All my dumb questions, December 2016

This weekend I just wanted to write down the stuff in my head that is driving me bananas. I’m surrounded by tons of really confident answers about the world right now but frankly the answer industry has some explaining to do, or some explainers to write, and no matter how many times I hit refresh no one—left or right—is really nailing it. I’m listening to “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye on repeat because, unlike other media, it offers a reasonable thesis as to what’s going on. This list offered with an open heart and mind, and opt-in hugs. No obligations. Skim away. Glad to hear about new things to read. No one will read this and it’s fine. I’m fine. We’re fine. The kids are fine. Warm for December. Everything’s fine.

Pictures from a book on Roman antiquity written in 1754.

Movements

  • There’s apparently a global anti-immigrant and racist far-right movement emerging. It’s authoritarian but democratically, if callously, elected. This movement is starting to link up at the highest levels—it doesn’t look like linking up because it’s so half-assed, but now Farage is floated (by Trump) as an ambassador to the US, and Trump is phoning that mass murderer in the Philippines. How would/does a global far right operate and seek mutual benefit? What does it want? WWII is fine in comparison but not actually the framework of the world today. What do we call it (“alt-right” is worse than useless)?
  • What does China look like if there’s a Eurocentric nativist far right willing to sacrifice trade agreements in the interest of populist support? We joke about “they’ll stop giving us iPhones” but if you make dealing with the US less…profitable…do we end up in a new cold war? What does that chessboard look like?
  • What would a US-Russia alliance actually look like in the context of the UN, NATO, defense, and various Middle East stuff? What do we actually gain aside from riding horses with Putin?
  • What is going on in South America? Venezuela, etc. Lots of places that used to be military dictatorships are going through hard times (right?). If they implode…where will the people…go? And moving on to Africa, where China is dumping unbelievable amounts of cash…[bites off more than can chew, backs up].
  • What would a global left even look like? Is one even possible? For a while it looked like the Arab Spring could be a new pattern for the global left, kind of. Not so much any more. Is it a bunch of Green Parties? Is it about social issues? Is there anything that can unify people on the left as much as anti-immigration arouses the right? Global warming? Human rights and social justice? EDM? Also the US is so insanely rich compared to everyone else—how does that play out?
  • What qualifies something to be a “movement?” Impact? Membership? Oppositionality? Anticommercialism? I.e. could “Design thinking” be a movement? Could TED be a movement? Could there be a moment when the Tumblr Solidarity Union links up with, IDK, TED and they shut down some part of the noösphere? Like, how strange can the bedfellows get?
  • Is intersectionality (which is a social theory that a lot of people IMO negatively shade as “identity politics” [although tom is like hmm]) a mostly US/UK-only movement ? Most of the voices I see are in the US or from the UK? Despite everyone panicking about identity politics as the bugbear that will destroy centrist-left progress I actually would guess the movement will get stronger of voice, not weaker, unless some specifically terrible 9/11 thing happens, which is totally possible. (Also umm, what IS the difference between Solidarity and Allyship?) Anyway assume that intersectional activism continues to strengthen—it does after all offer an actual thesis around what just happened—what does that mean for the rest of the left?
  • I like economists and technology leaders and fiction writers and journalists, so why are an increasing number of the people on Twitter who actually make sense sociologists? What even is sociology? I know I had to learn SPSS freshman year in college but I don’t remember what else it actually is. Something about cities. Have we entered an age of sociological relevance? This strikes me as bad for English departments, somehow.

Globalization

  • Where is the IMF in all this? No one even mentions it any more. Is there even still an IMF? Maybe it’s rebranded as “Imf.” or something and I didn’t get the brand guidelines.
  • For quite a while we’ve had trade as an enforcement mechanism for good behavior—stop being so hateful or we’ll take away your cheap DVD player and fatty pants made by these adorable little sweatshop munchkins. You want your iPhone to cost $300? Snuggle up with Verizon, learn to love FoxConn, and let Apple take the hindmost. Now we’re acting like that’s all on the table…but what then? Like what if we had to pay full US labor retail for that iPhone. What if Wal-Mart, which employs roughly 50% of America, doesn’t have cheap headphones any more?
  • What is Davos going to look like this year? I mean can you really have Mary J. Blige singing while bankers walk around praising each other and Trump tweeting and Brexit? Could they just cancel it and go skiing?
  • Is this “all Assad’s fault?” I.e. the Arab spring hits Syria, turns into open war, and a hornets-nest explodes into factional fighting, drastically worsening a global refugee crisis that then breaks various cultural banks—and handing anti-immigration parties a platform that, when tied to economic nativism and populism, tips us over the edge? (This feels reductive and dumb but who even knows.) Alternately, is this all Facebook/Twitter’s “fault,” in that these technologies became platforms for mass action but didn’t provide frameworks that support mass movements? (Kind of a leading q, but all of these are.)
  • Why has the atheist/freethinker movement been coöpted by absolute 100% total pieces of human shit?

