Beyond Victory (Game Days 2022)

Game Days.blue text

International Hobo founder and chief consultant Chris Bateman is returning to the Game Days conference, with a keynote entitled "Beyond Victory" at 11 am on Saturday 5th November. The event takes place in the beautiful city of Košice in the Slovak Republic, and attracts game developers from all over Europe. Chris talk is described as follows:

Everybody likes to win, but not everybody is willing to endure frustration to get there. Discover ten different psychological motives that players seek - and learn how to satisfy them all.

Building on International Hobo's acclaimed '10 Player Motives' model, Chris' talk is a perfect introduction to thinking about how and why players engage with games - and what game developers can do in order to exceed the expectations of their players.

Tickets start at €20, and are available from the Game Days website.


Open Data

Alma Thomas - The EclipseOpen source began a cultural movement back towards the commons that for the first time established a form of solidarity within technology. At its heart, the open source movement argues that the computer code behind software ought to be publicly available, for both ethical and pragmatic reasons. But open source isn't enough. What we may need to complete this transition is open data.

The recent news that Elon Musk's bid to takeover Twitter is back on the table has created the usual stir. The new left, committed to a censorship it deems entirely necessary, is up in arms about how this will allow the right back onto Twitter, which is apparently a disastrous proposition. But the suggestion that censorship is 'necessary for democracy' is laughable if all this means is "I don't want to have to listen to what my political opponents have to say". Democracy requires the free exchange of ideas, and the moment one faction is given the power to decide what speech is or isn't permitted, we are deep into the territory that Orwell's 1984 warned about.

This sudden zealotry for censorship has collapsed scientific discourse in the last two years, not because research has ceased to function, but because dissemination has faltered. It has been surreal to find open scientific discourse driven underground where, oddly, it thrives, although while it is trapped there practitioners have to interact with folks holding fringe beliefs who I imagine have been excluded from polite society for quite some time. Meanwhile, it seems far too many people (including and especially doctors) trust the media to accurately inform them, which reporters have shamefully ceased to do, preferring one-sided phantasmal narratives over authentic investigation. Alas, if the behaviour of the Vatican in the Middle Ages didn't sufficiently warn of the dangers of allowing institutions to control thought, then the surreality of these past two years will presumably also fail to teach us the lesson we neglected to learn from history. The substitution of enforced consensus for scientific discourse is not a path to truth, it is the utter denial of it.

When Musk declared that Twitter was the "de facto public square", I believe he was absolutely right. Don't let the smaller number of users deceive you - Facebook has many more people sharing cat photos, but the political snowball effect that led to censorship and thus enormous global harm originated on Twitter, where a grim consensus formed over speculative health care interventions that was pure fabulism, having no basis in the existing scientific data or practices. Our first step to restoring democracy must be the restoration of civic discourse. Thus when Musk revealed his intentions for Twitter, I could not help but feel a glimmer of hope that a 'third accord' to replace the fallen Old Republic of human rights (and the Rights of Man that preceded it) might yet be achievable. This third accord may not even need the actions of the nation states to bring it about.

It is fascinating to dig through the private messages that Musk disclosed for the lawsuit between him and Twitter. Two exchanges leap out at me in particular. Firstly, one with former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, who suggested on 26th March 2022:

I believe it must be an open source protocol, funded by a foundation of sorts that doesn't own the protocol, only advanced it. A bit like what Signal has done. It can't have an advertising model. Otherwise you have surface area that governments and advertisers will try to influence and control. If it has a centralized entity behind it, it will be attacked. This isn't complicated work, it just has to be done right so it's resilient to what has happened to twitter.

And secondly, on 9th April 2022, an exchange with Musk's brother, Kimball:

I have an idea for a blockchain social media system that does both payments and short text messages/links like twitter. You have to pay a tiny amount to register your message on the chain, which will cut out the vast majority of spam and bots. There is no throat to choke, so free speech is guaranteed.

This is not just open source we are talking about here, it is open data. Right now, social media messages belong to the company that provides the tools - who are then both tempted and empowered to censor, as both Facebook and Twitter did to reckless degrees in recent years. This alternate path would see these messages shared as part of a public protocol. You could choose who you want to curate messages for you, because anyone could mount a tool on top of the protocol. Musk also appears to be considering a "marketplace of algorithms" (suggested to him by Matthias Dopfner in an exchange on 6th April 2022), such that those who require personalised censorship for the benefit of their delicate sensibilities might indulge in it without cutting of public conversation at its roots.

It is well worth pondering the case of Alex Berenson, a former journalist for the New York Times who was banned from Twitter in August 2021 for posting alleged 'misinformation'. In fact, Berenson had not posted anything that was not factual, and it was apparent to anyone who had kept their ear to the research literature that Berenson was both in the know and in the right. So convinced was Berenson of the justice of his cause that he took Twitter to court - and won. On 6th July 2022, Twitter was forced to reinstate him. (Although they banned him again on the 8th October 2022...) However, Twitter clearly knew they had no legitimate basis to ban him, as this internal discussion inside Twitter shows:

Twitter discussing BerensonAs Berenson makes clear, this legal ruling against Twitter was technical and concerned violation of terms of service (the court did not, as far as I can tell, explore any of the  specifics of the claims Berenson was making). What's especially interesting about the Berenson case, however, is what the legal disclosure revealed. The Biden administration leaned on Twitter to silence Berenson, because he was challenging (with legitimate cause) the behaviour of the CDC and the FDA, and by extension undermining the authority of the White House. In this regard, Twitter was behaving as a 'state actor', and therefore violated the First Amendment. This is yet another huge and explosive story that is not permitted to be told, but in my view this approaches the Watergate scandal in its despicable audacity.

