Understanding Late Stage Capitalism

Late Stage Capitalism is a socioeconomic theory which maintains that Capitalism is an historically limited stage. Proponents of this theory suggest that eventually the pragmatic rational decision making of capital economies will result in hyper-conglomeratization, lack of competition, automation and a redistribution of resources and wealth to those who already have the most capital. If this sounds familiar, it is because this historically limited stage has run its course; capitalism is no longer the most efficient economic model on earth. As the term suggests we are currently living in the end stages of this economic system.

Political scientist and author Frederic Jameson wrote a book about this term in 1991, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. In his book, Jameson noted that the late stage of capitalism would come to dominate human beings – it is a moment where low and high art collapse, culminating in the postmodern consumerist stage where everything is commodified and consumable. Everything is for sale, and a few businesses begin to emerge as those who wish to sell you everything (Amazon, Walmart). In fact, most of what we buy and watch in the media is owned by one of less than ten conglomerates, as alluded to in the infographic featured above.

Some examples of this trend include conglomerates merging and buying up smaller companies to fold into their brand. Disney bought Marvel and Lucasfilm. They also own half the content you watch on television, including ESPN. Outside entertainment it is Amazon, who recently purchased Whole Foods, Ltd. For $13 billion in an effort to get into the grocery business in addition to selling just about everything else imaginable– and it is of course an entertainment content creator too. Yet it began as an online book store.

As rational economics suggest, these actors make decisions rationally, that is they make choices on the basis of sound logical principal in accordance with self interest. Businesses will make decisions rationally in order to expand value and increase market share in order to benefit share holders and themselves. It is this strict adherence to rational economics which also supports the theory that Capitalism is an historically limited stage.

Rational economics is not the best distributor of resources. In the early stages of capitalism there were many markets. Someone created a product, brought that product to market and those with means exchanged something of value in order to obtain it. When a competitor emerged with a similar product, it created competition. With competition, the market for a particular good or item would fall because there was ample supply of it. Since Capitalism adheres to rational decision making based on supply and demand, eventually these markets would be consolidated to better control prices in accordance with self interest. In order to act in self interest, many of these good-makers decided to merge and reap the benefits of lower costs of production, and higher profits for themselves. The result is less competition, higher prices, lower wages and extreme wealth inequality.

Capitalism is a ruthless system which does not care for the well being of its economic participants apart from those with the most means. It does not distribute resources efficiently because it was never designed to.

Case in point the global affordable housing crisis. A week ago, Grenfell Tower, a public housing complex in North Kensington burned to the ground killing around 100 people. The cause of the fire is not immediately known, but the lack of safety measures is. As the supply of valuable property in London and other major cities becomes scarce, investors moved in as rational decision makers looking to capitalize on real estate investment. The result is hundreds and thousands of properties taken off the market to act as land banks– investment properties, AirBnB rentals, and vacation homes for the rich both at home, and especially abroad. Instead of hearing Grenfell residents concerns, Kensington and Chelsea acted in accordance with rational theory as well. They chose to put the concerns of developers first and install cheaper flammable cladding to the Tower complex in an effort to save £5,000 and make the public unit look nicer to neighboring affluent residents which in turn raises more revenue. Not once did the Council or its contractors make a decision with the safety of its poorer residents in mind!

Rational decision making cares about one thing and one thing only – maximizing profit by reducing costs and acting with the benefits of the company or individual in mind. Nowhere in that calculation is labor, or negative externality considered. It is not to the benefit of the capital class to distribute resources to those with less. It is not to the benefit of the capital class to spend more to prevent negative externalities. The only thing which can do that is public policy.

What do we consider rights?

Is access to affordable and safe housing a right? Is it reasonable to make sure that those living in a given city have access to such housing before investment properties and those looking to make a quick buck off AirBnB? Should we tax or restrict investment properties in given cities where vacancy rates are low, and cost is too high? Is it reasonable to have housing that is safe and up to code?

Is access to affordable education a right? Is it reasonable to reduce the cost of college, including private elite universities so that middle and lower class residents can compete on the merits against wealthier students without burdensome loans? Should unpaid internships be made illegal so that those who cannot afford to work for free get the same experience early in their careers as those who can?

