Class Warfare Blog

September 8, 2018

Artificial Intelligence—The Promise

I am a big fan of digital technology and someone who is hopeful of the future. It is harder and harder for me to maintain that stance, however.

Currently there seems to be a widespread debate regarding the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Since we know so little the positions staked out are quite broad. At one end is a new future where machines take over dangerous and boring jobs and human beings have more leisure. At the other end, autonomous drones are the first step toward Skynet (the “bad guy” in the Terminator movies) and the extermination of human beings by intelligent killing machines.

There seems also to be many opinions in between the two extremes.

Something I do know is that it will not be the machines that determine the outcome. In every case of new technology impactful enough to change the course of history, the tech has been used to coerce and oppress the labor of the masses to serve the interests of the elites.

Consider the following photograph.

This is an Amazon warehouse. Amazon is a tech company. So, how do those who work in Amazon’s warehouses fare? Amazon uses personal monitoring algorithms to make sure that its employees do not waste time taking short breaks to catch their breath or go to the bathroom. They are to stay on task as long as Amazon wants them to … or else.

Jeff Bezos, creator of Amazon, makes huge profits by paying his warehouse employees wages that are so inadequate that many of them need public assistance just to get by. Thousands of Amazon workers are forced to rely on food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing because they can’t survive on the wages they receive. Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos is now worth $158 billion, and his wealth increases by leaps and bounds. (And who pays for the public assistance subsidizing Mr. Bezos’ wealth? You and I do, of course.)

If you think back to the first powered looms to make cloth, it was the workers who had to get along with the machinery, not the other way around. Same was true with the assembly line to make automobiles, etc.

I do not argue that there were no benefits from technology that actually accrue to ordinary people. Henry Ford, no friend of workers, paid more than anyone else as a daily wage to pursue his dominance of the auto market. But that was then and now, wage suppression is the favorite tool of the captains of industry. Much of the advanced tech of today is not available to us because, well it is very simple, we cannot afford to pay for it. We don’t make enough money.

As much as people will squander $1000 on a new iPhone, the really impactful tech, such as a liver transplant, is not available to you … unless you can afford to pay for health insurance and many, many people cannot.

So, AI in and of itself will not necessary oppress ordinary people, coercing our labor for the benefit of the elites, but if rich people have any say in the future, my bet is that a sizable amount of AI will be used for just that purpose. (Jeff Bezos has already begun the application.)

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November 5, 2017

None So Blind As He Who Will Not See

Note This is a very long post, you may need to read it in stages. Sorry. Steve

At this point in my life, I am an old man. For over 60 years I have been studying history, mostly on my own. I remember reading H.G. Wells A Short History of the World when in high school, for fun. (I was what was then called “a reader” but an otherwise ordinary boy.) In college I read Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization, for fun (and The Story of Philosophy and The Lessons of History). I read books about Egyptian History, the history of science, World War 2, the Russian Revolution, and on and on. I have been reading lately about the history of the Christian church (a real hair raiser if there was one).

And in all of those histories my eyes ran over the words but they didn’t quite come together. All of those Russian peasants, the serfs of Europe, the subjects of Egyptian and Persian god-kings, the Christian mobs running competitors out of town, all of those slaves and I never put together the fact that the vast majority of all human beings have been slaves since the advent of civilization.

I have written before about how I thought small groups of human beings ended up with shamans, shamans being members of the tribe who weren’t particularly skilled at hunting or any other valuable skill, yet who craved status and hence claimed to be able to negotiate with all of the gods that abounded in the minds of people. Since we knew no better, we assumed that everything had a voice in it like we had in our heads, so there was a god of the brook, of a tree, of a mountain, of the animals they hunted. All of our gods started with the animistic gods of primitive humans as precursors. This is where the idea of a god came from. But those gods were right there to observe in the form of the tree, or the spring, or the antelope. They weren’t far away gods and they certainly weren’t all-powerful.

When people started to gather in larger groups (larger than a small family), that is up to 100-125 in a troop (about the maximum size before splitting into smaller groups apparently), there was likely more than one shaman and they either had to compete or cooperate and since they were cunning they realized that they would be better off together than in competition. In order to cooperate, they had to get their stories together, so they were making the same claims and exhibiting the same “powers.” This is how a covey of shamans started religions. As the size of groups expanded, more cooperation between and among shamans was necessitated.

I have come to the conclusion that “organized” religion is simply a people control mechanism that was enabled by civilization. To live in cities, a great deal of labor needed to be coerced (because no one wanted to work that hard) and religion proved to be the tool to do just that. (“Kings” didn’t show up until about 1500 years after the first cities, which were always run by religious elites.) For the religious, the city was a gravy train. Other people toiled to provide them food and clothing and luxuries and all they had to do was perform some rituals from time to time and, of course, claim to have some power over those damned gods who would kick our asses at the drop of a hat. This was the creation of first wealth and the first full-time leisure.

I assume there were some true believers but they were always co-opted by the power mongers who took their imaginative creations and used them to make people obey.

