Brendan O’Neill

Two AI Links And Some Thoughts On Political Philosophy

Sam Harris & Eliezer Yudkowsky-‘AI Racing Towards The Brink

Should the primary focus be on questions of alignment?  If spiders are to mice are to chimps are to humans, could independent human actors be creating general AI which is a similar order above our own thinking?  Yudkowsky argues that the time to think about such issues is now.

From Quanta Magazine: ‘New Theory Cracks Open the Black Box of Deep Learning

Not exactly reassuring, but the ‘bottleneck’ theory likely mirrors neuronal networks and something which occurs when we humans learn.

Even as machines known as “deep neural networks” have learned to converse, drive cars, beat video games and Go champions, dream, paint pictures and help make scientific discoveries, they have also confounded their human creators, who never expected so-called “deep-learning” algorithms to work so well. No underlying principle has guided the design of these learning systems, other than vague inspiration drawn from the architecture of the brain (and no one really understands how that operates either).

And now for something mostly different…a note on political philosophy (because you didn’t ask 🙂):  Let’s say, for a moment, that questions of fact and questions of value are orthagonal to one another. Whether or not something is true is not necessarily connected to whether or not the thing is good.

One clear problem arising from Marxist and neo/post Marxist thought is that many of the ‘is’ claims contained therein are simply not true.  Marxism, relying upon a singular variable (let’s say L) for all types of labor, is not really describing the world as it is accurately enough to work (capable of planning economies and organizing societies led by a revolutionary ‘vanguard’).  Although Marxism isn’t an explicit moral theory, it clearly animates the moral sentiments and provides value hierarchies to which Marxists still cling and neo-Marxists still seek to produce.  Some variant of Marxism is good enough for a lot of people, frankly, and a lot of people with a religion-sized hole in their lives.  Marxist confusion regarding its own epistemological value as a ‘science’ tends to reflect within its followers, too, many of whom still seem to think what they do is ‘science.’

To my mind, J.S. Mill went a good deal deeper in trying to provide ‘is’ cases for why one should act liberally, maximizing liberty for one’s self by banding together with others also speaking against custom and taboo and the current rules (Benthamites, Puritans, heretics, various outcasts etc.) in pursuit of the truth.  Utilitarian logic doesn’t entirely scale, of course, at least not without sacrificing some individuals for the whole, but both individual autonomy and political liberty in pursuit of the truth are much better preserved.

Within my own trajectory, I do suspect that some of the current neo-Kantians, neo-Platonists (neo-classicists) and Straussians are displaced and/or current religious believers, engaged in some pursuit (confirmation bias included) of what is both true and good (and perhaps, beautiful) within one philosophical whole.

At the moment, on the issue of being pro free-speech, I reasonably align with neo-Marxist (Brendan O’Neill) and post 60’s radical Camille Paglia, but I’ve got deep doubts as to where their thinking leads.

On individual and political liberty as well as economic freedom, I tend to align with many Millians, Hayekians and various flavors of libertarians.  This tends to be, philosophically, where I’m most at home.

On upholding tradition (the wisdom in traditions of which I may be ignorant), and upholding current rules and a deeper scepticism regarding human nature in favor of anything new, I tend to be in alignment with that rather neo-Kantian, neo-Hegelian, Church Of England conservative Roger Scruton.  I still have my worries regarding the modern touchstone of Kant, and the religion-sized hole filled by Hegelian metaphysics and the significant problems of the German State, but the defense of both individual and family within potentially scalable political economies is welcomed.

Patriotism, the desire for limited government, the importance of citizens united under Laws as a nation, and citizens perhaps guided by Natural Law are not entirely unamenable to me, but the case for their goods must consistently, openly, and reasonably be made.

Feel free to highlight my vast and deep ignorance, fellow human (or impostor).

I’ve got a lot of ignorance.

Related: From Darwinian Conservatism: Nietzsche-Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?

A Few Thoughts On The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry: Nietzsche’s Moral And Political Philosophy.

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom:Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?: From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

The classical liberal tradition…looking for classical liberals in the postmodern wilderness: Isaiah Berlin’s negative liberty: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…Looking to supplant religion as moral source for the laws: From The Reason Archives: ‘Discussing Disgust’ Julian Sanchez Interviews Martha Nussbaum.…

You Do That Taboo That You Do So Well?

This blog is still baffled by Angela Merkel’s decision to let in so many migrants in short-term, without seemingly having addressed many long-term immigration and integration issues.

What’s the plan, here, exactly?

‘Solomon Michalski loved going to his new school on a leafy Berlin street because it was vibrant and diverse, with most students from migrant families. But when the teenage grandson of Holocaust survivors let it slip that he was Jewish, former friends started hissing insults at him in class, he says. Last year some of them brandishing what looked like a gun took him aside and said they would execute him’

Perhaps there isn’t such a good plan, but this is the political will, expediency and leadership there is.

A good start for most media outlets might be just reporting the facts.  Letting the chips fall where they may; having the courage to discuss more sensitive matters in public forums is a balm desperately needed (plenty of crazies, idiots and ideologues all around…plenty of real elephants in the room).

Douglas Murray at the Spectator: ‘Why Can’t We Speak Plainly About Migrant Crime?:’

‘In Germany friends and readers describe to me how they are learning anew how to read their daily newspapers. When the news says that ‘A person was killed by another person’ for instance, and no names or other identifying characteristics are given, people guess – correctly – that the culprit is probably of migrant background. For the time-being serious crimes are still reported, but the decision has been taken that the public should not really be informed about them. Of course if you were to report them, or mull on them on social media then you would now risk losing that platform. So the media isn’t much use. And social media isn’t either.’