Is healthcare a right? Should we make a profit off of those who are sick or should we subsidize medicine and health services so that we can reduce cost and better distribute resources to those most in need regardless their economic background?

Is a clean and green environment a right? Should we place regulations to restrict polluting industries from contaminating the local community and furthering the climate change crisis? Should we take steps to prohibit certain products and methods of resource exploration to preserve life on earth and the safety of local communities?

Is access to financial products with clarity a right? Should we regulate capital markets so that institutions do not act without the well-being of their clients in mind? Should financial advisors be held to high standards and accuracy, and make decisions with their clients in mind? Should certain financial institutions have faster access to trading floors, which enable them to rig the market in their favor? Should roughly ten companies own everything we buy?

These questions must be answered by public policy makers. Late stage capitalism does not distribute resources efficiently because it is only concerned with self-interest. Therefore a capitalist market is not good at self-regulating itself and leading to the best possible outcomes for all. The logical culmination of this theory is mass inequality, lack of opportunity, fewer choices and the commodification of every aspect of life.

However not everything should be commodified. If we believe in meritocracy, we must make and lobby for policy which makes sure that resources are distributed in a more equitable manner. We must protect aspects of our society which unregulated capital markets do not value; such as the environment, the arts and those with less means to provide for themselves. We must encourage policy makers to take automation seriously, and make plans for a post-work economy. Finally, we must come to the conclusion that while Capitalism has done a lot of good for our world, it is no longer the most efficient system for all. It is time to look at what comes next, and how best to implement policy that respects both those at the top and at the bottom; a system which is equitable and based on merit. Late stage capitalism is a turning point in human history. Where we head next is up to the people and the world they want to see. It will be a tough fight, but it is a fight worth having – it is a fight for the future, and for a better world than the one we live in today.

Blue Zones

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Concept Image of Google Dome via Google

Blue Zone is defined as an area of the world where sociologists have concluded that people have a statistically higher chance to lead a longer life. When applied to discussions of future society, it means those with means and those without it. When automation leads to masse unemployment and historic wealth inequality, living in a blue zone could literally mean the difference between life and death.

A few months back, I discussed the pitfalls of various futurist visions, namely their inability to foresee problems — or more likely that they just don’t care. The post was titled Trickle Down Tech, a play on words inspired by trickle down economics.  In both cases, wealthy folks promise average working people that if they wait a little longer the profits, or technological innovation will increase their quality of life.

This promise of better quality of life is a faulty promise. Research continues to show warning signs about AI, and predicts that by 2025, a third of our jobs will be automated. By 2050, some researchers theorize the majority of our current workforce could be out of work. While many in Silicon Valley, like Google’s Ray Kurzweil, assure us AI will also create new jobs — this time is different than the rest of history.

It is smart for Silicon Valley elites to not ring the alarm bell. It would lead to revolt, and the potential to have their VC cut off, or have their inventions be subject to preventative regulations. These people are in it to make a profit and to test the limits of technology because they can.

Meanwhile within their circles, the Technorati have already begun to talk about future blue zones and how to prepare now for the coming societal unrest.

“They already know millions will suffer…the population of earth which is overpopulated will have to decline…it is a matter of resources, even if we can 3d print them, there is only so much space on earth.” This is what a friend of mine currently studying advanced artificial intelligence at a major west coast research institution told me. He had attended  a retreat with his peers, the term “blue zones” actually came up. All theorized that because of their jobs within the tech community, they would have the requisite skills to live within one of the planned blue zone communities — perhaps like the concept of Google Dome as pictured above.

In fact, while it isn’t revealed to the public as a blue zone, those familiar with the project have confessed to me that Google Dome is an early concept of a blue zone, similar to Peter Thiel’s proposed Sea Steading colony. Many tech companies know that history will repeat itself — when they say “let them eat cake,” people will be ready with pitchforks to storm the Bastille!

Only this isn’t a castle prison in 18th Century France, it is far more secure than that. These mini-Elysiums will have all the technology, resources and clean energy residents could possibly need. The dome would be entirely self sufficient. Most importantly it would be impervious to attack by the commoners.

Silicon Valley has given us a lot of great things — but what stuck out to me during the conversation with my Technorati friend was that in his industry, all know eventually many will suffer. A lot of folks in the tech community have grown almost aloof to this fact. They see it merely as a necessary moment in history for human evolution. They have developed almost a callousness to it. Eventually the course will correct itself, but not at their expense — but at the expense of the masses — so who gives a fuck?

