Saturday, August 01, 2020

The Bellows (political analysis from the neo-Marxist left)



From Michael Lind

I discovered "The Bellows" via Michael Lind's piece, quoted at Arnold Kling's site. Lind's post is not really a thoroughgoing Marxist analysis but I was bowled over by someone taking the materialist view that the expressed opinions and professed goals of mass movements are ultimately conditioned by the social concerns of their (disadvantaged) class/fraction.

I haven't been so excited since I discovered Public Choice Theory.

I have ordered his book.


Amazon link

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Another article on the site which interested me was the Swedish experience of Malcolm Kyeyune: On ‘Strasserism’ and the Decay of the Left.

The Bellows is a home for those who have not abandoned Marxist class-based analysis (historical materialism in fact) in favour of a shallow atheoretic identity politics. I have a lot of sympathy for this approach but note that some still hanker after proletarian revolution - a goal and strategy which their analysis gives them no purchase upon whatsoever.

The Bellows is now on the blogs sidebar on the web version of this site.

Friday, July 31, 2020

The "Woke" are nothing new


Amazon link

From Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", p. 170.
"Anyone who thinks that the Communist regimes of Central Europe are exclusively the work of criminals is overlooking a basic truth: the criminal regimes were made not by criminals but by enthusiasts convinced they had discovered the only road to paradise. They defended that road so valiantly that they were forced to execute many people. Later it became clear that there was no paradise, that the enthusiasts were therefore murderers.

Then everyone took to shouting at the Communists: You're the ones responsible for our country's misfortunes (it had grown poor and desolate), for its loss of independence (it had fallen into the hands of the Russians), for its judicial murders!

And the accused responded: We didn't know! We were deceived! We were true believers! Deep in our hearts we are innocent!

In the end, the dispute narrowed down to a single question: Did they really not know or were they merely making believe?

Tomas followed the dispute closely (as did his ten million fellow Czechs) and was of the opinion that while there had definitely been Communists who were not completely unaware of the atrocities (they could not have been ignorant of the horrors that had been perpetrated and were still beating perpetrated in post-revolutionary Russia), it was probable that the majority of the Communists had not in fact known of them.

But, he said to himself, whether they knew or didn't know not the main issue; the main issue is whether a man is innocent because he didn't know. Is a fool on the throne relieved of all responsibility merely because he is a fool?"
---

The most common fate for heretics following the Russian invasion of 1968 was loss of position (many of the protesters were professionals) followed by imposition of menial jobs.

Friday, July 24, 2020

"A Woman of Mystery" by GPT-3 and Adam Carlton

GPT-3 is the text-generation system recently developed by OpenAI using "175 billion parameters, two orders of magnitude larger than the 1.5 billion parameters in the full version of GPT-2".

The easiest way to try it out is to use the “custom” option (6) of AI Dungeon with the Dragon engine enabled. Dragon is GPT-3, the default Griffin is the less-powerful GPT-2.

You can seed the AI engine with a starting sequence and then it will generate continuations. Here is a story Adam Carlton developed with GPT-3 using the AI Dungeon app and the seven-day free subscription for Dragon, published on Booksie.

One author is in bold, the other is in plain text. Which is GPT-3?

---

A Woman of Mystery



My wife died recently. I am sad and lonely. I sit in a bar drinking and reading the paper. I see an attractive girl about my age in a short cotton dress. She holds my gaze. I invite her over and we begin to talk. I have a feeling this meeting was intended though. What does she want?

"I'm sorry, but I don't know anything about you."

"What do you mean?"

She says that she is from a small town in Texas and has never been out of it. She also doesn't seem to be very well off. "Well, I've got money for gas and food so I can get back home tomorrow night." She then goes on to say that she's going to go to the movies with some friends.

But she then contradicts herself and asks whether I might have a better proposal. I think furiously, keen to spend more time with her.

"You're not really interested are you?" I ask.

"No, no I guess not." She replies. "But if you were, would you still come here?"

After spending some time talking with her, we both decide to leave together. We walk along side each other and then suddenly she turns around and looks at me again. "Would you like to go back to your place now?" she asks as if she just made up something completely unexpected.

