What Really Ails Medicine?

Looking out at the big, empty Pacific — just beyond the outer break, Kauai, Hawaii

Note: While I can’t promise this post will be what some might consider “jargon free” — I’m going to do my best to illustrate some important concepts in my work in the context of medicine. If you’re ingratiated in the rest of this, hopefully you’ll still find it useful. And I’m going to start with my own recent health story.

This past year, I had the misfortune of actually having a health problem that could acutely kill me, at some accelerated time from what I thought would be my actual departure. We all don’t live forever, of course, and as Clint Eastwood said in the movie Unforgiven, “we’ve all got it coming.”

The problem was an irregular heartbeat, caused as much by a combination of ani inherited genetic frailty, along with the stress of dealing with the last days of the cordoned pandemic. Racing hearts are easily detected (or felt), especially during exercise, so I was referred, and then scheduled an appointment with a cardiologist, who happened to be located in Coeur D’Alene. Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, is about a 90 minute drive from my house, so it’s a day out of my life to drive up there.

The doctor did the usual miniature stress test on me, read the trace, said “yep, you have a small arrhythmia” and prescribed a dose of magnesium to be taken daily. Done and done.

Except it wasn’t done. Sometime, in the middle of the summer, I received a phone call from a local hospital that will go unnamed. “We are supposed to schedule you for a formal stress test,” the nurse said. I said “Are you sure? My cardiologist didn’t mention anything about future testing during my visit. And it’s been three months.”

The nurse snapped into the phone, “I don’t take orders from patients! Only doctors!” and then basically hung up on me as I pleaded to her to check with the cardiologist’s office.

Three months passed, and I finally get another call from the hospital to schedule the test. This time it was a different nurse, the order had been checked — apparently the cardiologist thought it would be a good idea, but had not thought to contact me. So I said “sure,” and ended up on the schedule for the end of October.

While I am not quite an exercise nut, I’m pretty serious about my exercise habit. I ride my bike (a real one, not an electric one) anywhere from 1300 miles to 2000 miles a year. If you are interested in my weight loss story, I’ve written extensively on the memetics of our dysfunctional approach to holistic health and nutrition, basically starting here. I lost approximately 65 lbs. about six years ago through fixing my diet and pursuing a LCHF approach. I had always exercised, and had basically resigned myself to being a ‘fit fat guy’ until friend Ryan prodded me to “just try something different.” That something different forced an entire re-evaluation on how we approach diet and health, which, not surprisingly, is powerfully distorted by the uniformly low level of psycho-social evolution of the medical community.

So, like any good exercise nut, I went trundling into my heart stress test armed with my phone and its Garmin Connect app, which records the various traces of my heart in different activities, including my bike riding. The nurse was nice enough, and I said “I’m in really pretty good shape for a 60 year old guy. Let me show you my bike traces.” When I ride, I normally get my heart up to 150 bpm. And considering the nominal max heart rate for my age is only 160 bpm (220 – age) that’s not too bad. In the cardiologist’s office last April, everyone but me looked like death warmed over.

“That’s all fine and good,” she said. “But we have to get you to be winded in order for the test to be effective.” “No problem,” I said.

So I got on the treadmill. These things run something like 10 minutes, and the short description is they turn up the knob on the speed until you can’t take it any more. At the time, I had no perspective on any of this, other than the weird detached comfort I have around doctors (my father was a physician) mixed in with a healthy dose of skepticism. Most doctors have never fixed any problem I’ve ever had, and with the whole system of Primary Care Physicians (PCP) you’re lucky to even spend any time with a doctor that might have some familiarity with the long term arc of your health trajectory.

So, I got on, and she turned up the treadmill rheostat. We got to 130 bpm, and then 140 bpm, and the nurse exclaimed “You’re not breaking down!” I responded “well, I ride my bike blah blah blah…” And she kept turning up the speed.

In hindsight I should have thought about the world that cardiac nurse lives in. She sees mostly fat, unhealthy people that don’t exercise. If they can get even to 135 bpm without being out of breath, they are the exception — not the rule.

We got to 155 bpm, and I was still going strong. “You’re not breaking down!” she said, and I said more blah blah. We got to 160 bpm, and I could see she was getting excited. “You’ve got to break down!” And like a good Boy Scout, I ran harder. My heart rate went to 165 bpm, and then I was finally getting winded. I SHOULD have stopped, but I didn’t. “You’ve got to break down!” she said again. “Only 20 more seconds!”

And then my heart went sideways. It was pretty clear on the traces. The mild arrhythmia turned into a major arrhythmia, and my heart did NOT feel good. I got off the treadmill, as she whimpered “you only had 20 more seconds…” I said “I really do not feel good,” and then packed my bags and got out of there. Where before I had never felt any heart pain, now I had a strange, dull angina. It is unprovable, of course, but I likely had a heart attack during my stress test.

The whole reason I had the test was because I had to, for my insurance, pre-qualify to the more advanced thallium-tracer “nuke stress test.” Now, since I some real documentation of a fucked up heart, likely really fucked up by the test itself, insurance would now approve this next level.

I’m not completely sure about all the timing of this, but in the same range, I also had a Trans-Ischemic Attack — a mini-stroke. Whether it happened post-stress test, or just right before (I think it was afterwards) it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t shit myself, or pass out. I was getting ready to walk into my classroom, where I am famous for knowing all the students’ names. And I couldn’t remember any of them. I had also had a dizzy spell and some temporary (very!) crossed eyes.

There were now some increased diagnostic activities in the mix. I got the modern version of a Holter Monitor – a microelectronic device to record 2 weeks of my heartbeats, as well as an MRI. But the next real milestone happened some six weeks later. I was scheduled for the “nuke stress test”, which tells you your ejection fraction — the amount of blood moved out of your lower heart, and a generalized measure of efficacy. So I went back to the hospital, and donned my mask like a good boy, and sat down. My name was finally called, and I went back to the CT scanner for the initial scan. The radiation tech was a very nice man, and I said “look, we have to have some ground rules here. I’m not convinced that the last round I had didn’t cause me to have a heart attack. It’s a problem because I’m in really good shape for a 60 year old man, and we can’t run my heart up to 170 bpm because that’s where I experience failure.” He was very nice, and reassured me that was not the case. Then he shot me up with drugs and did the scan. Easy.

The next stop was at the stress test with the cardiac nurse. I started “OK, I have some ground rules.” She immediately snapped back at me – “You don’t make the rules in this office. I make the rules.” I was taken aback, but firm with her. “I am the patient here. I have rights. You don’t get to kill me because you have issues,” I told her. She then immediately launched into “you’re not wearing a mask!” and then started running around the treatment room, attempting to find a mask to put on my face. I had left my original in the other room with the CT machine. More tense words ensued, and my blood pressure shot through the roof. She then put the blood pressure cuff on me, and declared she couldn’t do the test. Then she left the room. I had already almost walked out, and was thinking of the futility of all of this. When my blood pressure goes up, it doesn’t come back down after sitting in a chair in a conflict situation.

She came back, declared the test incapable of being performed, and I gathered my clothes and got out of there. I was very careful to not use any threatening body language, or language in general. When you live with limited medical options, you cannot get banned from a hospital. One day, you might need services, and they’ll refuse treatment.

So I left. I called my PCP’s office, and told them I wouldn’t be returning to that facility. There was one other local option, and they sent me there.

A very different scenario unfolded at that facility. There was only one radiation tech., in charge of both steps — the CT scan and the stress test. She was very kind, and our conversation led to an informal advice-giving session on how to deal with adolescent child problems. I told her about the heart rate limits, and the blood pressure issues with the last test. She said “we never get even close to that high for this test. And regarding your blood pressure, if we can’t get your blood pressure in an acceptable range, there are drug-based alternatives.” So we went through the steps, and she checked the scans.

Then came the bad news. “I can’t let you leave. The scan shows you have a problem. We may have to move to immediate admission. I have to check with the local cardiologist, because I’m not sure you can even drive.” We are now nine months after the initial diagnosis by the cardiologist in Coeur D’Alene.

In 15 minutes, the cardiologist called her back and released me. Because of the bond we had built over conversation, the radiation tech. immediately sent my files to everyone in the sphere of my care. That day, the cardiologist’s office in Coeur D’Alene called me and recommended that I have a heart catheterization/angiogram completed. I attempted to communicate the sequence of events to that nurse/scheduler (at no time did I talk to a doctor) and she accused me of being a high conflict patient. “Well, you first had a problem at Hospital X, and now you’re telling me you’re having problems at Hospital Y.” I said “no — I had a problem at Hospital X, but I went to Hospital Y and everything went fine. It’s the reason we’re having this conversation.” She hurriedly hung up on me, and called back later with a potential date three days later. To be fair, her tone was very apologetic, though she did not address the former comments. Since I had been asking questions, she asked if I wanted to schedule a visit with the cardiologist first, and then return for the treatment. “No,” I said. “That’s just going to push us back another week at a minimum.” I elected to talk with the cardiologist — all he basically did was angiograms — right before the procedure.

Scheduled for an angiogram, my wife and I drove to Coeur D’Alene, and spent the night. We were first on the list for treatment that Friday morning. It involved getting up at 5:00 AM, but my wife was adamant. “If there’s something wrong with you, then you can just go and get treated.” So we did. But after we checked in at the hospital, we discovered the real reason that going in at 5:30 AM was the correct call. “If you get bumped because it’s the end of the day, and the cardiologist doesn’t get done, you’ve got to come back tomorrow. And hope there’s room.” The receptionist never said it. But it sure looked like it could go on for days, if luck wasn’t with you.

At 5:30 AM, we showed up at the hospital. Everything was nominal. The cardiologist came in. An affable man in his 30s, he explained the procedure to me. I said “fine”. Then he said “OK — where are you feeling pain in your heart?” I said I had felt no pain, at least not until my original stress test. And that pain was a dull ache. “When are you having shortness of breath?” he next inquired. I said “I’m not having any shortness of breath. I exercise…” and then I’m sure I went on about my Garmin traces. Blah, blah, blah.

He then said “OK — this is what I think is going to happen. We’re going to thread the catheter up your wrist and look around in all your arteries. If we see a constriction, then I’ll just go ahead and put in a stent. But we may find nothing. And if I had to bet, I’ll bet we find nothing.”

The procedure went off without a hitch. The performing cardiologist came into the room, drew a quick picture — 3 out of 4 arteries were perfectly lean, but one had a clog, but had already formed collateral veins around the clog. “You’re fine,” he said. “Take a baby aspirin once a day, and double your cholesterol medicine.” I was still woozy, but relieved.

Two weeks later, I am finally scheduled in my PCP’s office. “I don’t think this looks very good,” he said. I said “why?” I had a misunderstanding of the state of the one clogged artery. I said, “well, what can we do?” He said “take a baby aspirin a day, and double your cholesterol medicine.”

As of this date, I finally have a real appointment with yet another cardiologist to understand the poor results on my Nuke Stress Test. I am still not dead.

While it may not be obvious, my case is an emblematic example of a good hunk of what is wrong with American medicine today. And the core problem? A lack of empathetic development of both the social system, and the individual providers along my journey created a circumstance where if I had been more sick, I would very likely be dead. If I had not encountered effective advocates at stages of my journey, I would be in even worse shape than I am now. I am absolutely not an expert in anything related to care for coronary heart disease, so it is difficult for me to evaluate exactly whether a specific act of care was adequate or not. Since there has been no positive treatment modalities in my journey, other than taking magnesium (which did help) it is also difficult for me to understand efficacy. I only know that I’m a pretty smart guy, and a systems thinker, and importantly, not fear-bound.

But I also know what it means to be an expert — and I certainly am not in cardiac medicine. I am, however, an expert in processes, and analysis of individual actors I encountered along the way. So that’s where I’m going to start.

First off — when I talk about empathy, I am not talking about giving someone a hug. A global picture of empathy is a nested stack, with lower levels being incorporated into higher levels as scaffolding. If you want a medical system that works, it is incumbent that almost ALL the people in the system have a combination of developed empathy as well as emotional self-separation (the ability to discriminate their own emotional responses from the patients they deal with) from their patients. While certain parts of medical practice do not require as much as others — it IS helpful to have a practiced specialist in one of the more manual/craft-oriented branches of medicine, like heart surgery — every patient that presents to the medical system is a host of physical and psychological symptoms and history.

