Tag Archives: government

Whistleblower Confirms That Facebook Is Harmful: So What Do We Do About It?

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There are certain products in this world that we know are harmful, but use them anyway. Cars kill thousands every year through traffic accidents. Thousands die every year by overdosing on drugs that were legally prescribed to them. However, we still use these products because they are essential for our way of life.

With that in mind, I think most people already know that certain social media platforms, such as Facebook, can be harmful. You don’t need to look that hard to find harmful or damaging misinformation on Facebook. Having been in college at the time Facebook really took off, I think most people understood to some extent that this product could be used for immense harm.

So, was it really that surprising when a whistleblower came out and revealed just how much Facebook was aware of the damage they were doing? Just like tobacco companies before them, they could see that harm unfolding in real time. They just weren’t willing to take the kinds of steps that would hinder their profits.

They’re a multi-billion dollar business. They want to keep making billions for years to come. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. That’s the nature/flaw of capitalism.

In case you haven’t been following this story, the fallout from this whistleblower’s revelations are still unfolding. If you want details on the story, here is what NPR reported:

NPR: Whistleblower to Congress: Facebook products harm children and weaken democracy

Facebook’s products “harm children, stoke division, weaken our democracy and much more,” Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee who leaked tens of thousands of pages of internal documents, will tell lawmakers on Tuesday.

“When we realized tobacco companies were hiding the harms [they] caused, the government took action. When we figured out cars were safer with seat belts, the government took action,” she will say, according to her prepared testimony. “I implore you to do the same here.”

Haugen will urge lawmakers to take action to rein in Facebook, because, she says, it won’t do so on its own. “The company’s leadership knows ways to make Facebook and Instagram safer and won’t make the necessary changes because they have put their immense profits before people,” she will say.

There’s much more to the article, but I singled out this excerpt because it effectively sums up the situation. Again, most reasonable people probably suspected that a platform like Facebook was doing real harm to public discourse and the psychology of teenagers, especially girls. It’s still nice to have confirmation.

As someone who uses Facebook, I can attest to its harms. There is some pretty toxic crap throughout the site, as well as some equally toxic people. Sadly, some of that toxicity comes from friends and relatives sharing content, often of a political nature, that gets people upset and outraged. That’s not a bug, either. According to the whistleblower, that’s entirely on purpose.

Now, in the interest of maintaining some kind of perspective, I’m inclined to remind everyone where that content on Facebook comes from. Remember, they’re not the one’s producing it. They’re just the platform. It’s the users and the people who are creating that. It’s people willing to lie, denigrate, demean, and troll who create the content that makes Facebook and social media so toxic.

To blame Facebook entirely for these harms is like blaming car manufacturers for traffic fatalities. At the end of the day, the car itself doesn’t cause the harm. It’s the person using it.

That being said, Facebook is not a car, nor should we treat it like one. It’s also not a tobacco company and we shouldn’t treat it like that, either. Facebook doesn’t create a tangible product that we can hold in our hands to harm ourselves, nor is it a chemical we willingly put in our bodies. It’s a digital service that we engage with and, in turn, it engages with us.

From that exchange, real harm is possible. This whistleblower confirms that and, based on the available information, I think the data presented is valid. That still leaves one question to ponder.

What do we do about Facebook and other companies like it?

That’s still an unresolved question and one that too many people try to answer bluntly. Shortly after this story came out, the ever-popular #DeleteFacebook hashtag started trending. However, I doubt anything will come of that. I’ve seen that hashtag trend on multiple occasions and it has done little to affect Facebook’s growth.

These revelations are bad, but I doubt they’ll be enough to bring Facebook down completely. They may lose subscribers and revenue in the short-term, but they’ll adapt and grow in the long run. You don’t become a multi-billion dollar company without being able to adapt in lieu of bad press.

At the same time, I think we should take some action to mitigate the impact of Facebook and social media. What could that entail? I’m not smart enough to offer a comprehensive answer, but I do know the extremes people are throwing around just won’t work.

For one, Facebook can’t be banned or shuttered. It makes too much money and it would set a dangerous precedent for every business, online or otherwise. It’s also probably grossly unconstitutional, at least in western democracies like the United States and Britain.

Even if it were banned, people would find a way to get around it. Just look at the countries that have tried to ban porn. People still find a way to get it.

Others have thrown around ideas like splitting up Facebook, just like America once did with oil companies and phone companies. That would certainly be extreme and there are precedents for doing so. However, would that really change how Facebook and social media are utilized by real people? Would those not satisfied with the newly broken up Facebook simply create something similar under a different name?

The most logical recourse might just involve demanding that Facebook make the changes they refused to make, according to the whistleblower. They could also be subject to major fines and taxes, as we’ve done before with tobacco. Will those measures be effective? I don’t know, but I’m skeptical, to say the least.

I honestly don’t think there’s an easy answer to the question. I also think that, even if governments did implement new measures on social media companies to combat their harms, both the companies and the users would find a way around it. Both sides are just too motivated at this point.

I still believe there’s a better solution. I just don’t know what it is and if anyone has one to offer, please share it in the comments. In the meantime, I guess the best recourse we can all do is to just be careful about what we place on Facebook and be more mindful of the content we consume.

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Filed under Current Events, health, human nature, outrage culture, political correctness, politics, psychology, technology

Thought Experiment: How Much SHOULD Society Seek To Control People?

Make and Enforce the Rules Without Making Enemies | FirstService Residential

The older I get, the more I realize how complicated the world can be. By the world, I don’t just mean complex socio-political or cultural trends that manifest over extended periods of time. I’ve found that most people, in general, are complicated.

Every individual has their own story to tell.

Every person has their own goals, wants, needs, morals, and methods for doing things.

Every community and culture has their own approach to molding a functioning society.

There’s no one perfect way to go about it. If anything, there are too many approaches that are good, bad, or some messy combination of both. Many of us like to think there’s a single way to maximize the happiness and potential of all individuals. Many even believe they know it when they’re young and idealistic.

Then, we get older and we realize that’s not just impossible. It’s untenable.

I say this as someone who went through his share of ideological shifts, especially in college. I won’t bore everyone with the details. I’ll just say that my perspectives on politics, religion, and culture when I was 20 were vastly different from what they were when I turned 30.

In developing those perspectives, there weren’t many common threads, especially when religion and politics were involved. I know I’ve touched on both many times before and while I try to be fair, I don’t deny I have certain leanings that I don’t hide.

I am generally mistrustful of organized religion, as well as the agendas of those who are overly extreme in their beliefs. I am just as mistrustful as those who take extreme positions on certain political ideologies, be they conservative or liberal.

I am deeply critical of conservative religious types who basically seek to impose a theocracy.

I am also deeply critical of extreme left-wing liberals who seek to impose a politically correct autocracy.

People on both sides will likely claim they’re not seeking anything bad or negative. They genuinely believe that their way will be for the greater good. They believe people will be happier and more prosperous of everything they believe is imposed and integrated into a larger order.

Sincere or not, I still say those beliefs are misguided. I also suspect those same people don’t understand the complexities and nuances of individuals or humanity, as a whole. At the same time, I do think they raise an important question, which also warrants a larger thought experiment.

How much SHOULD society seek to control people?

It’s a question both sides of the political/ideological/cultural/religious spectrum grapple with, even if they don’t say it out loud. It often comes back to this. Whether it involves determine morals, crafting laws, or developing a larger culture, this is one of the most common issues.

It’s not an unreasonable concern, either. To some extent, society needs to exact some control over peoples’ behavior. Even in small, tribal settings, individual behavior can have a profound impact on others. If people just did anything they want without any regard for others, we couldn’t function. We couldn’t cooperate, coordinate, or collectively thrive.

