Thursday, 20 February 2020

Thoughts on the system - 41

There’s no way to describe the system, the organism. Its vocabulary is grossly underwhelming. The following rough thoughts are an attempt to outline the unoutlineable:
  • IQ tests don’t measure for intelligent people, they measure for stupid people.
  • In the post-democratic Age, the elites revolt against the masses.
  • Art has rejected beauty and taken its revenge on reality.
  • If you’ve never been worried about being attacked when falling asleep, you have no idea how lucky your life is.
  • No one buys the price, they spend whatever it takes to feel good.
  • If girls are in control of what they find attractive, then why aren’t young girls head over heels for what their mothers found attractive?
  • Diversity is only enacted in jobs or roles which require such low skill and intelligence that anyone can perform it.
  • When hypothesising a conspiracy, I only need to be correct once. If you think all society is undirected, you need to be correct every time.
  • If the plan is to propagandise America and its allies into seeing Chinese people as unclean, bat-eating, virus spreaders to drum up support for an eventual war, it’s working.
  • Most of the best people are dead.
  • When we say, “we don’t know what we’d do under the same circumstances,” we make corrosive passivity and cowardice the default position.
  • We are tiptoeing very close to child sacrifice for the gods of “diversity.”
  • If Muslims can't figure out terror tactics to get around bollards or use weapons other than knives, are they really that scary?
  • In terms of strategy, Islam’s good cop/bad cop routine proved cannier than the West predicted.
  • The West has done a lot of good things, but until it renounces the scapegoat mechanism of power it will be just as bad as other societies.
  • The US and New Zealand got rich because they never stopped using slaves - they just outsourced them to China.
  • A truly oppressed person would just leave.
  • People prefer reformed sinners than liars.
  • Women consent to sex by using their emotions.
  • What happens to society when kids are taught to feel safe with women, even though women are equally unsafe as men? Guess we’ll find out.
  • Narcissists don’t feel guilt, only shame. This generation of narcissists can’t see other people‘s perspectives so we extrapolate and assume that no one else feels guilt either. If guilt has gone, then there are no internal controls to a person’s behaviour, only external ones. And if they can't catch you...
  • The trick is that when a scientific study is written up in the NYT it becomes fact.
  • Wanting universities and schools to teach non-Western philosophy is a Western idea.
  • It’s always a good strategy to force a dictatorship to act like one.
  • Maybe pesticides are responsible for killing the honey bees.
  • There is nothing like rage to disguise from yourself an existential void.
  • Reform never satisfies because it never goes far enough. Reform always eats its own because the goal was never the salvation of society but to supply meaning to the lives of pathetic and narcissistic individuals who can find no other avenue for purpose.
  • There is a difference between being active and being an activist. You can pursue causes that don’t necessarily supply transcendent meaning to your life.
  • No movie is made for the sake of entertainment, they are all propaganda.
  • In the American empire, wars don’t need to be won, they just need to be fought to retain credibility within the alliance structure.
  • What if Pornhub is a US government operation? That would explain why no hacker has taken it down.
  • In narcissism, having sex doesn't matter as much as people thinking you are the kind of person who has sex. The act has been replaced by the simulation of the act.
  • Too many guys think vulnerability is game.
  • Just because you say there are black people doesn’t mean white people are the opposite. There can be black people and Europeans, French or German people.
  • You must be comfortable with silence to beat a journalist or a cop at the waiting game. There is never a good reason to talk to the police without a lawyer present. Same thing for journalists.
  • Every housing project, aid package and welfare check takes humanity further away from its destiny to explore the stars.
  • Jesus was not a Jew, he was Hebrew. There's a difference.
  • If you tell your girl about what bothers you, she’ll use it against you in the next argument.
  • What most frustrates social justice warriors is that blonde women are on average the most attractive of all women.
  • You cannot be a billionaire without the assistance of the state.
