Culture Medical Politics

Day 948 and Assigning Value

What does assigning value mean to you? How do you begin to investigate what is valuable? If someone asked you to value “object X” do you know what tools you would use first to make a measurement?

If I tell you determining value is a cultural problem, you may investigate the problem of value through religious or philosophical frameworks. If I tell you value is an artistic problem, you may use taste in finding value.

If I tell you that assigning value is primarily a computing problem, you may search for weightings, databases and referents to determine value.

So what happens when determining value has to account for multiple or even contradictory frameworks? Which framework assigns the ultimate value? And how do we align them?

Congratulations, you’ve known become an artificial intelligence alignment researcher. I bet you thought that required a doctorate but it doesn’t.

It’s not an entirely intractable problem. The Industrial Revolution found ways to align competing frameworks. We assigned labor value and made currencies to facilitate the exchange of different goods.

Markets can, and do, spring up for all kinds of previously impossible to value things. Capitalism done its best to make cultural value fungible and legible to an agreed upon value. Sure, artisans and artists complain we conclude incorrect values regularly. But we don’t always agree on value.

Generally we’ve found that what can pay for itself survives and what can profit for others thrives.

Not all people are motivated by profit, but we all are motivated to survive. And so we contribute what we believe has value to each other and hope the frameworks of value that others have will align with ours. The balance between the two has held together humanity for sometime.

But deciding on value isn’t the same thing as a thing driving a profit and we have to remember that truth. Between the gaps in the models of what we value is the epsilon of what cannot be calculated.

If you’d like to read a horror story on how assigning fungible value in a database can end up assigning a value to something we humans generally don’t consider interchangeable at all, then I’d go read this piece on how public hospice care’s incentives have been perverted by private equity profit motive.

I don’t always agree with the author of the piece Cory Doctorow. But I think he’s raising a powerful point on how we are assigning value when we overlay competing frameworks.

This is the true “AI Safety” risk. It’s not that a chatbot will become sentient and take over the world – it’s that the original artificial lifeform, the limited liability company, will use “AI” to accelerate its murderous shell-game until we can’t spot the trick

If you aren’t familiar with Doctorow, he’s a powerful voice in right to repair circles, a classical hacker opposed to corporate oligopoly, and a bit of a anarcho-syndicaticalist in his preferred solutions.

I like markets more than governments for most things. More of us can contribute to markets than we can contribute to specialist bureaucracies

But we have assigned value to end of life care inside the convoluted system of profit motives and medical ethics and it’s not the value most of us share on life.

And that’s going to happen a lot more as we get further and further abstracted away from the existing models of value that govern our lives. So remain skeptical when someone tells you that they know what you value. How they assign value might be different than you.

Culture Medical Politics

Day 945 and Secrets and Safetyism

Keeping secrets used to be a lot easier. Noble philosopher kings with priestly knowledge kept that shit under under lock and key so some uppity courtesan or eunuch didn’t get too clever.

Not that it was all that necessary. Nobody was accidentally misinterpreting the layers of mystical knowledge because illuminated manuscripts were expensive as fuck. And that was cheaper than the previous method which was memorizing oral histories. The expense of sharing information has acted as a control mechanism for centuries.

If you’ve got the money, you can store your sex toys and drugs in layered secret drawers behind a hidden bust of Socrates. But some asshole will post a primer online and your benzodiazepines and vibrator will be long gone.

The metaphor I’m working with on this silly desk is that humans love to horde secrets. We’ve got a lot of incentives to keep knowledge locked away. Drugs and sex in my joke mere proxies for ways we access altered states. Eve’s apple was a metaphor for forbidden knowledge so I’m not reinventing the wheel here.

So where are we today on secrets? Well, I think we are trying desperately to put the genie back in the bottle.

We think we’ve got an open internet but ten years ago Instagram stopped including the metadata tags to allow Twitter to display rich content embedded directly in a Tweet. Now Twitter and Reddit are taking the same approach as Instagram did as data ownership becomes a hot issue.

Closed gardens are meant to keep thieves out and Eve in. And depending on who you are it’s likely you will experience the fall from grace of Eve and the persecution of the thief. God clearly knew something as his conclusion was that once you’ve tasted the bitter fruit there is no point in protecting paradise.

Every time there is more access to information we have the same debate. Fundamentally you either believe people should have access to information and how they apply it to their lives (side effects included) or you don’t.

I’m happy for you to argue the nuances of it. Want a recent example that looks complex and might actually be deadly simply?

The clown meme format asks if it’s
a joke to conclude confident that “LLMs should not be used to give medical advice.”

