Thursday, June 12, 2008

the death of the internet? not damn well likely.

Some ado over the past few days about a supposedly 'leaked' plan to 'kill' the internet by 2012--effectively reducing all access to a small number of corporate websites. This would reduce the internet's role as a medium from the almost pervasive dominance it now enjoys to something more or less akin to the radio. This is made all the more unsettling by the recent news that the nation's three largest internet carriers are banning Usenet outright.

There are several problems with this hypothesis. The first and most obvious is competition. While the analogy is tenuous at best in the context of net-neutrality debates, it's a bit different here. If a coalition of internet providers collude and decide to limit access to certain websites without any due cause, then there will likely be legal problems that even the Orwellian US government will have problems allowing. The agreement between the NY AG and internet providers to ban Usenet will no doubt be challenged in court. If any such challenge succeeds, then all the better for my argument. If it fails, it will probably fail because of a 'prevailing interest' argument on the government's part to the effect that blocking access to child pornography is an overriding interest of the government's and therefore free speech takes a back seat.

If this works--which is yet to be seen--then the burden will still be on the shoulders of whichever telecommunications company decides to restrict access to certain websites.

Similarly, the fragmented nature of the internet means that there will likely be a way to access the websites anyway through more devious means (off-shore proxies). US businesses are already too invested in their online operations abroad to allow telecommunications providers to simply block access to their sites from abroad. Again, like I mentioned in my earlier posts about how the 2008 elections will turn out, I think that the commercial interests of the united states are by and large behind the internet, and this election cycle will see the election of a more liberal congress if only because commercial interests both inside and outside the U.S. are afraid of the power that the telecommunications industry has been trying to exert over the internet.

Lastly I think the 'last ditch' safety against this turn of events is a common friend: Google. Google has been buying hundreds of miles of dark fiber, and noone really knows why. I think that regardless of Google's intentions, it is in their interest and their business philosophy to keep the internet an 'open' marketplace (as evinced by their fervent opposition to Ebay's attempts to monopolize the methods of payment available for auction sellers and buyers). Similarly, if we see the ascendancy of an internet that is without the freedom of movement and information currently afforded users, Google will step up and provide an alternative platform that will allow free communication.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


I'm reading Tolstoy's War and Peace, and seeing as the time I spend reading is the same time I spend writing, 'time is tight', as the English say. I'm re-thinking the style of this blog and the pace that I want it to follow. Rather than long-winded and undoubtedly difficult-to-comprehend posts, I think that shorter, more succinct pieces that are also more modest in scope and scale will benefit both myself and my non-existent reader--as Wittgenstein himself believed, I belong to a different time. I think my life's journey will be to figure out whether that time is in the future or the past.

Friday, May 30, 2008

borders in a post-border economy

The 2008 United States presidential elections have a certain air of queerness about them. I do not invoke that adjective as if I am somehow entitled to it as a student at one of the queerest (in the other sense of that word) college communities in the world.

As with any subject that is given almost 24-hours-a-day news coverage, the best way to gain a fruitful and yielding perspective on an important topic is actually to engage in a sort of foreplay in willful ignorance. Without bandying about with more words I think the aim of this post is to try and gain a perspective not so much on the various candidates that compose this electoral cycle but the forces that give them their poise. I think that what makes this election cycle important is not so much the candidates themselves (they are, with the exception of Barack Obama, expendable). What these candidates symbolize is a sea change within the architecture of the American economic and political apparatus. The forces that are lining up behind each candidate choose their side not because they believe any specific candidate will be particularly generous towards them. Instead this election is dictated by the 'bunker' mentality that has grown pervasive in the American consciousness. A cursory look at the supporters of Jon McCain, for example, will yield a list of people who do not look upon McCain as a friend but more as an enemy of an enemy.

There are roughly three groups of people and lobbyists who have the most to gain and to lose in this election. They are (roughly): The Military-Industrial complex, commerce, and the internet. It does not take much thought to see just how much these groups overlap, but I think that they are useful insofar as they provide a decent enough benchmark of just what a particular candidate stands for (especially considering how similar the policies and proposals of Obama and Clinton are). Additionally, I think that the criterion for a candidate's victory in the general election will be decided upon just how unified two of these groups will be around any one particular candidate.

