Philosopher ‘pretenders to the throne’

This is a nice, short (7 min) introduction to Friedrich Hayek’s insights on emergent order. If you haven’t read Road to Serfdom (free downloads at the link), maybe this will nudge you to do so.

Order without intent: How spontaneous order built our world. from The IHS on Vimeo.

Allowing order without intent to flourish is how we might avoid the tyranny of good intentions.

Related, from Edward Snowden:

“The most unflattering thing is to realize just how naïve and credulous I was and how that could make me into a tool of systems that would use my skills for an act of global harm. The class of which I am a part of, the global technological community, was for the longest time apolitical. We have this history of thinking: “We’re going to make the world better.””

The idea that “making the world better” is apolitical shows Snowden is still naive and credulous. The toolmakers of the global technological community may have good intentions. They may be motivated by thoughts of the benefits they are bringing to humanity. They may also be motivated by profit and ideology.

How a better world is constituted, in any case, is an ethical and moral question beyond the ken of their meta-data, and in direct conflict with the ethical ‘principles’ demonstrated by their business models.

Who defines “better?” We have ample evidence Google/Facebook/Twitter aren’t up to the task.

“Making the world better” can be apolitical only in terms of each individual’s actions. It cannot be apolitical for giant corporations whose tools are designed to deceive users into acts of self harm: A system of fools.

Politics is the very essence of social media and the control of access to information.

Politics, noun. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.
-Ambrose Bierce

And, in ways Bierce couldn’t imagine – conducting private affairs for public advantage. Affecting elections for example.

Snowdon’s NSA is simply the government instantiation of the Facebook/Google/Twitter business models. They are all dedicated to making their subjects “better.”

“The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.”
-H. L. Mencken

Order with intent is the model practiced by authoritarians for “your own good,” public or private, from de Blasio to Google.

So, I’ll close with some relevant Friedrich Hayek quotations on good intentions, control of information, collectivist ethics, and the limits of knowledge: All of which apply to government and to the massive private enterprises whose control of information and manipulation of public opinion Hayek couldn’t imagine:

“Everything which might cause doubt about the wisdom of the government or create discontent will be kept from the people. The basis of unfavorable comparisons with elsewhere, the knowledge of possible alternatives to the course actually taken, information which might suggest failure on the part of the government to live up to its promises or to take advantage of opportunities to improve conditions–all will be suppressed. There is consequently no field where the systematic control of information will not be practiced and uniformity of views not enforced.”

“Our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact that, if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes, we can turn to another. But if we face a monopolist we are at his absolute mercy. And an authority directing the whole economic system of the country would be the most powerful monopolist conceivable…it would have complete power to decide what we are to be given and on what terms. It would not only decide what commodities and services were to be available and in what quantities; it would be able to direct their distributions between persons to any degree it liked.”

“All political theories assume, of course, that most individuals are very ignorant. Those who plead for liberty differ from the rest in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest. Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant.”

“To act on behalf of a group seems to free people of many of the moral restraints which control their behaviour as individuals within the group.”

“The idea of social justice is that the state should treat different people unequally in order to make them equal.”

Network effect feudalism

This is the most important article I’ve read in 2019. Kudos to Allen Farrington.

I have struggled to make these points to others for a long time, and am generally viewed as a curmudgeon (charitably), or a paranoid fanatic (more typical) for my efforts. There is a bias toward the fallacious “I’ve got nothing to hide,” response, because the harm is unseen. People don’t yet grasp that they are not the ones to decide if they have something to hide*.

Farrington delineates the harm brilliantly.

Given that our rulers feel compelled to ‘do something’ about social media’s disdain for its peons, among whom they number, we can be sure government will make it worse and further entrench the incumbents.

Farrington’s comments on blockchains, free speech, Gab (of which I’m a long time member), Ethereum (which George Gilder referenced in a recent, related interview), and anti-trust are enlightening. The economic analysis is thought provoking. The political implications are consequential. A slice:

“It is not actually free,” [Facebook co-founder Chris] Hughes tells us, “and it certainly isn’t harmless.” But both [Hughes and Senator Elizabeth Warren] seem to believe that Facebook, Google and others succumb to the temptation to inflict such harm solely because they are big. Hence, the solution is to make them smaller. It doesn’t appear to have occurred to either of them that they are big because they inflict such harm.