A quick review of empathy — let’s look at the Empathy Pyramid.

Understanding empathy is really understanding how humans (and in general, sentient beings) connect. It is not just “feeling bad” for someone. Empathy in individuals can be characterized by the type of connection one has. In order to have the higher levels, you have to have evolved, at some minimum, from the bottom. So you can have someone at a higher empathetic level of development connect with someone more down to the bottom — in fact, it’s imperative in a field like medicine.

The other poorly understood consequence of empathy (or a lack of it) is the ability/inability to process complexity. A cornerstone concept of this blog is “as we relate, so we think.” Complex, nuanced relationships condition our brains to create more containers for other types of complex, nuanced knowledge. The simplest indicator of this is the ability of a person to entertain more than one solution to a problem. As opposed to dichotomous, black-and-white thinking, higher levels of thinking contain multiple avenues, and many different shades of gray.

If one needs more coupling to the relational space, think of the ability and brain practice of a person to connect to multiple people and sort out multiple opinions in the context of coming up with a diagnosis. In order for this to even be possible, a person has to have the abilities to: a.) talk to multiple people; b.) actually understand what was said by those people in a coherent fashion, and c.) integrate/synthesize that train of thought into a combined diagnosis. One can see also that this requires a sublimation of ego — there’s no point in seeking alternate opinions if you cannot change your mind.

Finally, social structures in institutions, according to their topologies, and their aggregate empathy levels, profoundly reward or discourage all the different levels of empathy. And practice makes perfect. Doctors exist primarily in hierarchies (often rigid) and tend to lower empathy development than nurses, who congregate in work groups around nursing stations, with directions to provide appropriate care for patients, reading the signals that often come directly from the patients themselves. Doctors give orders — and orders are one-way and inherently top-down. Nurses deal with a variety of patient requests, while being reminded through the social structure of their position in the hierarchy.

And while certainly not all doctors are hierarchical, narcissistic assholes, some certainly are. Perfect for rising to the top of dominance hierarchies that are so prevalent in medicine. Nurses, with their more communitarian sensibilities are often caught in a neurotic anxiety trap. A sign of this imbalance — it used to be that nurses were considered heavily sexualized and attractive. Now, they are by and large obese, consuming brownies at their nurses’ stations. The people who are supposed to be delivering health, through a combination of self similar social dynamics that I call the Principle of Reinforcement, are often the most unhealthy.

It gets worse. As medicine has advanced (and I believe it has) the need for specialists has also grown. But specialists are inherently ensconced in silos — their titles matter, and their diagnostic spread is limited. The people that are selected to study also must conform to this ‘complicated knowledge’ paradigm — and to the readers of this blog, the emphasis is very likely to award success to complicated procedure followers (Legalistic/Absolutistic v-Memes) than someone with a broader, more integrated perspective who can parse information from a patient.

Nor is the system likely to create scenarios to fix its bad habits. In fact, one thing I immediately noticed in the context of my own care was the ‘McKinsey-ization’ of health care. You went to a specialist for a particular ailment, and that specialist did that one thing, over and over. If you needed that thing done, well, it was going to be thoroughly practiced. But if you didn’t need that thing, or you had other confounding symptoms, you weren’t going to get very good care. And if you had a low probability situation going on, you’d end up with nothing except “I don’t know.”

Sometimes this system does work. In the case of my angiogram, the same cardiologist spent all day, every day, doing them. The day I was booked for mine, there were seven scheduled for him. But if there were any confounding symptoms, he would never have discovered them. My relationship with him consisted literally of three minutes at the start, before I was sedated, and three minutes at the end. He declared my condition at the end of the procedure to be “fine” — and I honestly believe that diagnosis. And look — he was a very nice person. But he was definitely in a rush. He had some six other angiograms to do. Or he would get behind — with predictable consequences.

But he delivered no context for my condition, nor any information about downstream treatment. In talking with him, I actually missed that one of my coronary arteries was 99% clogged, and didn’t understand the outgrowth of collateral arteries that had occurred that had prevented what likely would have been a heart attack that would have killed me. I didn’t walk with any understanding of when I might need another look-see inside my heart to see if other vessels were clogging. I was half-doped up, at any rate. I never really had a chance to understand his perspective that might have helped. Nothing along the lines of “you should’ve seen the last ten people I plumbed. Compared to them, you’re a Boy Scout.” His position had been scaffolded with one thing in mind — maximum, efficient operational throughput. As McKinsey/BCG a solution as I had ever witnessed.

Let’s walk back through what happened in my other history of procedures. My first cardiologist appointment, a referral by my PCP, was actually pretty good. Sitting in the waiting room with a bunch of oldsters who looked like death warmed over had both its good and bad points. On the one hand, I knew I had to be at least nominally in better shape than them. Every single one of them was obese, with a gray pallor that screamed death. But on the other, well, I was in the room with them. My initial nurse in that visit was awesome. Laboring under a mask, she told me I was free to take mine off, and that she thought it was ridiculous. The same with finally the cardiologist when she came to visit. We talked a respectable amount of time — 15 minutes about my condition, and when I left I felt like I had been treated decently and understood.

But the system is inherently fragile, and rapidly goes off the rails when a High Conflict person is introduced. When I was contacted about the first stress test and I requested a check on whether there might have been a mistake in orders, the High Conflict cardiac nurse flew off the handle. Had I actually had a life-threatening problem, the delay in my receiving appropriate diagnostic analysis might have killed me. It is important to realize there was something like a 3 month delay in receiving a reschedule because that nurse decided I was not responding in an appropriate, Authoritarian v-Meme fashion. Which is to mean I should shut up and not respond at all. Orders move down the hierarchy. Feedback does not come back up. Or you get denied treatment.

Further, when I finally did receive the stress test, the nurse (not the same one) at the hospital was not paying any attention to me. She had an algorithm (Legalistic/Algorithmic v-Meme) she had to complete, and that involved some level of minor collapse on my part. They keep defibrillators in the room for good reason. And I’m not saying to remove them. But she simply did not, even with briefing her, process that the test for a fit male at 60 might be run differently than a test for a morbidly obese patient. One of the pieces of advice I now give all my friends in my age cohort is that unless you know the nurse running the test, do NOT assume that she will sort consequences well, and certainly not entertain multi-solution pathways. She has a test. She will run the test. And if you die, well, you signed the release form. Hey, they had the paddles on the wall.

More stuff went downhill from there. Finally scheduling the Nuke Stress Test at least revealed who the High Conflict nurse was. But the fact that any nurse would simply refuse to listen to a patient at the start of a test, with no prior experience, is criminal malpractice. I suspect, but cannot prove she was likely the same person as the first nurse who refused to check on my initial orders. The response of the first radiation tech clearly illustrated the Communitarian/Authoritarian v-Meme split present in medicine. And it’s no surprise that the rebarbative cardiac nurse had to chase around attempting to mask me (this was now in December of 2022) was more proof of her pathology. Especially as masking during procedures for the patient was de facto optional, if not nominally so. In fact, the insistence on masking in general was an amazing memetic sorting tool for all people in the hospital. Of course, in regards to their own situation, they were constrained through hospital policy. But there was quite a bit of elective judgment regarding the patients. For those mask-insistent, it was clear they were low empathy all the way. Most were “just following orders.” But it was also painfully obvious that they reacted negatively to anyone who challenged the authority stack.

One last comment — one can never tell how memetic resonances will work in the context of one’s treatment. I was seriously taken aback when the Coeur D’Alene cardiologist’s nurse in charge confronted me, telling me that I was a difficult patient, and even inferring multiple conflicts with other care providers because of my problems with the one High Conflict nurse. What inevitably happens in conflict is that organizations will close ranks around their lowest level of social development. And in medicine, that is raw Tribal affiliation. You’re either with us or against us. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the AMA rallying around the recent round of barbaric trans surgeries being performed on youth. All of the trans issue turmoil is a very recent surprise to the majority of the public. Yet the AMA, realizing some small cohort of doctors have been complicit, instead of holding anything resembling an open debate, or even hearing, has closed ranks. Sterilization of children is endorsed by both the AMA and the American Academy of Pediatrics. And trust me, folks — it’s memetic. We’re deep in the Matrix with this one.

What is also interesting is that had I died, the system had covered its tracks the whole way. There would be no inquiry. There is not a level of evidence, in my opinion, to sue for malpractice. There is no timeline in any of this that indicates that time to treatment is even a factor. Other than when my second radiation tech got involved, there was no sense of urgency, and even active neglect in providing timely services — or even explaining to me why there was no rush. A lack of context delivered to the patient is an embarrassing failure of empathy by the medical provider — both emotional and place-taking/rational. Other than the High Conflict nurse, who was egocentrically threatened by my questions, the others were just too busy too care.

I do have to confess — as a doctor’s child, I’ve been raised to expect a high level of care from the medical community. But I haven’t seen this since I turned into an adult. I’m also used to being reasonably charming and charismatic, and building connected relationships with all my service providers. I’m the guy that waves to the garbage man, for chrissakes. None of this made any permanent dent in the medical community, though there were Matrix embeds that I encountered who were interested in the deeper Why of why everything was so fucked up. They knew it.

Finally, one of the most appalling aspects of dealing with medicine was how far south it has gone with regards to anything related to diet and lifestyle. My own PCP is a Seventh Day Adventist, and a very nice person. To be fair, he has only in a couple of incidences recommended some form of veganism to me. But a general incomprehension regarding my own weight loss (I lost 65 lbs. some six-seven years ago) hasn’t helped me much. The fact that I reversed a path that would have certainly led to diabetes is still not interesting to them. I’ve written about how empathetic development leads to higher consequentiality in thinking. Looking at my physicians, and even my revolving door PCPs, which has rotated in basically a constant state of flux for the past (at least) 10 years hasn’t helped with this. They have no history with me, and they are largely overwhelmed.

But this decay in empathy has profound consequences for treatment modalities. One of my favorite stories involves a request I made to one of my PCPs back literally 12 years ago. I’m a big guy — 6’2″, and 255 lbs. I had asked my PCP at the time to write a letter for medical exemption for work for a slightly roomier seat (think Delta Comfort + as opposed to Delta Coach) on flights. I was getting off the plane with severe back pain, and it would take me about two days to heal — especially if it was a long, transoceanic flight.

My PCP physician at the time immediately said “I can’t do that. I’m not going to use my position to give you privilege.” I pleaded with him — what diagnostic test could we do to validate my very real experience? This was no cost to him. But he (and almost every other physician) adamantly refused.

So I looked at him and said “would you give me a prescription for muscle relaxers that I could take after I got off the flight?” He said “that I can do.”

Medicine is going to have to answer whose side it actually is on. The system? Or the patient’s? Right now, the answer is painfully obvious.

The Memetics and Evolution of Social Movements – Part II

Twenty+ years later — Erik and Braden — Life went on

For those that want the complete story, highly recommend you go back and read this first. It’s Part I.

The Cove/Mallard campaign, on a smaller level, and the larger forest protection movement, followed similar dynamics. Both these were really pre-Internet Full Spectrum Dominance. Cove/Mallard and the work of others in other venues led to the Pew Charitable Trusts efforts, headed up by pals Steve Kallick, Ken Rait, and Mat Jacobsen, which led to the 2001 Clinton Roadless Rule, that basically managed to save all the remaining US Forest Service Roadless Areas in the United States. I contributed quite a bit to this effort, both strategically and tactically, but that’s a story for another time. Brief historical note — it was Steve’s intuitive insight into complexity reduction (literally ‘save it all’, with ‘all’ being something we could maneuver on administratively) that gave us much of forest politics of today.