  • The correct attitude is: I don’t game girls, I am the game.
  • As the corporate world has become more feminine, it has also become more juvenile.
  • Women want to be the primary sexual selectors but don’t want the liability of those choices.
  • If you want a kid and your wife can’t have children, get a new wife. Ancestry is more important than love.
  • US Naval intelligence is transparently a front for the CIA (State Department) to penetrate the armed forces (Pentagon).
  • Megan Markle turning Prince Harry into a raging progressive is the perfect theatrical example of how America conquered the world.
  • “It’s our job, sir” is a corrupt thing for police or military to say. It proves they have forgotten the difference between a job and work.
  • Women have high energy investment after bearing a child, but men have high energy investment before fathering a child.
  • Virtue signalling is the wrong framing. People aren't broadcasting their goodness or morality, they are claiming fealty to a cartel.
  • If communism was a Russian or European idea, then why is it evolving rapidly in the US even though it was supposedly defeated? Because it was always an American idea.
  • If we do not rein in our social scientists, our civilisation is doomed.
  • Cultural narcissism is the belief held by progressives that “this time is different” from all other times, everyone who came before was stupid, naive, myopic or less ethical.
  • Parents must correctly display a range of emotions and reactions to kids so they can learn to mirror them. If everything gets you angry, then anger is all the kid will know in any situation.
  • If a girl asks you to choke her, and you do but she accidentally dies, is the blame really 100% on the guy’s side?
  • Sex is a Valentine’s Day gift only when a girl has nothing else to offer.
  • A progressive is a liberal who decided to use their freedom to dominate others.
  • Of course the police are more interested in LGBTQ and diversity than stopping crimes. The women and weak men in uniform can’t do real police work like break up Muslim rape gangs. Cops must do something with their time.
  • The populace is being trained to see themselves not as solely responsible for their children but as part of a larger network. That may sound comforting but it radically alters behaviour. It reinforces a connection to the state as opposed to fostering independence from it; you will become willing and obligated to sacrifice more in defence of the bureaucracy.
  • People claim to care about the future all the time, but they’re perfectly happy with letting humans with mental and physical diseases breed.
  • The problem isn’t that there’s sex on TV, but that the TV makes a type of sex more acceptable to society.
  • All your actions have a blast radius and other humans are in it.
  • Conservatives are trained to hate progressives and vice versa, but none are allowed a moment to hate the state as a whole so they are unable to unite to destroy it. The system is stable.
  • It really wouldn’t surprise me if future historians look back and see the movie Office Space as the American equivalent of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.
  • Everyone talks about the inevitability of technology advances, but no one asks if the present political and social regime is sufficient to get us there.
  • The time you commit suicide is the time you couldn’t stop yourself from doing it.
  • How much do you have to hate your kids to let them make all their mistakes on their own?
  • Why are there so many racists? Everyone’s gotta have an enemy.
  • You can legalise all the drugs you want if you get rid of the welfare state.
  • America is the most honest society because it isn’t afraid to say sex is all anyone thinks about.
  • What would change in nature if ocean waves crashed at twice the present speed?
  • The great thinkers all said the public is a woman.
  • Bringing Swedish blondes to Hollywood and into the porn industry was the American version of war brides. That’s what happens when you win an industrial war: you industrialise rape.
  • Progressivism and viruses act the same: they both need open borders to survive.
  • People tell you who they are but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be.
  • The war on racism slowly, but inevitably, became the war of racism.
  • The question is not whether Jesus told the truth. He obviously was. The question is: do you know what the truth was?
  • The modern motto: life is all about choice - my choice, that is.
  • I feel like I just lived the part in the story where the author says “and he worked there for a few years” and nowhere else in the book is there a flashback to that period.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

