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Mushrooms, Modafinil, and Mass Shooters (How Academia Got Pwned 2)

This is the second post in a series about the glorious completion of my academic career, the internet, and the future of intellectual life. Tell me: Would you like to read the whole story, edited, in a beautiful paperback? I may have an announcement soon, so be sure to subscribe.


After two wildly incorrect Daily Mail features, it’s high time I set the story straight. This will take a while, but I can start with a basic clarification of some common questions I’ve received. What did I actually get in trouble for, exactly? The abortion comments, tripping on Instagram, using the word “retard,” shoplifting from self-checkout kiosks, or what?

My disciplinary troubles first started back in May of 2018, when a public complaint was lodged about one of my personal blog posts. I was asked whether I had ethics approval for my blog post, which is strange because there has never been even an implicit expectation that personal blog posts exploring public data need ethics approval. When you consider the post that attracted the complaint, it’s no longer very puzzling. In The Alt Right is not All Right, I sought to estimate the ideological distribution of an internet subculture associated with the so-called Alt Right. This matter was placed under investigation for several months. They asked me to take the post down in the meantime, I said no, and I was waiting on a verdict for several months.

Then on September 6, 2018, I received a letter from my Dean inviting me to an investigation meeting. The letter was at such pains to stress that the investigation was not disciplinary that it was clear we were now embarking on a major disciplinary imbroglio. Academia is filled with this kind of USSR-level doublespeak. Due to some new information that was brought to her attention, the investigation would now include several new issues:

You have published your use of the drugs LSD (Class A), Adderall, MDMA (Class A), psilocybin (Class A), Modafinil and Cannabis for academic purposes, on Twitter

You posted a video to Instagram on 10 February 2017, whilst on sabbatical, “tripping on psilocybin” (“magic” mushroom)

You have stated that your chatrooms are a safe place for, amongst others, “pedophiles and mass shooters”

That last one you haven’t heard until now. But let’s go in order…

The first matter was referring to an answer I gave on the public Q&A site Curiouscat.me. I was asked by an anonymous person what drugs I’ve used for intellectual productivity purposes (not “academic purposes,” as the investigation stated, which makes it sound like I was doing drugs in my office hours). I told them the truth. As I told my investigator more than once over the next few investigation meetings: if someone asks me a question, I am duty-bound to tell the truth, as an academic and a public intellectual. Would they have me lie? They did not answer that. I don’t see what’s wrong with telling someone all the drugs I’ve done, and my judgment on their advantages and disadvantages. Academics do their students and the public much greater harm by pretending they’ve never done drugs, and withholding their valuable judgments on the matter. In the investigation, I affirmed that I was indeed the author of this post and that I did not regret it.

The second matter is pretty self-explanatory. When I was on sabbatical, I tripped on psilocybin with my wife and I posted a few videos to Instagram (1, 2). They are sweet, funny videos. Like all good memories, they feel more beautiful to me every time I revisit them. We had a wonderful, wholesome time, and I do not in the least regret sharing these videos. What kind of unthinking, unfeeling loser could have any problem with these videos? I know that sounds like I’m being cruel toward people who are just doing their jobs, except that their job description also says they’re independent thinkers (and they’d gladly make me homeless if they needed to, so let’s not kid ourselves). This is the turning point we’re at right now: They can continue to play these idiotic institutional games for paychecks if they please, but I can play the game of simply and honestly revealing them to be the pathetic, cowardly mercenaries they are, and more people will read this and believe it than will hear or care about any edict they could possibly produce (because nobody listens to institutional edicts anymore, for exactly this reason). Sure, they can “unperson” me across one whole economic sector, but they suffer more from this than I do, because I can account for myself plainly and honestly to anyone anywhere while they can only do so by hiding in a thick morass of institutional excuses.

I don’t want to rub it in, but perhaps it’s only possible for people to give their lives to enforcing senseless rules because they aren’t mocked enough. I’m sorry but only a zombie on a mighty fine salary could possibly object to a good man producing lovely, wholesome videos with his partner in holy matrimony! Slowly drink yourself to death, have affairs, abandon your kids, kick dogs — academics are allowed to do all of these things. But explore mildly different states of mind and share it with the public? Not so fast! I haven’t even mentioned the tiny detail that we were in Amsterdam, where psilocybin is effectively decriminalized. Psychedelics are an excellent tool for making the most of an academic sabbatical, and there’s simply nothing harmful or irresponsible about making or sharing these videos.