Humans evolved to be a social species. One individual, on their own, can only do so much to function and survive. A group of individuals can achieve so much more. With a large enough group, we can create a civilization that can literally reshape the face of the planet.

That kind of coordination requires some level of control over the individual. Whether it’s by punishing or shaming certain behaviors or strongly encouraging others, we need some mechanism for maintaining social cohesion. It’s just a matter of extent.

Some ideologies go to incredible extremes. Religious conservatives can be particularly draconian in enforcing control. They don’t just seek to punish certain behaviors while censoring certain messages. They actively seek to police peoples’ thoughts and feelings, often in a way that’s damaging to many individuals.

Extreme liberals can be just as bad. There are those who seek to not just punish those who do so much as tell an offensive joke or depict video game characters in a way that’s too sexual. They seek to punish individuals in the present for the actions of those in the past. Like their religious counterparts, they also attempt to police others’ thoughts.

Then, you’ve got the extreme libertarians who try to minimize social control to the greatest extend possible. I would argue that too is not practical, if only because it ignores the nuances and complexities necessary for a functioning society at large.

For most people and societies, the extent of the control they impose varies. In some places, free speech is protected while in others, it’s tempered in the name of ensuring social harmony. The same goes for things like encouraging or discouraging certain behaviors, like drinking, gambling, or promiscuous sex. Some involve laws while others involve shaming. The goal is still the same.

It all comes back to control. To complicate things even more, some individuals require less control than others. There are those who are perfectly responsible and don’t need the law or shaming to be decent, upstanding members of society. There are also those who are just pathologically incapable of following the rules and getting along with other people. What does society do about them?

I understand I’m using “society” in a broad, generalized term. That’s because the question, and any thought experiment surrounding it, needs to focus on the bigger picture. I know that’s not easy for any one individual. Like I said, we all have our biases, prejudices, and predispositions. We also tend to believe we’re right and are generally resistant to change.

I maintain that’s exactly why we should ask questions like this. It’s also why we should dare to think about how much or how little we control one another on a societal level. Civilization and society, for all the wonders they achieve, is an ongoing process. That means there are always opportunities for refinement. We can and should take every opportunity to do so.

If you have any insights on this thought experiment, please share them in the comments. Also, if you have any thought experiments you’d like me to discuss, please share those as well.

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Filed under philosophy, politics, Thought Experiment

Dear Rich People: Pay Your Damn Taxes

The richest people in the world: billionaires across the globe - CBS News

I’m a proud American. I love my country and I celebrate its ideals while not ignoring its shortcomings. That’s what you do for a country you love.

I also hate taxes as much as the next American. It’s one of the few things that we can agree on these days. Taxes suck. It costs us money, the process is a real a hassle, and it’s not always spent on something you approve of. I understand that. I empathize with it, even. It’s like a prostate exam or a colonoscopy. It’s uncomfortable, but when done properly, it spares you plenty of pain and illness later on.

As much as I hate taxes, I’m not among those hardcore libertarian types who call taxation outright thievery. I’ve learned over the course of my adult life that taxes are just part of life. It’s what we collectively pay to operate a functional civil society. It may not be efficient or ideal, but it’s better than the alternative.

That’s why I make it a point to pay my taxes early and in full every year. I’m not rich. I also don’t have a complex array of assets and what not. However, my finances do require that I put a little extra effort every year to make sure I pay what I need. Thanks to the internet and free tax software, it usually takes up half an afternoon at most.

I’m not particularly smart when it comes to taxes and finances. I just know how to keep track of my budget, monitor my money, and spend within my means. That doesn’t take any special education or talent. It’s just common sense and basic math.

This brings me to the purpose behind this post. Very recently, a report came out from ProPublica. It basically confirms through a trove if IRS files what most of us already knew. The richest individuals in this country, and the world for that matter, have been avoiding taxes for decades. Read the report for yourself. If it doesn’t make you upset as a taxpayer, then check your pulse.

ProPublica: The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How the Wealthiest Avoid Income Tax

ProPublica has obtained a vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation’s wealthiest people, covering more than 15 years. The data provides an unprecedented look inside the financial lives of America’s titans, including Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch and Mark Zuckerberg. It shows not just their income and taxes, but also their investments, stock trades, gambling winnings and even the results of audits.

Taken together, it demolishes the cornerstone myth of the American tax system: that everyone pays their fair share and the richest Americans pay the most. The IRS records show that the wealthiest can — perfectly legally — pay income taxes that are only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions, if not billions, their fortunes grow each year.

Now, I understand that I’m not rich. Most of us will never know what it’s like to live in the world of a billionaire. Their day-to-day life, as well as their perspective of the world, is just so completely different from most people that it might as well be alien. We can barely grasp the idea of having a million dollars, let alone billions.

However, I can still do basic math.

At the moment, the highest federal income bracket for a single person in the United States is 37 percent. Compared to the rest of the world, that’s pretty reasonable. If you made $10 million in one year, your federal tax liability would be approximately $3.7 million. Add in state and local taxes and it’s about $4.4 million.

Yes, that’s a considerable amount of money.

However, $5.6 million is also a considerable amount of money.

That’s enough money to buy a good sized home or several. That’s enough to buy a fleet of overpriced cars, crash them, and then laugh about it the next morning. If your lifestyle is such that you can’t live comfortably for a year on that, then something’s amiss here.

Again, I understand the world of the super rich is different. They have legitimate concerns that us non-rich people don’t. It’s not unusual for a rich person to spend a considerable amount on home and personal security. Then again, such elaborate security would be less necessary in a functioning civil society with quality public services, solid institutions, and well-funded infrastructure.

That’s not a utopian vision. Other countries are able to achieve this while still maintaining a commitment to free enterprise, individual liberty, and entrepreneurial endeavors. Doing so requires taxes. Moreover, it’s necessary that citizens actually pay those taxes.

This brings me back to the rich people who put so much effort into paying as little as possible every year for taxes. I know they’ll never read this. They’re too busy counting their money and/or deciding what to spend it on next. After reading this piece, I have just one simple request for you on behalf of all Americans, as well as anyone with a shred of decency.

Please pay your goddamn taxes.

It’s good for society.

It’s good for the economy.

It’s good for the public institutions that we all rely on to have a functioning, civil society.

It’s even good business for you, overall.

Just think about it. If rich people paid their taxes, then we could improve infrastructure, pay for quality education for more people, and just put more money in the pockets of people who need it. That is not a radical idea. It’s not socialism, communism, or some other anti-American ideology. In fact, preventing a system that has a class of aristocrats with immense power over the masses is as American as it gets.

On top of that, there’s a good chance that the poor and middle class people who get that money are going to spend it on something. They may even spend it on one of the businesses that rich people own and operate.

In a sense, you’ll get that money back eventually. You’ll just help improve the lives of ordinary people, who also happen to be your customers. It’s win/win at every level. There is literally no downside, other than the fact that obscenely rich people will not be nearly as obscenely rich.

Honestly, though, what’s the difference between having $15 billion and $1 billion? That’s still more money than most people could ever spend in a lifetime. When you die, you can’t take it with you and those who inherit it will not value it as much, since they did not earn it.

In essence, paying your taxes is probably the best thing you could do with that money in the grand scheme of things. Even once you pay your share, you’ll still have plenty for cars, yachts, and gold toilets. I love capitalism too, but greed and hoarding will destroy it in the long run. Taxes are the price we pay to keep that system as fair and honest as possible in an imperfect world.

Do your part.

Pay your taxes.

If we can do it, then obscenely rich people with immense resources have no excuses.

