Radical Politics for Control Societies: Based Deleuze Lecture 4

This is Lecture 4 (out of 6) in the Based Deleuze lecture course. You can watch the video of this lecture on Youtube or buy the whole series at gum.co/deleuze.

Welcome to the fourth lecture in my lecture series to supplement my book Based Deleuze. We have now covered a lot of concepts so far. Here's a little bit of an overview or roadmap. We are going to start with a discussion of Deleuze's Postscript. I'm going to break down the major arguments in that essay and try to leave you with a refresher or a summary schematization of the major lines of logic in the Postscript.

That'll be the first goal. And then once we do that, I am going to make some arguments about what I think is really the underlying background context for what he's saying in that essay. Namely, it's the information revolution, which is a fairly specific and discrete event that occurred around the middle of the 20th century.

And today, with all of our digital technology, we are essentially living through the wake of the information revolution. And obviously many of you are already aware that when we talk about information societies or the information age, we think about the internet and social media and all of this, it's sort of obvious on one level, but I don't think a lot of people understand the basic concrete history behind it, that this was something that kicked off at a relatively discrete moment in time, with particular players and particular ideas. So I'm going to spell that out because I think it's a crucial bit of context for what's really going on in Deleuze's Postscript.

I also think it's crucial for really understanding what Deleuze is trying to say. As always, Deleuze's essays are very enigmatic, and inspiring, and colorful, and stimulating, for sure. He's very good at developing ideas in that way, but it's often quite dense. Even if you're very well read and you pay a lot of attention to his works, very closely and patiently, it's still just... It's hard to really walk away from his writings with a particularly concrete or useful grasp of what exactly was going on in his writing. So I think a discussion about the nature of information, and what the information revolution was, will, I think, make it more concrete. So that will be the purpose of a bit of exploration of the information revolution and its aftermath. And then finally, I'm going to make a more positive case. And this will be me getting somewhat creative here. This is departing somewhat from the literal words that Deleuze uses.

I am going to make a case that Deleuzian radical politics converges with ancient Cynicism, which Peter Sloterdijk spelled with a K for good reason. I'll go into that later. But the basic logic of ancient Kynicism, as embodied by someone like Diogenes, the basic logic was this idea of "defacing the currency." And as we're going to see, this actually has some explicit resonance with the arguments put forward in the Postscript. Deleuze talks about currency. For instance, he talks about exchange rates even. And so this concept of defacing the currency, which was associated with the ancient Cynics, will be my jumping off point for making a more elaborate argument about what a real Deleuzian, radical politics or praxis might look like. I think it's going to look something quite like what Diogenes of Sinope was engaged in, but for digital culture. That's essentially going to be the argument that I will make in the end.

So there you have it. That's an overview or a roadmap of where we're going with all this. The story starts with this guy Michel Foucault. He is the obvious, towering background persona in Deleuze's Postscript. The concept of "societies of control," which Deleuze introduces in this essay, is a reference to what Foucault called disciplinary societies. In Foucault's writings, he talks about disciplinary societies with a few different terms. You might remember it differently, depending on which of his books had the strongest impression on you. He sometimes called them societies of enclosure or disciplinary societies, I think there were perhaps a few other terms that he used to describe the social formations that he was really interested in. In particular, in the 18th and 19th centuries. So very briefly, I'm just going to give you a quick and dirty, cartoonish summary of what Foucault described when he referred to disciplinary institutions, or societies of enclosure, or whatever particular phrase he might've used.

He was describing the major, large institutions that define modern society as we knew it before the rise of digital technology. His major case studies were always the school, the prison, and the hospital. Those were the essential examples of what he called disciplinary institutions or the institutions that represented what he called disciplinary society.

He contrasted disciplinary societies with the age of sovereignty, or sovereign societies, the sovereign period. And that was essentially, you know, think of traditional monarchs. They were mostly concerned with administering death for high crimes and treason and attacks on the legitimacy of the crown. But they were never really that interested in production per se, or maximizing the capacities of their biopolitical mass. It was a relatively simple, top-down structure with the monarch at the top. And it was all about the sovereignty of the monarch.

So that was the period of sovereignty, or that's what Foucault has in mind when he talks about sovereign societies. It's relatively simple. It's mostly about taxation, is what the King or Queen was mostly interested in. And this gives way, in the 19th and 18th century, to what he calls disciplinary societies, with the rise of these large institutions such as the school, the prison, and the hospital.

He has separate books on all of these. Perhaps his most famous book is Discipline and Punish. Some of you might've read it, it's about the history of discipline, and in particular incarceration. There are lengthy studies, or lengthy chapters, in that book, about the rise of the modern prison as it distinguished itself from the pre-modern prison. And of course this is where he talks about his famous "panopticon" concept. The modern prison is this unified, large structure that takes in individuals and pays close attention to their bodies — disciplines individuals' bodies. Every prisoner who comes into the modern prison comes in on a sort of assembly line of discipline. The panopticon is this clever architectural structure that's circular, where there's a watch tower in the middle and then all of the individual cells are lined up around the watch tower in the middle. And one of Foucault's interesting arguments about the panopticon is that there doesn't need to even be anyone in that watchtower.

The mere fact that the individuals, in their cells, know that they could be watched is enough for the panopticon to have its effect. He also studies the history of medicine, he has separate works on the rise of modern hospitals. And he also talks about school. So those are the three major representatives or institutions that represent what Foucault called disciplinary societies. And just to reiterate, this is essentially in the 18th and 19th century.

So that's the major foil against which Deleuze is writing his Postscript. The major argument of the Postscript is that Foucault's diagnoses of disciplinary society are no longer valid, they are being replaced. They are giving way to what Deleuze calls "control societies." Let's unpack more specifically what Deleuze is saying about this contrast. If you look at the Postscript, which, by the way, is a fairly short essay for Deleuze, it's relatively quite schematic, much more so than a lot of his other works. It's actually quite precise, and he draws a bunch of direct parallels or contrasts. So I want to take a moment in the next slide to unpack what those are, and I've actually listed some out for you.

Throughout the Postscript, Deleuze makes these contrasts where he points out what a particular item would have been in the Foucauldian model and what a particular item is now in the Deleuzian model. Disciplinary societies were characterized by independent variables, and I'm just going to briefly go through these. I won't belabor them or be too tedious about it. But, basically, he says that disciplinary societies were independent variables, whereas control societies were inseparable variations. And what he means by this is that the prison was a relatively isolated, specific institution that served as a particular task of dealing with deviance and disciplining deviant bodies and criminals.

But, the relationship between the prison and the school and the hospital was not at all developed. These were relatively discrete institutions, which had particular purposes. I think that's what he means by independent variables. They have their own effects. They sought to have their own consequences and produce their own effects, but in relatively independent, discrete ways. Whereas, in control societies, the dominant institutions, including the school, the prison, and the hospital, are now much more densely connected through data, through networked processes.

This is what he means by inseparable variations. Deleuze says that the disciplinary societies were based on discontinuous institutions. Again, that's very similar, but I'm essentially giving you the words that Deleuze uses. Whereas, the control societies are more continuous, so this has a more temporal connotation. In other words, if you go to prison, when you get out of the prison, you might need to go to the hospital later. But between that, exiting of the prison and entering of the hospital, there is a time period that is relatively untouched, in which you are relatively free, one might even say. Whereas in control societies there's much less of a gap once you exit the school and you get ready to go into your profession or something, let's say. There's much less of a gap there. It's almost like entry into a second stage institution is already beginning at the end of an initial stage institution. That's what he means by discontinuous versus continuous. He says that disciplinary societies, their institutions, were essentially molds, whereas in control societies, it's modulations.

So again, he's really kind of just drawing out a similar overlapping theme here. These are variations on a theme. He talks about how in disciplinary societies there were relatively discrete acquittals or exits of particular institutional stages. I said that before when I talked about the difference between the prison and the entering of the hospital later or something like this. When you're done with the hospital, when you're cured, when your process at the hospital is over, you get discharged in the traditional period, in the period of disciplinary societies, you're done, right? You're out of there. You're relatively acquitted.  Same thing with prison. Nowadays, what do they have? You might be on parole or you might be on probation, and then even your probation has a probation because you have to wear some ankle bracelet that monitors where you are. So Deleuze is alerting us to these processes in which the borders between institutions are increasingly blurring and on a temporal level they increasingly bleed into one another. So, the prison in the 18th century might've been quite a brutal place, but at least when you were out, you were out. Now, when you get out, you are still kind of in, right? So that's what he's saying there.

And he talks about how in the typical modern disciplinary institution, the hallmark of that institution was individual signatures and their numbers. So I think what he means by that is when a prisoner enters the 19th century  prison that Foucault describes at length, that prisoner is entered into a system where that individual's body is associated with a particular number. And then it's the monitoring and the control of that individual body and its number, whereas what he says is that, in control societies, it's no longer about individual bodies. And I think this is one of the more interesting and useful distinctions that Deleuze is making in this essay.

Control societies are not actually interested in individual bodies. They're interested in abstract variables, essentially. Any individual body is only a representative of a probability distribution. And that's really crucial, and not obvious. So that's going to be something that I spend some time on. There are also some other funnier distinctions.

Deleuze talks about how disciplinary societies were about sports, whereas control societies are more about surfing. Everything is surfing now. I thought that was kinda funny. Obviously there's a reference there to surfing the web in some sense. The essay, by the way, was written in the early nineties. So Deleuze might've had an inkling of what was coming with the internet, but hardly any kind of data on what an internet society would really look like. So in some interesting ways, it's quite prophetic. I think the mention of surfing is interesting for that reason. Web surfing is the obvious reference I'm making there.