Facebook and Google are not Standard Oil and AT&T. They operate business models whose network effects tend towards monopoly, due to continuous redeployment of increasing returns to scale. Users pay not with money but with data, which Facebook and Google then turn into productive capital that creates products for another group entirely. The quality of the service to the users—the unknowing and hence unrewarded capital providers—scales quadratically with the size of the network and, since they are free in monetary terms, any serious attempt to compete would require monumentally more capital than could ever generate a worthwhile return. The proper regulatory approach is not to cut off the heads of these hydras one at a time, but to acknowledge that these are fundamentally new economic entities.

Artificial intelligence makes this all the more imperative. By AI, I mean the honing of proprietary algorithms on enormous complexes of unwittingly generated data to identify patterns no human could—identifications that will be re-applied to dynamic pricing decisions and content filtering in order to make what will surely be called efficiency gains and improvements to the user experience. This would all be fine and dandy—as opposed to highly ethically suspect—if the contributors of the data had any idea of their own involvement, either in the contribution itself or in the eventual gain in efficiency. What is really happening here is that information that previously only existed transiently and socially will soon be turned into a kind of productive capital that will only have value in massive aggregations. This is why those who generate the data are happy to do so for free, for it is of no monetary value to them, and it is why the only people who will derive any productive value from it will be the already very well capitalized.

This is an unflattering, but perfectly accurate, description of the business models of Facebook and Google, who stalk you wherever you go on the web, wherever you bring your smartphone, and wherever you interact in any way with one of their trusted partners, all in an effort to manipulate your sensory environment and slip in as many ads as possible. This is so effective that they buy data from outside their platforms to supplement the potency of their manipulations…

[I]f something is free, it is difficult if not impossible to discern the kind of meaningful information that one might from a price in a market. The willingness to pay a price indicates a sincere belief and an honest commitment. There are costs to insincere or dishonest behaviour that will simply be dispersed throughout the network, rather than borne by the perpetrator.

It is not about the value of an individual’s data, “it is of no monetary value to them.

You are not just the product Google and Facebook sell; you are the enabling capital in a vast pyramid scheme.

How can we preserve our identity capital? How can we price our data? By making identity data scarce:

“Participants in the [redesigned] network are discouraged from being dishonest or insincere by the price and permanence of their scarce identity…

Several clearly desirable features immediately present themselves. For example, the issue of gatekeepers who exist for technical reasons assigning themselves political authority would evaporate…

So here’s my plea: stop using big tech and venture into the wild.”

Yes. The network effect can only be blunted if individuals stop enhancing it. Call it utopian, but boycotting Google and Facebook is something you control, and doesn’t depend on Senator Warren’s tender, collectivist mercies. Or, Facebook’s Social Justice agenda of the day.

“If a critical mass of users switches away from Google or Facebook, their collapse will be surprisingly quick. This is a very dramatic potential outcome, and I suspect it is more likely that, at a certain rate of user emigration, these companies, and others, will adapt their policies to be more free and open, so as to better compete in this new environment.”

The article is not a long read, but if you want to know what I’m talking about when I mention George Gilder, you’ll want to watch this 45 minute interview regarding Gilder’s book Life After Google. I wished for more Gilder and less interviewer at times, and more depth on some ideas, but for a general audience it’s not a bad look at Google, AI, blockchain, and other things related to Farrington’s post. A few gems from Gilder.

*

“The old cliché is often mocked though basically true: there’s no reason to worry about surveillance if you have nothing to hide. That mindset creates the incentive to be as compliant and inconspicuous as possible: those who think that way decide it’s in their best interests to provide authorities with as little reason as possible to care about them. That’s accomplished by never stepping out of line. Those willing to live their lives that way will be indifferent to the loss of privacy because they feel that they lose nothing from it. Above all else, that’s what a Surveillance State does: it breeds fear of doing anything out of the ordinary by creating a class of meek citizens who know they are being constantly watched.”

~ Glenn Greenwald

Bait and switch

Google Finds It’s Underpaying Many Men as It Addresses Wage Equity

Here is the core point from that NYT article:

When Google conducted a study recently to determine whether the company was underpaying women and members of minority groups, it found, to the surprise of just about everyone, that men were paid less money than women for doing similar work.