It is time to take the threat of automation very seriously. Amazon just launched Amazon Go, a grocery store with no human employees. It won’t stop at retail, it will eventually bleed into technical and white collar jobs like law, finance and accounting too! It’s time to get government and labor unions involved. It is time to take the threat of mass unemployment seriously. Universal Basic Income isn’t the answer, because whatever money you get the Techonorati will have much, much more. The answer is fighting this before it is too late. Otherwise, it will be up to whether you can save enough to get into a blue zone. Most of us won’t get there, we’ll be stuck in the desert with no water like Mad Max.

Turn Off Autopilot

Our cultures intellectual laziness is just as responsible for the top-40, remake, rip off culture as is the election of Donald Trump.

People don’t care that you voted for Trump as an anti-establishment message. Nor does the Republican Party. You still voted for a racist in spite of that. Hollywood doesn’t care that you just wanted to check their crappy superhero films like SUICIDE SQUAD out. You still voted with your dollars for them to continue to put in little effort for maximum reward.

We can no longer just expect to find good candidates, films or music simply by what the big corporate political and cultural entities push. We must now resort to doing our homework. It’s true that we must be the change we want to see. We must build a progressive movement locally from the ground up to get a seat at the DC table. We must financially support & promote independent films and films of cultural and aesthetic import (especially films by underrepresented creators). We must support local music and buy their products.

CNN, Warner Brothers and their various record labels aren’t going to do their part unless you do yours. Nor are their rivals. Even then the corporate 1% will continue with the status quo. Why? Because the model of late stage capitalism punishes risk. It rewards consolidation, vertical integration and monopoly. It rewards laziness and cookie cutter formulas. It is not interested in saying anything other than “buy our product in every category and then buy more.”

If you don’t like this then it is up to you to stop financially supporting it. It is up to you to research the products you buy. It is up to you to recognize native advertisements that aren’t actually sincere recommendations. It is up to you to rebuke corporate takeovers and mergers by calling your congressperson. It is up to you to be informed as a consumer but also in life.

Our institutions are crumbling to greed and late stage capitalist urges. I have no hope for them, but I do have hope that we can build anew from the ground up but only if we first exercise good judgment and sound thinking. It’s time to turn off autopilot.

Hollywood & Unrequited Love

Unrequited love is cruel for if we could choose who we fall for, we’d never pick someone we know doesn’t love or could never love us back. Yet we fall for the ones we can’t have all the time.

Movies popularize the tale of unrequited love, albeit with a twist. There’s the main hero and their love interest. The problem? The love interest either doesn’t notice the hero or doesn’t share a romantic intention. Over the course of the story our hero will demonstrate their worth before this love interest and despite their problem of unrequited love, the love interest will wind up loving the hero back. Happy endings for all.

Unrequited love doesn’t work this way. You can’t make or force someone to love you. It’s either the case that you share that passion or you don’t. Unrequited implies the passion is not shared. Sure maybe down the road things may change but that rarely happens. Yet movies and novels make it seem like unrequited love is a solvable problem. Solving the problem is a staple in the romantic comedy and romance genres; probably coming in second only to the problem of forbidden love.

The reason unrequited love is so common as a story is because it is popular fantasy. What if an average guy like Adam Sandler’s characters could get all those beautiful successful women? The nerd in The Sandlot actually married Wendy Peppercorn. The down on her luck woman in countless romance novels and movies like Pretty Woman meets the guy of her dreams. They all get the one they can’t have.

Not only does the hero win, they often do so in ways which would be considered inappropriate in real life. The hero often gets the guy or gal through creepy behavior like stalking or socially  inappropriate gestures which would never be accepted outside a fictional universe. Yet people try and do these same things in everyday life and wonder why it didn’t work for them.

Popular fantasy rarely translates to reality. Sometimes your wildest dreams do come true, but for the lot of us it won’t. Even if there were some way to get someone to share our level of enthusiasm, there is so much complexity that could prevent a viable romantic union; a current marriage, age difference, location, status. All these things still come before.

