whatever malaise afflicts the less engaged portion of the population that isn’t quite sure about the necessity of all this excessive (and fabulously profitable) interventionism, there is sure to be ample pharmaceutical “assistance” available in pursuit of learning to appreciate the New Normal — whatever the New Normal becomes at the behest of powerful corporations and the political minions who serve them via armies of lobbyist Slugworths whispering self-serving plans into the ears of the global elite whilst writing dark money checks in smoky back rooms (of course in my imagination, the global elite have flouted society’s pathetic insistence on protecting the plebes from the dangers of inhaling the carcinogens that afford sociopathic business “leaders” with their well-deserved profits — they retain the right to smoke indoors, goddammit!!).
In other words, Normal is merely what we decide it to be, whether by collective decision or by imposition from a cabal of powerful forces whose colossal self-interest bias has created one of the largest systematic exploits of the principal-agent problem heretofore witnessed in history.
We no longer even recognize the war we’re fighting
Our spoken or unspoken desire to dominate all of civilization through the manipulation of ideologies is no longer even a thinly-veiled attempt — we’re too sophisticated now and, in the common parlance of the often-discredited Youth, “like, totally over it.” We’re more liable to either be bored of the game and tune out altogether, leaving the fate of civilation largely in the hands of the elite forces who have only their own best interests at heart; or to make the seemingly logical decision that the best course of action is to play it, and play it well — in the hopes of making it into the upper echelons of elitedom, by which to survive Whatever May Come.
So: if we do collectively hold some deeply-seated love for Actual Reality, and seek to enjoy the pleasures of each other’s company in a more peaceably sane pursuit of gratitude at the wonders of existence (or at least, a tongue in cheek self-deprecating awareness of our utterly infinite lack of ability to directly do so), then we ought to resist more forcefully the current project we are collectively on — whether by choice or, more commonly, by being caught up in the accidental lottery of birth which placed us into this particular era at this particular time: full of self-important drudgery, decadent hedonism, pomp and circumstance, and neurotic self-obsession.
We cannot, as human beings imprisoned within the distortions of perception and cognition, in any objective sense “know” the world that is Out There. But the illusion is so compelling that we find ever more seemingly obvious ways to convince ourselves that the knowledge is ever just out of reach — if we could only move a little bit faster towards it, we will surely catch it.
Meanwhile the individuals most drawn to the pursuit of wealth and power — the most arguably useful symbols one can wield in one’s pursuit of planetary domination via ideological colonization — have us zealously convinced of the above fallacy throughout every age. Playing on our deepest psychological weaknesses, it gets easier and easier to do so via application of all the modern tools in the toolbox of propaganda at our disposal, that only increase in number under the guise of the “progress” that curiously seems to benefit the wealthy and powerful in an asymmetrical way, versus providing promised benefits more broadly.
This is why we can’t have nice things
Or rather, why we can only have nice Things, and we can’t seem to find a way to enjoy the suspiciously elusive things which are not Things. The simple and ephemeral joys that only well up from In Here, from love to joy, empathy to compassion, are simply not measurable by the sophisticated rational-scientific methods we have thus far been able to invent. Not indexable, not capturable by market predictions or mathematical modeling, they teeter on the edge of a steep precipice inside of an aggressively advancing value system that resists being unhinged from the comforting certainty of statistical analysis — left flapping out in the harsh, unpredictable winds of uncertainty and risk.
Paradoxically (and somewhat hilariously), we often wonder why we’re so terribly bored and full of ennui at the whole otherwise astonishing business of life (once unmoored from the over-interventionism of the Business of Life). We cannot seem to grasp that all of our efforts at stamping out variability and disorder work precisely against us — distancing ourselves from the organic, unplanned diversity of the natural world that did just fine on its own, thank you very much, before it perhaps made the mistake of running into the set of random conditions that proved hospitable enough to produce our tragedy of a species: so well-intentioned, so brilliant and well-meaning, yet so horribly, pathologically, depressingly Quite Lost.See also:
For every thoughtful, measured perspective on the gigantically thorny problem of Diversity in the Valley, there has to be at least 10 angry white dudes who feel entitled to take a shit all over the idea that being more inclusive has to involve, like, actually learning to be inclusive — or really, making any changes at all.