Deleuze talks about how the disciplinary societies had their mole. Here he's referring to money and, in particular, a traditional gold-backed money. It's only a passing reference. I wouldn't make too much of it, frankly. I don't think Deleuze's economics are extremely sophisticated. I'm not saying he's wrong or dumb, but I wouldn't spend too much time investing in his economic references. Although they are suggestive. And I'm going to talk about the exchange rates in particular. I think there's something really there. But he talks about the mole of money in disciplinary societies. It was this underground, latent, hidden anchoring for all of the disciplinary societies, is something that he essentially suggests in his essay. That the prison, the school, and the hospital were all, in a latent way, undergirded and subordinated to a fixed gold standard. I'm not sure that argument is particularly clear, to be honest, but a little bit more interesting is that what he says is, in contrast to the mole of money in disciplinary societies, in control societies, the mole has given way to the serpent. Again, he's painting for us a kind of aesthetics of flexibility, of continuous variation, of a cybernetic systemic self-regulation of the social system as opposed to the rigid, blunt, centralized, and discrete institutions of the disciplinary society. So the serpent and its coils, and it's slithering nature, is that aesthetic representation of control societies, whereas it's the mole and the burrowing hidden nature of gold-backed money that was the aesthetic symbol of disciplinary societies. As I'll talk about in just a moment, there is something there with the exchange rates that is legit and empirical, and quite sophisticated and useful.

Now, here's something that is really important about these contrasts. Deleuze does make reference to the corresponding dangers, or vulnerabilities, of these two different epochs. In the epoch of the disciplinary society, the danger was entropy and sabotage. So what does he mean by that? Well, if you're trying to run and organize a prison in the 19th century, as Foucault describes it — in fact, one of his case studies is from Philadelphia, and I visited that prison. It's pretty interesting, but that's just a bit of a tangent. The way that it fails or goes wrong is, perhaps you have prison breaks, perhaps there are mass prison uprisings and all of the  prisoners overthrow the guards and escape all at once, or something like this. That kind of stuff actually happened occasionally back in the day. Nowadays, security is so good that that's not really a risk anymore. There are still uprisings and riots, but almost never do all of the prisoners get out, or a substantial number of them get out — or, entropy. It's very hard to run organized, top-down centralized disciplinary systems such as a prison in the 18th or 19th century. For instance, basic management problems. People not obeying rules, managers not obeying rules, the warden's not obeying rules. That general everyday problem of the management structures not working and breaking down is what he means by entropy. Those things were constantly problems and risks for the representatives of disciplinary institutions in the epoch of the disciplinary society.

What Deleuze says is that, in control societies today, those are no longer the dangers, because the machines that define our society are not based on this centralized channeling of energy in particular ways that are fragile and sensitive to break down. What he says is that, nowadays, the social machines that are most important are based on computing. And when things are based on computing, entropy and sabotage are not that much of a problem anymore. Of course, there are still basic problems of entropy and there are basic problems of sabotage. But, for instance, if you're a tech entrepreneur or something like this, maybe you're running some sophisticated web application that is performing some function. Sure there's entropy and sabotage that can happen, but for the most part, with modern computing technology, if you know what you're doing and you have the proper testing methods, and you have proper security protocols, as long as you're doing it right, you can pretty much rest assured that that system is going to operate identically one day after another in a highly reproducible and robust way that. In other words, more or less solving certain problems of entropy and solving certain problems of sabotage.

But what Deleuze says is that new types of vulnerabilities open up in the institutions that defined control societies, and the new problems are jamming, piracy, and viruses. The reason this is important to flag is because the Postscript is pretty short on suggestions. It's pretty short on advice or positive prescriptions of any kind. It's almost completely diagnostic rather than prescriptive. It's trying to explain where society is going and where it's at now. In particular, how it departs from the Foucauldian diagnoses. He does not say that much about what we should do moving forward. This is where he gives us one of the most precise hints in the text, by pointing out where he thinks the institutions of control societies are vulnerable, or what their dangers or risks are. He's implicitly giving us a hint as to where we might find a point of application for a new type of practice, if you will. I'm going to circle back to this danger that Deleuze sees in control societies. Their vulnerabilities in jamming, piracy, and viruses. Because I think that that is one of the most promising places to think about where we can create new forms of liberating politics, essentially.

So a few last points, briefly. Deleuze talks about how disciplinary societies were primarily about production, right? So the factory, for instance. I haven't talked as much about the factory, but along with the school, the prison, and the hospital, another kind of classic disciplinary institution characteristic of the Foucauldian disciplinary society is the factory. Think about the traditional assembly line. This mass production process where you have these workers where every worker is working on one part of a car or something like that. Over and over again. Those people needed to be controlled and disciplined in a fairly strict and centralized way, and all of that was about production. It was about maximizing production. But what Deleuze says is that, in controlled societies, the economic firms no longer have that controlling centralized apparatus that is all about maximizing production. Rather, the real locus of economic energy in control societies is, essentially, at the level of marketing.

To give you an example, if you think about the big brands of today, Nike or Apple for instance, you realize that Nike and Apple don't make things, right? If you don't understand this, you should really pause on it because it's a profound point. If you don't already know this, Nike or Apple, they're owners of a symbol. The Apple symbol, the Apple intellectual property, or the Nike swish logo and the Nike intellectual property, they own that brand. But the actual production of sneakers or computers, that's contracted out. That's outsourced out. So on a very technical level, Apple does not make its computers. Nike does not make it shoes. The power of Nike or Apple, and the reason that they are so huge and make extraordinary amounts of money, is because they were the people who initially created an information structure. It was, essentially, an information structure. If you launch a brand, or a logo, or just a company with a claim to intellectual property, then whatever you make, and all the networks of production that you're able to compose underneath that brand, are going to benefit and profit you, obviously. But the real added value, the real unique thing that Apple or Nike owns and contributes to their massive networked apparatus, is essentially just the symbol, the brand, and the ownership. All the trademarks and ownership that flow from that essential kind of brand ownership.

It is a very profound difference. And that's essentially what Deleuze is talking about. Now, in Western societies, all of the decent jobs really come through some form of adding value through a kind of  manipulation of information. And that manipulation of information usually has something to do with marketing, or marketing understood in its broadest sense of creating images, text, or symbols that, in one way or another, have some effect on getting someone to buy something somewhere. And that's a very diffuse network. That's a very diffused set of processes. That's what he means by marketing. It's not just what you might have in your mind when you think of marketing.

Finally, the control societies, the processes that Deleuze is talking about, these control processes, almost all of them are much more short term. They're much more flexible, fluid with rapid turnover, whereas in the disciplinary societies that Foucault described, everything took a really long time. Think about building a prison, a massive prison, and the 18th century, and using these totally new philosophies of how to Institute penal structures. This was extremely difficult, especially when you're doing it without things like computers. It required extraordinary sums of money, people, resources, and time. Things would've just moved  way slower, whereas nowadays, look at the gig economy. For instance, look at jobs. The factory worker in the disciplinary society might've had a pretty difficult and oppressed life, but one worker at one factory might be there for a very long time, whereas now, if you're an information worker in a modern Western  digital societ, you're very likely to have many jobs over the course of a life. You're constantly moving from one thing to the next, and businesses are constantly arising and then going away. Startups are shooting to $1 billion annually, like rapid fire, and then they die and go away with the same rapidity, sometimes. Although things might seem sometimes more humane. The lean, agile tech startup culture, the management philosophies that are dominant today, aren't about sucking the last dollar out of every worker or standardizing industrial assembly lines like they used to be. The tech founder of today wants the startup workplace culture to be humane and supportive, and these sorts of norms are now much more common. And it's much more about symbol creation. What Deleuze calls "marketing." Something we also see is that everything lasts a little bit. Things don't last as long. Everything's shorter term and more rapidly turning over.

So, that is all just a breakdown and unpacking of the specific contrasts that Deleuze is drawing where contemporary digital societies depart from disciplinary societies as described by Foucault. And for what it's worth, Foucault, at the time, was the towering figure of French philosophy. Deleuze is a little bit younger, I believe. Or, in any event, his work comes a bit after, so Foucault is more dominant and influential before Deleuze really becomes well known. I think it's fair to say this is why the entire essay is written against, or in contrast to, the Foucauldian understanding of disciplinary societies, because this is the framework that so many people who follow French philosophy at the time would have had in their minds. So it's a pretty major moment. It's a pretty significant step for Deleuze to write this kind of political social essay that's diagnostic of the civilization, in some sense, in contrast to difficulty in philosophy. He's really distinguishing himself from the master at the time in this way.

That's just a very schematic breakdown. And as I said, it's actually quite rare for Deleuze's texts to be this schematic. He's actually quite precise in drawing out these differences. That's why it was relatively straightforward to throw them up on a screen here. So now, what I would like to do is spell out for you, in a little bit more detail, what the larger significance of this is. Why is this interesting? What is he really talking about? Instead of looking at this list of contrasts, what is the more general point of interest here? What's a more concrete and specific takeaway or theoretical condensation of this? What I would argue is that all Deleuze is really talking about is the rise of the information age, essentially, and the information age has a relatively discrete and specific kind of temporal localization. All of the digital technology that we're seeing today and the explosion of technological innovation that we're living through got its start in the war effort of the U.S. and the U.K. Think of people like Claude Shannon and Alan Turing. The information age, as we know it, became possible because of an extraordinary amount of research and development that was conducted by the Western countries to defeat their opponents in World War II.

That's one of the larger arguments I want to put on the map for you. And I think it's a nice way to summarize, or condense, what's going on here and why it's interesting. In other words, what all of these specific differences that Deleuze is describing essentially boils down to that there is at the time he's writing, and certainly today, still an explosion of data. That's one of the major hallmarks of the information explosion that happens after World War II. We have much more data. Capacities for measurement are much cheaper and more reliable in every domain, and the cost of different institutions communicating with other institutions is rapidly decreasing. When you take all of those things together, as ongoing trends following in the wake of the information revolution, you get these distinctions that Deleuze is identifying between the old societies and the new societies. This is useful because it condenses all of these different bullet points into a more specific and discrete theoretical summary that is a little bit more tractable.

