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Nudged in New Cross

Behaviouralist Bants

So I thought Skinner was the bad guy. The really mechanistic one. Or was it Watson?

Who said we are basically all the same and that our feelings and personal stories don’t really matter.

That there is no such thing as experience. That we are all automatons. The one who put his daughter in a box.

These guys were out of fashion when I learned about them in the early 90s.

But then there was a behavioural revival of sorts. Which in turn enveloped economics.

But behavioural economics said we are all predictably irrational. That classical economics is wrong but behavioural economics is right.

But there are assumptions in behavioural economics too.

Such as that we have limited time and limited information.

Gigerenzer shows that lifting the information and time caps leads to bad decision making – even for experts.

He says we all excel at fast and frugal decision making and that overthinking things induces a form of judgment paralysis.

So behavioural economics itself is quite wrong in terms of how it is applied outside the narrowest of conditions.

And refuses to admit it only thrives under controlled conditions.

But it’s about control.

Choice architecture. Avoiding decision fatigue. Favorably automating information flows. Forcing people into certain situations and pretending it’s both logical and exemplifying freedom.

Someone tell Oliver Letwin.

He’s kind of gone now. Still an MP but not quite the eminence grise he once was.

He spoke about his ideas at the institute of government in 2014, I think.

Outlining the Road from Mont Pelerin that his parents and he had trundled. And then he admitted that he now realised that Intervention does work.

What kind of intervention do you mean, Oliver?

Surely not state intervention in markets – not a liberal like you?

Nor QE, where central banks do the heavy lifting that austerity governments ought really to be doing.

Oliver Letwin revealed that he was taking about the nudge unit.

Though he didn’t mention the job centre – he was probably talking about over there too.

His wife Isabel was head of legal services at The Department of Work and Pensions and at the Department of Health. Oliver’s crackpot ideas will have been used on mental health patients and “under” & “unemployed” people who didn’t really need them.

Of course the machinery of government exists to prevent anyone really knowing the consequences of their actions.

Agnatology is another word for ignorance studies. Sociologist Linsey McGoey has a book out on the topic next year. The Unknowers. Watch out for it.

There is always a latest fad via which the old school asset stripping is masked.

Dark Pools

At book club we looked at Dark Pools. The rise of AI and high frequency trading. I couldn’t help but think when presented with these smart idealist insurgent American price scalpers – You Got To Pick a Pocket or Two!!!

So there. From Hangman on the High Street to Richard Thaler’s Nobel 2017 Prize for Nudging.

Cancer research UK has me thinking of the Crick Institute, big pharma and the next Goldman Sachs social impact bond. This a featured big under Cameron, Osborne and Letwin and was just an excuse to privatize the NHS and get volunteers to steer the handover.

Will Davies looks at some of this stuff in Happiness Industry and Nervous States – links between neo-liberal policies, technology, happiness and “well being” discourse. I haven’t seen it yet but I’m sure big pharma has its place in there too.

There’s some great work being done on investigating all this but it’s pretty under the radar.

Let me know if you have any recommendations.

Once you start looking into any of this funny things start happening.

The Road from Mont Pelerin.

I met up with John Christensen of tax justice Network yesterday who told me about The Finance Curse, a new book out by Nicholas Shaxson.

There’s some research accompanying the launch, this Friday, which sheds light on the colossal cost to the UK of the Finance Curse.

Meanwhile check out his film The Spiders Web on YouTube and for updates on what the Tax Justice Network are up to check out the TaxCast with Naomi Fowler.

When discussing Mont Pelerin, I told John I once met Linda Whetstone, whose father, Anthony Fisher, set up the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA).

John asked me how a man who so frequently invoked freedom could make his money from forcing hens into cages barely big enough for them to even breathe.

The Macron Curse

It looks like Macron is going to copy Blair and go all out for neoliberalism.

God knows what that will do to the environment and the Paris Climate accord!

I’m meeting Chloé Farrand of DeSmogUK tomorrow and will report back where she thinks we are heading.

The finance curse has done nothing to improve the gender pay gap in London. So I wonder what the figures look like in France.

London Conversation

I’m planning on publishing more frequently.

The idea is that with heightened fluency might come some sort of style.