After all these years, what is a journalist?

The thing that changes your political opinion over time is you watch the lie being made. The general insane mendacity of the media has a flow-on effect of driving insane the people who notice it.

I remember the moment I learned out what my job really was.

It was a beautiful summer evening in Tel Aviv in 2018. I was trudging back from a late dinner with a delegation of Kiwi cyber-security experts in the city for a week to learn how Israel thinks about cyber-security. My newspaper sent me along to capture the discussions.

At its core, cyber-security is about protecting people’s data and digital identities from “hacks” by criminals hoping to make a bit of cash. But they’re not the only ones making money online.

Over the years, the internet has slowly morphed from being a decentralised communication network into a consolidated group of private computers (servers) owned by a handful of major corporations. The year 2016 was the last time the internet had any sort of "wild west" feeling. We now live in a world where every move we make is tracked by private companies looking to profit off our activities. In the future, there will be a handful of people who made sure that there are no photos of them online and who never used social media. They will draw more attention to themselves than anyone else by being anomalies that stand out of any crowd.

What we search for online is stored forever and used for advertising and exploited for cheap labour. The world you imagine is nowhere near reality. These major online firms generate income by gathering data and selling advertising. The philosophy is simple: every minute spent on one website is a minute not spent on a competitor’s. If they could glue an LCD screen to your face, they would. I used to joke about Google changing its slogan from "don't be evil" to "be as evil as the market will tolerate," but I didn't expect it to make this a reality so soon.

Cyber-security fits over the top of this, acting as a sort of psychological warranty for users. But since data is always being collected, the only question for cyber-security is how long it will take for the criminals to get their hands on it. Can this situation ever be solved, the Kiwis in Israel asked?

To me, the fix was obvious: you are not online. It sounds trite to write that down, but when people say they need to “unplug” they are implicitly accepting that the default existence for them is to be “plugged.” The entire digital system is predicated on the idea that your offline identity is the same as your online identity. Yet no one was asking why companies and governments don’t increase the level of online anonymity, rather than boost cyber-security. After all, if data can’t be linked back to an individual, of what use would it be to a cyber-criminal? And in anonymity, there is an opportunity for honesty, a rare substance we need more of today than ever before.

With heightened anonymity, Uber would still work. The ride-sharing app doesn’t need to know my name to function as normal. Facebook might be tougher to use, but then again, that entire site is a giant honeypot with the sole purpose of creating online simulations of people so companies can sell them more goods. Payments are, fundamentally, a problem of identity. He who owns the data owns the money, which is why Facebook got into cryptocurrency with its "Libra" system.

But a journalist could never write this down in public because the entire modern system depends on gathering more and more personally-identifiable data. Good thing I'm no longer a journalist, then!

In this framework, the media’s job is to keep people online. Not just to keep them clicking, but to ensure their online self is tied ever-closer to their human life until the Venn diagram is a single circle. This is how propaganda works. Propaganda doesn’t tell us what to think, it tells us how to act. Boosting anonymity would solve online security, but governments and corporations have spent far too much money on building a world in which commerce and citizenship are now both performed online.

For most people, adult life in the information age requires so little cognition on a daily basis that you can cruise through your remaining years on autopilot and never even realise it. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to live thinking the economy, politics, your family or even your next micturition cycle isn't being manipulated. I put myself in the shoes of someone who thinks everything is just happening organically. But I've seen the sausage being made. I guess once you're out of the Matrix - or helped to write it - it's tough to plug back in.

Of course, at no point in my old media career did I ever catch a huddle of journalists conspiring to align their stories. And yet the gap between official and unofficial narratives at every news outlet is actually suspiciously tiny – at least by the standards of 100 years ago. Everyone seems to be writing from a broad synopsis which is never explicitly spoken about but is always adhered to.

The internet as a consumption platform did more to destroy my generation than television, the pill, drugs, dating apps, fast food or environmental toxins. About 90% of the programming we watch on TV is controlled by just six major media corporations. Most of us are willingly plugging ourselves into this matrix for several hours a day, giving our global rulers an enormous advantage over us.

(Pro-tip for conservatives: the media doesn't call you racist because journalists think you are racist. They call you racist so the public debate is about who is less racist rather than whatever issue you care about. But, if you tolerate being disrespected you are implying it is warranted.)

One thing I learned in my time as a reporter is that we should be referring to the media as the "corporate press" rather than as mainstream media because there is nothing mainstream about the media. Journalists are jihadis without testosterone. If their primary goal were simply making money, the world would be a paradise. It's not about attention, it's about dominance. Religion and propaganda are the same thing. A religious person is a propagandised person and a propagandised person is a religious person. When you ask who spreads the propaganda, the answer is the people who really control society. The government and anything else is downstream from these people.

