To promote this vision, Martine and Bina in 2004 founded what they call a “trans” religion, called Terasem, devoted to “respecting diversity without sacrificing unity,” as the website puts it. Most any self-respecting transhumanist would revolt at this: Refuting the human impulse to adulate the mysterious and adore the unknown is part of their hyperrationalist mission. But Martine sees transhumanism for what it is: a belief system.
Martine and Bina have acquired three Terasem “ashrams,” all near their various homes, but at this point the religion seems to have become more important in principle, as a teaching tool, than as a real-world spiritual community. They haven’t acquired so many official followers; only about 50 including relatives and employees. I visited the ashram in Bristol on the tenth of August at 10 a.m., the designated time for a monthly meeting. The ashram is a beautiful and roomy farmhouse, sparsely furnished but for a grouping of chairs facing a video screen, which was playing a DVD of Martine leading what looked like meditation exercises. No one was watching. Only three people had shown up, including me, and the other two were standing around the kitchen: Sky Gale, who works for Martine as a groundskeeper (and is charged with opening the ashram doors on the tenth of every month), and a blond video-game obsessive named Chris who looked like he hadn’t slept in a week. “I’m so glad we can’t travel to other planets right now,” he was saying. “We’d just pillage, and it would suck.” On its website I found the four truths of Terasem. (1) Life is purposeful. (2) Death is optional. (3) God is technological. And (4) Love is essential.
A guy in his living room with a six pack of beer can have some bad ideas about what to do in the afternoon — shoot tin cans off the back fence, surveil his neighbor with a drone, maybe do dirt bike donuts on his neighbors front yard after those beers are gone.
A guy in his living room with $6 billion can have a normatively bad idea about what to do, and do real damage to normal, ordinary everyday humans.
“But when Thiel is arguing for more women founders he isn’t just deflecting responsibility from himself and his fellow investors. He is also doing something else that I want to unpack: he is re-inscribing a form of hierarchical thinking that is part of the reason tech is such a mess regarding diversity. That is, when Thiel points to “more women founders” as a solution, he is asking women to become founders in order to possess a status that would allow Thiel to acknowledge women in tech at all.”—
I think this is a perceptive criticism. In the world of startups, there are really two categories of people: the exalted class of “founders” (whose economics, perks, and acclaim are disproportionate to the rank and file), and everyone else. Both a large hierarchal imbalance and a club-ish lack of transparency lie at the heart of this industry whose PR story leans heavily on an image of progressive meritocracy.
“I didn’t follow up on his invite to the event. If I were younger and starting out, I probably would have gone. What are a few awkward touches if it means hobnobbing with people that might open up some golden doors for me? It is hard to explain the particular power bargains that many women make in their careers. Roughly it amounts to putting up with minor acts of abuse, partly because of the threat that no one will believe you, but also because in the long run you are positioning yourself to a career placement where you are less likely to be a victim of these encounters. He would not act this way with women he regards as equals.”—The Good Girl Doesn’t Mind — The Message — Medium (via iamdanw)
“A natural component of filmmaking is the struggle to find money. It has been an uphill battle my entire working life… If you want to make a film, go make it. I can’t tell you the number of times I have started shooting a film knowing I didn’t have the money to finish it. I meet people everywhere who complain about money; it’s the ingrained nature of too many filmmakers. But it should be clear to everyone that money has always had certain explicit qualities: it’s stupid and cowardly, slow and unimaginative. The circumstances of funding never just appear; you have to create them yourself, then manipulate them for your own ends. This is the very nature and daily toil of filmmaking. If your project has real substance, ultimately the money will follow you like a common cur in the street with its tail between its legs. There is a German proverb: “Der Teufel scheisst immer auf den grössten Haufen” [“The Devil always shits on the biggest heap”]. So start heaping and have faith. Every time you make a film you should be prepared to descend into Hell and wrestle it from the claws of the Devil himself. Prepare yourself: there is never a day without a sucker punch. At the same time, be pragmatic and learn how to develop an understanding of when to abandon an idea. Follow your dreams no matter what, but reconsider if they can’t be realized in certain situations. A project can become a cul-de-sac and your life might slip through your fingers in pursuit of something that can never be realized. Know when to walk away.”—Werner Herzog. (via liams)
“They can do whatever they want with pricing and compensation; they can deactivate you as a driver whenever they want,” said a man who drives for three ride-sharing services in San Francisco and asked that his name be withheld for fear of being blacklisted. “Nobody has my back.”—
Here’s the problem with bigger numbers and endless possibility: They don’t go well with humans. We don’t have the processing power. Dating is not simply about finding like-minded people, but about limiting your potential set of choices. When we’re making a selection from what sociologists call a bounded set of choices, we can “satisfice” — that is, reach a kind of threshold of satisfaction. Once we find something above that level, great, let’s try it.