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Why The Pentagon’s Upcoming Report On UFOs Won’t Change Anything (For Now)

US Intel Report on UFOs Can't Confirm or Deny Link to Aliens | Technology  News

There was a time in my life when I was a true believer in UFOs. I bought into nearly every UFO conspiracy you’ve ever heard and probably a few you haven’t. I really believed that UFOs were real, aliens were real, and the governments of the world were covering it up.

Those beliefs quickly fell apart when I learned how fallible and flawed humans can be, especially at the government level. The idea that a government could keep a secret this big for so long isn’t just laughable. It’s contrary to our nature.

Looking back on it, I feel downright foolish. To all the friends and family I annoyed with these beliefs, I sincerely apologize. I was young, gullible, and ignorant. I understand that’s not a good excuse.

Despite my disillusion with UFOs, I’m still very interested in the possibilities surrounding extraterrestrial life. I also still believe that making contact with an alien civilization would be a huge game-changer for humanity, as a species and a civilization. I believe many die-hard believers in UFOs feel the same way.

I imagine those same believers are excited about the recent resurgence in interest surrounding UFOs. It’s not just coming from fringe areas of the internet or your typical conspiracy websites. The topics is being treated with a rare level of seriousness by both government entities and major news organizations.

Recently, the Pentagon announced that they were releasing a major report on UFOs to Congress and its findings would be made available to the public. It’s a rare act of transparency from a government known for keeping nasty secrets. Some hope that this report will blow the door wide open on the phenomenon, inspiring a new generation of UFO enthusiasts.

I would caution those people to temper their interests. Having been in that mindset before, I can attest how tempting it might be to believe that we’ll finally get the full story we’ve been hoping for. It’s far more likely that the truth will be a lot less fanciful than we wish.

That’s not just me being a downer. That’s built within the news surrounding this report. If you need more context, here’s how ABC News reported on it.

ABC News: Upcoming UFO report to Congress creating lots of buzz

Later this month, U.S. intelligence agencies will present to Congress a highly-anticipated unclassified report about what they know about UFOs, or as the Pentagon now calls them, Unexplained Aerial Phenomena (UAPs).

However, the jury is still out on whether the report will contain the answers that UFO enthusiasts are looking for: that recent military encounters with UAPs may be proof of contacts with extraterrestrial life.

The preparation of the report marks a milestone as interest in UFOs has taken off in recent years following the Navy’s release of once-classified videos of encounters that fighter pilots had in 2004 and 2014 with UAPs.

The videos raised interest not only with UFO enthusiasts, but also among members of Congress eager to learn if the UAPs captured in the videos represent advanced technological threats from foreign adversaries.

Please note the bolded parts. That was my doing. That’s a detail that needs to be emphasized. The simple admission by the Pentagon that there are credible witnesses to unidentified arial phenomena is not an admission that these phenomena are alien spacecrafts. It just means they don’t know what they witnessed, hence the word unidentified.

I don’t mean to belabor the semantics, but it’s a huge leap to go from someone admitting that they don’t know what they saw in the sky to believing what they saw was an alien spacecraft. There are a lot of possibilities in between that are probably more likely.

Even if the witnesses are credible, we’re still dealing with fallible people. Since we’re dealing with experienced fighter pilots and military personnel, I’m inclined to believe that these aren’t crackpots who jump at the chance to label anything a UFO. They’re just honest, sincere people who don’t know what they saw.

It’s just unreasonable to make the leap from an unidentified arial phenomenon to an alien spacecraft. There’s a real possibility that the people involved were just mistaken. There’s also a possibility that there are currently aircraft being tested by the military that are so advanced that they seem alien to us. Remember how alien the F-117 stealth fighter once looked.

Even if that’s the case, it’s very unlikely we’ll know the full truth in this report. At most, it’ll just state what we’ve already heard from the witnesses. Credible people saw something in the sky and they don’t know what it is. That’s it. That’s all we can confirm for now.

The key words there are “for now.” There may very well be more to the report, but it’s very unlikely that it’ll confirm or even hint at the existence of aliens. The government may be inept at times, but it isn’t stupid. People can see strange things that aren’t there and make wild assumptions based on a misunderstanding of a situation. That’s just how people work.

If aliens really do exist and they’re aware of our presence on Earth, I think it’s doubtful they would make their presence known through something like UFOs. If you have technology that can traverse the stars, then it makes no sense on any level to just show up in ways that only ever emerge in blurred photos and videos. In an era where everyone has an HD camera in their pocket, the aliens have no excuses and neither do we.

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Artificial Intelligence Is Learning Law: Is Government Next?

It’s inevitable. As technology advances, certain industries are going to become obsolete. That’s why the horse-and-buggy industry is incredibly limited. It’s also why companies don’t make typewriters or LaserDisk movies anymore. Once better tech becomes available, an industry either adapts or disappears. Just ask Blockbuster.

Sometimes, it’s obvious that an industry is becoming obsolete. Again, just ask Blockbuster. As soon as something better, easier, and more convenient comes along, it’s only a matter of time before it takes over. However, it’s when things aren’t quite as obvious where more dramatic changes occur.

In terms of dramatic change, few things have the potential to generate more than artificial intelligence. I’ve highlighted that many times before, but a lot of that potential depends on advances that haven’t happened yet. They’re still likely to happen at some point, which may or may not be in my lifetime. They’re just not there yet.

That said, AI doesn’t have to become advanced on the level of Skynet or Hal 9000 to impact and/or disrupt major industries. The AI technology we have now is already having an impact. It may only be a narrow form of AI, which is AI that’s focused on performing a specific task, like playing chess. Its potential is still immense and some fields are feeling it more than others.

One industry that might feel it first is law. Now, at the risk of inspiring one too many lawyer jokes, I’m going to try and keep things general here. I’m also going to try and fit in some personal experience. I know some lawyers personally. I’ve been in law offices and I’ve seen how they work. You don’t have to be that much a visionary to understand how AI could change this industry entirely.

Recently, TechNews did a story on how artificial intelligence is learning basic legal operations and learning it quite well. Given the massive amounts of data and technicalities included in American law, a narrow AI is ideally suited to handle such tasks. However, I don’t think the piece fully grasps the implications.

TechNews: Lawyers Beware: Artificial Intelligence Is Learning Law – And Doing Frighteningly Well

AI or artificial intelligence is starting to find its footing in the legal field. The world is now on the brink of revolution in legal profession spearheaded with the extensive use of AI in the entire industry, specifically by the in-house lawyers.

Just like how email greatly changed the way people conduct their business on a daily basis, AI is also expected to become an ever-present force and an invaluable assistant to almost all lawyers.

But the million-dollar question now is, what does the future look like for AI as far as the legal industry is concerned? A much bigger question is, will AI soon replace real life lawyers?

These are not unreasonable questions. What will happen to the current legal industry if much of the legal grunt-work can be handled by an AI? What will happen to the industry when it’s no longer necessary to have a huge team of overpaid lawyers to conduct competent legal operations?

As someone who has been in his share of law offices, I can make a few educated guesses. I can easily imagine firms shrinking their office space, but expanding their operations. Most of the legal offices I’ve gone to dedicate 80 percent of their office space to storing documents and secure research material. Very little is left or necessary for the actual people doing the work.

The recent pandemic has only revealed that plenty of this work can be done form home or remotely. Some legal proceedings are even unfolding through Zoom calls, albeit with mixed results. It’s a step in that it undermines and disrupts the traditional model for handling the law. It also raises a much larger question that the TechNews article didn’t ask.

Once AI learns the law, then is learning government next?

It’s a natural progression. Governments make and administer laws. An AI that specializes in the law would also have to learn government, as well. A narrow AI might be able to process the general bureaucracy of a government, but what happens when those systems become more advanced?

