Archive for the ‘Evolutionary Theory’ Category

More Eugenics from the Tories: Voice of Conservative Youth Wanted Young Unemployed Sterilised

January 17, 2018

I just read this little bit by Mike over at his Vox Political blog. It seems that Ben Bradley, who was appointed by Tweezer as the vice-chair of Young People, put up a blog post in 2012 declaring that unless something was done, Britain would drown in a sea of ‘unemployed wasters’ due to unemployed people on benefits having too many children. He then argued that they should be forced to have vasectomies. The story was, apparently, uncovered by Buzzfeed, and when they came to Bradley for comment, he simply deleted the article.

Bradley’s a nasty piece of work anyway. He was four-square behind the benefit cap, and voted against scrapping tuition fees, against university maintenance grants, against nurses’ bursaries, against Education Maintenance Allowance, ending the public sector pay cap and increases to the minimum wage.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/01/17/the-voice-of-tory-youth-unemployed-wasters-should-have-vasectomies/

In other words, he’s a typical Tory, who thinks only of enriching himself and his class, and exploiting working people, who no doubt after Ayn Rand he also regards as ‘moochers’ and ‘looters’. His comments about sterilising the young unemployed are pure eugenics. In the early part of the 20th century, the chattering classes all over Europe and America were worried by the possibility that the ‘dysgenic’ poor would outbreed all the responsible, biologically superior middle and upper classes, and so demanded legislation to stop them breeding. This programme was then taken up by the Nazis, who sterilised the congenitally disabled and recidivist criminals, before launching the infamous Aktion T4, which saw the mentally retarded murdered by Nazi doctors in clinics, in an operation run by the SS.

One of those, who was impressed by the eugenics argument was Lord Beveridge, before he issued his report that laid the foundations for the NHS. Beveridge argued that the long-term unemployed should be granted state support, but in return they would have to be sterilised to prevent them producing more children like them, who would be a drain on the state’s resources.

It’s recently been revealed that amongst his other activities, Toby Young attended a eugenics conference at University College London, as well as writing an article supporting it. And way back in the 1970s, Thatcher’s mentor Sir Keith Joseph expressed similar sentiments when he claimed that unmarried mothers were a threat to ‘our stock’.

The Tory party, it seems, is full of borderline Nazis, who hate the poor and the disabled, and wish them nothing but harm. Because they consider them a positive threat, not just to their position in society, but also to their biological superiority and purity.

Here’s Chunky Mark’s perspective on Bradley’s comments, in which he states that Bradley’s comments about it aren’t really an apology. He merely says that ‘the language was wrong’. Chunky Mark states that we are just experiments to the Tories, with people dying in corridors, and hormones injected into our food animals, which contaminate the meat. The Tories really believe in eugenics, and we’re their dinner.

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SF Art: Robot Evolution

January 14, 2018

I found this piece of SF art over at the sciencefictiongallery tumblr site. It looks like it’s the cover art to one of John Sladek’s two ‘Roderick’ books, Roderick, or The Education of a Young Machine, 1980, and its sequel, Roderick at Random, or Further Education of a Young Machine, both published by Granada in the UK.

It’s clearly based on all the illustrations showing the evolution of humanity from apes, through Australopithecus, Homo Erectus, the Neanderthals and finally to Cro Magnon people and ourselves. But instead of humans, they’re ape-like robots. At the moment scientists are busy trying to copy the behaviour and abilities of insects as a way of solving some of the complexities involved in robotic engineering, quite apart from the bipedal robots that have already been created. But this looks like it should be the way robots are evolving, rather than starting with machines modelled on ants and other insects.

Book on the Evolution of the Human Brain

December 30, 2017

The Human Brain Evolving: Paleoneurological Studies in Honor of Ralph L. Holloway, edited by Douglas Broadfield, Michael Yuan, Kathy Schick and Nicholas Toth. Stone Age Institute Press, Gosport Indiana and Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. 2010.