But it’s not bias doing this, or pushing a "narrative" - that explanation would be too easy. There is no cabal of super-journalists or publishers handing out secret memos or sneakily jumping into articles to change text once it’s been loaded onto the website. The Ministry of Information is not real. Journalist persuasion is basically a trick - it's priest-style persuasion ("believe whatever multiple authorities agree on"). Journalists persuade purely by shamelessly, stubbornly sticking to the script and as long as they all stick to the same script, they're "persuasive."

"Bias" only makes sense when there is a clear coordination of objectivity as a reference point for terms like "liberal" and "conservative." But there is no such coordination system. “Objective” in modern media practice means "mainstream" which is just the result of human history, not some divine or inexorable force. Whoever imposes terminology imposes ideology.

The 2010s will be remembered as the decade when everything went mainstream, even hardcore pornography, abetted in no small part by internet access to previously niche information. To be a hipster in the 2020s, you will have to be into some really obscure stuff like reading actual books. It's a strange world when nobody bats an eye if others boast publicly about watching hardcore porn, but everyone freaks out if you're caught with a copy of the History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides. "Mainstream" is a strange device.

The question is: who decides what’s mainstream?

As I've written before, the obvious candidate is higher education. Academia is the fourth branch of government. Academics can pass laws just by expanding definitions of things that are already illegal to encompass things they don't like. If professors don't like borders or people denying the validity of trans people, they need only write a peer-reviewed paper calling those positions "violence" and, hey presto, borders are de facto (but not yet de jure) illegal. Most university students have a milder political view compared with their professors. But the professors act as a weight to define the political centre. That means the moderate ideas of today’s students are the extremist ideas of their parents, and the whole system shifts gradually to the left (whatever that means) over time.
"The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality." - H.L. Mencken
Universities have a lot of intellectual influence on society. Look at our attitude toward slavery, race, socialism, environmentalism, homosexuality, women's rights and anything similar in 2020. It's also pretty obvious that oppression is a social construct too: no one was oppressed until activists and academics started promoting the concept. Mainstream opinion, in other words, is pretty much what Harvard, Cambridge and Victoria were teaching 50 years ago. Since journalists are graduates of universities, is it any surprise they pass their professors’ ideas on to readers?

Of course, a writer could be any side of the mainstream opinion, but “side” is a human term, not a natural phenomenon. Focusing on bias distracts us from the unpleasant fact that mainstream public opinion reflects the wishes of those already in power – like journalists and professors – and who want to retain that power. When "99%" of scientists in every field have a unanimous consensus which they preach with religious zeal, then that consensus is manufactured by power in order to justify and expand itself, and the science is irredeemably tainted.

This is what 20th century American public intellectual Walter Lippmann meant when he said power in a democracy is held by those who manage public opinion. He said democracy is not and cannot be a level playing field for ideas. The state uses its power to approve a system of thought, which then becomes popular, leading the public to support the state. This feedback loop is extremely stable and allows experts – like Lippmann – to quietly run the world. The deeper I got, the more clearly I saw that the powerful people really aren’t all that powerful. In fact, they're not that tough at all when all the smoke and mirrors blow away. We're just trained to think they are powerful.

At least think tanks are being honest when they try to influence public opinion. But journalists are starting to sound more like politicians every day. Sooner or later, the public will notice the synopsis. Lies seriously damage a community because trust and honesty are essential to communication and productivity.

That’s why media bias always felt like a symptom rather than the real problem. The real problem is the feedback loop between power and education, which creates false consensus and “official truth.” Media, academia, entertainment, corporations, charitable foundations and even professional sports have become part of the interlocking structures that constrain people’s behaviour and thinking. The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who can't read or write, but those who can't unlearn the lies they have been force-fed. As Noam Chomsky once said, "the general population doesn't know what's happening and it doesn't even know that it doesn't."