When the number of options increases, we become maximizers — unsatisfied with those options, and wanting more. On Tinder, we can judge, swipe and date as if there is an unlimited number of matches. When faced with boundless choices, can we ever choose?
“When read alongside Ianni, what is striking about Goffman’s book is not the cultural difference between being an Italian thug in the early part of the twentieth century and being an African-American thug today. It’s the role of law enforcement in each era. Chuck’s high-school education ended prematurely after he was convicted of aggravated assault in a schoolyard fight. Another boy called Chuck’s mother a crack whore, and he pushed his antagonist’s face into the snow. In a previous generation, this dispute would not have ended up in the legal system. Until the nineteen-seventies, outstanding warrants in the city of Philadelphia were handled by a two-man team, who would sit in an office during the evening hours and make telephone calls to the homes of people on their list. Anyone stopped by the police could show a fake I.D. Today, there are computers and sometimes even fingerprint machines in squad cars. Between 1960 and 2000, the ratio of police officers to Philadelphia residents rose by almost seventy per cent.”—
The problem, it seemed to me on that day, was that Clinton is a little haphazard at picking what to care about and whom to share it with. (This turned out to be, as insights go, an understatement.) He had made an unlucky Vulcan mind-meld with me on the subject of Bangladesh. And then he turned to Hunter Thompson, of all people, and said with wholehearted fervor, “We’re going to put one hundred thousand new police officers on the street.”
I was up all night persuading Hunter that this was not a personal threat.
In light of the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, I was reminded of this Hunter Thompson/Bill Clinton anecdote, which I found hilarious at the beginning of my think-piece reading career in 2001 and still find pretty amusing today.
“In Gordon, for instance, it found a complex character whose ambition was both sympathetic and alienating; the heartbreak of failing with his and Donna’s first computer, the Symphonic, has curdled in him. For a while, the push to bring the Giant to life revives his idealistic drive to make something great. But idealism is hard, it’s tiring, and eventually it becomes more important above all that he simply not lose one more time–even if winning this time just means making a widget slightly better and quicker than the other guy’s widget.”—The Thing That Gets Us to the Thing: Why Halt and Catch Fire Mattered | TIME (via Briana Mowrey)
“While working on sitcoms, [“Six Feet Under” creator Alan] Ball had compiled a list of things that would be different once he had control over his own show, and for the most part, he stuck to it. He exhibited few of the autocratic impulses of other showrunners. “He had a very different style from some of these other guys,” Soloway said. “He didn’t wield the big bat. Alan once described the masculine style of showrunning as standing in front of your troops, saying, ‘Come on! This is where we’re going.’ The feminine style is standing behind your troops, pushing them forward so they lead you. Alan did the feminine style. The show exists in the center of the room, and we all come to it with our minds and let it rise up, and it belongs to nobody.””—Brett Martin: Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad
“I see my role much like a small-town praire banker in the 1880’s. My job is to project an aura of calm, solvency, and permanence in an industry where none of those adjectives applies”—Pinboard Turns Five (Pinboard Blog)
Isn’t it striking that the most-typical and most-maligned genres of Instagram imagery happen to correspond to the primary genres of Western secular art? All that #foodporn is still-life; all those #selfies, self-portraits. All those vacation vistas are #landscape; art-historically speaking, #beachday pics evoke the hoariest cliché of middle-class leisure iconography. (As for the #nudes, I guess they are going on over on Snapchat.)
Why this (largely unintentional) echo? Because there is a sneaky continuity between the motivations behind such casual images and the power dynamics that not-so-secretly governed classic art.
Technology has so democratized image-making that it has put the artistic power once mainly associated with aristocrats—to stylize your image and project yourself to an audience as desirable—into everyone’s hands. (Although the parallel to art as “celebration of private property” is probably most vivid in the case of those who most closely resemble modern-day aristocrats. See: “Rich Kids of Instagram”). But images retain their function as game pieces in the competition for social status. “Doesn’t this look delicious?” “Aren’t I fabulous?” “Look where I am!” “Look what I have!”
