Broken Telephones

As some of you have discovered, Online Security Demigod Bruce Schneier has taken note of my recent appearance before the IAPP.  He has some nice things to say about the things I said.  Or at least, about the things he thinks I said.  The problem is, he gleaned those things not from my reportage, but from Angelique Carson’s.  And as I mentioned  in a footnote a couple of posts back, I didn’t exactly say all the things that Ms. Carson thinks I did.

Some of the comments over on Schneier’s blog quite rightly splutter and roll their eyes at some of those things, even while others have pointed out that there was some garblage in the translation. Which means, I suppose, that I really should get around to posting a transcript of my talk sooner rather than later.

Not today, though.  Today, let me just address a couple of the more obvious misconceptions.  Because I really need to get a run in before it starts raining again.

First, while some have pointed to my own post as a better record of the event, that was really just my impressions of what it was like to deliver the talk; it didn’t really address the content.  For that, you’d need to cherry-pick from a number of entries posted over the years: on the Transparent Society, on God Is In the Wattles, on the essential Third-Worldiness of the US of A (more explicitly documented in my  ChiSeries talk on “Gods, Jackboots, and Rule 34“). Even a bit of evohandwavery from Echopraxia made it into the talk. I don’t expect anyone to actually go back through all that stuff and forensically recreate what I said, of course. Only bits and pieces of those postings found their way into the actual presentation, along with other stuff that I’ve never delivered anywhere before. Ms. Carson’s piece is actually the closest thing you’ll get to an actual summary until I get around to posting the transcript.

It doesn’t always get the details right, though.

Sometimes a word or two makes all the difference.  I remark that the link between surveillance and fear is “a lot deeper than the average post-privacy advocate is willing to admit”; the reporter doesn’t hear “post”, which completely changes the target group I’m talking about.  I talk about stalking behavior in the biological sense (as opposed to the sexual-harassment one), and “biological” turns into “illogical” in the story.  I think I have to cop to some responsibility for this myself; I obviously wasn’t speaking clearly enough, just in terms of enunciation. At least, it wasn’t just Carson who misheard me: when Ann Cavoukian came over to chat, she was under the impression that I’d said we were wired “for surveillance”, when I’d actually said that we were wired to be paranoid about surveillance. Whole different thing.

The finding that we’ll take revenge on those who trespass against us, even if meting out that punishment hurts us more than it hurts the transgressor? I introduced that as an example of the “justice instinct” that so many social mammals have as a guard against cheaters and free-loaders. I never drew any connection to the paranoid pattern-matching behavior of predator avoidance I’d brought up ten minutes earlier.  Yet the story speaks of surveillance alone as enough to make us “paranoid, and aggressive and vengeful”.

And the whole lions, lambs and veldt thing? That got totally mangled between my lips and your eyes.

So, to any skeptics who might have found their way here from Schneier’s blog: I feel your pain.  Just be aware that, while I’m as guilty of hand-waving and just-so stories as anyone else in pursuit of an interesting presentation, I didn’t hand-wave in quite the way it has been reported.

Stay tuned.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Friday May 23 2014at 12:05 pm , filed under public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

14 Responses to “Broken Telephones”

  1. At the risk of pulling off old scabs, I would say that you were speaking Darwinese and those who misheard were hearing in neo-Darwinese (in particular, the Dawkins dialect). They think that evolution is all about optimality and perfection and rigid genetic determinism. And, as I have also discovered, using the correct meme of “man the hunted” does not compute well. So, if you continue on this track, you will need to do a lot of remedial education with journalists and the public, and a large number of scientists. Perhaps the metaphors book Sal and I will be finishing up in the next 6-9 months will help.

    Anyhow, good for you – of course, I am biased but I think you nailed it really well.

    dan

  2. Looking forward to reading the transcript.

  3. Since when do neo-Darwinists think evolution is about optimality, perfection and rigid genetic determinism? I think even back in the 70s Dawkins wrote about how gene effects are statistical and about local maxima etc. You’re criticising an imaginary neo-Darwinism that exists only in your head, Dan.

  4. Please post the transcript ASAP.

  5. Dan Brooks,

    They think that evolution is all about optimality and perfection and rigid genetic determinism.

    I read Richard Dawkins’s book.

    I don’t remember optimality, perfection* or rigid genetic determinism in there.
    Is there another Dawkins who writes on evolution?