What's really going on here, in other words, is the explosion of data, the decrease in cost of data, the increasing efficiency of computing power, and the increasing ease and efficiency for various types of institutions, including individuals, to measure things and to share those measurements. When that happens, you've got all of these differences. And something that I wanted to kind of drive home for people, which I don't think is very obvious to most people, is that there is a relatively discrete and specific moment where these converging trends all get kicked up. I would argue that it is essentially the discovery of the true nature of information as such. It is the discovery of the mathematical theory of information. Up until the war effort, we did not know exactly what information was, essentially. It was a set of specific discoveries in which we finally learned the raw nature of what information even means. And I think that is why you see from there the accelerating and escalation of technological innovation.

I want to spend a moment unpacking that briefly for people who maybe have no idea what I'm talking about. So this is a famous diagram that comes out of a famous paper by someone named Claude Shannon, who is a genius polymath figure that worked for, or with, or alongside to some degree, Bell Labs, and Bell Labs in the American 20th century was this unprecedented  investment and basic scientific and mathematic research and development. So, a ridiculous number of technological innovations and theoretic discoveries  came out of Bell Labs, and Bell Labs really found its impetus and major motivation, and a lot of its funding, because there was a major interest in doing things like decrypting the Nazi codes, or what have you. So, a lot was at stake. In other words, national security was at stake and there was a felt sense of urgency that, from American policymakers and American businessmen, there was a spirit in the air that said we have to invest tons of money into basically paying all the smartest people we can find to, essentially, do whatever they want, whatever they think is most important. That's essentially what Bell Labs, in its heyday, represented. And you had similar examples in the U.K. also, but really Bell Labs in the U.S. was the epicenter of what I'm talking about here. And so during those years, in the middle of the 20th century, a ridiculous amount of discoveries were made and innovations were had. For instance, everything ranging from the theory of communication, the theory of information, but also things like the transistor. Innovations in materials and things like that were discovered because you basically put a whole bunch of geniuses in one room and you gave them a lot of free time and money to essentially do whatever they want. And you told them, "Oh yeah, if you fail, we might get destroyed by the Nazis." So that's what's going on in the middle of the 20th century. And I would argue that it was from this moment that everything we're seeing today, like the internet and all of the trends that we are observing with what appears to be accelerating or escalating a series of technological innovations. Think of things like Moore's law or the exponential increase in computing power. There's some arguments that this might be tapering off. But in any event, all of the converging trends we're seeing, like how radio, television, and newspapers are converging into this one thing, which is digital media. Our phones are now the same thing as our computers and our video screens and our radios. All the traditional electronic media are now converging, strangely into this one media, which is essentially the internet. I could cite a whole bunch of other trends or phenomena, but all I'm really trying to say is that this new world we're in, characterized by digital technology, all of the various aspects of it, essentially, have a shared root, which is the discovery of the nature of information, allowing for a profound, quantity of innovations to emerge in different ways.

What we're looking at here in this diagram is a schematic of one of Claude Shannon's essential insights into what the nature of communication is that information involves the transmission of a signal from one entity to another through a channel of noise. This difference between signal and noise, that's something you might've heard before. This is iwhere that comes from, essentially, or this is a formalization of that. And so this is general a communication system. This is the basic, raw formulation or formalization of what communication requires, or involves, that requires you to get a piece of information from one source to a destination through an enemy line. A blocking or obstacle, which is called noise. There's no way around this. Every bit of communication, every instance of communication has to traverse noise to some degree. I won't belabor this, because it's not the main focus, but it will matter. I will circle back to this because what I would argue is a Deleuzian, radical politics fit for the information age.

I'm going to talk about signals. I'm going to talk about the function of speaking and acting in unexpected ways, and what I'm going to be really talking about there is a difference between signal and noise. So to foreshadow, just briefly, one of the problems we have today is that we're all free to speak. We have free speech and general in Western societies,  most people are free to say whatever they want. Notwithstanding the problems of cancellation and all of that. For the most part, at least in the historical scheme of things, people can speak whatever they want. But there's this problem where it's almost as if we are so free to speak whatever we want in modern Western societies, that it has a way of neutralizing itself. So you can make a whole bunch of really good arguments about why congress, people in Washington D.C., are totally corrupt and should not be trusted or something like that. But it doesn't have any effect. It doesn't go anywhere. There is this system we have in place where power operates on one level and our speech operates on a totally different level. And no matter how smart or effective or moving our rational speech is, no matter how hard you try to really be honest and accurate, and develop a rational message to put out into the world, there's this weird problem today where it's almost all rational dialogue is neutralized in advance.

So that's going to be the motivation. That's why I'm talking about this formal distinction between signal and noise, and this mathematical theory of communication. The reason I'm bringing this up is because I want to give you a touchstone for when I talk about this problem of political speech and in the subsequent slides. Also, the other reason I'm bringing this up is because this is ultimately what's at the source of Deleuze's diagnoses of  the control societies. This is why the control societies are digital societies, information societies as we live in them now today, the reason that they're so different, point by point, from disciplinary societies is because we figured out on a formal level what information is, what communication is. And once we formalize that, it's suddenly allowed us to do things like merge all of the different electronic media into this one kind of wide open, massive digital space, for instance.

We're going to move back in history, as they say. The past is a foreign country, and what we were looking at here in this slide is Diogenes of Sinope.  This is a painting that shows him in a barrel reaching his hand out to Alexander the Great. So I'm going to use this as a jumping off point to  introduce you to the ancient philosophy of cynicism or what Peter Sloterdijk, I calls Kynicism. The reason for that, by the way, is that cynicism means something very different in most people's minds today. But I'll explain that in just a minute. Diogenes of Sinope was a philosopher. I would personally argue, probably the greatest philosopher to have ever lived. A lot of people would disagree with that. But what was Diogenes' philosophy? Well, it was very strange. It's not what most people have in mind when they think of philosophy. He was essentially a kind of performance artist. He didn't really write much, if anything at all. He lived like a crazy homeless man. He was known for living out of a barrel, which you see depicted here. And he would go around essentially pissing people off, performing what today we would think of as publicity stunts, but he saw them as conducting philosophy.

Let me give you some examples. He was known for such interesting feats as when he was once invited to give a talk or perform or just be present at one of the local sports competitions. It's the end games, which is kind of like a, a proto-Olympics in  some sense.  The Greeks loved their manly bodies and Chad athletic prowess, and they liked wrestling all of that  good Greco-Roman stuff. And so they had well attended sports events and one of these Isthmian games, Diogenes shat all over the stage. I talked about this in a talk I did a few weeks ago. That's just to give you one example of the type of character that we're dealing with here.

Why did he do that? Well, let's think about some of the other examples of his interesting behavior. One of the stunts he would do is he would go around with a lamp and look like he's looking for something, and people would ask him, "what are you looking for?" And he would say, "I'm looking for a man," insulting everyone around him and implying that nobody he could find was a real man.  This sort of publicity stunt is what he was known for. He didn't really write, but he did articulate through these performances, a particular philosophy. And he left behind enough sayings and enough performance artifacts, if you will, that it's not hard to reconstruct what his philosophy was. And it's been done many times. There are many good books about it. So I will very briefly give you my rendition of the Diogenes' philosophy, or what is more generally called ancient cynicism. He's the father of ancient cynicism, and essentially the way to understand all of these crazed performances that he was known for doing was that he was trying to do philosophy in a vitalistic way.

He was trying to perform arguments rather than simply speak them. What he's doing is he's laying bare the hypocrises that are hidden within bourgeois society. And, in some sense, ancient Greece is one of the first bourgeois societies. It's the beginning of what we now think of as bourgeois culture, in a Western sense. The nature of bourgeois civilization, or modern Western societies essentially, is that we create a split between the private and the public. So think of manners. Think of the author Norbert Elias, who wrote long sociological studies about the rise of manners. What are manners? What does it mean to have good table manners? What does it mean to be a civilized person? Well, it essentially means to fake yourself. It means to pretend. It means to present yourself as something other than what you are. Because what are we? We're animals, right? We're monkeys. We have this compulsion in modern society to insist that we are not monkeys. And that is what is great about modern society and also what is problematic and ultimately rotten about it.

So you can say all day that modern manners are bullshit, right? We should embrace our animal nature. Modern bourgeois culture is oppressive and it's wrong and bad, and it doesn't do justice to who we really are. You can say all of these things on a rational level, and you can make arguments. But no one will care. No one will listen because this bourgeois hypocrisy is  foundational to the very game that we're playing. If you develop a philosophical critique of some injustice in society, and you develop it in a rational way, you kind of write a bunch of words in a well-formulated essay with good spelling and grammar, and then you submit that essay to the Royal Society or whatever it might be. You can do that for certain topics as long as they're playing within the rules of the game. But if you want to really critique the rules of the game, if you want to critique something truly foundational to society as such, then rational discourse is going to be neutralized in advance as a general principle that you can draw here. And this was one of the genius observations of someone like Diogenes. He realized that he couldn't make his critique through rational formulations of doctrines because the very effort to formulate a rational doctrine and submit it to civilized society is already buying in to what he's trying to critique. And if he does that, it's just going to have no effect. It's going to be neutered in advance. They're just going to dismiss it. Or because it's participating in that which it's trying to critique, it's going to suffer from an immediate, inescapable hypocrisy of its own.

The genius insight of Diogenese and ancient cynicism is that if you want to critique something foundational about the hypocrisy of modern or bourgeois societies, then what you need to do is perform it. And there are specific protocols to a Diogenes styled cynical philosophical performance. In fact, to bring this full circle to where we started with Foucault, one his best books is the transcripts of one of his late lectures. The book is called The Courage of Truth, and it's the transcripts from the final lectures of his life where he focused on ancient cynicism. So it's really quite interesting when you think about these connections now, in any event. Diogenes realized that if you go out of your way to be the base animal, that bourgeois society pretends we are not, a few interesting things happen. One is that people can't ignore you, because the things you're doing are so obscene. Like shitting on the stage at the Olympics or walking around, flagrantly insulting civilized people in a variety of different ways. There are so many other anecdotes you can find about the Diogenes when you do that. People are gripped emotionally. They can't ignore you. They can't dismiss you.

