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link roundup 24


an inexcusable delay since last post! happy 2018.


Velocity, velocity, velocity. The Blue Church is like a Battleship. Very slow moving and able to focus its efforts on only a very narrow set of targets. If you stand around long enough to get punched, it can still land some heavy blows. But if the conditions of the ground are changing faster than the Blue Church can Observe, Orient, Decide and Act, it is constantly caught flat footed and swinging at the wrong targets.The Insurgency, by contrast, is more like a swarm of Slaughterbots (go ahead and watch that video, it is a very good use of seven minutes): a whole lot of small pieces that can coordinate into a big punch when necessary but more often flow around the landscape taking opportunities when they arise. In this context, velocity is key. If you have been feeling disoriented by the pace and seeming complete disjunction of events in 2017, you are not alone. This is the point: the entire Blue Church approach to collective sensemaking and action requires a particular velocity of change. By moving the entire landscape into a much higher pace, the Insurgency is making it impossible for the Blue Church collective intelligence to maintain effective coherence.


The future is quite likely going to require moving to the very different form (not necessarily the content) of collective intelligence currently being explored by the Insurgency. To be sure, right now, the Red Collective Intelligence looks and feels a lot like “applied schizophrenia” with a big dose of “indiscriminate paranoia” but the future is very much on the side of this kind of model. The sooner that more people with a wider set of values and perspectives learn how to play this new game, the better for everyone.

mcluhan, memetic warfare, and a characterization of ‘the blue church’ that comes unnervingly close to ‘the cathedral’ for someone seemingly sympathetic to it. a fun read even if it gets a little silly with historical analogies.

the brief aside about “the emergence of real threats to Platform Hegemony” is what i’m most excited about in the coming year (or ten):

It’s becoming gradually clearer that the Facebook-Google-Amazon dominated internet (what André Staltz calls the Trinet) is weighing down society, our economy, and our political system. From US congressional hearings in November over Russian social media influence, to increasing macroeconomic concern about productivity and technology monopolization, to bubbling user dissatisfaction with digital walled gardens, forces are brewing to make 2018 a breakout year for contenders looking to shape the Web in the service of human values, opposed to the values of the increasingly attention-grubby advertising industry.

Here’s my update on how some of those contenders progressed in 2017.

Promoters of [survivalist] gray man style believe that overt tactical gear is a “shoot-me-first” signal, and instead prefer multi-modal dress that will help them avoid attention until it’s time to use force. For example, a gray man wouldn’t carry one of the “bug out bags” recommended in this recent NYT Style article, because the recommended bags include obvious military features like MOLLE panels, hydration bladders, and camouflage. The gray man prefers to carry his weapons and supplies in a dorky messenger bag like the Vertex EDC Satchel, designed to “blend into everyday life” while still holding ballistic inserts and allowing for rapid firearm draws.

Over the past few months, I’ve also come to see “gray” as an emergent (but unspoken) political identity. The gray man tries to seem politically normal while secretly harboring visions of a wide range of apocalyptic political scenarios, from leftist cultural revolution to technocratic feudal separatism. Gray politics are distinct from crypto-fascism or other crypto-politics in that gray politics don’t require belief in any one particular system: the gray man has no agenda beyond his secret preparation. Even if he has nothing to say about the policy debates of the present, he can feel important and enlightened as he prepares for the politics of a future world.

i think this is called ‘hiding your power level’ these days.

This study examines the development of rave inspired clubculture in China between the late 1990s and the present. It focuses in particular on the harsh suppression of clubland by the Chinese state in 2000, the reactions of clubbers and the club industry, and the clubcultural transformations that resulted from the suppression. A nationally coordinated anti-drug campaign that specifically targeted dance clubs was orchestrated by the central government and it has forced many clubs to close down. The rent-seeking practices of local officials also greatly intimidated clubbers. Clubbers and club operators adapted to the adverse circumstances by transforming club spaces and inventing new club practices. Although these adaptations have kept clubculture alive, they also generated negative socio-cultural impacts: the undermining of sociality inside dance clubs, the weakening of the communal dimension of clubculture and the exacerbation of socio-economic stratification in clubland.

