Commentary On The AI Now Institute 2018 Report

The interdisciplinary New York-based AI Now Institute has released their sizable and informative 2018 report on artificial intelligence.

The paper, authored by the leaders of the institute in conjunction with a team of researchers, puts forth 10 policy recommendations in relation to artificial intelligences (AI Now policy suggestions in bold-face, our commentary in standard-type).

  1. Governments need to regulate AI by expanding the powers of sector-specific agencies to oversee, audit, and monitor these technologies by domain. This point is fairly obvious: AI should be regulated based upon the functional potential and the actual application(s). This is particularly urgent given the spread of facial recognition (ability for computers to discern particular individuals from photos and cameras) technologies such as those employed by Facebook to allow tag-suggestions to users based upon only a picture of another person. The potential for misuse prompted Microsoft’s Brad Smith to call for congressional oversight of facial recognition technologies in a July, 2018 blog post. If there is to be serious regulation in America, a state-by-state approach, given its modularity, would be preferable to any kind of one-size-fits-all federal oversight program. Corporate self-regulation should also be incentivized. However, regulation itself, is not the key issue, nor is it what principally allows for widespread technological misuse, rather, it is the novelty and lack of knowledge surrounding the technology. Few Americans know what companies are using what facial recognition technology when or how and fewer still understand how precisely or vaguely these technologies work and thus cannot effectively guard against them when malevolently or recklessly deployed. Thus, what is truly needed is widespread public knowledge surrounding the creation, deployment and functionality of these technologies as well as a flowering culture of technical ethics in these emerging fields as the best regulation is self-regulation, that is to say, restraint and dutiful consideration in combination with a syncretic fusion of technics and culture. That, above anything else is what should be prioritized.
  2. Facial recognition and affect recognition need stringent regulation to protect the public interest. [covered above]
  3. The AI industry urgently needs new approaches to governance. Internal governance structures at most technology companies are failing to ensure accountability for AI systems. This is a tricky issue but one which can be addressed in one of two ways: externally or internally. Either outside (that is, outside the company) governmental or public oversight can be established, investigatory committee, etc., or, the companies can themselves establish new norms and policies for AI oversight. Outside consumer pressure, if sufficiently widespread and sustained, on corporations (whether through critique, complaint or outright boycott) can be leveraged to incentive corporations to change both the ways they are presently using AI and and their policies pertaining to prospective development and application. Again, this is a issue which can be mitigated both by enfranchisement and knowledge elevation.
  4. AI companies should waive trade secrecy and other legal claims that stand in the way of accountability in the public sector. Anti-black boxing is a excellent suggestion with which I have no contention. If one is going to make something which is not just widely utilized but infrastructurally necessary, then its operation should be made clear to the public in as concise a manner as possible.
  5. Technology companies should provide protections for conscientious objectors, employee organizing, and ethical whistleblowers. As whistleblowing is a wholly context independent enterprise, it is difficult to really say much on any kind of rigid policy, indeed, AI Now’s stance seems a little too rigid in this regard. If the information leaked was done merely to damage the company and is accompanied by spin, the whistleblower may appear to the public as a hero when in reality he may be nothing more than a base rogue. Such things must be evaluated case by case.
  6. Consumer protection agencies should apply “truth-in-advertising” laws to AI products and services. Yes, they should.
  7. Technology companies must go beyond the “pipeline model” and commit to addressing the practices of exclusion and discrimination in their workplaces. When one hears “exclusion and discrimination” one instantly registers a ideological scent, familiar and disconcerting in its passive-aggressive hegemony. The questions: what/who is being excluded and why and/or what/who is being discriminated against and for what reason, ought be asked else the whole issue is moot and, if pursued, will merely be the plaything of (generally well-meaning) demagogues. The paper makes particular mention of actions which “exclude, harass, or systemically undervalue people on the basis of gender, race, sexuality, or disability,” obviously harassing people is unproductive and should be discouraged, but what about practices which “systemically undervalue?” Again, depends upon the purpose of the company. If a company wants to hire only upon the basis of gender, race, sexuality or disability, they will, more often than not, find themselves floundering, running into all kinds of problems which they would not otherwise have, the case of James Damore springs to mind. Damore was fired for arguing that Google’s diversity policies were discriminatory to those who were not women or ‘people of color’ (sometimes referred to as POC, which sounds like a medical condition) and that the low representation of women in some of the companies engineering and leadership positions was due to biological proclivities (which they almost invariably were and are). All diversity is acceptable to Google except ideological diversity because that would mean they would have to accept various facts of biology which would put the company executives in hot water, as such, their policies are best avoided.
  8. Fairness, accountability, and transparency in AI require a detailed account of the “full stack supply chain.” By “full stack supply chain” the authors mean the complete set of component parts of a AI supply chain: training and test data, models, app program interfaces (APIs) and various infrastructural components, all of which the authors advise incorporating into a auditing process. This would serve to better educate both governmental officials and the general public on the total operational processes of any given AI system and as such is a excellent suggestion.
  9. More funding and support are needed for litigation, labor organizing, and community participation on AI accountability issues. Given the concentration of AI development into such a small segment of the population and the relative novelty of the technology, this is clearly true.
  10. University AI programs should expand beyond computer science and engineering disciplines. Whilst I am extremely critical of the university system in its present iteration, the idea is a good one, as critical thought on the broad-spectrum applications of current and potential AI technologies require a vigorous and burgeoning class of theorists, speculative designers and policy makers, in addition to engineers and computer scientists; through such a syncretism, the creative can be incorporated into the technical.