I’m not just talking about a scenario where an AI becomes the government, which I’ve already speculated on. An AI that has perfect expertise in both law and government operations could have many less obvious effects. Inefficiencies that often go unnoticed in a bureaucracy are suddenly harder to overlook. Inconsistencies that rarely get fixed, due to that bureaucracy, can finally be remedied.

In theory, a sufficiently advanced AI, which need not be as intelligent as a human, could do more than just document legal and government proceedings. It could formulate new laws and policies on its own. Some may seem outrageous from a basic non-lawyer human perspective, but make perfect sense within a functioning legal system or government.

It may still seem like just another tool for lawyers to stay organized, but I think it could be more than that. If an AI makes both legal and government systems more efficient, then what will that mean for those in government? Would politicians be better able to implement their agenda if they have tools like AI at their disposal? Would that necessarily be a good thing?

This is where things get both tricky and political. No matter how confident you are in your political persuasions, the party you favor will not always be in power.

It may seem like politics is trending a certain way, but those trends change quickly. People who think their party is strong now can’t imagine a time when they’ll lose that strength. It happens regularly in any democracy.

Like it or not, your party will one day be out of power. When that happens, do you want the other party having a more efficient means of implementing their policies?

I’m sure everyone’s answer to that question will vary. What no one is certain of is how we’ll keep up with ever-improving AI systems, regardless of what industry they’re in. It’s one thing for a system to make it easier to stream movies or keep track of groceries. It’s quite another when it becomes intimately involved with our laws and our government.

The TechNews article expressed some concern, but only with respect to how it affects the current law industry. I believe AI, even if it’s focused only on law, will have a far larger impact. That’s not to say that AI will render law firms and governments obsolete.

If ever there was one domain in which foresight is critical, it’s this. Some industries can and should become obsolete. Others, like how we govern our society, need a more careful approach. We simply cannot afford our laws and our government to end up like Blockbuster.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Current Events, human nature, Neuralink, politics, technology

Good People, Corruption, And Politics According To “Designated Survivor”

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Politics is a dirty, cut-throat world that often requires good people to compromise principles, integrity, and basic human decency. Most people wouldn’t argue that. Even before the internet, the corruption that often goes hand-in-hand with politics was well-documented. That corruption has only become more visible in recent years. It’s hard to go more than a week without seeing a fresh case of shady political conduct.

However, instead of dwelling on how ugly politics can get in the age of social media and outrage culture, I’d like to scrutinize the nature of that corruption. I don’t doubt the ugliness or absurdities that politics often breeds, but it also poses some interesting question.

Do politics naturally corrupt the people who get involved?

Is corruption in politics unavoidable?

Do politics only attract corrupt individuals?

Is it possible to get anything done in politics without some amount of corruption?

These are not easy questions to answer. You don’t have to look hard to find corrupt politicians or uncover cases where politics undermined efforts to pursue a public good. However, the extent and the process of that corruption is sometimes difficult to understand. Those of us not involved in politics have a hard time imagining how ordinary people could become so callous.

That’s why a show like “Designated Survivor” is so uniquely compelling. Even as a work of fiction, this show explores the complex world of politics within the most extreme of circumstances. There’s political drama, intense action, and ongoing mysteries that go beyond politics, but the latest season of the show accomplished something unique in terms of how people become corrupt.

The premise of the show starts simple. Tom Kirkman, played by Keifer Sutherland, works at the White House as a fairly low-level department head as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. In terms of rank and influence, his authority is barely above that of a typical intern.

Then, prior to the annual State of the Union Speech, he gets picked for the unenviable role of designated survivor, which is a real thing. It’s a role meant to keep the government going in the worst of worst-case scenarios when there’s a catastrophic attack that kills the President, Congress, and much of the government. In the pilot episode, that’s exactly what happens.

Suddenly, this man who has never run for political office or served as an elected official is thrust into the role of President of the United States and after the worst attack in the history of the country. It’s overwhelming, to say the least. It makes for great TV drama, but it also creates a unique experiment in what power and politics do to an otherwise ordinary person.

Before Kirkman is thrust into this role, it’s established early on that he’s somewhat of an idealist. He identifies as an independent who is genuinely concerned with using the political process to pursue a public good. He also demonstrates early on that he has a strict understanding of right and wrong. For him, there’s no compromise or second-guessing when it comes to ethics.

On paper, he has the kind of character and ethics that most people want in a politician. Even the dire circumstances of his ascension are favorable because he never had to raise money from billionaires to finance his campaign. He doesn’t even have to make shady deals or back-stab anyone, which is also an all-too-common tactic in politics.

In a sense, Tom Kirkman comes into this position of power free of corruption. He is in a position where he can govern with his principles and ideals intact. This isn’t “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.” This is Mr. Smith gaining unprecedented power without having to go through the corrupt process.

Throughout the first and second season of the show, Kirkman tries to do his job with his ideals intact. Whether it’s tracking down who blew up the Capitol or preventing an all-out war in East Asia, he has to constantly render difficult and weighty decisions that test his ability to keep being that affable man from the first episode.

For the most part, he succeeds on many fronts. The conflicts throughout the show often followed a common formula. President Kirkman faces a difficult issue. One side urges him to make one risky, politically-motivated decision. The other side urges something else that’s just as risky and just as political. Kirkman, unwilling to compromise his laurels, has to forge a third option.

Time and again, the integrity of his character shows. By the end of the second season, the extent of that integrity is beyond dispute. Then, the third season arrives, via Netflix, and everything changes and not just due to the sudden increase in profanity.

This season, unlike the previous two, cast aside the formula of the first two seasons, but not without reason. The entire third season is built around Kirkman running for re-election as an independent. At this point, all the good he did with respect to rebuilding the government after a devastating attack is a distant memory. It’s all politics now and this is where his integrity is pushed to the limit.

Almost immediately, Kirkman discovers that just being a man of integrity isn’t enough. The first episode of the third season really sets the tone, highlighting how easy it is for his ideals to get lost in the politics of an election. Just saying what’s true and right isn’t enough. It has to resonate with voters. That’s the only criterion that counts for anything.

His primary opponent in this season is Cornelius Moss. In the second season, he was an ally. He came in as a former president who knew the rigors of the job better than most. He was also an experienced politician. He had experienced the corrupt world of politics and he had successfully navigated it. As a result, he never comes off as having the kind of integrity and principles that Kirkman espouses.

For a while, Moss comes off as an outright villain in the world of “Designated Survivor” and in a season that introduces a full-fledged bioterrorist, no less. He conducts himself the same way most people expect a corrupt politician to behave. He doesn’t care about truth, integrity, or decency. He does whatever he must in order to win the election and secure his power.

In previous seasons, Kirkman would’ve sought a way to counter those tactics and come out with his integrity intact. It was part of what made him so respectable, as both a character and a politician. Season three makes it abundantly clear that this is not going to work this time. If Kirkman wants to win, he’ll have to compromise his principles.

Without spoiling too many plot points, I’ll just state that the conclusion of this struggle leaves Kirkman in a very vulnerable position. He’s no longer the same man he was when he became President. The attack on the Capitol that made him President was an extreme circumstance that he never could’ve known about. What happens with the election in season three is very much a byproduct of his own choices.

It doesn’t definitively answer those questions I listed earlier, but it does offer some insights. More than anything else, season three of “Designated Survivor” makes the case that the political process will ultimately corrupt anyone who gets involved. It doesn’t matter how principled or decent they are. The very nature of navigating power requires that people compromise their ideals.

It’s not just Tom Kirkman who struggles with it, either. The same supporting cast that helped him cling to his principles for the first two seasons, such as Aaron Shore, Emily Rhodes, and Seth Wright, end up compromising, as well. For some, it’s disconcerting. For others, it’s downright traumatic. In the final episodes of Season 3, the reactions of Emily Rhodes nicely mirror those who valued Kirkman’s character.