I know it’s tempting to side with the well credentialed researcher over the convicted felon when faced with a debate over access to medical advice. But I don’t think it’s as simple as all that.

From Guttenberg to the current crop of centralized large language models, it’s just more complexity and friction on the same old story. It is dangerous to let the savages have access to the priestly secrets. I for one remain on team Reformation. Rest in power Aaron Schwartz.

To quote myself in my own investor letter last month.

Most builders remain deeply skeptical of Noble Lies, “for your own good” safetyism, regulatory capture, oligopoly control, and the centralized nation state control as the most effective methodology of innovation for a dynamic pluralistic human future. We are having cultural and financial reformations at a frightening speed. It’s beyond future shock now.

So if I have a gun to my head (and that day may come) I’d like to have it on record that I don’t think secrets have any inherent nobility. It’s just a control mechanism. Keeping people safe sounds noble. But you’d be wise to consider how you’d feel if your life depended on having access to medical data. How would you feel if the paternalism of a noble lie to keep you from it? It’s not great Bob.

Culture Politics Preparedness

Day 943 and Glimmers

I find myself filled with optimism today, even as I’m quite sure we are ramping quickly into the era of chaos I’ve been prattling on about for nearly a thousand days. Everything feels a bit “hold on to your hats” as we collectively experience the fear and joy of an illegible moment without any dominant narratives.

And yet today inside this chaos without clarity, the internet is filled with enthusiasm as a small niche of enthusiasts try to replicate the results of a chemistry paper that claims to have made a superconducting at room temperature material LK-99 produced with common materials like lead and red phosphorus.

Add that on top of fervor over Congressional investigations “aliens” program whistleblowers while we all collectively wonder at the potential for artificial general intelligence to be accelerated and the zeitgeist is a fever pitch of vibe shifts from doom to foom.

All of these glimmers of joyful uncertainty and hopeful chaos are emerging from a youth culture that is quite sure it has been abandoned by its own past as it is bombarded by a dystopian future by its own geriatric elite. Is it any wonder it feels like the social contract is hanging on by a thread?

Historian Peter Turchin is taking a victory lap with the accuracy of his theory of cliodynamics

When the equilibrium between ruling elites and the majority tips too far in favor of elites, political instability is all but inevitable. As income inequality surges and prosperity flows disproportionately into the hands of the elites, the common people suffer, and society-wide efforts to become an elite grow ever more frenzied. He calls this process the wealth pump; it’s a world of the damned and the saved.

Peter Turchin “End Times: Elites, Counter-Elites, and the Path of Political Disintegration

The broader popular rediscovery of historians Neil Howe and William Strauss is no coincidence. They wrote the The Forth Turning twenty five years ago.

Looking back at the last 500 years, they’d uncovered a distinct pattern: modern history moves in cycles, each one lasting roughly eighty to one hundred years, the length of a long human life, with each cycle composed of four eras—or “turnings”—that always arrive in the same order and each last about twenty years. The last of these eras—the fourth turning—was always the most perilous.

The Fourth Turning Is Here

Clever Simon and Schuster realized it was an opportune moment to point out that the fourth turning had arrived with a new book from Howe.

So perhaps these glimmers are here to show us that the churn is here, the fourth turning is now, and Turchin’s race to become an elite to outrun the effects of dislocation may already have its winners.

Amidst all of that there are those of us seeking to believe that we might find a way forward. I’d rather be looking for the glimmers of hope. I’ve already done what I can to warn about the need to prepare for hard times. If you haven’t yet come to terms with the doom then I certainly won’t convince you of the need for optimism either.

Culture Media Politics

Day 932 and Schisms

Most of my social circle is caught up in various internecine dramas. This is really saying something as I have a lot of people in a lot of different demographics across every continent except Antarctica. Which is a pity as I’d love a friend down there.

I am convinced that everyone is losing their fucking minds because we are in the middle of what I believe will end up being recognized as an information war. Maybe one day we persecute memetic crimes against humanity at The Hague.

I realize this sounds modestly hysterical but really you probably don’t appreciate how much your opinions are being courted to different interests groups. It’s not even particularly menacing. We want others to see our humanity and we leverage every tool we have from Twitter to the New York Times.

And it’s important that we fight these wars. You are probably right about a lot of things and I am wrong about them. It’s important that you and I provide participation and consensus to the rest of society so we can come to some form of agreement. If you think something should change own up to it.

I genuinely think it’s a mistake for anyone to pull away from these obligations to society and by extension political and social opinion. I have watched Silicon Valley pull back from participation in its own self advocacy in the wake of the American media coming down so hard on it. I think this is a mistake.

