"Anyway, I like it now," I said. "I mean right now. Sitting here with you and just chewing the fat, horsing -- "
"That isn't anything really!"
"It is so something really. Certainly it is! Why the hell isn't it? People never think anything is anything really. I'm getting goddam sick of it."
(J.D. Salinger, 'The Catcher In The Rye')
- Have you lately been feeling dull, depressed, lethargic?
- Why haven't you been producing any new material, new ideas?
- Why should I all the time? Am I a robot?
- Funny you should say that. I was feeling guilty about calling the people around me robots.
- Because they thought only about doing things, never about whether they had good reason for what they did?
- Why feel funny about that?
- Remember what you wrote six years ago in a piece entitled Close Elections & The Fashion Business?*
- Why don't you leave my old ideas alone?
- Why don't you produce any new ideas?
- Why don't you?
- Maybe I will.
- Do it now. Why does calling people robots make you feel bad?
- Because the robots think they're still human.
- And they're not?
- They're stupefied humans.
- And what does that mean?
- With the earliest use in the 15th century, to be stupefied is to be struck numb, made senseless, resulting either in paralysis or convulsions. To be stupefied, for example by the words or the eyes of an orator or the beauty of a young man results in either inactivity or activity but in both cases with memory, will, desire of the victim nullified.
- And you think that defines the robots all around us, for example the 62.8 million people who voted for our president?
- Yes I do. How did the country get to have 62.8 million people without character to vote for a candidate without character?
- They were stupefied. By our president or others?
- By a hundred years of public relations and advertising, then by our president. I think I have something new here to say, but I want you to calm down and help me me with it.
- Not stupify you with my objections. I'll try. Go on.
- Trump voters feel like they are still human beings because when struck dumb they are in a state of rest and in a state of rest thought arises.
- Except that in the stupified state of rest one is dull and thoughtless.
- Yes. But remember along with paralysis stupefaction also leads to repetitive compulsive movement. In that dialog of yours you explain close elections by the need of the fashion business to provide consumers with clothing that suggest both a uniform and revolt from uniformity. Revolutionary design attracts many wearers who in their multitude weaken the expression of revolt but provide the compensating benefit of a crowd to hide in that wearing a uniform offers. But ultimately another fashion takes over with a new claim to revolutionary design. The two political parties produce close elections because as each gains an advantage in supplying the crowd the comforts of uniformity opportunity is given to the other side to take the revolutionary position. Is that a correct summary?
- It'll do.
- Perhaps you are not aware of it but two years after your piece was published a computer scientist, working on the problem of programming computers to create new images of given type, came up with the idea to have two neural network learning computers compete with each other, one randomly generating new image combinations, the other testing whether the new images fit into the class defining set of images it was pre-programmed with. To explain how this works one expert actually uses the competition between two political parties as an illustration.**
- And how does this relate to stupefaction?
- I know very well, don't try to deny it, you were stupefied like the rest of us not yet made into robots by the results of the presidential election; the president's bad character was a bad joke. You and the AI scientist described a learning mechanism. What took us by surprise was that in a democracy a learning mechanism could be operating in the service of stupefaction. Not merely close elections, but increased skill by politicians in stupefying the electorate to a compulsively expressed acquiescence. We looked on uncomprehendingly at each new outrageous falsehood and its immediately acceptance by his roaring crowd of followers, to be the same day or the next to replaced by another outrageous statement immediately taken up and repeated by his followers.
- Revolutionary calm followed by uniform repetition. Idiot Trump had stumbled into a self-learning politics, continuously playing revolutionary to his crowd's uniformity, withdrawing the rug from under his opponent, depriving her of any chance to play revolutionary to his uniform followers.
- That's possible, maybe even the right explanation. It assumes however that human character had already been lost, because only someone without character lowers himself to the uniformity and revolt of fashion and politics.
- Of course. You originally proposed the idea in 2012. Since 2014 computer scientists have been working on perfecting the process of adversarial learning applied to production of images of a required description. Trump two years later came along and applied it to politics.
- With stupefying success.
- Yes. Lost in the unending activity of revolution and uniformity is the reason we do things: to make life good. The good things in life are experienced in a reflective, not stupefied state of rest: in love, sympathy, contemplation.
- That politics and computer science can explain each other shows how far human character has atrophied and those capacities gone which identify us as human.
How Stupid Are They?
A Machine For Making People Unhappy
Capitalism & Compulsion
How Do You Make A Computer Not Want To Be A Computer?
* Close Elections & The Fashion Business
** 'In a way of an analogy, GANs act like the political environment of a country with two rival political parties. Each party continuously attempts to improve on its weaknesses while trying to find and leverage vulnerabilities in their adversary to push their agenda. Over time both parties become better operators.' From the article: Generative Adversarial Networks
P.S. (Me Too) 'Let me learn to love with the aid of philosophic discourse', or something like that ran Socrates' prayer. Because learning to live well assists in learning to love, and love attracts love, learning wisdom is itself attractive. Or once was. In our times love, or rather its simulation, has to be bought by the most successful; success for us is achieved by stupefaction: suspension of desire, memory, will. In our anti-Socratic times learning to succeed is training in unattractiveness.
'I don't stand by anything.' (Donald J. Trump)
- I'll read you this tweet sent out by the president on Monday:
@MarkBurnettTV called to say that there are NO TAPES of the Apprentice where I used such a terrible and disgusting word as attributed by Wacky and Deranged Omarosa. I don’t have that word in my vocabulary, and never have...- Fascinating.
- Not 'terrible and disgusting', to use our president's words?