Those that are committed to supporting Biden because they have been polarised into one of the two major kinds of useful idiot will struggle to accept the evident wrong-doing entailed in this debacle. For such people I am delighted to report that what President Biden allowed to happen on his watch through apparent senility is matched in shamefulness by what President Trump permitted to happen on his watch through incompetence. Apparently distracted by someone in the audience metaphorically jangling some keys, Mr Trump allowed a positively jubilant Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci to throw away the right to free association that by legal precedent is also ascribed to the First Amendment. You are free to support whichever useful idiot you like, but please don't try to convince me that either of these Presidents has in any sense of the word been 'good'.

Open data would have prevented the White House from pressuring Twitter to silence Berenson, because his messages would have been irrevocably available for everyone to see - as they always should have been. The integrity of the public square matters greatly if we truly believe in free expression, in democracy, in free speech, or for that matter in the value of the sciences, which always rests upon the freedom to discuss all the possible interpretations of the evidence. Trust in 'The Science' is blind faith in magical science, and this is nothing but idolatry, a corruption of everything scientific investigation stands for. This graven image is one that far too many people have been fooled into worshipping by the New Empire, whose primary tool has become the silencing of those who break with doctrine. A shiny new oligarchical cyber-Vatican for the 21st century!

Nor should we think about open data as applying solely to our social media messages. An intriguing suggestion has been made repeatedly by 'El Gato Malo', a retired pharmaceuticals executive and well-known figure in the scientific underground. He was also banned from Twitter, in his case simply because President Trump shared one of his tweets (strange but apparently true!). I am far from convinced by everything the 'Bad Cat' says, and he is clearly politically to the right of anywhere I might choose to sit down. However, I am in complete agreement with him when he suggests that "public health must be made public", and proposes using open data to share anonymized health records publicly. Such an approach would remove, to name just one benefit, Pfizer's ability to hide their trial data and prevent third parties from adequately investigating its veracity, as British Medical Journal editor Peter Doshi has repeatedly called for as necessary. Open data would ensure adequate scrutiny on all public health claims, rather than permitting the tyranny of unelected agencies we have endured for the past two years. It would represent a radical step toward finally decolonising public health.

As I wrote in The Paradox of Conviction, we would rather be certain than know the truth, and this is the underlying psychology that drives sci-dolatry, self-righteous calls for censorship of contrary opinions, and a great many of our contemporary 'culture war' ills besides. If we want to recover the will to discover what might be true, we must be prepared to endure the collision of disagreements. Censorship, 'fact checkers', disinformation committees - these are not means to protect the truth, they are methods of preventing its discovery. Lies require such authoritarian mechanisms to sustain themselves, because they cannot withstand open discourse. The truth never requires us to silence those who have made mistakes, for the truth itself is strong enough to withstand whatever we might say about it.

It is this sensitivity to the dangers of allowing the institutions with power to control public discourse that Musk, and other like him, appear to share. If Musk is an unlikely ally against the New Empire, we can at least be grateful that anyone is still willing to take a principled stand in these dark and wretched times. When I argued at the beginning of the year against the colonial philanthropy of someone such as Bill Gates, whose institute has been a major player in exacerbating the disaster that was the last two years, I proposed that the only legitimate philanthropy was that which restores or expands the commons. Musk's takeover of Twitter certainly entails enormous commercial benefits for him, but then, Gates too has made extraordinary sums of money from his colonial philanthropy. Elites, it seems, do nothing for free. Yet in so much as Musk's motivation in this affair might also include principled goals, it leans towards a philanthropy of the only kind we should be willing to accept from wealthy power elites: that which restores the commons.

The public square is indeed a commons, one that forms the hub of political, cultural, and scientific discourse. The closing of this space through censorship lies at the heart of everything that has gone wrong in the past few years. We will struggle to get beyond the impasse, however, if we do not take the opportunity to reveal and confess all the myriad mistakes that contributed to the global catastrophe that was our response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. If the Republicans gain the advantage in the coming US midterm elections, we will likely get little more than recriminatory witch-hunts that will intensify the fractures. What we may need to restore both public and scientific discourse is something more like truth and reconciliation, and if I rather doubt we will get it, I remain hopeful there is still a path forward provided at least some of us remain committed to the inevitable ambiguity of truth.

Truth may be elusive, but it is not fragile: it survives the battle of disagreements that it attracts. Truths are like dark matter, exerting an inexorable gravitational pull that we can witness, even though the truth itself remains forever hidden. If we wish to recover our openness to unveiling these intangible truths, all we need is our willingness to talk to one another, to disagree, to debate. That alone has the power to restore scientific discourse, and perhaps to get us beyond this horrific disaster we have recklessly enacted together in a deadly convergence of cultivated fear and misguided ignorance. This restoration of the global public square requires open data, and with it the power to place all discourse beyond the reach of any individual, any corporation, or any government to silence.

The opening image is The Eclipse by Alma Thomas, which I found at the website for the Smithsonian, here. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.


Power and Scale

Martin Cervantez.Daydream NightmaresSince World War II, the cultural battle of ideologies has been pivoting around 'capitalism' as one of its axis. Even when Islamism is used as a foil (instead of the usual villain, communism), the ideals that square up against it are aligned with the concept of 'capitalism' as a kind of liberty rooted in the freedom of the marketplace. But even if we value the notion of uninhibited commerce, we can no longer pretend that capitalism, communism, or anything else of this kind is the shape of an ethic we can legitimately align with liberty. Those of us who still care about human freedom must think anew about what it is that we could reasonably hold as a shared ideal.

To understand how the situation has swung out of control, we first have to appreciate the remarkable achievements of the New Empire that has risen up to replace the Old Republic of human rights. But to bring this into focus, we need to think around the problem, to see what is hidden by the immense shadow that it casts upon our thought. A comparison with the historical 'dark ages' is not too great a stretch. These were not, as first thought, a period where there was no cultural development or exchange, but they were certainly a period during which maintenance of doctrines in a top-down fashion placed a limit upon thought and knowledge. It was not by accident that the 'dark ages' were followed by 'the Enlightenment'. Now that the light from this era dims, we face, as Alastair MacIntyre already warned us back in 1984, a "new dark ages" where the barbarians "have already been governing us for quite some time."