There’s now an unavoidable disconnect between what Kirkman says and what he does. Even the actions of Cornelius Moss are obscured when he too becomes a victim of shady political dealings. In the end, there’s no one left in “Designated Survivor” whose integrity hasn’t been compromised. There’s also no one left whose morals aren’t muddled by circumstances.

Even in a fictional context, the politics in “Designated Survivor” are surprisingly reflective of real-world complications. Like in the show, every political party or movement believes they’re right and their opponents are wrong. They believe in what they’re doing. They also believe that if they fail, then the wrong policies will prevail.

Conservatives, liberals, libertarians, and even anarchists are guilty of that flawed mentality. It’s one of the many reasons why politics tends to breed polarization. When people are so convinced that they’re the good guys, they become more willing to cross certain lines to defeat the bad guys. Tom Kirkman managed to avoid that for two seasons. He couldn’t in the third.

Whether or not he’s vindicated for his choices remains to be seen. Depending on whether the show gets a fourth season, it’s inevitable that he’ll face consequences for his choices. How he manages those consequences will reveal how much integrity he still has. If he plays his cards poorly, he may not have any left when all is said and done.

Designated Survivor” is a great show that explores difficult issues. Season three had its faults, but it marked a major turning point for Tom Kirkman. He is definitely not the same person he was in the show’s first episode, but he’s not quite at that point where we can say he’s lost sight of his laurels.

Both circumstances and politics did plenty to change Tom Kirkman over the course of the show. You could make the case that these forces corrupted him. After season three, you could also make the case that he’s now on the same path as Walter White from “Breaking Bad” in that these circumstances simply brought out a side of him that was always there.

Whatever the case, the ugliness of politics is something people have to navigate, both in the real world and the fictional world of “Designated Survivor.” Good people will keep trying to do good. Corrupt people will keep pursuing corrupt behavior. Politics, whatever form it takes, can only ever complicate that process.

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How Artificial Intelligence Will Destroy Democracy (In A Good Way)

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Picture the perfect candidate for an election. I know the bar for politicians these days is laughably low, but try to stretch your imagination a bit. Try to envision the kind of candidate that embodies the best collection of values, abilities, and charisma for a civilized society.

Everybody looks for something different in a candidate, but a truly perfect candidate would appeal to everyone in a democratic system. This person would embody the highest values, championing human rights to the utmost and justice for everyone. Every decision they make is with the safety, sanctity, and rights of other people as their top priority. There’s no compromise. They do right by the people every time and all the time.

This person would also be the ultimate leader, capable of getting anyone to go along with them without fear or coercion. There wouldn’t need to be corruption of any kind. This person would be perfectly capable of navigating every level of government and making it work to the utmost. The people would trust in that government, believe in it, and even celebrate it.

Keep that perfect candidate in the forefront of your mind because when it comes to discussing politics, cynicism tends to rule the day. I don’t think I need to cite too many recent events to show how imperfect democracy is these days. I don’t even need to cite famous historical events that show just how bad government can be in this convoluted world.

It’s because of that cynicism, though, that the perfect candidate you’re thinking of could never win a democratic election in the real world. Even if they existed, the inherent flaws of the electorate and those of less perfect candidates would keep them from winning. It’s one of democracy’s greatest flaws. It’s not about who the best candidate is. It’s just about who can convince enough people that they’re worth voting for.

On the subject of democracy, Winston Churchill once said the following:

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

Time, politics, and the proliferation of has only proven Mr. Churchill right. I would even amend that quote to say just 30 seconds on 4chan will make anyone lose faith in the promise of democracy. That’s not to say democracy is all bad, though. Mr. Churchill also once famously said this about the alternatives:

“Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

It’s distressing, but frustrating fact of civilization, one that fuels mass protests, fake news, and lurid scandals. Go back to any point in history and scrutinize any government, be it a king or some quasi-democracy, and chances are you’ll find serious flaws in the system. I don’t just mean long lines at the post office, either. There have been times when democracy has not furthered the protection of human rights.

It’s not necessarily a flawed principle as it is a concept with flawed ingredients. While I tend to place a great deal of faith in the goodness of human nature, I don’t deny that people can be arrogant, irrational, and downright callous. We’re prone to overreacting and not thinking things through. We’re hard-wired to go with intuition over logic.

Even when we’re proven wrong, we stubbornly cling to our assertions. The prevalence of creationism is proof enough of that. Every election cycle is prone to bold promises, bloated melodrama, and major goals that rarely ever become actual policy. Some become full-fledged revolutions with Utopian visions. The fact that none of those utopias ever manifested is proof of how unsuccessful they were.

We are not a species built for democracy on a large scale. We evolved to function in close-knit tribes, hunting and gathering for food while fighting for survival. That kind of evolution doesn’t really lend itself to a functioning democracy. It doesn’t lend itself to a total autocracy, either. Whether it’s a free republic or a fascist state, humans cannot govern other humans without their flaws plaguing them in both directions.

It’s for this reason that I often lean libertarian in political debates, but given the complexities and challenges of modern society, even that only goes so far. Like it or not, large-scale civilizations populated a species not evolved to manage it requires some measure of authority. More importantly, it requires competent, incorruptible, compassionate authority.

It needs to be able to defend a population of people within a particular border. It needs fair and just laws that can be equally enforced. It also needs the confidence and trust of the people being governed. Sometimes, it’s done out of fear. Sometimes, it’s done out of free will. Both can work, provided the system has robust capabilities that aren’t prone to human error.

Unless a government is populated by a democratic council consisting of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Dr. Doom, that kind of functional democracy is physically impossible. Even though democracy is still the best we have from an exceedingly limited list of options, that may change in a big way thanks to artificial intelligence.

I know it seems like I attribute many superhuman capabilities to this emerging field, it’s hard to overstate its potential. Unlike every other tool humanity has created, artificial intelligence promises to rewrite the rules at every level of society. That includes government and it’s here where AI’s capabilities could go beyond superhuman.

Think back to that perfect candidate I mentioned earlier and all the traits that made them perfect. By and large, an advanced artificial intelligence shares many of those traits and then some. A sufficiently powerful AI would be beyond politics, pettiness, or demagoguery. In principle, it could embody everything people would want in a strong leader and a capable government.

For one, it would be smarter than any human. Beyond knowing more about every subject than any human ever could, it would be smart in a way that would allow it to persuade people to trust it. That’s often a skill that even smart politicians fail to refine. It certainly doesn’t help that many voters attribute intelligence with smugness. That’s a big reason why populist candidates of questionable merit gain so much support.

An advanced artificial intelligence, provided it has an in depth understanding of human psychology and how to persuade people, would be able to gain support from everyone. It wouldn’t be bound by the limits that keep most human candidates from appealing to everyone. With enough intelligence and capabilities, it would surmise a way to appeal to everybody.

Beyond just persuading the voters, an AI of that level could be just as effective at actual governance. There are plenty of candidates who are very adept at winning elections, but terrible when it comes to actually governing. A capable AI would be able to do both. If anything, one function would complement the other.

With enough emotional, logistical, and pragmatic intelligence, this AI would be capable of crafting and passing laws without the need for debate or controversy. The laws it crafts are already so refined and so well thought out that to do so would be redundant. In the same time it takes your phone to send a text, this AI could pass sweeping legislation that protects human rights, ensures justice for all, and promotes economic growth.

It’s hard to imagine because the only laws and government we’ve ever known have come from flawed humans. It’s just as hard to imagine how those laws would be enforced. Perhaps this advanced AI has nodes all throughout society that allow it to gather data, know where enforcement is needed, and determine the appropriate recourse. If it’s capable enough, people won’t even know it’s there.