That's the first thing. But the second logic to this idea is that if you can do these performances and remain based and content and take care of yourself and all the other basic ways that you need to live a decent human life, then what you're doing is you're disproving  bourgeois hypocrisy and compromises. You're essentially proving your own contention in a live way. Because the pretension of bourgeois manners and modern civilization is that you must be like this. You must have good manners. You must be civilized. And if you don't, then all will go wrong. That is the hidden implicit pretension that this is the right way to be, and that if you do it, good things happen. And if you don't do it, bad things happen. That's implied in this reign of bourgeois hypocrisy that we still live in today.

And so what someone like Diogenes realizes is that if you disagree and you think that actually bourgeois manners are rooted in lies, and that this is actually a really stupid and harmful way to live, then you should be able to show it through your actions. You should be able to find a way to live that is different. And the problem with that is it's going to be hated. It's going to be so orthogonal to what is seen as normal that you're going to be hated. You see it with Socrates also, who's known as a gadfly and who was essentially executed for it. It's the same thing in a different style. And so these are the basic components of an ancient cynicism or Kynicism, to just to distinguish it from what people have in mind now when they think about cynicism.

Nowadays when people think about cynicism, when you use that word cynicism, what does it mean? It typically means you say one thing and you do another. So that the emblem of cynicism as we think about that word today as it's typically used, is someone like an office worker who doesn't like his job, who thinks it's all bullshit and thinks he's participating in some kind of stupid or vaguely harmful kind of process, but just goes along with it anyway and doesn't really care, because what are you going to do?

That's a kind of cynical attitude, not really interested in any type of particularly honest or creative investment in making things better, but just goes along with it and says one thing, but beliefs and actions are not aligned. They're hypocritical and they don't really care about it. That's what most people have in mind when they use the word cynicism today. Obviously, what I'm talking about with Ancient Cynicism is almost the exact opposite. It's almost literally opposite. Someone is so offended by the nature of normal society that he can't go along with it. He refuses to go along with it, and in a violent gesture makes his life, beliefs, and his actions all consistently aligned. And the cost of doing that is that people generally hate you. You're constantly pissing people off, and also you are always on the margins of society.

Here you see Diogenes living out of a barrel, essentially like a crazy homeless man. He would argue that this is the superior life and that he's living more wisely than anyone else, and he's happier and he's less troubled by unnecessary, stupid concerns that normal bourgeois people are oppressed by. The whole logic of ancient cynicism or Kynical philosophy, is that it's a philosophy  of the bod. It's a dog like philosophy. And you are essentially proving your hypotheses in action through performance. And what's interesting about this particular painting is that it refers to another famous anecdote about Diogenes, which is that he was well known and quite respected by people in power. So this is very interesting. To the average merchant around him, he was probably just an annoying, crazy homeless man. So at the middle level of society, let's say, the masses hated Diogenes. "It's just an annoying loser," pretty much is how people would have seen him and how people would have described him.

But the elites, especially the aristocrats of the spirit, the people who, were themselves sophisticated, philosophical, and truly powerful people such as Alexander the Great, actually had  a lot of respect for him. The famous quote, or meme, that comes out of this particular painting, for instance, is that Alexander the Great famously said once that if he was not Alexander, he would like to be Diogenes.

In other words, there is this weird phenomenon in society, and the distribution of power in which the bourgeois middle-class that are the stupid powerless weaklings who are just following processes they don't fully understand. They're essentially being roped into either disciplinary institutions in the 18th and 19th century, according to Foucault, or they're being controlled by control societies and control institutions to cybernetic fluid control structures that Deleuze describes in his Postscript. It's really the middle that are just trying to be normal. They're just trying to be civilized. They're just trying to have good manners and are just trying to do the right thing, which is essentially what is popular. What seems normal. It's the middle that's the weak, stupid dupes of society. And true power in society, political power is had in this bi-modal structure. You can either be Alexander the Great, a great warrior, a great strategist with an extremely strong will, and you can exercise political power and achieve political power through essentially a militaristic means. Or, if you're not going to do that, if you're not that type of person, there is this other weird path to political power.

That's what's going on here in this painting. That is what Diogenes understood, perhaps better than anyone else ever. He understood that there is an opposite route to exercising political power, and it's not by trying to dominate. It's by essentially  pursuing a Deleuzian route, and this is where I've been going with this. This is why I've taken this kind of tangent through ancient Greek philosophy. Diogenes was essentially converging with an insight of Deleuze and Spinoza which is that one's own joy, the experience of qualitative differences in one's own capacities, is the truest signpost, or guide, that is the North star for what one should be optimizing for. In other words, one should trust the signals of one's own body, one's own emotions, one's affects, and specifically, that crucial, irreducible difference, which we talked about in the previous lecture. The difference in the feeling of one's own capacities, you can feel intuitively, we have intuitions or immediate, automatic, subconscious, emotional, bodily responses to any situation in which our capacity to act increases.

When that happens, and this is straight out of Spinoza, the emotion that is associated with is called joy. It's a very specific feeling and you know it when you have it. You don't have to prove it to anyone. It's not an argument to be made. It's a qualitative, irreducible difference and it is essentially the increase of power within oneself, within one's capacities to act.

Remember, we're not talking about power over —  the French term for that is pouvoir — we're talking about power to — the term for that is puissance. These are very different types of power. What Diogenes gave us is an extraordinary example of what it might look like to conduct a political praxis following on from the philosophies of someone like Spinoza and then Deleuze. Obviously, there's a weird historical looping here because Spinoza and Deleuze came along after. This is in ancient Greece, but the narrative that I would put forward to you is that it was in ancient Greece, the initial rise of modern Western society as we know it, at the founding of modern Western bourgeois culture... It makes sense that that's when the practical insights of how to conduct a militant, liberating, radical praxis would first emerge. It doesn't emerge where people think it emerged. It's not Marx, it's not the major, explicitly political projects of Western history.

It happens at the very beginning, in this very obscure way that people still don't understand, in the form of this particular philosopher named Diogenes, and these strange, bizarre, Cynical or kynical operations.

And then what happens is, I would argue, this gets sublimated into Christianity. In some sense, Jesus Christ was a successor of Diogenes. The common concept to them both is this concept of — you can find a talk recently on this concept of parrhesia; if you're interested in what that means and want to know a little bit more about that, search for that podcast I did,

it's available online — this concept of parrhesia. It's essentially radical free speech, but specifically a kind of radical free speech that gets you in trouble. By getting you in trouble, it shows that you're being serious. It forces people to trust you. And it is, in fact, a credible signal.

What's really interesting about this is — to bring it full circle to another thing we've talked about — when I first introduced the information theory stuff, you might've wondered, where is this going? How is this all going to add up? Well, guess what?  Radical free speech, as Foucault describes it in his final series of lectures — The Courage of Truth is the title of the book — parrhesia is a costly signal. The reason why Diogenes' operations worked, the reason they actually did have impacts on society, the reason they actually did change the way people think, and the reason why Diogenes was arguably the second most powerful person in ancient Greece — second only to Alexander the Great — there is a hard, empirical, political and economic logic to why Diogenes' operations had reliable and predictable political effects. That hard scientific logic for why it works is only discovered a very long time after in the discovery of the nature of information, because that is all about signaling, right?

Game theory, for instance, gives us the vocabulary of "signaling games," and understanding how signaling works, like when a message actually gets communicated to other people and when it doesn't. The conditions under which a message will successfully be understood by another population and when it will actually have an effect on that receiving population. That's all formalized in game theory. Game theory is downstream of information theory. It's downstream of those momentous discoveries that were achieved during the war effort. So it's only in the past couple of decades that we have developed a formal, scientific, empirical logic for how communication really works, and the conditions under which it does work and does not work.

We only had the fortune of that kind of scientific formalization in the past few decades, but we knew it intuitively. And then much later, Spinoza started to formalize it a little bit, with a little bit more sophistication, then Deleuze essentially tries to develop a whole metaphysics around it.

It's only after that that we start to see the actual empirical implications, and the empirical implications are essentially the rise of digital society. And so, what I'm arguing here is that, when you connect all of these dots, you really do start to see a radical politics emerge, a kind of coherent formulation of political praxis that is concrete, that's not this flowery, difficult, confusing thing that no one can really make heads or tails of.

It's not like a Marxist system where it's this really dense, convoluted three-volume book you have to understand, and then maybe you can figure out how to create class consciousness through a dictatorship of the proletariat and all these insane, ridiculous, difficult mental and practical obfuscations. that always end up requiring some kind of authoritarian structure to impose. It's none of that. It's a relatively, I think, coherent, concrete and specific political logic for how to produce collective liberation as individuals and also as groups. If you connect all the dots between Deleuze, Spinoza, Diogenes in ancient Greece, and information theory, essentially, then you get a compelling and coherent praxis. For how to conduct genuine, liberating, radical politics without relapsing into any of the horror shows of the 20th century, that essentially followed the Marxists line. All I've done so far is I've painted these puzzle pieces. I haven't really given you the philosophy as such yet, but now I think we're in a position to do that.

Let us circle back briefly to some of the seeds that I planted in the first part of the lecture. Specifically, if you recall, when I was going through Deleuze's distinctions between control societies and disciplinary societies. I said that here would be a particularly promising place to look because here Deleuze is saying that what is characteristic of control societies is that they have a vulnerability when it comes to jamming, piracy, and viruses.

So what does he mean by jamming, piracy, and viruses? Well, I would argue that we can condense these three ideas into essentially a concept that was put forward in the first case by Diogenes. Diogenes was known for this concept of "defacing the currency." That is how his operations and his performances were described. I think that's about as close as we can get to a specific, concise, theoretical condensation of the entire political logic or practice I'm sketching for you today. It's all about defacing the currency. So if you want to change the world, if you want to change society, if you want to increase the amount of political liberation, in other words, if you want to foment political revolution and overturn all that is false and rotten in society, the the way to do that... There is a specific and tried and true way to do that, and it is called defacing the currency. Diogenes provides the initial body of work that gives us examples for what this looks like and how it actually functions. Foucault's book, The Courage of Truth, spells it out in a little more detail.

