Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Ruminations 99(2) (Making Our Own Image into Gods): Looking Back on 2020 in Epigrams and Aphorisms



For the last several years, and with no particular objective,  I have taken the period between Christmas and New Years Eve to produce a s summary of the slice of the year to which I paid attention through epigrams and aphorisms.  It follows an end of year  tradition I started in 2016 (for those see here), 2017 (for these see here), 2018 (for those see here), and 2019 (for those see here).  

At the end of 2019 I wrote as the introduction to 2019's closing epigrams and aphorisms the following:

The year 2019 is ending with the great rifts--opened in 2016, exposed in 2017, and acquiring a greater urgency and revealing the power of its consequences in 2018--now exposed. More than exposed, 2019 marked their explosion, the aftermath of which, in 2020, will be marked by the start of a variety of end games in law, society, politics, culture and economics. Global divisions, more acute in 2018, finally reached moved toward climax in virtually all states, and with respect to all systems--law, compliance, religious, societal, cultural, and economic. While 2020 will likely be the year in which the climax events of 2019 will play themselves out, the year 2019 was in many ways the year of the "big bang" for the third decade of the 21st century. (Ruminations 89(1) (Blasphemies): Looking Back on 2019 in Epigrams and Aphorisms).

The year 2020 has indeed proven to be the year of end games of all sorts, the aftermath of the big bang that was now the faded memory of 2019.  It was a year that was consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  But that was hardly all--many things happened under the cover of the virus. This was the year of the transformation of Hong Kong, of the realization that governance was becoming both data driven and managed by algorithms, and of the indulgence in state killings to suit the tastes of their leaders.  It was the year that saw the return of borders and the refinement of the techniques useful for managing the movements of populations from the most to the least developed states.  It was the year the Americans were continued their civil war and in which the rupture of the aristocratic elites produced successful campaigns to demonize virtually anyone.  Indeed, beyond the virus, 2020, appears to have been the year of the demon, it was the year of  oni (鬼, demons) and yurei (幽霊, ghosts); it was the year the demons (恶魔) left hell (地狱).

In this Part 2 we look back beyond the daemons 2020 has permitted us a certain delight in creating. We look to the new gods we now worship, and the means of that worship.  To worship something is to invest it with the attributes of divinity; this was the year we came face to face with the gods we have been seeking to make of ourselves.   

1. Humans create gods the way that gods create them--in their own image; but that image can be hard to bear when detached from its maker its character becomes clear. In 2020, humans insisted on playing the  role of Obatala, among the eldest of the Òrìṣà (or lesser manifestations of the divine essence, and the essence of purity) in the pantheon created by created by Olodumare (the divine essence itself) who tasked with the creation of  human bodies, got thirsty, made palm wine to lubricate the task, got drunk and in this state created the imperfections that plague the human form (
Obatala, the Creator
Obatala, the Creator). That is the essence of 2020, the manifestation of idealized purity, drunk on palm oil in the face of the tasks appointed it, creating in its wake a manifestation of itself  that reveals  its sometimes gross imperfections. And in 2020 there was no god making, no manifestation of ourselves more emblematic than that of the way we construct the essence of ourselves.  That is the essence of the normal, new normal, and the quantification of normality as the divine essence of 2020 whose acolytes remain drunk on palm wine  (Three Strategies For Driving Growth In The New NormalMotherhood and Guilt in a Pandemic: Negotiating the ‘New’ Normal with a Feminist Identity; Odd became normal: sports’ masked road trip to the unknown; What is the 'New Normal' for IT Modernization?; We are Not Made for this New Normal).
2. But it is the palm wine itself that becomes divine in 2020. That which provides the certainty of normality, and of its transformation; that mirror that reflects ourselves constructed from out of  the palm wine of data, of analytics, of simulation, and of algorithm; that transfiguration of the human into a divine humanity, now detached from the human becomes the essence of the force through which humanity can be remade, the body into which its "normal" spirit can be poured and its deviations identified and cast down to the realm of demons and hell (Ruminations 99(1); Tourism organizations need to rethink their success metrics in 2021; How Fitbit Health Metrics can help you listen to your body; How Do You Evaluate Performance During a Pandemic?; In the eye of AI: An objective view on customer and employee satisfaction);   
3. We can now talk to our new gods, we can compete with them, we can improve them and them us; these gods who are the projections of ourselves made sentient within the limits of our own self-understanding, desires, and outlooks. (How Chatbots Improve Employee Productivity in the 'New Normal' ("Round-the-clock self-service platforms, such as chatbots or virtual assistants, fueled by conversational AI and natural language processing (NLP), are helping organizations adapt and efficiently manage their employee and customer engagements during this challenging time"); Primary care docs outperform symptom-checking apps – but some apps come close).
4.  They can, like the surgical enhancements so beloved of our influence leaders, make us appear better than ourselves, and in so doing transform ourselves into a variant of our own simulation (Russia’s Covid-19 death toll could be 3 times higher than reported; China Covid-19: How state media and censorship took on coronavirus; As US coronavirus death toll mounts, so does the belief by some that it is exaggerated).  

