Just Sayin….

“Das wird immer einer der besten Witze der Demokratie bleiben, dass sie ihren Todfeinden die Mittel stellte, durch die sie vernichtet wurde.”

“This will always remain one of democracy’s best jokes, that it provided its mortal enemies with the means by which it was destroyed.”

Joseph Goebbels, Reichsminister für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda, 1935

Yeah, probably ain’t gonna happen here. Almost everybody says so. No harm considering what it’s gonna take to stay out of the cattle cars if it does, though.

A Brief Reminder

Our grandchildren aren’t stupid. Their mental equipment isn’t inferior to ours. They just live in a different world, one which no longer belongs to us even though we helped create it. It’s theirs now, and whatever we imagine, we’re no longer in any position to judge them. Likely they’ll be fine, but if they turn out not to be fine, it’s going to be very hard to show how listening to us would have made the slightest bit of difference.

The Enlightenment’s Farewell Tour

In the U.S., the Republicans’ sad entourage of the desperate, demented, and enraged are tearing at the Constitution’s exposed achilles tendons. In Russia the gangsters of Prigozhin are battling the siloviki of Putin for control of the spoils of a twice-failed totalitarian state. In India, Hindutva pursues a scorched-earth battle against Islam. In Germany the AfD tidal wave has engulfed the SPD, broken the CDU, and arrived at last in Bavaria, intent on washing away once and for all what little is still left of the CSU’s liberal democratic pretensions.

In Italy a fascist consumerism has sprung full-grown from the brow of Meloni. The trains now run on time, and foreign investors are once again reassured. In Finland and Sweden, the local populists have decided that white people are the only real people after all. In Israel, Syria, Hungary, Belarus, and Turkey, the warlord grifters have outlasted everyone. In Saudi Arabia and the gulf states, the kings, emirs, sultans and satraps of one kind or another are now completely convinced that having more money than Allah the Merciful means not having to apologize to anyone ever.

In Iran, a cabal of wizened religious fanatics calling themselves the Islamic Republic have yet to see any reason to deny themselves the perverse pleasure of beating and imprisoning women at random, and of shooting their own children whenever the kids act like they might be the coming thing. In China, a suspiciously but undeniably prosperous Communist (sic) Party oligarchy has decided that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is nothing more than a confession of the failures and arrogance of so-called Western civilization.

I don’t think Web 3.0 is going to be a lot of help in preserving what’s left of the secular humanism that evolved over four centuries in Europe, and was sealed with the French and American revolutions. Neither will eleven aircraft carrier battle groups or a triad of delivery systems for nuclear weapons, given that both have long been controlled by people who bear no allegiance whatsoever to secular humanism either as a creed or a philosophy of government.

I’m not one to cry O tempora, o mores! every time someone in Washington does something stupid, but I do think that if the last sad road show of the Enlightenment comes to your town, you should go and listen to what was once promised us, and what very shortly we’ll all be missing.

The Republican Presidential Mud Wrestle

Trump versus DeSantis, the Ron and Don show, is about to begin in earnest. Oy gewalt! Watching the handicappers on Fox News counsel the Republican Party’s animal farmers to trade a pig for a weasel in the upcoming presidential primaries can evoke a litany of gruesome probabilities, but at this point it’s hard to see how following their advice can confer any great advantage on a party that seems more interested in self-immolation than winning elections.

In any event, for the MAGA faithful, escaping the lottery of potential regret is no longer an option. Dumb as they are, it’s hard not to feel at least a poquito bit sorry for them. Trump’s always been the guy, right? Right? So what’s all this stuff about choices all of a sudden?