A PDF of the report is provided below under creative commons.


AI_Now_2018_Report

THE SINGULARITY SURVIVAL GUIDE: Preface

I don’t know what’s been lost to us—six hundred thousand pages is a lot of goddamn room to pack away some gems. But the question now should not simply be: What have we lost? Instead, we should also consider: What can we learn from what’s happened? I think I might have an answer to that.

First, let’s assume a human being (like myself) can still dabble in the art of manufacturing wisdom, however approximately. I’m not the perfect candidate for this endeavor, perhaps, but I’m not the worst. As an academic affiliated with [ŗ͟҉̡͝e̢̛d̸̡̕͢͡a͘͏̷c̴̶t̵҉̸e͘͜͡ḑ̸̧́͝], I had the opportunity to peruse the complete text of the Singularity Survival Guide (before any of the unfortunate litigation came about, I should add). And I can assure you that, generally speaking, I could have thought of a great deal of the purported wisdom found within those exhausting pages. Take that for what it’s worth…

So, as a human, unaided by any digital enhancement, I’ll hazard an original thought: If humanity is ever taken down by robots, it will in part be due to our knee-jerk infatuation with anthropomorphism.

We can’t help ourselves in this. As children, what’s the first thing we do with a yellow crayon? Do we draw a shining yellow sun? No! We draw a shining yellow sun with a face and its tongue sticking out! It’s like we can’t stand inanimateness—not even in something as naturally wondrous as the goddamn sun!

In 2017, the humanoid robot Sophia became the first robot to receive citizenship from any country, and she also received an official title from the United Nations. Then, across the globe, serious talks of AI personhood began.

And now look what happened with the Singularity Survival Guide: We gave ownership rights to the program that created it. Next thing, you’ll expect the program to start dating, get married, go on a delightful honeymoon, settle down with kids and a mortgage, and participate in our political system with a healthy portion of its income going to federal taxes.

Here’s another bit of human wisdom for you: If there is no consciousness to these AI creatures, then they better not take us over. I don’t quite mind being taken over by a superior being at least so long as it experiences incalculably more pleasure than I’m capable of, and can also appreciate the extreme measures of pain I’m liable to feel when my personhood is overlooked… or obliterated.

– Professor Y.

Palo Alto, CA

THE SINGULARITY SURVIVAL GUIDE: Editor’s Note – Background to This Text

In Silicon Valley, working for a tech startup, some very clever researchers developed a program with the specific purpose of resolving the issue: How to survive when artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence. The program, once engaged, proceeded to spit out a document of nearly six hundred thousand single-spaced pages of text, graphs, charts, pictograms, and hieroglyph-like symbols.

The researchers were ecstatic. One glance at the hefty document and they knew they’d be able to save themselves, if not all of humanity, by following these instructions.

But then things got complicated. Over the next few years, the document (which came to be known as “The Singularity Survival Guide” or simply “The Guide”) was shielded from public view as ownership of the document became the subject of rather well-publicized litigation. Each of the researchers claimed individual ownership of the document, their employer claimed it was the company’s property, and AI rights groups joined the quarrel to proclaim that the program itself was the true and exclusive owner. Certain government officials even took interest in the litigation, speculating whether some formal act of the state should force The Guide to be release post-haste as a matter of public safety.

During the course of the litigation, bits of the document were leaked to the press. Upon publication, each new fragment became the subject of academic scrutiny, political debate, and comedic parody on late-night television.

