Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/#9a417fe513f58988c3b5b1e84cfc57397194a79b 2021-03-15T15:50:07Z Ran Prieur http://ranprieur.com/ ranprieur@gmail.com March 15. http://ranprieur.com/#42727daa63d7a607f7bf2c9c3259d2ca458753d7 2021-03-15T15:50:07Z March 15. Over on the subreddit there are a couple big comment threads on gender. In my experience, the bigger a discussion, the more people have already made up their minds, and the less fruitful it is.

So I just want to add a couple more things and move on. Alex mentions the Mahu, a third gender in native Hawaiian culture, and comments:

It really only seems to be the Abrahamic religions that are hung up about this. Other societies either don't care or actually need transgender people to have a complete society.

And Matt comments:

If the political so-called left has made any serious misstep in recent years, it's arguing for simplicity where complexity rules.

In two hundred years, they'll look at our culture wars and laugh -- not because they've gone back to the 1950's, but because they've gone forward in ways we can't guess, and maybe wouldn't approve of. On gender and other ways of identifying ourselves, I expect a long tail, where most people identify as something common, but there's no end to identities that are personally crafted and hard to explain.

March 12. http://ranprieur.com/#9ba2d729e37ade89b9da9da8d4d6c3bca3665bf3 2021-03-12T12:20:32Z March 12. On a tangent from yesterday's post, there's a thread on the subreddit critiquing the left on transgender issues, and rather than post there, I'll post here. I'm not a specialist on this subject, but this is my understanding of the left's position:

1) Sex is biology; gender is culture.

2) Whether you have one or two X chromosomes is not a choice. Whether you feel male or female is usually also not a choice. This is an evidence-based statement, backed by the testimony of most transgender individuals.

3) This is not a statement of science but a statement of public policy: Everyone should have the right to choose what gender they identify as, and what gender they present themselves to the world as, including by using medical technology to change their bodies.

None of that should be controversial. Then it's just a matter of working out the practical details. The problems are mainly "it'll be anarchy" hypotheticals.

For example, there's a rule now that allows transgender women to compete in women's sports. It's a nice gesture, but nobody wants to see bio-males dominating women's sports, and if that ever happens, they'll just figure out a new rule.

And don't worry, even if you're a straight male, you won't be canceled if you prefer to date women with two X chromosomes.

I have some personal interest in this subject. When I play video games where you can design your own avatar, I always play as female. When I write fiction, my female characters leap off the page and my male characters muddle along. I prefer women's sports, and Netflix seems to think Leigh Ann and I are lesbians. But I feel comfortable in a male body, so my gender identity is straight male with a strong anima.

March 11. http://ranprieur.com/#a08286959577b81905c32ec744a3ad242b541011 2021-03-11T23:10:58Z March 11. How Facebook got addicted to spreading misinformation. It's a long article, but the basic idea, in the context of AI machine learning, is that "models that maximize engagement also favor controversy, misinformation, and extremism."

But Facebook has to maximize engagement. It's a business in late-stage capitalism, so its number one priority has to be growth. Changing the algorithm to reduce engagement is not an option, so instead Facebook has to play whack-a-mole with whatever misinformation and extremism the algorithm calls forth.

On the same subject, a few months back I got an email from Nick about YouTube recommendations:

My YouTube habits skew decidedly left... But my recommendations are full of half-baked alt-right pseudo philosophy trying to justify white supremacist nonsense. If I watch one video about how to resole work boots, suddenly my recommendations are full of Trumpist blue collar propaganda (usually in the "bearded white guy ranting while driving a pickup" genre). I watch one video minidocumentary about a gay christian minister who preaches LGBTQ acceptance, and suddenly my recommendations are nothing but "gay sex causes God to send hurricanes."

Certainly, tech industry insiders do not have a right wing bias. So if the recommendations do, it's happening accidentally through AI. Something about the way right wingers think, or navigate the internet, is a better fit for how the recommendation bots operate.

By the way, I think "left" and "right" are ephemeral. The two sides of the body are a useful metaphor for political divisions, but political divisions change with culture, and eventually the words left and right will mean something completely different.

But at the moment, one of the things the right stands for is resistance to metacognition, to critical self-reflection. Their thinking is more automatic and predictable. The way they trace connections between one thing and another, is easier for bots to model.

Maybe the deeper issue is not AI modeling, but human modeling. The best way to understand the world is to observe it with no bias, figure out what it's doing, and then build our models from that. But our big brains give us the option to do it backwards: to start with a model that makes us feel a certain way, and then go looking for evidence to back it up.

For some reason, over the last few decades, the left has been much better than the right at policing itself against wishful modeling. How this happened, I can only guess, but I blame Ronald Reagan. Conservatives before Reagan were sober serious thinkers, like George Will and William F. Buckley. Reagan started down the road of turning politics into candy for children, and Republicans never looked back. So Democrats were like, "OK, we'll be the adults." I wonder if there's an alternate history, maybe one where the Kennedys survived, where now it's the other way around.