We go back to my place and I sit her down on the couch. "Do you want something to drink?" I ask her.

"Some juice or soda?"

She smiles. "I'd love a diet coke, thanks" she replies.

I go into the kitchen and come back with two diet cokes. She takes one and we both sit down on the couch. It feels strange to me that she is here.

She starts to ask me about myself. The conversation rapidly moves to my financial situation. Just as I start thinking she's a gold-digger she tells me she's feeling warm, "Do you mind if I take my dress off?"

"Oh, no. Please do."

She stands up and slips the dress over her head revealing a lacy black bra and panties. She sits down and takes a drink of diet coke before saying, "If you really want to help me out, I could use some money for food and gas."

She looks at me with her big green eyes and hopeful face. I'm really starting to like this girl.

"I don't think I can afford it," I say.

She comes across to me with her big eyes and slowly kisses me. "Are you sure?" she says.


She kisses me again and rubs her body against me. "Oh, you're just so sweet," she says.

We have wild passionate love making. Afterwards we're laying in bed when she says, "I guess I should go home now."

I tell her she can stay the night and we fall asleep like that. In the morning I wake up before her and have to go to work.

When I return the house has been ransacked, but she has left a note.

"I'm so sorry for stealing your money and jewelry. I have to get back home as soon as possible.

Thank you for the most wonderful night of my life!"

--- END ---

Adam observes: 'I don’t think serious authors will be quaking in their boots quite yet. But if this was submitted as an assignment in a middling college by a mediocre student it would get some kind of mark, almost certainly better than the unaided efforts of some students.'

---

In my view this is a kind of IQ 90 story. It makes sense in its muddling-along way, but lacks dynamism, narrative drive and any psychological validity whatsoever. However, experience has shown that that's not necessarily an obstacle for commercial or academic success.

The deep problem is just obvious. As I observed in this January 2020 post, "It's just a better parasite...", these sophisticated contextual text-shufflers are leveraging contextualised human literary productions without any internal model of the natural or social world, or human agency. Don't look for personalities here!

I know that quantity has a quality all of its own, but in terms of story development (plot, setting, character) Adam tells me that working with GPT-3 is an exercise in futility: you can never get going - you are continually derailed.

But for many applications where text has to be produced: who cares?

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Monday, June 29, 2020

A Dialogue on Gove's Speech

Michael Gove


“Very important PDF here: “The privilege of public service” given as the Ditchley Annual Lecture.

“Gove's (FDR/Gramsci) manifesto for the revolutionary strategy of the Cummings-Boris-Gove axis. Would also serve for post-Trump Republicans too. There is an alternative to Woke!!”

“69 pages! A summary would be better... did you read it all (I only know the page count)?”

“Yes I did. It's widely spaced, interesting and important. A manifesto. Takes about ten minutes to read. You should be aware of the FDR "New Deal"; Gramsci is optional, although recommended.”

“Civil servants have to move to get promoted so no expertise is retained. Gov recruits humanities grads from the middle class. Everyone in gov is hostile to brexit. The Government doesn't evaluate programs for effectiveness; innovation= risk, don't do it. No one ever got fired using IBM. Haves and have nots driving identity politics. Loss of confidence in the system is sure to widen the gap between rich and poor. Cognitively-able taking a bigger share of the pie which isn't growing larger. Gov very London-centric, applause from 'the village' driving decisions: lobbyists, media, business interests, all London.

“Ultimately, there's nothing new here.”


“Except that they said it. And identified all those things as problems. And said they intended to address them. It's a manifesto. What we used to call "Blue Labour"! I think it puts Starmer and the LP in a difficult position, sandwiched between histrionic Woke and this neotraditional Labour policy. Tough...”

“The big building program announced has a Keynesian flavor to stimulate demand - Tony Blair plan B?"

“If they don't soak up mass unemployment, that plus the fury of the Woke will amount to Big Trouble! as Trump might say. Besides, it's CAPEX, isn't it?”