The people closest to the class of elites wanted in on the scam (no different today) and didn’t want to be coerced into doing the work to support all of the freeloaders, so since the idea of capturing people from other tribes already existed, the idea of acquiring manpower from elsewhere came readily to mind. Men and women to work, women of child-bearing age to have more babies, even children were valuable. So, the elites, in essence, invented large scale slave raids, which were the nascent versions of what would end up as wars.

This is also why religions make no sense at all because we are looking at them in the wrong way. Religions are uneasy partners with political/military leaders to supply psychological and, if needed, physical force to keep people in line. In rare cases religion gets co-opted to support the general populace, but eventually they fall back in line as partners to maintain the status quo for the elites. The religions then, of course, use those instances as indicators of their true natures, like in the U.S. where religious leaders became anti-slavery, when there is no scripture whatsoever that supported their position.

Just like the shamans who saw they were better off as allies than competitors in the tribes, the religious elites saw the martial elites as natural allies. This took a little while to work out. The first “kings” were battle leaders under the control of the religious elites, but soon the warriors saw that they could whip the assess of those girly-men priests and didn’t think they should be taking orders from them anymore. You need to look no farther than The Epic of Gilgamesh for an example of such a conflict.

This alliance of elites has always had it ups and downs. The political elites eliminated the priest’s influence in the Russian Revolution, for example. (You will notice the priests are back, somewhat cowed, but religion is too good of a tool of oppression to waste. Ask Mr. Putin.) Henry the VIII of England created his own church when the one he had wouldn’t do his bidding. The Church of Rome threw much of the young male nobility of Europe into the meat grinder of the crusades to capture and control Jerusalem (a hardly useful task, but just making them do it reinforced their power over the nobles). There are many examples, but almost always the two religious and secular powers end up hand in hand.

Just ask yourself, which of the two American political parties is most covetous of political power? You will also notice that they are also the most overtly religious, even trying to change the law that prevents clergy from haranguing their congregations on politics. Which party are the religious supporting the most? (Surprise!) There are many more examples that can be made.

The bottom line is that religion was invented to control your behavior for the benefit of an elite few. Civilization was a tipping point in scale. And because of this there has been untold misery inflicted on other humans who were enslaved or coerced into work they didn’t want.

We know civilization was a tipping point because there was so much resistance to it. The first cities rose and died very quickly. There were structural problems, problems of getting resources delivered to the elites (water transport was good, land transport was awful), there were problems coercing “the flock.” The were problems in the high concentrations of food created and stored and shipped drew vermin like magnets, and as the populations increased, the numbers of people and animals were high enough to support disease epidemics.

All of the “civilizations” were initially surrounded by “barbarians.” These were actually the free people … well free, unless they were captured and enslaved by the “civilized” people. The barbarians were hunter-gatherers, or pastoralists, or semi-sedentary groups of people who lived the old way, the easy way, the healthy way.

Because the “barbarians” had very varied diets, they were quite disease resistant. The grew taller, stronger, and had less gum and other diseases. (We know this; this is not just a guess.) The “civilized” people were the exact opposite, but also got a narrow diet (consider the Chinese diet of rice for breakfast, rice for lunch, and rice for dinner … if they were lucky) and got to work longer hours at work not of their choosing. Yes, I know hunter-gatherers had to gather and hunt to eat, but they didn’t have someone telling them to do just one thing all of a day. They didn’t have anyone telling them what to do at all. They would go looking for things good to eat and what they did depended on what was available, and there was widespread availability of many different foodstuffs which was shared fairly egalitarianly … until the civilized people confiscated the land by force and used it for the elite’s purposes.

The barbarians opposed the civilized people because the civilized people opposed them. And sometimes the barbarians won. But in the end, the free people succumbed to the diseases and predation of the “civilized” people. (Consider the fate of the millions of people living in what was to become the United States, when the Europeans showed up with their “white, god-given privilege.)

But, you say, that was a long, long time ago and now the benefits of civilization are shared by one and all. (This claim is followed by a long list of the benefits of civilization, most of which are valid but many are quite dubious. Protection from communicable diseases with vaccines that people never got before being herded into large groups has to be considered a push. Being able to fly thousands of miles overnight is of debatable value. But that is not my main point. My point is “at what cost?” Civilization is still a pattern in which the elites coerce labor from the vast majority for their benefit alone. To make this obvious, here are a few things to consider:

  • Do you pay a tithe or give to a church? Do you know what your money goes for?
  • After the 2008 financial collapse that caused a worldwide economic recession, which people were made whole first?
  • Would you vote for an atheist were they better qualified in all other ways than their opponents in an election?

These are just a few questions to stimulate your thinking. Most people have no idea where the funds their churches collect go, for example. Even if their church publishes a financial statement, few read it. Most of the funds go to what is called “overhead” in business (salaries, utilities, maintenance of buildings, etc.) almost none goes to charity. This is basically a business which has overhead but no product other than what it’s customers imagine.