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Off Track — How the Oil Lobby is Taking Us Straight to Hell

Off Track

Off Track is a recent report from Oil Change International on the future of Oil investments, as things stand, and why what is happening is so wrong.

BP AGM 2018

In Friday’s edition of Amusing Ourselves to Death, Real Media flagged the BP switch to Manchester for their upcoming Shareholder Meeting.

We hope there will be some interest in the proposed Share Action workshop in Manchester the first week of May.

The more locals state their opposition to fracking at the BP AGM the more people will know about the dangers.

BP’s Mancos Shale Project in New Mexico

If someone from a fracked community in the United States comes to Manchester to point out the immediate impact of BP’s projects, it will be great opportunity for dialogue between communities that might otherwise not get the chance to learn from each other.

It turns out that BP’s fracking in New Mexico is taking place on sacred tribal land.

Who will pray for Lancashire outside the BP AGM on May 21st 2018?

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The Infinite Meaning of Meaning

Some people see meaning when it just isn’t there.

But maybe it is – just not in the way you think.

And who am I to presume what you’re (not) thinking?

Start again.

There is meaning.

Perhaps more meaning.

Than.

I.

Realised.

But the pre-meditated, agenda-pushing, social engineering nature of this message may not be as clear as a Chanel or a Tory Saatchi ad.

What would Barthes say?

And what of Jung?

Is my shadow bursting out of the shadows?

Are my deepest most repressed desires all simply masquerading themselves via randomness?

Or has an experiment in image generation let me colonise semiotic space by repurposing otherwise dormant media so as to to operationalise my own bit of harm reduction?

maybe

such undertakings leave little to the imagination.

Di(c)e-Sect a.k.a. Random De’ath Cult

Speaking of Rednecks / Bannonites:

Kulchur

Ezra Pound starts his defence of totalitarianism known as the Guide to Kulchur with a reference to a conversation involving a Chinese Philosopher on the topic of government, law & language.

The first thing is to agree the terms. He prints Chinese ideograms. Some repeat.

 

 

 

 

So Pound is against the Clouding, the Vagueness, the Shadow.

The double standards.

The lack of a go to point where meaning is meaning and not Machiavellian semantic gymnastics.

We have this today with Shadow Banking which is an activity in which all major banks are players — and with the use of this word Regulation.

Once we go into the regulatory space then it becomes a civil matter.

No such thing as a Corporate Criminal!

And the Police will tell you to call your lawyer.

Brexit means Brexit.

Q: What do you like about Pepsi?

A: It is the Taste of a New Generation.

When marketing bleeds into news you have a world full of shadows.

From the flickering light of the Sun as viewed indirectly from inside the Cave to the Electric Flicker of the Mobile Smart Phone competing for your attention with actual traffic and real world goings on.

Have we become fully Cyborg? Part Man Part Machine.

Of course there would be no advertising per se in a truly totalitarian society. Advertising is driven by tapping into people’s free desires. So what is the difference between today’s China and ‘the West’? Or Russia for that matter?

We are amusing ourselves to death. 

Shirley Robin Letwin in her On the Idea of Law references Plato’s idea that if a law is wrong, it must stay wrong  until it is updated. In some systems this would have been every five years.

Better there be injustice for all till the bad law is updated – or instead everyone will turn a blind eye to the bad law – and the good law as well!

They say the best way to get rid of a stupid law is to apply it fully — to the letter.

As Mencken said :

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Does this make Shirley Letwin, Ezra Pound and Ayn Rand Crypto-Fascist Proto-Platonists?

Who wants the Law updated every five minutes?

Now that we have access to real-time updates and big data, continuous consultation could be an imminent reality.

Nothing describes the pitfalls of modern British politics better than the closing scene of The Rise of Michael Rimmer.

Discrete vs Continuous

A bit of continuity might help. Walter Lippmann, in Public Opinion, refers to those people who lived in peace after war had been declared simply because they hadn’t yet heard the war had started.

In the same way there are those for whom there will never be peace.

Permanently living in the subjunctive.

The role of fiction & theatre for the anti-truthers.

The rapidity with which truth subverts itself to reveal yet more truth at a scale so granular as to elude reasonable immediate inspection yet somehow capable of permeating through to all.

