As in the Gulag it replicates, the innocent are swept up with the guilty in a disconcertingly unjust ratio.
The human mind is not particularly well-adapted to polycrisis: we struggle to adapt to the drought, then the earthquake knocks down the village walls, then the tsunami pounds what was left, followed by the epic flooding, then the hurricane batters the survivors, who witness the volcano erupting and wonder what they did to anger the gods and goddesses so mightily.
Now put yourself in the shoes of those tasked with governing / leading the traumatized, overwhelmed masses. If you call a public meeting to hear what the masses reckon are causes and solutions, you find a near-riot of vociferous wrangling over the equivalent of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin: all sound and fury, signifying nothing.
With the populace stripped of the sense that things are still under control, the emotions being bared put a blow-torch to civility and common sense: the toxicity of the indignation (this shouldn’t be happening to me), entitlement, grievances, resentment, distress, angst and accusations knows no bounds.
This fuels a searing desperation to pin the collapse of what was known and predictable on some villainous force or cabal, and so witch hunts proliferate and wild theories gain adherents who found little solace in the official pablum (everything’s fine, we have it all under control).
The voices murmuring that this is what we deserve for our hubris and pride are lost in the cacophony.
So what’s your instinctive response as someone in authority to this bedlam? Try to regain some control by getting everyone on the same page. The free-for-all didn’t fix anything, and so our instinct as leaders is to circle the wagons, tighten control of available resources and dampen or shut down the cacophony feeding the divisive, deranging emotions.
While it’s ghoulishly entertaining to use ChatAI to translate the cries of those swept away into whatever language you prefer and watch the videos that fade to black as the camera came to a bleak end, the technological genies afoot are obvious allies in the campaign to quiet the voices feeding the bedlam.
And so Big Tech is persuaded to do its public duty to tamp down the voices threatening to spin the collective distress out of control. The obvious tools to do so are algorithmic, i.e. automate the survey and weeding out of disruptive voices, regardless of their source.
Despite claims to the contrary, algorithms aren’t that smart and neither are LLMs (large language model software that uses natural language as its interface with human users).
Algorithms and other software are blind to the fact that they’re in effect courts of inquiry and judgment that make assessments and sentence the accused in the blink of an eye, with minimal evidence, no hearing and no recourse, i.e. no appeal process. The verdict issued is final.
And since this entire process must be kept secret lest it arouse further tumult, the automated courts do not notify those sentenced of their verdict: we don’t receive a court declaration–you are hereby sentenced to exile in Digital Siberia–you infer it when you awaken alone in the snow drifts of a vast wilderness. No one hears your digital shouts or sees your digital footprints.
As in the Gulag it replicates, the innocent are swept up with the guilty in a disconcertingly unjust ratio. Use the wrong word or phrase in a public text, podcast or video, and the secret court concludes you are an agent of intentional upheaval and chaos.
The secret courts are good at covering their tracks and subtle in their ways. You might think your digital footprint remains visible to all, and then you notice your income has collapsed. Your sentence: demonetized. Funny how quiet people get once their income vanishes.
This desire to herd everyone into a common understanding of the polycrisis is understandable, but the blunt instruments being deployed undermine our collective effort. If in fact foreign agents are spreading fentanyl and similarly destructive fabrications and distortions in the digital realm, then that demands a legitimate effort to identify and cut off these incitements of disunity and despair.
But automating the verdicts and sentencing end up hurting the nation in other profound ways. Skeptical inquiry and dissent are essential dynamics in democracy and the processes of experimentation at the heart of science and innovation.
If you’re lucky, you’ll locate another exile in the wastelands.
Is a 70% Consumption Economy Sustainable? (43:53 min)
* * *