It’s not clear that the internet makes this any better, by the way. The great thing about having all the world's information at your fingertips is that you can confirm in a very short space of time that absolutely nothing interesting is happening in the world and that you have no clue how to find the interesting stuff.

Don't think about how to replace the university, think about how to disintermediate its functions. We need to burn down the universities and replace them with isolated, hard-to-reach libraries and bookcases in mountain hermitages, all distant from each other. Research must involve feats of rowing, climbing and running great distances. 

That would be one way to do it, anyway.

So, the next time you feel the need to “become informed,” about a news story, consider just waiting a while. Read a book, call your mother, whatever. Unless you’re directly in a position of power to influence the outcome, it can wait. And once you realise that you have absolutely no power and that no elite cares what you think, you're free.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

What do you get when you cross opinion with news?

Journalism and opinion are supposed to be clearly separated, but that difference is shrinking – and perhaps disappearing.

Objective reporting is like utopia, it cannot really exist. A journalist does not know all the right questions to ask, cannot step fully outside their worldview, cuts and slices an interview to better fit the narrative and will never talk to every side of the story (there are always more than two sides).

So, in a way, labelling one set of articles “opinion” and others “reporting” helps a newspaper sell the central message: that its news is as close to the truth as possible. If opinion pieces are removed, it would not take long for readers to wonder why the news sounds suspiciously subjective.

Newspapers created a dedicated opinion section to reinforce this illusion. When readers flip to this commentary, they subtly accept that the news section must have been objective. This is a neat cognitive trick of comparison: since there are two types, they cannot both be the same.

Maybe this structure could have survived into the 21st century, but the internet changed everything. Today, media companies do not compete against other media directly – they are now in the time business. News is an information technology – always has been – and its competitors are all the other information activities people might choose to pursue.

Transitioning online made sense for newspapers because the internet is the perfect tool for delivering information. It removes much of the friction and entry costs of printing, postal services, fixed deadlines and the rest. Yet it was precisely this friction that gave media a market advantage by making it difficult for normal people to join in the fun.

Today, everyone has a social network account through which they read about events in real-time. No middleman required. Legacy media has struggled to stay alive and relevant.

While everyone is entitled to their digital opinion, not all opinions are equal. And since everyone can have an opinion, everything begins to look like an opinion – including news. But it is worse than that. The noise of the online space means journalists are shouting louder to get their signal to the public.

The result is an erosion of the illusion that separates opinion from news, and the very group of people who are supposed to be responsible for at least trying to be objective (even if they can’t ever fully achieve it) have found themselves operating in a completely new world with entirely different economic incentives.

It is hard to know if these fresh incentives attract a certain kind of journalist more suited to writing opinionated stories (to get the eyeballs), or if journalists are reacting to the pressure by imitating everyone else. Whatever the case, the illusion of objective news is critical for media to maintain.

If it is lost, the existential vacuum would make for a terrifying wooshing sound.

NZ’s trade options as China coronavirus pressure rises

New Zealand isn’t the only country pondering if, in today’s world, the most dangerous thing of all is that almost everything is made in China.

From low-cost manufactured goods and novel coronaviruses, to university budgets and a fair chunk of New Zealand’s gross domestic product (GDP) – China is responsible for an outsized slice of the Kiwi pie.

But globalisation was supposed to spread supply chains, drop the cost of commerce and leverage each country’s unique skills. Instead, most manufacturing was simply pushed offshore to China. As the orders rushed in, Beijing made a fortune and kept its surplus (mostly male) population at work and out of trouble. China’s economy has ballooned phenomenally, creating one of the largest middle-class cohorts in the world.

This China-centric version of globalisation was fantastic for New Zealand. After a painful economic divorce from the UK in 1973 when that country joined the European Economic Community, New Zealand searched both for a replacement market while guarding against repeating overdependence on a single market. China was the obvious choice and the Clark-led Labour government put the building blocks together for a robust free trade deal with China which was signed in 2008.