Since the nonsense descended upon us, I have spent more time than usual exchanging missives with US libertarians, which is to say, people who believe in personal liberty and also have great faith in the free market. There is a package of beliefs here, a non-religion that is not my own but which I respect. The assumption, not without justification, is that when we are permitted to trade our goods and services freely, the psychology of value works to bring about efficiencies in certain aspects of human life. To put this another way, those companies that deliver goods and services effectively triumph in the marketplace precisely because they act efficiently. Libertarians of such ilk are generally against the intervention of the government in matters of this kind for the logical reason that such meddling disrupts the order of the marketplace, which they contend works to bring about efficient delivery of goods and services. I actually do not disagree with them on this point, but I am perhaps too acutely aware that it is merely an ideal.

We need ideals, we need ethics, because without them we fall swiftly into evil, which is to say, causing harm and excusing ourselves of doing so (or causing harm and refusing to acknowledge that we have done so). But every ideal we adopt, every package of beliefs we take on, always also deceives us, because it comes with a blind spot that the very framework of our chosen ideal makes harder to see. For the libertarians, one way of seeing this blind spot is in the way that they conceive 'communism' (and by extension 'socialism'). To a US libertarian, socialism/communism refers to the administering of any service via the State rather than via the free market. By and large, this is not quite what these terms mean to Europeans.

Certainly, there are many on the old political left that this faith in State-services would fit, and this is especially so in the US. Completely missed here, however, is the solidarity of the workers that used to be the key ideal in British left politics before the Labour party betrayed its roots and swore allegiance to the New Empire. That there is a distortion of perception wrapped up in this understanding can be seen in the way that the US libertarians like to say that Italian fascism was a left-wing political movement. It wasn't. But neither was it a right-wing movement. It was a movement against Communism that acquired support from both the left and the right. Indeed, left-leaning radicals in Europe often supported Italian fascism if they were not convinced by Communism. This doesn't alter the nationalistic thrust of fascism, which the left simply cannot associate with itself, since it clings to an understanding of the universal genderless human that once underpinned our commitments to human rights but that has now been severed from them.

So this libertarian ideal sees the intervention of the government as harmful and the action of the free market as good. But this framework misses the enormous problem with the ideal of unencumbered trade - one which is well-known and not in question: those that successfully build enough resources through trade will form monopolies, and these inevitably disrupt the free market by virtue of the power they have thus acquired. I still do not quite understand what the libertarian's retort is in respect of monopolies, because surely you cannot complain about government intervention in the market yet turn to the government to break up monopolies!

It seems unavoidable that the only power structure with the influence to break up monopolies is the State, but the libertarian does not want the State to possess any power over the market. Do such libertarians believe that, in the imaginary ideal of free trade, people would bring down monopolies of their own accord because they would clearly see the problems they cause...? The trouble with this understanding is that nothing of the kind has ever happened. Monopolies enjoy such advantages of efficiency that the end users frequently are delighted by it - just ask those who without qualms or scruples use the services provided by Google, Meta, or Amazon, or for that matter Disney, not to mention Pfizer. Such people are delighted with what these monopolies, near-monopolies, or (in the case of pharmaceuticals) cartels deliver them. Why would they object...?

When we look at the incredible power that these transnational corporations possess, we can also see the enormous difficulty that any State has in applying power against them. The power the megacorporations possess exceeds that of most nations, not only because of the scale of the money that flows through them, but also because the sheer size of their network allows them to wield enormous influence upon the State itself. The US has tax revenues of $3.8 trillion, which is more than Amazon, Google, Meta, Pfizer, and Disney put together (about $1.04 trillion collectively). But those corporate billions not only make for enormous tax revenue the State is strongly motivated to defend, the transnationals can also buy substantial influence in Washington through political donations. In the case of the United States, where all of these companies are registered, this ultimately means the State is more interested in serving these organisations than anything else, especially while the citizens are satisfied with the services these near-monopolies and trade cartels are delivering. This is especially problematic when this allows the harms caused by these organisations to be quietly concealed.

Support for 'capitalism' means too many different things to really describe anything worth defending or opposing any more, it is an artefact of a time that has passed. To the US libertarians, 'capitalism' means supporting a free market that has not existed for quite some time now. To supporters of US corporations, 'capitalism' means something very different indeed. And either way, putting up 'communism' or 'socialism' as an opposite pole conceals the authentic political and social risks that are being faced by accepting this new power bloc. The Old Republic of human rights was not brought down by a sudden re-emergence of communism as a major international force any more than the delivery of so-called 'socialised medicine' in the Scandinavian nations excluded them from falling in line with the pharmaceutical cartels up until the Summer of this year.

For what remains of the radicals and activists, all this talk of the power of the corporations (capitalism) or the power of the state (socialism) is a distraction from what has truly destroyed the old world order and taken charge of a new one, essentially unnoticed. For it is the power that comes with scale that has triumphed, and upon which the New Empire rests. Yes, the United States operates on a global scale, and yes so does China and, to a lesser extent, the European Union, and even Russia, who everyone has their knickers in a twist over right now. But Amazon, Google, Meta, Pfizer, and Disney (in that order) equally operate on a global scale, and with greater power and influence, and each has billions of users in their networks. Even China only has a population of one and a half billion.