A warren is a social environment where no participant can see beyond their little corner of a larger maze. Warrens emerge through people personalizing and customizing their individual environments with some degree of emergent collaboration. A plaza is an environment where you can easily get to a global/big picture view of the whole thing. Plazas are created by central planners who believe they know what’s best for everyone. The terms are very evocative, and should remind you of the idea of legibility in physical environments that we talked about recently, in my post A Big Little Idea Called Legibility. In fact, it wouldn’t be a gross oversimplification to say that warrens and plazas differ primarily in their legibility. There are many subtleties of course.

an excellent set of tools for applying mcluhan and james scott to digital spaces.

as the world blockchains itself into computational existence, each side is turning into each other, without ever meeting halfway. what does anyone want, before the gyre turns, and fortune is foretold?

Left Accelerationism wants to invent the future, to repurpose platforms spontaneously produced for profit into machines for utopia. it wants control rooms, and controllers. it wants a command economy, for… liberty?

Right Accelerationism is still a question mark. to the extent it exists, it hasn’t been formalized uniquely. a swarm of internal fragmentations present themselves, teeming with purposes. boxes within boxes. on certain edges, control is even more valued than in the Left. on others… a whisper.

Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as a street gang—as well as a group with prison gang attributes in Central America—has greatly evolved over the course of the last four decades. Starting out as a Los Angeles ‘stoner gang’ (Mara Salvatrucha Stoners—MSS), it then was directly influenced by the brutality of the El Salvadoran civil war with an influx of new members (losing the second S in the gang name in the process), became a vassal of the Mexican Mafia (with the addition of the 13 to its name—MS-13), was increasingly influenced by the Mexican cartels, and finally has come under the sway of darker Santa Muerte influences. Beyond its journey from a local street to a transnational power-seeking gang, the overlapping ideological themes and cultural narratives underlying Mara Salvatrucha’s evolution have been built upon a foundation of Satanism, occultism, brutality and torture, and rampant criminality. While some gang cliques and their members are still primarily secular in their orientation and view Satanism and occultism from more of an ideological perspective many others embrace a violent magico-religious cosmology in a sense becoming ‘true believers’ that now adhere to amoral or even evil spiritual values that invite sacrifice and torture.

What about the priest? Though I am wary of the term “political religion,” due to semantic confusion, it seems clear that the function of the priest can be stripped of its supernatural valence. Many of the most objectionable characteristics of religion for people of liberal orientations derives from the institutionalized priestly functions. Unfortunately, the persistence of the priest in the absence of gods, shamanic powers and metaphysical justification opens the doors to secular totalitarianism.

Finally, it seems almost impossible to stamp out the shaman. Shamanism is like music. You can banish it through institutional sanctions, but once those sanctions disappear, shamanism reappears.

These different aspects of religiosity exist and persist simultaneously in most contexts, but sometimes in tension. Philosophers and priests often take a dim view of shamanic religiosity. In organized religion of the modern sort shamanism is marginalized, or highly constrained and regulated in sacraments. But the recession of state-sponsored Christianity across much of the West has arguably resulted in a resurgence of shamanism, and the proliferation of diverse supernatural beliefs which had previously been suppressed (much of East Asia is characterized by relative weakness of philosophical religion but the strength of shamanism).

We approach here one of the very deepest problems in social and institutional engineering. It might be called the Odysseus Problem. In sailing past the Sirens, Odysseus anticipated the subversion of commitment, and thus put in place a socio-technical mechanism to bind his own future action. The structure is that of a ‘chicken game’ – a mutant variant of prisoner’s dilemma, in which the player who swerves loses. If you could back down, you might. In both Odysseus’ dilemma and that of the chicken player, the elimination of future discretion figures as a strategic resource. The requirement for self-binding inclines to a technological freezing of decision. Strategic problems of the ‘chicken game’ type thus tend inexorably to automation.

If AI is brought into play by the intrinsic dynamics of nuclear confrontation, it does not stop there. AI has a WMD potentiality proper to itself. There is no obvious horizon to what an algorithm could do. The same capabilities that enable algorithmic control of WMD arsenals equally enable such arsenals to be swapped-out for AI itself. An enemy arsenal under algorithmic control is only ‘theirs’ by contingencies of software dominance. From the military perspective – among others oriented to negative capability – the potential destructiveness of the technology is without determinable limit. Anything under software control falls into its realm. Which is to say that, asymptotically, everything does. But it doesn’t end there. AI also promotes an advance into virtuality.