The third matter is also self-explanatory, except that “chatroom” is apparently the word that Boomer bureaucrats use to describe Youtube livestreams. My Youtube livestream is much, much more than a chatroom, thank you very much — it’s a form of life, a hard fork of reality, a new Heaven and a new Earth, the portal to an entirely new model of the vita contemplativa, but I can’t expect these people to understand any of this. It’s not the fault of these eminent social scientists that they don’t know the difference between Youtube and AOL. You must be kind to them, you see, social science is very time consuming; how can these esteemed social scientists be expected to have even passing familiarity with the basic interfaces of social life today? Who can blame them? They are far too busy enforcing Ordinance 3.5 on me. It’s a thankless task, defending this profession of brave intellectual exploration…

This is a weird one because it’s a statement of fact. My livestream is a safe space for pedophiles and mass shooters, if only because I have no way of knowing who on Youtube is a pedophile or a mass shooter. They’re safe from me knowing anything about them, and therefore safe from me doing anything about them. This was strange to find in my dossier, though, especially because this was just one jokey line deep into one random livestream. Anyway, the university always encourages us to create learning environments that are safe for every kind of person, including people from marginalized groups. Also, the university always encourages us to seek public impact. They run huge, multi-million-pound programs dedicated to producing public “impact.” Pedophiles and mass shooters are widely despised, and targets of extreme social prejudice. If my Youtube channel became a place for pedophiles and mass shooters to learn and rehabilitate, that’d be a major public impact in the name of social progress. I see nothing at all wrong with allowing — even welcoming — such people into open internet spaces, especially if they cannot be excluded anyway. I believe that what I think and what I say is good, therefore I believe pedophiles and mass shooters will benefit from exposure to me. Perhaps I can decrease the probability they will continue their evil misdeeds. I should note that pedophiles are not necessarily pederasts, so — now that I think about it — if the university censures me for welcoming pedophiles into my public livestream then they are implicitly asking me to engage in discrimination by sexual orientation. Remind me to email my lawyer about this one!

“But wait,” you’re wondering, “didn’t the Daily Mail say you got in trouble for that abortion/necrophilia tweet? Or was it calling someone a retard?” In due time, dear reader.

How Academia Got Pwned (1)

This is the first post in a series about the glorious completion of my academic career, the internet, and the future of intellectual life. Tell me: Would you like to read the whole story, edited, in a beautiful paperback? I may have an announcement soon, so be sure to subscribe.


This blog will now commence a strange and winding tale. If it requires many installments, and many detours, it is because I am still living this tale, and its telling is likely to affect its plot in unforeseen ways. There is a time for peace, when all the little lies must be respected so that things may carry on, and there is a time for war, when all of the little lies must be disrespected so that true life may carry on. Now is a time for war.

The completion of my academic career is now irrevocably underway, and it is time to bear witness. Whether my final day in academia comes in the form of expulsion or resignation remains to be determined, but that hardly matters. In the story of a life, bearing witness is the portal to an other life. This has always been the case, it has always been known, and it has always been denied by most people. Fortunately, this has never stopped a determined minority in every generation from acting on this insight, as true knowledge remains true, and actionable, whether anyone is convinced or not. Though I long ago ceased trying to convince anyone of anything, I remain obsessed with understanding these miraculous empirical mechanisms that somehow ensure liars always lose and truth-tellers always win. At least in the long-run, anyway.

Before the digital epoch, the long-run would sometimes take longer than a lifetime, which is why many true thinkers of the past would not be vindicated until after their death. But due to the compression of time that has come with the information revolution, the long-run of a life is no longer very long. The idea that one bad move on the internet can ruin someone's life — this is one of the dumbest and most reactionary bits of conventional wisdom out there today, promulgated by fearful people who mistake their anxiety for a law of society. The time it takes for an event to run its course rather seems to be shrinking, while the mechanics of reality modification are increasingly visible and tractable. Thus, today, while telling the truth continues to bring certain and near universal ostracism from mainstream institutions, this short-run punishment has also never been easier to ignore, escape, and overwrite — before the truth-telling wins.