Now, that’s a blockbuster, right? Feminists should be rejoicing. They aren’t. They are still whining, and the goalposts are being adjusted as you read this.

From Google’s point of view these results are a happy thing. If you wanted to spike some private suits, fire a shot across the bow of crazed employees, and stick a finger in the eye of the Labor Department all at once… you might want a study just like this.

For example:

The Labor Department is investigating whether the company systematically underpays women. It has been sued by former employees who claim they were paid less than men with the same qualifications.

However, according to critics, it isn’t enough that Google has been paying women more for equivalent work – they were started at lower salaries.

Google’s critics say it doesn’t come close to matching what a woman would make if she had been assigned to the appropriate pay grade in the first place…

This is a strange objection, because the data imply the opposite: Either men are started at lower salaries than they should be, or women get more substantial raises more quickly. Otherwise, how is it that men at Google are more likely to be underpaid?

Men disproportionately received raises and bonuses. Google apparently found that it’s men who are hired at lower than “equitable” salaries. Italics mine:

The company has done the study every year since 2012. At the end of 2017, it adjusted 228 employees’ salaries by a combined total of about $270,000. This year, new hires were included in the analysis for the first time, which Google said probably explained the big change in numbers.

Those who don’t get that relationship are probably not good candidates for high level software engineering jobs. They do better at diversity consulting.

Joelle Emerson, CEO of a company which profits by convincing its clients ‘increasing diversity’ is so hard it can’t be done without ‘woke’ consultants, explains:

Google seems to be advancing a “flawed and incomplete sense of equality” by making sure men and women receive similar salaries for similar work, said Joelle Emerson, chief executive of Paradigm, a consulting company that advises companies on strategies for increasing diversity. That is not the same as addressing “equity,” she said, which would involve examining the structural hurdles that women face as engineers.

Google, “by making sure men and women receive similar salaries for similar work” is doing it wrong.  It needs to hire Ms. Emerson’s consultants.

You have to admit this is a nice twist on planned obsolescence. The “structural hurdles” will never be exhausted in the search for equality of outcome and the righteous battle to prevent diversity of thought.

A good example of Ms. Emerson’s definition of diversity would appear to be equal pay outcomes for those who can’t code, but only if they are female, or members of some other identity group not white or male.

“Equity” is a code word for equal outcome. In the ’60s, it was equal opportunity that drew sensible people to support changes in how women were treated. That’s all gone.

See also: Asymmetries in the workplace do not necessarily reflect gender discrimination for more examples of denialism from the Feminists:

  1. In countries with little to no institutional barriers to employment on the basis of identity, men and women often make choices (involving their own family and vocational priorities) that result in asymmetries in workplace representation and earnings (whether among Uber drivers or graduatesof prestigious MBA programs).

  2. Men overwhelmingly outnumber women in the most dangerous jobs. This also doesn’t indicate that discrimination has taken place.

  3. While unequal treatment before the law and corruption should not be tolerated, different career and family choices (as well as preferences and aptitudes) that result in asymmetries in workplace representation and earnings neither result from conspiracies nor from oppression.

RTWT.

Thanks to the Internet of Things

Your trash disposal habits might now require a small EMP generator before you can safely throw away a lightbulb.

Recycling is definitely contraindicated without that EMP.  Or a 2 pound sledge (wear eye-protection).

The people scanning the conveyor belt to sort actual trash out of the recycling stream could quickly “monetize” burned out lightbulbs without even the bother of diving into a dumpster, and without any computer skills whatever.

Discarded smart lightbulbs reveal your wifi passwords, stored in the clear

I am quite sure this does not apply only to IoT lightbulbs.

The future is stupid, but not stupider than LIFX management. They sell you electronic security breachers so you can implant them yourself. Which would make you the stupidest.

The engineers at LIFX did not encrypt the RSA key on their “smart” lightbulbs, so an enterprising garbage collector who’d ‘learned to code’ could have root access to your home WiFi because you threw one away.

It isn’t believable that the engineers at LIFX failed to understand this problem.

Therefore, it wasn’t the engineers who decided to ship these Trojan Horses.

Therefore, protestation from LIFX that they’ve cleaned up their act is incredible.