In The Virtuous Cyborg, I drew attention to the blurring of the lines between nations and corporations because the sheer scale of the circumstances relating to the transnationals was now coming to dwarf that of nations. It is not hard to appreciate that this increase in scale has come with a commensurate increase in power, but what it has not come with is an increase in understanding. Indeed, in The Virtuous Cyborg I suggested that "nothing is in control, least of all humanity..." precisely because power now outstrips understanding by orders of magnitude. It is far easier to build power than knowledge, since while the sciences and other methods of knowledge-production can benefit from the network effects of scale, this is only true when free debate operates within them. The moment discourse is prevented, there are no sciences as such, only power and control over research agendas. If the power grows first, the knowledge is all too easily brought under distortive control.

Whether our ideals revolve around the free market or something else entirely, we may finally have reached a point where we have to ask whether continuing to permit these transnational organisations to operate on the vast scales they have attained isn't an invitation to cause inevitable and tremendous harm. It is all but impossible to possess the power that comes with this degree of scale without falling prey to evil (causing harm) because power grows with scale but understanding need not, and certainly will not when those with power interrupt the discourse required to carefully construct understanding. Indeed, this is a possible diagnosis of the global tragedy that we just lived through.

Yet even if we reached this conclusion, what could we then do about it...? If these transnational corporations already have the greatest degree of influence over the largest of the nation states, who or what could possibly bring them to account now? The only possible answer is to forge new ideals that act against the power of scale, for without an ethic of this kind, no counterweight is possible, and the New Empire's reign will inexorably become absolute. This is one of the greatest challenges that faces those of us who are already aware that a new dark ages might already be upon us.

The opening image is Daydream Nightmares, which has been attributed to Martin Cervantez, but does not appear at his artist website for some reason. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.


Meritocracy vs Equitocracy

Cell-no7-angela-canada-hopkinsDemocracy is something more than one person, one vote. It is perfectly possible to reign tyrannically and still grant a vote to individuals, as many a dictatorship has shown. Democracy used to mean that we all shared equal rights, but the Old Republic has fallen, and we cannot get back to it from where we are. Still, we ought to strive to understand why it failed. One key reason the era of human rights ended was the emergence of a new political tactic for claiming 'emergency powers' as a means of usurping democratic rule. This boondoggle can make any nation into an overnight tyranny, simply by claiming that experts are certain that extreme measures must be deployed. Thus expert power is antithetical to democracy, when it is understood as the equality of citizens. Yet expert advice is vital to democratic life. How do we resolve this contradiction...?

Experts are a form of elite, those that are appointed their status through academic achievement rather than by birth. It may be worth noting that when these intellectual elites first appeared, in the preceding centuries, every one of them was born into elite status. Nowadays, it is no longer permitted that we think like the Victorians did about the superiority of the 'gentleman' - a theme that Charles Dickens revolted against again and again in his novels. We are supposed to know today that noble birth doesn't automatically make us into better people. Yet this same mythology lives on, it has just been recast as meritocracy. Today, those born into money and status routinely ignore the tremendous luck involved in their circumstances in just the same way that the Victorian gentlemen salved their consciences and stoked their egos with their own arrogance. Believing in meritocracy means that power, status, and wealth necessarily flow to the worthy. Therefore the fact that I have power, status, and wealth becomes the evidence of my worthiness.

Against this facile implementation of the ideal of meritocracy, the left-leaning academic community have quietly revolted in disgust. The ivory tower crowd have managed to come up with a supposedly brilliant new alternative: equity. Correctly recognising that meritocracy ignores the tremendous disparity in starting circumstances, this new ideal of equity sets about to attain equality of outcomes. No longer will people be judged on their merits, now it is just a matter of determining who is disadvantaged and giving them more advantages, a kind of sports day handicapping system based upon... well, our whimsical perceptions of disadvantage as far as I can tell. This new equitocracy is directly opposed to meritocracy although, ironically, both are supported by elites, albeit of different political flavours. Pragmatically, equitocratic rule does not undermine the power already possessed by elites, it merely chooses an arbitrary subset of the non-elites in the echelons below to bestow advantages .

Yet regardless of which form of appointment we prefer (merit or equity), we still leave open the path to expert power. It seems we would much rather accede to our own stupidity than work together to overcome it. This brings us back to the themes of last week's discussion of equal stupidity. We are all, I claim, equally stupid, because while we each will (which is to say, commit) to learning various different skills, every individual has numerous blind spots that are best defended against by pooling our intelligence. What's more, our desires distract us... even where we are skilled, the things that we want can disturb our good judgement. All the more important, therefore, that we do not rely on individual experts to make important decisions but have mechanisms for pooling our intelligence, such as open scientific discourse.

Neither appointing expert power on the basis of merit or appointing it on the basis of equity is anywhere near enough to defend against our equal stupidity. For all that equitocracy is opposed to meritocracy, it is far from obvious that it is an improvement upon it - and this will either sound obvious or blasphemous, depending upon where your political desires have been drawn. Diversity hires may seem like a way of 'helping' minorities, but if everyone knows that experts are appointed for the identity boxes they check rather than their expertise, it undermines trust in those experts and exacerbates existing prejudices ("they were only hired because they ticked such-and-such a box"). What a ludicrous mistake to make!

Unavoidably, both meritocracy and equitocracy are equally stupid, and for the same reason: people have stacked their own stupid on top of people with the same stupid, instead of being open to criticism from those with a different stupid to contribute. Somewhere between the elite tautology of meritocracy and the reshuffled Marxism of equitocracy lies a way of living together that everybody might plausibly will. But instead of working out what it is, we have decided we would rather just let our political desires draw us into the lazy pathways of oh-so-many painfully stupid political conflicts. Again.