Yet we like to imagine a popular fantasy where we can get the guy or girl. We don’t choose who we fall for, love is like gravity, once we fall we cannot stop. Instead of acknowledging the painful reality of unrequited or forbidden love, it’s easier to live vicariously through someone who got what we can’t have. It is more enjoyable to imagine a fantasy where your dreams come true.

The more we spend time fretting over what we can’t have we loose sight of what we can. That is the danger in this popular fantasy. Sometimes it’s ok to not get the guy or the girl. Not winning all the time only serves to make us stronger. Love will come again.

LOUD Twitter

Loud. It’s the way Twitter can feel some times when a particular topic or issue blows up to the point where it feels like everyone is shouting over one another.

Loud Twitter is a large, diverse and ever growing group of people who get all up in arms over every little thing. They take an issue and blow it so out of proportion that they become impossible to reason with. Today Loud Twitter gathered in the film Twitter sphere. The topic was whether it is good or bad for showrunners to live-tweet shows. While most debated whether they found the practice enriching or distracting, a vocal chorus of people made a strawman argument implying that anybody against the practice would be left behind the times. That’s because Loud Twitter interpreted it to be out of touch White male showrunners v. the many diverse showrunners who have adopted the practice of live-tweeting

I don’t see how they got that from THR’s interview with the showrunners or industry people’s opinions  on Twitter but somehow that’s where we’re at.

If you’ve read my blog or Twitter at all you’d know I am a staunch proponent of diversifying the industry and I have been consistently intersectional in my support of that goal. But when we argue over stuff as petty as livetweeting, it turns the whole diversity conversation into a caricature of itself. You tune people out, because not every issue requires being that loud and frankly in this case obnoxious.

Nobody wants to hire someone who is so loud and upset at every little thing. Many will avoid having to step on eggshells around someone like that. It is toxic to live in a constant state of negativity. So go hard at the issues which require it but be mindful that not every issue does. Be loud but remember sometimes there is no need to be. Being loud doesn’t make you right, it mostly makes you obnoxious. It’s something that I’ve learned as I’ve matured, and it’s something I have remained mindful of since cleaning my Twitter.

So go ahead and get mad that I wrote this. Or accept personal responsibility and understand that outside your echo chamber you may actively be avoided for the way you come across.

PS livetweeting sucks.

 

Your Protest Isn’t Working

Today David Brooks drew scorn for his post taking issue with Kaepernick and other athletes kneeling during the national anthem.

He concluded that kneeling during the national anthem is counterproductive to the goals of the protest. Instead of explaining and arguing for his conclusion, what followed was a convoluted rambling about the (White) American experience and civic duty so dripping with pretension you’d think you were reading a Tom Friedman column.

But I digress, I actually went into that article wanting to agree with the conclusion: that this protest is misguided and ineffectual. I happen to disagree with my fellow progressives on this one. Since David Brooks couldn’t argue his point, I will.

Progressives argue that the protest is Kaepernick and others first amendment right. Correct. On this I agree. They also argue that the protest has started an important conversation. On this I partly agree.

What conversation are we having on this issue? Are we discussing the act of the protest itself or the reasons for it? The former of course. In fact if you were to poll any reasonable number of Americans on why athletes are kneeling I’m sure many wouldn’t even know the answer. That’s because we’re not starting a conversation about racial injustice and police misconduct. We’ve started a conversation about whether this protest is patriotic, or whether it’s insulting, whether it even works as intended. We’re taking sides around the act itself, not the reason for the actions. That’s ineffectual protest!

Progressives will counter with, well when has a protest ever been convenient? It doesn’t need to be convenient. But it should actually lead to a discussion about the reasons for it. At least the Sit-In movement during the 60s made sense. The bus boycott made sense. This doesn’t make sense in the least.

A well conducted protest should lead to a spirited discussion, a movement for progress. This one hasn’t. There are so many other more effective ways to protest. How about Kaepernick marches with Black Lives Matter? How about Kaepernick follows through with his promise to donate to such organizations? How about Kaepernick mentors at risk youth through the thousands of such organizations that do so? Through these actions, Kaepernick could discuss the issues of racial injustice in a way that is far less polarizing and divisive than kneeling. He could protest in so many more effective ways.