Nuclear weaponry cuts a convergent path into purity of conception. No hydrogen bomb has yet been used against an enemy (or “in anger” as the singularly inappropriate expression goes). Thermonuclear warheads remain among a select category of virtual weapons, alongside a variety of chemical and biological agents, whose usage has been exclusively diplomatic, or even philosophical. The value of this military machinery is strictly counter-factual. Those ‘possible worlds’ in which they have been operationalized support little, if any, value of any kind. Weaponry supporting their potentiality floats the ontological option of extreme negative utility. They are – in the most rigorous sense – nightmare generators.

nick land’s latest for jacobite.

Kaczynski claims that the Fermi paradox, i.e., the fact that the universe looks dead everywhere, is explained by the fact that technological civilizations very reliably destroy themselves. When this destruction happens naturally, it is so thorough that no humans could survive. Which is why his huge priority is to find a way to collapse civilization sooner, so that at least some humans survive. Even a huge nuclear war is preferable, as at least some people survive that.

Why must everything collapse? Because, he says, natural-selection-like competition only works when competing entities have scales of transport and talk that are much less than the scale of the entire system within which they compete. That is, things can work fine when bacteria who each move and talk across only meters compete across an entire planet. The failure of one bacteria doesn’t then threaten the planet. But when competing systems become complex and coupled on global scales, then there are always only a few such systems that matter, and breakdowns often have global scopes.

Kaczynski dismisses the possibility that world-spanning competitors might anticipate the possibility of large correlated disasters, and work to reduce their frequency and mitigate their harms. He says that competitors can’t afford to pay any cost to prepare for infrequent problems, as such costs hurt them in the short run. This seems crazy to me, as most of the large competing systems we know of do in fact pay a lot to prepare for rare disasters. Very few correlated disasters are big enough to threaten to completely destroy the whole world. The world has had global scale correlation for centuries, with the world economy growing enormously over that time. And yet we’ve never even seen a factor of two decline, while at least thirty factors of two would be required for a total collapse. And while it should be easy to test Kaczynski’s claim in small complex systems of competitors, I know of no supporting tests.

Scott’s genius is to compare metis to local traditions. Over a long enough time, habits and behaviours are selected for and passed down, just as evolution selects helpful traits. A successful group will institutionalise an irreducibly complex set of cultural tools that relate to its environment. Since these are metis, and not epistemic, they won’t always be obvious or quantifiable. Scott recounts dozens of examples of customs that might appear backwards, confused, unscientific – yet when they’re banned or discouraged, productivity collapses. He calls this the problem of ‘legibility’.

Epistemic theories rely on isolated, abstracted environments capable of taxonomy, but these are far removed from the dynamic, interconnected systems of nature and human culture. Metis, by contrast, develops within complex, ‘illegible’ environments, and thus works with them. But that also means its application is limited to a specific act, rather than a broader theory. Outsiders want to know why something works, but locals will explain it in a language unintelligible to them.

samzdat (lou keep) wrote a digest form of one of his blog series. his writing is so good it makes me a little upset i can’t write anything like it.

To understand the context of this discovery, you need to know about a standard called Dual EC DRBG. This was a proposed random number generator that the NSA developed in the early 2000s. It was standardized by NIST in 2007, and later deployed in some important cryptographic products — though we didn’t know it at the time.

Dual EC has a major problem, which is that it likely contains a backdoor. This was pointed out in 2007 by Shumow and Ferguson, and effectively confirmed by the Snowden leaks in 2013. Drama ensued. NIST responded by pulling the standard. (For an explainer on the Dual EC backdoor, see here.)

Somewhere around this time the world learned that RSA Security had made Dual EC the default random number generator in their popular cryptographic library, which was called BSAFE. RSA hadn’t exactly kept this a secret, but it was such a bonkers thing to do that nobody (in the cryptographic community) had known. So for years RSA shipped their library with this crazy algorithm, which made its way into all sorts of commercial devices.

Abstract. The problem with human atomization — the accelerating tendency of traditional social aggregates to disintegrate — is only that the process remains arrested at the level of the individual. The modern political Left, as an intrinsically aggregative tendency, bemoans individualism but functions as a machine for conserving it against already active forces that would otherwise disintegrate it. One of the only empirically mature pathways to collective liberation is through human atomization becoming autonomous: accepting the absolute foreclosure of anthropolitical agency is a causal trigger activating novel, dividuated, affective capacities, which become capable of recomposing as intensive, nonlinear, collective excitations (Cyberpositive AI-aligned Communism, or the CAIC protocol).

some dense reading and killer web design from accelerationist twitter.