Here's a final thought for this evening. I often give a hard time to Marxists talking about the 'contradictions' inherent in capitalism, usually because this is methodology turned metaphysical bombast. But there are concrete absurdities around us that bear the weight of history.
Much like Lakatosian research programs, societies accrue anomalies/exceptions that can be handled in more or less progressive ways. Ad hoc solutions beget ad hoc solutions, and the result is ramifying technical debt:…
These accrued debts to future generations can persist long enough that they seem like pillars of the world, rather than failures of administration. There are many such debts in the post-industrial West, addicted as we are to avoiding infrastructural investment of every kind.
Many of these are obvious to anyone that pays attention to politics, at least when they have the time and mental energy to suspend the assumptions baked into the every day and reflect on its underpinnings. Speculative housing. Medical financing. Essential workers.
But there are others that are not so obvious. Let me point to two absurdities that continually occur to me, and try to say something about their significance: 1) online signature services, and 2) non-alcoholic CBD beer.
Signatures. We still run all our legal authentication mechanisms on signatures, even when we do most of our day to day communication, organisation, and negotiation through digital means that make such things completely meaningless. Worse, they are never checked, by anyone, ever.
Every time I get a form emailed to me as a PDF (or worse format) that I'm expected to print out, sign, then scan, the sheer absurdity of the current system shines forth. The only thing worse are online services that let you type your name such that it displays in an odd font.
Every time it feels like I'm being expected to slit open a chicken and read its entrails to perform a basic business transaction: 'What do the innards say?' 'Yes. They always fucking say yes.' 'Good! Rub the blood on your laptop to signal your agreement to the legal gods.'
It makes absolutely no sense. By comparison, the Japanese Hanko system is sensible (, insofar as it will naturally transition to secure ownership of a private keychain/security fob. Signatures aren't even single factor authentication at this point.
They're a fractional authentication system in which the main obstacle to abuse is petty inconvenience. An email address is the de facto authentication system for most transactions these days, backed up by physical address, and then possession of government issued IDs.
The vast majority of politicians have no clue how far behind the curve we are on cryptographic governance, in large part because at almost every turn they've agitated and/or voted for weakening public access and adoption of cryptographic tools in the name of short term goals.
Even as increasingly powerful companies are competing over who gets to integrate authentication mechanisms and interpellate users in-the-last-instance, and increasingly large communities of cypherpunks build distributed anonymised institutions, they fail to see the stakes.
Here's the flip side of this issue: the problem of homelessness is not simply one of speculative assets and rent inflation, but one of addressability. The perennial absurdity of urban social death is the catch 22 of being locked out of welfare by one's inability to claim it.
This is superficially similar to the catch 22 of being locked out of the job market by one's lack of experience in the job market, and these tragically overlap in many cases. But the failure of addressability is the failure of authentication as such, not a species of validation.
Signatures and homelessness. Deep pools of technical debt that exist at the intersection of a whole host of pressing political issues. Infrastructural questions that simply are not and perhaps cannot be addressed by the current liberal order. As such, they are worth focusing on.
Let me turn to non-alcoholic CBD beer. The fact that I have easy access to this substance now still astounds me, precisely because it's a completely ad hoc exception to a more or less global regime of prohibition whose catastrophic inertia continues to immiserate millions.
'We took the vaguely psychoactive component out of this thing, so now you can finally use it for pain relief, as a muscle relaxation, an anxiolytic, or any of the large range of self-medicative uses it provides the perfect balance of risk and effectiveness for.'
Thanks, I guess? Better little than nothing. Better late than never. How small are our dreams that this feels like such a victory over pervasive somatic suffering? The medical-carceral complex defines our era, an adjunct to the military-industrial complex defining the last one.
The flip side of psychopharmacological prohibition is geopolitical madness of perpetual drug war and the democidal consequences of selective enforcement, treatment, and infrastructural corollaries such as urban planning and development. These issues bleed back into homelessness.
The overarching methodological flip side of all of these concerns is the correlate of technical debt: generative entrenchment ( It's not just that these are modes of oppression inhibiting pre-constituted positive freedoms. They're constitutive tragedies.
The social infrastructure that enables and allows us to cultivate our personal autonomy can be warped in ways that worsen the trade-offs they encode. The implicit social contract written into the legal, economic, and cultural institutions we depend on degenerates alongside them.
It is our dependence on these institutions that gives powerful interests leverage over us, allowing them to split us into separate constituencies and play us off against one another. It's a very old story, but there are some distinctly modern twists in the examples I've chosen.
Here's the moral I've been building to: the balance of generative entrenchment/technical debt embodied by these concrete absurdities is inherently cognitive in ways that are systematically overlooked. These capacities/oppressions concern cognitive conditions of personal autonomy.
In the case of signatures and authentication, what we see are de jure procedural obstacles to de facto norms being articulated around our continuously evolving cognitive prosthetics. We get intimations of enhanced capacity (crypto) and revelations of wasted potential (address).
In the case of psychopharmacological prohibition, what we see are real limitations suspending ideal possibilities, an even slower cancellation of the future than we might have suspected, leading back to the smothering of experimental psychedelic counter culture in its infancy.
There's much more I could say about the social, political, and economic trends bound up in all this, but I must cut my threads somewhere. The fates demand it. The destiny I recommend is this: cognitive liberation through collectivisation. Pool resources and think differently.
We must work smarter (together), not harder (on our own). There's a generational shift that's only just getting underway, and seemingly impossible things will be made possible, especially if we have the infrastructure needed to capitalise on these new opportunities.
Technical credit and generative dislodging begin at home. There's not a single massive contradiction that gets resolved all at once, but a bundle of exceptions that get handled piecemeal. Solidarity in absurdity guys. 🖖
CODA: If you want to read some other things I've written on these issues, here's a brief list:

1. 'Autonomy and Automation' - this provides the historical and theoretical context that all of the above thoughts are situated in:
2. 'Uncanny Solidarity' - a longer Twitter essay on social structure that engages questions of authentication, addressability, and homelessness:…
3. 'Nicotine, Self-Medication, and Cognitive Liberation' - a thread on the politics of psychopharmacology and neurodiversity:
4. My discussion of the cognitive tragedies of homelessness with @vgr:
That'll do for now guys. 🖖

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22 Feb
Funny story: I once bumped into a professional AI Ethicist queueing for a Russian visa in London. I told him I had objections to utilitarianism and he looked at me like he'd found a Flat Earther. Such people like utilitarianism because it's about automating ethics, not autonomy.
Here are the serious ethical questions regarding AI:

1) How do we deploy these systems in social institutions without simply diffusing responsibility, e.g., encoding explicit prejudice, laundering implicit bias, or automating brute incompetence? (…)
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22 Feb
@elangelou A representation is a piece of information whose functional role is no longer understood merely in terms of success/failure but in terms of accuracy/inaccuracy. Representation is to psychology as function is to biology: analogies layered in making causal explanations/predictions.
@elangelou The analogy between function and practical reason is the foundation upon which we layer the analogy between representation and theoretical reason, thereby moving closer to describing the intentional structure of rational agency as such by bootstrapping our way out of analogy.
@elangelou This is what creates a distinction between roughly two types of representation (Kant: sensibility/understanding, Sellars: picturing/signification). The former is understood by analogy with the latter, even as the causal underpinnings of the latter are explained in terms of it.
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21 Feb
While I’m experimenting with sincerity in the bath, it’s worth trying to say something sincerely nice about a thinker whose influence I spend a lot of time lambasting: Aristotle, the first to truly betray Plato, the one true Judas of the Socratic tradition.
First and foremost, after spending enough time talking to @benedict, amongst other things, I’ve come to the opinion that betrayal is an integral part of a well functioning intellectual ecosystem. There are many examples of betrayals and counter betrayals through the tradition.
The abstract logic of evolution through determination becomes computationally concrete in the form not simply of anti-thetical theories but systematic rivalries with various degrees of institutional structure, from competing individuals to warring research programs and beyond.
Read 17 tweets
21 Feb
Time for another a Pete’s controversial aesthetic opinions tweeted from the bath. Here’s an important fork in the aesthetic road encapsulate by a choice between two things: which is better, Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath. For me, it’s Sabbath every time.
To qualify, I only really count the Ozzy era here. I don’t care all that much for the Dio era, or that much for Ozzy’s solo work. But those first four albums are the real origin of heavy metal, stoner rock, and much else besides, and their aesthetic experimentation is glorious.
Most people I know think I’m mad. But I’d even go so far as to say that out of the two, Sabbath are the better blues band, because they’re clearly still in the era where rock was defining itself through its rearticulation of blues.
Read 16 tweets
20 Feb
If you're really serious about talking about the problem of 'cancel culture', rather than either spewing talking points or denying that the term refers to anything, then the first step is to acknowledge that the relevant social dynamics are hardly a new thing.
The piece that I always return to is Jo Freeman's essay 'Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood' (…), and the example that always saddens me the most is Shulamith Firestone (…).
The most extreme historical example that is often brought up by the opponents of 'cancel culture', which should always be born in mind precisely because of its extremity, is the Red Guards and the Cultural Revolution in Mao's China (…).
Read 10 tweets
20 Feb
My morning thought. I think what's most incompatible about the way I think and the journal article format as a means of capturing and validating thought is that I have a completely different sense of the relation between tentativeness, rigor, and informatic compression.
The characteristic Pete thought is: wait a minute, this whole area is dominated by an assumption that no one seems to be questioning, and I've got two options to express that: i) outline the logic of the issue in a quick and compressed way, ii) write a small book with references.
The discipline seems to want something in between these poles every single time, and this makes me extremely anxious because I feel (with good reason) like any partially referential engagement with the issue will get instantly torpedoed by anyone outside its referential remit.
Read 14 tweets

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