There are “values” far more pressing than equality, they say — EFFICIENCY! ALPHA ELITISM! SHAVING OFF ANOTHER 5 MINUTES OF SOME FULL STACK ENGINEER’S TIME (by outsourcing it to someone poor who should feel lucky to have the opportunity to schlep around the dirty laundry and fetch the burritos of Today’s World-Saving Heroes — preferably someone brown) so that someone, somewhere else (outside of the Valley, one presumes) can do all the theoretical Morally Good activities that serve as the philosophical prop that is supposed to justify the tech industry’s frantic, breakneck pursuit of
getting filthy fucking rich the mission critically important “time-saving efficiency” that has literally the rest of the world economy scrambling to catch up in its wake.
Ergo, in response to an interview with Slack engineer Erica Baker — whose 20% work-time role in contributing to company diversity strategy later in the thread apparently renders completely invisible her 80% role Writing Code with the Big Boys — this fellow feels he has an obligation to weigh in:
Yes, Kevin. TELL ME MORE about how I would be treated in an interview with you as hiring manager. One thing’s for sure, I could be completely confident that you lack a shred of skepticism about whether my qualifications make me “The Best” candidate in the self-fulfilling prophecy of your own perception.
Nevermind all the actual data that is finally beginning to show what the reality of nature already knows: DIVERSITY WINS. Being inclusive of a multiplicity of experience and perspective (which come along as a byproduct of the heuristic we can make use of — demographical appearance — as a rough approximate solution to our complete inability to objectively measure anything meaningful about the internal complexities of real people) makes companies stronger and more resilient.
Diversity makes companies moreantifragile by embracing the comparative disorder that is counterintuitive to the homogenous systems and societies we keep inanely trying to collectively build despite all the evidence of their abject failure throughout history. Our friend in Idaho is proof of this point: the dominant assumption that diversity definitionally reduces efficiency, thereby reducing profit.
Beyond being flat out wrong when you look at the data (which, curiously, diversity always seems to be a special case where otherwise ruthlessly data-driven engineers don’t dare to tread), this carries with it the hidden assumption which is the self-fulfilling prophecy that actually proves Erica’s point: the fundamental skepticism that people who aren’t white and male can possibly be The Best. That the only way they ever get a seat at the communal, lunch-ordered-by-bot-and-hand-delivered-by-poor-non-alpha-elite-coder-people table is by the magnanimous grace of some Do Gooder hiring manager or recruiter slavishly following regulatory orders from the government — and not by their own merit.
The plank in our own eyes
Part of this has to do with the historically definitional white male privilege that, for some reason, we’re still arguing about in our supposedly enlightened and modernized society whose blinders prevent the deep self-examination of our human past required to truly make progress. As if the human tendency to Other were somehow wiped away with the
Emancipation Proclamation (1863) Fourteenth Amendment (1868) Brown v. Board of Education (1954) Civil Rights Act (1964) Voting Rights Act (1965) Loving v. Virginia (1967) Fair Housing Act (1968) Community Reinvestment Act (1977) end of the carceral state (TKTK).
Having grown up a person saddled with two X chromosomes my whole life with almost no choice but to wrestle with this reality from every single angle intellectual and emotional, I at least finally understand the fundamental psychological biases that lead to this kind of abject refusal to deal with our own skewed perspectives — opting instead for ratcheting up ever more impressive shouting matches to peacock about how our dizzying intellectual prowess is surely proof enough of our obvious objectivity.
We are all wrong. And I’m no different.