    *can you even find a non-nutty twen-cen biologist who seriously espoused these views?

  6. Re “Wattles”

    That’s what makes the cycle work. In the US, today marks recalling that the average American family regularly sacrifice their children for the oligarchs and thank them for the privilege because they think they are smarter being so damn uninformed. Both the overestimation of our own smarts from that old post and the fear reaction misdirected to those whom the alpha gorillas are protecting us from work together to give a tingly, wetpants sensation that allows us to be steamrolled into whatever ridiculous shit they’re shoveling this week. Plus the reasonable folks being unable to grasp this as factor.

    How is this different than ancient Mayan, Incan, etc. human sacrifice as fending off natural disaster?

  7. <

    whoever:
    Re “Wattles”

    That’s what makes the cycle work. In the US, today marks recalling that the average American family regularly sacrifice their children for the oligarchs and thank them for the privilege because they think they are smarter being so damn uninformed.

    Color me skeptical.

    Isn’t US electorate generally to the left of prevailing politics? Also, isn’t it notable that policy that passes is generally one that benefits the elites? Who don’t even give that much money to the politcritters involved, someone found.

    There is some adulation of the super-rich, but I doubt it’s a majority belief.


  8. Beware of confounders ..

    US is not a third-world country. The reason some of it’s stats look like a third-world country are twofold. Or one-fold – the US contains patches of the third world (Detroit, Nola, etc)

    1 – ethnics less genetically and culturally adapted to modern civilization*.

    One half of US homicides are due to their activities. So, one eight of population is responsible for half of all homicides?
    I’m not exactly sure why they’re that way, but in many places worldwide they are reponsible for an surprising share of crime. There’s pretty solid evidence some of those ethnic groups have higher propensity for aggressive behavior . In addition, they appear to have lower genotypic intelligence, for which there is ample evidence.

    Areas with high % of said populations are mini-third-world countries. You can’t really blame America for not being as 1st world as say, Norway, because it’s effectively impossible for it to be like that. Perhaps if it was an iron-fisted dictatorship, or instituted effective apartheid (the murder rate of apartheid SA was a small fraction of the new, free SA). Sure, there was and is racism, but strangely, the Chinese and Japanese who used to be discriminated against are doing fine.

    2 – war on drugs

    It’s getting to the beginning of it’s end. Remember how end of prohibition cut down on homicides back in the good, old thirties?

    *whose populations, unless highly self-selected (such as say, ambitious students/emigrees in foreign lands) exhibit problematic behavior worldwide.

  9. Y.:
    <

    Isn’t US electorate generally to the left of prevailing politics?

    Not sure where you get that idea. Keep in mind that individual states vary widely in culture and circumstance. And given how mixed up our use of the words “liberal” and “conservative” is, I suspect you could not get any meaningful barometer of public opinion just by asking which side of the aisle someone is on. Even trying to tab it up issue by issue is a little iffy thanks to the two party system–a voter might be all for social safety nets, improved education, and any number of progressive ideals, but be absolutely opposed to (say) legalized abortion, to the point that they’ll vote GOP straight down the ticket–even though many of those contentious issues are so stymied that there’s not likely to be a move in any direction for years at the national level. Even the milquetoast reforms of Obamacare have been stymied and compromised at every step. Most conservatives I know would rather go full on single payer than deal with that mess (as would I).

    The only absolute I can offer as is that the general electorate is uninformed, apathetic, and easily swayed by single issue appeals. Whether it’s the environment, the second amendment, prayer in schools, cyber security, or whatever, we’re divided into many camps. Then you have the other bunch that roots for a political party as a matter of identity. Republicans are GOOD because those twisted libtard freaks want to force your daughters to have abortions; Democrats are GOOD because those backwards rethuglican maniacs want to gun you down in the street while letting a corporation privatize the air we breath. Even people who know better will fall into lazy thinking when confronted with some idiot pundit satisfying their prejudice about the “other side”. I suspect none of this is totally unfamiliar.

    Y.:
    <

    Also, isn’t it notable that policy that passes is generally one that benefits the elites? Who don’t even give that much money to the politcritters involved, someone found.