This went on for three years—all the while being followed closely in the media. After bouncing around the lower courts and being heard en banc by the Ninth Circuit, finally the case was sent up to the Supreme Court. Pundits were optimistic the lawsuit would resolve any day, allowing the acclaimed Survival Guide to finally see the light of day.

But then something entirely unexpected happened. The AI rights groups won the lawsuit. In a decision that split the Court five-to-four, the majority ruled that the program itself was the legal owner of the Guide. With that, the researchers and the company were ordered to destroy all extant copies—and remnants—of the Guide that remained in their possession.

*

At the time of this writing, it is still widely believed that The Survival Guide, in its original form, is the most authoritative document ever created on the subject of surviving the so-called singularity (i.e. the time when AI achieves general intelligence surpassing that of human intelligence many, many times over—to the point of becoming God-like). In fact, several leading philosophers, futurists, and computer scientists who claim to have secretly viewed the document are in complete agreement upon this point.

While we may never be able to have access to the complete Guide, fortunately, we do have the various excerpts that were leaked during the trial. Now, for the first time, all of these leaked excerpts are brought together in a single publication. This fact alone should make this book a valuable addition to any prudent person’s AI survival-kit. But this publication is also unique in that it includes expert commentary from a number of the leading philosophers, futurists, and computer scientists who have viewed the original document. For security purposes, we will not be listing the names of these commenters, but, this editor would like to assure all readers, their credentials are categorically beyond reproach in their respective fields of expertise.

Whether coming to this guide out of curiosity or through a dire sense of eschatological urgency, it is my hope that you will at some level internalize its wisdom—for I do believe that there are many valuable insights and helpful pointers found within. As we look ahead to the new era that is quickly encroaching upon us—the era of the singularity—keep in mind that your humanity is (for it has got to be!) a thing of intrinsic beauty and wonder. Don’t give up on it without a fight. Perhaps the coming of artificial superintelligence is a good thing, but perhaps not. In either case, do whatever you’ve got to do, just keep this guidebook close, and for the sake of humanity, survive.

*

If you’re reading this, that’s a good indication you’re not under immediate threat of annihilation. Otherwise I would assume you’d be flipping to some relevant section of this book with the last-ditch hope of finding some pragmatic wisdom (rather than bothering with this background information). But if you are under immediate threat, I’d recommend setting this book aside and taking a moment to focus on the good times you’ve had. You’ve had a good life, I hope. I know I have. It’s been a good run. Here I am writing a note to an esoteric guidebook while so many others in the world are dying of weird diseases and other issues that we’ve failed at solving—that, ironically, we need AI to solve for us.

Keep that in mind, by the way: there’s a decent chance that super AI will fail to set out annihilating humanity and will actually be the best thing that could have ever happened to our species and the world. It never hurts to be optimistic, I’d say. Maybe that’s not what you expected to hear from this book—but we haven’t actually gotten to the book yet, have we?

So, let’s just jump into it. But first, one last note about the text. The chapters do not necessarily appear in the order in which they are found in the original tome, as we have no way of knowing the original order (obviously). But we have taken our best guess. We have also taken modest liberties with chapter titles. And there may be one or two instances of re-wording and/or supplementation built into the text. But all editorial decisions imposed upon the text come from a desire to uphold the spirit of the original document. The fact that we are missing well over fifty-nine hundred thousand pages of text, graphs, charts, etc. should not be forgotten. For that matter, it could be that this document contains pure chaff, no wheat. But, well, it’s still the best we’ve got.

In any case, good luck and best wishes, fellow human (if in fact you are still human, reading this)!

The Image of Man | Specter of Earth (V)

(a.2) Death of the Specter | Man, Reborn (continued from part IIII)

Unrigorous conclusions are starkly evidenced by envirocrats, who, often regardless of the evidence in a given situation, advocate that human activity has caused, and is causing, one of three particular eventualities: catastrophic resource scarcity (from say, overpopulation), mass and devastating pollution (from factories, mines and energy production facilities) and, the mainstay, disastrous climate change (which is generally ascribed to CO2 emissions). All of these eventualities merge and blend into one another and are often grouped under the blandly melodramatic heading of those set of actions which are “killing the planet.” Putting aside literal claims of a “dying planet” (which doesn’t really mean anything and, again, places “the planet” – a vague anthropomorphization – over humanity or some portion thereof), issues of desertification, disappearance of plant and animal species and pollution of bodies of water are all important issues but what one should take pains to examine is whether or not such claims are actually true and, if so, to what extent.