- Sure, that too, goes without saying. The man not afraid to cage children after abducting them from their parents: afraid of a mere word! Trembling in fear before 'the 'N" word' while before the sentence conveying that information concludes he's back to his trademark heavy-handed incivility!
- From polite to impolite in less than a second.
- You can listen to your hearts content to leaked recordings in which the president takes on a grovelling, flattering tone.
- As we saw him do in Helsinki, abasing himself to Putin.
- The women he buys describe him as surprisingly polite and respectful. His brand of strong man totalitarianism, very unlike that of the dictators around the world he admires so much is combined with cowering, cringing politeness.
- How do you explain it?
- In the debate over the existence of god when the god-denier argues if there is a god he is evil, a torturer of guiltless children, the god-affirmer answers, that's because god gave man the gift of free will, and god misuses that gift to make children suffer, so it's man's guilt, not god's. And the god-denier counters with, couldn't your all powerful god have gave man a different nature that would have used the gift of free will better, or if god couldn't do that, why couldn't he have put man in a world made such that it would be less likely to put the consequences of man's misuse of free will upon children?
- What do believers say to that?
- God's ways are mysterious.
- Last time we talked about the President's...
- Respect my sensitive feelings and refer instead to The 'T' Word.
- Last time we talked about The 'T' Word's self-learning politics: cycling of a challenging, violent revolutionary phase following by a phase of uniform testing and acceptance.
- His politeness with his cronies reflects the uniform phase, his break up with them the revolutionary.
- Yes. We've come upon our present incipient totalitarianism not by way of centuries of prior authoritarianism but by means of nihilism, relativism, or as we saw expressed in terms of religion, fatalism: an unwillingness or incapacity to judge good or bad, which incapacity or unwillingness in its social expression becomes tolerance and politeness. But not just that.
- What else?
- A sense of pride in and responsibility for creating the conditions of peaceful tolerance.
- Through the violence of the period of revolutionary conflict.
- Yes. The supporters of The 'T' Word share the pride in the power expressed in getting him elected. They are on his team.
- They wear his uniform.
- Since The 'T' Word came to office American society has become, precisely as expressed in the tweet we began with, both more uncivil* and more distance keeping,** rapidly shifting from one to the other. As American society becomes more militarized, with more killings by police, more caging of children, more mass surveillance, the pride in the order achieved tracks the violence had recourse to in achieving the new uniform isolation. Every smirk of self-abasement conceals pride in complicity with the violence used to establish the new order.
At this one particular late night cafe I ask the old, elegantly dressed women in her seventies, a former interior decorator, now with nowhere to go, no place to sleep, what the young, black fellow is writing she is friendly with, also with no place to go, no place to sleep, who sets out on his table stacks of paper, and she replies, offended, do I think she is so presumptuous, intrusive on the privacy of others? I ask the old woman, did she know, when did curiosity about others become a crime?' She gives back to me the question:
- Do you?
- Had to be when the public relations industry had achieved its goal of getting people to see themselves as types identified by the objects they possess.
- When was that?
- Complete success? That has to be the honor of our very own moment in time.
- That's just your opinion.
- Yes, but an opinion tested against experience.
- Your experience.
- My experience which sometimes is general. I'll give you an example. Yesterday I was playing with these ideas I had about the president: that his paradoxical mixture of brutal authoritarianism and cowering politeness could be explained as the two phases of a self-learning process applied to politics. First phase, experiment with violent gestures that bring people together with him in his crusade to save the country from its enemies. Second phase, sharing credit with his people for setting out with him in the nobility of their cause; these people, his cohorts, who otherwise have nothing in common and need not, only their willingness to take on with him whatever new-fashioned crusade he comes up with: this power sharing expressed in the apparently incompatible in a dictator forms of politeness. So you think, I'm sure, this is extremely abstract and removed from reality.
- I do think that.
- Then strange isn't that that very afternoon, I'm at the Hammer Museum courtyard with my computer, a free movie is being projected in the auditorium and I think, why not take a look? I'm stopped in the lobby by the young woman usher who tells me my bag is too big, I can't come in with it. Standing just by the theater's entrance is a sign on a pedestal that declares bags larger than itself have to be checked in at the museum front desk. Before going in I'd held my bag up to the sign and it easily fit within its boundaries. I told the young woman this. She answered:
- It's too thick.
- No thickness limit is mentioned on the sign.
- It's too thick.
- So there is a limit.
- What is it?
- Your bag is too thick.
- If there is no rule how do you know it is too thick?
- There is a rule.
- What is it? Where is it published?
- Somewhere, I sure.
- Is the limit 5 inches? 6 inches?
- Your bag's too thick.
- But if you don't know the limit how do you know there is one?
- Sir, you can't come in with your bag.
At this point a security guard appears. In his thirties, speaking English with an African accent. He tells me:
- Sir, you have to check in your bag.
- What rule are you following in making that demand?
- What does that matter? I told you: you can't take in the bag.
- It matters to me.
- Because it means something. Explains things. Maybe explains everything.
- Explains everything? I don't know what you are talking about. You can't take in your bag.
- Explains our times' politics. Here you are from one of those places our president calls shithole countries, with nothing in common with this young woman here - I guess a student become debt slave to pay for her education - nothing in common with each other except seeming to have had all individuality stamped out of you and an unaccountable relish in enforcing meaningless rules.
- The job pays my rent.
- And her job her student loans.
- You have to leave, sir. You can't take your bag in.
- And there is the threat of violence!
- Please leave, sir.
A Face To Indifference
* See: President Trump’s Worst Behaviors Can Infect Us All