This is another book I got much cheaper than the cover prise through Oxbow Books’ bargain catalogue. The book is a collection of papers from a two day conference by the Stone Age Institute in April 2007 to celebrate the life and work of Ralph Holloway, one of the great founders of the field. Holloway as he explains in the first paper in which he gives his personal perspective, started out studying metallurgy at Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia in the 1950s. He then moved to the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he took courses in anthropology and geology. After this, he enrolled in the Ph.D. programme in anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. There he became interested in exploring how evolution had shaped the development of primate brains. His interest in this area led him to do research in the brain casts from australopithecine skulls in South Africa, where his mentor was professor Phillip V. Tobias. In 1969 he settled down to study paleoneurology fulltime. His decision was partly made by the testicular trauma he suffered the previous year by the cops while in a student demonstration in New York. This gave him considerable with Prof. Tobias as the struggles he was having against apartheid and the fuzz in South Africa.

As Holloway himself explains, any study of the evolutionary development of the specialised structure of the human brain was very strongly discouraged when he was a student. The simple assumption was that humans got more intelligent as their brains got bigger. There was no investigation about how the particular areas of the brain, in which specific brain functions are located, developed. Indeed this was actively and vehemently discouraged. He says that his first mentor at Berkeley was Professor Sherwood Washburn, who kindly suggested that he take various courses in anatomy. When Holloway told him that he wanted to take the course in neuroanatomy, however, Washburn was horrified, and said that he would no longer be Holloway’s mentor if he did so, fearing that it would make him too specialised to be a physical anthropologist, an argument Holloway found unconvincing. He goes on to point out the paucity of material in physical anthropological textbooks from the 1950s to the present, pointing out that only one, published in 2008 actually does because its co-author, John Allen, is a neurologist.

The book’s contents include the following papers.

Chapter 1: The Human Brain Evolving: A Personal Retrospective, Ralph L. Holloway.

Chapter 2: The Maternal Energy Hypothesis of Brain Evolution: An Update, Robert D. Martin and Karen Isler.

Chapter 3: The Meaning of Brain Size: The Evolution of Conceptual Complexity, P. Tom Schoeneman.

Chapter 4: Human Brain Endocasts and the LB1 Hobbit Brain, Ralph L. Holloway.

Chapter 5: The Fossil Hominid Brains of Dmanisi: D 2280 and D2282, Dominique Grimaud-Herve and David Lordkipandze.

Chapter 6: The Evolution of the Parietal Cortical Areas in the Human Genus: Between Structure and Cognition, by Emiliano Bruner.

Chapter 8: Study of Human Brain Evolution at the Genetic Level, by Eric J. Vallender and Bruce T. Lahn.

Chapter 9: Brain Reorganisation in Humans and Apes, by Katerina Semendeferi, Nicole Barger and Natalie Schenker.

Chapter 10: Searching for Human Brain Specializations with Structural and Functional Neuroimaging, by James K. Rilling.

Chapter 11: Structural and Diffusion MRI of a Gorilla Brain Performed Ex Vivo at 9.4 Tesla, by Jason A. Kaufman, J. Michael Tyszka, Francine “Penny” Patterson, Joseph M. Erwin, Patrick R. Hof, and John M. Allman.

Chapter 12: The role of Vertical Organisation in the Encephalisation and Reorganisation of the Primate Cortex, Daniel P. Buxhoeveden.

Chapter 13: The Evolution of Cortical Neurotransmitter Systems Among Primates and their Relevance to Cognition, Mary Ann Raghanti, Patrick R. Hof, and Chet C. Sherwood.

Chapter 14: Sex Differences in the Corpus Callosum of Macaca fascicularis and Pan troglodytes, by Douglas C. Broadfield.

Chapter 15: Dental Maturation, Middle Childhood and the Pattern of Growth and Development in Earlier Hominins, by Janet Monge and Alan Mann.

Chapter 16: Perikymata Counts in Two Modern Human Sample Populations, by Michael Sheng-Tien Yuan.

Chapter 17: Mosaic Cognitive Evolution: The case of Imitation Learning, by Francys Subiaul.

Chapter 18: The Foundations of Primate Intelligence and Language Skills, by Duane M. Rumbaugh, E. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, ,James E. King and Jared P. Taglialatella.