Telling the truth always wins because it wins immanently, the telling is itself the motion of entry into an other life, and joy is at once its marker, motor, and reward. Telling the truth cannot not win, because it asks for nothing, expects nothing, and delivers to itself the only reward it wants or needs. Thus, although my tale will not convince a single dying liar to choose life, and such dying liars will certainly mock me for what looks like a colossal failure of ethics or strategy or both, I will nonetheless commence my tale in the most absolute and reckless honesty I can muster. Anything I might lose from doing so cannot be worth very much, and I simply cannot fail to win the only thing I have ever been seeking. If I can impart some passing insights or lessons to others on their own search for true life, then it will have been doubly worthwhile, though this brings some danger. The true life is always an other life, but the other life is always immediately available. There is no learning or permission required for the conduct of true life, despite what many people think. On the contrary, it is when one stops asking permission to live that an other life begins.

[These posts will constitute a first rough draft — or really just an initial brain dump — for a book I will publish soon enough. I am seriously toying with a Kickstarter campaign, but it depends on how much interest there is... I currently have an agent selling a different book, so for good reason he is not crazy about the idea of me writing and publishing a totally different book right now. But if there's enough interest in these posts, I could find a way. As always (as you'll find out in these posts), my solution is to just produce what I want to produce, share, and sort out the strategic details later. I originally thought I might call this book How Academia Got Pwned: The University, the Internet, and the Future of Intellectual Life but my patrons prefer Jumping Ship: Why the Politically Correct University Can't Survive the Internet. Naming things is the worst, I'll figure this out later. If you have any input on this or anything else, including questions about my narrative and/or ideas, I'll be reading all replies carefully. Thanks.]

Personal Genomics and Internet Intellectualism with Razib Khan

Razib Khan is a geneticist, blogger, and man about the internet. Razib is the kind of extremely online intellectual we like here at Other Life. Razib has written for publications including The New York Times, India Today, National Review Online, Slate, and The Guardian. You can find him at razib.com, Gene Expression, and the podcast The Insight.

Razib and I talked about the present and near-future of personal genomics; why Razib thinks Elizabeth Warren's genetic claims are reasonable (though Razib is a conservative); is 23andme worth it?; how sperm banks work; why skilled immigrants don't want to stay in the US anymore; why Razib doesn't like science videos on Youtube, etc. We also discussed academia vs. the internet, and different monetization models for intellectual work.

This conversation was first recorded as a livestream on Youtube. You can subscribe to my channel with one click, then click the bell to receive notifications when future livestreams begin.

As always, big thanks to all my patrons — I really could not keep all this running without you.

Download this episode.

Two kinds of hustle

To get the kind of life I want, or anywhere close to it, I realize I'm going to have to hustle like crazy. But one thing that's become immediately clear to me is that working hard has profoundly variable effects on well-being, conditional on what the work means to the worker. This is, of course, Nietzsche's observation in that famous line from Twilight of the Idols:

"If we have our own why in life, we shall get along with almost any how."

Academia can be quite cushy after you work hard to secure yourself there, but if I now want something better, I have to hustle again in a way that I thought was behind me. Even after I got "the British version of tenure," I was still hustling more than I needed to, just because of how I am. For the next twenty years, I would probably hustle like crazy regardless, whether I'm in a cushy institutionalized environment or doing some weird combination of intellectual work and entrepreneurial activity. In academia, I was constantly irritated and depressed while hustling to get various tasks done, so that I could have some time each day to do the work that mattered to me. Since my academic employment was thrown into question and my time opened up, especially because we are trying to have a child, I am now hustling harder than I ever have to ensure we come out of this okay. But now, it actually feels great, because at least 50% of my effort right now, while I'm still getting a paycheck, is trying to figure out any possible way I can make my intellectual work on the internet financially sustainable enough to be my primary occupation. I have no idea what my chances are, and if it's not possible then whatever — I'll just get some new job — but basically I have like a 1-2 month(s) period where I can afford to test out every harebrained scheme I've ever had for achieving financial sustainability via independent intellectual work. I've brainstormed a lot of ideas over the past few years, but never had the time or energy to test them seriously. So now I have nothing to lose, and much to gain, by testing them all. It all boils down to the question of how I can leverage my new intellectual independence from academic institutions to create new kinds of value.