I believe that the technology industry and startups in particular owe it to ourselves and to the rest of the world to remain engaged. I promise it’s not that hard to speak to the media or the general public. If you are a founder or someone participating in this community and need help just send me a DM on Twitter. Consider me a diplomat to the fourth estate.


Day 915 and Independence Day

The 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays. I’m proud to be an American. I am a patriot. I genuinely believe in the aspirational ideals of the United States of America.

I’m fully aware of the many millions of ways in which we’ve not lived up to founding ideals across the centuries. But I’ll be damned if I let the worst of us take away the aspirational ideals for the rest of us. The freedom to live up to our higher selves rests in each one of us. And fuck anyone who tells you otherwise.

I like to watch Roland Emmerich’s classic disaster porn cinematic masterpiece Independence Day every July 4th. The speech Bill Pullman delivers as humanity unites to fight the invading hordes of alien locusts is as inspiring a bit of cinema as I can imagine.

In less than an hour, aircraft from here will join others from around the world. And you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind. “Mankind.” That word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and you will once again be fighting for our freedom… Not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution… but from annihilation. We are fighting for our right to live. To exist. And should we win the day, the Fourth of July will no longer be known as an American holiday, but as the day the world declared in one voice: “We will not go quietly into the night!” We will not vanish without a fight! We’re going to live on! We’re going to survive! Today we celebrate our Independence Day!

Independence Day

Now we don’t seem to be any nearer to humanity uniting behind an American plan for much of anything but I think to think one day we Americans might contribute to something as grandly aspirational as uniting our species. We can barely unite fifty states but we’ve not given up yet. And I personally intend to be here to keep fighting for our ideals. Happy 4th of July.

Culture Politics

Day 914 and Unsucked Dick

If you have spent time on this blog, you likely have some familiarity with my usage of crude language to get across a wider point. Sometimes being rude or lewd is simply the most effective manner of communicating a difficult truth.

While I have an overused forced metaphor tag given for my tendency to write in overwrought imagery, I’ve only just realized that I have written a trilogy of crude metaphors in service of explaining power as simply as possible. Those crude metaphors include shitposting, dickriding and now unsucked dick.

Without attention-grabbing taboo cursing, these topics can otherwise might seem too complex or academic. If you have read critical theory texts you know what I mean.

Overly formal language is alienating and tends to entrench us in our priors. With that context out of the way, I shall now get into today’s crude metaphor.

An unsucked dick is someone who is willfully giving up their own power to victimhood through refusing to act for what they want. And everyone wants their dick sucked. Metaphorically, at least a little. Those that don’t want power are usually loathe to admit it.

This turn of phrase is NOT intended to be gendered. Unlicked cunt doesn’t work as well for a host of sociopolitical reasons on sexual status and power. Don’t get too worked up about it. See the bigger truth.

You will find unsucked dick when the hard work of getting what someone wants is either is too much effort on their own, or otherwise requiring collective action & leadership on behalf of a group that is in disfavor from those currently in power.

Let me illustrate with a shitpost. Perhaps you too have had to organize a group of activists who would rather squabble and in-fight than win power.

My ambitions are bigger than running the internal politics of dozens of tiny activist groups that can’t see beyond their own unsucked dicks but this isn’t very polite to say.

A dick that is unsucked is the inversion of the dick that is ridden. You may recall that dickriding occurs when a group surrounds it’s most powerful member with praise and flattery. The leader has the sucked dick.

The one whose dick is ridden sucks up (pun intended) a lot of the energy of collective often at the detriment of their followers. The example I used in my previous post is Elon Musk.

You can use tactics like shitposting to attract some of a groups’ energy away from the ridden dick. Shitposting is deliberate act of soliciting a response online. It’s traditionally used as a lower energy way to shape engagement and conversation away from the traditional or current power holders, particularly when you know no other method will break through the noise and narrative.

The collective action problem in the many disenfranchised groups in modern society can often be boiled down to unsucked dicks desperately shitposting as dickriders. They want power but either cannot or will not find ways to gain it.

I don’t strive to organize unsucked dick into powerful constituencies and I’d bet you don’t either. It’s exhausting to control others. Politicians and celebrities have their simps but it’s often a complicated and unstable relationship. Audience capture by your simps tends to turn you into the New York Times or Andrew Tate.

Everyone needs to be responsible for their own dicks (gender neutral I swear) and get on with achieving their bigger goals. If you are not actively getting beyond purity politics and activist in-group fighting you are not serious about winning the thing you claim to want.

