Quotable (#213)

Girard in contemporary politics (insightfully explored):

In one of his seminars, Thiel made the political stakes of his concern with scapegoating more explicit, making reference to Occupy Wall Street: “The 99% vs. the 1% is the modern articulation of this classic scapegoating mechanism. It is all minus one versus the one.” The central task of controlling what Girard calls the “victimage mechanism,” for “founders” like him, is to deflect collective violence from themselves. Gawker, on the other hand, seemed to specialize in identifying targets for that violence, or at least for collective online vituperation – and those targets often belonged to the capitalist “founder” class, although many debated whether Gawker at times abandoned its proclaimed commitment to “punching up.” Crushing Gawker was not simply an attack on a particular organ of scapegoating that had offended Thiel, but an attempt to disarm a certain politicization of scapegoating in a digital world given over to it.

(The entire piece is excellent.)

Quotable (#194)

Ben Narasin cites an (unnamed) Chinese Communist Party official on the techno-economic function of science fiction:

For years we’ve been making wonderful things. We make your iPods. We make phones. We make them better than anybody else, but we don’t come up with any of these ideas. So we went on a tour of America talking to people at Microsoft, at Google, at Apple, and we asked them a lot of questions about themselves, just the people working there. And we discovered they all read science fiction … so we think maybe it’s a good thing.

Quotable (#190)


Economists have long known that some of the strongest statistical predictors of long-run national prosperity have been “percent Confucian” and “percent Buddhist.” A famed paper coauthored by Xavier Sala-i-Martin demonstrated that conclusively. It’s time for scholars to investigate whether, for most countries, a pro-Confucian migration policy is a good option.

(Once you can admit this, all kinds of presently-unspeakable corollaries come for free.)

Quotable (#188)

This stuff is basic:

In medieval times, privileged sinners found absolution for their guilt through more formal contractual penance. Churchmen consulted books of penitentials that prescribed precise medicinal doses — donations, pilgrimages, fasting, and a host of other sacrificial acts — to offset particular sins to get them right again with God. The key was to find a way to keep enjoying sinning and still get to heaven on the cheap. […] In our atheistic and agnostic society, inexpensive, loud, and public virtue-mongering has replaced church penance — with Black Lives Matter, La Raza, Al Sharpton, network anchor people, NPR, the New York Times, and such acting as the new bishops who can dispense exemptions. […] The wealthy, the influential, the intelligentsia, and the cultural elite all broadcast their virtues — usually at a cut-rate rhetorical price — to offset their own sense of sin (as defined by feelings of guilt), or in fear that their own lives are antithetical to the ideologies they espouse, or sometimes simply as a wise career move. Sin these days is mostly defined as race/class/gender thought crimes. …

It’s almost like a state church …

Quotable (#185)

John Gray on atheism’s awkward specter:

There can be little doubt that Nietzsche is the most important figure in modern atheism, but you would never know it from reading the current crop of unbelievers, who rarely cite his arguments or even mention him. Today’s atheists cultivate a broad ignorance of the history of the ideas they fervently preach, and there are many reasons why they might prefer that the 19th-century German thinker be consigned to the memory hole. With few exceptions, contemporary atheists are earnest and militant liberals. Awkwardly, Nietzsche pointed out that liberal values derive from Jewish and Christian monotheism, and rejected these values for that very reason. There is no basis — whether in logic or history — for the prevailing notion that atheism and liberalism go together. Illustrating this fact, Nietzsche can only be an embarrassment for atheists today. Worse, they can’t help dimly suspecting they embody precisely the kind of pious freethinker that Nietzsche despised and mocked: loud in their mawkish reverence for humanity, and stridently censorious of any criticism of liberal hopes. …

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Quotable (#170)

Sunspring (see linked video):

Ars is excited to be hosting this online debut of Sunspring, a short science fiction film that’s not entirely what it seems. It’s about three people living in a weird future, possibly on a space station, probably in a love triangle. You know it’s the future because H (played with neurotic gravity by Silicon Valley‘s Thomas Middleditch) is wearing a shiny gold jacket, H2 (Elisabeth Gray) is playing with computers, and C (Humphrey Ker) announces that he has to “go to the skull” before sticking his face into a bunch of green lights. It sounds like your typical sci-fi B-movie, complete with an incoherent plot. Except Sunspring isn’t the product of Hollywood hacks — it was written entirely by an AI. To be specific, it was authored by a recurrent neural network called long short-term memory, or LSTM for short. At least, that’s what we’d call it. The AI named itself Benjamin.