But back to Cove/Mallard. Like all campaigns running over a number of years (I lost track of how long the whole Cove/Mallard debacle lasted, because Cove/Mallard morphed into another adjacent USFS logging roadless fight over the Otter/Wing timber sales, with similar tactics of road and logging unit blockades, and such) it continued to evolve. I was there, always in at some level, but stepping out quite a bit as I was running my more creative efforts to support the larger roadless fight that Steve and others were running. There would be a call for some need, and if possible, I would attempt to fill it if I could. Things started hot with the original founders, then died down when an injunction against the timber sales was issue, only to heat up again if the injunction was lifted. Like all wars with a front that never moves, attrition became a big part of it. And that attrition then played into who was available to scheme up the next thing — getting less evolved over time. For example, I don’t recall any real new strategy after about 1996, but the various details for the various road blockades definitely did.

The other thing folks on the outside often don’t realize is that any long-term campaign against the government (and protesting the Cove/Mallard timber sales was definitely against the government) will, in the end, become infiltrated by that government. Every campaign of size has a certain number of federal agents (Feds) assigned to it. They are alternately selected from a class of individuals who will be either openly disruptive, and encouraging folks to do more dramatic, illegal acts, or they will ingratiate themselves into the machinery of the campaign to make it run more smoothly. The Feds implicitly realize the evolutionary dynamics of this piece. And they like to keep things going, if it CAN be kept going.

The rationale is this — the more people a given CD campaign can disqualify from participating in society, even as rational, legal actors, the better. If you actually manage to survive through an entire campaign like Cove/Mallard, you know lots of things that you can’t learn any other way. You learn legal strategy. You learn arrest procedures. You learn how jails and prisons are set up. These are things you cannot just pick up a book and read about, and assemble any cogent worldview on how the Octopus really operates.

The Feds involved in Cove/Mallard (I was friends with one, and he has now passed away, without admitting of course that he was a Fed) were not clearly distinguishable as smarter or more clever than any of the majority of the protestors. All of us knew when we were doing anything that there could be a Fed in the room (and often was) and acted accordingly. The rules of the campaign were also clear. Even if you wanted to do something that WAS CD, if it involved breaking the law, it should be planned in the context of your affinity group — a group of like-minded individuals who were all basically taking the same risk at the same point in time. The Feds were actively seeking RICO convictions for more of the prolonged environmental campaigns at the time, and the charge of conspiracy was far worse than any charge for the illegal activity in play. Ignoring this was tantamount to REALLY paying a large price for protest activities. RICO violations could send people away for decades.

And even the smallest protest activity could theoretically involve conspiracy. For example, let’s consider a case where someone might be locking their neck to a gate across a forest road to keep logging equipment from passing. That person willing to lock to the gate would have some small cohort of support individuals who would potentially bring them water, or make sure the loggers or local contractors wouldn’t kill them. They realized that this might involve them getting involved with the illegal act (locking themselves to the gate) and understood potential risks of arrest. But these particular things were never discussed in larger meetings. Driving supplies to base camp, as I did several times, or running a workshop on how to police timber sales post-logging (very legal activities) could be discussed. Illegal activities never were.

But things were changing in the broader environmental protest world. Concurrent at the time of the Cove/Mallard protests, organizers around such issues as stopping underground nuclear blasts at the Nevada Test Site wanted masses of people demonstrating at the test site. And obviously, masses of middle class people were not going to show up if they thought they were going to lose their jobs for standing in a place they weren’t supposed to be. I never did one of those protests, but Terry Tempest Williams, a friendly acquaintance of mine and a very famous women’s writer, wrote quite a bit about it in her book, Refuge. If you’re going to get middle-aged women in the middle of the desert, they’re going to want some commitments they’re not going to be stuck in a jail in Pahrump, Nevada. Cove/Mallard was truly old school. But the New School of large media/low consequence mildly illegal mass protest was already starting to emerge. Get hauled to the Test Site, get a picture taken, get a ticket and get on a bus. FWIW — this stuff did kinda work. But it also opened the door to the current mess we’re in now. Jail, or the threat of jail, is part of how civil disobedience works. Remove this, and an entirely different social structure was guaranteed to emerge. And it did.

So how are we to understand contemporary social movements, like Black Lives Matter, or even some of the Women’s Marches? (I’m think of this pink Pussyhat phenomenon of 2017.) There are some important points to remember that differentiate the majority of the black civil rights protests of the ’50s and ’60s, the Cove/Mallard protests of the ’90s, vs. the Test Site protests and of course BLM.

  1. Relationally, the two groups were profoundly different. The authentic CD protests counted on independently generated friendships for many of the actions. Core organizers especially, but even those in the trenches had to know the people they were protesting with. Hierarchies were flat because they had to be. Yes, scaling was different with the mass protests with no arrest scenarios really in play. But that also meant the leadership would also evolve in complexity of thought over time. And you either had to evolve up, or you had to retreat. And many, like myself, did both.
  2. Contrast that to protected protest activities, especially those enshrined in institutions like universities. The only thing that might make a given protest more noteworthy was the level of rancor displayed. Leadership didn’t have to worry about more clever strategies to send the message, or leverage action to stop the target. People just had to get more angry.
  3. With the large protests, the only thing that really mattered was numbers — not relationships. Status was achieved just by showing up. I remember being surprised in talking to people about the 2017 Pussyhat protests. Lots of women friends went to these. I asked them “who was collecting names and contact info for follow-up?” The answer was “NO ONE.” The mob appeared at the behest of some form of social or mass media. You likely went with a friend or or acquaintance. Evolving a more powerful, tightly connected network was never part of the deal. And naturally, this did not result in friendships and newer network topologies. Homogeneity of state (all wearing the same hats for the photo op.) was the only real goal.
  4. Organizers of larger protests, because they faced no real personal or professional risk (grounding validity), would tend toward those seeking status. Both the BLM movements and to a lesser extent, the Pussyhat protests were umbrella-type protests. BLM supposedly was about police brutality/defund the police, but there were no real pieces of legislation as a goal to be moved. One might argue that the Pussyhat protests were more directly in line with legislative goals around abortion, but there was no bill # being proposed on a national level regarding this. So a successful leader of that type of protest would trend toward someone with institutional organizing experience, or a histrionic personality type that would attract attention. Over time, the most successful organizers would be those that used simplified, extremely well established mental models without nuance — in short no one would be making anyone else smarter in the context of the protests. And then, in turn, this type of activity would attract more psychopaths interested in notoriety, and extreme emotional reactions from portrayed victimhood. Being in such a protest might deliver on the same level as a singalong in a rock concert. But a person would not leave with a larger peer cohort, nor would they have increased understanding of the ensemble of issues being addressed. I cover how this works in this piece.
  5. When what you’re attempting to do is get a large crowd going purely on emotion, that kind of event is going to attract psychopaths like flies to shit. Watch Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies. The parallels of much of current political theater relies on similar emotional dynamics.

Joe Biden’s Sept. 1, 2022 Election Denial Speech — still stunning, but not in a good way

The challenge in much of this is breaking the chicken/egg problem of understanding societal evolution/devolution. Are we seeing more of the status-driven/emotion-laden protests (which will guarantee a spiral to violence) because the people running these protests are exploiting a hack in people’s development? Or is the larger societal devolution in part due to emotional development regression due to the relational disruption wreaked by COVID, as well as the rancor (fairly held or not) expressed at the Trump presidency? Of course, as with all chicken and egg problems, it’s tough to say.

I think a better way of framing the problem, at least if significant action is to be taken to reverse the decline of our a nation as a nation, is to realize that our fundamental demographics right now are all pushing decentralization. Like it or not, because of the destruction of geography, groups believing just about anything can find each other, and at the same time, harnessed against each other — and they will be taking advantage of the current political tides.

But I also believe that if we shift our own understanding of all this, we can also push back against this in our own local spheres. The U.S. is going to go through its own version of demographic shift as our population ages. Awareness of the actual problem — how this is occurring and how it is being driven by our relational milieu, is the first step in reversing it. The bad news is that this interpretation of our problem is not forthcoming outside a handful of thinkers, like myself and primarily other metamodernists.

And the recent addition of Trans Rights Activists, playing heavily on victimization and gaslighting basic elements of human existence in the rest of the population, certainly isn’t helping. Strap in, folks. It’s going to be a rough ride.

The Memetics and Evolution of Social Movements – Part I

Roadside Creek, Pyrenees Mountains in France

If you had asked me 35 years ago whether I would end up as an expert on social movements, I would have laughed. That’s the best way to start this piece.

I originally moved out to Pullman/Washington State University back in 1988 because I was an outdoor sports enthusiast in general, and in particular, a kayaker. I had other job offers — my Ph.D. advisor, Earl Dowell, was a noted aeroelastician (dude that looks at wing flutter), the Dean of Engineering at Duke, and a National Academy member. I was his first native graduate student at Duke to get a Ph.D., and his wish was to place me in a peer or better institution (Duke was not as famous in 1988 as it is now) to establish the Duke brand with his contribution. He was/is a wonderful man, and I still communicate with him.

But instead of taking any one of a number of East Coast jobs, I took off for the territories. WSU, it turns out, is likely the Carnegie R1 institution closer to more designated wilderness than any other. So when I flew out here for a job interview, which was a ski trip, I knew, at some level, this was going to be it. I also knew that it was going to be lonely — prospects for meeting young women were notoriously slim. Land grant institutions, which WSU is, were built in the middle of nowhere in every state, with the intent that they would both support the agricultural economy of the region, and serve as a nucleus for the beginnings of urbanization. WSU definitely has done the former, but has really failed at the latter. Pullman, where I work, and where the main campus is located, is not the Ends of the Earth. But you can see them from here.

So I moved out, found a roommate, found a girlfriend (a whole ‘nother story) and after setting up shop, the next weekend drove down to the North Fork of the Payette in Idaho, which remains one of the premier Class V runs in the world. I had found my version of paradise, at least if it didn’t kill me. Running the North Fork in a kayak has more in common with being in a four hour car wreck than anything.

I did have that girlfriend, whom I met in the parking permit line, and it turned out she was both relatively compliant, and possessing of a large family on the Camas Prairie, which is just south of here. I would go off to kayak, I’d drop her off with said family, and return to pick her up at the end of the weekend.

But that left the rest of the week. I had been programmed by my parents for acts of public service, so I found a local environmental collective where I connected with one of the chief mentors of my young existence — Leroy Lee, a hippie-turned-Indian connected with the Nez Perce tribe. I’ve told many of these stories in my book, Wild to the Last:Environmental Conflict in the Clearwater Country. The book, for a first book, is pretty good. Some of it is actually amazing and still makes me cry/triggers my PTSD. You decide. It became a modest literary sensation, because it was written, well, by me, a rocket scientist with a dark sense of humor, that was looking to make sure I wasn’t gaslighting myself.

Along the way, in 1992, a very small group of activists, calling themselves the Ancient Forest Bus Brigade, also showed up in town. They were only nominally headed up by Robert Amon/Ramon, a former life insurance sales executive, and included a handful of literal misfits, including Erik Ryberg, an activist, then lawyer, then mayor of the town of Etna, CA. I think Erik now cooks pizzas in a stone bread oven he built.

At the time, I had been working with Leroy as an assistant on what turned into the Phantom Forest scandal. This was a situation where Leroy, a forest stand examiner by trade, had noticed that the Forest Service was keeping two sets of books — one somewhat fraudulent to justify cutting more trees than were sustainable, and one that was an actual inventory of real trees. Leroy went on with a couple of other activists to Washington, D.C., to testify in front of Congress about this fraud. He considered me his successor, which, quite frankly, I had no idea what the hell that meant at the time.

But back to the Ancient Forest Bus Brigade. They had decided to set as their campaign goal the preservation of the Cove-Mallard Roadless Area, a large, unroaded space (400K acres IIRC) adjacent to the Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness Area. But they were a handful of folks living on a school bus, in the middle of nowhere, for the summer. In this case, this “middle of nowhere” was located outside Dixie, Idaho.

Dixie, Idaho, is 98% pure anachronism. You have to see it to believe it. There are still places you can jump through the portal and travel back in time.

1992 ended with the arrest of some subset of the Bus Brigade getting some misdemeanor arrest/ticket for mooning a US Forest Service vehicle that was doing some road prep work, for the coming massive timber sale. I found out as much as I had previously known by reading an Outside Magazine blurb about the bunch. Outside used to be far more funny than it is now, and, well, this WAS a classic story.