I know that we desperately want to believe in our own superiority, both to everything that came before us throughout history (the “illusion of progress” we cultivate — despite no such guarantee existing in the natural world — only adds to this effect) and to our fellow humans. Elitism is the ultimate -ism.
It subsumes racism, sexism, religious fundamentalism, and all forms of tribalism that each have, at their roots, the core premise that whatever group I’ve chosen to join up with (or been allotted to by random lottery) is clearly and objectively The Best Group. It’s the undeniable tautology of naive realism that leaves us trapped in the pathetically, perennially distorted view that “I know best, and by the transitive property of awesome, all the groups I consider myself a part of are therefore clearly also The Best (else, why would I be part of them?!).” This automagically relegates all the groups with which we don’t identify to the bottom of the heap: obviously inferior, as anyone can see!
Combine this native human bias with the delirious modern cocktail of vicious neoliberalism and aggressive techno-utopian libertarianism, and it’s a formula in which People Who Don’t Appear White and Male are definitionally suspect because of the statistics we’re blanketed with ever day that tell us they are under-represented in fields like technology.
“If this is so,” says the mind of a brilliant and inarguably logical engineer, “it can only be because their Rugged Individualism hasn’t endowed them with the skills to pass muster. It’s a shame, really — at least Other People, somewhere else who care about human beings more than machine learning are concerned with this dilemma (so I don’t have to be: after all, I’m really fucking busy saving the world so STOP BOTHERING ME with this irrelevant claptrap distraction already! AND WHERE IS MY GODDAMN BURRITO?!?! It’s my Soylent off day!!!) — but honestly I have no choice but to treat The Next Brown or Curvy Data Point I See with some measure of statistical skepticism.”
Lack of diversity is a self-fulfilling prophecy
Therein lies the rub. When we take an observation about the “way things are” and leap to the moral conclusion that this is rightly so — that things ought to be this way, because clearly they are this way for some reason — we commit the logical fallacy that so consumed Hume: the idea that we can derive what ought to be from what is, also known as the fact/value problem.
I don’t think most white male engineers would go quite so far as to claim that their industry must remain homogenous to succeed (although clearly some do, like our friend Kevin, who apparently believes that diversity is definitionally both inefficient and a straight ticket to the business failure shitter — and that our only moral interest in the problem is spurred by the meddlesome interference of that old bugaboo The Government). Instead, in Silicon Valley it tends to take the form of justifying inaction: they might provisionally admit (over an artisanally-prepared, locally-sourced (from a Tenderloin window box herb garden) cocktail at Bar Crudo, or perhaps a Blue Bottle americano) that the problem of diversity may warrant some moral scrutiny, but not by them. They are just way too busy swimming for the shores of a Better World (so long as a Better World enriches them and their investors, natch) to be bothered with this issue that they perceive as not having the slightest effect on them. In times like these (which seems to be All Times), we simply can’t afford the moral luxury of anything but lifeboat ethics.
Right? Well, wrong — unless we’re not troubled by the absurd logical paradox of making ourselves subject to both the zero-sum philosophy this requires and the free market ideology of infinitely available value creation that is supposed to be driving the entire economic party bus (with karaoke) we’re riding in. So, we have to decide: which is it? Is there economic opportunity for all, or do the pathetic losers who fail to become startup founders get left at the curb? And if so, who will sing the songs of their people?!
Our own worst enemies
A reference to the old saw that “attitude is everything” is appropriate here. Because one of the few things more exasperating than the unexamined privilege of ignoring the issue is the endless infighting that those of us in marginalized groups do with each other over what the solution should be.
…where to even start? Let me explain… no, there is too much. Let me sum up: this comment from some random white dude who loves extreme sports begins and ends with the outrageously outsized entitlement of trying to tell Slack how to run its own goddamn business, from atop his lofty perch of Somewhere That Is Not Anywhere Even Remotely Near being an actual employee of Slack with some potentially arguable skin in the game, much less a leader or decision-maker within the company.