This tyranny of experts that has reigned since the Enlightenment is certainly empowered by meritocracy but it is also inevitably implied by equitocracy too. After all, how can equitocracy function if not by having experts determine the disadvantages in order to distribute the advantages...? Yet expertise is a funny thing. Success in the meritocracy, as equitocrats know all too well, is not wholly dependent upon skill, and is often far more influenced by social position ("it's not what you know, it's who you know"). Conversely, success in the equitocracy, as meritocrats know all too well, is also not wholly dependent upon skill, and is often far more dependent upon being something other than white, male, or straight ("it's not what you know, it's the identity boxes you tick"). So we have no good reason at all to trust that any experts are adequate to the tasks assigned to them these days - and every reason to expect that their equal stupidity will manifest, since there is nothing set up as an adequate counterweight to expert power.

The inevitable, the unavoidable truth that this leads to is that censorship is incitement to stupidity. For whenever we appoint experts to adjudicate and do not allow for the debate to determine the wisdom and intelligence of what is proposed, we are aligning our equal stupidity to create dangerous blind spots. Political factionalism is the engine of staggering ignorance that has led us to this bizarre future world where our technology is unthinkably advanced and our problem-solving is asinine. Or, as Einstein put it: "Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem to characterize our age." The strongest defence against our equal stupidity would be to pool our equality of intelligence together. Why don't we want that...?

I know the objections this will rear up. "But such-and-such a person believes such-and-such!" Yes, but so what...? Open debate is the greatest crucible for distinguishing desire from will, for overcoming equal stupidity, and for benefiting from the equality of our intelligence. Do you really think open debate will lead to public health policy being dictated by those who believe viruses don't exist, or maps being drafted by flat earthers, or history being written by Young Earth Creationists...? Or is it more likely that being able to freely hold such debates might in fact allow us to pool our equality of intelligence to overcome those ways in which we are all equally stupid.

The truth that has remained hidden from us for so long is that reasonable objections take many forms, and it does not require an expert to raise them. If a particular course of action bankrupts a great many small businesses and transfers money to large corporations, is it not wise that a democratic society should listen to the objections of those running those small business...? And this is especially so if those who have been granted expert power are in fact swayed in their desires by the incitements of wealth that inevitably accumulates around the large corporations. This seems to me to be one of two ways of explaining the abject failure of the CDC and FDA in the last two years, the other being that its experts were distracted from open scientific discourse by their mere political desires. Most likely, it was both.

If there is a way to combine meritocracy and equitocracy, it must begin by tempering the excesses of expert power with the open debate that is the lifeblood of authentic democracy. Social media might provide an ideal forum for doing so, if only we could just stop letting 'experts' determine what is or isn't permitted to be spoken. The law already gives us the boundary condition we need - incitement to violence. Everything else is intellectual gerrymandering, a grotesque opportunity for those who happen to express their equal stupidity identically to destroy our collective intelligence, both scientific and otherwise. The moment we grant anyone the covert expert power to adjudicate what must not be said, we abandon democratic ideals. Censorship cannot empower expert knowledge, it merely inflates the risks inherent in our all-too-human stupidity.

We ought to take from meritocracy the idea of expert advisors requiring suitable expertise rather than meeting arbitrary identity checkboxes. But we ought to take from equitocracy the vital necessity of keeping the pathways to success open to everyone, regardless of their circumstances. Hiring the same kind of people increases the risk of stacking up the same kinds of stupid, while authentic diversity enhances our collective intelligence. Besides, changing how experts are appointed merely shifts whose power matters, it does not solve any significant problem we are facing. What is required instead is an equality of objection, the freedom to speak out against whatever form of stupidity is being allowed to manifest. It is time that we demand again our once-sacred right of free speech from each and every space of discourse, for only free and open debate can truly defend against the manifest dangers of our equal stupidity.

The opening image Cell No.7 by Angela Canada-Hopkins, which I found here. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.


Equal Stupidity

Kral.My Stupid HeadThe expert is given power over us because we believe that we are stupid and they are knowledgeable. But this is a mirage... expertise is not intelligence, but merely one way of exercising the potential of our intelligence. No amount of expert knowledge will prevent us from falling prey to those blind spots in our understanding where despite our expertise, despite our knowledge, despite our intellectual prowess, we all remain - every one of us - equally stupid.

One of the throwaway comments in my short philosophy book, Wikipedia Knows Nothing, is that we are all equally stupid. This is not the triviality that it may at first appear, but a reworking of the French philosopher Jacques Rancière's concept of 'equality of intelligence' from The Ignorant Schoolmaster. Knowing how much resistance there would be to the idea that 'we're all equally intelligent', I inverted Ranciére's concept to claim the same thing in reverse: 'we're all equally stupid'. Hidden in this apparently idle remark is a revolutionary way of thinking about humanity.

Rancière's equality of intelligence emerges from a particular way of thinking about what it means to be a human: as a will served by an intelligence. 'Intelligence' here isn't anything like IQ (which is, rather circularly, merely a measure of the ability to complete IQ tests) and it is nothing much to do with education either. What Ranciére means by 'intelligence' is our potential as thinking beings to learn skills and solve problems. This intelligence is our own mental tool that is deployed by our will, which is our capacity to set our sights on future states (to set 'ends', as the Enlightenment philosophers put it). We are all a will (our sincere intentions) served by an intelligence (the capacity to fulfil those intentions), and on this understanding, our intelligences are equal.

I know the objections - intelligence is 'obviously' not distributed equally, what about those with congenital defects, and so forth. This misses Ranciére's point. We choose arbitrary measures of competence and then name this 'intelligence'. But this is rigging the game such that whosoever happens to match our chosen measures will seem 'intelligent'. Intelligence for Ranciére is not any kind of measure at all, but rather a name for the human potential to master any skill. Nobody has devised - or could devise - a measure of all the infinite potentialities of the human mind. In this respect - our potential to learn - we are all equals. This is equality of intelligence, and it is fundamentally opposed to expert power, which assumes there must be a hierarchy of intelligence that education magically reveals.