He talks about how the ancient Cynics, who do these crazed philosophical performances, what they're doing is they're testifying to the existence of an other life, another kind of life, but specifically by essentially speaking truth in a way that is excessive, in a way that is punished.

You create a signal that cannot be denied. And I mean this in a formal way. I mean this in a technical —  within  the mathematical theory of —  by speaking the truth in a performative way that gets you into trouble, that signal gets through to the population. It can't be denied. It can't be ignored. It can't be unheard or dismissed. That's signaling theory. It's a costly signal. If you are speaking the truth in a way that gets you in trouble. That is essentially all Diogenes meant by defacing the currency. Now, why did he call it defacing?

When you speak the truth in public, in a way that gets you in trouble, what you're doing is you're changing how people value things, because if I say some kind of provocative truth and I get in trouble, but I'm still living, I'm still happy, and by all measures, I'm even more happy, I'm even more content,

I'm living a better life afterwards... That is a performative operation that proves that my values are better than the values of the reigning bourgeois hypocrisy. It's essentially the transvaluation of values, to use a Nietzschean phrasing. Defacing the currency means to literally change how other people value things, in a way that they can't ignore.

This is not a rational debate, right? You don't have to make anyone agree with you. By speaking the truth in a way that gets you into trouble, you're not appealing to rationality. You're not asking people to debate you. You're not trying to convince them or persuade them. You are changing the nature of reality essentially by sending a signal that is, in fact, credible and it is credible because it is costly to the speaker. Okay. That is the basic logic.

I believe that that is essentially what Deleuze has in mind when he's talking here in the Postscript about jamming, piracy, and viruses. As he says, these are the major vulnerabilities of contemporary digital control structures that define modern information societies.

And what that means, though, the way that I would have you interpret that... Jamming, piracy, and viruses: Don't think about the kind of technical, computerized versions of those things, which they're most likely to trigger in your mind. But think about it as cultural activity. Cultural activities that jam the already existing codes, cultural activities that hijack the meaning of particular codes.

Piracy, stealing the meaning of contemporary codes, or creating contagions... Putting out into the public behaviors that are seductive and attractive, that other people want to emulate and will emulate. These types of jamming, piracy, or viruses that control structures today in modern information societies are vulnerable to.

The main way to summarize it, you can go into more detail if you want, and maybe I'll do other lectures on this in more detail, but the basic logic of defacing the currency is that you speak and perform truths that the current unjust order of lies and oppression is not willing to confront.

You find the foundational hypocrisy at the core of all kinds of bourgeois, modern, public, rational social interchange. You find hypocrisy or falsehoods that are so foundational that when you speak them, and when you perform them — not just speak them rationally, but actually embody them in a way that causes you punishment, that makes people hate you or makes people dislike you or whatever the case might be; it just has to be some form of public visible, measurable suffering or pain or punishment or costs that you experience as the speaker or performer — whenever you do that, you create a signal that cannot be ignored.

It cannot be unheard, and it actually changes the values that dominate in society. That's what the concept of defacing the currency means. You're taking the currency, what people currently think is valuable, and you're shitting on it. You're changing its value.

You're decreasing the value of that which is currently valued, because you believe it's false and wrong and you are increasing the valuation of this other kind of life: an other life. And in doing so, you are immanently creating the possibility for this other kind of life. Other people will see it, they will increase their valuation of it. They will find it interesting or attractive, and they will start to do it themselves. Not because you're a fashion setter, but because you're actually doing something that's more true. It's actually liberating. It's actually better.

And to get that on the agenda, to have that political effect, it is a defining requirement that you have to take your licks, you have to take on some punishment. And this is why the theory of information is so important, because that is what shows on a formal level why this is the case.

On a formal level, a signal is not compelling or credible, people don't have a reason to believe it, unless the speaker incurs some kind of cost, and that's what makes the signal stick out through the noise. That is theoretically, mathematically and empirically demonstrable.

Of course, we only got that much later, but all of these geniuses from Diogenes to Spinoza to Deleuze, they're all zeroing in on that basic phenomenon or process, but they're doing it an intuitive way, in a philosophical way, in a metaphysical way. The nature of the information revolution and the discoveries that were made in the middle of the 20th century, both theoretically and practically... What's happened, and this is essentially why now we talk about accelerationism... This is essentially how we enter into the accelerationist moment philosophically and politically, is because the formalization of information theory and the discoveries theoretical, but also innovations, technical that it gave rise to have sort of.

Solidified beyond any objection or doubt. The intuitions that people like Diogenes and Spinoza and Deleuze were building over time, and now it's just beyond undeniable. These are real processes that are underway and that are now more and more explicit. To give you the best possible example to make all of this super concrete, if you're still wondering where the hell I'm going with all of this and this kind of crazy diffuse connecting of dots between Foucault and Deleuze and Spinoza and the mathematical theory of communication, Claude Shannon, it really becomes crystal clear when you look at "Cancel Culture" today.

It's sort of the perfect, exemplary illustration of everything that I'm talking about. Because what you're seeing today with people like me in my own career, but also many other people, is that in the current order, there are many hypocrisies that are so foundational, you're really not allowed to talk about them. And if you talk about them, you get in trouble. But what we're now learning is that if you talk about these foundational hypocrisies in public, and you get in trouble, well guess what? The predictions of Diogenes are now more clearly demonstrable than ever, because what happens is when you get in trouble or when you get canceled, it validates the trustworthiness of your message, essentially.

It doesn't mean everyone's going to like it. That's going to be kind of fragmented and conditional on a variety of different psychological and attitudinal and sociological variables that condition that, but... When you get in trouble for calling out certain things that you're not allowed to call out, what is now very obvious is that you gain followers, you get attention. People look at you and they think, I can at least trust this person. They might be wrong, but I can at least trust them because they're willing to get in trouble for what they think. And that gives them a kind of power that organizes bodies and minds around the person who was canceled.

And then, essentially, you're able to build a new world around that. You're essentially able to fork reality as such, you're forking the social code base and around you will emerge this new opportunity. And that's the trans valuation of values. That's essentially political praxis, that is the construction of community, and all of those things become possibilities in the wake of a parrhesiastic performance of any kind that gets sufficient gravity. That is what I think Deleuze meant by jamming, piracy, and viruses.

That is what I think Diogenes meant by defacing the currency. It is essentially the concept of radical free speech that causes the speaker some sort of punishment. That produces real political power with concrete, demonstrable, and inescapable political implications, meaning the actual distributions of power change in those moments.

It's even provable in some sense if you take what I'm saying as consistent with the kind of mathematical theories of information and signaling. So that is what a Deleuzian radical praxis looks like in the information age.

A radical politics fit for control societies rather than Foucauldian disciplinary societies is essentially one of performative operations, of speaking truth radically. In a way that is excessive, in a way that scrambles the codes of institutional societies.  I could give you a whole other hour worth of lecturing about how this works in practice. For instance, in my own personal case, like how I was a professional academic for five years and I was deeply enmeshed and successfully so in the institutions of the control society.

I could seriously write a whole book just about how this works in detail. And so I think I've pretty much summarized my vision of the Deleuzian praxis. A revolutionary political praxis that follows on what I think is the most sophisticated and empirically correct diagnosis of where we are as a society, sociologically.

This kind of Deleuzian praxis, as I'm sketching it out from Diogenes to Deleuze, is pretty much the only way to reliably foment collective liberation in a way that doesn't reterritorialize — to use a Deleuzian term — on all of the authoritarian horrors of the 20th century, as we've seen in top-down Marxist attempts to take over the state.

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Works Cited

Deleuze, Gilles. "Postscript on the Societies of Control." October 59 (1992): 3–7.

Foucault, Michel. The Courage of Truth (The Government of Self and Others II). Edited by Frédéric Gross. Translated by Graham Burchell. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Murphy, Justin. "Parrhesia and the Future of Honesty (Talk given at the Invisible College, London)." Other Life (blog), October 11, 2019. https://plnk.to/otherlife/e/1000453126804

Navia, Luis. Diogenes the Cynic: The War Against the World. Amherst, NY: Humanity Books, 2005.

Shannon, Claude E. "A Mathematical Theory of Communication." The Bell System Technical Journal 27, no. 3 (October 1948). https://doi.org/10.1002/j.1538-7305.1948.tb01338.x

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I Have a Dream (How Academia Got Pwned 6)

This is the sixth post in a series about the glorious completion of my academic career, the internet, and the future of intellectual life. At some point, I will very likely edit and compose this story into a nice little book. To hear about that, make sure you've subscribed.

My hearing for “gross misconduct” was supposed to take place today. Unfortunately, it had to be postponed because my union rep couldn’t make it for some undisclosed reason! Now that I have some breathing room, and because frankly I’d like a break from writing about the details of the case, this post will start to explain what exactly I plan on doing next.

First, though, just a few extra details for those who enjoy academic intrigue. Skip this paragraph if you can’t be bothered. For those who can, welcome to Wolf Hall. So now they need to reschedule the hearing. Unless they’re able to organize it sooner than seven days from now, this would mean I’m guaranteed at least one more paycheck! If I were to resign, I have to give three months notice, which means three more months of pay (they could reject my resignation and dismiss me, theoretically, although this would be unheard of). If I go down for a normal dismissal, I’d also get three more months of pay, because they’d have to give notice, too. But if I go down for summary dismissal, my pay would cease immediately, my visa expiration clock would start ticking then, and we’d have to flee ASAP. With even a chance of that, I’m sure as hell not waiting around to be left with my dick in my hands! Which is why our move is already underway and I can say it all on the internet. If somehow I’m not dismissed, I would admittedly have to give the university tremendous credit for their free speech bona fides; I’d be so surprised that I might have to seriously consider staying in academia! In which case we could just rent a new place. Either way I have received one or two kind offers for a place to stay in London if necessary. Quite romantic really, I feel like Emma Goldman or Lenin on the run, getting kicked out of countries and shuffling between hiding places. This university really knows how to flatter my ego. My wife and I have already discussed with our landlord that we’ll be moving out on February 12 regardless, we’re selling all our large belongings, and giving away our books to internet friends (that includes you, by the way).

