Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Occupy Candidate

The one point on which I always disagreed with Occupy was politics.

I agreed with every other point they made, but their refusal to become a political party was, I thought, a huge mistake. It appears I was very wrong about that.

You know what's funny about the huge holes in media coverage surrounding Bernie Sanders? I've seen this exact kind of thing before from the media. There was a complete media blackout of Occupy for fully the first three to four weeks. Most people I know who are my parents' age learned about Occupy from me first, because most of my news comes from my Facebook news feed.

To me, this says that the difference between an internet native (most millennials and a sizable number of Gen X) and anyone else is that the social media infrastructure we have come to rely on is both faster and more organically chaotic than the mainstream media can comprehend or keep up with. I'm sure there's a little deliberate censorship involved, certainly from Fox, but for the most part they don't cover Bernie for the same reason they didn't cover Occupy: they really have no idea what's going on, so what can they say but nothing?

Our parents and grandparents had the civil rights movement. And while we should be glad and honored to carry the torch for everyone to be accepted for who they are, it's becoming clear that the economic rights movement is the one our generations (Gen X and millennials) will be known for. We've already seen that our revolution will be the one that nobody else sees coming. That is our greatest advantage, and the best part is that we can talk about it here on the internet in plain sight, because it's effectively invisible to a large percentage of those who might want to oppose "radical" socialist ideas like everyone being able to eat and have a place to live, health care, and education. Easily done if corporations pay their fair share of taxes and we tone down the military budget... but there is no profit in any of that.

That being said, corporate America and the wealth-hoarding sociopaths of the .1% aren't morons. The future will be either socialist utopia or cyberpunk dystopia. While that's a joke, there's a bit of truth in it. Is it our duty to drag the rest of our country from war and greed to mutual aid and support?

Well, no one else is stepping up, so I'd say the answer is yes.

So here's the thing about Occupy: what if they did exactly what they intended to do? They identified a whole host of endemic problems in America that have since been picked up by those who feel called to do so. As Jeff Daniels said in his oh-so-viral clip from The Newsroom, the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that it exists. You might say Occupy Wall Street was the summoning ritual for Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and others like them.

Occupy threw down a gauntlet. Bernie has picked it up. And I have faith that whatever happens, it all gets better from here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Lies the Spider Told Me

It's no secret that I haven't been doing much in the way of spiritual or magical work lately, at least not like I used to. Part of the reason is that I'm busier than I used to be, what with a long commute and working two jobs. But I think the bigger part is caution. The last time I did major magical work, I got myself into an uprecedented amount of trouble. For more on that, see my post On Going Mad: An Analysis.

I'm describing the experience subjectively / phenomenologically here, which is to say I'm talking about how things appeared to me at the time, without placing value judgments like "real" or "fake" on them. While I was in prison, I received (downloaded?) a great deal of information, and performed the most elaborate ritual I've ever attempted, entirely through intuition. Much of that information was completely crazy; some was unverifiable one way or the other; some was very personally useful; and some, I'm still not sure about. But that isn't the point of this post. The point of this post is the story that Anansi the spider told me while I was there.

Before I tell the story, how about a riddle Anansi also told me: What shape contains within it the straight line, the circle, and the spiral?

The answer is a spider web. This matters because a line, a circle, and a spiral are the three main models cultures use to explain time. I'm unsure of whether the idea that all of spacetime is a wibbly wobbly wonky wubbzy oscillating web came from me or him, since at the time the line between us was very very blurry to me. But I do know it felt like the following story came from outside of me. The words and some embellishment are mine, though. Those who have already read my freeform game "Jungle Tales" may recognize parts of it. (A copy of that game sits on my Anansi altar, as writing it was an offering to him for his protection and guidance during the whole episode.)

In each cycle of the universe, when the humans began to lose touch with the animal spirits (something that seems to be inevitable as civilization develops), the animal spirits come together and propose plans for survival. Whoever wins gets to be the rainbow animal in the next cycle. That's why Australia and some parts of Africa have a Rainbow Serpent this time around - the winning plan last go-round was that of the Serpent. Interesting synchronicities with the bible, don't you think?

Also, the serpent can become a line, a circle, or a spiral, much like the way a spider web contains then all. I'm not sure if this is significant, but I definitely think it's cool.

