Predictions about the likely judgements of posterity are always grounded on the assumption that there will be a posterity, peopled with sufficient numbers of wise people as can articulate a judgement that amounts to more than simply the idle contemplations of rainbows. So on this basis, let’s assume that there is a president to follow Trump and that this wise sufficiency has so far recovered its wits as to understand the difference between a narcissistic vulgarian and the evolved political culture that enabled his ascendancy to the position, albeit temporarily, of most powerful person on the planet.
As more than just an aside on the proper definition of power, this still potent posterity will acknowledge that the greatest prince is not he who sits at the centre of the widest error. Any sustainable definition of power cannot dwell too long in reflecting on history’s sad parade of grubby psychopaths and sweaty conmen who have humbled nations with their appetites and capacity to wreak havoc, while blighting the hopes of the very multitudes that have been beguiled into supporting them.
Real power lies in the patient dedication to building good that will last, and still more in the gift of nurturing cultures that will enable that good to flourish and endure.
On that definition, Trump’s verdict before posterity would be worse than unfavourable if determined solely on what has been achieved in the first six weeks of his presidency: “worse” simply because he has grasped at every opportunity to posture as a dissembling bully and pantomime villain, rendering risible any articulation of a cultural phenomenon – society, economics, style, reasoning – to which the term “Trumpian” might be applied as a descriptor. In fact, the man’s preternatural promotion of style over substance would render the essence of any Trumpian belief system as being far more concerned with the manipulation of perception that with the discernment of reality.
At the very heart of the Trumpian con is his promise of rendering great again something that was already functioning credibly, before setting out firmly on a course of systemic degradation and desperate brinksmanship, orchestrated with bullying blusters, rants, and whines. The man seen simply as a man, as distinct from a wider belief system and enabling culture, is essentially a clown confected by that culture as a joke upon itself: in short, the deification of Everyman as Loser.
The real pantomime will be the spectacle in monitoring those who are currently colluding with that flimflammer who will surely in time feel inspired to distance themselves before posterity renders its verdict so plainly that everyone will get the point. And those of us who adhere to notions of humanity’s continuing enhancement can bolster our cognitive and political systems against the recurrence of demagogic quackery.
Lively Stuff from Planet BAM!
- March for Science: a reboot for citizen activism
There’s a lot of commentary these days around the phenomenon of single-issue fanatacism and the extent to which it seems generally to be more a function of political right-wings than those from the left. So Brexit congealed around nativism and the need to “take our country back”; Trump developed around Tea Party obsessions with small government and “making our country great again”. The left wing, it is said, is more nuanced and siloed and, as a result, cannot galvanise itself to win elections. With the American Women’s March in January, and the much anticipated global March for Science in April, it appears that the wider interests of the political centre-left are finding their voice in the realisation that, if only in opposition, “that which unites us is greater than that which divides us”.
- Useful summary analysis of AI risks and benefits
Vox provides a quick primer of current thinking by AI leaders on recognising and managing the risks of Super Artificial Intelligence. Rippling through much of the commentary is an acknowledgement that the world into which SAI is evolving is not itself a steady state, and the impacts of SAI are more likely to be determined by the deliberations and actions of human beings than by the SAI itself. At least in the early days, that is . . .
- Biases are fed by intellectual narcissism
This piece in BPS Research Digest looks at three variants of biases proceeding from the inclination towards solipsism — the so-called “better than average” belief that privileges our views as proceeding from the entitlement arising from being generally better at most things than most other people (as is true for half of us at any given time with regard to any particular skill or activity). Then there is “confirmation bias” that filters favourably the evidence supporting pre-existing views; and then the “endowment effect” which colours perceptions of phenomena simply because they are ours, or associated with us. Their proffered fourth bias serves up an interesting research journey in support of its articulation but is really an extension of the endowment effect. The “SPOT effect” (Spontaneous Preference for Own Theories) is a tendency to favour theories simply because it’s us having them — which some may argue in defence is a natural result of the hard work and clear thinking that has gone into articulating the theory in the first place.
- Singularity Hub inspires with news of Brain Biotech
Developments in cell therapies and regenerative medicine and reflections on how AI is making inroads on biotech all make for fascinating reading, but the section on the arrival of the “era of the human brain” (pablum title, but great copy) makes clear that humanity is on the cusp of transformational advances in the cognitive capabilities of our species — if we don’t destroy ourselves in the process (cf story on AI risks, above . . .)