“They need to watch the debt level: if they can't raise funds, game over.”

“Trust me they will print it - like a few weeks ago. QE.”

“Taxation Henry VIII style.”

“Don't say the I-word! Never has inflation solved so many problems! (Government debt, wages lowering to improve profitability...).”

“3rd world countries live by it.”

“Given persistent low interest rates, pretty mandatory during a recession, only asset values (claims on future profits) tend to resist inflation and that only in the longer term. So equity.”

“Land and property too.”

“Yes. Rents are always nice!”

“Inflation based financing is fairly regressive.”

“Re-establishing profitability tends to have a regressive effect on those not fortunate enough to be sitting on a pile of equity. Still, a new round of energetic, animal spirits growth in 2022/3 will feel good - and set things up for the next election…”

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Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci - Perry Anderson


Amazon link

Some relevant thoughts from Perry Anderson (I’m currently reading “The Antinomies of Antonio Gramsci”).

On page 64 he writes that left social-democracy believes:

“the working class has access to the state (elections to parliament), but does not exercise it to achieve socialism because of its indoctrination by the means of communication.

In fact, it might be said that the truth is if anything the inverse: the general form of the representative state-bourgeois democracy is itself the principal ideological linchpin of Western capitalism, whose very existence deprives the working class of the idea of socialism as a different type of state, and the means of communication and other mechanisms of cultural control thereafter clinch this central ideological ‘effect’.

Capitalist relations of production allocate all men and women into different social classes, defined by their differential access to the means of production. These class divisions are the underlying reality of the wage-contract between juridically free and equal persons that is the hallmark of this mode of production.

The political and economic orders are thereby formally separated under capitalism. The bourgeois state thus by definition represents the totality of the population, abstracted from its distribution into social classes, as individual and equal citizens. In other words, it presents to men and women their unequal positions in civil society as if they were equal in the state.

Parliament, elected every four or five years as the sovereign expression of popular will, reflects the fictive unity of the nation back to the masses as if it were their own self-government. The economic divisions within the ‘citizenry' are masked by the juridical parity between exploiters and exploited, and with them the complete separation and non-participation of the masses in the work of parliament.

This separation is then constantly presented and represented to the masses as the ultimate incarnation of liberty: democracy as the terminal point of history.”

A few pages on, page 68, he gets to the heart of the matter, the somewhat surprising consent of the working class to the continuing existence of capitalism:

“The novelty of this consent is that it takes the fundamental form of a belief by the masses that they exercise an ultimate self-determination within the existing social order. It is thus not acceptance of the superiority of an acknowledged ruling class (feudal ideology) but credence in the democratic equality of all citizens on the government of the nation -- in other words, disbelief in the existence of any ruling class.”

A point well taken. It seems to me that people understand that there are elites, and that there are even rather obscured fossils of a previous ruling class - the old, drawling, landowner class which is now a figure of fun. But people believe, counterfactually, that the advanced capitalists countries are basically a (flawed) meritocracy. The critical distinction between forces and relations of production, and how that plays out in defining the class-specificity of capitalism and its dynamics, has now been lost in its totality from mass popular culture.

Typological conflicts in the American Imperium



Bolton's book, 'The Room Where It Happened' (was ever a book so unmemorably named?), is exactly what you would expect a lawyer to produce: a dense, detailed, fly-on-the-wall, chronological diary of his 17 months in office as National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump.

The past it describes is still recent enough (2018-19) that I can remember the events he describes - most of them. It's quite fascinating to read detailed accounts from within the heart of the American Imperium.

If, like me, you appreciate that sort of thing.

Bolton, an ENTJ, comes across as an intellectually-rigorous American nationalist. A strategist who wants to play the games of power, move-by-move, to secure American interests as he sees them. In this he is obstructed time after time by Trump, an ESTP who is utterly astrategic, thinking only in terms of the values of his 'base' as he understands them (US flyover people first and last) and the consequences for his popularity and re-election prospects.

Bolton wants to corral and lead Trump in the ways of strategy; Trump takes every issue as if it were some personalised mano a mano real-estate deal. A complete dialogue of the deaf. It's a wonder Bolton lasted so long before resigning (in advance, one feels, of his being fired).