5. We make them in our own image all the while putting forward our gods as the perfection of the essence it incarnates; we mold them like we mold ourselves to create and support or own desired meaning universe for our own ends but as an essence of the divine it is made to appear beyond question (Harvard Finally Stands Up to Academic Duplicity ("Instead of objectively reporting the latest findings from tax statistics, Zucman was placing his finger on the scale. He appeared to be bending his results to conform to the political narrative of Warren’s campaign, which he was also advising at the time"); An East Bay professor is teaching racist theories on intelligence. Students and faculty want him out).
6. We think we can control these gods--these reductions of humanity to quite specific quantification and to their re-creation within the realities of quite synthetic simulation (Ethical Concerns of AI; DOD Adopts 5 Principles of Artificial Intelligence Ethics; ‘Getting the future right – Artificial intelligence and fundamental rights in the EU’). 
Pix credit HERE
7. And yet that control is merely another simulacra--a reflection of the self control, the absence of which produced the simulated and essentialized transformation into an abstract divinity of which we merely serve as a piece and as the offerings of sacrifice  in the first place; the ideal, then, can only inhabit the sum of the prejudices of those who make and maintain them (Documentary 'Coded Bias' Unmasks The Racism of Artificial Intelligence; Artificial Intelligence in healthcare is racist).

8.  The gods create a world where magic is possible, where one can change the past and predict the future and mold the bits from which it is created from whose life essences it draws its power to order reality as the essence of the political process of human societies (Simulating Politics in the Shadow of COVID-19: " 'like the school nurse trying to tell the principal how to run the school'). 

9. These gods are not just in the world; the simulacra of life becomes its ordering principle, our singular road to the place we have built for the lesser gods who are our own imagined image idealized; these are the contemporary Valhalla and Olympus (Did you get a VR headset for Christmas? Here are 15 things you should do first; Computational model reveals how the brain manages short-term memories).
10. And we have created simulations of our simulated selves in order to test the simulation against our desires as made real in the simulation (Parallel Domain raises $11 million to generate synthetic data for AI model training).
11. These gods are hungry for sacrifice--for without the constant offerings of sacrifice they lose their form--to that end we offer ourselves; these offerings of data we give freely (Automated Law-- Microsoft 's "Insight Computing System,' the Power to Manage Labor, and the Intimacy of Emerging Regulatory Forms) . 
12. One no longer needs the sacrifice of data directly--the simulacra of data will siffice for some of the hungry gods (Overcoming Data Scarcity and Privacy Challenges with Synthetic Data).
13.  We believe in the power of the protection of these data sacrifices for the right gods in the ever more crowded pantheon of lesser deities; individuals need the assurance that their sacrifices are being recieved by the appropriate god in the appropriate manner ans truly reflects the character of the data sacrifice that is offered; the state and international organs, and private regulatory enterprises,  now craft rules to better ensure this proper operation of sacrifice to the gods which themselves incarnatea divine view of the right to sacrifice based on the needs of the gods (Apple’s privacy labels could change how apps collect your data; Everything you need to know about data gathering, protection, storage and use under GDPR; China’s Hyperactive Debates on Personal Data Protection). 

14. But even the old incarnations of human society have learned to feast on the contemporary human flesh that is data, and to protect their temples from encroachment by other states (China's Digital Silk Road and the implications for American businesses). 

15. That leaves us with the priests of these new cults--those who stand between the individuals who offer, who are, sacrifice, and the simulacra that is the world digitally remastered and served up for us one click (bait) at a time (Preparing the Way Forward for Facebook’s Oversight Board; How to Judge Facebook’s New Judges; ). 
16. This was the year of simulation, of modeling reality, and of its rise to the driver of human activity; the politics of human communities is now the politics of modeling--the simulation has become the simulacra of the political community, the divine manifestation of our own image--only better or worse (The challenges of modeling and forecasting the spread of COVID-19; Scientific modelling is steering our response to coronavirus. But what is scientific modelling?; Model uncertainty, political contestation, and public trust in science: Evidence from the COVID-19 pandemic).

he eldest Òrìṣà created by Olodumare and held responsible for the creation of the earth and of human bodies

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