Chapter 19: Hominid Brain Reorganisation, Technological Change, and Cognitive Complexity, Nicholas Toth and Kathy Schick.

Clearly this is a written at an advanced, technical level for a specialist academic audience. I’ve done little but skim through it so far, but have found some fascinating facts. For example, Holloway’s paper on the brain of the Flores Hobbit recognises that it does share some features of modern microcephalics, but also others that are very different. This could mean that the creature could have been an archaic hominid suffering from a peculiar form of neurological defects that now no longer exists.

Emiliano Bruner’s paper argues from the study of Neanderthal and Early Modern Humans that modern humans’ parietal lobes are actually larger than would have been predicted by evolutionary theory for hominids of our size.

Anne Weaver’s paper argues that, in contrast to the standard view that this area of the brain has not evolved in the course of the development of modern humans, 30,000 years ago the size of the Cerebellum increased relative to the Cerebrum. The cerebellum is the part of the human brain dedicated to motor coordination and related tasks.

Douglas Broadfield’s paper on sex difference in chimp brains takes further Holloway’s and Kitty Lacoste’s 1982 paper, which controversially showed that that the corpus callosum in women was larger than those of men. His study of this part of the brain in chimps shows that this development is unique to humans.

Paleoneurology is still controversial, and Holloway holds some very controversial opinions. He’s an evolutionary reductionist, who considers culture to be the sole product of evolution, and religion and politics to be intrinsically evil. It’s an opinion he recognises is not held by the vast majority of people.

He also laments how the anthropology course at Columbia has abandoned physical anthropology, and been taken over completely by social anthropology, stating that the majority appear ‘postmodern, post colonialist, feminist and political’. This led to him being marginalised and isolated at the faculty.

He also states that it is stupid, for reasons of ‘political correctness’ not to consider that the same evolutionary processes that have shaped the different physical forms of the various human races, have not also affected their mental capacities and evolution too. He describes this research as intensely political and near-suicidal, and describes how he was accused of being a Nazi because of his investigation into it. He states that one critic described it as the kind of research that got his relatives put into concentration camps.

Professor Holloway is clearly a decent, humane man, who has in his day stood up for liberal values and protested against institutional racism. However, while he states that the neurological differences between male and female brains are ‘more or less accepted’ today, there are still women neurologists, who argue against them. More recently they’ve argued that sex difference in the brain are a continuum between the extremely male and extremely female, with most people lumped somewhere in between. In fact, the sex differences in the brain are so small that you simply can’t tell by looking whether a brain is male or female.

Furthermore, anthropological science was used in the period of full-blown European colonialism to justify White rule over their non-White subject peoples, and certainly has been used by Nazis and Fascists to justify their persecution of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and other ‘subhumans’. After the War, the British Fascist leader Oswald Mosley cited scientific papers on the differences in intelligence between the races to argue for a form of apartheid that would lead to the complete separation of Blacks and Jews from White, gentile Brits. This would affect only those, who were allowed to remain in Britain, because their culture was compatible with White, gentile British civilisation. See the section 13, ‘The Colour Question in Britain, Immigration, the Racial Question’ in his wretched book, Mosley – Right or Wrong, published by Lion Books in 1961. And of course, like all Fascist after the War, Mosley denied that he was actually racist!

Holloway knows from personal experience just how touchy this subject is, and is aware that the lower IQ scores made by Black Americans is still a subject of intense and acrimonious debate. But he thinks it silly to rule out the question of racial differences in human brain structure because of current political dogma.

This is too complacent. My impression here is Prof. Holloway has this rather more tolerant view of the acceptability of this direction of neurological investigation, because he is a White man from a privileged background. After all, in the 1950s very few working or lower middle class Americans could afford to do a university or college degree. It simply has not affected him personally, although he has stood on the barricades to denounce racism and support other liberal causes during the student unrest of the late ’60s. The same applies to women. In the second edition of the BBC popular science programme QED in the ’80s, a female scientist presented a programme on how male scientists down the centuries had tried to argue that women were biologically inferior, before concluding that ‘the tables are turning’.