So the protest is ineffective. It has forced people into debating the actions of Kaepernick as opposed to why he is kneeling. So many are disgusted by it that even if they were to agree with the reason for the protest, they’ve already been lost by the action itself. Kneeling on 9/11, a day we should be coming together and not discussing politics, is a repulsive action to so so many. Of those who got his message, they’re already in agreement on the issue of police brutality. It is merely reinforcing progressive beliefs in an echo chamber. But it’s not progressives who need to learn.

So congrats on your jersey sales Kaepernick, but I won’t commend you for this. It’s pretty much the Leftwing version of the Oregon militia protest of big government by camping in the woods. It’s so far removed from the thing you are actually protesting that the protest pretty much becomes ineffective. It winds up a discussion of the protest and the protestors as opposed to what they’re upset about. If that’s the case, your protest stinks. Kneeling stinks. Sorry that David Brooks couldn’t make the same simple argument.

White Diversity

The Night Of has taken social media and critical circles by storm. The powerful crime drama takes a hard look at social issues, including Islamaphobia and how Muslim Americans are treated by the media and our justice system.

I am going to proceed with the understanding that readers are familiar with the show, and have already seen most if not all of it. So spoilers ahead.

My main problem with this show is that it seems to highlight a familiar problem in Hollywood, diversity as shown and told by White creators. We’ve all seen the dismal numbers for writers/directors, how most are still white men even after the uproar of Oscars So White and an ongoing ACLU investigation. The Night Of despite a well-intentioned show concerned with diversity is no exception. It it is written by two White men. The executive producers too are nearly all White men.

And it shows.

The show centers around the events that unfolded around Nasir Khan, and how he wound up in the wrong place, at the wrong time and is now charged with murder. Instead of Naz being our primary character, we are quickly introduced to his oddball lawyer, John Stone. It is he who overtakes Nasir as the main protagonist. While Nasir remains the one in a bind, the one we care about, the show focuses on this turmoil largely through the perspective of John Turturro’s character — not Riz Ahmed’s. It focuses on this small time lawyer who got the case of a lifetime, and will now try and save his co-star.

The character of John Stone feels a lot more well developed than Nasir Khan. That’s not too surprising considering the show was originally a vehicle for the late James Gandolfini. A pilot was even shot starring the actor portraying John Stone. He remains credited as executive producer. With that understanding, it’s fair to say this show was likely devised as a show about this lawyer and added in the Muslim arc to give the story a social conscious in post-9/11 New York City.

Instead of exploring the Muslim community, and Khan’s family, we are only given a superficial glance at it. Most of what we see in terms of Islamaphobia is reacted to by the White cast. While Nasir initially takes issue with the Black men and their racist joke in the pilot, White people step in the rest of the show. It is John Stone who speaks for the Khan family and Nasir, describing them as “American as baseball” when the prosecution says he could flee to Pakistan (a country Nasir never visited). It is the White female lawyer, who briefly hijacks the case from Stone who stands on the courthouse steps and doesn’t allow Mr. Khan to speak.

Just as soon as we seem to be getting into the Khan families internal struggle we cut away. Most of the time, we just see them silent, our White cast talking over them. When they are alone, we get a few plot-driven scenes, but none of true introspection. We never really see the Khan family digest what has happened in a way that feels truly revealing. They mostly just mope about throughout the episodes, letting the White cast interpret events for them.

I can’t help but imagine that if we had a muslim POV in the writers room, the Khan family and their diverse community would have had a more dynamic role. I am not faulting the White writers for this, it is a cultural blind spot. I am sure they wanted to portray this family struggling with their identity, but in their cultural blindspot they failed to let the story unfold in a way that truly explored the Muslim identity. That’s because it is an identity that they don’t really understand. They can’t understand it, no matter how well researched. So instead it was largely John Stone and others reacting for them. It was other characters taking us through a world that still treats Muslims and Middle Eastern Americans as second class citizens and perpetual suspects. The show is textbook “White Diversity,” a diverse show obviously and transparently written by White people.

I’ll still take White Diversity over no diversity on screen. However, sometimes it is not White people’s story to tell. This presumptive idea that diversity only happens before the camera is false (sorry Matt Damon). As writers we need to be mindful when another POV is necessary, and other times know when to back off in acknowledgement that another POV may be better. Otherwise, all we get are shows and films which lack a true cultural representation; we get a superficial analysis of a problem or theme which requires greater introspection. Sometimes, if not most times, that introspection is better provided by those who best understand the problems/themes at hand.