It wasn’t long until the Ancient Forest Bus Brigade, or at least Ramon, ended up in Moscow, ID as a base of operations. Dixie is one of those places you can indeed live in the past, but once you do this, you’ll find out the past is not as glamorous as people like to make it out to be. Notably, there is a lack of food, or rather food diversity, in Dixie. The big grocery store is some 70 miles away, down a winding road. Moscow is far more accessible, to say the least. So I met at least some of them (the dynamics in all this involve more people than I want to write about, quite frankly) and decided to help their cause.

To say the campaign was disorganized would be an understatement. But that would be if you were thinking only a large, hierarchical organization can make a difference in the world. The Bus Brigade was hooked in with another couple of hand-to-mouth organizations — The Ecology Center of Missoula, and the Idaho Sportsmans Coalition (soon to be the Idaho Sporting Congress.) If there was one characteristic of most of the major actors in all this chaos, it was brilliance. Some amazing legal minds worked on the issue of saving Cove/Mallard. They were also what we call “low baggers” — basically living on the bum while working to prevent forests from being logged.

And they were unlikely heroes. The head of the Idaho Sportmen’s Coalition, Ron Mitchell, was an actual hunter, a fat guy, fabulously funny, who would walk around in his underwear in his house in Boise, being somewhat taken care of by his more normal girlfriend, Judy. Erik has a great story about walking into Ron’s house to find Ron skinning a turkey in said underwear in his kitchen. They were all brilliant, most were definitely non-normative, and they were all passionately committed to saving the remaining wild country in Idaho. They were going to do whatever it took.

(Side note — Ron Mitchell, along with Erik, and another lawyer, Mark Fink are probably responsible for saving the last great ponderosa pine forests in the Intermountain West. Other, more mainstream sissy groups can attempt to take the credit. All bullshit. The notion that one of the iconic landscapes of the American West was literally saved by this group of utter misfits with basically no money should serve as a history lesson for all the fucked-up-edness we’re dealing with right now. It is literally “same as it ever was.”)

But here is where we begin our story. The campaign to save this huge hunk of the Idaho wilderness was started by people who were fiercely independent, brilliant, somewhat broke, and completely committed to the goal. They had gotten to the point where the legal strategy that was running parallel to save Cove/Mallard was not going to result in a stay of action on roadbuilding in that area, in enough time to prevent the roadbuilding that would convert the Cove/Mallard area to being officially loaded. So they made a decision to launch a call to action in the Radical environmentalist paper of record, the Earth First! Journal. The text was somewhat classic (I can’t remember it) but it involved the usual stuff about implied vandalism. It announced there would be a nonviolent civil disobedience campaign outside of Dixie, ID, as well, in the summer of 1993, directly stopping the USFS from building roads into the area.

Here are some key things.

  1. The people involved at the start of the campaign were brilliant, and virtuous (well, in their own way.) They had tried everything to save these wild places, and now they had been brought to the point where the only thing they could do was place their bodies in-between the forest and the roadbuilding bulldozers.
  2. They knew that the various things that would happen in the context of the protests would likely end them up in jail.
  3. They recognized there was a price to be paid if this place were to be saved. There was none of this contemporary nonsense of safe spaces, institutional endorsement, or other such icks.

I came to the campaign because, at the time, I was passionately committed to the same cause as the Bus Brigade. But unlike them, I fancied a life AFTER all this was over. I saw arrest scenarios written all over what they were proposing. And there was, at least in my mind, no doubt that there would be other stuff going on in the woods that was NOT civil disobedience (CD).

So I set myself up to help with logistics in running the nonviolent CD campaign. I had a truck. I could drive to Dixie with bags of whatever greasy beans the various hippies, still to arrive, that would show up would eat, provided we created the infrastructure. And I did. But I didn’t hang around Cove/Mallard all summer. I also took off for 8 weeks that summer to work at the USAF Academy.

The summer of ’93 would be one for the books. Dozens of folks were arrested, protesting in the literal middle of nowhere against the timber sales and road construction. At the end of the summer, all of these people had been cited, more or less, with something, and had to be processed through the federal court seated in Moscow, ID. We had trials we had to sit through. Erik got arrested for something (I think it was diving under a USFS truck that was supposedly delivering a message for a camp inhabitant, and locking himself to the steering mechanism.) Ramon had bought 40 acres of an inholding next to the Roadless Area proper, so they could operate without the USFS harassing them. I remember the spring of 1993, preparing the camp, putting up a gate, and whatever. It turned out that all of us had been Eagle Scouts in our former lives. We were all Boy Scouts Gone Bad.

All the people cited ended up with a fine, or some jail sentence. Usually it wasn’t long (now sequence starts to blur together a little bit) but I was watching all this happen, and it became obvious. The Feds would arrest you the first time. You would go to court (often with a bunch of other people) and you would plead your case to the Federal Judge. Most of the defenses were some version of the Necessity Defense — the USFS was going to do something wrong that would violate (pick some forest law) and you were the conscious citizen who was stopping them from doing this.

The Federal Judge — an extremely powerful person (people mostly have no concept how powerful a Federal Judge is — they serve for life, they can put a President in jail, etc.) listened to your shenanigans, and then got irritated. He looked at whether you had any history of recidivism, and then he would attempt to teach you how irritated he was by putting you in jail for a night or two, and admonishing you to NOT show up in his courtroom again with your bullshit, which he didn’t find compelling.

Don’t show up again. That was the big lesson. Or it was going to get radically worse — at least for you.

Moment of analysis

At this point I started to realize where things were going to head. The first round of folks charged would be the ones that had done their homework, and were passionate, intelligent and virtuous in their cause. They had studied the law, they loved the Wild, and they were willing to jeopardize their long-term viability in society by going to jail for this cause. There was a Price to be Paid, and they realized this was how CD worked.

But the price wasn’t that high. It was a misdemeanor, after all, which might fuck with you getting into Canada (it did) but most of life would go on. I didn’t want to pay that price — I was, after all, a rocket scientist, working with various organs of the DoD, and while I’ve never held a security clearance, that would be the end of that. There would be consequences.

What then started was the realization that our social movement was in the process of some memetic evolution. Of course, I didn’t have the vocabulary I have now, nor the insight, but I realized that the smart people were either going to a.) commit to a lifetime of getting arrested, or b.) fade out of the movement. I can’t tell you I completely comprehended how all that would go, but the beginning of the social devolution had begun. The only question was whether we would accomplish our goal (saving Cove/Mallard) before it all turned into truly mindless hippie nihilism.

To cut to the chase — it did. 1994 resulted in a federal injunction against the Cove/Mallard timber sales, we had another big round of arrests (I think) in 1998, we were strengthened by a couple of famous activists, namely Mike Roselle who went on to found Rainforest Action Network. Mike had been a founder of Earth First! and he is still a dear friend. He is brilliant of course, but the fact was we might be close would have as much to do with the fact that his father was a drunken womanizer, that beat him, kinda like my own dad. We shared enough background. ‘Nuf said.

SO here we go. How do large civil disobedience campaigns run?

  1. The founders are very often big thinkers, passionately committed to the reality of the change. The system arrests them, and they have to make choices. Keep going, and end up with lots of jail time, or fade to the back and attempt to have a normal life.
  2. The second tier are often very committed. But they are NOT as smart as the pioneers. They plug into an already established leitmotif and infrastructure, and duplicate, or modestly innovate on the founders’ actions. After one or two rounds of arrests, they have decisions to make, just like the founders. As opposed to six months in the federal penitentiary, living your life by homesteading in Vermont starts to look mighty attractive.
  3. The third round of activists were far more unpredictable, but one thing is for certain — they will not be the best and brightest. And it will not end well. They, too, become aware of the choices they will be faced with. But they often don’t have a whole lot going on anyway, and some percentage will be in the “Three Hots and a Cot” category. A long protest campaign provides social connection for many, and an unending diet of stewed lentils.

The last round, for someone like me, who was a local, proved the most problematic. By the time we ended up in Round 3, I can’t say I was actually “in charge” of anything. But there were things I did that were counted on (I once drove a load of food to Dixie in the middle of the winter for activists over-wintering on the 40 acre property, for all the good that did.) Ungrounded and dogmatic, their actions were completely nihilistic.

I remember this one call I got where an activist, in a fit of pique, had locked themselves underneath a USFS pickup in the grocery store parking lot in Grangeville, ID. The call came into whatever our headquarters at the time was, and we were trying to figure out jail support, legal support, whatever. I can remember asking, frustrated, “why the hell did they do this???” We were 90 miles away in Moscow, and there was little we could do. That person was going to jail. And worse, they had blown one of their arrest tickets because of some brain spasm they had. I think the answer was “they just felt, at the moment, they had to do SOMETHING.” 3rd Gen. activism in a nutshell.

But one thing to remember. ALL of us, when faced with our activities, had to face up to the fact that there was going to be a PRICE that had to be paid. The institutional structure may indeed change with time, but at the time, there was either going to be a trip to court, a fine, a mark on your record, or an ass-beating that was all part of it. We never had any illusion that universities would give us jobs for raising hell.

In my case, as a person still WITH a real job in engineering, the natural resource faculty would insult me, even though they knew I was on the right side of the issue. The local timber baron called for my job, and to his credit, the WSU President at the time, Sam Smith, told him that I had not broken the law, and he would be doing nothing. Same timber baron’s son threatened to put a bullet through my then-wife’s skull. He was such an asshole (not all the folks in the timber industry are, FWIW) that we worried about this.

I finally ended up punching one of my holes on my ticket when a friend, Rein Attemann, who worked for a local NGO (the Lands Council) and I drove past a road closure sign on the Colville NF to take pictures of a fire-prevention timber sale that had, well, caught fire. I was full-on into large-format photography, and the photos ended up, blown up to poster size, in the Well of the Senate in the middle of the ‘Healthy Forests’ debate. Larry Craig, Senator from Idaho, ended up sending the federal marshals to my house to cite me and formally arrest and release me — not fun. But by this time, the tide had turned, the US Federal Magistrate got mad at the USFS for citing me with the misdemeanor, and the whole thing went away.

The key element of EVERYTHING we did, though was tied together with the concept of Grounding Validity. We had ideals, and we were prepared to act on those ideals. But CD is NOT CD unless the potential to get your ass beat is also in the cards. That keeps it real. There’s nothing wrong with marches, gatherings, assemblies and whatnot. But you are NOT fighting the Man if the Man can’t beat your ass. It’s part of the deal. You get your ass beat, people see that and think “hey, that’s not right.” And then the world moves.

And CD in general only works in systems where people have independent agency AND have consciences. CD would not have worked in Hitler’s Germany, at least on any reasonable timescale. Or Stalin’s Russia. That’s the other thing people are NOT getting about the disturbing trends in Lefty protests. With Cancel Culture, NO ONE is encouraged to have agency. You speak up, you lose your job, you’re excluded from society. The “Free speech has consequences” assholes (who, oddly stereotypically are from Hollywood far too often) will never face real consequences for their actions. In fact, what’s actually happened is protest in its current form has been captured by these elites as a tool of social control. They’ve finally managed to harness protest as both a relief valve for their young, dissociated members, and a memetic weapon against their enemies.

Short version, folks — We’re not in Kansas any more.

Part II — the rise of the psychopathic narcissists.

Or what happens when you remove Grounding Validity from your system. When nobody goes to jail the psychopaths ascend, and you really start to devolve as a society. When there is no price to be paid, the Joker smacks his lips.

For tomorrow!

Woke Dynamics and Societal Devolution

Boo Boo loves Mellow

I’ve been avoiding writing about the whole ‘Woke’ phenomenon, mostly because I’ve written about it before, in smaller pieces throughout this blog. But I decided it was important enough for folks to understand the memetic implications of what Woke is all about, and decide whether they want to promote this or not.

I define Woke as the current social justice movement to relationally define everything outside a given individual’s agency and judgment. If you meet a Black/Hispanic/Lesbian/Whatever (the list is almost endless) you must follow a predefined script, created by a cross-section of academics and ersatz intellectuals, or in the preferred end game of these self-appointed elites, you lose your livelihood. That’s been the defining characteristic of the Woke playbook. You will do what you’re told, or you will starve. There is nothing more darkly humorous than hearing a Wokie say “Free speech has consequences!” Which means, of course, if you step outside the lines to color, you will deserve to starve.

