All posts filed under: Science / Tech

The Transhumanism Revolution: Oppression Disguised as Liberation

Transhumanism is an ideology which holds that humans must harness technological advancements to take an active, intelligent role in our own evolution and the evolution of our species. When we think about these developments as a society, we tend to consider them in relation to the improvement of the human race as a whole. However, we must begin to consider the profound implications for the sovereignty of the individual and the primordial question of what it means to be human. When the transhumanist movement began a few decades ago, its ideas had more in common with speculative science fiction than reality. But, inspired by Darwinian theory, the notion of human-directed, intelligent evolution has flourished alongside recent technological developments. The transhumanist perspective insists that humans have a distinctly separate mind and body, and that what happens to one need not affect the other. Understood in this way, apparently unrelated movements in biotech, tech, and social justice reveal themselves to be part of the same transhumanist project and aimed at the same objective: liberating the human being …

On Toxic Femininity

Male lions can be monsters, murderous and focused. Toxic, if you will. Given the opportunity, male lions will kill the kittens in a pride over which they have gained control. They commit infanticide, which brings the new mothers, freshly childless, back into estrous. The females are quickly impregnated. This, we can all agree, is disturbing behavior, and may make some people feel rather less pleased with lions. Given the opportunity, the vast majority of modern human males would do no such thing. Those who argue that men are inherently toxic are, ironically, making arguments that are biologically essentialist. And they are making them badly, at that. Evolution built humans, as it did lions. But humans have longer childhoods and greater generational overlap, share more ideas with greater complexity, and usually live in more stable social groups than do lions. In humans, evolution has given us the capacity to shape personality during development to a greater degree than in any other species. As such, and because few human cultures would tolerate such behavior, the vast majority …

Political Moderates Are Lying

Cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once suggested that we should “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Mead is largely correct. Change is wrought by those willing to lead or force others toward it. Which is why we are skeptical that most people truly believe every position they express. Especially in public. Do most people legitimately disagree with one another? Or are they merely conforming to supposedly dominant ideas?  Though there are legitimate disagreements, we contend that modern American political tribalism has been artificially inflated by group-based conformity. That is, the moderate majority’s submission to the demands of dedicated partisans has created a mirage of polarization. Most Americans are not impassioned ideologues, neither coopted by Soros nor swayed by Koch. According to a May 2018 Gallup poll, 43% of Americans considered themselves “Independents” while 26% and 29% considered themselves “Republicans” and “Democrats,” respectively. In fact, it wouldn’t be entirely inappropriate to characterize the average American as a disinterested political observer. A …

Diversity and Discrimination in Open Source

Back in May, I decided to leave the LLVM project, to which I was a contributor. I announced this decision in an open letter to my colleagues, which received some coverage in the technical press at the time, and a number of requests for further comment, which I declined. In what follows, I want to elaborate upon my reasons for leaving and explain what I think is going wrong in open source generally, and at LLVM in particular. First, for those unfamiliar with the tech world, a little background. Software is commonly developed and made available to the public in one of two ways: either proprietary software is developed privately inside a company and sold for a fee, or open source software, as the name implies, is developed in the open for anyone to use and improve. Microsoft’s Office is an example of the former, and the Linux operating system is an example of the latter. Among programmers, there are ongoing discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of both models. I have been attracted to the open …

Beware of Root Causes

What does it mean to claim that something is the ‘root cause’ of a problem in society? It’s common, for instance, to hear the assertion that ‘the root cause of terrorism is Western foreign policy’. The implication being that the responsibility for terrorist attacks ultimately lies at the feet of the West since its interventionist foreign policy has destabilized the Middle East – irrespective of any other source of causality. The phrase ‘root cause’ invites us to become privy to society’s underlying pathologies that, if remedied, could improve the world beyond the scope of someone merely observing the surface. Much like a bug in a software program causing a computer to shut down, or a leaky pipe causing subsidence under a house, the language of root causes implies that problems can be traced back through a cascading chain of events to an initial fault. Under this assumption, our goal should be to target that underlying problem rather than the ways in which the problem manifests itself in society. A framework based around root causes is …