Racial neurology and the neurology of gender differences is particularly dangerous now with the rise of the Alt Right and real White supremacists and Nazis surrounding Donald Trump, and the whole milieu of the Republican party and Libertarians in America. These are intensely racist, despising Blacks, Asians and Latinos, and using scientific evidence like the highly controversial ‘Bell Curve’ to argue that Blacks are intellectually inferior to Whites. I’ve also seen the islamophobes argue that Muslims also shouldn’t be allowed into Britain from the Middle East and Pakistan, as the average intelligence of the people from those regions is 75! Which to my mind is just ridiculous.

I’ve also heard from a friend, who keeps up with the latest neurological research by talking to some of the scientists involved, that recent studies of neuroplasticity have cast doubt on the amount of specialisation of brain function in specific brain regions. Moreover, everyone’s brain, male and female, is weird up differently. We may in fact know far less about the nature of the human brain, a point made by the neurologist and Humanist Professor Raymond Tallis in his book, Aping Mankind, written against precisely this kind of reductionism, which tries to reduce human cognition and culture by viewing it solely in terms of Darwinian theory in which humans are simply another species of ape.

This is a fascinating book, and offers many insights into the evolution of the human brain. But this is an area that is still developing, and intensely controversial. As such, other scientific opinions are available and should be read as well.

Prager University Tries to Argue the Alt-Right Is Left-Wing through Semantics

December 4, 2017

This is another great little video from Kevin Logan. This time he’s attacking Prager University, which, as he points out, isn’t actually a university, but a right-wing propaganda site on the Net. It pumps out Christian fundamentalist, militaristic, neocon, reactionary propaganda.

They’re one of the various groups on the American right, who’ve tried to discredit Socialism by claiming that the Nazis were also socialists, because they had the word in their name. I’ve already put up several pieces about that, reblogging material showing that Hitler deliberately put the term ‘Socialist’ in the party’s name as a provocation to the genuinely socialist left. The Nazis, of course, were very definitely anti-Socialist, and the decision to adopt the word ‘socialist’ was strongly opposed by many in the early party, including its founder, Anton Drexler. Going further back, the nationalist intellectuals in the 1920s, who began publishing books about how the First World War was an ennobling experience, and who looked forward to a coming Reich, did indeed talk about ‘socialism’, but they made it clear that they were talking about the integration of the individual into society, in which people would work for the good of the great whole. They called it the ‘socialisation of men’, which they carefully distinguished from the socialisation of property and industry.

Apart from rounding up genuine socialists, communists and trade unionists as ‘Marxist Socialists’, along with other left-wing radicals, the Nazis also strongly supported free enterprise. They privatised a number of state enterprises during the Third Reich, and hailed the business elite as the biologically superior type of human, who had won their right to rule through the forces of Darwinian selection in the business world.

They were not at all socialist.

Now Prager U tries the same trick with the Alt-Right. The argument runs that because the ‘Alt’ stands for ‘Alternative’, it is therefore different from traditional American Conservativism, and so has more in common with the left. This is another lie. As Kevin Logan here states, the Alt-Right are just an even more poisonous version of Conservatism, and have nothing in common with the left.

This is just part of a long-running strategy the Republicans have been running for a few years now, in which they’re trying to deny the rampant and very obvious racism in their own ranks, and project it back on to the Democrats and those further left. In the case of the Democrats, this party was indeed the more right-wing of the two originally, and was the party of the Klan. But this was before Lyndon Johnson won over the Black vote by introducing Medicare, Medicaid and other welfare programmes. However, the Republicans have used this to try to argue that ‘progressive’ are responsible for racism, because of the racist history of parts of the Democrat party. Even though this was before Johnson’s reforms of the late ’60s.

Democratic Socialist on Thatcher, Cobyn and the Double Standards of the Right Wing Press

November 11, 2017

I’ve reblogged a number of videos from Democratic Socialist, an Aussie Leftie, who knows his stuff about capitalism’s connection to Fascism, the Nazi privatisation programme and support for businessmen as the eugenic elite, and Thatcher’s hideous support for general Pinochet in Chile.

This is another of his videos.