They have a point. As a would-be herald of the coming cracker apocalypse, Trump has always had a certain way about him—if standup comedy in Hell’s your thing, Don’s your guy. If you’re a sadist pure and simple, though, DeSantis can offer you the purity and simplicity of Conan’s gladness—elect him and he’ll crush your enemies, have them driven before you, and guarantee you a seat close enough to hear the lamentations of their women. This shorthand caudillo doesn’t need to play golf, or crack jokes, he’s got vengeance to sell. That’s it, that’s the whole deal. There’s not the slightest hint in his public performances of the titillating foreplay that good old boys find so endearing about Trump. If Ron’s your guy, there’ll be no laughing ever. Triumphant sneering will still be encouraged, laughing absolutely not.

The Center for AI Safety’s Statement of AI Risk

The concern expressed in The Center for AI Safety’s Statement of AI Risk seems justified to me, but it also seems to me that many of the signatories have still not grasped the real nature of that risk. It’s the second order effects that’ll do us in—not the singularity and its presumptively implacable AI overlords, but rather the symbiotic processes already inherent in pervasive computing, processes which we can all sense, but are still in denial about what it will take, in terms of an evolution in human consciousness, to successfully navigate those spaces which still exist between where the machine ends and we begin.

In his 1960 Critique de la Raison Dialectique, Jean-Paul Sartre indulged himself in a typically poetic digression about how we can’t tell—may never be able to tell—whether we’re dreaming the machine, or the machine is dreaming us. This is a commonplace now, but although it wasn’t entirely new in 1960, it was still controversial enough to meet with widespread ridicule among the opinion makers of the day. And of course Sartre was describing the strictly physical interactions of humans and industrial age assembly lines, when machines were dumb, and humans were still thought to be the masters no matter how deeply their own mental processes were conditioned by the mechanical repetitions of their jobs.

The machines today are no longer dumb, and we can no longer afford the illusion that we are the masters of either the physical or the mental aspects of the machine/human symbioses of the 21st century. I’m not sure why, but I’m not as bothered by this as the signatories of this letter are telling me I ought to be. It certainly isn’t because I’m an optimist in the narrow sense ot the term. I expect great darknesses in our future, but not the ones that are supposedly keeping the tech bros up at night. These latter day idiot savants aren’t the real heralds of our new distempered age, it’s the kids now glued to TikTok all day. What their stewardship of our future will look like remains beyond anyone’s current power to predict. To make a long story short, it’s not the end of humans that should concern us, but the end of humanism, which seems to be losing its grip on the tiller of this ship of fools we’re crewing well before a new helmsman is ready to take its place.

The Republican Party Platform, 2023

1. Some people have no right to exist.

2. Other people have a right to exist, but all their other rights are contingent upon the good will of the Republican Party. (See attached appendix no. 1 for a currently-approved list of other people.)

3. Women have no rights that a white man is obliged to respect.

4. After January 20, 2025, all books distributed to anyone in the United States under the age of 40 will require the nihil obstat of the Republican Party.

5. Immigrants are filthy scum, and they’re illegal too.

6. All history not approved by the Republican Party is bunk.

7. Scientific theories are theories. Republican assertions about the irrelevance of science are fact.

8. America is a Christian Republic. No ifs, no ands, no buts.

9. All lives matter. (This means white lives, police lives, heterosexual male lives, and the lives of those who haven’t yet been suspected of thought crimes by Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Donald Trump Jr., or the governors of Florida, Texas, or Mississippi.)

10. Vladimir Putin has never accused a Republican of racism, and supports the death penalty for homosexuals. Therefore all aid to the Ukraine must cease immediately.

11. All Democrats are satanic, communistic pedophiles who hate America and want to take away our personal machine guns, mortars, and armored vehicles.

12. Freedom means a) not being vaccinated, b) not wearing a mask, c) riding a Harley without a helmet, d) not paying taxes, and e) calling people you don’t approve of any kind of names you feel like. All other definitions of freedom are the inventions of a woke conspiracy supported by funds from George Soros.

13. This platform will be updated whenever the Republican Party finds someone new to hate, some new apostasy to reject, or some new way to cosset our precious billionaires. (See attached appendix no. 2 for a currently-approved list of precious billionaires.)

14. We know where you live.