Why Women Don’t Code

Ever since Google fired James Damore for “advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace,” those of us working in tech have been trying to figure out what we can and cannot say on the subject of diversity. You might imagine that a university would be more open to discussing his ideas, but my experience suggests otherwise. For the last ten months I have been discussing this issue at the Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering where I work. I have tried to understand why Damore’s opinions generated such anger and have struggled to decide what I want to do in response. As a result of my attempts to discuss this, our mailing list known as ‘diversity-allies’ is now a moderated list to prevent “nuanced, and potentially hurtful, discussion.” Instead, I have been encouraged to participate in face-to-face meetings that have often been tense, but which have helped me to understand where others are coming from. I embarked on this journey because I worry that tech companies and universities are increasingly embracing an imposed silence, …

The Birth of the Narcissism Revolution

Editor’s note: the following is an extract of Selfie: How We Became So Self-Obsessed and What It’s Doing to Us, The Overlook Press; 1 edition (March 27, 2018), 416 pages. In the months leading up to his death, in 1970, the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow began worrying about his legacy. He’d been preparing to write a critique of Esalen ‘and its whole chain’. One of the issues he’d become concerned with was self-esteem. Maslow was famous, most of all, for his hugely influential ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, which said that people are motivated to fulfill certain psychological appetites. At the top of his pyramid was ‘actualization’, which was extremely difficult and had, he thought, only been achieved by a few. But just beneath that was ‘esteem’. It seems that Maslow had been carrying out some tests on high-esteeming people that had been the cause of some concern: ‘High scorers in my test of dominance feeling, or self-esteem, were more apt to come late to appointments with the experimenter, to be less respectful, more casual, more forward, more condescending, …

The Tragedy of Australian Education

In April, the Australian government finally published its airy and platitudinous report and review of the country’s schools. Popularly known as ‘Gonski 2.0’ after David Gonski, the businessman who chaired the review panel and who had chaired a previous review of school funding, it provided little evidence to support its proposals, despite evidence being a key requirement in the terms of reference. The report states that Australia must ditch its ‘industrial model’ of school education, the sort of cliché you would expect to hear in the most derivative education conference speech. Instead, each young person must “emerge from schooling as a creative, connected, and engaged learner with a growth mindset” (see here for a double meta-analyses of growth mindset interventions which shows that they have virtually no effect). The details of how to achieve this are vague, but the panel is clear on one key point: rigid, age-based curriculum content must be blown apart in favor of progressing students individually through a set of skills such as literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, and self-management. Despite its managerial …

Giving the Devil His Due: Why Freedom of Inquiry in Science and Politics is Inviolable

In the 1990s I undertook an extensive analysis of the Holocaust and those who deny it that culminated in Denying History, a book I coauthored with Alex Grobman.1 Alex and I are both civil libertarians who believe strongly that the right to speak one’s mind is fundamental to a free society, so we were surprised to discover that Holocaust denial is primarily an American phenomenon for the simple reason that America is one of the few countries where it is legal to doubt the Holocaust. Legal? Where (and Why) on Earth would it be illegal? In Canada, for starters, where there are ‘anti-hate’ statutes and laws against spreading ‘false news’ that have been applied to Holocaust deniers. In Austria it is a crime if a person “denies, grossly trivializes, approves or seeks to justify the national socialist genocide or other national socialist crimes against humanity.” In France it is illegal to challenge the existence of “crimes against humanity” as they were defined by the Military Tribunal at Nuremberg “or in connection with any crime within the …

Race, Gender and Trump: Everything You Think You Know is Wrong

Following Election 2016’s “shocking” finale, many in academic and journalistic circles have seemed less interested in dispassionately analyzing why Trump won than finding excuses for why Hillary lost. As far as excuses go, sexism or misogyny (like racism, “foreign meddling,” or “fake news”) is pretty effective: it isn’t that Clinton was a non-charismatic candidate with a lot of baggage and a boring platform who ran a bad campaign — instead, those who didn’t vote for Hillary were driven by irrational and immoral impulses, preventing them from embracing the only ‘legitimate’ candidate in this race. Therefore, it should not surprise that a vast academic literature has emerged on the alleged role of sexism and misogyny in the 2016 U.S. General Election (given that scholars overwhelmingly lean left). Co-occurrence searches on Google Scholar can provide insight into the scale of this enterprise. Restricting our search to 2016 and beyond, “Donald Trump” and “misogyny” yields 1,480 results to date; pairing “Donald Trump” and “sexism” brings in 2,760 hits; “Donald Trump” and “feminist” has 5,080 entries. There is certainly some …