Quotable (#6)

Some words of geopolitical caution from Robert Kaplan:

China is aware of its own role as an agent of change. Beijing knows that it is an emerging power. It knows that emerging powers disrupt the international system. But it needs to buy time, since it isn’t ready to confront directly and unapologetically the American-led status quo in the Pacific. China’s lack of readiness is heightened by the precarious consolidation of political power and economic reforms that the Xi Jinping administration has undertaken out of necessity. China thus seeks a “new kind of major country relationship,” a phrase Chinese and American diplomats have taken to repeating, whereby the two countries will find some way of accommodating each other to China’s military emergence without causing the disruption and conflict that history books suggest is inevitable. The problem with this rhetoric is that, as the Napoleonic Wars and World War I showed, the awareness that a collapsing status quo often precedes a bellum is not the same thing as collective action on all sides to reform the old status quo. Knowing theoretically what causes wars — though good in and of itself and a prerequisite for prudent statecraft — is not the same as sacrificing some portion of one’s own interests to try to prevent them.

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Mediated

Women students in the US spend an average of 12 hours a day in media immersion. Assuming students typically get plenty of sleep, that’s approximately 75% of all waking hours, on average. It’s clearly time to re-categorize sociology as a sub-field within media studies.

Blockages

Astrill is probably the most widely used VPN among those expats in China who need a route around the Great Firewall. It is down all over the country right now.

Astrill informed its users about the situation on Twitter. This would have been enormously helpful, if Twitter was accessible in China without a VPN.

Will Bitcoin Survive?

Eli Dourado, author of the most important Bitcoin-inspired article on the web, remains publicly committed to the cryptocurrency’s future. In the wake of the Mt Gox crisis, affecting the world’s largest BTC exchange (based in Japan), he has written a brief defense of the bullish case in Nietzschean vein: what does not kill us makes us stronger.

In just four short paragraphs, Dourado manages to make a significant point. Stress-tested survival has a value. The more ferocious Bitcoin’s environment is shown to be, the more advantageous its competitive position relative to alternative cryptocurrencies, as its resilience is demonstrated and publicized. Actualization of potential (catastrophe) resolves risk, leaving whatever survives augmented by a security premium. “Now it turns out that getting a cryptocurrency ecosystem to grow up is really, really hard — harder than maybe we thought. It follows directly that Bitcoin faces less competition from other cryptocurrencies than we thought. … since it is hard to succeed, if Bitcoin succeeds, then it may be worth quite a lot.”

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Quotable (#5)

Scott Alexander’s extended argument on the awesome power of niceness ends in a tangle of in-jokes (but funny ones):

Jacqueline Carey and Mencius Moldbug are both wiser than Arthur Chu.

Carey portrays liberalism as Elua, a terrifying unspeakable Elder God who is fundamentally good.

Moldbug portrays liberalism as Cthulhu, a terrifying unspeakable Elder God who is fundamentally evil.

But Arthur? He doesn’t even seem to realize liberalism is a terrifying unspeakable Elder God at all. It’s like, what?

Technological Determination

Technological determinism‘ is among those theoretical traits (‘naturalistic fallacy’ is another) which tend immediately to provoke an attitude of complacent intellectual superiority, rather than cognitive engagement. Merely to identify it is typically judged sufficient for a dismissal. If TD as such poses a question, it is easily missed.

One under-examined question might be: Why is technological determinism so plausible in modern societies, and ever more so as they modernize? Is the balance of social determination within society itself an unstable historical variable, with unmistakable positive trend?

Two recent popular stories of relevance stray quite naively into the pre-set cross-hairs of the critique. In The Atlantic, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee announce the Dawn of the Second Machine Age, while Google-God of the TDs Ray Kurzweil conveys his prediction (through the UK’s Daily Mail) that “Robots will be smarter than the most intelligent humans within the next 15 years.” The sophisticated will scoff — without consequence.

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‘Neoliberalism’

It’s absolutely obvious that any engagement with the most prominent current version of accelerationist thinking — or indeed with any left-dominated discussion today — is going to encounter the term ‘neoliberalism‘ as an omnipresent reference. Sheer irritability won’t serve as a response for long.

Why irritation at all? Most immediately, because the reference of this term is a sprawling mess. It is employed ambiguously to describe an epoch, and an ideology. The evident duplicity of this lies in the tacit assumption that the ideology defines the epoch — a vast historical and political claim, as well as an implausible one — which evades systematic interrogation through terminological sleaziness.

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