I mean, Jesus. This is what we’re dealing with. A worldview so vehemently opposed to the idea of apparently even discussing the matter of diversity (in case some terminology or phrase or godforsakenly challenging idea might be construed as controversial and somewhere, someone might possibly be offended — like the entire LGBT community he tries to lump me in with and in a follow-up comment — without a shred of irony! — attempts to claim he was only “speaking for himself” when demanding both a public apology and insinuating that Erica Baker the Slack engineer should literally lose her job for daring to state an opinion while black (p.s. we’ve truly come full fucking circle now, haven’t we?!)) that people feel compelled to spend their time offering free, unwarranted, and undoubtedly unwanted “business advice” to the company THAT PRESUMABLY KNOWS BETTER ABOUT WHAT IT IS DOING than Richard Fucking Burton The Third of His Name!
How can you even hold such a logical paradox in your head, much less lay it out in a single paragraph: the idea that somehow, bizarrely, Slack itself not only lacks the control over whether or not Erica Baker may be “let go for similar remarks” (I mean, who would be doing the firing in this case?! Is there some vigilante regulatory-required Anti-Social-Justice-Warrior in tights and a cape flying around Silicon Valley waiting for bat signals sent from comments on TechCrunch to swoop in from outside the company and authorize her termination?!), but may also be on such shaky ground from some available success metric (I assure you it’s not. It’s one of the few blindingly amazing success stories of recent memory and continues to be one of the fastest growing enterprise startups Of All Time) that they might just have to resort to taking the advice of some Totally Irrelevant Troll about what their fucking brand should be?!?
I. JUST. CAN’T. EVEN!!! (can you?! if so, better abandon all ye hope of ever working at Slack.)
Just goes to show: we’ll cling to whatever flimsy life raft of privilege we think we’re on, even as the Leaky Lifeboat (not to mention the Queen Friggin’ Mary) sails past, breathing a sigh of relief that we don’t seem eager to hop on and capsize it.
Everyone calm down. But be prepared to leave through the eastern gate
Let’s all dial down our Adderall drips for just one minute (but that’s all we can afford — the lifeboat awaits and all) and take a chill pill (feel free to take this as literally as you like). Do some soul-searching reflection, consult our Headspace apps, meditate in VR, or whatever the frak we need to do to enter the Tao Space.
Now let’s ask ourselves: if we believe we’re striving ever more harriedly toward a Better World, then what the heck does that world even look like? Close your eyes and picture it: what do you see? Are people happy in this world? Do they seem to go about their lives effortlessly and with graceful purpose in the human-connected face of god (for lack of a better term… so far), or are they still scurrying to and fro in the franticness of Trying To Get There?
Do people treat each other well, and with respect despite their differences, and in the face of overwhelming obstacles and risks we will have an impossible time solving from within isolated bunkers — or are they still spewing vitriol at each other over their gleefully intentional mischaracterizations of each other’s intentions?
Do they exhibit peace in the struggle, or are they still trying to shout each other down inside of every comment thread and social media exchange on the internet just to win a tiny provincial shadow of an urgently important argument about who has The Best Idea on how we can live in peace and harmony with each other, and how to impose it on the rest of those poor, lazy suckers who simply aren’t as gifted as the elite leaders who so grudgingly bear the wearisome heavy burden of Saving The World whilst being rewarded ever-so-handsomely with Real Non-Inflation Eaten Wages, lucrative stock options and liquidation preferences, artisanal cocktails, and Magically Appearing Burritos?
If we don’t even know what it looks like, then how will we know what values we should be working for, or recognize if and when we’ve arrived?
Some of the more interesting bits
From Obama‘s State of the Union speech, 2015:
- End of Afghanistan “mission”
- Appeal to double down on middle-class economics
- Increase availability and provide tax credit for quality childcare
- Getting paid sick leave laws on the books
- Wage equality
- Raising the minimum wage — “If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it.”