Experiment 1 is testing if there's greater demand in the public for these monthly seminars I've been doing for patrons. The patrons seem to value it so far, so it's not unreasonable to think there might be a handful of people floating around out there who would also want something like this. If I could get even, say, 6 new signups in the next couple of months — I'd take that as a very promising signal that that could become one part of a viable independent work model for me. It'd only be a start but I could reasonably expect to build it out and grow it. Experiment 2 will very likely be a self-published book. I've been reading about publishing trends and the subreddit r/selfpublishing and I've been watching many interesting self-publishing experiments over the past couple of years, and so I've been very excited about eventually trying something. Now seems like as good a time as any! As I discussed in my recent livestream, I would like to try writing and self-publishing a book about academia and the internet — compiling all my observations and experiences, telling my whole recent story (which I'm being told to keep confidential), weaving it with larger theoretical and empirical reflections on the semantic apocalypse, reality forking, etc. I would like it to be fairly short and punchy, fun to read, not a big serious tome or anything. I am excited about theorizing and strategizing a launch plan (entrepreneurship is pretty fun to be honest). I think I would either plan a Kickstarter campaign, or possibly just write the damn thing and sell it via Amazon or Gumroad (like Eli). What's a good title for such a book? Please reply if you think of one. I plan to do some A/B testing, but if you make a suggestion I like then I'll include it in my A/B tests. Here are titles I'm currently toying with:

  1. Retard Vacation
  2. How Academia Got Pwned
  3. How to Pwn Academia
  4. 12 Rules for Ruining Life (To Get a Better One)

This got me wondering if it'd be a problem for a book to have the word "retard" in the title. It's kind of fashionable to have curse words in book titles nowadays, but they usually use an asterisk for one of the letters. Would I have to do that if I called it Retard Vacation? I searched Amazon and it seems: no. The results are kind of funny.

It's a little frightening and uncomfortable, because I don't have much experience with entrepreneurship and I'm not strongly motivated by money, but despite the anxiety and ego-fear of failure it's really quite refreshing. As an academic, what you're "up against" is a thick web of arbitrary norms and social games, and your value is contingent on pleasing particular dispensers of cultural capital. One can be ruined if

retard vacation

a certain person simply dislikes you. What feels really great about my current moment of impending entrepreneurial experimentation is that I'm only "up against" the open market of cyberspace. The downside is that, if what I'm capable of producing does not provide enough value to people, then there's no way to paper over this unfortunate fact. I could be forced to get a normal full time job, and face the risk of losing a long-term intellectual life. But the upside is a most fantastic dream, the dream that perhaps everything I've invested into the constitution of a radically independent intellectual life is somehow worth it , not just to me, but on the brutally honest open market. That there might even be a 10% chance of this being true is how and why I'm now hustling harder than ever before while also enjoying greater well-being than ever before.

I am operating at the height of my powers, intoxicated by a dream, though aware that I'm dreaming. If it fails and I'm forced to work full time away from my research agenda and creative visions, well then perhaps I will be at peace with the brutal truth: that in fact my delusional obsessions have only ever been egotistical and anti-social wastes of energy. Perhaps the open market will teach me a hard lesson that academia never had the guts to teach me: that everything I know and everything I think and everything I can make is actually worthless. And if that's the lesson I learn from the open market, then maybe finally my grand visions would be destroyed but maybe then I could finally learn how to be a normal person and keep my mouth shut and just get on with a normal career. If that's what it would mean to fail, then it'd still be a huge blessing and a net gain relative to carrying on my intellectual fixations with the false insulation of academic prestige.

In short, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain by testing what are my honest intellectual capacities really worth? And then I realize that I'm so intoxicated by this dream — my engines are humming so smoothly at full throttle just by virtue of trying 100% for my ideal — that even if my intellect fails to float on the open market in the first 1, 2, 3, 4 test runs, and I have to get some other job, I can always keep trying what I'm currently trying. When I think about this — that on the open market there is no social authority that can end one's ability to try — it really comes home to me how insane it is to hang one's entire livelihood on an insular bureaucratic hierarchy, and I am reminded how good and true and necessary is my current line of flight.

When does blogging become worth it?

A misconception about blogging is that one needs X number of readers before it's worthwhile, where X is some dauntingly high number. But actually, you only need Y readers, such that when you write something good, there is a non-trivial probability that it will get shared to X number of readers. You don't need assurance that all of your good pieces will reach X number of readers; a glimmer of reasonable possibility is more than enough to motivate your gameplay. Cue that study about mice working more for probabilistic rewards than certain rewards. Thus, blogging becomes worthwhile dramatically sooner than the popular misconception has it.

