Sunday, 11 August 2013

Outrage is the Desired Outcome

Naive liberals in a futile search for enlightenment demand coverage of important stories by news networks such that they will be enlightened. These same liberals are always shocked at the stories they read and fail to understand why the stories they read, the coverage they are exposed too and the unbearable stasis of contemporary politics seems to continue indefinitely. Why is it that the mainstream media (Regardless of political orientation) always says so much (lots of coverage) while saying so little (no valuable information can be discerned from the coverage)?

Viewership to increase ad revenue is the primary goal for any news outlet. Without viewers (or funding) the news outlet will cease to exist as profit is derived from viewership. There exist alternative primary goals for new outlets (i.e. some aim to provide quality journalism but these are a minority not a majority) but these news outlets typically derive their revenue from donations or through membership fees. These alternative news outlet structures cannot compete with main stream news outlets [1, 2, 3] so they will be left out of this discussion.

Since the primary goal of a news outlet is ad revenue it is necessary for a news outlet to provide content that produces the most views. Since people are inherently emotional the most view-producing content will be: 
1) Coverage of local events that are rare but emotion inducing (rape of a young girl, child pornography, etc)
2) Coverage of global events that are shocking and rare (Earthquake, tsunami, etc) 
3) Coverage of global events that are ongoing and fertile for fear-mongering (Fukushima nuclear reactor aftermath, swine flu pandemic, etc)
4) Coverage of controversial events (Evolution debate, Trayvon Martin case, racism, sexism, etc) [5]

The above content is view producing independent of spin but further spin increases the number of views. If it is coverage of a rape case one should [6,7] include people defending the rapist, victim blaming and psycho-analysis of the rapist. If it is coverage of abortion one should include religious protests and death threats to the gynecologist who performed abortions. If it is coverage of nuclear power it should include diatribes about the anti-nuclear left, bafflement with numbers and remarks about the rationality of nuclear advocates. If it is about religion... well, burn the infidels! [View Disclaimer]

It is for the reasons outlined above that most mainstream news content is devoid of content. To frame it in evolutionary terms: selection of articles covering events will not be determined based on the urgency of what the article is covering but based on survival of event coverage in an evolutionary landscape where page views is the determinant selection force. In such a case events which generate more page views will survive while those that do not will cease surviving. Outrage is the desired outcome!


[1] New outlets that derive revenue from donations typically provide service for free and maintain service through donations. Revenue streams from donations pale in comparison to that of ad revenue and these news outlets will subsequently have less resources available to optimize their performance in the news competition landscape. The main appeal of donation based news outlets is the quality journalism but over time political influence, the viewer desire to watch news conforming to their beliefs and other minor selection forces in the landscape will make quality journalism less of a priority.

[2] If a news outlet provided a membership structure the news outlet would not be competing in the same news outlet landscape as other news outlets. Most viewers will not pay for news or prefer to have their news for free. This limits the sphere of influence of membership based news viewership sites. Also, as with donation based news sites, there is also the desire for readers to have their views confirmed by the news they are reading. For example, the QXZ news is a news paper primarily read by X target market and over time QXZ news will produce more and more news for that target market. Eventually quality of news will decline (This does not mean it will become as poor as main stream news but rather that news quality will not be the sole determinant for retaining viewership).

[3] There exist news outlets that are heavily funded by the government/taxpayer dollars/other income source but these outlets will still face similar problems. Income source becomes limited by the fact that the news outlet is dependent on the income source. This prevents coverage of certain issues. Also, many of these news outlets will cover controversial stories in a slightly more balanced fashion then main stream news outlets but they still cover the controversy. [4]

[4] Controversy is emotion based otherwise it would not be a controversy. The desire of a reader to read the most polarizing coverage of a controversy such that it fits the reader's own biases is strong.

[5] We can include coverage of all isms in this category.

[6] Should implies that it is desirable for one to feel this way.

[7] Desire is merely the labeling of behaviors that we like based on socially constructed notions that maintain existing power structures. We are a society that worships profit maximization and it is considered a desirable behavior by many. From this perspective we can label feeling outraged about pseudo-events as good because it maximizes profit! 

Disclaimer: The above controversies have nothing to do with any of my personal views. If asked I will probably respond that I am pretty much apolitical. If pressed hard enough I will tell you I aspire to be the son of Hitler. I will not clarify whether I am being sarcastic or not. (I do not aspire to be the son of Hitler)

Making Good Straw-men: A Guide

Since I will never succeed in writing the blog post I've been trying to write about evolution here's a quick guide for all internet skeptics next time they want to straw-men their opponents! Enjoy!

