LINKS April 12, 2018


At Social Matter — > The Disenchanted Forest: How We Lost Our Fear Of The Woods:

For millennia, people have found in the Wilderness not just God, but demons, demigods, monsters, spirits both benign and malicious, and the human acolytes, hunters, and tamers of these various beings and creatures. Europe in particular is full of country defined by its old-growth forests. These woods and copses were refuge for bandits and heretics, the homes of great monstrous creatures and the ancient cults of murdered gods—places that inspired tremendous fear and trepidation among the people for both the physical and spiritual threats they posed to communities. With fear, however, was also a sense of trust if a certain balance was maintained between the forest and the people living near it.

It has all gone by the way now; we live in the age of Gifford Pinchot and Walden Pond—the neutered, grey wilderness that is either a weekend retreat or a plunderable resource. The nymphs and dryads have all been desiccated of their power and meaning, the dragons have all been slain or starved, the basilisk and cockatrice live on only in stone relief. Indeed, the one legendary creature of the European wilderness that our scientists have admitted—the mighty aurochs—has been driven to extinction. The world in which these existed is just as inaccessible to us as the anxieties and anticipations of our ancestors who inhabited it. We cannot even speak in their language anymore.


Mark O’Connell on the beginning of machine life:

At some point, you become aware that you are no longer present in your body. You observe – with sadness, or horror, or detached curiosity – the diminishing spasms of that body on the operating table, the last useless convulsions of a discontinued meat.

The animal life is over now. The machine life has begun.

This, more or less, is the scenario outlined by Hans Moravec, a professor of cognitive robotics at Carnegie Mellon, in his 1988 book Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence. It is Moravec’s conviction that the future of the human species will involve a mass-scale desertion of our biological bodies, effected by procedures of this kind. It’s a belief shared by many transhumanists, a movement whose aim is to improve our bodies and minds to the point where we become something other and better than the animals we are. Ray Kurzweil, for one, is a prominent advocate of the idea of mind-uploading. “An emulation of the human brain running on an electronic system,” he writes in The Singularity Is Near, “would run much faster than our biological brains. Although human brains benefit from massive parallelism (on the order of 100 trillion interneuronal connections, all potentially operating simultaneously), the rest time of the connections is extremely slow compared to contemporary electronics.” The technologies required for such an emulation – sufficiently powerful and capacious computers and sufficiently advanced brainscanning techniques – will be available, he announces, by the early 2030s.


Philippe Lemoine, in a piece from a year ago, on chemical attacks in Syria (first in a three-part series):

As you probably know unless you live in a cave, another chemical attack is alleged to have taken place in Syria…

There is more evidence in favor of the hypothesis that the attack in Ghouta was a false flag attack perpetrated by rebels in the hope of dragging the US into the civil war. In April 2013, Pierre Piccinin and Domenico Quirico, respectively a Belgian writer and a journalist for La Stampa in Italy, were abducted by rebels in Syria. (The group that kept them hostages, by the way, was the Farouq Brigade. This particular group was described as “moderate” by the media, until its commander was filmed mutilating the body of a dead Syrian solider and eating his heart. If this is what journalists call a moderate, I’d hate to run into someone they consider extremist in a dark alley.) They were released in September 2013, shortly after the attack in Ghouta. After their liberation, Piccinin said that, during their captivity, they had overheard rebels say that the chemical attack in Ghouta was a false flag attack perpetrated in order to bring the US into the war against the regime. This story was confirmed by Quirico, who noted that he didn’t know whether it was true. Of course, as I have repeatedly been saying, this doesn’t prove anything. It could be, for instance, that it was just a rumor circulating among the rebels after the attack.

However, it’s clearly evidence in favor of the hypothesis that the attack in Ghouta was not perpetrated by the regime, but was a false flag attack committed by rebels in order to drag the US into the war. Yet it was almost completely ignored by the media, who clearly are not very interested in anything that goes against the dominant narrative, no matter how implausible that narrative may be. Moreover, although Piccinin and Quirico’s claim doesn’t prove anything, it’s starting to be a lot of evidence against the hypothesis that Assad was responsible for the attack. In fact, if you ask me, the preponderance of the evidence is that it was perpetrated by rebels. You may disagree with me about this, although frankly I’m having a hard time seeing how someone who has looked closely at the evidence could disagree with my conclusion, but it should at least be clear that there is a lot of uncertainty about the identity of the perpetrators. Thus, at the very least, people should not talk as if the responsibility of the regime was indisputable, which it clearly isn’t. Yet, if you read the press, you will see that the language used systematically implies that there is absolutely no doubt about the responsibility of the regime.

To be clear, I’m not saying that I know for a fact that Assad didn’t commit the chemical attack in Ghouta, but I sure as hell know that it’s not obvious that he did…

I only want to urge people to look at the evidence more closely and read the press critically, because if they don’t a lot of people are probably going to die. If you are a US citizen, please call your Representative/Senator and tell him or her that you don’t want the US to go to war with Syria. And please think about what I explained in this post before you share propaganda on social media.


Mark O’Connell on why Silicon Valley billionaires, specifically Peter Thiel, are buying up land in New Zealand (great piece):

Thiel is in one sense a caricature of outsized villainy: he was the only major Silicon Valley figure to put his weight behind the Trump presidential campaign; he vengefully bankrupted a website because he didn’t like how they wrote about him; he is known for his public musings about the incompatibility of freedom and democracy, and for expressing interest – as though enthusiastically pursuing the clunkiest possible metaphor for capitalism at its most vampiric – in a therapy involving transfusions of blood from young people as a potential means of reversing the ageing process. But in another, deeper sense, he is pure symbol: less a person than a shell company for a diversified portfolio of anxieties about the future, a human emblem of the moral vortex at the centre of the market.

In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election, the theme of American plutocrats preparing for the apocalypse was impossible to avoid. The week after the inauguration, the New Yorker ran another piece about the super-rich who were making preparations for a grand civilisational crackup; speaking of New Zealand as a “favored refuge in the event of a cataclysm,” billionaire LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, a former colleague of Thiel’s at PayPal, claimed that “saying you’re ‘buying a house in New Zealand’ is kind of a wink, wink, say no more”


Rana Dasgupta: “After decades of globalisation, our political system has become obsolete – and spasms of resurgent nationalism are a sign of its irreversible decline“:

…convulsions in national politics are not confined to the west. Exhaustion, hopelessness, the dwindling effectiveness of old ways: these are the themes of politics all across the world. This is why energetic authoritarian “solutions” are currently so popular: distraction by war (Russia, Turkey); ethno-religious “purification” (India, Hungary, Myanmar); the magnification of presidential powers and the corresponding abandonment of civil rights and the rule of law (China, Rwanda, Venezuela, Thailand, the Philippines and many more).

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