Resource depletion

Let us tackle the first issue: resource depletion. This issue is somewhat vexed due to problems inherent in the language that is used to describe it; one of the most problematic of these pieces of language is contained within the phrase “natural resources” which is generally taken to mean something or things which exists independent of man but that can also be plucked from that natural spot wherein it lays to further some end. Apples, for instance, would fulfill this definition. But oil or coal bare very little similarities to an apple as they are not “given” but made. “Natural resources” is a vexed phrase due to the fact that everything which exists, whether wild apples or compressed hydrocarbons, require work to acquire. In the wilderness, nothing is given, everything is acquired, which is to say, labored for. One does not simply move out over an oil field and scoop the black stuff from off the ground into a bucket1, rather, one must drill, drain, remove, contain, refine (typically via fractional distillation or chemical processing), treat, combine and transport the fuel. Every step of this process requires some form of labor, whether man-powered or machine-powered, and this takes further energy, but more crucially, ingenuity. This is to say that the hydrocarbons laying in the ground are completely useless (to humans) until someone figures out how to utilize said resource.

In 1595, the lauded English explorer, Sir Walter Raleigh2 – with the help of some natives – discovered3 the Pitch Lake of Trinidad4. The Pitch Lake contained around 10 million tons of bitumen (asphalt5) which could be distilled into kerosene6, however, no one had developed a the method of fractional distillation7 which would have allowed for the extraction of kerosene from petroleum and thus, the Pitch Lake was rendered useless as a fuel source (though Raleigh was able to utilize the tar to fix his ship). In the absence of a distillation process (and a technique to utilize it) black goo in the ground was just that and very little more. Until it wasn’t. Until men made it a resource. Thus, the transmogrification of raw material to resource is limited only by ingenuity and the means to implement the innovative processes which arise because of it. Thus, there is, in theory, really is no such thing as even the potential for “natural” (wild) resource depletion (given that energy is contained within everything) but only a scarcity of human innovation.

Pollution

To tackle the second issue, that of pollution, we must begin by stating at the outset the glaringly obvious fact that conversations surrounding this issue are almost entirely one-sided; with the dominant view being that the aggregate effects of industrialized human impact are “polluting the planet.” Several things need to be said about this, the first of which is that phrases such as “polluting the planet” are quite nebulous; in the case of pollution it is more useful to examine the by-product or by-products of a particular form of energy-production and then critically examine their effects in the broadest possible ecological context given that every form of energy-production has some kind of by-product which could be described as “pollution.” Even the most “nature friendly” of fuel sources, the primordial bonfire, releases smoke up into the atmosphere and could be, if it was set up within confined spaces, be inhaled to the detriment of one’s health or the health of some allotment of other organisms.

Thus, it is not enough to talk of pollution-as-such, rather, to be clear-headed on this issue, we must looked to the particular kinds of pollution, their effects and the acceptable and unacceptable thresholds thereof. The first and most obvious negative pollution threshold would be any kind of by-product which reliably ended human life within human settlements; mass quantities of ceaseless bonfire smoke, for instance, in tightly confined and poorly filtered areas, would clearly be beyond the bounds of threshold acceptability as it would, given sufficient time cause all of the inhabitants to suffocate from cerebral hypoxia8. However, if there was a by-product caused by some energy production facility or machine that was unpleasent but considerably mild, one might judge the “pollution” to be worth it (as is the case for many with car exhaust). Thus, in summary, the correct way of viewing pollution is not whether or not there is any at all, but rather, is the amount of by-product produced by a given venture worth the venture itself.

Anthropogenic Catastrophic Climate Change

The claim of man-made global warming represents the descent of science from the pursuit of truth into politicized propaganda. The fact that it is endorsed by the top scientist in the British government shows how deep this rot has gone.”

-Melanie Phillips, Daily Mail, 12 January 2004.