Making a good straw man is an art that should be mastered by all master debaters. (Hurr hurr. Masterdebaters) The straw man is a useful tool in overpowering non-mainstream viewpoints on controversial topics. If you cannot make a good straw man here's your quick how to guide. Enjoy!

Step One:
If your opponent's thesis depends on how they define word A it is important you define word A in a fashion (in your response) such that the rest of their thesis makes no sense. Never clearly state your definition of word A and make sure you never quote your opponent where they clearly define word A. Maintaining a lack of clarity about word A is essential. If people realize you're both talking about different things they just may call you on your bluff!

Step Two:
Proceed to respond to out of context quotes with the distorted definition above. If you've defined A correctly it will be defined in such a fashion that it is incoherent. Make sure you point out how incoherent your definition of word A is and show your skeptic friends how incoherent your definition is. If you don't exclaim "Isn't it stupid how he defined word A to include the premise that he was trying to prove? Isn't that just like... fucking retarded? Hurr hurr" then your straw-man is not quite good enough.

Step Three:
This is the crucial step. It requires you have some credentials or know someone with credentials. It is also very convenient if your position is widely accepted by the majority of people. Proceed to cite important people saying that you are right and make sure your citations only point to important people saying that your are right. For example, a good citation would be "I, Dr. Joe, am a neuro-surgeon and I say that I am right about A because I have a degree that says I am right about A. I'm smart!". It is important that you cite no valuable information during this step. If you do someone might look at your citations and realize this is all just a straw man.

Step Four:
This is the fatality stage. This is the kicking them while they're down phase. If you're looking at including ad-hominem attacks this is where you include them. By this point you have distorted their view to such a degree that you can claim they believe pretty much anything. Call them hitler, call them a nazi or, even worse, call them a creationist. Once you've kicked them a few times run around the internet blogging ring such that your other blogger friends can tag-team them with you. Get a few fist bumps (and blog shares!) and make sure you all social network together to generate the maximum number of page views.

Step Five:
You have won! Congrats! The threat to your echo-chamber has been eliminated with style and flare. You are now a straw-man master. Very few of your readers care enough to actually understand what you are critiquing so your market share/internet popularity/readership remains intact! If somebody ever critiques you (Let's say by saying how do people say so much (lots of words) while saying so little (Lack of content)) just return to step one of the above guide.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Of Image Macros and Naive Progressives

The internet is often heralded as the dawn of a true age of freedom and the promises of this age are shouted from the hilltops as the best gospel heard since Buddha. We are told that this age shall be called the information age and that it will result in Enlightenment 2.0. The widespread propagation of information will allow us to reach previously unknown levels of understanding and will allow us to all hold hands, solve the world's problems and do it while all singing Kumbaya!

Of course, none of this fruit from the internet has come to be harvested yet but we're told smart phones or some other smart shit will be the final ingredient needed for a hard take off towards the information rapture.

The irrelevance of the above image macro highlights the irrelevance of most image macros that support naive progressives in their sharing of statistics to further the progressive agenda. Alarming statistics about a progressive's favourite republican (or conservative or evangelical) combined with an alarming photo motivates progressives to share these image macros in an attempt to try to enlighten people. Validity of the statistics and the risk of spreading misinformation is never considered. 

"Oh look! A statistic saying that Stephen Harper will destroy all the forests by 2015 if he isn't stopped! I best  share this to enlighten others about this potential threat! Sharing this picture makes me more aware and it also makes me a good person! Of course I have no idea about the validity of these statistics but they support my world-view so I best share anyway!"

That's the thing. They have no idea if this is true or not. They didn't think that perhaps they should investigate the statistics to learn about the assumptions, controls and studies the statistics were stripped from. They simply accept the statistics as gospel because it fits their world-view  All matters to these progressives is that we are progressing morally towards a vaguely undefined goal and all those who oppose their vague goals are enemies of progress.

We are not becoming more aware. The internet is a vast landscape of information so complex that it is impossible for you to verify it all. Without training in the related areas you must take what you read as gospel and just accept it as true. You don't question what you can't understand and not only that the information establishment deems you a heretic if you question what you can't understand. Ask questions about evolution... you must be a creationist! Ask questions about global warming... you must be a denier! Ask questions about the holocaust... anti-semitist! Criticism of a paper on the above topics? Burn them at the stake!