I never expected to write so much, but I discovered that once I had a hammer, nails were everywhere, and that supply creates its own demand. I believe that someone who has been well-educated will think of something worth writing at least once a week; to a surprising extent, this has been true.

Gwern

It is difficult for me to estimate values for X and Y, as these values are contingent on your aspirations and areas of interest. But I can certainly say that for me, the threshold where regular blogging became naturally self-motivating, when it turned from an aspiration and exercise in discipline to an active appetite, came sooner than I was planning for.

How many people do you need in your "audience" for your writing effort to feel worthwhile? I have high intrinsic motivation, so I think for me that number has always been relatively low. If yours is higher, then adjust my calculations accordingly. Three years ago, I might have thought the following (of course, these figures change over time due to hedonic adaption, etc.). I always expect most people to skip my weirdest or worst stuff, but if I could know that about 100 people would read all my best pieces, that would have been enough to keep me pumped for quite a while. I mean, aspiring writers before the internet had to write for a very long time with virtually no readers before they had any chance of gaining even 100 readers, so even just 100 readers should really feel like an extraordinary privilege and motivation.

Now, if you start with zero readers, let's say a brand new blog and you don't know anybody. A desired audience of 100 readers might seem unattainable, but remember, you don't need 100 people to know and like and read all your blog posts. All you need is a non-trivial probability of winning 100 readers in order for this desired audience to trigger effective motivation. So how do we estimate Y, the number of guaranteed readers you need to have a non-trivial probability of winning 100 readers total? And how do we define the non-trivial probability? Well, it will depend on the influence of the Y readers. A small number of people who can get it out to a large number of others, or a larger number of less influential people who will get it out to the same number of others. It will also depend on your personality characteristics, such as intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation.

Let's say you can find only 10 people of the 7.5 billion people in the world, who will at least take a quick look at whatever you write. Virtually anyone can get this from some forum on the internet, like a subreddit related to the themes of your writing. A very quick Google says that the average Twitter user has 200 followers. Accounting for Twitter's unpredictable algorithm, let's say a random retweet from a random person is worth 5 views of your post. Pulling this out of my ass, but trying to be conservative. Let's assume you write something really good, which we'll define as being irresistibly compelling to the few people in your initial targeted audience base. Still, some will be too busy or distracted to share it, so even if it's irresistible, let's say only 20% of them share it with someone via Twitter. What this means is that when you write something good, it will very likely be read by at least 20 people (the first 10, then 2*5, so 10+10=20). Now, 20 people is not yet close to your desired 100, but the insight is that you're already 20% of the way to your goal and you literally just started from nothing. Now factor in the tail chance that one of those tweets gets retweeted by someone influential, and it's perfectly possible your post might randomly hit your 100-reader goal right out of the gate. But that's still rare at this point, this isn't quite yet a non-trivial probability of getting 100 readers. Yet, you can already see it on the horizon of attainability. If you are blessed with high intrinsic motivation, even this small glimmer of external hope might be enough to keep you churning.

Aside: Having analytics on your site really helps with the gamification. I suppose at some margins it could be perverse or destructive to get overly obsessed with the traffic data, but starting out I think it's hedonically productive on net.

If you have less intrinsic motivation and you need better chances than this to consider blogging a worthwhile venture, you could try to increase the initial number of people you give your work to. Or you could try to impress one person who is a little more influential. You could increase your volume. You can pursue any number of specific methods, suited to the strengths of your temperament, and avoiding the weaknesses of your temperament, to raise these numbers.

And of course, we're talking only about your genuinely good posts. Some, and perhaps many of your posts will go nowhere, but that's normal.

If your response to my perspective here is that it's hard to come up with so many ideas for posts, or that you're not getting even these small numbers of readers for your best posts, then maybe you just don't have that much to say, or you have nothing of value to offer anyone. Even still you're not yet hopeless: you could still try increasing your intrinsic motivation, and put all your eggs in the basket of enjoying the process and not caring what people think. Some figures have turned this into a very high art form, winning many readers in the long run. If you can't do that and you need external validation to keep writing, and you can't win for yourself these minimal quantities of nearly guaranteed external validation, then you're not a writer. You're a needy dumbass. You might still be qualified for a career in journalism.

But if you have even a few things to say, blogging is probably more worthwhile than you think.