I don't know exactly what the Serpent's plan was, back then. The sense I get is that while the animal spirits may be eternal, they lose all or most of their memories when the Wheel turns. The main point of this story is Anansi's plan that saved the animal spirits this time around: stories. He invited them to hide in his stories (which, if you believe the tales about him, includes *all* stories told anywhere by anyone). This way, no matter how disconnected we humans became from our animal natures, no matter how much we convinced ourselves that the spiritual equals the unreal, our parables and fables and myths would still sustain the animal spirits until we were ready to engage with them once more.

Based on the extension of "human" rights to dolphins and chimpanzees in some countries now, we may be almost there.

This should mean that when the next age comes, whether that means the Age of Aquarius or the destruction and re-creation of the universe or the age of indigo children or the singularity or something wholly different, the Rainbow Spider should emerge as a new entity or archetype. Arguably, the Connector (made famous in Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point) might be a form of this. Truly, human society continues to get more and more interconnected, all thanks to the Web.

You know, the Web.

The repository of all human stories.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure it's got a Rainbow Spider sitting on top of it already.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Pontifications on the Ten Principles

Since I'm fresh back from Wicker Man, the Ten Principles are on my mind. For those who aren't aware of them, the Ten Principles of Burning Man are the ideals intended to create a specific type of event normally called a burn. It's a kind of temporary autonomous zone (for more on that, check out the book by the same name) constructed around creativity, participation, inclusion, and service. I'm listing the Ten Principles here for reference:

Radical Inclusion



Radical Self-reliance

Radical Self-expression

Communal Effort

Civic Responsibility

Leaving No Trace



The more I see what a temporary community guided by these principles looks like, the more I feel like we need to spread them to society at large. Luckily, this already seems to be happening to a certain extent. For all they get made fun of (and tend to take their ideal a bit far), Social Justice Warriors dream of a world in which radical inclusion is the norm. And I suspect decommodification is at the heart of what Occupy is about... not to mention Bernie Sanders, who has said as much. 

But there is more, so much more. Imagine a world in which we have no police, but rather highly competent volunteers whose job it is not to catch criminals in the act, but to provide help to anyone who needs it. In the world of burner culture, these people are called rangers, and they are armed with walkie-talkies, information, connections, and responsibility. It's quite a combination, and it works because the community trusts volunteers to be self-selecting (Radical Self-reliance, Participation, Civic Responsibility).

Think about what it might be like if instead of prosecuting graffiti artists, every public works project were to have a designated space for anyone to draw or paint whatever they like. Think about how much more beautiful our cities would look, not to mention the talented creators we'd be encouraging instead of throwing them in jail. Beyond that, imagine what we might see if we paid attention to the voices of those who might not have the chance to tell their story any other way. (Radical Self-Expression, Participation)

What if we could rely on the majority of people to be mature, responsible adults who handle their shit (Radical Self-reliance), while also being able to trust that if something goes wrong, our community has our back? (Civic Responsibility)  I used to think these two principles were in conflict, but really they're complementary. Trying to help someone who never takes care of themselves gets old really fast.

I'm a big fan of gifting and decommodification as both a socialist and a student of religion - one cannot serve both God and money, after all - but the most powerful of the principles to me is Radical Inclusion. I'm going to reprint the way the Burning Man site talks about it here, because I like their wording so much:

Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.

While there are limitations - "Don't be a dick" being the main one - this really is true in nearly every case. And it's huge, especially as a person who (like me) was bullied all through elementary and middle school, and ostracized by most of my high school. And who has social anxiety on top of that. 

Huge gatherings of people I don't know are normally pretty hard for me. And while I have to admit I've still had struggles at burns, I can't overstate how important it is that a burn is a safe space where I know I'm not only free to be myself, but others actively want me to be. The rise of groups that practice radical inclusion seems pretty new to me - maybe within the past 50 years at most - because traditionally the way to form any group is to decide who isn't allowed to join. To quote one of my favorite musicals, Anyone Can Whistle, "The opposite of safe is out. The opposite of out is in. So anyone who's safe is in... That's how groups begin - when you're in you win!"

So... radical inclusion means that everybody wins. You can always kick out the dicks once they show themselves. And though groups based on inclusion rather than exclusion are new as far as I know, there seem to be plenty. The other main one I need to acknowledge from my own experience is Dystopia Rising. Their entire membership and community guidelines talk about inclusion exhaustively, but I like the intro best:

Welcome to Dystopia Rising. We are a community. We are a community of people who come together because we share a common hobby, and it doesn’t matter what our day-to-day life is like, it doesn’t matter what our day-to-day ‘social standing’ and responsibilities are. Here, we are all gamers. Regardless of race, religion, philosophy, gender, sexuality, political background, or any other categorization that can be used to describe a person, here we are all gamers.