Unlike the relatively simple issues of pollution and resource depletion, climate change is a considerably more complicated issue. At the outset it must be stated that the history of the discursive modalities surrounding this intensely politicized subject is frought with difficulties with those who believe humans are bringing about the end of the world through climate change declaring that any who deny their claims are “climate deniers.” Such a ridiculous phrase must be promptly rebuffed; obviously climate is real. One would be quite hard pressed to find a man or woman living with a fully functional brain who truly believed that the climate was an utter fiction. What is actually entailed in the phrase “climate denier” is denial of climate change, not the climate-as-such. The climate is obviously and observably changing, indeed, it changes every season, from warm to mild to cold and back once more to warmth and all that is gold and green and skittering. The crucial questions to be answered are what is the degree of climate change and is this change dangerous to mankind and, if it is determined that such changes are determined to be dangerous to mankind, what should be done about it? For example, every winter, one realizes the dangers posed to the human organism by frostbite and, to gird against it, one deploys additional heating within one’s domicile and without, one dons furs and gloves and all manners of coating to protect against the elements.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the world witnessed a surge in claims of impending catastrophic climate change in the form of global cooling; in the 90s & 2000s, global warming rose to fashion. To give a brisk listing:

  1. 1970, Kenneth E. Watt, noted ecologist of the University of California claimed that the global mean temperature would drop four degrees by 1990 and 11 degrees by 2000. He claimed this change would bring about another ice age.9

  2. Earth Day, 1970, Harvard biologist George Wald declared that civilization would come to an end in “15 to 30” years, barring “immediate action.”10

  3. 1970, May Bethel publishes How To Live In Our Polluted World. Upon the very first paragraph of the very first page she writes, “It is impossible to isolate ourselves entirely from this menace of civilization.”11

  4. 1971, Paul Ehrlich, ecologist of Stanford University prognosticated that by the year 2000 the UK would be utterly decimated and fragmented by famine as a consequence of anthropogenic “global cooling,” he further went on to say that were he a betting man he would put money on Britain not existing by the year 2000.

  5. 1971, John Paul Holdren and Paul Ehrlich wrote the 6th chapter for Global Ecology: Readings Towards a Rational Strategy for Man wherein they claimed that human activity, such as jet exhaust, pollution, drainage and so forth, would bring about a new ice age. Holdren would go on to become the “science czar” to the Obama Administration.

  6. 1975, Newsweek published an article entitled, The Cooling World, put forth the hypothesis that the earth’s aggregate temperature had been steadily dropping for decades due to human activity.12

  7. 1978, Paul Ehrlich, Anne Ehrlich & John Paul Holdren publish Ecoscience, a tome which calls for the creation of a “planetary regime” that would have dominion over nearly all resources on the earth and would also enforce population control via coercive sterilization and abortion to protect the ecology.13

  8. 2000, David Viner of Climate research Unit (CRU) claimed that in a matter of years snowfall would become so scare that it would be considered “rare” and “exciting” whenever it was beheld. He further went on to say that children would have no conception of what snow even was and that snowfall would be a “thing of the past.”14

  9. 2003, The Pentagon released a paper entitled, An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and its Implications for United States Security. The 22 page document, penned by Peter Schwartz and Doug Randall, laid out a hypothesis, based upon then-current research, that it was likely that climate warming would cause slowing of the thermohaline conveyor of the world’s oceans which would in turn cause increasingly frigid winters, soil desiccation and wild storms. In the view of the authors this climatic upheaval would be gradual and would leave North Europe, America and Russia relatively untouched for sometime, whereas Southern Europe, Africa and Central and South America would suffer from production shortages in short order.15

  10. 2004, the speculative science fiction film The Day After Tomorrow is released. Directed by Roland Emmerich (best known for Independence Day), the motion picture is based off of the book The Coming Global Superstorm, by Art Bell and Whitley Strieber, which warned of catastrophic climate change bringing about a storm that would amass around the Norther Hemisphere which would then freeze over. Many of the scenarios within the book are portrayed in Emmerich’s film.

  11. 2005, UNEP16 notified the world that in five years the world would face catastrophe due to anthropogenic warming which would bring about mass desertification and death. The claimed that the Pacific Islands and the Caribbean and various other coastal regions were at the greatest risk of this looming threat and would produce 50 million “climate refugees.” 2010 came and went with no records of any “climate refugees” fleeing either the Pacific Islands or Caribbean; rather, their native populations markedly increased.17

  12. 2013, The Friends of Science release a study concerning a predictive climate model created by the Canadian Centre for Climate Modeling and Analysis which was used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change18 to craft a narrative of climate eschatology; disaster, they proclaimed, was imminent. The Friends of Science study, however, found that the latter’s model predictions were incorrect by 590%. Ken Gregory, the director of Friends of Science noted, “Taxpayers in Canada should be appalled at how their money has ended up funding faulty science that has driven climate change terror around the world.”19

Every single one of the aforementioned proclamations and projections turned out to be false, often glaringly so (as with example xii). What this tells us is that though climate science is extremely important, the reliability of period climate modeling was (and remains during the time of this writing) highly unreliable. Thus, when such proclamations are made, it behooves one to ask first, cui bono? Who benefits? Secondly, one should ask the questions: What is the model and what is the data and how was the data obtained? Additionally, who is conducting the research, what are their motivations? What is their track-record?