- Lowering cost of community college to free
- Asks companies to provide more job training, hire more veterans
- Bi-partisan infrastructure plan to attract businesses / industries
- Trade deals in Asia, Europe — “95 percent of the world’s customers live outside our borders, and we can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities.”
- Precision Medicine Initiative — pursuing cures for cancer, diabetes; personalized health information
- Free, open, and fast Internet
- Colonizing space — “not just to visit, but to stay.”
- Closing corporate tax loopholes brokered by lobbyists
- Opposing Russia, supporting Ukraine
- Opening relations with Cuba
- Halting Iran’s nuclear program
- Legislation around cyberattacks, identity theft, and child data
- Pursuing climate change solutions, including getting China to commit to limiting their emissions for the first time
- Free speech; religious rights; LGBT rights
- Shutting down Guantanamo
- Transparency on surveillance; civil liberties vs. counter-terrorism
- Marriage equality
- American values vs. partisanship
- Plea for a better politics
- Appeal to debate and reason on divisive issues: abortion rights, immigration, voting rights, police brutality
- Mic drop — “I have no more campaigns to run.”
President Obama’s tech-centered State of the Union: full text, and digital rights concerns – Boing Boing. p.s. cool visualization of Twitter mentions during the speech (via srogers @ cartodb)
Both Ellen Pao and Obama are subject to an extra heaping of criticism, skepticism, and scorn because there is some culturally-validated argument to be made about how they are different from some perceived status quo. And in modern mercenary America, the mythology is “win at all costs” whether it’s politics, business, religion, education, or Returning That Thing You Broke even though it’s out of warranty because goddammit we’re entitled to All The Things!!!!
- To gain or preserve power, you need to win
- It is acceptable — even laudable — to win by any means necessary (legal, ethical, loophole, grey area, “disrupting” or otherwise)
- To win you must be good and work hard, but plenty of winners take shortcuts, cheat, break rules/laws, harm others, and/or fraud their way to the top — so in order to stay on the field, you need to become open to those tactics whether you believe it’s right or not (see: Lance Armstrong). Meanwhile internally, you have built-in psychological mechanisms that enforce your justification and carve out a special view of yourself as being ultimately a good person (see: Jonathan Haidt) and even, more twistedly, a “good person who does bad things” (see: BTK serial killer) — whereas other people who do bad things are not simply constrained by their environments (as you are); they are just bad people.
- In the struggle for power, those who have (or want) it aggressively seek out any thread of weakness, real or perceived, in whatever individuals or outgroups appear to threaten their dominance.
- Difference from the norm is widely and cross-culturally perceived as weakness and carries a negative connotation socially.
- Anyone who suggests or espouses difference is subject to derision and confrontation, as a matter of course.
- Those who have “outward difference” characteristics — i.e. women, members of different races, religions — therefore tend to be the subject of derision and confrontation as a matter of course: because it leads the Normal to winning, and therefore preserving power.
- Any method of fomenting confrontation and contempt is acceptable in the noble pursuit of power, even including vociferously denying and decrying the unethical tactics used by other Normals championing for the same outcome (see: Gamergate).
- The age of Political Correctness took some tactics off the table, namely the overt invocation of gender or race (to a lesser extent, religion) to “name” the difference and call out the offending anti-Normal, immediately discrediting any perspective they put forth via ad hominem attack.
- …but the underlying game remains the same. Identify and publicly shame a perceived difference — they “kill the buzz” or they “aren’t aggressive enough” or conversely are “too pushy” or they don’t lean in enough or they don’t have the mind of a hacker. Whatever the red herring is, it’s often a derivative of a stereotype we apply to a marginalized class — but it’s trumped up and re-packaged, perhaps with some shoddy, easy to find pseudo-evidence in support — not terribly dissimilar from the way Wall Street made subprime mortgage loans appear like the bedrock of America’s financial future via complicated and inscrutable re-branding.
Stinks just as bad.