All right, so at this point in the story, some readers might reasonably be wondering why I seem so happy and triumphant, given that I appear to be losing my career in a high-visibility fall from grace. Isn’t this one of the worst things that can happen today? Well, I’ve been watching very closely all the high-profile “falls from grace” we’ve seen in the past few years, and I’m not at all convinced it’s such a bad thing. Or rather, it is such a severe and obvious threat that you’d be crazy not to prepare for it. But you can’t just be resilient to your enemies, as Papa Taleb teaches, you must be antifragile. Don’t just survive attacks, game them so the attacks make you better off. And if you’re someone like me on a genuine warpath, you have no choice: the threat alone renders the institutional game virtually unlivable, which means it forces us to divert effort toward theorizing exit strategies. (In the Murphyverse, warpath is shorthand for the overthrowing of institutions via truth-seeking. Nobody believes this but I am still genuinely working in the mold of the left-wing revolutionary intellectual, and I have never not been, but that’s another post for another day.)

I realized this at least three years ago. Without really trying, I started then spending a lot of time strategizing, though not about how I would survive financially (most academics don’t really have to worry about ever being super poor, they’re mostly afraid of losing luxuries and status). All I would think about is: How can I keep doing serious, focused, high-level, high-impact intellectual work for the rest of my life, if not in academia? There are teenagers on Youtube who make more money than I do; some people earn a living off their podcast; many random people make serious money self-publishing novels on Amazon. Surely if I can get a PhD and hold down a full-time professional gig, I can figure out some way to think, say, research, write, and produce what I believe in, on the internet — and make it pay rent, somehow.

The problem is, nobody has quite nailed how to do this, for the case of independent, high-brow, and radical intellectual work. Plenty of “non-fiction authors” do the multi-level-marketing self-help guru model (some variation on “I will teach you how to make money on the internet by teaching other people how to make money on the internet”), but needless to say I refuse to do that (if I ever even approach it, please pillory me). There are arguably a few people trying, and impressively, but struggling (and they often don’t have families). I don’t want to struggle, and I want to have kids. I want to innovate a new game-changing model of the intellectual life. Something that’s superior to academia in every way, something that could succeed so smashingly it would lower the perceived risk to other genuine intellectuals suffering in academia, enabling a cascade of defections. This was what I started dreaming about. The more I thought about it, the more ideas I came up with, until I had so many — and was sufficiently convinced of their plausibility — that I eventually found myself eager for my downfall. As my exit schemes piled up and refined themselves, I was honestly having a hard time getting out of bed to do all the academic busywork. Sometimes your body really can make decisions for you (I give thanks to the neurobiologist Antonio Damasio, whose Looking for Spinoza really confirmed my intuitions at this time).

This is basically why I’m happy, and I already consider myself triumphant — although I’ve hardly just begun. The beauty of my plan is not only that it doesn’t need academia, and it’s not only that academia can’t take it from me, it’s that the more they try, the more likely it is to succeed. Having said that, it would also be a mistake if my plan required academia to attack me. Then I would be equally dependent, and even more sadly, because I would have to run around like a victim to succeed. Before now, in fact, this was quickly becoming the default mold, “indignant professor protesting censorship,” etc. But c’mon, pull yourself together. My plan benefits from silly normies freaking out, but should succeed even if all the silly normies have no idea what’s going on. That is the problem with silly normies, after all: you never know when they’re going to find you a grave threat that must be stopped immediately, and when they’re going to find you an incomprehensible and insignificant, loser “blogger.” So our plan has to work on all of these days. 1275 words in, now it’s 12:30am and after all this background, I need some sleep. I’ll briefly sketch the dream in generalities, and in a later post will I back it up and “flesh it out” as they say (I've always found that phrase disgusting).

I’m going to omit a lot for now, just to focus on what I think should be the centerpiece for most serious long-term intellectual lives: the book. I want to write many, big, badass books. I want them to be read in a hundred years, even a thousand if the species is still around. I don’t believe the idea that Youtube or blogs or whatever will replace or remove the book from its privileged position as the primary medium for mature intellectual production and transmission. For my goals, to become a full-time Youtuber, or only a blogger, or only a podcaster, would probably be a mistake. Rather, the key insight behind my model — which I’m already running on, really, though it’s not fully conscious yet — is that these newer media are game-changing multipliers for idea generation/drafting as well as transmission/distribution, but they are unlikely to be the primary goal or focus for the autonomous intellectual of the twenty-first century.

I will explain this more exactly in an upcoming post, but, in short, I believe there exists an optimal way to plug these machines into each other, such that efficiency gains and a few positive externalities, may be enough to make a previously unprofitable endeavor (writing high-brow intellectual books without institutional endorsements) financially sustainable, the catch is that it will have to be one moving part in a whole new kind of intellectual enterprise. The ultimate social contribution or value of that enterprise is to create and sustain what, in the Murphyverse, we call a reality fork. If social reality is splitting, you’re either going to create and lead a fork or join a fork. Currently one can lead a fork, and be rank-and-file in another fork, though competition may increasingly make this an unaffordable luxury. But this will take much more space to explain. I’ve said enough for now.

The Highest Ranking Non-Player Characters (How Academia Got Pwned 4)

This is the fourth post in a series about the glorious completion of my academic career, the internet, and the future of intellectual life. I'm curious: Would you like to read the whole story, edited, in a beautiful paperback? I may have an announcement soon, so be sure to subscribe. Custom meme by @w_guppy.

When two individuals represent radically different forms of life, a minor detail in one interaction can reveal the otherwise invisible, tectonic plates beneath the order of the world. In the meeting where my Dean handed me the suspension letter, there was a point in the conversation where she referred to me as a philosopher or something like that… She was trying to be nice and generous; she is a social scientist, and she was trying to say how she is not judging the content of my writing or speaking or ideas, as she understands what I’m doing is different… She contrasted me to herself, a social scientist. This was quite a slip, because I am a social scientist. Obviously she has tons of academics under her remit, and I would never expect her to know all of their scholarly identities. But if you’re suspending someone, I would imagine you might, I don’t know, do a quick review of their publication history? My most recent and prestigious publications are clearly empirical, quantitative, social science articles.

Academia fancies itself as a more humane alternative to the corporate machine, but when the surface cracks ever so slightly, and you catch a glimpse behind the curtain, you realize the humanistic gloss is actually a higher level of brutality. It’s not more human than the business world, it’s the business world plus an extra layer of deception, an extra layer of exploitation where the performance of friendly disinterested intellectualism is only the most effective way to use other humans as objects. Successful academic administrators know how to extract desired behavior from others with far more ruthless efficiency than any CEO, or even the algorithms of Facebook. She was being so nice, how could I possibly speak poorly of her, let alone to the public? I struggle with pangs of guilt as I write this, but that’s how they get you. That’s how an oppressive social order — always an order of lies — reproduces itself, despite everyone knowing and loathing the lies. Institutions are just dead inhuman matter, people will gladly disobey and overthrow institutions. But institutions pay some humans really well to cue the biases and heuristics of other humans, to induce desired behaviors through emotional blackmail.

An administrator is a human who rents out their body to an algorithm (the institution, essentially Capital) because only human bodies can trigger evolved social cues. An administrator rents out their eyeballs, for instance, because eye contact generates oxytocin in the target — sorry, I mean “colleague” — and such biochemicals make it really hard for that employee to do things like tell simple truths on their blog. Thus, a careful but unwavering analytical coldness is an absolute requirement for anyone interested in understanding how social institutions function; how dominant lies and brutalities are so resilient to critique and protest; and ultimately, to generate real dynamics of collective liberation. High-level functionaries of mainstream institutions are evil robots evolved precisely to exploit our emotions for the survival of their host. Any real intellectual must treat them as such, openly and publicly.

This is why any serious protest against unjust institutions, weirdly enough, requires one to embody a certain dose of — or really just the appearance of what they will call — evil. If these blog posts seem somewhat cruel or petty or unhinged, that’s because the highly evolved existence of evil institutions is such that any concretely effective act of simply describing the problem appears as deranged aggression. Not because I’m deranged or aggressive, but because evil is refinement.

This is also why, now, reality is forking. To many people, my missives simply could not read as anything other than the lashing out of a lunatic, and perhaps they are not wrong. To me, however, and many of the people actually reading these missives — we cannot see mainstream institutions as anything other than a conspiracy of liars and bores. For most of history, our viewpoint was never able to constitute itself as a social reality, because the liars and bores always had disproportionate access to broadcast media. It is only right now that we are crossing the historical threshold where the declining effectiveness of broadcast media is intersecting with sufficiently widespread communities of peer-to-peer social reality production, that now the mainstream worldview of institutional functionaries is the crackpot conspiracy theory unable to constitute itself. In reading these missives, in hearing these words as someone just telling their truths, you branch with me into a hard fork of reality itself. If you write or make something with similar assumptions, and I read or watch it, we rush even further ahead of those still operating on the deprecated codebase. This is already happening in a million different directions across the internet, of course, I am only trying to theorize how this production of social reality works, demonstrate empirically that it does indeed work, and stimulate more and more people to do it however they might please.

Though my observations occasionally zoom in on particular individuals, I should clarify that this is not a personal attack on anyone. The administrators of large bureaucratic institutions are not evil, they’re merely possessed by evil. They typically have no agency whatsoever, having sold it off so long ago. They are only the highest ranking non-player characters. People reach high administrative positions because they — more fully than any of their peers — are the most perfectly empty, passive vessels for whatever the institution needs at any moment. In the academic context, most high-level administrators did, at some point, knowingly make a Faustian bargain, where they traded the truth-seeking vocation of the true intellectual for a bigger paycheck (the terms are nearly explicit in academia). That is a true sin, for which there will be a reckoning, but that is none of my business. Don’t judge these poor souls, pray for them.