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For those writers who want to write better depictions of people of color, please check out this post written by Asian American writer Mari Naomi.

Trickle Down Tech

Peter Thiel wants to make a self-sustaining island full of technological wonders that will solve all of mans problems, so jack into your cybernetic framework, because it’s 2045 and it’s time to party!

Oh wait, I’m not invited. Oh gee, I guess you’re not too.

How did this all happen? I thought that once the so-called Singularity arrived, we’d all be so much better off. I thought that all of this technological largess would trickle down like  Bush’s economic policy to lift us all out of our mundane misfortune.

Oh right, I guess that economic policy was a lie to the Middle Class too. Hmmm.

Welcome to Trickle Down Tech; where a bunch of overly optimistic guys from Silicon Valley invade your privacy, automate your jobs and promise to cure your cancer if you just sign right here ____

Okay, perhaps I am being somewhat unfair in my assessment. Lets rewind…

As I write this on Labor Day weekend, 2016, wealthy investors are tripping over themselves to fund the next great technological disruption. The next app that will disrupt an industry, leading unionized workers to sign right here ___ to loose everything laborers before them fought to secure. All this so a bunch of tech titans can please shareholders and investors while lining their own pockets. All in the name of progress! Wait a while, and these amazing apps and disruptions will make your life better. Keep waiting for it to trickle down. Yes I know you’re out of work, keep waiting for that trickle.

Ah, the only trickle you’re going to get is the excess moisture dripping from the wet bag you’ll be left holding by this faulty promise.

Silicon Valley loves to present itself as the bastion of progress. Lets take a look at Singularity U as an example. It is a partnership between venture capital titans and inventors like Peter Diamandis, Peter Thiel, Ray Kurzweil, Google, Nasa (to name a few) where super wealthy people can pay thousands and thousands of dollars for seminars on the next great disruption! It’s called a university, but in reality it is a VC pitchfest, where people can learn to aid the disruptors or become the disruptors themselves.

The godfather of the Singularity movement, Ray Kurzweil is notoriously optimistic regarding future tech, assuring us that we’ll figure all these things out once we get there. He swears to us that there is no problem that technology cannot fix. While I happen to think Kurzweil is far more well-intentioned than the Libertarian Bond villain that is Peter Thiel, he is naive in his assessment.

This is the problem. Even if people are well intentioned, when you push full ahead on disruption without considering the immediate impacts and solutions for those impacts, you’re assuring failure not just for those people, but for yourself.

While these silicon cowboys may have all the money and resources on their private islands, when unemployment reaches 90% because Singularity Hub adherents celebrate the automation of those meaningless jobs, people will revolt. They’ll find a way to build gunships and blow it up for making their lives miserable. Then, the “Luddites” will win because everyone will hate technology just like they’re already starting to hate Capitalism.

While Singularitarians like to promote a Star Trek vision of our future, most people won’t have the luxury of affording the pursuit of knowledge and the arts. The fact remains that people depend on those “meaningless jobs” to feed their families and provide for basic necessities. How dare some smug, overpaid plaid-clad writer living in a $5000/month Palo Alto studio write that someone else’s labor is meaningless. To who? You? Fuck you.

Ah but universal basic income! That’s what these people proffer as a solution, despite numerous economists noting that the only thing this will achieve is hyper inflation. This will only further disenfranchise the unemployed and wealth divide. It almost would seem many of these futurists are ignorant of the market economy. They’re not. They know that things cost money, and if we disenfranchise enough people these precious resources will be kept for the few. The rest of us will rejoin the Middle Ages in a bartering economy — Need some eggs? I have a chicken!

The futurist in me doesn’t want to believe that all promoting this grand vision for the future are like this. I genuinely believe that many want to make the world a better place through technology. I want this too. That is why we need to pause and consider the impact of disrupting things so quickly. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Until we slow down and consider how our new technologies impact others adversely, we must not proceed. We must consider solutions to potential problems before we create them. We must do this to assure responsible technological progress.