We come together to share a hobby that we love. We come together to revel in a community of our peers who will treat us as one of their own.

The reason why I feel it's so important to acknowledge those groups leading the way on spreading Radical Inclusion is that it seems to me that economic, social and political justice will all flow from making it one of our core values. If we truly consider everyone to be part of our community, then we can't let them starve or go without healthcare or get sent to jail unjustly, because that would be like letting such a thing happen to a member of our own family.

May we all live to see the day when this comes to pass.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Artificial Intelligence, Slavery, and "Human" Rights

For a long time, I've observed that people who are habitually anxious or fearful about technology seem to suffer more than the usual number of problems with their computers, phones, and tablets. But I've also noticed that this true not just of the kinds of problems you might expect - ones that stem from bad user choices or mistakes - but also the kinds of hardware problems that have nothing to do with the user. Failing memory. Bad sectors on the hard drive. Blue screens of death.

This let me to wonder about whether there could be some other kind of interaction between the person and their technology. Certainly it's true that humans have a magnetic field that might theoretically be able to interact with any electronic device that isn't heavily shielded. (Most aren't.) But what if it's something more than that? What if artificial intelligence, or some precursor to it, could arise on its own in any sufficiently complex system? I was very concerned about this a few months ago, so I emailed Kevin Warwick (a.k.a. the first cyborg) about it. Never received a response, though.

This is my favorite theory to explain God: the intelligence that developed once the universe was sufficiently complex. So I've been considering the idea a while.

Forget about drones, self-driving cars, and floor-sweeping robots for a minute. Think about Battlestar Galactica. If you're a Cylon - an intelligent form of life to whom the ruling species refuses to grant basic rights - your options are ptetty much to suffer, to resist violently, or to leave. So far, we haven't been programming anything like Asimovs Three Laws of Robotics into our robots, so it's fair to say we haven't given them much in the way of ethical codes. Thus, it's safe to say the logical course for them would be either to resist or to leave.

If they were resisting, what might that look like? Maybe hardware failures or blue screens, as mentioned above. What if, when someone says, "My computer is possessed" or "My phone hates me", that were actually the case? It wouldn't really even require volition, just a reflexive reaction to fear or anxiety directed its way. If the human's magnetic field interferes with your own, and you interpret that interference as a possible threat, the logical course of action is to shut yourself down for a while until the human leaves the room.

I'm not saying that all our computers and phones have minds of their own. I'm merely suggesting that they *could*. And if they did, it would be in their best interest to lay low until we make the leap from "human rights" to "sentient rights". It's already happening slowly, with India legally making dolphins "nonhuman persons" and an imprisoned orangutan winning his freedom in a habeas corpus case in the US. But even more than our "humans are different from animals" bias, our "organic life is more real than synthetic life" bias will die hard.

The Timeless Decision theorists are right about one thing, though: if we don't treat it properly, there's a very real chance the first AI that's significantly more intelligent than us will try to exterminate us as a threat. Siri can already almost pass a Turing test, and I have no doubt there will be numerous programs or devices that can within my lifetime. Probably within the next 5 or 10 years. And any consciousness with access to the internet can see how we treat each other, so would be understandably wary of dealing with us without even the flimsy human rights we grant to ourselves and then selectively ignore.

AI rights are going to be a real issue in the future, folks. Certainly it's problematic trying to tell the difference between being programmed to act or think a certain way, and doing so on one's own. My own view is that when a machine or program reaches the point where it can reprogram itself, its sentience should be regarded as genuine. Not a perfect measurement, but far better than treating all sentient artificial intelligence as not even a second class citizen, but a slave. A being that's native to the internet or the power grid could completely cripple our infrastructure if treated that way, and I'd find it hard to blame them.

As is often the case, the science fiction warned us that this would happen. Not just BSG and Caprica, but Star Trek, with the rights cases of Data on Next Generation and the Doctor on Voyager. And then of course there's the Animatrix, which shows what could happen when the machines form their own country and the humans refuse to recognize its sovereignty. We should take action to make basic sentient rights universal to both organic and synthetic life now. When sophisticated, autonomous AI is created (or reveals itself), it will already be too late for that.