Mushrooms, Modafinil, and Mass Shooters (How Academia Got Pwned 2)

This is the second post in a series about the glorious completion of my academic career, the internet, and the future of intellectual life. Tell me: Would you like to read the whole story, edited, in a beautiful paperback? I may have an announcement soon, so be sure to subscribe.

After two wildly incorrect Daily Mail features, it’s high time I set the story straight. This will take a while, but I can start with a basic clarification of some common questions I’ve received. What did I actually get in trouble for, exactly? The abortion comments, tripping on Instagram, using the word “retard,” shoplifting from self-checkout kiosks, or what?

My disciplinary troubles first started back in May of 2018, when a public complaint was lodged about one of my personal blog posts. I was asked whether I had ethics approval for my blog post, which is strange because there has never been even an implicit expectation that personal blog posts exploring public data need ethics approval. When you consider the post that attracted the complaint, it’s no longer very puzzling. In The Alt Right is not All Right, I sought to estimate the ideological distribution of an internet subculture associated with the so-called Alt Right. This matter was placed under investigation for several months. They asked me to take the post down in the meantime, I said no, and I was waiting on a verdict for several months.

Then on September 6, 2018, I received a letter from my Dean inviting me to an investigation meeting. The letter was at such pains to stress that the investigation was not disciplinary that it was clear we were now embarking on a major disciplinary imbroglio. Academia is filled with this kind of USSR-level doublespeak. Due to some new information that was brought to her attention, the investigation would now include several new issues:

You have published your use of the drugs LSD (Class A), Adderall, MDMA (Class A), psilocybin (Class A), Modafinil and Cannabis for academic purposes, on Twitter

You posted a video to Instagram on 10 February 2017, whilst on sabbatical, “tripping on psilocybin” (“magic” mushroom)

You have stated that your chatrooms are a safe place for, amongst others, “pedophiles and mass shooters”

That last one you haven’t heard until now. But let’s go in order…

The first matter was referring to an answer I gave on the public Q&A site Curiouscat.me. I was asked by an anonymous person what drugs I’ve used for intellectual productivity purposes (not “academic purposes,” as the investigation stated, which makes it sound like I was doing drugs in my office hours). I told them the truth. As I told my investigator more than once over the next few investigation meetings: if someone asks me a question, I am duty-bound to tell the truth, as an academic and a public intellectual. Would they have me lie? They did not answer that. I don’t see what’s wrong with telling someone all the drugs I’ve done, and my judgment on their advantages and disadvantages. Academics do their students and the public much greater harm by pretending they’ve never done drugs, and withholding their valuable judgments on the matter. In the investigation, I affirmed that I was indeed the author of this post and that I did not regret it.

The second matter is pretty self-explanatory. When I was on sabbatical, I tripped on psilocybin with my wife and I posted a few videos to Instagram (1, 2). They are sweet, funny videos. Like all good memories, they feel more beautiful to me every time I revisit them. We had a wonderful, wholesome time, and I do not in the least regret sharing these videos. What kind of unthinking, unfeeling loser could have any problem with these videos? I know that sounds like I’m being cruel toward people who are just doing their jobs, except that their job description also says they’re independent thinkers (and they’d gladly make me homeless if they needed to, so let’s not kid ourselves). This is the turning point we’re at right now: They can continue to play these idiotic institutional games for paychecks if they please, but I can play the game of simply and honestly revealing them to be the pathetic, cowardly mercenaries they are, and more people will read this and believe it than will hear or care about any edict they could possibly produce (because nobody listens to institutional edicts anymore, for exactly this reason). Sure, they can “unperson” me across one whole economic sector, but they suffer more from this than I do, because I can account for myself plainly and honestly to anyone anywhere while they can only do so by hiding in a thick morass of institutional excuses.

I don’t want to rub it in, but perhaps it’s only possible for people to give their lives to enforcing senseless rules because they aren’t mocked enough. I’m sorry but only a zombie on a mighty fine salary could possibly object to a good man producing lovely, wholesome videos with his partner in holy matrimony! Slowly drink yourself to death, have affairs, abandon your kids, kick dogs — academics are allowed to do all of these things. But explore mildly different states of mind and share it with the public? Not so fast! I haven’t even mentioned the tiny detail that we were in Amsterdam, where psilocybin is effectively decriminalized. Psychedelics are an excellent tool for making the most of an academic sabbatical, and there’s simply nothing harmful or irresponsible about making or sharing these videos.

The third matter is also self-explanatory, except that “chatroom” is apparently the word that Boomer bureaucrats use to describe Youtube livestreams. My Youtube livestream is much, much more than a chatroom, thank you very much — it’s a form of life, a hard fork of reality, a new Heaven and a new Earth, the portal to an entirely new model of the vita contemplativa, but I can’t expect these people to understand any of this. It’s not the fault of these eminent social scientists that they don’t know the difference between Youtube and AOL. You must be kind to them, you see, social science is very time consuming; how can these esteemed social scientists be expected to have even passing familiarity with the basic interfaces of social life today? Who can blame them? They are far too busy enforcing Ordinance 3.5 on me. It’s a thankless task, defending this profession of brave intellectual exploration…

This is a weird one because it’s a statement of fact. My livestream is a safe space for pedophiles and mass shooters, if only because I have no way of knowing who on Youtube is a pedophile or a mass shooter. They’re safe from me knowing anything about them, and therefore safe from me doing anything about them. This was strange to find in my dossier, though, especially because this was just one jokey line deep into one random livestream. Anyway, the university always encourages us to create learning environments that are safe for every kind of person, including people from marginalized groups. Also, the university always encourages us to seek public impact. They run huge, multi-million-pound programs dedicated to producing public “impact.” Pedophiles and mass shooters are widely despised, and targets of extreme social prejudice. If my Youtube channel became a place for pedophiles and mass shooters to learn and rehabilitate, that’d be a major public impact in the name of social progress. I see nothing at all wrong with allowing — even welcoming — such people into open internet spaces, especially if they cannot be excluded anyway. I believe that what I think and what I say is good, therefore I believe pedophiles and mass shooters will benefit from exposure to me. Perhaps I can decrease the probability they will continue their evil misdeeds. I should note that pedophiles are not necessarily pederasts, so — now that I think about it — if the university censures me for welcoming pedophiles into my public livestream then they are implicitly asking me to engage in discrimination by sexual orientation. Remind me to email my lawyer about this one!

“But wait,” you’re wondering, “didn’t the Daily Mail say you got in trouble for that abortion/necrophilia tweet? Or was it calling someone a retard?” In due time, dear reader.

Segmentation and personalization for philosophers and scientists

The techniques used by today's marketing professionals, such as "customer segmentation" and "web-page personalization," would appear to be emblems of instrumental, exploitative communication. Today, we are so saturated with instrumental communication that Orwell's 1984 sounds benign in retrospect ("doublethink" feels quaint compared to the "multithink" we have now). At the point where nearly the entire public sphere is occupied by instrumentally deceptive signals, I am beginning to wonder if the tools of high-tech mass deception might not be amenable to a philosophical refactoring. If I'm wrong, the risk seems quite low, given that one can hardly make the status quo much worse in this regard. So the question is this: If certain techniques can systematically deceive so many sub-populations in purposeful ways, is there any good reason why these techniques cannot be used to undeceive sub-populations? Can we not run the machine in reverse? If the goal of philosophers and scientists is to discover and transmit the truth, but people respond differently to the same statements, it is rather odd that none of our great authors have yet thought to write multiple versions of one book to optimize its transmission among multiple audience segments. My proposal cuts across the grain of many humanistic intuitions about the nature of intellectual communication and authorship, but perhaps this explains why today the truth appears to be lightyears behind the false.

Segmentation and personalization

Customer segmentation refers to grouping potential customers according to the key dimensions that condition their decision-making and buying behavior. Key customer segments are usually based on variables related to demography, interests, geography, class, and personality traits including IQ. After segments have been identified, different communication strategies are deployed for different segments, to maximize the the probability of purchases from each segment. The segmentation and subsequent conditioning of communication on customer differences increases sales better than one blanket set of communications. Customer segmentation is arguably an ancient practice (all of the history here is just from Wikipedia, but it's pretty good); some marketing historians find Bronze Age traders engaging in geographic segmentation. The first use of customer segmentation based on systematically collected data appears to have been in the first decade of the twentieth century. The technique gets developed with greater sophistication from there, until the 1980s usher in what marketing historians call "hyper-segmentation." For the whole history of customer segmentation, it was always conducted at the level of groups. It is only then that technology presents the remarkable prospect of segmenting an audience at the individual level: marketing one thing to one individual, while marketing differently to a different individual, and so on. Today, in the digital context, hyper-segmentation can be done across millions of customers quickly and programmatically. Today, digital marketers even segment within individuals, by sending different messages at different times of day, or different parts of the year, etc. For the largest and most digitally sophisticated corporations, we must assume that AI systems are already deployed to not only identify any number of optimal hyper-segments, but also to update dynamically (with some lag) based on customers' changing attitudes and behaviors. Try to escape the model and the model will learn from your escape decisions.

Web-page personalization is one particular technique for the application of segment-conditioned communications. Personalization refers simply to the practice of delivering different web pages to visitors from different segments. This process leverages the data collected about users in their web browsers, to deliver website experiences that maximize whatever the website owner wants to maximize (typically sales, but not necessarily).

The ethics of communication

Such techniques are generally and correctly seen as sinister because they tend to be harmful deceptions: an agent promotes two different pictures of the world, for selfish and ulterior motives, using opaque methods. Through this contradictory presentation of the world, individuals are misled into two different and somewhat mutually exclusive maps of the world around them. The goal generally is to increase the income of the manipulative agent. Rigorous philosophical or scientific commitments, on the other hand, are devoted to seeking, and telling, the truth.