We all are aware that banks and stockholders got bailed out after the 2008 debacle, that none of the miscreants went to jail. That ordinary folks whose home mortgages were rigged so they appeared to be affordable, got very little, most nothing. The elites were taken care of first, as they always are.

And polls show that the vast majority of Americans wouldn’t vote for an avowed atheist under any circumstances. (Donald Trump lied about his religiosity, which should surprise no one.) Now that is control! If you want public office, believe what we tell you or at least pretend to.

While the mechanisms of coercion are now much more subtle (they are in essence, baked into the system—capitalism is one of them), ordinary people work very, very hard, and the surpluses they create go to the wealthy, powerful elite, and not themselves or their families. You have seen this graph before, no?

Many people have expressed surprise that evangelical Christians supported the candidacy of Donald Trump. If one takes a step back and looks at what is going on without the rose-colored glasses we are told we must wear (by the propaganda of the elites) the evangelicals voted for Mr. Trump in spite of his personal failings and attitudes and lack of belief but because of his willingness to pursue their political agenda. All of the dogma, scripture, etc. of the various churches is just window dressing, window dressing to be ignored when it gets in the way of the real agenda, which is maintaining and expanding the power of the religious and wealthy secular elites.

If you do not believe this, consider the following Christian scriptures:
Matthew 6:19-20 (“Do not store up treasures for yourself on the earth”)
Luke 6:24-25 (“But alas for you who are rich, for you have your comfort”)
James 5:1-6 (“Come now, you who are rich, weep, howling out at the miseries that are coming for you”).
As one writer put it “While there are always clergy members and theologians swift to assure us that the New Testament condemns not wealth but its abuse, not a single verse (unless subjected to absurdly forced readings) confirms the claim.”

So much for the prosperity gospel and the churches support for the wealthy. Never will scripture get in the way of their pact with the secular elites, who use money more than strong arms now to coerce the behavior they desire.

Just as there is no support for an anti-slavery position in the Christian churches, American religious elites point to the actions of churches to get slavery disallowed in this country. If one steps back and looks at that in an unfiltered way, it was just another coalition formed to create a political end and it had nothing to do with Christianity and everything to do with taking care of the elites. The elites expanded slavery to vast numbers to support civilization and is more than willing to abandon the practice, if it is to their benefit. (You will note that even though “freed” the situation of most Black Americans changed very little.

What has hit me and hit me hard is that civilization has been a source of coercion and misery quite likely for a majority of human beings since its inception. We even talk about how the workers who built the pyramids weren’t slaves, they were volunteers. Right, our god-king “asked” us to do this task, this dangerous, absurd task that creates no food, no wealth, and is back breaking labor and we volunteered enthusiastically. If someone walked up to you on the street and offered you this “job” for no pay (other than room and board), would you take it … or would you need to be forced to take it?

If you look at every “socialist” country in existence today (outside of the democratic socialist countries but possibly even including them), can you really say that the “means of production” are owned by “the people”? Do you think that the recent Chinese Communist Party meeting was comprised of representatives of “the people” or possibly even made up of ordinary Chinese citizens, aka “the people”? In every case I have looked at, the socialism is window dressing for rule by a powerful elite. The “rulers” are always wealthy, able to take care of their families with positions in the elite structure, and represent themselves rather than the needs of the people. The people are directed in such a way as to create wealth and power for the elites. Period.

The United States is supposed to be a grand experiment in “self-rule.” The founders were elitists and were dismayed when people of the “middling sort” (tradesmen and craftsmen, oh my) got involved in politics. They thought government would be in better hands if those hands had the leisure time to devote to contemplation. Right.

Is there any support for the idea that the U.S. is not being controlled by the wealthy (Wall Street, the Koch brothers, etc.) for the benefit of the elites at this point? What did it take? A couple of hundred years to find out that our version of civilization is just like everyone else’s?

And what has me hammered flat at this point in my life is the sheer amount of pain and misery that has been authorized under the guise of civilization. One of the best estimates I have seen of the number of humans (Homo sapiens) indicates that about 107 billion of us have been born. Of that number maybe 100 billion have been around at the same time as “civilization” (civilization allowing for a vast expansion of the population … of slaves). The estimate that in the year 1800, 75% of all people were in some form of slavery, indicates the vast amount of coercion and oppression that has been created and is still being created under the mantle of civilization, mostly for the benefit of wealthy elites.

It is staggeringly heartbreaking to consider the families broken by slavery, the backs broken by “voluntary slavery” moving rocks the size of Volkswagens to make a pretty pile, the whippings, the diseases, the starvation, the sexual and physical rape, the forced breeding of humans like cattle … it is a well of sadness we should be drowning in. But if we were to succumb to this feeling, the propaganda machine of the elites would kick in to perk us up, I am sure. Sad workers aren’t as productive as happy ones.

Have you seen the “tax reform” plan of the Trump administration? Do you still doubt my analysis?

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