Tyranny Vanquished by Love

Listening to “Once and For All” this morning, I was moved to reconsider this post. It seems particularly meaningful at this time, as Donald Trump collapses under the pressures of the justice marshaled by Robert Mueller and others.


As an advocate of the healing manifested in the world through divine love – that is to say, as an apologist – the most painful apology is that offered by those that justify violence in the defense of received truth.

In modern America, those justifications are flavored with desperation. For many years, Christian culture was synonymous with the dominant Caucasian culture. The twenty-first century promises an end to that dominance, but that eventuality was clearly forecast in the last century. The misguided hope that change and accommodation can be avoided breeds irrationality, manifested in the religious extremism that spawned death-threats against doctors that prescribe chemical abortions or that drives parents to resist education in evolutionary biology. Fundamentalism bred in the military, where “Warriors for Christ” sometimes coerce religious conduct in their subordinates, and issue death threats against leaders in organizations (such as the Military Religious Freedom Foundation) that oppose that…

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There is No ‘Learn’

Zayd Enam at Stanford University has posted an accessible discussion of why developers struggle to perfect artificial intelligence systems. The key point is that patrons of AI development aren’t willing to build an algorithm and turn it loose on the world. They expect the algorithm to be trained against a set of representative inputs, and the responses evaluated to assure that the frequency and severity of improper responses poses tolerable risk.

This is not a new principle. Auto manufacturers model collisions to identify “worst case” scenarios where structural elements will interact to kill passengers that would normally have survived the initial collision. They balance the likelihood of these scenarios to produce the “safest car possible.” In most cases, auto safety systems (air bags, crumple zones) will save lives, but in some cases they will kill.

It’s not evil, it’s unavoidable.

The problem with AI is that it assumes control of decision making. In an auto accident, human beings make the decisions that result in the accident. The decisions are made with a rapidity that is perceptible to other drivers, who presumable can take action to protect themselves. This happens every day.

Of course, we’ve all seen a texting teenager drive through an intersection on the red when cars start moving with the green left-turn arrow. Situations like these – accidents generated by inattention or stupidity – are easily preventable by tireless digital components whose only job is to monitor for specific errors. If traffic signals had been installed as part of the internet of things, that could be done without artificial intelligence: the timing system could broadcast the signal state through the vehicle sensors, which would prevent the front car from moving. But since that system is not in place, engineers use AI to interpret camera pictures to determine the state of the lights. Obviously the AI algorithms must be at least equal to the judgment of a attentive human driver, which means that the correctness standard must be high.

But the motivation for the development of the AI systems is the inattentive teenager.

The more dangerous class of AI applications are those running in environments that humans cannot perceive at all. Obvious cases are industrial control (dangerous conditions) and electronic stock trading (high speed). The motivation here is profit, pure and simple. When an opportunity presents itself, the speed and precision of the response is paramount. Conversely, however, when the algorithm acts in error, that error is compounded more rapidly than humans can intervene.

Again, this is not new: in the 1700s, the British crown commissioned governors to manage its far-flung empire, and could control abuse of that authority only through the exchange of letters delivered by ships. In that situation, power was distributed and compartmentalized: the thirteen American colonies had governors and parliamentary bodies to resist executive misdeeds.

This is also the approach taken with training of natural learning systems: children. We don’t give children absolute authority over their lives. In fact, wise parents extend such authority only gradually as competency is demonstrated.

This is an approach to the problem of developing and deploying AI systems. No single system should be deployed on its own. Instead, they should be deployed in communities, with a managerial algorithm that polls the proposed actions and allows implementation only when consensus exists. The results are fed back into the training system, and the polling weighted towards the most effective algorithms. When a Newton or Einstein arises from the community – an AI system that always produces the best result – only then is absolute authority conferred.

Until the system changes. For example, a robot housekeeper may operate on high power until a baby is brought home, and then be forced back into low-power mode until it has adapted to the presence of the unpredictable element brought into its demesne.

Phase Change

I’ve spent my life ignoring the fear that predators generate, offering love as a win-win alternative. But – being in the mode of fear – predators are good at simulation of it, and have taken up the strategy of marshaling social hostility by pretending to fear.