Typically, the kinds of failures we’re seeing means that deeper models are not robust! Many in the media, politics and academia are simply regurgitating parts of questionable models for as long as they will work, and for what they will cover.

There are deeper philosophical, ideological, political and thinking conflicts here, and few will be easily resolved.

It must be a strange time when self-described ‘libertarian Marxist’ Brendan O’Neill is advocating for the liberty of the man-on-the-street to live his own life.

He’s really bringing it to many nannying Eurocrats, techno-Davosians, the radically chic, the well-to-do daughters and sons of the liberal European Left claiming some variant of victimhood while up to their eyeballs in opportunity and material comforts.

This, as many populist responses fill the void:

Everyday people might be able to live their own lives!

But…to what end?  Revolutionary Praxis? A return to Marx?  A life well-lived?

It reminds this blog of Camille Paglia’s return to the promises of liberation baked-in into the radicalism of the 60’s (when she knew real Marxists just as she holds the academocrats who filled into their wake with contempt).  A welcome and bold voice, but…to which ends exactly?

Do you trust yourself enough not to know what could possibly be best for others, and thus default to basic liberty?

What about authority?

Do most people really just want to know where they stand in a hierarchy?

Arnold Kling reviews the late Kenneth Minogue’sThe Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes The Moral Life,‘ and finishes with:

‘Overall, I would say that for libertarians Minogue’s book provides a litmus test. If you find yourself in vigorous agreement with everything he says, then you probably see no value in efforts to work with progressives to promote libertarian causes. The left is simply too dedicated to projects that Minogue argues undermine individual moral responsibility, and thus they are antithetical to liberty. On the other hand, if you believe that Minogue is too pessimistic about the outlook for freedom in today’s society and too traditional in his outlook on moral responsibility, then you would feel even more uneasy about an alliance with conservatives than about an alliance with progressives.’

What can some moderns tell us?:

T.S. Eliot (Preludes: Stanza 3)

3.

You tossed a blanket from the bed
You lay upon your back, and waited;
You dozed, and watched the night revealing
The thousand sordid images
Of which your soul was constituted;
They flickered against the ceiling.
And when all the world came back
And the light crept up between the shutters
And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
You had such a vision of the street
As the street hardly understands;
Sitting along the bed’s edge, where
You curled the papers from your hair,
Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
In the palms of both soiled hands.

On Marianne Moore at The New Criterion-‘Armored Animal:'(behind a paywall)

‘A first-time reader of Marianne Moore’s poems might be forgiven for thinking that they were dictated on the sly in some uproarious menagerie of the imagination.’

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Thank you for reading!

Is Religion Really The Greatest Threat To Civil Society?-Brendan O’Neill At Spiked-‘New Atheism: Worshipping Nothing’

Short piece here (video discussion included)

(approx 33.oo minutes long)

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Link sent in by a reader.  A British affair, but interesting:

‘For those who don’t believe in God, but do believe in humanity, how should we view religion? O’Neill argues for tolerance. That means we should be free to express our beliefs as we see fit, and others should be to criticise and even ridicule those beliefs’

It’s nice to see some pushback against the zeal of ‘activist’ and New Atheism, as well as eliminative materialism. Humanism can become anti-humanist after all, especially among environmentalists (some secular doomsday groups know how many people is enough).

But radical humanism, or renewed faith in humanism, must still ground itself in claims to knowledge and truth, in rationality, or in some thinking which can maintain civil society and mediate other competing claims according to its lights.  Why and how should humanists manage the public square?

Here in America, we’re arguably witnessing the decline of organized religion in public life and in many of our institutions, and perhaps the rise of greater numbers of unaffiliated individuals exercising their freedoms and arranging their lives in other ways.

It’s become quite easy to mock the religious and religious figures (Christian, mostly) as representatives of a defunct/backwards way of thinking, thus marginalizing them from public debate.  Of course, in my opinion, there remain good reasons to be skeptical of many claims to knowledge and truth made by the Church, to satirize the ignorance and abuses of earthly power, as well as the zeal of religious belief, but I’m generally content to leave it up to the individual should they choose turning inward to a relationship with God, to religious texts, or a church.

Perhaps the flip-side to liberal secular humanist faith is a lack of faith.  Surely some deep, liberal thinker out there has become thoroughly convinced that people are no good, after all, and can’t be trusted with their freedoms apart from his/her thinking or ideological commitments. Perhaps there’s a secular humanist political leader somewhere thoroughly sick of humanity for the time being, simply accruing more political power and influence because they can.

As far as satire or mockery goes, they would be just as worthy, no?

Recently, British popular thinker Alain De Botton floated the idea of building an ‘atheist temple’ in the heart of London.  He recommends combing through religious practices for useful organizing principles in response to the New Atheists.  You can read more about it here, which includes a radio interview/podcast.

Did the Unitarian Universalists get there first, with a mishmash of faith and secular humanism?

Towards a theme: Perhaps you’ve also heard of the Rothko chapel, in Houston, Texas:

‘The Rothko Chapel, founded by Houston philanthropists John and Dominique de Menil, was dedicated in 1971 as an intimate sanctuary available to people of every belief. A tranquil meditative environment inspired by the mural canvases of Russian born American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970), the Chapel welcomes over 60,000 visitors each year, people of every faith and from all parts of the world.’

There’s even a suite of music by Morton Feldman, entitled ‘Rothko Chapel’

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RelatedA definition of humanism:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Related On This SiteFrom Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

Timothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

Charles Murray At The New Criterion: ‘Belmont & Fishtown’