“This paradox between our affluence as consumers and our precariousness as workers poses economic, political, and moral conundrums. If we can produce more with less, and workers become redundant, who will buy the goods? A robot can make a mobile phone but it cannot purchase one. Workers are also consumers. Fire your workers, your profits will rise until the day no one can afford to buy your product. Henry Ford was a visionary for paying his workers enough so they could buy his cars. Ultimately, our production possibilities frontier and so our societal wealth is determined by our level of technology. That keeps expanding. Thus every year we should be richer. Each generation should be better off than its parents. That we are not is a problem of distribution.”—The Central Paradox of the 21st Century (via azspot)
“Scientists at Facebook have published a paper showing that they manipulated the content seen by more than 600,000 users in an attempt to determine whether this would affect their emotional state. The paper, “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks,” was published in The Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences. It shows how Facebook data scientists tweaked the algorithm that determines which posts appear on users’ news feeds—specifically, researchers skewed the number of positive or negative terms seen by randomly selected users. Facebook then analyzed the future postings of those users over the course of a week to see if people responded with increased positivity or negativity of their own, thus answering the question of whether emotional states can be transmitted across a social network. Result: They can! Which is great news for Facebook data scientists hoping to prove a point about modern psychology. It’s less great for the people having their emotions secretly manipulated”—Facebook tinkered with users’ feeds for a massive psychology experiment
“Things like real management training and recruitment training and HR processes designed to make sure employees’ work lives are non-horrible get thrown out of the window. Because that’s how old people do things, and how many people north of thirty do you know who made billions by disrupting x with y when they were barely old enough to drive? None. The old way is the bad way, and under the new way we get to run our companies without paying attention to what is essentially the equivalent of due process in employment terms – basic rights and safeguards that people should be entitled to in the course of doing their jobs – and everyone gets super rich.”—The coolest culture hack of all is not hacking your culture » Boyes Club (via iamdanw)
“So how do you both give credit to ISIS and maintain its absolute otherness? Recast its leaders as corporate raiders! It’s perfect. It’s a type that’s both recognizable and difficult to empathize with; it explains a group’s motivations without requiring you to understand them. It’s a business narrative—a disruption narrative—which is increasingly the dominant type of narrative, laden with clean premises and familiar, if unknowable, forces. It aligns, for a Western audience, the foreign desire for an Islamic state with that inevitable quality of industry: The unquestioning, inevitable, unexamined desire for growth.”—How to Dehumanize a Terrorist: Give Him an MBA - The Awl
One map from the 1650s combined the “Island of California,” a famous cartographical error, with an imagined inland strait that would have carried mariners southwest from the icy north of Canada, through a Mer Glaciale (Icy Sea) and past the mythical cities of Cibola and what it called the Apaches Vaqueros (“cowboy Apaches”) of New Mexico. This hypothetical passage ends in the relatively balmy, sea otter–friendly waters off Point Reyes and Cape Mendocino, near Humboldt County.
The commercial advantages of such a route were obvious from the beginning, but for [Alchemist/Wizard John] Dee, as usual, things ran deeper. He was searching not only for trade with China but for the ultimate alchemical object: the Philosopher’s Stone. In 1582, Dee speculated in his angelic diaries that the stone might be “hid in the secret of the depths, in the uttermost part” of the King of Spain’s dominions. The Pacific-facing lands stretching far to the west of British North America, Dee hoped, might shelter the Philosopher’s Stone as well as the Northwest Passage.
Dee never made it to California, nor did he really know it as a distinct geographical place—but that didn’t stop him from dreaming about it.
Everyone is interested in doing fun things with their bodies. But the impulse to systematize, replicate, package, sell, and build an ideology around it is uniquely Silicon Valley. Part of what drives app makers and investors is the urge to bend the world to their desires—turn a thing on its side to see if it works better that way. In the personal realm, that translates to a libertine sense of entitlement and the pursuit of total optimization. OM seems ideally designed to meet those goals.
Many of OneTaste’s employees and devotees work in the startup sector. Reese Jones, Daedone’s sometime boyfriend, is also a venture capitalist and serial inventor credited with the first sound-recording software. During a presentation at the conference, Jones would compare the “OM container”—which refers both to the pillow-and-blanket covered “nest” one is supposed to construct and to the time limits and emotional boundaries of the practice—to the Internet communications protocol TCP/IP.
This past April, during the interactive portion of South by Southwest, Daedone delivered a talk titled “Female Orgasm: The Regenerative Human Technology” to a packed room. She relayed an endorsement from foundational futurist Ray Kurzweil, whose Singularity University counts Reese Jones as a board member. “The next thing we knew we were invited into all of these tech circles and, whoa, man, the testing there was rigorous and crazy,” she said. “But finally we got the blessing of Ray Kurzweil that we are officially a technology, and they said it’s based on scientific knowledge about physiology and psychology and it goes far beyond insight or a piece of advice.”
“In fact,” she said, “I would go even further to say orgasm can do for physical connection what the internet has done for us in terms of virtual connection.”