The USA

  • Which countries is the USA most likely to go to war with/continue wars with? China, Iran, “ISIS,” some Syrian factions?
  • Same for Russia, China, etc.
  • What are all the countries we are drone-bombing right now?
  • Our entire defense industry is propped up by foreign buyers. It’s a sort of institutionalized corruption eternal lend-lease dystopia. IDK, feels like it’ll get even weirder and worse.
  • Oh man what about pharma? No seriously what about pharma?
  • I have bad feelings about intellectual property and the patent system and the FCC. Are they warranted, or just more paranoia?
  • Who controls the DHS terrorist threat warning system these days? Just DHS? Keeping that in mind, what communication systems does the president legally control? For example, he can send a message to every cell phone. Voice of America, various kinds of signals sent out to the world that we never hear. What channels of communication does the USA own that can be used? What are the laws about propaganda and where can they bend, especially as I kinda doubt they’ve kept up with today’s modern Internet.
  • If all the “Uber for…” X systems came online, what would the world look like? I mean the ones that are specifically about disrupting regulated industries. VCs want payouts. Those Uber for X things better launch. At the exact moment when there are other massive pressures on public regulations. Should we just rename Earth as Uber for the Solar System?
  • How do we keep the vibe going where everyone on the train is talking to each other about what’s going on? As shitty as things can seem that vibe is cool as hell.
  • How can white collar people who want to do something besides give money find people who need their skills and help them? Do-gooders need: Legal, web, digital, bookkeeping, accountancy, general advisory, HR, etc.

Technology and Media

  • The general fantasy of media criticism, especially public media criticism, is that the media has unlimited money available to it. In reality it has negative money available to it. Great accuracy is generally a luxury afforded to “quality” publications and the product of much labor. How to share this with people so their fantasies of “fact checking” remain under control; i.e. it’s on us, collectively, caveat perusor. The media can at best dig its hole more slowly, not climb out. There are no ladders.
  • The actual real global power of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Oracle, Google, Microsoft, and Apple is hard to measure. Market cap doesn’t cut it. I wish there was a global tech index that was about more than money but like, number of civil statutes destroyed, number of foreign offices, number of salespeople to number of programmers, etc, etc, etc. What would that look like?
  • Also it feels to me that technology companies basically have internal economies that let them see money differently than other enterprises. You have to go back to conglomerates like GE or ITT, or the phone company or early days of JP Morgan. How does Tim Cook even see money? Not what’s in his wallet, but what he spends on behalf of Apple.
  • Twitter is the place where ideologies are hashed out. But unless you already know the dialectic of your given ingroup, Twitter people all look like whiners (regardless of ideology; this includes me). Are there any (opt-in) product decisions that could help people who aren’t horrible, but seem horrible, seem less horrible? Like maybe an ingroup Twitter and an outgroup Twitter and you could stop certain tweets from piercing the outgroup? Inner circle/outer circle.
  • Moore’s law is petering out and taking advantage of parallel processing is expensive and challenging for humans. What will that mean to all the big stupid things we think are important like: Mobile phones, Uber, social media, word processing, etc. Some of this is coming due.
  • As desktop computers die a whole ideology of software dies with them. Mass entry of data via keyboards means that a certain kind of accuracy and clarity is going to die. Easy programmability also goes. What happens next?
  • JavaScript is the most popular language in the world and ES6 is…pretty good overall. WebAssembly (esp v2) will mean that the most popular language in the world will have the most widely deployed VM, billions of installs across the major browsers/sites, with direct hooks into the web “page” (well the DOM) as a rendering mechanism. What in God’s name will that unleash?
  • The Internet of Things is a global security nightmare and there are so many points of failure that the whole idea could turn out to be a huge bust. What does a secure IoT look like?
  • Security is so hard on an individual basis that you might as well just print out your emails and send them to the NSA and any post office in Russia while you’re at it. What the hell actually works? Should we just delete all of our email and live free? We’re all hot on Signal but should we be quite that hot?
  • What the hell can you really do about DDOSing?
  • When will people realize how lame the cloud is?
  • I’ve got 20MBPs upstream and $5 computers that can host websites, and I can ask my cable provider for port 80 to be open. Why don’t we have more things for me to host at home? Why can’t I just run a little email/chat server for me and my family and chill friends out of my house with like three clicks? I.e. we have the infrastructure for a private Internet with teensy computers doing servery things.
  • If IPV6 starts to play out and folks can request lots of addresses, then what happens to spam recognition?
  • Will it be possible to combine the social graph (Facebook) with the commerce graph (Amazon), and if so, can we just die now?
  • Is Fake News the actual problem? It feels like a sort of formulation that technology people can convince themselves is a technical problem and then attempt to stamp out. But isn’t the real problem more like “hatred feels good”? The message of fake news seems to be “you, reader, are the only person who matters.” This is also the message of social media in general. Maybe Fake News is just symptomatic of the platforms. If so then what kind of platform choices can be made that still deliver the necessary narcissistic pleasure-jolt but don’t use hatred as a stimulus?
  • Can we bring back Google Reader ethos even if we can’t bring back Google Reader?
  • Facebook and Apple have so much money they can do anything at all. They could be in any industry doing almost anything. Why do they keep doing what they are doing and not doing other things? Is this really the limit of innovation right now?
  • What the hell was Twitter even thinking in 2016?
  • What the hell is coming down the pike in 2017?
  • If an Uber is self-driving won’t people just basically have sex in the back of the car all the time?

Books to read or re-read

  • John Rawls Theory of Justice
  • The Ethics of Identity
  • Thomas Piketty
  • That populism book that the Economist is all up in
  • Dig up all that Lakoff stuff
  • Intro textbook on statistics
  • Racecraft
  • The Sellout
  • Ain’t I A Woman
  • Thorsten Veblen, John Dewey
  • More Walt Whitman
  • Dykes to Watch Out For Essential Edition
  • Rorty Achieving Our Country
  • More weird poets
  • It’s prob time to get off Twitter

People are telling me about other books

  • David Graeber’s “Debt”
  • Male Fantasies by Klaus Theweleit
  • John Shirley’s Eclipse trilogy
  • Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality
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