The establishment ensures you that not only are you left in the dark but that you now feel proud about being left in the dark. You are a proud progressive... bashing bible thumping hicks who have little influence... ranting about rights for all animals without considering what those rights would entail and raving about the magic of multiculturalism while cities are divided into ethnic ghettos. The information age allows you to re-affirm those beliefs with the click of a button whilst a stream of reinforcing images marches down your screen.

The information floods in and short circuits the receivers. We can't know what it all means... but we best accept it. The clicking of the masses drowns out all discourse as the web site traffic counters rev their engines. Share the news the information age has come... make sure you blog, tweet or text it. Information is enlightenment. Questioning this truth is heresy. I best log into Facebook.

Disclaimer: Anything political in the above section has nothing to do with my political or scientific views. The examples are to prove a point. If you have a knee jerk reaction to this reread what I said and consider that you may be proving my point.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Statistical Analysis as the End of the West

I've been reading about Spengler's Civilization Model and feel that a deterministic worldview is the logical outcome of the progression of the west as a civilization. I also feel that with greater and greater employment of statistical analysis we will find that the west is likely in decline as a civilization (Which should seem obvious). The two central narratives of the western ascent as a civilization (in my opinion) is the role of the individual and analysis of the deterministic behavior of the universe. All our great thinkers culminated in the creation of physics and the creation of democracy. These two ideas matured into socialism (which I will not discuss) and quantum physics which we are finding are not capable of solving society's problems.

Why do these outcomes signal the end of the west? The first outcome is that our progress in physics has slowed greatly over the last few years. Our search for a theory of everything has been an ultimate failure and our methods of unifying the remnants of physics keep failing. I feel that the culture of the west will not allow us to discover anything else in physics anytime soon and that deeper theories will escape us for the time-being. Our cultural worldview will have us grasping for a unifying theory in the face of the fact that such things likely will never exist.

As statistical analysis increase in frequency it signals that we are becoming increasingly unable to predict the behavior of the universe as the teleology of the west demanded. Gone are the days of Newton, Laplace and Euler... we now awaken to a world wrought with complexity and, even if simple laws govern its behavior, chaos. This peaks with the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle. We have discovered the limits to what we can know.

The West enters it's own age of limits... and it likely would have entered that age of limits sooner were it no for the advent of the computer. The computer is the final breath of western civilization. The computer reminds us of a world that we feel can be distilled down to algorithms and controlled with ease. The world we find in its place is one of far greater complexity then we ever imagined and one terrifying in the breath of its complexity. We assure ourselves that new techniques (or even old techniques) will find a way to decipher the code of the universe. We look to computing power as a pixie dust that will ease our woes. Too bad we have no idea what to do with it.

Although the west may find itself in the age of limits I argue that there are limits the west are far from reaching. Later civilizations may find ways of deciphering more of the universe but we will likely find increasing difficulty as the years go on. The culture needed for the advent of knowledge is not a culture founded on skepticism. We need a new teleology to move on but our hearts are too empty and too shaken to think of one. Our narrative is ending... western history will end in time but, unlike Fukuyama imagined, history will march on.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Post-Tragedy Rationalization

I'm gearing up for another spout of posting blog posts and in the coming weeks I plan to write a few posts on the internet, the limits of knowledge and things such as that. These posts will likely be from a different vantage point then what has been posted lately and is probably more on course with what the intent of this blog was at the beginning. The first of these posts will be a lead into what I call the limits of knowledge and the effects of complex systems on the stability of human society.

When we hear of a teenage suicide (as many of us has in recent news) we often launch into discussions of the tragedy of the situation. After the suicide information bubbles to the surface and we eventually create what we perceive to be a fairly complete picture of the causes of the individual's suicide, how we could prevent these causes and what to do in the future. We walk away from the tragedy thinking that we are now better equipped to deal with the reality of teenage suicides and that we can see the bigger picture clearer.

The reality of the situation is that we can't. The suicide of an individual is an unpredictable event that although warning signs tend to manifest before the suicide these warning signs are insufficient to produce the realization that the individual will actually commit suicide. Even if a plethora of warning signs is produced prior to the individual's suicide the warning signs will be dispersed across a medium of people who alone may not realize the significance of the individual events but the sum of these events is significant to trigger suicide. Even then it is likely that there exists unknown unknowns that are lost with the person's death that will never illuminate the situation and will prevent us from recognizing that these unknown unknowns may have been the factor that pushed the individual over the edge.