That is, it is as credible as Google and Facebook when they claim they protect your privacy – even though selling it is how they prosper.

This is not to say LIFX planned to harvest your WiFi passwords.  It is to say they just didn’t give a shit.

I can’t wait until lightbulbs speak like HAL… I wonder if you can get HAL’s voice on Alexa or Google Home?

“Light?… Off.”
“Sorry, I can’t do that _your name here_.”

Sadly, most Millennials wouldn’t get the reference, not having seen 2001: A Space Odyessy. I’m sure they are installing these bulbs in their parent’s basements.

In China the government tracks your every move

Information Warfare: 1984 Becomes Real In 2024

In the United States, we just let Google and Facebook track us. With Twitter brownshirts and the Maim Scream Media™ as the enforcers.

On the whole, the Chicoms are likely fairer, and they’re certainly more circumspect.

See Mark Steyn: The Drumbeat of the Mob

and

Neo: The Covington chronicles: on hating the face of a teenage boy

I don’t much like Donald Trump, but, sorry, he’s not the problem.

Talk about toxic personalities and hate speech… you collectivists seriously need a privilege check.

Doublethink Boredom

Leaked video shows Google co-founder Sergey Brin comparing Trump voters to ‘fascists’ as he vows to thwart rise of populism in the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential Election

Brin talks about the typical mentality of Trump voters.He argues that those with ‘routine jobs’ were more likely to vote for Trump than those with ‘non-routine’ jobs – and said ‘boredom’ might explain the President’s popularity.

‘There’s actually a lot of historical precedent for boredom being a huge factor in vote choice,’ Brin told the crowd.

‘And actually in building extremism. We’ve done a lot of work on extremism that shows a high correlation with boredom.’

‘Data suggests that boredom led to the rise of fascism and communism. It sort of sneaks up sometimes, really bad things.’

Google Built China A Prototype Search Engine That Allows Government To Spy On Citizens’

“The search engine, codenamed Dragonfly, was designed for Android devices, and would remove content deemed sensitive by China’s ruling Communist Party regime, such as information about political dissidents, free speech, democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.”

I guess the difference between the US and China is the Chinese leaders are bored. They’re certainly deplorable, and the routine of operating their totalitarian social credit apparatus must get boring. Especially if you have the mentality of a typical Chinese Communist. Brin’s going to help them with that, but won’t automating the surveillance state make running it even more boring? Where’s the fun in having a computer assign people to re-education camps based on a search term they use?

One must wonder about Brin. On one hand, perhaps we should heed this aphorism from F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” On the other hand, he seems to lack self-awareness.

IAC, Brin does not appear subject to the possibility of cognitive dissonance.

Perhaps George Orwell can explain it for us:

The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them… To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies—all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth

-Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, London, part 2, chapter 9, pp 220

You keep using that phrase. I don’t think it means what you want us to believe it means.

From the New York Times, a load of illogical, self-serving tripe:
What Facebook Taught Me About Net Neutrality

A few examples where Andrew McCollum destroys his own argument:

“Some colleges didn’t like Facebook, and because they functioned as their students’ internet providers, they would simply block the site.

While those blocks were always rolled back — often after sustained student outcry — they acutely demonstrated the power of providers to limit the freedom and openness of the internet at whim.”

“Always rolled back.” So, you could say it’s acutely demonstrated that we don’t need government regulation to maintain free access, or to decide what innovation is permitted. And that consumers have power.

“The internet has spurred innovation precisely because it has been an open, level playing field, where barriers to offering new products and services have continually come down over time.”

Yes, precisely as it was for 20 years BEFORE Obama’s imposition of “net neutrality” in 2015. Crediting Obama’s regulation with the innovation which preceded it is breathtakingly dishonest. Freedom is slavery.

“If an internet provider slows or blocks a site that you want to look at, it is denying you the right to freely choose the content that’s important to you.”

Exactly what Facebook, Google, Youtube and Twitter do right now, every f*&king minute, by treating users like rats in a Skinner box; banishing speakers whose politics they disagree with; “demonetizing” sites for the same reason; and skewing search results their Progressive principals’ principles don’t match. For profit. In secret.