Predators operate in the brain stem. Yesterday, I decided to push them out. I have turned all the psychological discipline that allows me to create beauty in the face of anger, and isolated them in the lower part of my personality.

I now confidently traverse the places they have tried to ward against me, and upon encountering them in person offer a cheery “Good morning!” My mind is clear of the thoughts that they cultivated to justify their enmity.

Woken early this morning, I turned my focus on them – primitive personalities trapped in the amber of my will – and extended its boundaries, out to the criminal enterprise that has occupied the White House and the Kremlin, cauterizing the fear.

We’ll see where this goes now.

The New Political Math

Shortly after I entered high school, mandatory busing brought students from the inner city out to the white haven of Woodland Hills. The lunch area was voluntarily segregated, black students in one corner set off from the milling WASPs and JAPs.

Busing was an attempt to address the social divide created by white flight from the city out to the Los Angeles suburbs. When my parents sold the family home in the ’90s, it was part of a progression that ceded the Valley to a growing Hispanic population as the Caucasians headed up the freeways to Camarillo, Palmdale, and Santa Clara.

In some part this was driven by real estate values: owners that once saw their houses as homes began to consider them to be assets, avoiding maintenance under the assumption that they could always trade up against their growing equity. Neighborhood blight was their legacy, allowing hard-working minorities in the trades the opportunity to profit from their sweat equity.

But a significant factor, visible in resegregation all across the country, was the desire to live among “those like us.”

Of course, part of being “like us” is making money without getting our hands dirty. This pulls minorities in to do that work. Rural communities in Georgia find that they have to make room for the people that clean their chicken coops. They may still be dominated by the Caucasians that retire to attend the Evangelical mega-church, but there’s nobody waiting in the wings to replace them. Sooner or later, the population will tilt to homogeneity.

In California, the end game has been apparent for twenty years. Having no other haven in the state, the majority fled out of the state to Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and further. What has been unnoticed is the electoral calculus of that movement.

Remember, these are the people most committed to maintaining white hegemony. In fleeing to low population states, they are assisted in that aim by electoral math: each of the 15 million voters in California elects two senators, just as each of the 500,000 voters in Montana. In terms of senatorial power, each voter in Montana has 30 times as much power as a voter in California. In the electoral college, each voter in Montana has 3 times as much power as a voter in California.

So this explains why the Republicans are ceding the House of Representatives to the Democrats in the midterm elections. In the House, every voter has equal power, and the will of the majority will rule. The Republicans will continue to cater to the ethno-nationalists to maintain control of the Senate. With control of both the Senate and the White House, they can continue to stuff the Judiciary with economic and religious conservatives.

I can’t imagine that the Founders envisaged this reality. Mass migration in their age brought social dislocation that disrupted political cohesion. In our age, communications and transportation infrastructure sustain political cohesion, an opportunity that the ethno-nationalists are exploiting to their advantage.

Blessed Rebirth

When I was about ten, my mother took me aside at a party and led me to a young man sitting on our couch. When we were introduced, his eyes turned inward, and I asked, “Is anything wrong?”

“No, I’m fine.” And then with a wistful, one-sided smile:  “I was hearing the music of the spheres.”

All those years intervening – the angers, frustrations, desires and sorrows. What would they have generated had I been aware?

I stand amid a field of intention three billion years deep, and a solar system wide.

I cannot exert myself. I can only surrender to love.

It must be my nature. But – I was given the choice.

God and Guns

At the NRA conference yesterday, attendees were happy to assert that “Jesus loves me and my guns.”

No. There will be no guns in paradise.

Jesus accepts your fascination with Death, and recognizes that Death asserts its sway over you in our consumer society. But he also understands that your fascination is locked in the weapons that you worship, so that when you die it evaporates when the metal is reclaimed for something useful – like making surgical implements or machine fasteners.

Eventually part of you will get to heaven, but it will only be the part that “fears not,” as the Bible commands so many times.

Jesus forgives your fear, but is determined that it be separated from you so that you may enter heaven. That is the measure of his love for us.