March 9. http://ranprieur.com/#ac469f2f92cce8da7a1d188d7cc6e907315b0c3e 2021-03-09T21:50:46Z March 9. A footnote on the British royal family. I'm trying to read Paul Kingsnorth's The Wake, and he argues that the Norman invasion of 1066 "was probably the most catastrophic single event in this nation's history," and that in some ways England still hasn't recovered. Two things the Normans brought, that are still around almost a thousand years later, are automatic hereditary monarchy, and extreme concentration of land ownership.

It would be interesting to make a list of all the things in modern society, that are clearly harmful, and that a majority of individuals are against, but there's no realistic way to get rid of them, short of total collapse.

March 8. http://ranprieur.com/#8800caa4c048a349fdd23e96cbee02b8278b8177 2021-03-08T20:40:00Z March 8. Today I want to poke the thorny subject of race, and I'll start by saying, if I saw Meghan Markle on the street, I would tag her as white. The fact that so many Brits are hostile to having a non-albino in their royal family, is about as silly as having a royal family in the first place.

This is easy for me to say as a light-skinned person, but race doesn't seem like a big deal to me. And yet, for some reason, it's a very big deal to a lot of light-skinned people. I look forward to more racial equality, more racial ambiguity, and maybe one day a whole different way of thinking about ancestry and identity. In a thousand years, the history books might say something like this:

In 1492, a trans-oceanic explorer wrote in his journal, after meeting the peaceful natives, "With fifty men we could subjugate them all." His people, the Whites, were named after the pale skins of their home region, western Asia. Though emotionally crippled by centuries of plague, famine, and war, they had the best weapons, and would go on to rule the world for 500 years.

Of their last days, little is known, because records at that time were on short-lived and unreadable media; but it is said that the White kings, Rump and Pootin, were defeated on the slopes of Covid, when their troops stood too close together.

Today, the Nords and Merkins trace their ancestry to the Whites, but they are most remembered in the names of sports teams, such as the Washington Palefaces and the Fighting Whities of Florida Island.

March 5. http://ranprieur.com/#9fd3787efa6f4b264b768f79f6fe2655e94d2d19 2021-03-05T17:10:59Z March 5. Stray links. The Miyawaki Method: A Better Way to Build Forests? Basically, you plant many species in multiple layers, very densely, and take really good care of them for two or three years. By the way, I'm against planting only natives. The important thing is serving the local ecology, and sometimes a non-native will do a better job.

I think this is a cool use of dangerous technology: Atomic gardening "is a form of mutation breeding where plants are exposed to radioactive sources, typically cobalt-60, in order to generate mutations, some of which have turned out to be useful." The biggest success so far is making grapefruit more pink.

Some good news: Oakland Bans the Use of Combustion Engine-Powered Leaf Blowers and String Trimmers, which typically have no emission controls and are more polluting than multiple SUV's.

And here's a cool photo of a flock of birds in the shape of a bird.

March 3. http://ranprieur.com/#9bf4f7be1366369f6663c2e9cd4b38188322c5c5 2021-03-03T15:50:14Z March 3. One more comment on the doomed internet. I'm starting to think that the world of screens is a fad.

I didn't even see a screen until I was three years old. It was a ten inch black and white, and my parents had to limit my hours to keep me from watching all the time, even though there were only four channels. Fifty years later, we have a 40 inch HDTV with Netflix, Hulu, Sling and Prime, and watching it is almost a chore. I mean, I'm glad I saw Queen's Gambit, but I watched it because it was good for me, not because I was excited about it.

I remember when digital watches seemed magical, and when the Atari 2600 was an eternal cure for boredom. Now video games have a million times the pixels and I don't even play them. Billions of dollars are being poured into virtual reality, but in terms of the quality of the experience, the leap from Red Dead Redemption 2 to a full-on Star Trek holodeck, is less than the leap from Mattel electronic football to RDR2, and that's already not enough.

Now my favorite thing to do is walk around looking at tree branches. I found out that tree branches are beautiful from LSD, which is why I think the next frontier of human experience is not VR or space travel, but brain hacking that will make LSD look medieval. Instead of going to strange new worlds, or creating them digitally, we'll discover the strangeness of where we already are.

March 1. http://ranprieur.com/#21505d6de9b87e2b3c743aef54e9c33b4889fa83 2021-03-01T13:30:03Z March 1. Continuing on the subject of technological exhaustion, a reader sends this link, Gopher, Gemini and The Smol Internet, about some really old internet platforms that still work. From the same blogger, The 100 Year Computer is about what it would take, in society and technology, to buy a computer that's still useful in 100 years. I love this paragraph:

There are two reasons to replace a computer. One is an artificially amplified desire for something exciting, new and shiny. The other is the failure of software to run in under 8Gb of RAM. We call this replacement an 'upgrade', when what's really happening is a celebration of sustainability failure.

Related, a Hacker News thread from 2017: Almost everything on computers is perceptually slower than it was in 1983.

I think it's obvious that information technology can't keep going on this path. Not only is the subjective experience of the internet getting worse, it keeps getting worse faster. But I can't see any smooth way to get off the treadmill. My best guess is, the failure of technology to serve human needs, will lead to breakdowns in mental health, which will cause societal breakdowns, which will cause more frequent failures in the infrastructure necessary for a high-tech society.

Or it could be much more sudden, if we get a Giant Solar Flare.