In it, he takes apart the double standards of the British right-wing media, and in particular the Daily Telegraph in its smears of the British Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and its absolute refusal to condemn its idol, Margaret Thatcher, for her friendship with General Pinochet. Pinochet was, as I’ve mentioned frequently before, the brutal dictator of Chile, who overthrew the democratically elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende. The Tories smear Corbyn as a supporter of the Iran, Hamas and Hizbollah, and an anti-Semite. He is in fact none of these things. But Thatcher certainly was friends with Pinochet, who was a terrorist, torturer and anti-Semite.

The Torygraph smeared Corbyn as supporting the Iranian theocracy In fact, he did nothing of the sort. The article the Torygraph refers to appears on the page of the Mossadegh Project, an Iranian group that supports and celebrates the work of Iran’s last democratically elected president, Mohammed Mossadeq, who was tolerant and secular. Mossadeq was overthrown by a British-American coup in 1953 because he dared to nationalise the Iranian oil company, then consisting of the British owned Anglo-Persian Oil, which later became BP. His fall resulted in the gradual assumption of absolute power by the Shah, who instituted a reign of terror that eventually culminated in the Islamic Revolution of 1979, when he was overthrown by the Ayatollah Khomeini.

This section of the video includes a clip of an American expert describing how he was corrected by the Iranians, when he told a group of them that their country was incapable of democratically electing a leader. ‘It was,’ they replied, ‘before the Americans came’.

Oh yes, and there’s another reason why Corbyn’s support for Mossadeq certainly does not mean he supports the current Iranian theocracy. Mossadeq was a Baha’i, which is post-Islamic syncretistic religion, that the Shi’a regime in Iran despises as a vile heresy. I’ve been told by Iranian Muslim friends, who are profoundly disgusted by the fact that expatriate Iranian Baha’is cannot go to their homeland without signing a document stating that they have renounced their faith. The regime has killed 60,000+ Baha’is in pogroms, and subjected many to the same kind of tortures that Pinochet oversaw in Chile. I doubt very much that Corbyn’s support for the former Iranian president endears him to the Iranian regime.

As for supporting Hamas and Hizbollah, and therefore terrorism, Corbyn actually didn’t say anything like that. He condemned terrorism, but said that he had to negotiate with them.

Democratic Socialist contrasts this with Thatcher and Pinochet. The head of Pinochet’s secret police, Michael Townley, was responsible for the assassination of Orlando Latelier, who served as foreign minister in Allende’s government. Latelier had fled the country and noted the construction of the prison camps in which 100,000 people were incarcerated. He was killed by a car bomb in Washington D.C.

Corbyn is accused of anti-Semitism simply through guilt by association with these groups. But Pinochet was also a brutal murderer of Chile’s Jews. There’s a memorial in Chile now to the Jewish victims of Pinochet’s regime. Pinochet also gave sanctuary to the Nazis, who fled to Chile to escape justice. One of these was Walter Rauff, an utterly despicable person, responsible for inventing the gas cars. This was the method by which Jews and the disabled were murdered by the SS before the establishment of the great death camps. They were vans, specially adapted so that the exhaust was fed back into the truck’s rear compartment, in which the victim was placed. The van was driven around until the poor soul was gassed by the carbon monoxide. Not surprisingly, Emile Zubroff, one of Germany’s great Nazi hunters, was particularly angered by Pinochet giving this man sanctuary.

And then there’s the butcher’s extensive use of terror. Here’s another trigger warning: some viewers may find this very hard to watch. This part of the video has footage of an Englishwoman describing how she was raped and tortured with electric shocks by the regime. She does not go into details, but she simply states what the shocks and rapes consisted of. As well as how one woman was caged until she went made. This section starts at c. 350 mark. And it shows how vile and subhuman Pinochet and his torturers were.

This lady was abducted and tortured because Pinochet’s thugs believed she had treated the deputy leader of the anti-Pinochet resistance, and knew where the leader was. The woman was kidnapped, despite the fact that she was living with missionaries at the time. Before they took her, they shot the maid dead. I’m emphasising this because the Christian right in America and Britain has deluded itself and others that somehow Pinochet and other Fascists like him were great defenders of Christianity against Communism.