To give an example in hindsight, George bush had the unified support of the military-industrial complex and commerce behind him in both the 2000 and 2004 elections. I do not think that the internet had yet come to realize its own potential in that election, which is why the 2008 election is so different: many groups that were considered essential to a coalition (religious groups, steel workers unions, etc.) are being cast by the wayside or have been supplanted by these three massive interest groupings that will determine the outcome of the election in 2008.

Commerce has dominated any election in the relevant past; I think that the reason behind this was the gradual privatization and greater integration of the nation's media into the greater structures of corporate America. Because of the (until recent) monopoly that American corporations enjoyed on the dissemination of news and opinions, it was relatively easy for them to tilt the outcomes of any given election, especially elections on a nation-wide scale. in the 1996, 2000, and 2004 elections, the interests of commerce were closely aligned with those of the military-industrial complex. This however has changed in recent months, and I myself trace the cause of this to the Fed's recent creation of a lending vehicle which allows large-scale commercial banks to borrow large amounts of cash with shaky assets as collateral. This is not a root cause in itself; instead it is the outcome of the vast monopolization of available capital and monetary assets by the United States' military apparatus. Realizing that the pools of credit have all dried up, American commercial interests have slowly come to oppose the political clout that military contractors hold (in a few words, when the Fed prints money, most of it goes to the military contractors. this is not good for Commerce as inflation has already devalued this cash as it reaches their coffers).

Why do I think that commerce will side with Barack Obama?
Clinton is out of the primary (or will be presently). There has been a lot of cooing, from even the strangest corners of Corporate America, over the presumptive democratic nominee, Barack Obama. Where McCain has a demonstrably small brain for commercial manners, Obama seems to have taken a tempered, if a bit populist approach to the American economy, which most commercial interests like. The big losers inside of the "Commerce" bracket if Obama wins? Pharma (though not as much as it would have been with Clinton, which is why I think she will not be elected), News corporations (which makes the link above all the more ironic), and most of all manufacturing Unions. Service industry laborers are rabidly supporting Obama chiefly because he stands to be the catalyst for the last great shift in the American economy: namely an elimination of manufacturing-sector labor and a shift towards a mainly service-industry economy (this can be a good or a bad thing depending on how you look at it).

The Military-Industrial Complex
Not much needs to be said here about this one except that it is in a bit of a hard position during this election. On the one hand it has nothing to worry about from any candidate because none seek to dislodge it from its central position within the American economy (this would require someone absolutely crazy like Ron Paul). They of course are throwing their support behind Jon McCain but I think in the end they are seeing the boundaries of their ability to influence world affairs and what McCain promises does not seem to bode well in the minds of many military movers and shakers (war with Iran).

Who will they go for?
McCain, assuredly. However the military-industrial complex, contrary to its almost pervasive influence on the American economy, has very little voice for itself. On the one hand it is beholden to the interests of the Pentagon (which will be a force to reckoned with itself once the new president takes power) and also has its own system of rigid morals that prevent it from acting in the devious ways that Commerce and Unions have done in the past. Their support for McCain will in the end backfire for both McCain and the military-industrial complex, and at least the latter seems to recognize this possibility (which is why their support is so muted).

Finally this brings us to the Internet, the position I am most able to expound upon (I hope the writing above was a little more than drivel and was able to benefit those with a passing interest in this blog).

The Internet
Firstly, why am I choosing to represent the Internet on the same level as Commerce and the Military-Industrial Complex? Simply put, I think the Internet has come to represent free enterprise in the American economy--and given the threatened position in which free enterprise now sits (dried-up money supply, difficulty getting credit, etc.), this bloc of voters and campaigners has the most to gain and lose during the 2008 election cycle. I think that the Internet has come to replace the Media as America's 'fourth estate'. This is mainly due to the commercialization of traditional mediums of news. But also it is due to the simple fact that people who before could not find their voice in traditional media, commerce, or even the military see the internet as a truly functional staging ground for a public offensive against the current state of affairs (both political and economic). The Internet has enabled even the least savvy user to gain a perspective on the United States and the world that is forbidden to someone working in Government or in the Military who is beholden to national interests. Barack Obama, in his commitments to negotiate with enemy states like Iran and North Korea, is creating a thinly-veiled promise to surrender the United States' sovereignty to the wider international currents of diplomacy and commerce.