    Again, no idea where you’d get that idea. Especially if you include Political Action Committees–it’s one of the principle barriers to entry that keeps us locked into the make believe dichotomy that the oligarchs have set up. Congresspeople spend more time hunting for donations than they do legislating. It’s never been about direct bribes; congresspersons in the U.S. can already engage in insider trading. They don’t need help with material wealth–campaign contributions and super PACs provide the means to maintain power and status. Super PACs do much of the real work of burning money for ads; campaign contributions are a rather small, but still important piece of the puzzle.

    Y.:
    <

    There is some adulation of the super-rich, but I doubt it’s a majority belief.

    We worship celebrities, and make celebrities of robber barons like Steve Jobs. And our libraries and bookstores are full of guidebooks on how to make your millions with a Proven Investment Strategy. Someone I know who has a bookshelf full of marxist literature got ticked at me when I suggest that their favorite celeb is in fact just another millionaire shilling their personal brand, and not some cultural juggernaut because they said some stupid shit on a talk show. Our absurd levels of private debt can mostly be attributed to people using credit to live beyond their means, in order to project an image of wealth.

    It’s not necessarily direct, literal worship–but there’s a deep impulse to be rich, and to put financial success on a pedestal, even if it was the result of gutting a valuable corporation and creating a net loss for the economy. And worse than all that, there’s a tacit acceptance that the extremely wealthy can get away with just about anything. Even without the advantage of a team of lawyers, we’ve got a system where having a few thousand bucks worth of weed or pills will get you locked up for years, while contributing to the meltdown of the national economy calls for only a minor fine on your winnings.

    I don’t even think rich = bad (I can appreciate Jobs as a marketing genius and visionary of a sort) but man… we really have a hard on for looking rich.

  10. Not sure where you get that idea.

    My, my. Are you from Oklahoma, by any chance?

    If it’s been observed that actual US policies are favorable to the elites, and not in line with what the voters actually want, which is mostly more social democratic policies, less inequality and all that.

    Matt,

    How is Steve Jobs, a purveyor of shiny, overpriced but usable electronics worthy of the title ‘robber-baron’?

    The App-store?

    Again, no idea where you’d get that idea.

    Item 1) a study on US plutocratic tendencies found that. US pols aren’t especially rich. The Chinese Congress is a far, far richer body.
    The researchers were a little perplexed by that.

    It’s not necessarily direct, literal worship–but there’s a deep impulse to be rich, and to put financial success on a pedestal, even if it was the result of gutting a valuable corporation and creating a net loss for the economy.

    Do you have any evidence such practices are viewed by the majority with approval?

    ______________

    I note with disapproval that somehow, my posts arguing that US is not a third-world nation keep being held in the moderation queue. Even if they’re written in a non-offensive way, I believe.

    Ah. Funny. So many people who claim to believe in evolution are rather afraid to really think about what it means when it applies to the human animal. Heh, there were even people who claimed that essentially ‘no evolution’ has happened since the end of paleolithic era…

  11. Matt,

    That last part reminds me that i sometimes wonder if the US psyche has secularized Calvinism. That it does not matter how you got rich, as long as you got rich, and flaunt that you are rich.

  12. @Matt

    Here’s the fulltext of the study that concluded US politics seem more oligarchical than democratic.

    If Americans were such a bunch of plutocrat worshipping tools as you suggest, wouldn’t US appear more democratic?

    Anyway. D’oh research. I thought everyone and their mother knows when it comes to US politics, there are only special interests, not general ones.

    No one gives a fuck about the greater good.

  13. Dan Brooks,

    Pop quiz: in which of his books does Richard Dawkins spend a whole chapter discussing genetic determinism & another one on the optimal adaptation accusation? And how long ago did it appear?

  14. Y.:
    Color me skeptical.

    Interesting nuance. It sometimes depends upon whom we are talking about, doesn’t it? Perhaps then it’s best to say it is what obscures that the sacrifice is not what they are told it is for? Not a new notion, but perhaps an outdated one.

    I’m not sure left and right have a whole lot of meaning, at least where politicians are concerned. As you kind of noted, party over:

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/princeton-experts-say-us-no-longer-democracy

    http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/05/big-money-the-koch-brothers-and-me-107225.html

    http://www.salon.com/2013/06/18/how_cash_secretly_rules_surveillance_policy/

    http://www.wired.com/2013/07/money-nsa-vote/

    Cliches all and yet likely true.