Rubbish. Fascists all over Latin America killed, raped and tortured committed Christians, including clergy, who worked for the poor against exploitation by the elites. This included Roman Catholic nuns, and Archbishop Romero. Romero was killed in the 1980s. He was not a supporter of Liberation Theology, the mixture of Roman Catholic doctrine and Marxism that had gained ground in Latin America. However, he moved left politically on his appointment, when he saw how oppressed and impoverished the mass of the people in his new archdiocese were. Before the Fascists killed him, they sprayed on the wall of his cathedral ‘Be a patriot. Kill a priest’.

I’m afraid I can’t remember off the top of my head in which country this was – Nicaragua, Guatemala or El Salvador. What I do remember is that he was murdered by the type of people Ronald Reagan hailed as ‘the moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers’, as he called the Contras in Nicaragua. And nearly all of these thugs have been trained by the American intelligence establishment on one of the military bases then called the ‘School of the Americas’.

This is followed by one looks like a BBC report, which shows Thatcher, already looking frail, congratulating Pinochet on having peacefully stepped down. This is true, but ignores the fact that the thug didn’t want to. He was forced out of power by a referendum he wanted to ignore, but his generals chose to enforce. Put simply, he was pushed.

Democratic Socialist then asks what the press would do if Corbyn really was like Thatcher, who was friends with a Fascist dictator, who ruled by terror, rape and torture.

He concludes by stating that he likes Corbyn, but doesn’t see him as being able to withstand the assaults on him by the British press.

Democratic Socialist put this up two years ago in 2015. And I am very glad to say that since then, Corbyn has gone on from strength to strength, not just despite, but because of the hostility of the British press and media.

And the moral character of the hacks in the British right-wing press is appalling. I remember reading a story in Private Eye back in the 1990s about the reaction of some of the journos in the British right-wing press, who were sent down to one of the South American countries to cover its transition from Fascism to democracy. I think it was El Salvador. On their visit, they met members of the El Salvadoran opposition before meeting General Noriega. Later talking about the meeting with the opposition leaders, one of the hacks said to the other that if he were the dictator, he’d shoot them.

Just let that sink in. This hack said that he was in favour of a Fascist dictator, responsible for appalling crimes against humanity, killing the very people, who wanted to lead their country to a new, democratic, better life. Now I dare say it was probably meant as a joke, but it’s a sick one. Especially as the Times and other establishment newspapers a few years after Pinochet seized power in Chile were demanding a coup in 1975 to oust the minority Labour government. The Times didn’t, it is fair to say, want a right-wing government. They wanted a ‘Government Of All the Talents’, containing right-wing Labour as well as Tories to govern after a military uprising. If you want some of the details, see Francis Wheen’s book Strange Days: Paranoia in the 70s. ‘Red’ Ken Livingstone also revealed in his book, Livingstone’s Labour, how MI5 also had plans to round up British leftists in a coup and imprison them in camps in the Hebrides or somewhere else remote.

This is the political background behind Alan Moore’s and David Lloyd’s graphic novel and film, V For Vendetta, starring Natalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, John Hurt, and Stephen Fry. I don’t like the movie because of its pronounced anti-Christian bias. But it does depict a chillingly plausible view of what a future fascist Britain would look like, based on what really happened in Nazi Germany. With the exception that the victims of biological experimentation in the Nazi camps never developed superpowers, and single-handedly inspired the masses to revolt and topple Hitler.

The right-wing press just loved Thatcher. They still do, but did not condemn Thatcher for her friendship with Pinochet. They were candid about the nature of his regime, or at least, some where. And some of the hacks, who supported Thatcher maintain that they would have loved to have killed Pinochet. Julie Burchill, a long-time staple of the Mail, went on about what would happen to the Chilean Fascist if she and him were in a locked room with her having a gun. Well, I’m very sceptical about that. Not least because in another of her articles, La Burchill vilified the idealistic young men and women, who went to Spain to fight for the Republicans against Franco during the Civil War as the equivalent of the bloodthirsty tourists, who go to watch a bullfight. So she was quite prepared to support the Spanish Fascists against the anti-Fascists, who risked and lost life and limb against him.