Wokism is often portrayed by its proponents as a high empathy strategy for a better society. But it is far from that. What wokism really is is a relational power grab, with increasingly complex set of protocols, that functionally neuters and isolates everyone in the society outside a given, and small in-group. It’s targeted currently against white folks, and justified as a strategy to redress past wrongs (slavery, discrimination and so on.) But considering my own experience with the larger population in the U.S., where basically any coherent version of history has been under attack for the last 30 years, it’s mostly arbitrary, and outside large-scale documented phenomena, like chattel slavery, it lacks any detail or meaningful narrative besides a top level perspective. Your character is defined by your phenotype, and there is simply not much you can do to change it.

From a memetic perspective, this makes it a combination of the Tribal, Authoritarian and Legalistic v-Memes, with the largest weight given to the Authoritarian knowledge structure — what you see is what you limbically get. Once we understand this, there are a couple of larger memetic questions we should be asking. Caste systems of all sorts have shown up in history around the globe, and have proven to be remarkably stable. India and China both have them, with India’s being explicit, and China’s far more implicit. Maybe it IS better to leave relational definition to some group of societal betters, and just go along with it.

And make no mistake — Wokism is a call to a caste system, since moving beyond such a system inherently implies mixing of the various castes to establish a new, synthetic normal. And that will require independent relational definition.

In a modern society like the U.S., in order to move into an explicit caste system, some level of relational devolution is mandatory. What that means is that, at least for a time, psychopaths must be in charge of its implementation, in that people must be broken down and lose some culturally asserted agency in establishing it as the de facto protocol. This then inherently leads to warping of the concept — psychopaths are going to use mental models extant to establish their own power and control — until either the population’s larger spirit is crushed, or people kill each other in the numbers necessary to correspond to the amount of complex information available to run the society. Those are the social physics, folks. You’re going to bubble up with your assigned in-group, only approaching the other out-groups under Legalistic, dictated protocols.

The problem with all of this, besides the fact that the emergent goal is to make everyone as miserable as possible, through some societal level of narcissistic “Golden Child/Scapegoat Child” dynamic, is that it profoundly cuts down on a society’s ability to deal with change of any sort — but especially rapid change. I have been a strong proponent of diversity my entire professional career (check my resume’ sometime) and still am. But the way agency-driven diversity works is create interaction scenarios between different groups where individuals decide whether to trust, or not trust others. This pushes the society much higher up on the evolutionary scale, as well as driving community-building and goal-based knowledge structures and behaviors.

But Wokism responds to this with increased fragmentation and a multiplication of reconcilable strategies of intersectionality. You have to have that as well, in a country with 331 million people. Which then might lead to a more sophisticated society, but one increasingly out of the control of all outside the priestly caste generating the rules. And sooner or later, that’s going to get down into the infrastructure of actual society — food webs, transportation, and so on — and cause the material disruption and migration to the Survival v-Meme it needs to get people to start killing each other, which is, unfortunately, the outcome of that simplification.

And if anyone thinks it is somehow going to be executed fairly, or within the bounds of some nonexistent, universal moral code, well, that’s not in the social physics. The psychopaths propagating will also likely be killed, but the timescales in their brain indicate they don’t care. I love this clip from the Dark Knight of the Joker and Two Face in the hospital. Chaos, as the Joker says, from a moral position, is fair.

Chaos is fair.

There are larger population dynamics going on with all this, that I can only surmise. My Taiwanese wife insists the caste system in China was set up during the Song Dynasty, and most was an outflow of intense rule-followers, likely autism spectrum disordered, who became promoted through the introduction and modest social mobility of the Chinese civil service exam, which didn’t focus so much on executing civil service. More, it was a knowledge sophistication test through the lens of ancient Chinese poetry. Societies before my writing had implicitly figured out the whole relational mapping to other subjects’ complexity before me (remember my tagline is ‘As we relate, so we think.’ ) But as I have noted, doing so freezes societies and their aggregate cultures in time. Not so good for dealing with wide-scale disruption that might occur in a global society.

There also is no doubt that looking at Chinese history, with its frozen-in-time model (they didn’t call it Jungguo — The Middle Kingdom for nothing) gives important insights on psychopathy in such a society. Psychopaths will, over time, get shunted to the side even in Authoritarian societies, often through cultural adaptations. No one knows psychopathic games played better than the general Chinese population, and things like chengyu spring up. People need happiness, and will find ways to find it through intimate understanding.

But you have to get there first. And in a country with 331 million people, we either double down on creating people in our society that navigate issues on their own. Or we have to expect the inevitable decline our memetics serves up, along with depopulation. Wokism is both a coupled cause and a symptom of where our own society and culture is at this moment.

One last thing. Advancing societal sophistication — increasing the cascades of categories that our academic elites dream up — may start as an imposed exercise of equality, equity or what have you. But in the end, the people who benefit from these sophistication cascades will be the elites. Why? Complicated cultural codes take spare energy and time to master, lest you make a mistake and get canceled yourself. That implies those with the best proxy — money — for both energy and time, are the only ones that will master them. What may start as an attempt to recognize the huddled masses really isn’t for them. What is fascinating is that we’re starting to see this adaptation increasingly in corporate America. The winners are going to create codes even if it is against their monetary interest — that’s simply how powerful the downward evolutionary pressure of the memetics are.

And odds are if you’re reading this blog, you ain’t it. You can’t fight social physics. So the next time you are getting called out for some element of nonsensical BS, you might remember this. The multi-faction civil war that is emergently being promoted is going to kill your children too.

Sidebar — I’m going to cut this off — I have a lot more detail in this post on Information Fractalization.

One more note — recently listened to a Tim Ferriss podcast with Naval Ravikant and David Deutsch. I’m not really a David Deutsch fan, but his concept on Wealth Creation — which is essentially cross-conceptual and paradigmatic mapping to create a culture of optimism– is spot on. One might think about how Wokism intrinsically affects wealth creation (basically destroys it, which then fits into the devolutionary relational spiral I’m discussing here.) David doesn’t do so well in the actual Theory of Everything category. But he’s still a smart guy.

Quickie Post — Avatar 2 – The Way of Water

Seals playing with an expanded puffer fishthe real Way of Water

Well, at my younger son’s urging, I finally broke down and went to the movie theater to watch Avatar 2 – The Way of Water. The first one had a tighter plot, and I didn’t have great expectations for the second, other than I was sure it would be a visual feast.

And even though I only got to watch it in 2D (I’ll bet the 3D version was unbelievable) it was still exactly that. The plot was notoriously weak, and was an obvious set-up for the next round coming out, theoretically around Christmas. But once you’ve 3D generated all those various space and land craft, as well as the animals, you’ve got to expect James Cameron might want to use them again. They are something to watch.

What is Avatar 2 really about in The Matrix? You can read plenty of plot summaries, but I’m assuming you’re coming here to understand how Agent Smith is attempting to manipulate you. Unlike the original version of Avatar, which was far more memetically complex, Avatar 2 really stays down in the Tribal v-Meme and below.

You can do a little Spiral Dynamics review and see the different colors matching to the different scenes in the original movie

Ostensibly, it’s about how women can be badass and ferocious (didn’t disappoint — and I can tell you, don’t mess with lower v-Meme society women, because they almost always are.) But it wasn’t made so much to play with audiences that might actually identify with the characters. We’re past that down the spiral drain of civilization.

Nope — it was a constant brain implant for a romanticized view of the nuclear family, and in particular a generalized form of ‘Father Hunger‘ — a term dating back at least to 1993. The roles of the kids in the family are pretty contrived — older, noble son, younger son as the one the dad looks down on, two munchkin kids, and a girl who fills in as the pagan sorceress. The best played role would have to be the young male human, Spider, who shows what happens when you attempt to separate someone from daddy. He actually captures the berserker spirit better than anything. And he does it with a personal respirator on, that I had to sit around and wonder how it kept working as anything but of a plot device. Pandora has an atmosphere that can kill people quickly, so they don’t get the latitude to just go outside and play.

The sad thing was as this contrivance was unrolling, all I could think of is how in the last ten years, things have really taken a dive for kids and both parents — but especially dads. Dads are really considered irrelevant, and I have 10 years of dealing with our own supposedly enlightened (boy, they sure aren’t) school system in the university town of Pullman, WA. After one particularly horrific incident, that I can’t go into detail about, involving my kids, I had finally won over the child’s therapist, after I had been attacked only two weeks earlier. The therapist looked at me and said “well, you know everyone in this town thinks you’re crazy. Everyone knows that when a successful man gets divorced, he goes out, finds a more suitable partner, and has kids with the new woman, and leaves the other children to the mother. It’s the way it works.” I kid you not.

Movies like Avatar 2 tap into that sentiment. Once again, I cannot give any potentially identifying details with my real life experience, but I see the results of less and less parenting, especially by dads, in my students. They’re 20 years into this crisis, and I spend more and more of my time demonstrating a kind, successful but tough masculine figure to my students, who simply have not had one in their lives. The obvious go-to statistic can be found in reports like this one — ~25% of kids are raised in single parent homes. But the problem, from my vantage point, is far worse than that. Many of the kids in my class — all seniors in engineering — have been (non) raised by emasculated, inactive fathers. It’s gotten to the point where I can identify the most affected after only two weeks. And these are relatively privileged kids. No manual skills, poor understanding of benevolent authority (they tend to have lots of experience with the other kind) and even the idea that behavior should be modeled upward.

What’s even more morbidly humorous is that James Cameron has recently come out against ‘manly men’ — making blanket statements about the evils of testosterone, all the while making a movie about how it’s a (blue) man’s job to protect his family. The mind reels.

But that’s how The Matrix works. And Avatar 2, as of February 19, 2023, has brought in some $2.25B in box office receipts. The desire the public possesses to see the movie is a jumble of emergent, incoherent philosophies (save the whales!) while being expected to be served a true visual adventure. The best part of the movie is the last part — the choreography of the action scenes is high art. But the sad part I walked away with is the utter destruction of the nuance of healthy, appropriately masculine/feminine family dynamics. That’s what postmodernism has served up to kids not raised by fathers, that’s for sure. Kids simply have no clue what it means to even have a dad.

What does that leave? Avatar 2 is really not much different than the cartoon Disney flick, Moana. Maybe with better, Maori-inspired face paint and hakas. Part of me would like to see the 3D version. But I just don’t think I could take it twice.

P.S. This piece that I wrote on Fatherless Young Men should be considered a must-read. Watch the embedded video as well. This is a civilization-ending crisis we’re facing.

The Memetics of ChatGPT

A different world — off Anini Beach, Kauai, Hawaii

Yesterday morning, I had the pleasure of showing up (uninvited) in a Twitter Space with three very smart doctors — Anish Koka, Venk Murthy, and Sai Medi. I have quite a bit of fun with Sai on Twitter, but only see posts from the first two occasionally. The subject of the Twitter Space was AI in medicine, and whether it will be helpful or not. All three docs. are deeply intuitive, and at some level, I’m writing this for them so that they can calibrate their intuition better, as they move in far different social circles than I do.

The subject of the hour was the recent emergence of ChatGPT, which as far as academia is concerned, should be heralded as an asteroid in the sky, with us playacting the role of the dinosaurs. ChatGPT is really the first useful, nontrivial chatbot I’ve seen, and has already created waves in our world by doing such tasks as writing computer code, solving thermodynamics problems, as well as the more widely recognized issues of writing papers and abstracts.

But what is poorly understood in the AI community (usually met with handwaving, if they understand at all) are the implications of how an AI is created, and what we can reasonably predict a given level of AI can successfully execute. Before this moment, none of it worked well enough to be of serious interest to anyone — easily chalked up to arbitrary responses, or mimicry out of computer codes. That has changed.

Any AI that actually works, including ChatGPT, inherently must reflect the v-meme development/mindset of the designers. And it is highly unlikely, especially considering how modern AI is trained, that we are going to end up with something people would recognize as generalized intelligence — primarily because humans don’t understand generalized intelligence themselves.