“But we shouldn’t stop fighting to make our voices heard. If Mr. Pai’s proposal is adopted, we must take the fight to Congress and the courts until we regain a neutral internet that ensures consumer choice without constraint and innovation without barriers.”

I’m on board with that: As soon as Twitter is banned from banning people; when Google is required to make algorithms that don’t censor – and that don’t favor their own products; when Facebook is made into a public utility; when they all are required to pay YOU for using you as a product and conspiring to track your every interaction. I.e., when they are forced to provide the unfettered access they purport to champion.

Who is it that secretly conducted several unethical experiments in psychological manipulation? Facebook.

Who is it that showed the Russians a way to manipulate voters? Facebook.

Who is it that’s been massively fined for skewing search results? Google.

Who is it that bans normal speech? Twitter.

Who is it that demonetizes educational video channels? Youtube.

Who spies on you and sells your data? All of them.

And most of it is done in secret. You can’t even have a “sustained outcry” if you don’t know they’ve done it. ISPs can’t get away with that.

Here’s what net neutrality is actually about: Getting the government to point guns at what Schmidt and Zuckerberg find inconvenient to their amoral, exploitive business model.

From Evergreen College to Google

We should not be surprised that Google can’t bear to discuss their HR policies: From College Indoctrination to Corporate Intolerance

Moreover, students are taught that political speech with which they disagree is “violence” that should be shut down at all costs. They avoid uncomfortable topics by retreating to “safe spaces” on campus and shout down speakers who do not toe the far left line. Too many administrators and faculty promote such behavior. Those who dare to disagree—like Allison Stanger and Bret Weinstein—are run off campus.

It is no surprise, then, that corporations are increasingly populated with young adults who do not know how to handle political views or scientific claims they have been taught are out of bounds of public discussion. When Google’s diversity officer replied to James Damore’s email, it was an incoherent affirmation of the company’s diversity policy, coupled with an accusation of sexism. It didn’t even attempt to cite reasons why the science Damore mentioned was wrong, or why his political views about diversity policy were misguided. It just asserted they were, and then used that assertion the next day as a pretext to fire him. This is what we get when university professors abuse their power and attempt to turn students into pawns in their political game, rather than autonomous agents with the capacity (but not yet ability) to think for themselves.

The linked article mentions Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, which I recommend. I’d suggest that reading Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind first would repay the reader. It speaks practically to the question of how we got here.

I’ll note that The Other Club has extensively spoken to the issue (note: there’s a lot of link rot). A very partial (not even anything on the “wage gap”) list:

2005
Larry Summers in the fall
Feminism’s self-inflicted wounds
Monkey business
My Mistake…

2006
There are some ideas so idiotic, it takes an intellectual to believe them
People hearing without listening
The Snatch Soliloquy
Orthodoxy prevails

2008
There are 3 kinds of women
Sex, math, and a feminist poll
Math and sex update

2009
Why not Harriet Miers?
Hey big spender…

2011
On the utter humourlessness of Canadian feminist fellow travellers

2015
‘No, no!’ said the Queen. ‘Sentence first – verdict afterwards.’
Title IX as our conscience
Safe-space creation gap?

Googlethink

Former Google employee James Damore distributed a memo that asked Google to contemplate its HR policies. For this affront, he’s been fired. Here’s a representative sample of his ten page memo:

I’m not saying that all men differ from all women in the following ways or that these differences are “just.” I’m simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there’s significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.

I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldn’t try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority. My larger point is that we have an intolerance for ideas and evidence that don’t fit a certain ideology. I’m also not saying that we should restrict people to certain gender roles; I’m advocating for quite the opposite: treat people as individuals, not as just another member of their group (tribalism).

He is polite and conciliatory, but he’s questioning an orthodoxy which will not tolerate even the mildest suggestion that there are differences between males and females. Same thing happened to Larry Summers.

This, in a world where Facebook assures us that 58 “gender” options are not enough.

OK, so Google is intolerant of any opinions that don’t agree with the Progressive narrative. Why would you trust search results from such a company? Would they show you results they dislike if they can’t even bear polite internal discussion of employment policies?

How much confidence do you have in a company whose core principle is using you as a product to micro-define identity groups in order to sell advertising? Does that confidence increase or decrease when they fire someone who asks politely about internal identity group HR policies?