The evident inequality in the manifestations of our potential has no bearing at all on equality of intelligence. Besides, does anyone truly think that a 'one size fits all' education is the optimal way of encouraging learning...? No, we are far too focussed on regulating assessment, and not at all interested in facilitating learning, because assessment serves our desire for hierarchy. Likewise, the teacher is supposedly superior to those they teach - expert power in microcosm. Yet whenever a teacher exercises authority rather than building trust, it is a betrayal of their students' unbounded potential. The different outcomes of our education systems are not evidence of inequality of intelligence, but merely the inevitable consequences of their design.

A will served by an intelligence explains our varying intellectual circumstances in terms of differences in our will, our commitments. We can only master what we will that we shall learn. It is probably worth stressing that what we will and want we desire, are not the same. I can want a single malt whisky (I frequently do!) but I cannot will a whisky. I could, however, will that I would run a whisky distillery. Our will, therefore, is about ideals in our imagination, future states that we commit to bringing about. I sometimes suspect that the reason that a multitude of marriages fail is that many people merely desire to get married, or even just want a wedding (which is not the same thing at all). If you do not will the marriage, the partnership, it cannot last, for then it is merely an expression of our fickle desires. Only if partners truly will a future together as equals can any marriage honestly persist.

A will served by an intelligence draws attention to how we can be equals, whether in marriage or as citizens (our equal potential), as well as why we would support democracy (because we all will different things). My own concept of 'equal stupidity' inverts the idea of 'a will serving an intelligence' such that we foreground the commonality of our limitations instead. Yes, we can learn anything provided we will it... frankly, trying to learn what you do not will is nothing less than excruciating. But nobody can learn everythingAs a trivial example, those who learn arithmetic but do not learn algebra can often conduct sums in their head quickly and easily. Those who learn algebra tend to lose this ability - the more complex mathematics supplants the simpler habits. Furthermore, those who can solve the most complex mathematical equations tend to be lacking when it comes to, say, diplomacy or poetry. Similarly, a professional poker player can be loathe to play against amateurs because the skills they require to win against other pros are radically different from what it takes to play against those who never learned all the outs and pot odds. We can learn anything, but we cannot learn everything.

There is at least one sense in which 'equal stupidity' exceeds 'equality of intelligence' as a means of understanding human capacity. 'Equality of intelligence' implies that everyone can get to grips with every problem, given both the time and the will. I believe this to be true, as illogical as it sounds. But 'equal stupidity' reminds us that whatever we can or cannot achieve on our own, we can achieve far more when we work together. The aspect of our stupidity that is equal is the degree of our fallibility as thinking beings. But we fail in different ways, and we fear different pitfalls, precisely because we will different things and this draws our intelligence into thinking about problems in different ways.

It is hard to avoid the obvious, recent example. You see the urgency of saving the vulnerable from a deadly infection, I see the health harms inflicted by your untested proposals for how to achieve that goal. If we could have co-operated, who knows how many people might yet have lived...? Yet again, as with so many times before, our hate and fear destroyed our unity, and while we were squabbling, expert power betrayed us, as it always must when left unchecked. Equal stupidity makes it too dangerous to let a solitary individual work on any serious problem. Mistakes are certain to be made by anyone acting alone. But we can defend against our equal stupidity if we open ourselves up to trusting one another, thus pooling our equality of intelligence. First trust, then truth. Else first fear, then failure. Forever and ever, amen.

'Equal stupidity' thus helps to draw attention to the ridiculous assumptions of expert power. We are besotted with the fantasy that there are those with a super-intellect who can solve any problem as simply as snapping their fingers. Magical science has become the literary mythology of scientific research... As I have said before, Sherlock Holmes always has a flawless investigation, which makes him a terrible model for actual detectives. Likewise, a movie scientist can make anything happen given a sufficiently long montage. Equal stupidity is a maxim reminding us that these glorifications of individual intellect are fantasies. The true power of scientific investigation lies in the redundancies brought about by pooling our intelligences - empowered by network effects, whatever truths can be ascertained by these methods can be carefully revealed, and whatever mistakes have been made will be exposed.

The power of the sciences lies in overcoming our equal stupidity through open co-operation. Authentic research is nothing like this idolatrous beast we have named 'the Science', which is merely a mask for expert power. When our talents are pooled successfully in scientific investigations, when our wills are committed to finding the truth together, we can indeed defend against our equal stupidity. But it is not only the sciences that can benefit from pooling our equality of intelligence to overcome our equal stupidity. We can take this idea far further, as long as we can remember how to trust one another. Within this concept of equal stupidity lies a warning about how we have failed to live up to the ideals of equality, and perhaps also the possibility of restoring our dreams of democracy.

Next week: Meritocracy vs Equitocracy

The opening image is My Stupid Head by Mitsi b Kral, which I found here. As ever, no copyright infringement is intended and I will take the image down if asked.


When I Grow Up

Sophia LorenDear Players of the Game,

Forgive me for being somewhat fixated on political philosophy recently... the scope of the injustice we have just endured has been so great I could not remain silent without feeling that I had failed in my task as a human being, as a philosopher, and as one who has sworn fealty to the now-fallen notion of human rights. But likewise, I cannot go on like this indefinitely. Hopefully, we are approaching a turning point that can bring some kind of restitution and I can let this go. But all I can really do now is see what happens.

In the meantime, my escape has been WAMTNG, which is helping me write about something other than the nonsense and its aftermath. And I am enjoying Substack as a platform too... it is easy to work with, and I get paid for it. Yes, despite only a few dozen followers, I am already making money writing WAMTNG instead of losing it, as I have been doing here for seventeen years. I'm not actually that motivated by the money... but it certainly makes it easier to justify the time when it is paid for!