Segmentation and personalization for philosophers and scientists

The techniques used by today's marketing professionals, such as "customer segmentation" and "web-page personalization," would appear to be emblems of instrumental, exploitative communication. Today, we are so saturated with instrumental communication that Orwell's 1984 sounds benign in retrospect ("doublethink" feels quaint compared to the "multithink" we have now). At the point where nearly the entire public sphere is occupied by instrumentally deceptive signals, I am beginning to wonder if the tools of high-tech mass deception might not be amenable to a philosophical refactoring. If I'm wrong, the risk seems quite low, given that one can hardly make the status quo much worse in this regard. So the question is this: If certain techniques can systematically deceive so many sub-populations in purposeful ways, is there any good reason why these techniques cannot be used to undeceive sub-populations? Can we not run the machine in reverse? If the goal of philosophers and scientists is to discover and transmit the truth, but people respond differently to the same statements, it is rather odd that none of our great authors have yet thought to write multiple versions of one book to optimize its transmission among multiple audience segments. My proposal cuts across the grain of many humanistic intuitions about the nature of intellectual communication and authorship, but perhaps this explains why today the truth appears to be lightyears behind the false.

Segmentation and personalization

Customer segmentation refers to grouping potential customers according to the key dimensions that condition their decision-making and buying behavior. Key customer segments are usually based on variables related to demography, interests, geography, class, and personality traits including IQ. After segments have been identified, different communication strategies are deployed for different segments, to maximize the the probability of purchases from each segment. The segmentation and subsequent conditioning of communication on customer differences increases sales better than one blanket set of communications. Customer segmentation is arguably an ancient practice (all of the history here is just from Wikipedia, but it's pretty good); some marketing historians find Bronze Age traders engaging in geographic segmentation. The first use of customer segmentation based on systematically collected data appears to have been in the first decade of the twentieth century. The technique gets developed with greater sophistication from there, until the 1980s usher in what marketing historians call "hyper-segmentation." For the whole history of customer segmentation, it was always conducted at the level of groups. It is only then that technology presents the remarkable prospect of segmenting an audience at the individual level: marketing one thing to one individual, while marketing differently to a different individual, and so on. Today, in the digital context, hyper-segmentation can be done across millions of customers quickly and programmatically. Today, digital marketers even segment within individuals, by sending different messages at different times of day, or different parts of the year, etc. For the largest and most digitally sophisticated corporations, we must assume that AI systems are already deployed to not only identify any number of optimal hyper-segments, but also to update dynamically (with some lag) based on customers' changing attitudes and behaviors. Try to escape the model and the model will learn from your escape decisions.

Web-page personalization is one particular technique for the application of segment-conditioned communications. Personalization refers simply to the practice of delivering different web pages to visitors from different segments. This process leverages the data collected about users in their web browsers, to deliver website experiences that maximize whatever the website owner wants to maximize (typically sales, but not necessarily).

The ethics of communication

Such techniques are generally and correctly seen as sinister because they tend to be harmful deceptions: an agent promotes two different pictures of the world, for selfish and ulterior motives, using opaque methods. Through this contradictory presentation of the world, individuals are misled into two different and somewhat mutually exclusive maps of the world around them. The goal generally is to increase the income of the manipulative agent. Rigorous philosophical or scientific commitments, on the other hand, are devoted to seeking, and telling, the truth.

However, Western culture in 2018 is a crash space. Different subcultures now use the same words in radically different ways that appear, so far, irreversible and irreconcilable. Because our basic cognitive capacities — such as moral intuitions — evolved in low-tech contexts where the background environment was relatively constant, they're now overheated by a background environment in which unfathomable quantities of information churn at an accelerating rate. We cannot not live according to our evolved intuitions, but they are constantly being cued in contradictory and nonsensical ways. Our cognitive and behavioral circuits are hi-jacked by a super-intelligent system— namely the price system of a globally integrated marketplace — and there is no way not to think and do whatever one is cued to do by agents with more data and more intelligence than you. Doing otherwise would make no sense, for some supplier will always know what we truly want, even better than we do. Techniques such as segmentation and personalization are only unfoldings of this collective superintelligence. This is perhaps why marketing historian Wendell Smith called segmentation — in an ominous flight of abstraction rare for marketing historians — a "natural force" that would "not be denied."

But what if there were agents with good data and machine intelligence who sought not to maximize sales, but the effective transmission of true messages? They would accept the empirical reality of segmented human cognition and behavior. But then they would reverse-engineer the principles of historical, mass instrumental deception to produce a cypher capable of translating any one true statement into multiple different versions, each of which will be interpreted as true according to the subculturally segmented linguistic conventions.