In the end we are left with an incomplete picture but tend to rationalize the event after the fact and come to believe that we understand the situation. We believe that we understand what causes suicide and swear to move forward in attempts to prevent it. In reality we are likely just as equipped as we were before the suicide in preventing suicides but walk away with a rationalization that we can prevent such things in the future (or at least reduce the likelihood of such an outcome). We overestimate how much we know about the situation since the alternative is a far more terrifying realization. Our prediction capabilities are far from robust and this lack of robustness is a severe limitation of human knowledge.

The reality is that we have far less control over the outcome of unpredictable situations but we are very capable of making the outcome look predictable in the end. We rationalize the outcome of an event by correlating what seems to be correlating factors with an outcome. We look at these correlations, claim these correlations are what we need to address in the future and then move on with our lives. In the future the event is repeated with the sum of the correlations spread across a medium of individuals related to the tragic event and we are not even capable then of preventing a similar outcome.

Ignoring the problems of dispersed evidence for unlikely events we also encounter another problem with predicting such events in the future. A large part of the evidence for predicting such events is lost in the annals of time with the transpiration of the event and we will never be able to access that information again. In the case of a teenage suicide we also lose the primary witness of these events as the primary witness is also the victim of cruel circumstance.

The captain goes down with their ship and with it the most accurate narrative of why the ship sunk.

Even if we could communicate with the captain through say... a magical psych-scope that allows us to communicate with the dead we would encounter yet another problem. The person who committed suicide likely has holes in the reasoning about why they did what they did. They may never realize historic events that were significant in influencing the events that led up to their suicide and that these holes are crucial to our understanding of the event.

Events such as suicides are part of a class of events I would identify as black swan events. Unpredictable events that appear predictable when viewed in the rear view mirror but still remain as unpredictable as they were before we saw them. With further increasing layers of complexity in a system unpredictable events increase in frequency and despite our best attempts to control these unpredictable events we still fail to deal with them.

Dealing with black swan events is like dealing with an oncoming hurricane. We can't stop an oncoming hurricane no matter how we try but we can recognize that such events happen and learn to adapt our understanding of the world to accommodate for the unpredictable. In the end it'll be a long time before we become apt at preventing teenage suicide despite policy attempts to reduce such things. Instead we should focus on building robust teenagers who are better equipped at dealing with the challenges of junior high and high school.

Until one realizes that the limits of one's knowledge, one is forced to make the same mistake in trying to prevent. You can't stop a hurricane... but you can mitigate its impact. As globalization increases and communication technologies spread through society like wildfire we must learn that we will find ourselves staring into the maw of hurricane lane... and that no matter how hard we try there will be hurricanes.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Of Women and Narratives

I'm not a feminist... I'm also somewhat opposed to certain things that Radical Feminism stands for and I am opposed to the bigotry that comes from Radical Feminism at times. I call myself an egalitarian or something like that... actually I just call myself a person and stop giving a shit after that. Anyways, back to the topic at hand.

I occasionally read Radical Feminist blogs (and a few of them are well written and actually bigotry free!) and there is one notion that I agree with completely. Women, in society, are stuck with the role of being involved in the male's narrative (Or at least most of them) and that itself is problematic. Women accompany men to the dance, women are asked by the man to marry them, women are married to the man and so on so forth. Even today in modern society I think that women are stuck with this shitty notion of being acted upon (as opposed to being actors themselves)

"All the world's a stage, and all the men are merely players. The others are extras."
This is the fundamental flaw that exists in the gender roles in society today. Men wearing suits, women wearing dresses, women being maternal and all that are completely irrelevant to this strange action dichotomy that underlies most social interactions. Men are actors, women and children are extras. They are there for the men to save, for the men to marry and for the men to grow old together with. It's a pity society perceives things this way since there is no foreseeable reason that things should be this way.

When women demanded the ability to act. Men nodded in accordance and told them they'd find a way for women to act. They invented a judicial system, largely run by men, that would make sure women had the ability to act. Women insisted that they assist in the creation of the judicial system and in time men nodded in accordance with that. Fine said the man, you may now appoint female judges to deal with these cases. The narrative has changed yet the actors remain the same.