So I'd like to write another Substack, but I don't know what it would be. It would need to be something that people wanted to read, and it would need to be something I would be happy to write about. Going back to writing about games seems unlikely... I spend forty or more hours a week doing this as my paid job - by the time I down tools at the end of my day, I'm spent on games. But then, I don't want to start a second Substack if it isn't going to be something that some proportion of people would pay for, not because I need or want the money, but because the decision of others to support my writing with their own money helps to justify the time I spend writing it. So I need to know where the balance point is between what interests me, and what people will support. I would prefer it not be games... but I would consider it.

I welcome your thoughts on this. I'm not planning to give up Only a Game - but I do feel I could stand to write fewer of these kinds of essays and more of something else. It's just I don't know what would be the right something else.

With unlimited love,

Chris.


Improperganda

High risk of cognitive dissonance.

ImpropergandaIf I were to allege that a particular article of news was propaganda, it would not cause even the faintest stir. For it has come to be accepted by everyone that the nature of all reporting is to advance a political agenda in one way or another - for instance, to produce sympathy for refugees by telling a story from their own wretched perspective, or to encourage antipathy for 'migrants' by detailing their attempts to enter a nation illegally. But if I was to allege that a news article in support of vaccines was propaganda, it would be treated as a scandal about me that I would say such a thing. Why should this be...?

There is perhaps no-one left who believes that the news media is in the business of establishing the truth. It is therefore no surprise that we choose a source of news that conforms to our political commitments - only when we are looking at the news for those others that are not like us does the news becomes filthy propaganda. Our own news is appropriate and proportionate, it is, shall we say, properganda.

What, then, is the point in complaining about the behaviour of reporters if all we are doing is assessing whether the stories align with our prior beliefs...? Intuitively, we should like there to be some criticism we can bring to bear against those writing the news that cuts deeper than the merely trivial assessment of whether they are in line with (or opposed to) our politics. Clearly, these kinds of judgements are external to the art of reporting, such as it is. In other words, we feel that there must be some way that something can be judged as improperganda.

However, in order for this accusation to bear fruit, it cannot simply be that the opposing political positions produce improperganda and our political allies write properganda. This would be a vacuous way of making an assessment, since it would merely be reiterating our political judgements. It follows, therefore, that if there is such a thing as improperganda, it must be something that our own journalists can be found guilty of. Thus our very desire to impugn the media of the opposing camps must be set aside if we are to establish any viable criteria by which the delivery of news can be judged proper or improper.

What constitutes improperganda, then, must be either internal to the logic of the story told, or entail a comparison between the story and the available facts that exceeds anything that can be made to fit by creative interpretation. Improperganda must mark a flaw in the story that breaks its purpose - for if the tale being told was fit for its intended purpose, it would then be suitable to be called properganda. We can say that what constitutes improperganda is akin to a flaw in a gem. However we cut or polish it, that imperfection cannot be removed or hidden. Only if the uncut gem was without flaw can we finish up with a perfect jewel. Likewise, to end up with properganda, we must have raw material without a flaw, to which no imperfections are added by the writing.

Now we are getting somewhere! And it leads also to a distinction that might be made between a journalist, who exercises an art and a craft through their writing, and a mere reporter, who reiterates claims they have heard, and is largely just a paid gossip. The journalist writes about people, while the reporter presumes to be merely writing facts - which means that the journalist, in shaping the story, can produce properganda by finding how their political commitments are reflected in the events being conveyed, or improperganda when they misrepresent the events beyond plausibility.

The reporter on the other hand produces properganda solely if they somehow manage to get all the facts correct. This is rather beyond their control on most topics, since the reporter has little knowledge of their own on which to judge what they are repeating. Thus a great deal of reporting is likely to end up as improperganda. There is also the 'fact checker', which is a kind of reporter who exploits the widespread decline of trust in the news in order to masquerade as an authoritative expert. Specialising in counter-propaganda, 'fact checkers' redirect both proper and improperganda according to the political dictates of their paymasters. This is a whole new low for the news media - their very name is improperganda, for it implies an impartiality that is the exact opposite of their true motivation.

Whenever news providers make political commitments on matters of fact (whether as reporters or as 'fact checkers'), it leads to trouble. It is particularly troubling when such pledges are made behind closed doors, but even when they are made in public they can be extremely dangerous. Thus when Google, the BBC, Reuters, the Associated Press and so forth formed the Trusted News Initiative and vowed to prevent 'misinformation' about vaccination circulating, how could they possibly hope that they could then remain factual in covering this topic...? In choosing to take solely one possible line of interpretation in advance ('every negative thing spoken about vaccines is necessarily misinformation'), this reckless censorship alliance could only grossly increase their risk of circulating vaccine improperganda.

Of course, there's plenty of improperganda to go around when it comes to vaccination! For instance, you will find people pathologically committed to conspiratorial tales about how the World Economic Forum contrived to purposefully unleash a killer drug in order to intentionally depopulate the world. As much as it amuses me to think of the one-percenter club as the villains in a second-rate Bond movie, such tales strain credulity. But then, the deployment of dubious computer models in a widely parroted Bill Gates-funded paper that claims that millions of lives have been saved by COVID-19 vaccinations is an equally preposterous example of improperganda. It might be decades before any plausible scientific conclusion can be reached about how many lives were saved by these medical treatments - and at this point, we still cannot rule out the possibility that this was not at all what actually happened...

The entire situation is as embarrassing as it is tragic, and even without the full facts at our disposal the news media's behaviour with regard to the COVID-19 debacle has been unforgivably reckless. It could never have been sensible to assume an equivalence between those twentieth century vaccines that underwent ten years of rigorous testing before being widely deployed, and these newer treatments that were enthusiastically forced onto everyone despite zero years of data and no long-term control group. It was equally foolhardy to cheerlead national lockdowns on the basis of little more than the blind hope they would help rather than causing even greater harms, as many people tried to warn us at the time.