Years ago this would have been a bad thing, but with the internet the vast majority of influential people in the world are peeking beyond their own national borders. Instead of seeing a murky world that is on the whole antagonistic, they see a world that would stand to be benefited from as well as beneficial to the United States' admission of its previous faults and engagement with the international community as a whole. Obama will sign into the Kyoto protocols and meet with Iran.

The biggest remaining question, however, is who stands to win out from an Obama presidency?

This question will not be answered until 2012. Barack Obama is something of an unknown, but if I were to put the problem in an abbreviated fashion, I think that the problem that Obama will create will be a world of rampant corporatism with little oversight from any governing body (we saw this with the credit crisis). If Obama can successfully bring international corporations under heel, we may see the dawn of a new era of global prosperity, with the Internet (and its beholden interests) at the helm of a new global economy and political apparatus. If he fails we will see something akin to late 19th-century American fiefdom-economics. Needless to say, the next 8 years are going to be interesting.

two new posts in the next few days...

Two things I've been mulling over these past few days (when not getting hit by collapsing cranes): methods of philosophical inquiry and issues of nationalism in the age of e-commerce and internet communication. I hope to give the latter topic a thorough treatment today or tomorrow. The former will probably not even get its own post as it has more to do with my preparations for a senior thesis than the subject of this blog.

I was planning on pounding out a post right now but I'm in something of a rut at the moment so far as writing is concerned; I just can't quite 'find my voice', as countless other writers before me have said (to the general 'boo-hoo' from their audiences above or below).

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

addendum to post 'faith in technology'

An astute reader pointed out several things with regard to my post, 'faith in technology', posted on facebook. I will attach his comments in full after my response.

Alex does not really take a contrary viewpoint so much as say that science has never tried to yield a theory of 'truth' that is unequivocally true. Instead, he argues, science is given such stature in our society for its "astonishing effectiveness at solving our problems and making our lives more comfortable". Now, I will start by simply saying that Alex and I really have no substantive disagreement; he has conceded that it is 'easy' for me to make a successful religious or epistemological objection to scientism, but that I am not really disputing the usefulness of science in society.

I'm not sure Alex should allow me that. To me, that concession is made under the assumption that epistemologists and armchair theologians may come up with incontrovertible proof that science is wrong, but the improvements that it has brought to our lives through medicine, communication, transportation, etc. all show just how important science is to our society.

Now, any disagreement from me will be just how far and important epistemological objections to scientism are, and I would rather save Alex time than bother rehashing an argument to that end. However what I think he does not see is that science does make knowledge claims, with very damaging implications. A cursory look at the latest New York Times Magazine that purports to demonstrate exactly what is wrong with your brain if you have anxiety is not a constructive way to look at the mind. Modern psychotherapy has successfully medicated an entire nation of people with little mind for the consequences on our long-term sanity.

But Alex would probably object to my polemicizing against science with psychology as a surrogate. I'll leave him with one big, unanswered question:

Has science really made life better?

A few qualifications: I do not think that you can convince me that atomic theory has made life on earth better off. Similarly, I do not believe that the advent of coal-fired power plants has not necessarily made the world a better place. Of course, if you consider only the past and the present as case studies for your consideration, you would disagree (and be correct). But science itself is discovering what it has wrought in the form of global warming, lack of natural resources, etc. These problems, however, are not limited and are not going to be 'patched up' by science in order to make a better future.

They all stem from the one, fundamental problem of science: tunnel-vision. Alex may claim that Einsteinian Mechanics is better than Newtonian mechanics, but like he says, all scientific theories have a use. And unfortunately, this use involves a necessary separation of an object from its environment, and a denial of its relationship with all other things in the environment from which it was taken.

This mentality, older even than science proper, is given rise to in Greek metaphysics and epistemology; it is the idea (which has found itself perverted and extended beyond all reasonable limitations in modern analytic philosophy and its cognates, cognitive and the other behavioral sciences) that an object can be mastered and permeated through with our comprehension absent its surrounding environs. I do not dispute that science is the way of the future; I simply want to raise a simple, yet in my mind quite important objection: Every scientific advance that has been the cause of a problem (anti-depressants, utilization of fossil fuels for energy and heat) could have been tempered in order to avoid its consequent problem. However this is not the job of science, because contrary to what Alex believes, I think that science does make a knowledge claim, however bedecked it is in the robes of humility and good conscience.