Since then, two-way trade between New Zealand and China has trebled from about $8 billion a year, to more than $28b. Twenty years ago, New Zealand exported only about 5% of its goods to China. Today China is New Zealand’s largest export destination (about 26%) – overtaking Australia in 2016 – while 13% of Kiwi services exports head in that direction too.

In November, the Coalition government agreed to upgrade the FTA with China. This new deal lowered compliance costs, removed even more tariffs on Kiwi exports to the Middle Kingdom, added environmental considerations and smoothed the visa application process.

Yet it’s becoming clear that the new coronavirus spreading from mainland China will dampen that country’s productivity and consumption levels, which could hurt New Zealand’s GDP in the short term and medium terms. It’s hard to know the exact impact, but it isn’t likely to be nil.

If it is any consolation, New Zealand wouldn’t be alone in its struggle. Australia’s latest trade report showed 40% of its exports go to China (it was just 20% a decade ago); Taiwan sends China 30%; Angola 58% and Mongolia 93%. China is also now a key consumer of hydrocarbons, minerals and timber globally, meaning even a small slowdown could hurt many other nations.

Beijing has quarantined about 700 million people (or 10% of the world’s population). More than 20 provinces and other regions have told businesses not to resume work in February and reserved the right to extend that moratorium if the virus can’t be contained. In 2019, those parts of China accounted for more than 80% of the country’s national GDP and 90% of exports, according to China-based research institute Wind Information.

The virus isn’t happening in a vacuum. China is also in the middle of a structural slowdown as the fruit of low-hanging economic development has been plucked. In the early 2000s, China’s GDP growth during the SARS virus outbreak, by comparison, was above 10%. Today, Beijing is running up enormous debts just to keep it at 6%. The unresolved trade-war with the US also isn’t helping.

In other words, as China turned into the world’s factory, countries like New Zealand made a lot of money and kept the price of consumer goods low. But supply chains are now highly dependent on China in much of the developed world so even small economic shocks are everyone’s problem.

Of course, there is no reason to backpedal on globalisation, but the coronavirus does offer the New Zealand government another chance to push its trade strategy on Kiwi businesses.

New Zealand’s trade negotiation team is arguably the most competent in the world, given the quantity and quality of its FTAs. The whole point of creating this basket of deals is to protect New Zealand against shock. Yet the attractiveness of China’s market has captured the eye of Kiwi businesses and the government has struggled to encourage them to diversify to places like Indonesia or Japan (trade with these is slowly rising, but is nowhere near the levels of trade with China).

Again, New Zealand isn’t alone. Many other countries saw dollar signs in China.

But about a dozen countries along the equator – Ethiopia, Vietnam, Philippines, etc – are now capable of manufacturing complex goods like microchips and cellphones and consuming those products too. With its basket of FTAs, New Zealand businesses are perhaps the best positioned among their global peers to spread their connections – but it is up to them to make that decision.

This virus is also a good opportunity to question the received wisdom that globalisation means “manufacturing is dead and isn’t coming back.” If that were true, China would never have been able to grow to its enormous size today. In reality, there are precious few reasons to think New Zealand is doomed to become a service economy and shouldn’t get machine grease on its hands again.

New Zealand has a great trading relationship with China. No one is suggesting giant manufacturing cities spring up in Waikato, but perhaps Kiwi business would be even better insulated from strange Chinese virus shocks if they took a leaf out of the government’s book and brought some manufacturing closer to home.

There’s a broader point to make as well. New Zealand is bemoaning its lack of productivity and it’s hard not to notice that the dearth of genuinely new inventions (as opposed to innovations) may be connected with offshoring manufacturing jobs to China. New ideas and inventions come from tinkering with existing machines. People won’t earn the necessary experience to invent a new tool if they never get to work with tools in the first place.

It’s worth considering, anyway. Heavy industry and the engineering, creation, and building of products the public requires, is the lifeblood of a good economy. Heavy investment makes moving the work elsewhere undesirable. If you gut your heavy industry, you gut your country.

Service economies are great for employment, but only if other countries are building the computers or cars with which those services are delivered. And all it took to notice this vulnerability was the temporary shuttering of 20 Chinese provinces due to a virus.