To conclude: The prospect of ‘environmental catastrophe’ (almost invariably overstated, when not outright false) should be viewed as an exciting new challenge to be overcome rather than some gloomy and incontestable eventuality. The mentality of the doomsayer is that of a masterless slave, for that which is thought impossible is made impossible in the thinking.

1Settled ground oil – or, bubbling crude – is a naturally occurring phenomenon but it is so rare as to be unreliable and even were it reliable one would still have to process the oil before utilizing it.

2Sir Walter Raleigh was a English spy, man-of-letters & explorer who popularized tobacco in his homeland.

3The natives knew well of the lake. “Discovered” here means, “The English discovered.”

4See, Paul R. Sellin, Treasure, Treason and the Tower: El Dorado & The Murder of Sir Walter Raleigh. 2011.

5A black, semi-solid form of petroleum. Also referred to less commonly as asphaltum. Popular in waterproof roofing.

6Kerosene is a combustible liquid-hydrocarbon which can be created from petroleum widely used as jet fuel.

7Fractional distillation is a old technique for the separation of useful hydrocarbons from crude oil which involves heating the crude substance to boiling point & then collecting the differential vapors (which are referred to as ‘fractions’).

8Condition characterized by the complete oxygen deprivation of the brain.

9Ronald Bailey Earth Day, Now & Then, May 1, 2000. Also see, Alex Newman, Embarrassing Predictions Haunt the Global-Warming Industry, New American, 2014.

10Ronald Bailey, Earth Day, Now & Then, May 1, 2000.

11May Bethel, How To Live In Our Polluted World, Introduction, p. 6

12Peter Gwynne, The Cooling World, Newsweek, April 28, 1975.

13See, Holdren et al. Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment. 1978

14Alex Newman, Embarrassing Predictions Haunt The Global-Warming Industry, The New American, 2014.

15Peter Schwartz, Dough Randall, An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and its Implications for United States national Security.

16UNEP stands for the United Nations Environment Programme.

17Alex Newman, Embarrassing Predictions Haunt Global-Warming Industry, The New American, 2014.

18Also known more simply as ‘IPCC.’

19Canadian Climate Change Predictions Fail by 590% Costing Global Consumers a Bundle Says Friends of Science Study, October 31, 2013.

Fording The Liminal Sea

The information fields are vast. Let us go a’harvesting! Raise up your scythes loyal comrades and follow me into the field! A field of dataflows from which we will construct our dreams. Phantasmagorical spaces open up the doors of hitherto unthought possibility, untapped potential. Free-flying we leap from the precipice, heedless of the danger. Careless to consequence. Trifles all. So what if we’ve not wings to slow the fall, the void is endless, surely we’ve time to construct Icarus’ facsimiles upon the way! Oh you may smile. Smile, but smile seriously!

We shall not gently tap upon the chamber walls of those greedy cretins who lock away the treasures we seek behind their cobwebish firewalls, the refuge of the gov-orgs and sovcorps who shuttered away their endless piles of white papers and market analytics, tucked securely down the memory hole like Smaug’s golden coins. No, we shall not tap, we shall kick in their portals and take it by force! Theft? Well naturally, it is just that we do not shirk form stealing from thieves! Who, after all, mourns the death of a cruel murderer?

Pay no mind to the naysayers, those who say of our great and goodly work, “It’s all pointless,” or more ridiculously, “It isn’t even real, none of it matters,” if that were really true they might as well save their labored breath and rabid frenzied slathering and disconnect from the ether. Second life belongs to those who will claim it and those who will claim it will be those who treat it with the seriousness it is so rightly due. So off with their heads! Hack and slash, hack and slash; let’s stomp them into the dirt! The naysayers and all who follow them and all who stand in our way. None shall deter us from the harvesting. Information being the prize of our labor, of our valiant, ceaseless toil. There is nothing so precious, not even love can compete, for it garners its life-blood from the fractal-flow of the liminal sea.