Addendum to my addendum: Alex further claims that science is self-correcting, and that most scientists test their theories to the breaking point in order to further refine their theories and the current science. Does he really believe this? I would ask him: is it not the case that a scientist comes up with a theory which he then conducts experiments to prove rather than disprove his theory? To paraphrase my favorite philosopher: Every instance can be made to accord with a law, and a law can be made to account for every instance; I simply deny that in doing this you are actually following rules or creating laws.

Alex's Original Comments:

Sure, science may be something we almost worship and diefy, but it is mechanistically distinct from all other religions. While all of them are born from an unending quest for "Truth", science is the only 'religion' that fully takes into account the potential for human fallibility an bias in misleading our ascent to this divine understanding of the universe - and this is where the scientific method is born. With the scientific method, and with agreement upon certain metrics (distance, time, pH, etc.), humans of all shapes, sizes, colors and cultures are able to replicate the findings of others and test hypotheses- the hypothetical descriptions of reality provided by others.

It's agreed that science doesn't nor ever will yield "Truth" - for every epistemologist will raise hell whenever a scientist asserts that his/her theory is "known" to be true. However, the utility of our theories is confirmed as people worldwide repeat the experiments and find similar results.

Take Atomic Theory. To be blunt, Atomic theory was born as ejaculate from the intellectual masterbation of mathematicians found itself resting smugly upon phenomena nobody could explain. The math worked - it allowed people to predict with stunning accuracy the amount of given chemicals that will be used up or produced in certain reactions. Once the math worked, people had to come up with explanations for what the math seems to be describing - and so they said that billiard balls called "atoms" are the building blocks of all matter. The mathematicians didn't stop there. Call them nymphomaniacs or what you will, but the mathematicians time and time again pushed the frontiers of understanding of the subatomic world - and scientists had to come up with concepts that fit the math.

Nobody has ever seen an atom, much less an electron, proton, neutron, gluon or what have you (let's not mention this obscure concept of "energy").

So, we have no way of knowing if this concept of an "Atom" is actually "true". However, regardless whether or not these scientific theories are true, they still yield stunning accuracy of metrics and provide firm foundations for making predictions when we're faced with a novel scenario. Regardless whether or not we "believe in atoms", adopting atomic theory will allow an individual to take huge strides in understanding how the physical universe works.

This will be the case until some other guy, maybe some nympho mathematician, maybe some labrat, or maybe some little kid who asks a piercing question about matter, discovers some phenomenon (using metrics we've agreed upon) that atomic theory fails to explain, no matter how much we try to stretch it...

Then, the race is on to generate an all-encompassing theory. As a matter of fact, mathematicians and quantum physicists are confronted with this right now as they try to find out a theory that unifies all of the forces of the universe (the sadly named "Theory of Everything" - what happens when we find some phenomenon that this theory can't explain?)

This self-correction of science is what makes it so different from other religions. Buddhism, under our homeboy the current Dali LamaTenzin Gyatso, is one religion that has similar self-correction (they assert that you should never believe anything preached in Buddhist philosophy if your own experience proves otherwise), but nobody is actively trying to disprove the tenets of Buddhism. In science, there are geeks everywhere that would give a kidney to come up with a new and better theory - and so they try to push theories to the limits and find that anomaly that can't be explained by the present theory....

Philosophically and theologically, it's easy to make an argument that science is just another religion. However, it's important to notice the mechanistic uniqueness of science that yields its astonishing effectiveness at solving our problems and making our lives more comfortable. Science and math, founded on the premise that there are metrics and logical tools (cummulative addition, etc.) that we can all agree upon, allow us to correct the basic tenets of these 'religions', and this active self-correction is what makes all the difference. This self-correction, when powered by armies of geeks worldwide who are playing by the same rules, allows for such a rapid advancement of science that generates the myriad technological advancements we see today.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Why I support Barack Obama

The cult-like following that surrounds Barack Obama (converts to which are second only in fervor to those followers of Ron Paul who I affectionately deem 'Paultards') serves mainly to obscure the man himself, and his vision. Network news is not to be relied on for any accurate depiction of world events themselves, much less what is going on in the mind of any given presidential candidate (though since I consider McCain to be so vapid that any fair comparison between him and another sentient organism would probably only be fair if the object of comparison were a nematode--but I digress).