Perhaps that same AI uses a mix of human enforcers and intelligent robots to maintain order. If the AI is sufficiently capable, every enforcer at every level would be equipped with perfect knowledge and a clear understanding of how to carry out the orders of the government. Since an AI wouldn’t be prone to corruption or prejudice, instances of injustices would be few and far between.

It wouldn’t be a totalitarian state of Orwellian proportions. It would be more of a “Star Trek” style, post-scarcity society where we wouldn’t have to be cynical about government authority. We would inherently trust it because it’s just that effective. We wouldn’t feel like we’re being run by a robot dictator. We would feel like we’re being run by the greatest ruler outside of a “Black Panther” movie.

To some extent, though, an advanced artificial intelligence of this nature would render democracy obsolete. If we created an AI that could effectively govern society at every level, then what’s the purpose of having elections in the first place? Why bother when there’s an intelligence that’s literally more capable than any ordinary human could possibly be?

History has shown that democracy and government can only do so much when flawed humans are in charge. Once advanced artificial intelligence enters the picture, the logistics of governance changes entirely.

Perhaps there will be a period in our history where instead of running human candidates, we start creating AI systems that compete with one another in a pseudo-democratic process. That would go a long way towards improving overall governance.

Unlike humans, though, technology evolves much faster than humans ever will and it wouldn’t take long for those systems to improve to a point where they’re just too good an option to overlook. Human-led governments, even in humans who are enhanced to some degree, will still have flaws. In a future where technology, society, and individuals keep creating new challenges, we’ll need a capable government to manage it all.

In the end, that government probably won’t be a democracy. It won’t be a dictatorship, either. It’ll be something that we can’t yet conceptualize. That’s the biggest challenge when contemplating something like an advanced artificial intelligence, though. It operates on a level that ordinary humans literally cannot comprehend. That’s why it’s our best option for governing our future.

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Filed under Artificial Intelligence, Current Events, futurism, political correctness, Thought Experiment

Why Capitalism Will Survive Technological Progress (To A Point)

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There’s a popular perception among those who speculate about the future. It has less to do with the technology and progress that we’ll make, as a society, and more to do with what will be rendered obsolete. Like dial-up internet or VHS tapes, there will be many artifacts of our current society that are destined to become relics of a bygone era.

Near the top of the list of those things people can’t wait to get rid of is capitalism. When I say “capitalism,” though, I don’t necessarily mean everything from the concept of money to big corporations to having 500 different kinds of covers for your cell phone. I’m more referring to the kind of economic system that creates extreme income inequality, mass exploitation of workers, and price gouging.

While I can appreciate sentiments of people who feel that way about a system where the inequalities are well-documented, I have some good news and some bad news for those looking forward to that post-capitalist utopia.

Capitalism is NOT going to become obsolete, but it will take on a radically different form.

I say that as someone who has written plenty about the upheavals our society will face when technologies like artificial intelligence, human enhancement, and advanced robotics become more refined. The economic, social, and political system, as we know it today, will not be able to function in that environment.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will disappear like VHS tapes. That’s especially true of our current form of capitalism. It’s already changing before our eyes, but it’s set to change even more in the coming decades. It may get to a point where it’s hard to call it “capitalism” by our current definition, but it will still exist to a certain extent.

Whether you’re a hardcore libertarian or a self-proclaimed socialist, it’s hard to overlook the flaws in capitalism. This is a system that is prone to corruption, negatively impacts the environment, and will gladly eschew health concerns in the interests of profits. Basically, if you’ve ever dealt with a cable company, the tobacco lobby, or the banking industry, you’ve experienced those flaws first-hand.

Many of the flaws, however, are a byproduct of logistical limitations. Human beings are not wired to make sense of the plethora of economic forces that govern the cost, production, distribution, and marketing of goods. We’re barely wired to assemble IKEA furniture. The human race evolved to survive in the plains of the African Savanna, not the bustling streets of New York City.

Even with these limitations, humanity has managed to achieve a lot from this flawed system. Despite its shortcomings, it has been the catalyst for modern society. The cities, industries, and technological advancement that we’ve undergone over the past 200 years would not have been possible without capitalism. Say what you will about the profit motive. Apple would not be a trillion-dollar company without it.

It’s for that reason, along with the knowledge of capitalism’s many documented failures, that emerging trends in technology is more likely to smooth out the edges of the system rather than render it obsolete entirely. As someone who groans every time he sees his cable bill, I admit I’m eager for those refinements.

I still don’t blame others for hoping that the entire system is scraped. The thinking is that increasing efficiencies in automation, improvements in manufacturing at the nano-scale, and advances in artificial intelligence will undercut the key foundations of capitalism. Why would corporations, marketing gimmicks, or brand restrictions even exist in a world run by intelligent machines, enhanced humans, and 3D printers?

It’s not an entirely flawed notion. We’re already seeing plenty of disruptions in established systems due to technology. Landlines are disappearing, streaming media has destroyed brick-and-mortar rental stores like Blockbuster, and self-driving cars will likely end the taxi and trucking industry as we know it.

Further down the line, even more industries will break down when you scale up and expand these same technologies. A sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence could manage the banking and financial industry without any middle men, who are going to be prone to corruption. That same intelligence won’t be prone to the same panics that have plagued capitalism for centuries.

Other technologies will render distressing institutions like sweatshops obsolete, thanks to advances in robotics and 3D printing. A lot of the exploitations surrounding capitalism, both in terms of people and the environment, come from labor and production costs. Mitigating or ending that exploitation can and likely will be done without undercutting capitalism, if only because it’s more efficient in the long run.

Then, there’s the prospect of human enhancement. That, more than anything, will change the nature of society and economics in ways nobody alive today can predict. Beyond undermining the multi-trillion dollar health care industry that exists today, changes to the human condition could fundamentally change the way the economy functions.

Even with all those changes, though, I believe a certain facet capitalism will survive. Even in a society full of enhanced humans equipped with brain implants, perfectly refined genes, and molecular assemblers that can build anything imaginable, there will be a market. There will be a form of currency. There will even be institutions, human and robotic, to manage it all.

That’s because, even in a society where hunger, disease, and poverty of all kinds has been eliminated, there’s still one market that will always exist. That market is escaping boredom. It doesn’t matter how healthy, content, or advanced you are. You’ll still want to avoid getting bored and this is where the future of capitalism truly lies.

I believe that boredom will be the only remaining plague in the future. I also believe that technology can only do so much manage our wants and needs. At some point, we’re still going to seek novel experiences. We’re still going to want to explore new feelings, whether that involves studying science or visiting a futuristic theme park like “Westworld.” The demand will be there and that’s where capitalism comes in.

It may end up being the case that those experiences will be the closest thing we have to a tangible currency. In a society where technology has made so many other resources accessible and abundant, it’s the only currency that has tangible and perceived value. There may still be other forms of money built around it, such as new crypto-currencies, but there will still be real market forces at work.

Some of those forces will have the same flaws we see now. Much of the current system depends on people working to produce goods and services, using the money they make to buy those goods and services, and participating in a vast network of investment, marketing, and distribution of resources. It’s a complex, chaotic, and inherently unmanageable system.

There will probably be failures, missteps, and conflicts in managing this new marketplace of experiences. Entire companies may emerge, possibly from some that exist today, that compete over who crafts those experiences and provides them to customers, either over the internet or directly into someone’s brain. That competition is likely to produce corruption and scandal, albeit in a very different form.

Having advanced artificial intelligence and humans that aren’t at the mercy of their caveman brains will help, but only to a point. As long as society is full of individuals seeking different wants and needs, there will be some form of capitalism necessary to meet them both. Trying to avoid or subvert that probably won’t lead to a better system, as the many failures of alternative systems have proven.