I don't think I've ever heard any serious philosopher or scientist propose this idea, but I don't see why it couldn't work, and I don't see why it might be objectionable from an intellectual or ethical perspective. If my proposal sounds unsavory — "Serious intellectuals cannot employ the tools of vulgar digital marketers!" — perhaps this may explain why marketing professionals have such extraordinary influence over the intellectual and affective content of so many lives, while professional intellectuals appear to have less and less of it every passing year.

To drive home my quite abstract idea, I should give a concrete example. Perhaps you will guess, correctly, that I am interested in this prospect for personal reasons, having some experience with being misunderstood on the Internet. Fortunately, I have ample material for some thought experiments.

One of my motivations for going on YouTube is that I wanted to escape the confines of provincial paranoid leftism. But another motivation is that I would quite like to counteract the nastier dimensions of reactionary politics one finds on Youtube, for instance, white nationalism. So let's say I wanted to write a blog post explaining this rationale, why I think this is valuable and necessary work. As far as I know, this is truly a key part of my rationale, and I would like for as many people as possible to understand this, on the left and right. Perhaps because I personally believe it'd be good if others chose to do the same. In this sense, I am seeking to effectuate behaviors just like a marketer seeks to effectuate behaviors, but the crucial distinction is that my motivations are one with the explicit content of my message. My statement and the behavior I seek to effect are essentially the same thing, whereas commercial marketing is based on generating symbols that say one thing, for the purpose of doing something very different (make money), which is nowhere stated or implied in the outputted symbols. It's widely and correctly understood that people write messages in public because they want that message to be understood by others, to increase the probability of consequences that are themselves implied by the content of that message. The other distinction is that I only have one signal I want to be received by multiple people. You could say that marketers only have one true signal (the purchase), but the problem is that their different messages leave individuals with pictures or experiences that push them into different worlds. A philosopher or scientist would seek to increase the similarity and consistency of the receivers' different pictures of the world, aligned with what they believe is the true one.

Now, I could write a blog post entitled "I Am Going on YouTube to Escape Leftist Political Correctness and Mitigate the Fascist Right—And You Should, Too!" The problem is that this is a message for nobody. It is likely to go nowhere because the part that's critical toward the Right is defined by right-wingers as SJWism, and the part that's critical toward the Left is defined by the leftist individuals as racist dog-whistling. It's a true and pretty straightforward statement of my overarching rationale, and its chances of reproduction in the memetic ecology — in short, it's chances of living beyond day zero, or what it means for a message to even be communicated — is effectively nil. I wouldn't even click that, and I totally agree with it. It's so affectively empty that I could not muster the energy to even pretend that I "like" or "support" or "agree with" such a stupid, lame, obvious writer!

Now, imagine that you are in a physical room filled with leftists. Wouldn't it be perfectly normal, reasonable, and appropriate to use a different set of words to describe this mission, than if one was in a physical room filled with right-wingers? Of course it would. This conditionality of language is actually the essence of genuine communication; it is, must be, and should be as context-contingent as possible, in order to be true. If you think about whatever cases of speech that, in your opinion, are the greatest examples of truth revelation, I think you'll find they possess a kind of unique and mysterious element, a je ne sais quoi. And the reason you can't quite pin down the general feature that defines them is that they so effectively nailed the multidimensional context problem, that they were perhaps the best possible words you can personally imagine for communicating that message in that singular, contingent moment. Because the moment is singular and it's the nailing of that context that impresses you so forcefully, we experience its uniquely effective truthiness as an ineffable, non-generalizable feature. All of this is simply to point out that the truth value of any statement is actually a function of how well one communicates a particular signal in the form of contingently and instrumentally-selected, context-conditional symbols. Here the instrumental optimization is with respect to the objective of signal fidelity and noise minimization. That's a strategic, instrumental sub-goal to the final goal of being radically truthful and honest (a non-instrumental or substantive value or goal.)

If I say the same exact thing to these two different rooms of people, when the meaning of my words is fundamentally different to those two groups; that's not some kind of radical authenticity or commitment to the one whole truth. It's idiocy in the technical sense, devotion to a private language. In the words of Wittgenstein, forget about it. It's the apotheosis of delusional narcissism. And one of the reasons why so many people are feeling so insane right now is that smart people with a fairly balanced and independent view of the world are precisely those who are becoming less and less able to express themselves; these are the people who feel more than others that suddenly everything is escaping the grasp of human cognition.