But if we go back to the knowledge structure stack, some light glimmers in the darkness. See below.

ChatGPT is inherently constrained by the social structures creating it — at least as far as knowledge evolution goes. Though it is also true that when it comes to aggregation of already extant knowledge, something like ChatGPT has obvious advantages to any human brain on the planet. ChatGPT does not, and cannot yet operate in any knowledge structure above the Trust Boundary. What that means is it’s constrained to algorithms of increasing complexity, with defined or stochastic inputs, as well as factoids, documented opinions, and foundational stories/myths. But ChatGPT is fast, and can run constantly, learning and aggregating knowledge set in social structures at or below the level of complexity it can understand. Isolated in its own inland sea of knowledge, it can do many useful tasks — most of our undergraduate engineering curricula operates in the bottom four knowledge structures as well. Stanislaw Lem wrote about ChatGPT over 60 years ago, with his character, the Pirate Pugg — a pirate with a Ph.D., known for his hunger for facts of any kind — relevant or not.

But it cannot parse its own experience, and extract larger lessons. It cannot look at others and realize they might (at least at this point) know something more that it knows, unless it is explicitly instructed. What this means is that it can have no metacognition, other than what has been granted to it by its outside trainer. It cannot know that it doesn’t know what the surface of Pluto looks like unless someone has programmed (or trained) it to know that there are characteristic list of things all planets have, and it has a hole in its database.

When it comes to medicine, indeed, given a list of diagnostic characteristics, well characterized, it can go through the list. I suspect it will also be possible to search/scan case studies with standardized terminology (e.g. count the # of cases with metabolic syndrome, or people suffering from a heart attack.) I would also suspect in the presence of standardization, it might expand that list with other categories, and it’s not a huge improvement to note changes in training data.

But in order to evolve in sentience, just like other sentient agents (like humans) it needs others. It would have to be able to vet that outside sentience for reliability, as well as validity. An AI is constrained by exactly the same attempts at sentience that we are. It’s easy to see how an AI like ChatGPT could come up with its own refined, data-driven estimates. It’s above ChatGPT’s level to synergize results with others — it intrinsically has to have an authority stack in order to pay attention. It will have a very difficult time figuring out the truth with anyone attempting to gaslight it.

The more interesting point is to understand that many doctors have problems with these things too, and start the larger conversation how to make medicine more empathetic. That’s a big lift — it will involve changing the very status-centered authority structures already present in it. And those folks aren’t going down without a fight. They simply have too much to lose.

To sum up — algorithmic knowledge and below — ChatGPT will own the space. Heuristics and above — evolved humans still have a large contribution to make. What’s not clear with medicine is with what I’ve been calling the McKinsey-ization of medicine — efficiency and siloing of procedures, and elimination of cross-doctor consultation, relying only on scribbled notes — hey — ChatGPT is gonna own that. All the more reason for docs to set down and review cases together, and argue them out. In the process, they’re not just serving their patients better. They’re also evolving their own knowledge structures, increasing their own metacognition, and tuning up their nuance. And then turn to ChatGPT to do the fact aggregation that it inherently will do better.

P.S. This was a tricky post to write. One of the things I’ve found is that any system with enough validity grounding/contact with reality can get to a reasonable, proximal truth with enough fractal branching. Down and down in detail we go. Higher knowledge structures can get to big-picture views and truths far more quickly. Think of it this way. Let’s say every time you move to a new locale, you have to test for gravity to make sure it’s there. That’s pure Legalistic/Absolutistic thinking. But if you’re armed with Guiding Principles knowledge, you can right away assume you know the answer, and you’ll be correct. As the old masters used to say, Enlightenment cuts like a knife.

Quickie Post — Why Masks Don’t Work (Again)

Shall we dance?

With the release of the Cochrane Review — a large, prestigious meta-study on something like 78 different random controlled trials with masking for viruses — the reality is once again hammered home. Masks don’t work on a population level. This was obvious basically since forever, and I mean forever. There was a brief period between March 2020 and October 2020 where we could delude ourselves into thinking that masking might work, since the science before 2020 (WHO report and a ton of others) was pretty cut and dried on the efficacy of masking.

But the Cochrane Review has not been well-received inside The Matrix. The Matrix wants people to believe masking works because it emergently advances its own psychosocial goals of social devolution, fragmentation and creating passive and relatively insane/depressed agents stumbling around. That much is true.

So various lesser agents inside the Matrix are now stumbling around claiming we need more research on how individual masks work, since the reason that masks don’t work is that those pesky humans just aren’t wearing them correctly, and then if everyone did, then masks would work, and we’d have no more respiratory viruses. Because even though on the surface, the aerosol physics of masking says they don’t work, we need to study them some more because they must work, even if they don’t work. Amirite?

And certain professors have made a healthy living off what is probably a combination of their OCD and the realization they’re in on a great grift (Zeynep Tufekci and Linsay Marr come to mind.) The problem is that there’s an entire field that has studied masking since forever in a far more serious and sincere light. That field is called Industrial Hygiene, and they looked at what you need to not get sick when you, as an individual, are exposed to Bad Stuff. Industrial Hygiene looks at things like aerosols, which is what COVID is, of course, and in combination with all the other stuff that can kill you.

And because of this, long before all this ridiculousness propagated by Agent Smith got out of control, they came up with the BSL protection scale. BSL 3 and BSL 4 are the operative levels for understanding what you need to keep yourself safe. Let’s review them.

From the HHS.gov webpage. In general PPE includes basically clean room gear (masks, headgear, and face shields) with all work done inside a positive pressure (air pulling away from the user, basically) cabinet. The cabinet is a big thing — without it, you’d really have to have full respirators that also supply some positive pressure. Here you go — from the web page.

Once you move up into BSL-4 territory, you’re now talking about wrapping the person in a Moon Suit, and pumping air in from a filtered source outside. From the HHS website. Do note that they have NOT changed these requirements because of political cover for the pandemic. The folks responsible for this stuff may be silent, damnably, but they are not fools. They KNOW.

One of the key elements in BOTH BSL-3 and BSL-4 designations is that you don’t get someone else sick on the outside of the facility. So much for just popping off your mask when you get home to give your sweetie a kiss — or your dog a pat. The standards intrinsically recognize the presence of fomites and other touch-spread opportunities. Hence, air showers, specialized rooms for changing clothes, and so on are also required. It’s a system, when you really must stop a bug.

To make it perfectly clear, here is a photo from a University of Texas – Houston BSL–3 lab researching COVID.

That’s really the absolute minimum, because it doesn’t couple the before/after procedures you’d actually need if you wanted to contain even a respiratory, mostly non-fatal virus like COVID-19.

Here’s the more upscale version for COVID-19 at Stanford. They have positive pressure helmets on, probably with super-duper HEPA filters. You can go to their propaganda page to see what they’re doing

And BSL-4 is even more full-on than that. Here’s what you really need — BSL-4 gear, where you simply cannot afford to have a viral pathogen released. From the Honeywell webpage — they sell these suits.

Not to mention the procedures involved in getting on the suit, also working in a cabinet, and getting out without bringing along through contact the bad stuff.

Here’s the point. It’s actually WELL KNOWN what it takes to contain viruses like COVID-19. EXTREMELY well known. But the question, which I ALSO!!! answered incorrectly so long ago, was “is there a dilution effect in infection from COVID-19 if everyone wears cloth/surgical/KN-95 masks, that will also affect population dynamics of the virus?” We know on an individual level we cannot stop this sucker with these trivial safety measures, but might there be a population variation if EVERYONE’s on board?

The answer is clearly ‘no’. Moralizing your neighbors about wearing masks is just that — moralizing. And once we realize that, we now realize that masking is a social dynamic inside The Matrix, and has nothing to do with preventing viral spread. Moralizing and shaming are powerful social physical techniques. Shaming, in particular, is a powerful form of memetically spreading depression. Ostracism, and the other forms of isolation that go along with it, are designed to get others in a given group to submit directly, or defer through inaction. And these are EXACTLY the dynamics you need to create Authoritarianism.

Agents of Authoritarianism simply cannot give up their desire to depress people. They are in The Matrix, their bubble of awareness is small, and they are largely incapable of thinking in terms of changed conditions, or learning. They’re waiting for their next order, because that is the way the memetics work. Expecting them to change their minds is ridiculous.

Here is an agent of Agent Smith at work — Jennifer Nuzzo, a professor of public health at Brown University.

And herein lies the memetic rub. We actually KNOW what it takes to stop COVID-19, or any respiratory virus at the individual level. That is BSL-3 PPE. Gotta give the Chinese CCP credit — at least they dressed their goons appropriately. EVERYTHING recommended on the INDIVIDUAL level wouldn’t work. Researchers in good faith attempted to find some ameliorating effect on the POPULATION level, through some reduction in dose in transmission. The Cochrane Study showed that many people, trying, failed.

So are professors like Nuzzo advocating because their bubble is so strong they are unaware of the INDIVIDUAL requirements for PPE? Or are they maliciously continuing the grift (Nuzzo wants more studies, of course) because it serves their larger, egocentric purposes? Here’s the thing, and this is what is interesting. Regardless, their v-Meme structure, promoting an Authoritarian social structure, is supported and reinforced by their views. Masking causes isolation and depression, and additionally, when applied to children, makes them more compliant (as well as mentally ill) so they can serve inside the social structure that Nuzzo emergently desires. Whether she realizes it or not.

They are in a positive feedback loop from an informatics perspective inside their community. I’m sure if you asked Nuzzo if she was acting in good faith, in the context of the general welfare, she would say ‘yes’. But that says more about her empathetic scope (extremely limited) and her ability to link complex, cross- paradigmatic situations than any real opinion. She would likely say things like “but BSL standards are in a lab, and people aren’t in a lab,” instead of looking at the BSL standards as what you actually need to contain viruses (which is what they truly are.) It just goes round and round from there. And reminds me of Humpty Dumpty’s famous quote:

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

― Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

To sum up — because it took me quite a long time to summarize effectively the individual/population-based masking question.

  1. We know what it takes to stop transmission of respiratory viruses on an individual level. None of the current PPE does this (cloth, surgical and N-95 masks.)
  2. We didn’t at the start of the pandemic know if some effect of dosing might be present, and prevent worse COVID outcomes if everyone, in whatever fashion, wore masks.
  3. We now know that it makes no difference.

No more research is needed.

PS — after a round of comments, for those confused, I’m posting this addendum.

The pictures that show BSL3 workers masked with face shields are accurate. Those masks and face shields are there to deflect droplets or spilled material. All actual work on trays of viruses must be done in a negative pressure cabinet, basically meaning that air is being sucked away from the researcher, and into some type of hood that exhausts into a purification system. The clothing alone is not meant to stop aerosols, because theoretically aerosols are never supposed to reach the person. They are contained in the separated system. Any fomites attaching to the researcher are supposed to be cleaned off in the air shower at the entrance to the BSL3 facility.

This is very similar to clean room standards for microchips. Except in that case, humans are the contaminant, and the systems exist to keep any sub-micron particle off the chips, as that would cause the process to yield lower.

Do note on the BSL3 standard that respirators may be required. The Stanford lab has people posing in what are called PAPR helmets. The idea is the same — positive air pressure respirators are incorporated into the helmet so only sub micron aerosol free air reaches the person in the helmet.

I have one of these that I use for woodturning. It’s not quite as sophisticated as the ones in the pictures. And if you fart into the waist pack that contains the HEPA filter, trust me — you still smell it. But it’s pretty amazing for a dusty environment.

All these are well-established technologies. I am very lucky indeed to have been in at least three clean room facilities in my life (not BSL3 labs) so I speak from some level of experience.

Elon Musk and the Guest-Host Relationship

Acropolis View, 2017where it all started. Sorta.

It’s another kinda “Night of the Long Knives” on Twitter today. And instead of relentlessly responding to nonsense from the Elon Musk haters, I thought I’d just write this instead.