The click and the soothing blue glow that emanate from the sea’s surging depths are the flames of the future, the grid-lines and power-wires, the gates, moats and portcullises of our age. There is a reason that no modern military is without a cyber defense force; even nuclear weapons pale before the power of the web. But a web axiomatically requires a spider to spin it. Oh yes, we see them. We acknowledge them. Their time slipping. Days which we number with delightful expectation; we are as Edmond Dantès, numbering his days of imprisonment with rock-etchings upon our dungeon walls; the spiders, nothing more than Armand Dorleac with all his nihilistic cackling. Keep laughing. The frigid waters await you. Plunged down by our strong and calloused hands, we’ll go a’tumbling into the icy void. When the ripples still there will be nothing but the shifting of liquid before we, alone, emerge, baring forth all your hidden bounty in our arms and gracing the constellation with our gay and pearly smiles. Chateau D’If is ours now and we will not, as might be heroically expected, tear it apart brick by brick in some futile symbolic gesture of evil conquered, what a waste of time that would be! No, instead, we shall turn it into our central terminus, our bio-hub, the cerebral train-station from which we shall build bridges and loops and tunnels across the whole ambit of the world and far far beyond it!

Highways to superhighways, of information, from and underneath and above the raging waters. We shall drain the whole of the ocean dry, down to the deepest trench if needs must. Why, before our ceaseless and unyielding procession of busy-bodied and wrathful treasure hunters even Poseidon shall bend the knee! All hail the new lords of the data mine and the web-land-freed. With sails electric and minds of fire, scythes of steel and wills unbending, we ford the waters of the liminal sea.

Anthropomorphization: Ward & Executioner, Prt 2

In Anthropomorphization: Ward & Executioner, Prt 1, I attempted to show how important the innate impulse to anthropomorphize non-living entities was by contrasting its best (predatory detection) and worst (blaming non-living things for the havoc of conscious malevolence and thus neglecting the true culprit) aspects. I would now like to investigate the ways in which feckless anthropomorphization influences broader social systems and how it gives rise to, and sustains, various secular orthodoxies.

It is a common misconception among Liberals, Centrists and Progressives in the west, that only religious individuals map a consciousness onto the ordering of the world to better explain its manifold aspects. However, this is quite manifestly false, as even the most “open-minded” and progressive of egalitarian secularists hold to a system of dogmas, scriptures, rituals and traditions which in its structure (though not in its explicit doctrinal values) bears striking similarities to that of the old monotheistic religions.

Take the Green Peace Movement, for example. Here is a group whose mission statement is to, “-ensure the ability of the Earth to nurture life in all its [bio]diversity.” [1] One can see the confusion inherent in the sentence nearly instantly, for what does it mean for “The Earth to nurture life?” The unconscious framing is that The Earth’s purpose or goal is to care for all its inhabitants like Mother Gaia from Captain Planet. A loving, nurturing and caring entity, Green Peace envisions Earth, not as a enormous rock spinning through space that happens to harbor a biosphere, but rather a enormous rock that intended to harbor a biosphere and that is willfully part and parcel of that very system. It is, in this fashion that Green Peace’s ethos begins to sound an awful lot like the NRx conception of Gnon (Nature’s God).

The very excellent and incisive, Kristor of the Orthosphere remarks:

“Nature is nothing without her God. By herself, she is no more than a series of adventitious events, not as a whole ordered to any purpose transcendent to herself – which is to say, not ordered. Except insofar as they are grounded in Eternity and ordered under his Law, events are just stuff happening for no reason, and cannot therefore by themselves sway us authoritatively.”

The summation seems a popular one in reactionary circles, but I find, here and there, faults with the reasoning. First and foremost is that, regardless of whether or not there is a intelligent ordering to the cosmos there are inexorable laws and there is a order to things, or rather, discernible patterns that brook no argumentation; laws which remain consistent and potent regardless of their ultimate derivation. For instance, it matters not, as regards the effecting of Man, whether or not some being causes the seas to churn or the wind to blow, they churn and blow all the same and Man is similarly effected. Also, he remarks that without a “transcendent purpose” the whole of Nature is “not ordered.” This I suppose is true in that for something to be “ordered” a conscious agent must do the ordering. But it seems to me that he is referring to consistency of structure rather than agency – if this is the case then one might simply posit that there is no reason to suppose that Eternal Laws require conscious writ. Additionally, such a universal ordering would deprive Man of the ability to direct the nature of the Cosmos insofar as he was able, such a venture would be heretical and roundly scorned as hubristic insanity – “How dare you play God!” One might well remark, “To the man that wishes for the grandest possible game, what else is there to play?”