One of the most vocal groups that oppose the "female-biased" judicial system are Men's Rights Activists (Or MRAs). They recognize that there is a problem with the judicial system and attribute it to a woman's innate desire for security or that all women are gold-digging sluts. In my opinion, the problem with the judicial system that is female biased is that it is female biased because of the role women are given in our actor-dominated society today.

Since women cannot act on their own accord, since women cannot make decisions and since women are subservient to the actors that are men, women are forced to go through a bureaucracy to attain a semblance of equal status. The role of the actor and the extras is continued in this narrative. Instead of the woman going to court to fight for their rights as a women, the women goes to court to fight for her additional rights as a woman. Special treatment is given once again and the motto of "Women and children first" lives on.

Isn't it about time we had come actresses in society's narrative?

Saturday, 7 July 2012

And then Atlas Shrugged

Randites often talk about the book Atlas Shrugged being their rude awakening into the realities of free market economics. Randites often cite this influence to explain why neo-liberal policies are better for everyone and that the policies of the 30s until the 60s were horribly horrible misguided. The government is a powerful form of oppression they scream... it robs from the productive and gives to the unproductive. Those unproductive scum they mumble... those who seek free healthcare, welfare cheques and the Wal-Mart jobs. They are the problem they cry... they are the massive parasites that are destroying our economy.

If they want to make more money, they should go become productive. Anybody can be a businessman they say. Just take your idea, go to the bank, get funding and set up a shop. With hard work the world will fall to your feet. You too can be rich... if you just work hard like the next guy. Wealth is a direct correlation to work they claim. The harder you work... the more you get paid. Tell that to the janitor at Wal-mart or the Cashier at the grocery store.

If you can't make it in the world of business then you must join the working class. Funny word, the working class... it implies that there is a non-working class. They point your attention to those on welfare, those who collect food stamps and those who can't get a job. They tell you that they are the parasites on society... they take your money (And their money, that's the important part) and then blow it on things such as food, shelter and clothes. Look at the unproductive they scream... such useless things they buy. When asked what they'd do with the money, they answer that they'd create jobs. That a rising tide floats all boats and that the wealth would trickle down from the top.

When asked how the water would trickle down they assure you through a massive pipe system. I asked the architect about this distribution system... he assured me such a top-heavy structure would work fine. He said it's practically gravity that the bottom would reap the benefits of the top. It's also practically gravity that, in time, the top would fall and crush the bottom. But that's just details he said, the free market would work that out. He called it economics. I looked at him, a bit puzzled, but would not challenge his credentials. I could not challenge his credentials.

The water distribution system was built and it failed at doing it's job. When it didn't do it's job, we were informed that we just needed more of them. Sure, I said. I was a water system builder and whatever my boss told me I should get about doing. If I didn't, he told me that he'd just hire another water system builder. In time he said he figured out a way to offshore the water system process to a place where they manufactured fine plates and cutlery... China I think was the name.

He told me that the system had too high resistance in the pipes...we needed better materials... something that had a smaller coefficient of kinetic friction. He wanted it frictionless he said... the less friction the freer the water can flow. I nodded. He nodded back. We all nodded together until no one knew what were nodding about. We built the system. Resistance was still too high... must need a new material.

In 2007 the water tower collapsed. When asked why the water tower collapsed, we said it was the rent seekers that had caused it collapse. I couldn't understand why the rent seekers were mucking with the tower... it barely gave them enough water to drink... far from the amount of water required to live. I didn't argue, I might lose my job.

It is now present day. More and more people don't understand why we build water towers upside down and more and more people are starting to ask questions. They go onto websites and talk to others about these water towers. They talk about things called the free markets and how they don't seem to work. They hear that free markets don't really exist, that they've never existed and that the water towers were designed from the start to collapse. They are shocked... they are disgusted... they forget about it and go watch Survivor.

But more and more people are not forgetting about it. They heard about how a cartel of water towers managed to divert their channels such that the water always went to the top. A rising tide floats all boats... too bad the tide has been diverted. It now goes to propping up more and more water towers.

You can't ignore reality. The gravity of personal freedom always wins out in the long run. The day is coming when the builders revolt against the owners. The day is coming when the water towers come crumbling down. The builders are waiting... they are forming mobs. A giant is waking up. It is time for Atlas to shrug. But those who worship Atlas and the free market...they have made a grave mistake. They are not Atlas, they are both dangling on his back.