“While such positive feedback is both convincing and hard to dismiss, few people recall that the Landmark Forum is not simply a career/self-help crash course—its “technologies” (as the Forum refers to them) are derived from Werner Erhard’s controversial est workshop. est, for all its faults, was a major player in the well-meaning Human Potential Movement of the Seventies, a movement which put a premium on human possibility, with an emphasis on the spiritual side of humanity. Since est evolved into the Forum, so has the audience for such “technologies” evolved—from New Age hippies to CEOs to CEO-hippy hybrids—a transformation that provides a lesson not only about corporate identity re-branding and our culture’s shifting standards of legitimacy; it also suggests what we dream about thirty years later, when we dream about our own potential.”—The Believer - est, Werner Erhard, and the Corporatization of Self-Help
Nobody ever joins a cult. One joins a nonprofit group that promotes green technology, animal rights, or transcendental meditation. One joins a yoga class or an entrepreneurial workshop. One begins practicing an Eastern religion that preaches peace and forbearance. The first rule of recruitment, writes Margaret Singer, the doyenne of cult scholarship, is that a recruit must never suspect he or she is being recruited. The second rule is that the cult must monopolize the recruit’s time.
The psychological methods used by a cult leader are the same as those used by con men, advertisers, and politicians. As Margaret Singer writes in Cults in Our Midst:
'Cult leaders and con artists are opportunists who read the times and the ever-changing culture and adapt their pitch to what will appeal at a given moment. These manipulators survive because they adapt and because they are chameleon-like. So, at some times we get cults based on health fads, business-training programs, get-rich-quick schemes, and relationship improvement seminars; at others we get fundamentalist religious cults, Eastern meditation groups, identity or hate groups, longevity groups, and so forth.'
The new tech bros have one thing on their brains—making money. They are different than the programmers I knew from ’90s, many of whom were also artists—musicians, photographers, DJs, involved in underground and alternative subcultures. They were freaks. Coding was as much a creative activity as a means to making money. If you got into computers in the ’90s, you were already a little weirder than the rest of the world, you already thought differently. Now that computing is trendy—and economically fruitful—it’s attracting a different kind of person altogether.
“I can see exactly how the tech group in the ’90s may have been more interesting because they actually were disrupting things. They changed culture, and you can’t do that without not only a driven focus but also a wide lens,” said Violet.
Today, she said, “I went out with so many guys who thought they were a part of some big revolution, but who looked to me like any establishment dude in a suit. There was a lack of awareness that they are the establishment now. They wanted it all, to be treated like a tech revolutionary and to be fawned over like a millionaire banker. Who I was got completely lost in the mix.”
Those affiliated with the humanities—who interest themselves in all the things that can’t be measured, but must be judged instead, like moral, aesthetic and philosophical questions—are experiencing a daily low-grade fever of dissatisfaction (or generalized rage, in the case of Sam Biddle) as we are daily sold on the inevitability of catastrophic ideas. In 2003, Donald Rumsfeld told a reporter that the OMB had estimated that the Iraq War would cost something less than $50 billion—the total sum, to be shared by the US and its allies. There would be “smart bombs,” plans laid by expert warmongerers, all kinds of precision.
None of this persuaded the people who’d read their history and learned about the politics, who were warning against the likelihood of disaster and of civil war and the emboldening of extremists, and who marched in their millions (many, many millions) in the streets of the world’s capital cities in early 2003. So it rankles in a particular way to see that the true cost of the Iraq War topped $2 trillion not long ago.
What is the study of humanities for? It’s to prevent this. To apply the lessons of history, and consider the possible costs to the future. To consider not only what will profit us but what will be right for us to do, and why. Andreessen, a dyed-in-the-wool measurer and chart-monger if there ever was one, is a man who would never even dream of a just world, where all would sit at the same table. He is the living example of what is lost when we value things only through the money they represent.
This is exactly why so much the tech industry’s rhetoric these days makes broadly educated people feel like they’re taking crazy pills. When Marc Andreesen claims, for example, that we’re about to enter a robot utopia where we all paint and compose symphonies in perfect economic harmony (and that any unpleasantness in the intervening period will be smoothed over by a form of trickle down economics that demands nothing of the rich while ensuring that society doesn’t collapse under the weight of crushing economic inequality), it’s hard not to wonder if he knows anything at all about, oh, say, the entire history of humanity. When he attempts to undermine a critic by mocking her liberal arts credentials and pointing out that she surely can’t be as smart as him because she probably knows nothing about real, scienc-ey things like “quantum entanglement,” he only demonstrates that, like so many blinkered, self-proclaimed rationalists in tech, he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.