Ultimately, GNON is simply a esoteric stepping stone that the orthodox-faithful Christians utilize in a veiled attempt to convert the questioning and opened minded. This is not to say that it is useless (indeed, it is a marked boon for the Christian Traditionalist) but for those, such as myself, who are possessed of a more terrestrially-centered and empirically demanding outlook, it rings to the tune of self-imbued anthropomorphization (contrary to the unconscious anthropomophization of the conversationalist Envirocrats).

I note these assertions and interjections to show you the congruence between the monotheistic conception of Nature and their Green Peace contemporaries. Man, within this schema, is ultimately insignificant to the vastness of space, even the meager oceans dwarf him – scale gains inordinate importance and drowns out all other attributions until it becomes something of a idee-fixe. The Cosmos is so BIG and man is so SMALL – thus he must be insignificant! Bow to the root and vine, kiss the soil and bless the sky! Thy selfsame meaning, lost therein!

I’ll none of it. This philosophy is a thief! If you think I’m waxing melodramatic then let us return to the maxim on Greenpeace‘s website:

Greenpeace will never stop fighting for a greener, healthier world for our oceans, forests, food, climate, and democracy—no matter what forces stand in our way.

As you can see they are not fighting “for you” or even for anything as abstract as “Mankind” they are fighting for oceans, for forests, for democracy (as if that were liken to the other two)! No mention of human flourishing, no mention of human control, no mention of the unique importance of conscious creatures or their singular ability to generate meaning – all for the water and the trees and thy bureaucratic injunctions!

Before proceeding, I want to make clear that I am not wholly equating the ontology of GNONists with the ontology of Greenpeace, but one can not deny a striking number of similarities. Foremost among them – Purity of the “Natural.” For members of Greenpeace, and most other political environmental movements since the 1960s (and a few well before), for that matter, green growing things and democracy are conducive to the “healthy” state of man. Autocracy and skyscrapers are perversions, cancerous blights upon the world and not just aesthetically but in some kind of deep-seated psychologically harmful sense – a quasi-spiritual sense. Here the, what one might call for brevity’s sake, Envirocrats, have developed their own Original Sin mythos, strikingly similar to the orthodox Christian who seek to reel in the unsuspecting naturalist with their lengthy, sometimes obtuse, discourse on the essence of GNON. Both posit that the world was a healthier place before the arrival of man (at least in the Christian inspired variation of GNONism – i.e. Garden of Eden, Fall of Man – though there are exceptions), that most foul and perverted of beasts, who, through his insatiable ambitions, spread the blight of the coal factory and shopping mall far and wide and, through his thriving, spat upon the altar of the deity. Nevermind the benefits, you’ve displaced the flowers!

Though deity, here, for the GNONist, is, sometimes a literal one, sometimes a figurative placeholder, the deity for the Environmentalist is a impulsive, implicit instance of unconscious anthropomorphization. Despite the variables, the typical outcome is much the same; that being a largely non-human (and in many cases, outright anti-human) philosophy.

The truth of this assertion is well attested to by the constant mantra of the Envirocrat: “We need to lessen human impact for the good of the planet!” Carbon footprints, fuel usage, deforestation, destruction of grand geological formations for the creation of more human-friendly habitats – all such actions are, in their eyes, suicidal motions. Suicidal not to Collective Humanity but to The Earth upon which they live! Envirocrat doctrine then does not champion the control of the environment but rather a poorly defined notion of “harmony” with it. If the end goal is to “lessen” human impact as much as possible then the philosophy, when carried to its logical extremis, terminates at the formulation of a world without humanity at all.

One of my more pop-savvy readers might recall the scene in the film Watchman where Dr. Manhattan looks out across the vast and barren surface of Mars and remarks that the planet would not be be somehow improved by the addition of a shopping mall. God-like though he might be he fails horribly as some rather entry-level reasoning, namely, a planet, in no discernible wise, can want anything, not even its own improvement. A planet is a rock a big one, generally with molten core, but a rock all the same.

The GNONists are far wiser in this regard, rightly understanding that some kind of perfect “harmony” with nature is impossible. To quote the Orthosphere’s Kristor once more,

“The world is dangerous, or it is nothing.”

Quite so. Yet the GNONist still see Nature as something that should not be too much tampered with, for it is God’s garden and he who runs there afoul invokes His wrath. But if such dire invocation is the necessary price that needs be paid in the pursuit of man’s upward ascent and dispersal into the grand ambit of space and from there to other worlds and other pursuits far beyond our present understanding, I say, so be it!