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Are we witnessing an ideological collapse?

by on May 29, 2020

easyDNS is pleased to sponsor Jesse Hirsh‘s “Future Fibre / Future Tools” segments of his new email list, Metaviews

Hopefully we seek out pedagogy rather than ideology

 
This crisis keeps hitting us in waves. While each wave advances rapidly, there is a sense that we’re witnessing a disaster in slow motion. Our perception is skewed because we focus on one failing system while many more falter out of sight or are not noticed until we look.

Is this a failure of ideology? That the philosophies or idea systems we depend upon to make sense of the world are no longer relevant? That the structures and relationships we used to adhere to are weakening if not failing?

I found this talk by Cory Doctorow particularly relevant and interesting:

On the one hand Cory touches upon the crisis of legitimacy traditional institutions are facing, and how trust in government and corporations is rapidly decreasing. On the other hand he touches upon the growing role played by digital monopolies.

This ties into a recent post from Charles regarding what he calls a Plantation Economy:

I’ve been discussing the neocolonial-plantation structure of the U.S. economy since 2008, and now this model has reached perfection in social media’s Plantation of the Mind. Once you’re firmly enmeshed in this social media Plantation, you lose sight of the fact that there’s a larger world outside the plantation: social media platforms aren’t exploitive plantations in the World Wide Web/Internet, they are the Internet as far as their users are concerned.

Since I spent some of my youth in a classic Plantation town (and worked on the plantation as a laborer in summer), the concept of a Plantation Economy is not an abstraction to me, but a living analogy of the way our economy works.

In the classic Plantation, everything is managed by those in charge to benefit the owners. Workers are forced to buy their necessities at The Company Store, and since the entire town and plantation is owned by the corporation, there’s no private ownership of land or housing; everyone is a serf, beholden to the owners, and since costs are artificially high at The Company Store (due to the lack of competition), the serfs have to go into debt to survive: they become debt-serfs.

In the Plantation Economy, the Company suppresses any innovation that threatens its monopoly and the state enforces whatever means the Corporation deploys: buying up patents and small companies, predatory pricing to bankrupt competitors, etc.

His post is worth reading in full. It’s particularly relevant today given the politicization of social media platforms, a/k/a plantations, and how Zuckerberg is courting the Republican Party:

This is all in response to an executive order issued by the White House that seeks to make platforms responsible for what they publish. While it no doubt will lead to legal challenges for the foreseeable future, it may not work out as desired.

The irony is that these platforms may be incapable of being responsible.

Facebook had evidence that its algorithms encourage polarization and “exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” but top executives including CEO Mark Zuckerberg killed or weakened proposed solutions, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

The effort to better understand Facebook’s effect on users’ behavior was a response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, and its internal researchers determined that, contrary to the company’s mission of connecting the world, its products were having the opposite effect, according to the newspaper.

One 2016 report found that “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools,” with most people joining at the suggestion of Facebook’s “Groups You Should Join” and “Discover” algorithms. “Our recommendation systems grow the problem,” the researchers said, according to The Journal.

The Journal reported that Facebook teams pitched multiple fixes, including limiting the spread of information from groups’ most hyperactive and hyperpartisan users, suggesting a wider variety of groups than users might normally encounter, and creating subgroups for heated debates to prevent them from derailing entire groups.

But these proposals were often dismissed or significantly diluted by Zuckerberg and Facebook’s policy chief, Joel Kaplan, according to the newspaper, which reported that Zuckerberg eventually lost interest in trying to address the polarization problem and was concerned about the potential to limit user growth.

Growth at all costs. Kind of mimics the ethos of authoritarian states who’s similar focus is retaining power at all costs.

YouTube’s software is automatically deleting comments with two phrases critical of the Chinese Communist Party, the Verge reported on Tuesday morning.

“共匪” means “communist bandit.” It was a derogatory term used by Nationalists during the Chinese Civil War that ended in 1949. It continues to be used by Chinese-speaking critics of the Beijing regime, including in Taiwan.

“五毛” means “50-cent party.” It’s a derogatory term for people who are paid by the Chinese government to participate in online discussions and promote official Communist Party positions. In the early years of China’s censored Internet, such commenters were allegedly paid 50 cents (in China’s currency, the yuan) per post.

I’ve confirmed the behavior of YouTube’s commenting algorithm. Around 11:30am, “>I posted several comments on a YouTube video, some containing one of the two phrases, two with other Chinese phrases, and several with English content. The comments with “共匪” and “五毛” in them disappeared in less than a minute. The others are still up as I write this around noon Eastern time.

It is puzzling that YouTube would be censoring comments on behalf of the CCP, and I’m willing to assume they’re not, but that instead, their algorithms synonymize dissent with spam. That protesters are just trolls who need to be suppressed.

Internalizing the logic of the regime desperate to maintain their power.

There’s no ideology behind these actions. The CCP is as devoid of ideology as YouTube. This is where the President is wrong to accuse social media of having an anti-conservative bias. Social media is biased against all ideology, as ideology interferes with the supremacy of the algorithm.

Instead, algorithm as government is an example of pedagogy over ideology. Where I’ve talked about this shift in the past as a positive, it doesn’t have to be.

Machine learning has no intrinsic ideology, instead it possesses a drive for pedagogy, a desire to keep learning and iterating. A thirst for more data, and more opportunities to learn, and exercise control.

YouTube does not have an ideology, but it is a powerful pedagogue, increasingly drawing in more knowledge, attention, and thereby power.

Power found not in ideas, but in the sharing of those ideas.

Ideology is dead, long live the pedagogy.

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