Failure to listen to the cab drivers in the streets after Uber decimated their industry will doom us to a warring world of have and have-nots. Don’t we want things to be better than that? Do you really want to go back to the turn of the century rich-poor divide? The tenement housing and mass unemployment? I highly doubt anyone would want that for humanity, even if they could insulate themselves on a private island. If you do want that, enjoy the party, just don’t get too close to the other sharks.

So before we plow ahead with great disruptions,  we must assure their success by making sure they do not disenfranchise people. We must make sure that these new inventions like computer health technologies, and 3d-printed resources are available to all of humanity, not just the rich. Trickle down tech, just like trickle down economics doesn’t work. It is up to those among the have’s to help the have-nots. Failure to do so will assure that the Luddites, that starving masse of rioting unemployed, win.

 

 

 

 

You Do Not Have The Answer

For almost 50 years, people have debated the meaning of the third act in 2001: A Space Odyssey. For thousands of years, people have debated the meaning and origin of the universe. Neither has yielded many concrete results.

Perhaps this is the point. Not every question can yield a definitive answer, and this provokes a profound sense of anxiety.

After defeating HAL: 9000 on the edge of Jupiter’s orbit, Dave is sent on a journey through deep space. The monolith, the giant black tower which appears at the dawn of man seems to have some kind of power over him; or so many theories suggest. In this period of millennia, Dave is given a mass of knowledge that dates back to the Big Bang itself.

It is not merely a fantastic journey through a likely LSD inspired Stargate sequence. It is a deeply anxious mind trying to fathom our cosmic insignificance. It is so much information, so much science we cannot explain, so many trillions of galaxies and exponential numbers of stars that our brain cannot properly compute it all. It just comes out in brilliant colors moving a trillion meters per second. Dave’s face contorts and twists, and so do ours at the thought of what is happening. Then the Big Bang, the most anxiety producing of all — darkness, then light. We are all matter from anti matter. We are something out of nothing. We are particles of something which partical physics has yet to understand.

Is this making you anxious yet? It should be. The entire Stargate sequence is an elaborate mind fuck meant to imagine answers to questions we haven’t been able to shake for Millennia. How small do you feel after watching it?

So perhaps we’re all the product of star children because maybe for some that innocent thought of God is easier to fathom. The thought of an old man, viewed from his younger self through a bend in space and time, is easier to imagine. A man who sleeps in a white room with white curtains, tired eyes beneath a monolith of suggestion. Aliens, or God? This is the simplistic view. Perhaps this seems less fantastical than the science we do not understand.

The universe is frighteningly powerful. I write this on a space rock dodging cosmic hazards, spinning on its own axis at 720mph as it revolves around a ticking time bomb: our sun. This galaxy and the entire universe beyond it is held together by a physics we have barely begun to understand. It is so delicately held together by some cosmic string, that only the slightest of mishaps could send us all tumbling into mass extinction.

Are you anxious yet?

Perhaps the greatest con of this third act is that much like advanced science and the universe itself, there are no correct answers. The entire purpose of this act is to produce a mass anxiety out of not knowing. But hey, look at the star child floating to earth. I wonder if he’s Christian. Perhaps there’s an afterlife after all?

Facebook is a Platform for Low Information Garbage, Racism & Hate: Why I Left.

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Facebook doesn’t want to be the platform for intelligent discourse, and that’s exactly why I left it.

I first started using the platform in college, when Facebook was only availble to those with a college email. After it was rolled out to the general population, I never added a lot of people I knew I wouldn’t talk to. I kept my friends list manageable, mostly family and friends I would see often.

Then after a few years, approaching its initial public offering, Facebook began to distort the social experience. It rolled out a feature called news feed. Instead of receiving posts from your friends in chronological order, you saw what an algorithm determined was news.

At first this wasn’t too bad because most of what was considered news were topics, people and posts you probably liked seeing. It was often populated by those you interacted with often and topics/pages you “liked” on their website. It was a healthy mix between people and pages, with minimal sponsored posts. Plus you could still switch to a chronological time line that didn’t limit how far back you could scroll.

Then advertisers began to make up a larger portion of the social networks revenue. They became crucial to their profitability. Facebook repeatedly landed in hot water for privacy practices, notably data mining and the ownership of user IP, like photos.