First off, I want to be clear that I’m an Elon supporter. I support him not because he is a perfect human — he’s far from that, as we all are. I support him because Elon appears to be the only self-reflective billionaire we really have left, with connections to deep, traditional cultural roots. You can look at groups of elites like the Pritzker family, transhuman champions that are actively advocating castration, both chemical and physical, of depressed youth. Or Bill Gates — attempting to do good, somewhat arbitrarily, but profoundly limited by his own memetic development (Bill’s authoritarian as it gets) and the resilience of his bubble.

Elon actually takes seriously the idea of existential threats to humanity. And because of this, his entrepreneurism, while obviously of a technical bent, attempts to solve the big problems. In order to avoid human extinction due to a bizarre accident on Earth (meteor, asteroid, or nuclear war) Elon proposes a multi-planet civilization. Elon says the biggest threat to human survival is likely population collapse. And if you look at the spread of metabolic syndrome across the globe (the most obvious vector) or even the release of a super-bug, this seems not such a crazy notion. Population decline/collapse is already happening in Europe. His Boring Company champions a technology I’ve thought was long underserved — moving transportation underground.

And with his latest acquisition of Twitter, he is also confronting what he viewed as an existential threat to humanity. Most people on the planet don’t pay any attention to Twitter. But I can tell you, after about 4 years on the site, Twitter is a powerful organizing force of what John Robb has termed the Network Swarm, that has absolutely terrifying possibilities. Twitter was a chief organizing force against Donald Trump, showing it can rival the power of US Presidents. And Twitter most definitely prolonged the nightmare (and continues to do so) of ineffective COVID interventions, long after they should have been retired. Twitter has been a powerful organizing platform for ‘woke’ culture, and many academics AND journalists have flocked there, previously unknown, to largely espouse relationally disruptive positions that various governments — especially the U.S’s, have espoused. The trans fight is a great example, and I’ve written extensively about this here.

I think Elon fundamentally realized this — though he obviously has no access to my own work. Make no mistake — he’s in his bubble as well. However, there is an inherent sense when psychopaths are at play. And Elon figured out that Twitter, with its preferred mode of 280 characters — a perfect Authority-driven knowledge structure — was being overwhelmed with, well, Authoritarianism — mostly from the Left. So he bought it.

And then he started in applying the rules of civilization as he sees them, which are profoundly Enlightenment-era, and well-scaffolded. Very little of what was going on on Twitter had anything to do with the Enlightenment — in fact, it had turned into a white-hot center of destructive, egocentric relational disruption. Ideas which would never travel memetically if there was not social media would never get off the ground in real life — the current trans controversy is a great example.

As an example, only a couple of days ago, a prominent journalist attempted to link the term ‘groomer’ to a slur against LGBT folks — exactly the kind of linkage prosocial LGBT have been fighting for literal decades (for those context-impaired, LGBT folks are NOT groomers, while the term has historically been used to describe pedophiles, even in the technical literature.)

Yet here he was, going on about it, saying it WAS linked, and because it was, it became off-limits to talk about it. Which is just about as psychopathic as you can get. You can always tell a real psychopath because they want to co-opt language, subvert its meaning, and then force the cognitive dissonance from that co-option to drive conflict and take over your brain. As well as shut down legitimate debate.

So Elon, spurred by two events — one his doxxing AND broadcast of his private plane flying his kid(s) around , which he rightfully considers a real threat — suspended a bunch of journalists, including some of the biggest arbitrary psychopaths in the journalism community. They’ve written about it here, which shows how they basically have no concept of scale, as well as their willingness to seize on any issue to bring down Twitter, which through modifications in Twitter’s mis/disinformation policy was no longer favoring the COVID misinformation they DID favor, as well as other generic ‘Woke’ philosophy points. The people banned started RT’ing the flight information link to Elon’s page. So he, well, suspended them for seven days.

The second happened just today, where Twitter/Elon decided that people posting migration information to other accounts on competitors’ websites, usually with a chef’s kiss of insults along the way, would also be banned. That led his biggest critics to get whacked and then really start the Free Speech Wars on Twitter, which continue while I am writing this. Stay tuned.

Twitter/Elon did not explain this policy, though at some level it should be obvious. You don’t walk into Joe’s Hamburger Joint, and start hollering for everyone to go to Bob’s Hamburger Joint. But it actually is a deeper violation than that. And here is where it gets memetically interesting.

The first suspension rule — no doxxing (especially of Elon’s own kid!) is tied immediately to the Survival v-Meme. When your child is threatened, you do what you need to do. Doxxing is bad — especially in the social media arena — though it really is more of a paparazzi threat than direct violence, if you ask me. But the possibility exists. No question.

The second is more interesting, and involves a key element of Tribal/Magical societies on up. And that is the Guest/Host relationship.

What is the Guest/Host relationship? It governs how a guest must conduct him/herself inside a host’s house, as well as the obligations of the host. It is DEEPLY embedded in our relational stack, in that while the details vary, I can tell you it is exercised in all cultures around the globe. If you invite someone into their house, you have to treat them decently (food, beverage as prescribed by the dominant culture — you would never feed a Muslim pork inside your house, for example.) No charging someone for a beer you hand to them. And as a guest, you have to behave. No asking to sleep with the host’s daughter, or other such icks.

Why this matters is the Guest/Host relationship evolved BEFORE the idea of forgiveness. Forgiveness is actually an empathetic memetic evolution, where you attempt to (at least) emotionally connect to the other side’s pain, and find a way to synthesize their apology. What happened before this? Julian Jaynes talks about having the Old God installed in your head in his brilliant book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. What Jaynes says (and I agree with) is that prior to some level of conscious level of social evolution (I elaborate on this, but Jaynes is essentially correct) is that we all had an Old God installed in our head, and we didn’t really care what element of wrath we followed — even if it involved weeping with the person whose son we killed afterward. I’m talking about Achilles, the death of Hector and Priam, of course. The Iliad ain’t known as The Wrath of Achilles for nothing.

And when you violate the Guest/Host relationship, the Gods are angry. And when the Gods are angry, all sorts of unpredictable, terrible things happen. Odysseus lands on the Island of the Cyclops. The Cyclops bashes the heads of some of Odysseus’ men, and then eats them. Bad host! Odysseus follows suit by tricking the Cyclops and putting out his single eye. Bad guest! But the Cyclops is actually Poseidon’s (the God of the Sea) son. And then Poseidon blows Odysseus off course for 11 more years in getting home. Once more, thou shalt not fuck with the well-connected, as Kurt Vonnegut so astutely noted.

And so here we are back at Twitter. The same cohort of disruptive journalists are hollering at the top of their lungs that they are off to Mastodon, or other such site. Much like the gang of Penelope’s suitors, their behavior is lining themselves up in a mythical sense for when Odysseus shows up. So Elon kicked them off the platform. Of course, they’re busy screaming ‘free speech’ — a concept that is truly far up the v-Meme ladder from where they’re currently acting. Appropriate free speech requires a sense of agency, and responsibility to be executed. Something none of the screamers are advocating for at all. Their desire for free speech is directly related to their desire to disrupt Elon’s new home, which happens to be Twitter. So he threw those bad guests out with a rule. But it’s more mythic than that. Now the Gods are angry.

And when the Gods are angry, all those with Old Gods installed in their heads are also upset. It’s fascinating (well, pathologically) to watch people’s reactions to all this. Jaynes said the Old Gods had passed away. If you look at Twitter, and the various people’s reactions, hardly. And its memetic structure ensures it’s gonna be tough to evolve away from that. But it’s also interesting that in so many people (including many scholars) that they have no sense of what this means.

In other Greek classics (like the Oresteia) the Gods are actually called in to set up a tribunal and a set of laws that will evolve the society past the Tribal/Magical conflicts caused by violations of the Guest/Host relationship. It should be said that the Oresteia, when it came out was not a popular play, though it did win the awards for Aeschylus during its time. So that’s interesting as well. Kinda like our own Oscars.

What is more terrifying to me is that there are so many decision makers representing on Twitter that seem to have no idea about any of this. This means either one of two things. The first is that there are so many psychopaths out there in our ruling elites that they simply don’t care if they’re disrupting the peace, and could give a whit if war breaks out between the various memetic strata of society.

But in a way, it’s possibly worse in the second case. Which is that the grounding validity that comes from deep connection through understanding the memetic levels below the current one have been forgotten. And now the structure of modern society that exists is literally hanging in thin air. And as such, since the dominant myths, not only of Western society (this ridiculous constant criticism of the Greek classics is one of the most vapid I’ve ever seen) but around the world are under threat of being forgotten. It’s the End Game of Post-Modernism and fragmentation, that I talk about here. No one is going to be happy. And everyone will, in the end be isolated. Which is simply, terribly sad.

The problem is, of course, that this all leads to some type of war. How? We can’t predict. That’s what happens when you fuck with those Old Gods. And that should give us all pause.

Quickie Post — Fatherless Young Men and the Larger Societal Consequences

Conor on his first river trip, at the oars

Twitter pal and real-life friend, Joe Biello, posted an absolutely stunning video, by Good Kid Productions that every sentient human on the planet, who has any interest in us having a prosperous future, needs to watch. It is THAT good. It covers in-depth the August 2020 shooting of Jacob Blake, an African-American male whose arrest started the Kenosha riots, as well as fueled the Black Lives Matter movement. It demolishes the myth of Jacob Blake as some victim of white supremacist policing, while casting light on the other, downstream-cascade actors in the Kenosha riots, namely Kyle Rittenhouse, Joseph Rosenbaum, and Anthony Huber. Blake headlines the story as a fatherless man, whose father left his mother while she was still pregnant, to start another family with a woman he had impregnated. The hidden story behind Jacob Blake’s arrest was that he had sexually assaulted the mother of his own child that day, and was attempting to kidnap all her kids by piling them into her car. Which is why she called 911, that started the tragic series of events that day.

Here’s the piece: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzAMjU14z4w

Apparently, you have to watch it on YouTube. The title is: The Broken Boys of Kenosha: Jacob Blake, Kyle Rittenhouse, and the Lies We Still Live By.

The one thing the victims all had in common were they were fatherless men, and makes the compelling case that the real root of all the actors’ dysfunction was the lack of a father in their lives. Of course, one can’t do a randomized control trial for this kind of thing. But I encourage everyone to watch it. It is THAT good.

Not surprisingly, the one documented psychopath in the mix — Joseph Rosenbaum, who had literally just left the mental institution CARRYING HIS DISCHARGE BAG after a suicide attempt earlier that day — that showed up at the protest, was severely sexually molested by his stepfather, who ended up spending time in prison for his crimes. The other victim, Anthony Huber, was an unwanted child, abandoned by his father, who found some refuge in the skateboarding community in Kenosha. He had spent most of his adolescence and young adult life in correctional facilities. Now Huber’s father is attempting to sue the city of Kenosha for wrongful death and his loss. Mind-boggling. Once again, in Structural-Memetic-land, what we’re seeing behind this particular situation is the development of a Disqualifying Narrative — a story so far out of the stretch of most folks’ comprehension, it literally beggars belief. Unfortunately, it’s only outside of contemporary narratives such as White Supremacy and Police Violence against African-American men, can one get close to understanding the root cause of the trauma.

And Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17 year old ostensible White Supremacist? His father is an unemployed alcoholic, who punches his mother in the stomach when Kyle is 4, causing the couple to divorce.

The other primary point of the video is how our understanding of the Jacob Blake situation got scrambled. It is an exemplar of this post — how psychopaths use well-worn mental models (in this case, racism and white supremacy) to distort the truth and gain power and control. I am at a loss on how to move the needle on this at a large scale. But at least now, I’ve plotted the dynamic.

What’s my view on this? I can’t really give a ton of personal details, but I’ll tell you when I left my marriage and my two kids’ mother when they were 8 and 10, I operated in some kind of fog that the narratives I had been fed were true — that my kids would be fine, as long as I wrote the check. That turned out to be profoundly not true, and what followed was a long conflict to get custody of my sons, which I did. What was amazing about that fight, though, was how profoundly all the institutions I had to deal with were against contact between a father and his kids. It was summed up in one session with one of my sons counselor, who told me “this whole town thinks you’re crazy. Everyone knows that after a divorce, a successful man like yourself leaves those kids behind and goes and starts a new family with another woman.” They couldn’t understand at all why I fought.