If having is evidence of wanting a lot of you simply do not want power. And that’s OK, if that’s actually what you want. Just be damn sure your actions are true to want you want. And if you want something go fucking get it. I’m happy to help.


Day 911 And Social Geography

One of my friends at university was the sort of autistic who had total recall. He could tell you what neighborhood you lived in just from the zip code. It was an amazing party trick.

I lived at 80304 for a time. He would say ok well that’s obviously Colorado and this bit indicated Boulder and this bit suggests it’s actually the northern edge of it and I think you are in the neighborhood with the Ideal Market above Kalmia and oh I think it is “Old North Boulder.”

Now while he’s doing this bit with you he would obviously nudge your reactions for details. There are other neighborhoods in the zip code but he knew what to ask to guide you in because he saw the whole map.

You didn’t necessarily notice he was doing it because you couldn’t see it. But he saw the entire geography of it and could rotate it in. He just had that kind of mind.

I think a lot about it now as I start to notice more of how my mind works. I think I do a similar kind of social geography hat trick as my friend did. If you give me a few details about you, your background and your opinions I can telescope in very quickly on very specific social details you may not even clock about your own life unless you are very self aware.

I almost hesitate to discuss it as a super power as it can sound manipulative. The reality is more like a social courtesy to help you see the whole board of what you know about yourself and how you react to me in what you reveal. It’s a beautiful social dance and I enjoy making people feel comfortable expressing a story in a context that makes it easiest for them.

If I’m very good at my job I can then reverse this process. I can learn about who you are and what you really value and I can turn it to another angle so someone else who can’t do the social geography telegraphing in and out can see who you are. You might know the term code switching.

Imagine that but for some of the finer grades of social signaling. It is hard to do so because doing so usually has to do with coming to terms with the many ways in which you “pass” to fit into a life someone else told you to live. It’s rarely reflective of the whole picture. But sometimes because the world imposes systems, like my friends zip codes, which don’t always reflect the full reality. The map is not the terrain. The system is just a map.


Day 895 and Stop Being An NPC

I’ve got a theory that main character energy only bothers you if you are not the main character of your own life.

Which you might not be. Most of us are running around on programming we didn’t write, blithely unaware that we have accepted being a non-playable character in our own lives. We are acting like NPCs even though we aren’t. Fuck.

You don’t have to be an NPC. Life is actually shared consensus reality even if it has rules just like a game. The first step in making sure you aren’t an NPC is treating other humans like they are real people. Yes, cue the record scratch.

This is actually hard. It requires empathy. But it is very simple. It is just the golden rule. When you treat other humans as real players of the game of life, you will find quickly that they treat you as one too.

You need to be emotionally present with another person. It requires a couple minutes of empathy at most. I’d wager it’s like masturbation for men, you could pull it off in a minute flat if you had to.

But so few of us are bothering to show up for other people in any meaningful way anymore.

One of my favorite Twitter vibecamp folks, Critter, made the observation that it’s so rare to meet someone with agency on dating apps that it can cause some whiplash when you engage with “a live one” if you will excuse the pun.

I find this sad because it’s true. It’s rare to encounter people who are present in their own lives. People go through the motions of their lives because it’s the normal way to live. It just doesn’t have to be your reality if you don’t want it to be.

And it’s not an easy change to make for most of us. It’s actually confusing for internet natives to be reminded that there are people on the other end of the algorithm because so many of us simply aren’t acting like full humans anymore.

We are just running social programming and hoping it gets us the rewards we were promised. Gamification and financialization and other forms of nudging spreadsheet brain send us hustling for dopamine hits.

So how do you tell if someone isn’t just playing to their cultural programming script? Or framed another way, how do you stop acting like an NPC in your own life? And how do you find out if someone else is also looking to engage with you as a human with agency?

The biggest clue someone has agency is that they discuss their feelings and emotional reactions to you the person in front of them

They don’t cloak it in ideas & theory or art without connecting it to how it makes them feel in relation to you & your relationship with them

Julie Fredrickson on Empathy & Agency

I can’t believe I’m quoting myself but I summed it up reasonably well on Twitter in response to a mutual asking myself and Critter how you know if someone isn’t an NPC.

You show up in that moment with them and do not run any social scripts on them. You treat them like you’d like them to treat you.

You don’t try to control them with mirroring or other social techniques. If you are serious about being intimately in a moment with another person won’t use any technique. You will just be. It actually is vibes.

You will show up and ask them how they feel and will react honestly to their feelings. And yes sometimes those emotions may be unpalatable (anger, sadness, jealousy) but it’s the first crucial step in building trust with another person. And that’s how you stop being an NPC. Good luck!