Like our current system of capitalism, there will be flaws. Even enhanced humans and artificial intelligence will have limits that need refinement over time. It’s those very shortcomings, though, that will help forge a better system overall. Again, it’s impossible to tell what forms they’ll take, but so long as there are markets, there will be capitalists seeking to profit from them.

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The Unofficial Platform Of The Nihilist Party

What follows is a little exercise I found myself doing after hearing too many political debates on TV and reading too many rants on social media. Debating/whining about politics seems to be our new favorite pastime in the age of social media and cable news. Personally, I find it frustrating and unproductive.

It’s for that reason that I’m going to attempt to flip the script on the endless barrage of outrage-inducing diatribes. Instead of attempting to inject a new political context into a discussion, I’m going to just hit the whole concept upside the head with a baseball bat of pure nihilism. I’ve enjoyed talking about it in the past, thanks largely to my love of “Rick and Morty,” and I’d like to channel it into something new.

In the spirit of those equally annoyed by political mud-slinging, who just happen to have an extra-healthy appreciation of nihilism, I hereby present the unofficial platform of the Nihilist Party. I know it’s not  real political party. In fact, nihilism being a political party would be paradoxical, given its philosophical underpinnings.

Now, I understand the inherent absurdity of such a concept. I also don’t deny that my expertise in nihilism and other such philosophies are limited, at best. There’s only so much you can learn by binge-watching “Rick and Morty” and “Bojack Horseman.” I still feel like that’s enough with which to craft a new political party. It’s not like other parties set the bar that high to begin with.

With those disclaimers out of the way, I hereby present what I believe is the unofficial platform for the Nihilism Party. If you want to imagine it being recited in the voice of Rick Sanchez, then by all means. I’m not expecting it to win your vote in the next election. It really doesn’t matter, which is kind of the point.


Preamble

We, the random clumps of matter drifting aimlessly throughout a meaningless universe, hereby decree in the name of a wholly arbitrary set of empty standards, set forth the following principles that we feel adequately create the illusion that how we govern our purposeless society matters. We believe all political ideologies are equally vapid and all forms of government inherently flawed, albeit to varying degrees. As such, we neither seek to pretend ours is superior, nor do we claim we can fix the flaws others ignore.


Statement of Principles

We acknowledge that any functional society, be it free or tyrannical, is finite in nature and subject to inescapable entropy over time. In the long run, no society or its various achievements can hope to outlive the inevitable destruction of our planet and the heat death of the universe. To pretend otherwise is an exercise in futility and ultimately counterproductive.

With these harsh truths in mind, the Nihilist Party seeks only to forge a temporary medium of comfort for those who insist on living in functioning society within a infinitesimal speck in the universe for an inherently finite period of time. Whether or not the individuals in that society accept those harsh truths is irrelevant. The Nihilism Party’s primary goal is to maintain whatever functional order is necessary to keep others content as they wait for their eventual annihilation into nothingness.

In accord with that goal, as meaningless as it may be, the following articles reflect the wholly arbitrary articles of the Nihilist Party. Please note that these principles are necessarily vague in order to embody the empty nature of all political underpinnings. Any effort to inject specifics for a pointless society within a pointless world would be contrary to the principles of the Nihilism Party.


Article 1: Nihilist Rights

  • Since all rights are just legal constructs disguised as inalienable assets, we neither support nor discourage efforts by a significant group of people to randomly denote what constitutes a legal right, provided that group does not impose it others in a manner that would make their meaningless lives uncomfortable.
  • The tendency for individuals to form complex social bonds, as determined by the biological programming of their flesh, is neither the concern of the Nihilism Party, nor is it their responsibility to manage beyond ensuring the nature of these arbitrary bonds aren’t impeding the desire of others to pursue their own false meaning.
  • Since government is nothing more than a temporary construct attempting to manage an inherently chaotic world in an ongoing act of never-ending futility, the scope and reach of such government will be limited to simply ensuring that citizens residing within whatever invisible borders are in place can willfully and peaceful pursue a life of empty meaning on their own terms.

Article 2: Nihilist Economic Policies

  • To the extent that everything of value is based on people just believing it has value, the Nihilist Party remains ambivalent to whatever kind of currency people want to use, be it slabs of metal, pieces of paper with famous dead people on them, or bits of digital code.
  • While the the Nihilist Party does not ascribe or inflate the value of one economic transaction over the other, those built on fraud, lies, and deception hinder peoples’ ability to seek whatever false meaning they pursue and therefore, in the name of preserving meaninglessness for all, favors efforts to limit such behavior to the greatest extent possible.
  • Truth and ethics are ultimately pointless in the long term, but in the short term, it creates favorable conditions for contentment among people and since that’s the most any sentient life from can hope for, the Nihilist Party supports policies that preserve both in economic activity.
  • Since all economic trends are finite, fleeting, and prone to both inflated and deflated value, the Nihilist Party favors playing no favorites in any industry and strongly opposes any efforts to support one form of economic activity over the other.
  • In the interest of ensuring all economic activity is on an equally meaningless playing field, each transaction and industry will be subject to the same arbitrary fees and rules as any others, but the Nihilist Party favors limiting the fees and rules to an extent that ensures equally worthless pursuits of worth.

Article 3: Nihilist Justice

  • The Nihilist Party’s default position on justice is that no one individual, group, majority, or minority is worthy of greater or lesser justice than anyone else and efforts to the contrary are ultimately a waste.
  • Seeing as how justice is a product of flawed, situational perspectives within a given time and place that is ultimately pointless, traditional notions of what is just in one situation cannot and should not apply to another, seeing as how every moment is fleeting.
  • While a meaningless life incurs little meaning in the long run, the needless infliction of suffering and loss is seen as incompatible with the Nihilist Party’s belief that all deserve some modicum of contentment while they await their eventual death and seeks to limit any disruptions to that contentment to the greatest extent possible.
  • The Nihilism Party does not endorse special treatment for anyone who prioritizes their contentment over another and only favors treating measurable, tangible harms as actual wrongdoings, as those are the only harms that carry any weight in a meaningless universe.

Article 4: Nihilist Government Structure

  • The Nihilism Party believes that governments, like the failed economies and fallen empires before it, are simply finite manifestations of spontaneous order among sentient beings and can neither be trusted nor empowered to do more than simply preserve meaningless contentment among its citizens.
  • To the extent that meaningless contentment requires the absence of petty wars and violent conflict, the Nihilism Party favors the maintenance of whatever defense forces are necessary to protect the population within its arbitrary borders from such conflicts, but opposes instigating conflicts for vapid notions of empire and legacy that are ultimately pointless at the heat death of the universe.
  • For those seeking to attain positions of authority within a government, the Nihilist Party supports those who seek to persuade a large enough group of citizens of their worth, but also favors measures that permit the easy removal of such individuals in the name of preserving the arbitrary nature of authority, in general.
  • Since people inevitably die, laws inevitably change, and legal traditions are rendered null over significant spans of time, the Nihilist Party remains ambivalent to the structure and makeup of a government, provided it preserves the party’s policy of maintaining equal contentment for those who seek to forge meaning in a meaningless universe.

Article 5: Nihilist Omission Provision

  • The absence, oversight, or omission of any policy or position in this platform is not to be construed as tacit or indirect statement of support or opposition, seeing as the Nihilism Party holds a position of strict ambivalence in the interest of maintaining the equal meaninglessness of all endeavors, past and present.

There you have it. That is my version of the a platform for the Nihilist Party. Please note that I do not pretend to speak for all nihilists, nor do I claim to be an expert in the subject. This is just a fun little exercise in mixing politics, nihilism, and the absurdity of both.