Bolton wants us to believe that he was right all along, and that Trump is a dangerous bull in a fragile china shop (add perhaps the Koreas, Russia, Iran and Venezuela). I'm not so sure: there are few things more dangerous than an intellectual with an all-encompassing theory and Bolton's concept of the use of American power is dangerously confrontational. Bolton thinks Trump is weak when it matters, but Trump is highly sensitive to the actuality. He's too erratic to be taken as weak by opponents.

There are problems with a president who has no conceptual strategy at all, who makes policy decisions based on a whim. This unfortunately works to the American state bureaucracy's strengths: it sits as an inert, low-pass filter, unresponsive to short-term jerking around. Trump's supporters may have believed it takes a rough man to take on 'the swamp' but just randomly kicking it is not reform.

I wonder if the more cerebral Boris and Dominic can do a better job with the British deep state?

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Steps on the road to fascism

German unemployment rate 1928-1935 (Wikipedia) - Hitler in power from 33


Clara Zetkin said it right in 1923:
"Fascism ... viewed objectively, is not the revenge of the bourgeoisie in retaliation for proletarian aggression against the bourgeoisie, but it is a punishment of the proletariat for failing to carry on the revolution begun in Russia. The Fascist leaders are not a small and exclusive caste; they extend deeply into wide elements of the population."
To read the history of the Weimar Republic is to watch the collapse of a democratic state after four years of economic chaos and political instability (1929-33). Chancellor Brüning's disastrous economic policy was marked by a collapse in GDP and a stark increase in unemployment (7% to 30%).

The workers' movement was strong, both in the trades unions and politically with the workers' parties, the SPD and the KPD (the socialists and communists). But as Clare Zetkin presciently observed, the workers movement (never united) was incapable of bringing about a socialist revolution (which from today's standpoint would probably have collapsed into chaos anyway). Workers' power was certainly capable of impeding a capitalist recovery, however.

Thus ensued chaos without end. The deepening crisis propelled masses of people (artisans, shopkeepers, civil servants and more than a few workers) into street mobilisation against the left. They were united under the banners of an inchoate and exclusionary ideology - that of fascism. Meanwhile, the participation of unemployed ex-soldiers and lumpen elements provided hard-edged, street-fighting muscle in the SA.

Hitler came to power legitimately (people often forget that). But the 'national destiny' ideology of 'national socialism' was very distanced from a practical management strategy for a modern capitalist state. The Nazi government, immeasurably empowered by the militarised forces it directly controlled and steered by dangerous fantasies, duly took Germany in the direction we all know.

It's also important to understand that the arrival of Hitler's regime immediately unleashed a civil war within Germany in which the left was annihilated in blood (including the left-wing of the NSDAP - of the Nazi Party itself).

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What can we learn from Weimar? That if a capitalist state enters a period of economic collapse and political paralysis where people's very livelihoods are at risk, then after a due period politics will hit the streets and will then get organised via fantasies which have traction with the crowds: a narrative to unite and inspire supporters and demonise and dehumanise opponents. There are close to zero signs of any such ideology today in any Western country.

Does the woke movement constitute a proto-fascist movement in preparation? Not in its present form: it's not vicious enough, the action programme is too defocused and the angst is not yet existential.

If the economy slumps big-time, if the woke movement obstructs measures to resolve the crisis by advocating policies which in practice would make it worse then there will be a reaction eventually. Not the clowns currently running around showing their football colours and tattoos, but something altogether more serious.

It's one possible future and years rather than months away - but we should be on our guard. And remember that when fascism was bright and new it was national socialism and lots of people thought it was rather cool. A new fascist mass movement won't call itself that - it will be very much in favour of restoring order and decency, and suppressing endless chaos - and many ordinary people will not recoil, far from it.

Take a look at the graph at the top of this piece: fascist policies worked over the next few years - capitalism was restabilised and began to grow again, unemployment came down and Germany modernised (there are more economic graphs in the Wikipedia article).