One has to either be very clever or try very hard not to feel it. Our society excels at both. From the outstanding declarative to the merely procedural.

From neoteny to phylogeny. The Master and his Emissary. Left Brain / Right Brain. Iain McGilchrist.

The recreation of the journey of human consciousness from zygote to foetus to birth – thousands of generations of evolution in just nine months.

Laputa

Jonathan Swift’s mysterious flying island of Laputa features in two places of significance for me.

At the beginning of Nicholas Dunbar’s Inventing Money – on the downfall of the Long Term Capital Management Hedge Fund staffed by Economics Nobel Prizewinners who perhaps should have known better. LTCM’s collapse was a notable pre-cursor to our post 2008 too big to fail bailout culture.

And in Alfred Korzybski’s Science and Sanity as recommended by the wonderful Robert Anton Wilson.

Science and Sanity was published in 1933 and opens  with a quote about the mysterious flying island of Laputa in Gulliver’s Travels.

The Laputans’ collective consciousness enabled the island to fly.

Was Swift satirising scientists? Full of knowledge but lacking basic wisdom?

The island was a place where they were very good at music and mathematics and interested in little else.

not unlike our current love of sharing songs on social media to help marketing firms target us with the data we generate:

If you look at the bottom of the image above, I like how the guy who came up with the term self fulfilling prophesy also wrote a book called Mass Persuasion.

And spawned a mathematician, Robert C Merton,  who, with Fisher Black and Myron Scholes, created a derivative pricing mathematical model which in non financial engineering terms could legitimately be described as a money machine.

Shun peer pressure from social media or the internet. If you reveal your opinion to a group with strong views, the sociologist Robert K. Merton has warned, the ensuing debate becomes more “a battle for status” than “a search for truth.” Instead, get a second opinion from one or two people you know and can trust to tell you if they think you are wrong.

But as Donald Mackenzie of the University of Edinburgh points out in – It’s an Engine Not a Camera – the point of these mathematical models which are based on imperfect economic and psychological assumptions is not to be correct.

They are simply designed to make money!

And if they go wrong – we shouldn’t be surprised because truth was never their purpose.

A source of confusion when marketing rubs shoulders with fact.

When the Calculus was invented many scientists went around saying that what they had discovered was wonderful but they didn’t know why it worked.

In the case of financial engineering, the bottom line is the bottom line.

Korzybski said:

The Map is not the Territory – The Menu is not the Meal.

Bit like Magritte:

And his pipe:

Took me forever to realise that it’s not a pipe – but an image of a pipe.

Korzybski speaks of abstraction:

There are no illusions. Only what we abstract.

Neil Postman, follower of Marshall McLuhan fused his Medium is the Message argument with George Lakoff’s Metaphors we Live By to produce: The Medium is the Metaphor in the first chapter of his 1985 work: Amusing Ourselves to Death.

McCluhan was a Catholic and heavily influenced by GK Chesterton who also influenced Jorge Luis Borges.

Borges is himself referenced in Dunbar’s Inventing Money.

The Garden of Forking Paths is quoted in reference to option pricing. So many possible futures. We happen to be friends in this world – doesn’t mean we would in any other.

Borges himself was interested in Infinity.

One of the best books I ever read was Jorge Luis Borges and the Eternal Orang-Utans

whose title is inspired by the idea that if you give a chimpanzee a typewriter and infinite time it will eventually write the works of shakespeare.

imagine my joy when I saw the Thomas Mullaney book on the Chinese Typewriter – in front of which I would be no different to an Orang-Utan!

Tamil is the oldest spoken language. I no longer speak it but here is a recent talk in Tamil on Borges. I only found it because I couldn’t find my favourite sound recording of Garden of Forking Paths.

How Borgesian! All things for a reason. Or Not.

Discriminate.

I am that.

Things. Consciousness. Bliss.

 

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Post Charlottesville Democrat Victory in Virginia

Virginia Acceptance Speech

No outright mention of Charlottesville — but still a big speech in Virginia.

The comments section is split with some calling it an Obama speech.

Any reference to White Nationalism, Healing Wounds, or Affordable Care Act interpreted as outright Communism.

All subtext in the USA!

And why is the Virginia drawl so similar to the Texan?

LA Times reaction

Daily Beast on the Charlottesville Shadow