If you feel like there’s something worth adding to this platform, then please let me know in the comments. For those who are just as frustrated with politics and debates as I am, I hope this offers a nice reprieve, a good laugh, or a potent mixture of both.

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Using Nihilism To Make Sense Of Politics

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I don’t consider myself that huge philosophy buff, but in general, I’m a fan of anything that helps me make sense of mind-bending complexities of the universe. In an era where mass media and the internet have made it easier than ever to see the breadth of that complexity, I think such tools are more valuable than ever.

Lately, I’ve found myself more frustrated than usual with the news media, the politics surrounding it, and the never-ending crisis/outrage cycle that it seems to perpetuate. I’ve written articles before where I’ve mused over the absurdities surrounding the media and outrage culture in general, but I’ve tried to be apolitical about it.

It hasn’t been easy, to say the least.

Well, given the ongoing trends of politically-driven divides in recent years, I don’t think that approach is entirely tenable in the long run. At some point, I’m going to have to get somewhat political on certain issues, more so than I already have. For that reason, I want to take a certain kind of philosophy and use it to cut through the layers of political bullshit that are sure to obscure any issue, present and future alike.

That philosophy is nihilism, which should come to no surprise of those who regularly follows this site. Whether it involves the tendencies of future generations or my favorite cartoon show, I’ve made my fondness of nihilism fairly clear. I also think that, as a philosophy, it’s a more useful tool than most with respect to filtering hyper-partisan politics.

In my experience, Nihilism is useful because its premise and principles are relatively simple. There’s nothing too convoluted or esoteric about it. As a baseline philosophy, nihilism posits that life, the universe, and everything in it has no inherent meaning. Human life isn’t special. Life, in general, isn’t special. The entire universe isn’t special. It’s just random clumps of matter floating around aimlessly.

It’s simple, albeit depressing. There’s a good reason why it’s popular among goths, punk music, and Rick Sanchez from “Rick and Morty.” It makes no promises and guarantees nothing. It acknowledges that all the meaning we ascribe to our lives and our world, be it through religion, ideology, or our favorite football teams, is entirely arbitrary.

Naturally, this does not sit well with those whose religion preaches faith in a higher power or whose ideology requires adherents to accept some greater, intangible meaning to it all. The basic implications of nihilism can leave many feeling uneasy. The idea that our universe is so purposeless can trigger an existential crisis, especially among those who’ve been led to believe there’s something special about them.

However, it’s that same cold, callous element to nihilism that makes it so useful. It immediately casts doubt on anything that someone or a group of people deem meaningful. It forces both observers and participants to take a step back and ask some metaphysical questions about why they deem something so meaningful.

To illustrate, here’s a painfully recent example. There have been two school shootings in 2018, thus far, that have garnered major media attention, followed significant political upheaval. One occurred in Parkland and the other occurred at Sante Fe High School in Texas. In both cases, the political upheaval involved gun control. One even led to a major, nationwide protest.

For one side of the political spectrum, these incidents motivate politically minded individuals to fight for stricter gun control. That’s the common position of liberal politics. For the other side of the political spectrum, such incidents motivate other politically minded individuals to protect the rights of gun ownership against government intrusion. That’s the common position of conservative politics.

Which side is right? Which side is wrong? Which side’s policies are more supported by verifiable scientific research? Which side’s position is statistically shown to result in less suffering?

These are all questions that both sides of the political spectrum argue about endlessly and to the point of absurdity. They’re questions that are impossible to answer. However, when you apply a little nihilism to the debate, the context suddenly changes. Instead of asking all these specific, unanswerable questions. Nihilism asks only one major question.

Why does it even matter?

More specifically, why does it matter what the liberals say? What does it matter what the conservatives say? Why does all the outrage and protest surrounding gun control, abortion rights, or convoluted campaign finance laws matter at all?

It’s not a question meant to trigger or troll an audience. The purpose, in this instance, is to get people to take a step back and understand that the meaning behind the current debate requires that the meaning behind this current point in time be exceedingly inflated.

With gun control, the primary catalyst for the debate that rages today began with the Columbine shooting in 1999. Many of the passions surrounding gun control began with that event. I’m old enough to remember how big a deal it was when it first happened. My school underwent a great deal of melodrama during that time.

As horrific as that event was, why is it any more meaningful than the deadly shooting that occurred in 1966 at the University of Texas in Austin? Going back even further than that, what about the deadly massacre that occurred without guns at Enoch Brown that occurred in 1764 and left 10 people dead, 9 of which were children?

Most people don’t even remember or know of those atrocities. Do they matter any less? Sure, there aren’t as many people alive today who are affected by them. In fact, for most atrocities committed before the 20th century, nobody is alive to ascribe meaning to those events.

That makes sense through the lens of nihilism because, given enough time and entropy, nothing matters in the long run. The outrage of those events and all those effected passed as soon as the people involved passed. When they died, they took the meaning with them. Even though the records of those events still exist to anyone willing to look them up, they are devoid of meaning.

Now, with that in mind, think about how meaningful the recent school shootings will be 200 years from now. It’s a given that they won’t be nearly as relevant, but will they carry the same meaning? Will anything that happened as a result really matter in the long run? Will all those political debates mean anything in the grand scheme of things?

If history is any indication, and history itself is subject to arbitrary meaning with nihilism, then chances are it won’t. There’s a high possibility that the current uproar surrounding gun control, as well as the uproar surrounding every political issue we deem important today, will eventually be rendered pointless.

That’s not to say they become pointless in an instant. Time has a way of skewing and twisting hot-button issues that don’t always make much sense in the decades that followed. Before the 1980s, abortion was largely considered a Catholic issue and didn’t become really touchy until the rise of the religious right.

The same thing happened with issues of censorship. Back in the mid-1960s, campuses like UC Berkeley were the central hub of the free speech movement that championed the right of people to say controversial things. These days, those same campuses have promoted censorship of controversial speakers, sometimes to the point of violence.

To most, that comes off as an act of hypocrisy. In a nihilistic context, though, it makes sense because both positions are similarly flawed. They were deemed meaningful during a particular time, but once that time passes, that meaning faded once the people who gave it that meaning moved on.

That, more than anything, is the ultimate message nihilism conveys to political discourse. What people consider politically charged is only relevant because the people currently alive are making it so. When those people die, move on, or get bored, the political upheaval fades and loses meaning.

The fact that such a heated issue can lose meaning further implies that the meaning ascribed to it in the first place was entirely arbitrary. It only meant something because people subjectively believed it. There was no larger force at work in the grand scheme of things. It’s just individuals in a certain time at a particular place collectively deciding that this is worth their emotional energy.

It may seem callous. It may even seem to undercut suffering and injustice. However, I would argue that nihilism actually helps by putting an issue into a proper context. Whether it’s gun control, abortion, or the right of a person to marry a squirrel, the meaning of both the issue and the passions behind it is contingent on those experiencing it. There’s nothing else beyond that and pretending there is only obscures the situation.

Nihilism, and its propensity to strip away inflated meaning, reduces every issue back to temporary, finite beings concerned with their current condition in a fleeting, uncaring, unguided universe. It doesn’t matter if life is ultimately meaningless in the long run. It doesn’t matter that life in the past has been rendered pointless or that life in the future will eventually be pointless. What matters is what we’re experiencing now.

Anything beyond that context within a political issue is just false meaning. Anything that attributes more meaning to the events in the past and future is just as arbitrary. Ultimately, the individuals alive today are responsible for ascribing meaning to an issue, whatever it may be.

I believe that harsh truth actually puts every political issue in a proper perspective, one that shows just how responsible we are as a society for giving meaning to an issue. It doesn’t mean we should all just give up and lament at the meaninglessness of our lives. It means we should be mindful of the things to which we ascribe meaning because, in a nihilistic universe, nothing else will do it for us.

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