It was around this time Facebook started to take over control. No longer was the platform content in allowing users to determine what they wanted to see. Facebook determined what Facebook wanted you to see. It even ran a social experiment showing more sad/happy posts to gauge user reaction.

Facebooks news feed functions as a tool for data analytics. 2/3rds of my news feed quickly turned to Facebook games, public pages for brands/sports teams etc, media pages, sponsored posts and maybe only 15% would actually be people I wanted to hear from.

Concurrently, Facebook launched an update to its smart phone app that limited the chronological time line and saturated that time line with sponsored posts.

Unlike Twitter where the user can create lists to track interests and those they most want to hear from, Facebook finally removed the option for users to control anything. Twitter cares about the experience its users have. Facebook does not. Whereas Twitter allows multiple apps, giving users even more options to filter content, Facebook only has its one app. Facebook wants to be in full control.

After news feed went to shit, many friends started leaving the site. I stayed, perhaps only because it was one of the few ways I could see all of my families posts, photos etc.

Then finally those posts were less and less too. I began having to manually go to people’s pages to see what they were up to. Within the past year, news feed is largely not even text. Over 90% of what you see on Facebook are inaccurate memes, stupid viral content and tabloid headlines. Whether or not a friend posted it, that’s what you would see. Also, if I liked a story on a public page, my news feed time line would quickly be consumed by all that pages posts.

Facebook does not care that it is the low information social platform. It relishes in that because the sheep who fall for bull shit memes are exactly the kinds of people Facebooks advertising partners want to buy their junk. Uninformed, easily manipulated morons — it is easy to part a fool from his/her money.

Yet in spite of all this, what ultimately put me over the edge was a new tweak to their news feed: the garbage political posts and proliferation of racism that went unpoliced.

I have recently tested a theory that Facebook shows you content you will disagree with in order to bait you into argument. Instead of seeing things you generally agree with, like in the early news feed days, Facebook wanted to find a way to keep you on the site longer. If you see a post you agree with, at most you’ll give it a like. Maybe you’ll add a comment or two. Then that’s it. Whereas if you find a post that offends you or is just totally factually inaccurate — you’re more likely to debate with the poster. The more you debate, the more you’re opening the app to check replies.

Think about why this makes sense. The more you open the app the more advertisers can learn about you, advertise to you etc.

So Facebook finds out what you are passionate about and shows you content in that subject that you are likely to disagree with. Maybe a sports team you despise, a friend supports. A political candidate or positions you disagree with in the strongest terms.

Facebook wants people arguing because it is good for their bottom line. The more outrageous the garbage content, the more divisiveness.

Recently I reported a page posting bigoted content called “Fuck Islam.” Facebook wrote back to me saying it didn’t violate their community standards. Of course it didn’t, that’s because Facebook has no moral or philosophical standards! Only greed.

At first the refusal to ban this page shocked and appalled me. However as this kind of virulent racism and bigotry became more common on their platform, I realized Facebook was fast becoming a home to the fringe political right wing – the low information voter. The fool and his money. The reactionary sheep advertisers are so desperate to court.

As higher educated people and younger people of progressive leanings fled the platform, older socially conservative people filled the gap. Facebook quickly became like an early 90s chain mail of made up stories and factually inaccurate memes meant to reinforce toxic political beliefs.

So finally I had enough. I couldn’t take the exposure to what had become a toxic right wing environment. I could no longer stand a news feed full of racist memes, promoted pages endorsing awful views and just plain dumb crap that as an educated and well read person I’d have no interest in.

So I deleted the app, blocked the site from my MacBook and hope to never look back.

I’m sure I’ll miss friends events. I won’t get to see many of my families photos. I think that’s a small price to pay for removing awful content from my life.

Maybe one day I’ll go back to Facebook if it decides to give users more control over their experience. Perhaps one day I’ll go back if it decides to be a more inclusive place and bans pages and content that are broadly offensive to most reasonable people.

But I doubt that day will ever come. Facebook does not care about inclusiveness or what you want. It just cares about what it wants, and what it wants is to make money. It is a company which has lost all moral compass as it makes money in perhaps the most repugnant of ways; privacy invasion, manipulating people’s emotions and fostering an environment which promotes divisiveness.

Today I realize I don’t have to help them make money. I hope that if your experience is anything like mine, you shouldn’t need to help them in that endeavor either.