The capitalist elite is not happy with people who delight in having blood on their hands. They're considered coarse, dangerous yahoos (although there were a few cultured, charming NSDAP leaders such as Göring).

But hey, needs must, right?

---

Monday, June 15, 2020

Deblurring Clare with Duke's AI

Back in December 19 I wrote about the challenge of deblurring photos as in this picture of Clare when she was around 15.


Clare around 15 years old

Today I discovered that Duke University has an AI system which sort of hallucinates an unblurred image. I ran it and here is the result (I asked for 4 attempts). Click on the image to make it larger.

I think number three is the most accurate (below)

So here's the link if you want to try it: works best on a computer, not a phone or tablet.

Perhaps the best of the four deblur attempts

I still think they have some way to go on this, but it's an impressive start.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Shame they don't teach history any more

Prior to the nineteenth century, almost all countries were predominantly agrarian with fragile, low-productivity economies. Their elites owed their prosperity to the exploitation of workers, peasants and slaves, whose conditions of existence were uniformly awful.

This should be emphasised: in all societies prior to c. twentieth century capitalism, the masses lived on the edge with income just sufficient to perpetuate themselves. Their misery was compounded by brutal treatment from their 'betters' for whom they were simply potentially rebellious resources.

Most of those elites consumed their wealth 'unproductively' but a few were philanthropists. Some of those in the latter category later had statues put up to them by a grateful (elite) citizenry, for example Edward Colston (1636-1721) of Bristol.

It's an interesting social phenomenon that these statues are now being toppled in the name of an ahistoric moralism - but as we know, it's not really about that.

Nevertheless, I expect slightly conservative professors of history to be pointing out these salient truths in this weekend's papers... while right- and left-wing protesters fight in the streets.

The masses are in motion; history has resumed.

Monday, June 08, 2020

That old May '68 playbook



Time to dust off those records of the '68-'75 years of unrest: first student then working class led struggles.

As the sixties ended, the long boom of the fifties was finally playing out. Profitability was falling and the economy looked tired. Those old patrician classes - those Tories who seemed to live in another land-owning age - were still in power with their strange articulations of English. Most students looked at them as if they were fossils: the ruling class had never looked so alien.

And students there were: so many of them. The education reforms of the sixties had introduced comprehensives into the secondary sector plus 'new universities' to provide the human resources for a more technological age. These new working class and lower middle class students, often the first of their families to go to university, were culturally nothing like the Eton-processed. They had been promised a dream the economy could not provide. No wonder they felt alienated.

I was such. In '69 I was on the streets protesting with the far left. If you had asked me why I was there, did I care about the Vietnamese Revolution, I would have given you some Marxist account of the combined and uneven struggle against Imperialism. The future might be hazy but it would be our people, the dispossessed, who would be in charge.

In my heart of hearts I hated and despised those who ruled us. They were people nothing like me or the folk from whence I had come. Patronising, superior, arrogant and entitled - the bubble people of their age.

Plus ça change...

---

It took more than a decade for the insurgent tide to recede. The last gasp of the NUM was defeated and the economy (under Thatcher) retooled for a globalist, financially-led neoliberalism. The masses were back in their boxes for a generation while the Marxist-Leninist dream died.

So here we are again.

In 2020 the ailing economy, now drained by more than a decade of secular stagnation following the muted recovery from 2008-9, is again tottering on the brink of deep recession. The current cycle of growth is just about played out, hamstrung by zombie firms, too much debt and with COVID-19 providing the coup de grâce.

The current cohort of young people - just like in '68 - look at the establishment and don't see themselves or their concerns; they don't see prospects for themselves going forward. They feel alienated. All it needed was a spark and the George Floyd death was it, at least for this month.

Dusting off the playbook I would expect an endless sequence of demonstrations and événements going forward propelled by the 'new petit-bourgeoisie': students, left-professionals such as teachers, academics and government workers together with black activists and other groups who feel themselves unintegrated and aggrieved, those whom the dream has left behind (there are so many!).

