The uncanny power of words has featured prominently in recent news. Politico describes how Berkeley became “a hotbed of violence in the Trump era” in response to witches like Ann Coulter.
In canceling a planned speech by conservative author Ann Coulter at the University of California, Berkeley, school officials made a startling admission Wednesday: They could not guarantee the safety of the controversial speaker or her crowd. … The entire episode, which follows a February riot and a melee in the city Saturday, served as a jarring acknowledgment that Berkeley, a one-time cradle of anti-war protests and the Free Speech Movement, has emerged as the leading theater of protest violence in the Trump era.
Apparently there are ideas, like the incantations that Coulter is likely to utter that are dangers in themselves, which summon devils from the vasty deep and provoke an involuntarily reaction in whoever is unfortunate to hear them. When Howard Dean tweeted “hate speech is not protected by the first amendment” he was warding a danger which does things to people from which they must be defended against. The need to block these spells has convinced the socialist leadership of Venezuela, until recently averse to civilian firearm ownership, to arm their supporters the better to gun down those who would invoke them. “The socialist leader of Venezuela announced in a speech to regime loyalists his plan to arm hundreds of thousands of supporters after a years-long campaign to confiscate civilian-owned guns.”
“A gun for every militiaman!” Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro said to uniformed militia members outside the presidential palace, Fox News reported on Tuesday. The Bolivarian militias, created by Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez, already number in the hundreds of thousands and are being used to supplement the regime’s armed forces. Maduro is boosting the number of armed supporters in hopes of keeping control over the country from what he labels “imperialist aggression.”
The arming of Maduro’s supporters comes five years after Venezuela’s socialist regime outlawed the commercial sale and civilian ownership of firearms. Only the military, police, and groups like security companies can buy guns and only directly from one state-run arms company under the law passed in 2012, according to the BBC. The country recently doubled down on its gun ban through a combination of gun buybacks and confiscations in the summer of 2016.
“We are going to bring disarmament and peace,” Interior Minister Nestor Reverol told Reuters during one confiscation event.
Shoot down the warlocks and witches wherever you may find them. Yet how can mere words have such power? How can ideas be so feared? To understand why it is instructive to regard speech which turns people into human IEDs. Clearly that is a spell. Manifestly that is dangerous speech. But why does it have such power?
Sam Mullins writing in the aftermath of recent attacks on policemen in Paris compared some “lone wolf” attackers to “remote controlled” vehicles piloted through social media and encrypted communication applications in the same way model aircraft are flown from a distance. The comparison is especially apt because modern UAVs operate through a combination of things they can decide for themselves (autonomy) and remotely-generated instruction (command).
Jihadi and drone speech are deadly because they do not require complete messages to guide them. The lost portions can be guessed from a larger ideational system called culture. Culture allows us to fill in the blanks. Drones do not attack just anybody even when they are temporarily cut off from the controller. Their preloaded logic let them to divide the world into enemy and friend; acts into good and bad so they can make choices for themselves. The can decide on the basis of their culture what to do. That makes them fearsome.
Nicholas Christakis, the Yale professor pilloried by students for defending the right of people to choose Halloween costumes, made the connection when he observed that human culture was the first artificial intelligence. Conversely AI autonomy is the first nonhuman culture. Both are flip sides of the same coin. The power of culture is the ability compute things individual members could never figure out for themselves. This allows Jihadis to become human drones. It allows AI swarms to become artificial starlings.
Culture is the earliest sort of intelligence outside our own minds that we humans created. Like the intelligence of a machine, culture can solve problems. Moreover, like the intelligence in a machine, we create culture, interact with it, are affected by it, and can even be destroyed by it. Culture applies its own logic, has a memory, endures after its makers are gone, can be repurposed in supple ways, and can induce action.
So I oxymoronically see culture as a kind of natural artificial intelligence. It is artificial because it is made, manufactured, produced by humans. It is natural in that it is everywhere that humans are, and it comes organically to us. In fact, it’s even likely that our biology and our culture are deeply intertwined, and have co-evolved, so that our culture shapes our genes and our genes shape our culture.
What the Antifa, Howard Dean and the Venezuelan regime call contemporary “hate speech” is code for a culture to rival their own. They fear culture not speech. What makes it so dangerous is it dares to do what the progressives have done themselves. Critical speech could be tolerated for so long as it lacked a sense of identity but it became an existential threat with the first stirrings of self-consciousness behind the words.
The reason antifa hates Coulter is she represents what is now a rival culture. Antifa ignores Jihadi messaging because they represent what is for the moment an allied culture. Classic free speech issues have nothing to do with their opposition to it. We are witnessing not a clash of ideas but battle of consciousness.
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Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes. How Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election to Donald Trump is the tragic story of a sure thing gone off the rails. Using their deep access to campaign insiders, political writers Allen and Parnes reconstruct the key decisions and unseized opportunities, the well-intentioned misfires and the hidden thorns that turned a winnable contest into a devastating loss.
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