What slips between the cracks of the media's willingness to report seems to become more and more alarming with every passing day. There is no doubt that Pfizer conducted fraud in its vaccine trials, for instance - not only did the British Medical Journal break this story in November 2021, but Pfizer bizarrely admitted to fraud in an attempt to get an embarrassing whistleblower case thrown out of court! Not entirely surprising given that this is the company that was forced to pay out the largest ever fine for fraudulent behaviour ($2.3 billion)... But it's not just the pharmaceutical companies who are riding roughshod over adequate safety procedures - as Vinay Prasad accuses, the fact that the FDA and CDC "have to rely on a Thailand preprint for the first prospective study of cardiac biomarkers is mind-boggling negligence." According to independent media reports, the FDA and the CDC are now in disarray. One senior FDA official was quoted as saying: "It's like a horror movie I'm being forced to watch and I can't close my eyes... people are getting bad advice and we can’t say anything." Likewise, a CDC scientist was quoted as saying "I used to be proud to tell people I work at the CDC. Now I'm embarrassed." Yet still, the mainstream reporters say nothing.

The most generous interpretation of the news media's behaviour in this regard is that they believe they are acting in everyone's best interests. Perhaps they opted not to report upon the ever-growing evidence of problems with both the safety and the efficacy of Pfizer and Moderna's mRNA-based treatments for fear of reducing people's trust in traditional vaccines or (equivalently) out of a dogged refusal to lend support to those demoniacal 'anti-vaxxer' scapegoats. It is a bit late for that, though, since the lockdowns these reporters previously championed have already significantly undermined childhood vaccinations - a colossal blunder for which our governments and media are both unapologetic and unrepentant. We seem to have a choice between understanding this refusal to report on these topics either as a bizarre form of principled censorship, or else as an improperganda of silence... and neither option is particularly encouraging. 

This disaster has made billions of dollars for Pfizer, aided and abetted by the CDC, the FDA, and an increasingly compromised WHO. And still, the majority of news media remain staunchly unwilling to undermine their messianic vaccine improperganda by calling anyone to account for everything that has gone so disastrously wrong. It now seems unavoidable that whether by reckless lockdown or fraudulently-justified injections, a disturbing number of people tragically damaged their own health after being promised with unwarranted certainty that they were helping to save lives. Until journalists are able to tell these forbidden stories and uncover the truth of what has happened, the news media are complicit in something far, far worse than mere improperganda.


An Abundance of Useful Idiots

May contain traces of snark.

Useful Idiots

The accusation that someone is a 'useful idiot' is one we deploy against our political opponents. As a result, we miss all the ways that we ourselves are the most useful of idiots - because in seeing stupidity always in others and never in ourselves, we are easily manipulated for agendas we simply refuse to recognise.

Pick a political topic, find a useful idiot on both sides. Immigration? Support open borders to provide cheap labour for industrialists, or tighten border controls to provide lucrative business for organised crime and security contractors. Taxation? Support high taxes to give more money for government to squander on crony-staffed NGOs, or support low taxes to help millionaires avoid paying their share of infrastructure overheads. Abortion? Provide an effortless power base to red-team politicians who can do what they like because your support is baked-in, or do the same for the blue team on the other side - either way, once you are polarised on this topic, you are politically neutered because this issue on its own ensures your vote.

It is always those terrible others who are the useful idiots. We are incapable of seeing ourselves this way, for we are oh-so-good and oh-so-smart. We know climate change is the big environmental issue, so we make the awesome sacrifice of paying extra for an electric car that will somehow reduce carbon dioxide emissions even though the electricity that it runs on comes primarily from power plants that emit vast amounts of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels. Best not to look into the environmental impact of lithium mining for the batteries used either, nor at the road safety implications of vehicles that offer far swifter acceleration, but are largely invisible to blind people.

And don't get me started on the useful idiots on either side of vaccination... Are you one of those extremely useful idiots who have helped pharmaceutical companies cut safety testing down from ten years of openly available data to 'we promise it works'...? Or one of the even more useful idiots who prevent medical professionals raising the alarm by insisting upon grand conspiracies about depopulation and mind control because you just couldn't resist grandiose mediocrity...? A more perfect example of bilateral idiocy serving the needs of the rich and powerful there may never have been. If it was revealed tomorrow that Pfizer had invented the term 'anti-vaxxer' as a marketing ploy I would scarcely raise an eyebrow.

The nature of political partisanship is that some proportion of the wealthy and powerful stand to benefit from any issue in the form you are likely to encounter it. This subtle qualification is critical, as there are indeed issues that are not a source of bilateral idiocy. Proposals for paying owners of forest lands fees for environmental services, as happens in Puerto Rico, is unlikely to appear in the mainstream media. Neither will coverage of road accidents, despite these killing 1.3 million people globally every year, many of them children. No matter what the benefits in terms of saving lives or reducing environmental impact, stories that hurt large financial interests (e.g. that make the automotive industry look bad) will simply not get covered. Because the news media know which side their bread is buttered, and its not you providing their bread or their butter.

Unless you support politically marginal topics or belong to an inconsequential faction like the remaining Marxists, its a virtual certainty that you are a useful idiot. Your strongly held political convictions have been fed to you by media lackeys who like you are in mindless thrall to the big commercial powers - whether business, government, or (as is increasingly the case) both together. And the beauty, the horror, of this scheme is that once you are successfully triggered by any one of these fault lines, you are effectively neutralised as a participant in any genuine kind of democracy or politics, because your vote has been captured.

Authentic political existence is a difficult conversation about how we shall live together. The moment you accept instead the temptation to channel your hate and outrage as one of these pre-packaged useful idiocies, you are merely propping up the powers that be. Tragically, it is solely those who can afford the immense cost of sponsoring the news who determine the allowable kinds of idiots. All we get to do is decide which kind of stupid we want to become.