Culture Emotional Work

Day 893 and Somebody to Love

Today is my husband’s birthday. We aren’t doing anything specific to celebrate the occasion as that is his preference. But I want to mark the day personally by sharing my love for his dislike of making a “thing” out of traditional celebrations. I feel it is one of his finest qualities.

I respect that Alex doesn’t like to make a big deal about his birthday. He doesn’t really care for making a big thing out anyone else’s birthday for that matter either.

He will celebrate an occasion if someone else wants to do so but I’ve only ever seen him enjoy celebrating daily life. He’s loyal to the people but disinclined to mere symbolism.

Alex’s approach to marking an occasion has always shown me constancy and loyalty. He shows up for each day. Perhaps this approach isn’t a conscious effort. He shows up for the moment when asked. Over and over again. Which is quite a bit harder than buying a good gift even if it looks less glamorous.

My birthday celebration with Alex involved a 2 hour delayed cold pizza at 1 in the morning while staying in shitty hotel in London. That’s more of my speed than parties, gifts, or elaborate gatherings and more of his speed as well.

Maybe it’s that Alex doesn’t wish ask us to perform rituals that have no meaning to him. I perceive this inclination as gracious and masculine and steady.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t a shadow version of this preference. My suspicion is that birthdays require too much social pressure for it to be enjoyable. It’s burdensome for the return on emotional investment and a waste when one can celebrate at any moment one chooses.

In the spirit I’d like to wish Alex a happy birthday and a lyric from Queen. May you all find somebody to love.

Ooh, each morning I get up I die a little
Can barely stand on my feet
(Take a look at yourself)
Take a look in the mirror and cry (and cry)
Lord, what you’re doing to me? (Yeah, yeah)
I have spent all my years in believing you
But I just can’t get no relief, Lord
Somebody (somebody), ooh, somebody (somebody)
Can anybody find me somebody to love?

Queen’s Somebody to Love
Culture Preparedness

Day 883 and Ride the Edge

If you aren’t comfortably with the current standards of living on average, I’d consider shoring up your resources now. As our planetary resource situation doesn’t appear to be getting better.

As more first world countries come to terms with slowing growth (perhaps even degrowth), resource scarcity is going to affect daily life in uncomfortable and visible ways we can’t smooth over with shrinkflation. If you aren’t prepared to live life on a harder setting, you should begin as soon as you are able to prepare for that reality.

I’d like to think about this problem with a bit of distance. What if we have a coercive state and social consensus for something you’d consider a personal preference or choice, but civil society views as as deviant? You will need to find ways to look like you are conforming even if in private, you are not. So how do you do so?

You may find it helpful to not stick out. In that situation there are two ways to survive an attack. Being protected and in the middle of the herd. Or be as far away from the herd as you can be.

Anyone on the edges of the herd of social consensus, but still within the second or third standard deviation from the norm may get hurt. Forced metaphor of the brutal blue curve but you get what I mean. Better to be a true outlier, as the secondary standard deviation will be forced by a brutal bell curve to fit in better.

If we add in artificial intelligence to the equation, we’ve got even more effective tools for monitoring and surveillance of out-group behavior and even easier mechanisms to deploy social shaming force at scale to insure social adherence. The panopticon is us. An army of Karens armed with the probability you will deviate waiting to pounce.

See for instance a social shaming quote tweet campaign. Now imagine it’s state sponsored propaganda but organized, through the seemingly spontaneous egregores of populism, add a dash of rule by authoritarianism and you’ve got yourself quite a problem. The wisdom of crowds can look like mania.

I got a small taste of being shamed yesterday by my neighbors in a Frankfurt Airbnb. Air conditioning use is frowned on in Germany now for both social reasons and also failing energy policy. Shutting down the nuclear power was a bad idea.

I’ve been suffering from an autoimmune issue, exacerbated by allergies and pollen, so I’ve used the air conditioning on 80 degree days. This was enough to get my neighbors to complain to me twice. I attempted to comply by going to a hotel but quickly found that no hotel would let me turn the thermostat below 72 degrees.

I decided to brave the noisy neighbors and run the air conditioning at the Airbnb in the end, but I didn’t appreciate having to lay our personal health problems to justify a private decision. Now extrapolate this out to genuinely serious situations. The disability issues are often an early lens into wider social attitudes on freedom, choice, value and worth.

You have to decide now if you want to hide in the middle of the herd. Can you pass? Are you able to fit in or do you have some deviance in your life? If you aren’t sure you can pull off average, you must ride the edges. Be as far outside the herd as you can. Maybe on the edge you can find a pack that will defend you.