However, Western culture in 2018 is a crash space. Different subcultures now use the same words in radically different ways that appear, so far, irreversible and irreconcilable. Because our basic cognitive capacities — such as moral intuitions — evolved in low-tech contexts where the background environment was relatively constant, they're now overheated by a background environment in which unfathomable quantities of information churn at an accelerating rate. We cannot not live according to our evolved intuitions, but they are constantly being cued in contradictory and nonsensical ways. Our cognitive and behavioral circuits are hi-jacked by a super-intelligent system— namely the price system of a globally integrated marketplace — and there is no way not to think and do whatever one is cued to do by agents with more data and more intelligence than you. Doing otherwise would make no sense, for some supplier will always know what we truly want, even better than we do. Techniques such as segmentation and personalization are only unfoldings of this collective superintelligence. This is perhaps why marketing historian Wendell Smith called segmentation — in an ominous flight of abstraction rare for marketing historians — a "natural force" that would "not be denied."

But what if there were agents with good data and machine intelligence who sought not to maximize sales, but the effective transmission of true messages? They would accept the empirical reality of segmented human cognition and behavior. But then they would reverse-engineer the principles of historical, mass instrumental deception to produce a cypher capable of translating any one true statement into multiple different versions, each of which will be interpreted as true according to the subculturally segmented linguistic conventions.

I don't think I've ever heard any serious philosopher or scientist propose this idea, but I don't see why it couldn't work, and I don't see why it might be objectionable from an intellectual or ethical perspective. If my proposal sounds unsavory — "Serious intellectuals cannot employ the tools of vulgar digital marketers!" — perhaps this may explain why marketing professionals have such extraordinary influence over the intellectual and affective content of so many lives, while professional intellectuals appear to have less and less of it every passing year.

To drive home my quite abstract idea, I should give a concrete example. Perhaps you will guess, correctly, that I am interested in this prospect for personal reasons, having some experience with being misunderstood on the Internet. Fortunately, I have ample material for some thought experiments.

One of my motivations for going on YouTube is that I wanted to escape the confines of provincial paranoid leftism. But another motivation is that I would quite like to counteract the nastier dimensions of reactionary politics one finds on Youtube, for instance, white nationalism. So let's say I wanted to write a blog post explaining this rationale, why I think this is valuable and necessary work. As far as I know, this is truly a key part of my rationale, and I would like for as many people as possible to understand this, on the left and right. Perhaps because I personally believe it'd be good if others chose to do the same. In this sense, I am seeking to effectuate behaviors just like a marketer seeks to effectuate behaviors, but the crucial distinction is that my motivations are one with the explicit content of my message. My statement and the behavior I seek to effect are essentially the same thing, whereas commercial marketing is based on generating symbols that say one thing, for the purpose of doing something very different (make money), which is nowhere stated or implied in the outputted symbols. It's widely and correctly understood that people write messages in public because they want that message to be understood by others, to increase the probability of consequences that are themselves implied by the content of that message. The other distinction is that I only have one signal I want to be received by multiple people. You could say that marketers only have one true signal (the purchase), but the problem is that their different messages leave individuals with pictures or experiences that push them into different worlds. A philosopher or scientist would seek to increase the similarity and consistency of the receivers' different pictures of the world, aligned with what they believe is the true one.

Now, I could write a blog post entitled "I Am Going on YouTube to Escape Leftist Political Correctness and Mitigate the Fascist Right—And You Should, Too!" The problem is that this is a message for nobody. It is likely to go nowhere because the part that's critical toward the Right is defined by right-wingers as SJWism, and the part that's critical toward the Left is defined by the leftist individuals as racist dog-whistling. It's a true and pretty straightforward statement of my overarching rationale, and its chances of reproduction in the memetic ecology — in short, it's chances of living beyond day zero, or what it means for a message to even be communicated — is effectively nil. I wouldn't even click that, and I totally agree with it. It's so affectively empty that I could not muster the energy to even pretend that I "like" or "support" or "agree with" such a stupid, lame, obvious writer!

Now, imagine that you are in a physical room filled with leftists. Wouldn't it be perfectly normal, reasonable, and appropriate to use a different set of words to describe this mission, than if one was in a physical room filled with right-wingers? Of course it would. This conditionality of language is actually the essence of genuine communication; it is, must be, and should be as context-contingent as possible, in order to be true. If you think about whatever cases of speech that, in your opinion, are the greatest examples of truth revelation, I think you'll find they possess a kind of unique and mysterious element, a je ne sais quoi. And the reason you can't quite pin down the general feature that defines them is that they so effectively nailed the multidimensional context problem, that they were perhaps the best possible words you can personally imagine for communicating that message in that singular, contingent moment. Because the moment is singular and it's the nailing of that context that impresses you so forcefully, we experience its uniquely effective truthiness as an ineffable, non-generalizable feature. All of this is simply to point out that the truth value of any statement is actually a function of how well one communicates a particular signal in the form of contingently and instrumentally-selected, context-conditional symbols. Here the instrumental optimization is with respect to the objective of signal fidelity and noise minimization. That's a strategic, instrumental sub-goal to the final goal of being radically truthful and honest (a non-instrumental or substantive value or goal.)

If I say the same exact thing to these two different rooms of people, when the meaning of my words is fundamentally different to those two groups; that's not some kind of radical authenticity or commitment to the one whole truth. It's idiocy in the technical sense, devotion to a private language. In the words of Wittgenstein, forget about it. It's the apotheosis of delusional narcissism. And one of the reasons why so many people are feeling so insane right now is that smart people with a fairly balanced and independent view of the world are precisely those who are becoming less and less able to express themselves; these are the people who feel more than others that suddenly everything is escaping the grasp of human cognition.

Can customer segmentation and personalization techniques really offer a rigorous protocol for making objective truths equally sensible and transmittable to various pockets of social reality (what I have elsewhere called hard forks of reality)? Well, let's play out the example, and we can see how plausible it sounds. For the example I've been using, I could write a blog post making the one same argument, except the web page titles and the first page headers would be served differently depending on whether my free Google Tag Manager infers that the visitor is a left-winger or a right-winger (perhaps from some combination of other measured factors; maybe female millenials who recently visited the Democratic Party website get tagged as leftists, while white males in their twenties coming from Youtube get segmented as right-wing— whatever, this can be improved over time by testing the results). If a visitor is segmented as a leftist, the post might be entitled "Youtube Is a Nazi and I Am Punching It in the Face," which translates my mission into the exotic dialect that leftist opinion managers speak, allowing my breath to become living speech among leftists. If a visitor is segmented as a right-winger, the post might be entitled "Biggest Red Pill Ever (How to Trigger Every Snowflake)." I might use Google Optimize (also free), not only to trivially create my two different web page experiences, but to also give me a direct measure of the effects of the experiment. Through constant iteration, I will converge toward the two, true, optimally aligned translations.

Now mind you, in this example, the content of each blog post would be exactly the same, other than the titles. But in the future we might manipulate every single word, when we have such a sufficiently precise model and the necessary data to conduct accurate and systematic subcultural/ideological translations at such a high resolution.

A problem arises regarding whether this does not become instrumental manipulation for the ulterior motive of my own personal power. So far I've stipulated that, by the definition of the thought experiment, I'm maximizing a certain conceptualization of truth value. But in practice, especially if I am selling things on the side of my truth-maximization goal, bias seems doomed to creep in. This is an empirical problem that turns on having a defensible measure of truth value, that is not simply a proxy for "how many books I sell, because by definition my book is the truth." This is not a trivial problem, but the main reason we don't have such a measure and an easily implemented tool for it yet (Google Truth?) is simply that the non-instrumental communication of truths generally does not pay. In fact, it tends to do whatever is the opposite of pay. It's expensive to produce and it makes most people dislike you. Maximizing your own income helps you live, it wins you friends, and makes you happy (up to a point). Maximizing truth value makes it harder to live, it loses you friends, and it makes you tired with nothing real to show for it (most of the time). Is it really any wonder that we don't have fancy and free Google tools for customer de-segmentation, when segmentation is what makes money? It's almost evolutionarily impossible to imagine under contemporary capitalism. Although perhaps, as information processing power becomes so strong and so free and so available, then maybe, just maybe, like a few days before the singularity takeoff, a few hackers will find it easy enough to code up this kind of system.

One thing you could do is somehow measure each segment's picture of the world after reading the blog post, and see if they moved closer together. Maybe you could measure this with facial responses using their web cam or something, or ask them in exit surveys, or look at behavior later on. The degree to which they moved closer together would represent the translation consistency, at least. If the initial truth is actually an error, then you're screwed, and optimizing for this measure won't help matters. But this measure would be a start, for an objective criterion to maximize, separable from selfishness-biased variables such sales or click-through rates. If initial truth statements were somehow vetted, perhaps with reference to some larger objective database or something, then optimizing for the translation consistency would be a pretty good "performance indicator" for a philosopher or scientist blogger. I want to say this would represent instrumentally optimised, substantive (non-instrumental, i.e. honest) communication.

The two different blog posts may accent or emphasise different components of the one truth, but any particular communication item is always going to over- or under-emphasise partial aspects. This is simple, textbook, random error in any particular communication. In some sense, you could argue that segmenting and personalising the framing of a communication in this way, should increase the average accuracy of what one says overall, in the same way that increasing the sample size of a well-conducted survey will tend to push your sample stats closer to population values.

I suspect many humanists, philosophers, and social scientists may be discomfited by my thesis, but this is partially because most of them don't know how to use customer segmentation and personalisation techniques. It would be found simply ridiculous if the future of intellectual transmission might rely on tools that incumbent intellectuals find at once too vulgar and too difficult. For me, this indicates only one more exciting opportunity ripe for the taking by the next generation of truth-maximizing enterprises.

By the way, how did you like the title of this blog post?

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