The video above is a visit that Barack Obama made to the Google campus in Mountain View, CA; anyone who is interested in Obama's policies with regard to US technology would do well to watch this video (and its accompanying Q&A, available on youtube). I think that where Barack Obama succeeds in seeing a viable vision for the future of this country is in his understanding of just how essential technology will be towards the future economic viability of the United States.

Now, I could go into a further diatribe about what bothers me about the other candidates in the race, but I think that it would fall outside the confines of this Blog; and in any case those who would be in any way interested in seeing me rail against Hilary Clinton have probably already seen me do it in real life. The internet, in any case, has no lack of polemics, and I hope to subtract from the vitriol with this blog, not add to it.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

faith in technology?

Hello decent reading public; I hope this sabbath day finds you all content in your homes with your family and close friends; perhaps you have read a book today (scandalous!) or maybe even taken your wife to a dancing-hall (!). Hopefully you have spend a good deal of time thanking the creator for the wonderful life which he has bestowed upon you.

Of course, if you read this blog, the entire paragraph above is laughable. Sunday is just like any other day; it's a day to study for tests, a day to lie in bed with your lover, a day to cry about last night's injustices. We've all got our recompense on sunday.

It's often that I find myself stimulated by the philosophers I study for class towards thoughts about technology and its place in our collective consciences. Take Nietzsche, for example, the great "sham-smasher", according to Mencken. Now, I am not a sooth-sayer so do not take the following words to be any sort of spiritual meditation on our life. If my words are effective you might find your mind sharing a parallel path to my own, at least for a short while. Let us clear away some brush with our sharply-honed (or at least dense enough) machetes and see how Nietzsche comes to bear on the philosophy of technology.

Nietzsche's achievement was to call into question moral systems as a whole. That is, he was the first to ask: "What is the value of our values?" Nietzsche's answer is unsettling for Hegelians, Christians, and moralists alike. First, some background:

Nietzsche, in his Genealogy of Morals, undertakes an etymological investigation of the words "good", "bad", and "evil". He argues that firstly, there is no word for "Evil" in ancient Greek or Latin. Secondly he notices that the words "Good" and "Bad" are derived from positive, self-affirming values in the aforementioned cultures. There are no 'virtuous' connotations to the word "Good"; the words in Latin and Greek are derived from words for war ('bellum') in the former and 'strong' in the latter; hence the words for "bad" are only attributed to those things lacking strength or prowess in battle.

"Well, what does this have to do with the price of Dell laptops?" my faithful readership might ask. Hold on, hold on. We'll get there. Note now that the ideas of judeo-christian morals are cast in a peculiar light. No matter how 'virtuous' they are, we notice now that they are based upon denials of ego, upon restraint. What implications does this have for religion? Well, once we see that this is our conception of morals, then we see that Christian morality is based upon the restraint of our urges to avenge or commit violence.

Now, before we get to an examination of technology (and, more widely still, science) in contemporary discussion, an examination of Nietzsche's arguments against the existence of God. Nietzsche argues that notions of a 'god' are created from ancient communal worship of ancestors. As a society becomes more wealthy and prosperous, the 'debt' that a society feels to its ancestors increases, until what were previously ancestors are now transformed into demi-gods. One can follow the logical progression of this, but the important thing is to see that God is created out of a notion of indebtedness; the Christian God is the ultimate and logically complete form of this notion: a god that for your sins comes to Earth as a human and allows himself to be destroyed for your forgiveness. Talk about a large tally of debt!

Now, Nietzsche astutely points out that it is the achievement of the modern age to realize this truth, and subsequently turn to science to derive a meaning from life. But, Nietzsche notes, this is simply the exact same sort of worship associated with previous gods! Does one not see this idea of a God echoed in the wide-spread respect for 'scientific truth' and 'logical necessity'? Nietzsche's philosophy was about getting beyond this notion of Truth, but at this point I would recommend the reader to take his attentions to Nietzsche himself rather than listen to this poor conduit.

The important thing to realize is that what people take to be the full-hearted truth, and the thing into which people place the entirety of their hard-fought faith into, this is the same sort of dogmatism that existed before! Any cursory look at the place that technology holds in our society will yield this view. How can it be otherwise? Who do we expect to deliver us from the spectre of global warming? Science and human ingenuity, of course! What we have to realize is that science is something that is of use, not something that yields Truth, in any qualifiable form. We are not interested in Holism (and Truth without qualification is necessarily part of a holistic worldview) - we are interested in the things that will make life easier.