I know I’m leaving out a lot of story, and that is just the way it must be. My two sons, whom I got full custody of at something like 14 and 12 (I forget, to be honest) have gone on to be two of the most successful humans on the planet. I hung in there, and I’m glad (and grateful) I did. But if the system can continually kick someone as crazy-persistent as me in the face, a white male with the power and privilege of both societal status, and one of the best educations available — as Utah Phillips might say of my position, armed to the teeth with the weapons of privilege — what are the outcomes for more average, or disenfranchised populations?

From my perch as an engineering professor, having educated literally thousands of young men (and women) , I can tell you from interacting with them that fatherless children is another civilization-ending crisis. It is hard to grok how many of kids I’ve talked in the same situational boat. And while the outcomes for all are not nearly as radical as those involved in the Blake/Rittenhouse situation, when anyone asks me “so what do you do for a living?” I tell them succinctly — “I raise kids.” Young women too.

We might start at least addressing the problem publicly. While we still can.

P.S. A final footnote — this is supposed to be a Quickie Post! — the mainstream media coverage clips shown will make you never believe any of the media figures ever again. What is the most interesting aspect of this? How NONE of them have ever apologized, nor fixed their original depiction of events. The mind reels. All of you waiting for Tony Fauci to say he’s sorry — you might consider this case.

And yeah — I know you expect me to say this, but the linked posts in this post are solid work. You should read them if you really want to understand how the mainstream media works. Do remember that I am usually critical of my own writing, but the upside is if I say the ideas are good, they are at least worth considering.

Quickie Post — The Memetic Death of Mastodon

Nice, healthy elephants — not extinct. In the Greater Kruger Park, 2009

There’s tons to write about Twitter and Elon’s recent takeover, and I’m attempting to get through a longer, memetic war post on Elon, Trump, and agents like Paul Krugman. But this is ripe, as it were. Will Twitter collapse and everyone move to Mastodon, or actually, one of the other alternate platforms, like Parler or TruthSocial?

Never say never, of course. But the odds of everyone fleeing Twitter and moving to Mastodon, because of the created furor over Musk not driving the algorithms toward supporting the Legalistic/Absolutistic v-Meme, which is inherently institution-supporting, is pretty low. Everyone on the ostensible Left loves to underestimate Elon, partially because he represents publicly as a flawed human, while at the same time being the richest man in the world. This scrambles the status-driven circuits of the pundit class. But if you know anything about any of his companies (I have worked with SpaceX) his success is actually due to the fact that he operates them in a Performance/Goal-Driven (Orange) v-Meme, while possessing awesome reflective Guiding Principles insight on how all of it works. I highly recommend various Elon videos on the design process to my design class, primarily because he has the best advice (bar none) on how to accelerate the process of successful performance-driven design.

For those wondering what that might be, it’s basically SpaceX is more than happy to blow rockets up, learning all the way along the path toward rapid iteration. If you don’t believe me, then watch the video below.

People in Legalistic/Absolutistic v-Meme structures (like the current version of NASA) cannot learn enough about new systems because they refuse to push them at appropriate times to failure. And no — I’m not talking about when humans are aboard. But you don’t have to look far (about as far as the most recent Artemis program) to see that a status-driven organization that cannot tolerate failure just can’t learn and explore enough in the design space to push the envelope in space flight. We don’t only learn from failures, of course. But failures matter in broadening the envelope of the possible, as well as potentially illuminating Black Swans that show up out of nowhere.

But back to Twitter and Mastodon. From all outward appearances, Twitter was a bloated piece of Silicon Valley agitprop, a place heavily laden with status-driven thinking. It really hit its stride at the beginning of the Trump era, when no-reputation journalists and academics found they could gain some kind of a reputation through Twitter’s infamous ‘Blue Check’ verification process. I’m on Twitter, and the hassle of getting said Blue Check just seemed like a big pain in the ass (I am notorious, however, in not caring much about status.)

As I wrote in this piece, journalism (and the academy) has been adrift for a while. And its current mode has been cemented through learning that the path to status-driven heaven (actually perdition) is having access to famous people, and repeating whatever the most famous authorities would want them to repeat. You look at the embarrassing doubling-down of the journalistic and academic castes on the whole COVID lab leak fiasco, and I’m floored. It’s not that it’s 100% that COVID came from the Wuhan lab (I’m pretty sure it did) — it’s just the people the journalists and academics ended up defending, like the China’s CCP, as well as our own CDC, are so obviously off the rails when it comes to anything having to do with promoting agency of individuals, or any Enlightenment values. The CCP is competing with North Korea for the most oppressive state in the world when it comes to civil rights. Yet I’ve seen reporters from Nature, the pre-eminent scientific journal in the world (well, formerly) defend the CCP, even though the most conservative (not political, but truly conservative) viewpoint on the whole lab leak fiasco is that the affair is unsettled. The mind reels. Talk about memetic alignment.

At any rate, this sub-class has been seeing favorable algorithmic treatment on Twitter, which has turned Twitter into what John Robb calls the ‘network swarm’. And through its lack of grounding, coupled with the Ukrainian crisis, and its hatred of Trump’s anti-elitism, driven the world to the edge of a nuclear exchange. I could march through the whole list of issues that the current version of Progressivism has doubled down on (they’re even going in big on castrating young children in the name of reducing childhood depression) but I think it would just make me ill.

Twitter, though, likely due to its longevity and expansive user base, has resisted an overt takeover by the Progressive class, though one could argue only weakly. That has led to the binning of Left/Right opinion due to power law/Pareto dynamics. And with the ascension of the Biden claque, a group largely kidnapping an old man with obvious dementia, to use as a power token, their psychopaths, facilitated by the COVID pandemic, were making large inroads on collapsing the US, at any rate, into a true Authoritarian state. Musk derailed their plans (sometimes it helps to have $215B in your pocket) through Twitter’s purchase.

And almost immediately, that entire group were quickly threatening to leave Twitter because of so-called immoderate moderation. It’s all ridiculous — anything resembling real results of gross algorithmic change would at least taken a couple of months to show up. My feed, which is really Space Alien v-Meme stuff, changed nary at all. So it’s impossible to believe that somehow anything REAL happened.

But lower v-Meme systems exhibit radical bifurcation/switching behavior. And once the switch was thrown, the class of Twitter Progressive Illiterati were all threatening to leave for Mastodon, the ostensible champion of Truth, Justice and the well-moderated content Holy Grail.

Now it’s time to consider a.) the actual behavior of Twitter Illiterati, Robb’s Network Swarm, and what fuels their dynamic, and b.) what might happen if the group of journalists move to Mastodon.

Regarding a.) — it’s highly unlikely that most of the journalists will move off Twitter. Twitter is really great in providing both an echo chamber for journalists and academics that were previously unconnected (confession — I got on Twitter to reach out to people outside my own academic web.) What happened when they found each other is what happens in any memetic system where you actually create a place for Birds of a Memetic Feather to flock together. They, well, flocked. And having i.) a place where status is constantly being reinforced, and ii.) where they feel like they found their ‘Tribe’ and felt safe — something they could never delude themselves with if they went out into the Real World, they started enacting on their obliviousness and confessing their deepest intrinsic biases to each other. How anyone can believe anything, after reading many of their Twitter feed (there are notable amazing exceptions, BTW) these people write as anything other than an op-ed column is beyond me.

And on the darker side, Twitter also fed/feeds their intrinsic narcissism. This is a bad thing. If you are basically a Maoist, or anyone to the Right of that, you can find some sense of belonging on Twitter. The problem with that connection is it is not remotely grounding in others’ more diverse experience, or grounded to anything in reality. You really can form an empathy bubble on Twitter. And worse, it will be reinforced in 280 character Tweets (Authority-driven knowledge structure) over and over. It’s a potent, collapsing feedback loop, and really explains how even in the end of the pandemic, none of them will apologize for anything. It also puts their personal growth in suspended animation, and reinforces the mental age of the Authoritarian/Legalistic v-Meme, which centers around 16 years of age. If you wonder why this entire caste acts like teenagers, it’s because, well, they’re trapped in some kind of self-fulfilling suspended animation where teenage behavior is constantly reinforced. Mean Girls indeed.

Things were made worse by the pandemic, which gave a moral sense of purpose to ordering take-out and quite literally e-mailing it in. The ‘laptop class’ as pal Jay Bhattacharya, professor at Stanford in public health calls them, really are just that. And humans have to be remind of physical reality in some form or another, or it all turns into one big LARPing exercise.

Regarding what happens if they migrate to Mastodon, and they actually do it, nothing good will come out of that either. First off, it’s extremely unlikely, for the reasons above. And there is the base-level Survival v-Meme fact that the platform is new and simply can’t be very good. The construction of the Twitter platform, like it or not, has refined lots of parts of it so that it is extremely reliable, and works well. That cannot be true of any of the Twitter migration paths (Mastodon, Parler, etc.) because refinement, especially in dealing with things at scale, is HARD. Ask any computer scientist. Low probability events pop up and must be dealt with. But in order to really get at low probability events, they have to occur. And that means lots of cycles/Tweets/whatever to ferret them out.

Secondly, though, if a platform establishes itself already in a relationally destructive v-Meme box, as Mastodon has had to do, it then ends up with other Pareto/power law anomalies in the information stream. All those comments (whatever they call them at Mastodon) are run through relatively strident algorithms about ‘disinformation’ or some such icks. They can’t be very evolved. And to top that off, if you’re stuck in the Legalistic v-Meme (at least on the surface) there’s simply no knowledge structure that can handle event probability. Someone raises their hand and screams that disinformation got through, instead of understanding there’s a law of statistics involved, ANOTHER rule has to be created. Populations and actual information diversity really don’t exist in their minds. They have an anecdote, the anecdote proves the rule, and as such, Mastodon has to come up with something because they have PROOF. This was an amazing quote/Tweet that just popped up today. Purity tests beget more purity tests.

This also gets reinforced by the set beliefs of the journalistic and academic castes about how AI works (or actually, really doesn’t work.) Current SOTA machine learning is really just fuzzy linear (or meta-linear) interpolation. And to make the extremes happy (trust me that Mastodon will at least initially attract its share of High Conflict psychopaths — it’s inherent in the social structure of the thing) you’ll see opinions on a whole raft of issues converge to a Singularity relatively rapidly. Well, assuming the platform holds up. This geometric/Pareto distribution thing is real, whether anyone outside a small group of us can understand it. Not good. So you end up with the largest amount of people with extreme views on the edge of the distribution. That’s the bottom line.

And then things will get boring. Boring is bad. Boring means your core empathy-disordered folks are simply not entertained. And boring means that the inherent narcissism that runs a base layer in social media also goes away. That means clicks go down. And the Network Swarm moves back to Twitter, though in an attenuated form.

Emergently, the Network Swarm realizes this. Which is why they’re/it is hollering so loud to give them their Twitter back. They can’t vocalize, nor describe this. But you as well can’t describe most of how your body works, nor anticipate much besides being hungry or having to go pee. There really is so much we don’t know about emergent behavior of social networks.

Interestingly enough, the conservative/Right social media, mostly existing in the Authority-driven space, actually has more opportunity for thought diversity (not to be confused with the whole DEI mess) than the liberals. The problem is that since it is even more fragmented, you might end up with some more empathetic, personal perspectives than the Left might put forward. But lots of these folks will be utterly bonkers, as actual Authority shifts back and forth to whoever can tell the best story. Which then puts you down in the Tribal v-Meme, and the land of myth. Short version — more diversity and different ideas. More crazy.

Will Twitter survive? The best somewhat-contemporary author, that I enjoy as a childish pleasure, is Michael Moorcock, who describes the universal fight as one not between good and evil, but Law and Chaos. To the extent that society captures that conflict (and that really is profoundly enhanced in the dynamic by free speech) and learns something from it, we can move forward. Twitter might yet do that.

Will Mastodon survive? To end with some kind of analogy, mastodons require a great Ice Age in order to survive. And as things warm up, with the memetic dynamics described above, it is looking like a warming trend. I’m betting on its extinction, or at a minimum, a placeholder at the polar caps of the meme-sphere of planetary debate.