The industrial working class may be less salient, organised and visible than in the 1970s but it's still there. They won't be easy sign-ups to the new woke, but when their jobs in manufacturing, logistics and technology start to evaporate over the next year or two don't expect them to sit on their hands.

I imagine there are mandarins in the Home Office as I write drafting memos to the Home Secretary and Prime Minister calling for a quiet reorganisation and upfunding of the police. The Government might have been woefully slow off the mark for the onset of COVID-19 but they will surely be sensitive to their forthcoming public order challenges.

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Saturday, June 06, 2020

An engineering look at p-zombies

"A p-zombie would be indistinguishable from a normal human being but lack conscious experience, qualia, or sentience. For example, if a philosophical zombie were poked with a sharp object it would not inwardly feel any pain, yet it would outwardly behave exactly as if it did feel pain. The thought experiment sometimes takes the form of imagining a zombie world, indistinguishable from our world, but lacking first person experiences in any of the beings of that world."
This is the kind of thing philosophers get up to, but why would anyone think this critique of materialism (or physicalism) could make sense? Here is the modal argument, due to David Chalmers:
"According to Chalmers one can coherently conceive of an entire zombie world, a world physically indistinguishable from this world but entirely lacking conscious experience. The counterpart of every conscious being in our world would be a p-zombie. Since such a world is conceivable, Chalmers claims, it is metaphysically possible, which is all the argument requires. Chalmers states: "Zombies are probably not naturally possible: they probably cannot exist in our world, with its laws of nature." The outline structure of Chalmers' version of the zombie argument is as follows;

1. According to physicalism, all that exists in our world (including consciousness) is physical.

2. Thus, if physicalism is true, a metaphysically possible world in which all physical facts are the same as those of the actual world must contain everything that exists in our actual world. In particular, conscious experience must exist in such a possible world.

3. In fact we can conceive of a world physically indistinguishable from our world but in which there is no consciousness (a zombie world). From this (so Chalmers argues) it follows that such a world is metaphysically possible.

4. Therefore, physicalism is false. (The conclusion follows from 2. and 3. by modus tollens.)"
This sounds way too much like the Ontological Argument.

Here's an argument. Consciousness is an evolved faculty, like language. It requires brain resources. It must be doing a job mediating what it is that humans do. If you subtract consciousness while leaving a human active in the world you surely will have impaired behaviour - as when consciousness is removed by sleep, anaesthesia or injury.

We could model a p-zombie as a a Rodney Brooks subsumption architecture. A low-level runtime system (like the hind brain) controlling basic bodily functions - heart rate, breathing, reflexes, digestion - plus a top-level planner or theorem-prover managing the agent's progress through the world to meet its survival and social goals. This is a very conventional architecture in AI which no-one has plausibly claimed to be conscious.

This p-zombie would certainly do the basics. It could answer questions, claim that it 'felt' pain if it were damaged and in general execute any social behaviour which we could classify (in the deep learning sense) or theorise (in the sense of GOFAI).

So what's missing? What's necessarily missing?

Maybe that's the core mystery, the hard problem in a nutshell.

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Here's a final thought. In a Darwinian world of predators and prey, humans and other animals are notoriously prone to see agency everywhere. What Dennett calls Second-Order Intentional Systems Theory:
"A first-order intentional system is one whose behavior is predictable by attributing (simple) beliefs and desires to it. A second-order intentional system is predictable only if it is [itself] attributed beliefs about beliefs, or beliefs about desires, or desires about beliefs, and so forth." -- Daniel Dennett, Intentional Systems Theory. 1971.
Aside from some experimental systems utilising clunky modal logic (a blind alley in my view) we don't build AI systems today which understand that their environments are populated by entities which have agency.

In fact I don't think we know how to do that.

And without such a requirement, perhaps it's no surprise that our AI systems lack the capability to model themselves as having agency. And so to a lack of self-consciousness - and p-zombiehood.

If autistic people lack a theory of mind (which I don't believe they do, at least in that straightforwardly simplistic form) then we could say that the p-zombie would present itself as autistic, in the guise of a smoothly-performant Asperger's syndrome.