Can customer segmentation and personalization techniques really offer a rigorous protocol for making objective truths equally sensible and transmittable to various pockets of social reality (what I have elsewhere called hard forks of reality)? Well, let's play out the example, and we can see how plausible it sounds. For the example I've been using, I could write a blog post making the one same argument, except the web page titles and the first page headers would be served differently depending on whether my free Google Tag Manager infers that the visitor is a left-winger or a right-winger (perhaps from some combination of other measured factors; maybe female millenials who recently visited the Democratic Party website get tagged as leftists, while white males in their twenties coming from Youtube get segmented as right-wing— whatever, this can be improved over time by testing the results). If a visitor is segmented as a leftist, the post might be entitled "Youtube Is a Nazi and I Am Punching It in the Face," which translates my mission into the exotic dialect that leftist opinion managers speak, allowing my breath to become living speech among leftists. If a visitor is segmented as a right-winger, the post might be entitled "Biggest Red Pill Ever (How to Trigger Every Snowflake)." I might use Google Optimize (also free), not only to trivially create my two different web page experiences, but to also give me a direct measure of the effects of the experiment. Through constant iteration, I will converge toward the two, true, optimally aligned translations.

Now mind you, in this example, the content of each blog post would be exactly the same, other than the titles. But in the future we might manipulate every single word, when we have such a sufficiently precise model and the necessary data to conduct accurate and systematic subcultural/ideological translations at such a high resolution.

A problem arises regarding whether this does not become instrumental manipulation for the ulterior motive of my own personal power. So far I've stipulated that, by the definition of the thought experiment, I'm maximizing a certain conceptualization of truth value. But in practice, especially if I am selling things on the side of my truth-maximization goal, bias seems doomed to creep in. This is an empirical problem that turns on having a defensible measure of truth value, that is not simply a proxy for "how many books I sell, because by definition my book is the truth." This is not a trivial problem, but the main reason we don't have such a measure and an easily implemented tool for it yet (Google Truth?) is simply that the non-instrumental communication of truths generally does not pay. In fact, it tends to do whatever is the opposite of pay. It's expensive to produce and it makes most people dislike you. Maximizing your own income helps you live, it wins you friends, and makes you happy (up to a point). Maximizing truth value makes it harder to live, it loses you friends, and it makes you tired with nothing real to show for it (most of the time). Is it really any wonder that we don't have fancy and free Google tools for customer de-segmentation, when segmentation is what makes money? It's almost evolutionarily impossible to imagine under contemporary capitalism. Although perhaps, as information processing power becomes so strong and so free and so available, then maybe, just maybe, like a few days before the singularity takeoff, a few hackers will find it easy enough to code up this kind of system.

One thing you could do is somehow measure each segment's picture of the world after reading the blog post, and see if they moved closer together. Maybe you could measure this with facial responses using their web cam or something, or ask them in exit surveys, or look at behavior later on. The degree to which they moved closer together would represent the translation consistency, at least. If the initial truth is actually an error, then you're screwed, and optimizing for this measure won't help matters. But this measure would be a start, for an objective criterion to maximize, separable from selfishness-biased variables such sales or click-through rates. If initial truth statements were somehow vetted, perhaps with reference to some larger objective database or something, then optimizing for the translation consistency would be a pretty good "performance indicator" for a philosopher or scientist blogger. I want to say this would represent instrumentally optimised, substantive (non-instrumental, i.e. honest) communication.

The two different blog posts may accent or emphasise different components of the one truth, but any particular communication item is always going to over- or under-emphasise partial aspects. This is simple, textbook, random error in any particular communication. In some sense, you could argue that segmenting and personalising the framing of a communication in this way, should increase the average accuracy of what one says overall, in the same way that increasing the sample size of a well-conducted survey will tend to push your sample stats closer to population values.

I suspect many humanists, philosophers, and social scientists may be discomfited by my thesis, but this is partially because most of them don't know how to use customer segmentation and personalisation techniques. It would be found simply ridiculous if the future of intellectual transmission might rely on tools that incumbent intellectuals find at once too vulgar and too difficult. For me, this indicates only one more exciting opportunity ripe for the taking by the next generation of truth-maximizing enterprises.

By the way, how did you like the title of this blog post?

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