Burchill hates the left, and probably thinks that the Republicans were all Communists and Anarchists, but they also included POUM, which was roughly the equivalent of the British Labour party at the time, and liberals. They were a coalition of forces, united against the threat of Fascism. As the ‘Red’ Duchess of Atholl pointed out at the time.

Now it seems to me that if Britain had suffered a military coup in 1975 against the Labour administration, it would have not differed much from the Fascist regimes in Latin America. We would still have mass incarceration, the suspension of traditional British constitutional freedoms and rape and torture.

And I have no doubt that the Tory press, which lauds Thatcher and vilifies Corbyn, would have been 100 per cent behind it all.

The Nazis, Capitalism and Privatisation

November 9, 2017

One of the tactics the Right uses to try to discredit socialism is to claim that the Nazis were socialist, based largely on their name and the selective use of quotes from Hitler and other members of the Nazi party.

This claim has been repeatedly attacked and refuted, but nevertheless continues to be made.

In the video below, Jason Unruhe of Maoist Rebel News also refutes the argument that the Nazis were socialists by looking at the economic evidence and the Nazis’ own policy of privatising state-owned industries and enterprises. He puts up several graphs showing how the stock market rose under the Nazis, as did the amount of money going to private industry. Indeed, this evidence shows that the Nazis were actually more successful at managing capitalism than the democratic, laissez-faire capitalist countries of Britain and the US.

Then there is the evidence from the Nazis’ own policy towards industry. He cites a paper by Germa Bel in the Economic History Review, entitled ‘Against the Mainstream: Nazi Privatisation in 1930s Germany’. In the abstract summarising the contents of the article, Bel states

In the mid-1930s, the Nazi regime transferred public ownership to the private sector. In doing so, they went against the mainstream trends in Western capitalistic countries, none of which systematically reprivatized firms during the 1930s.

He goes further, and makes the point that the term ‘privatisation’ actually comes from Nazi Germany. It’s the English form of the German term reprivatisierung.

I am very definitely not a Maoist, and have nothing but contempt for the Great Helmsman, whose Cultural Revolution led to the deaths of 60 million Chinese in the famines and repression that followed, and unleashed a wave of horrific vandalism against this vast, ancient countries traditional culture and its priceless antiquities and art treasures.

But Unruhe has clearly done his research, and is absolutely correct about the capitalist nature of German industry under the Third Reich. Robert A. Brady, in his The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism (London: Victor Gollancz 1937) also described and commented on the privatisation of industry under the Nazis.

He states that the organs set up by the Nazis to ‘coordinate’ the industrial and agricultural sectors were specifically forbidden from giving any advantages to the state sector rather than private industry, and that state industry was handed over to private industrialists.

The same picture holds for the relations between the National Economic Chamber and the organs of local government. As Frielinghaus has put it, “The new structure of economics recognises no differences between public and private economic activity….” Not only are representatives of the various local governments to be found on both the national and regional organs of the National Economic Chamber, but it is even true that local government is co-ordinated to the end that economic activities pursued by them shall enjoy no non-economic advantages over private enterprise.

The literature on this point is perfectly explicit, being of a nature with which the general American public is familiar through numerous utterances of business leaders on the “dangers of government competition with private enterprise.” Under pressure of this sort the Reich government and many of its subsidiary bodies have begun to dispose of their properties to private enterprise or to cease “competition” with private enterprise where no properties are at stake. Thus the Reich, the states and the communes have already disposed of much of the holdings in the iron and steel industry (notably the United Steel Works), coal and electric power. Similarly, support is being withdrawn for loans to individuals wishing to construct private dwellings wherever private enterprise can possibly make any money out the transactions. True, the government has been expanding its activities in some directions, but mainly where there is no talk of “competition with private enterprise”, and with an eye to providing business men with effective guarantees against losses. (Pp. 291-2).

There is a serious academic debate over how far Fascism – both in its Nazi and Italian versions – was genuinely anti-Socialist and anti-capitalist. Mussolini started off as a radical Socialist, before breaking with the socialists over Italian intervention in the First World War. He then moved further to the right, allying with Italian big business and agricultural elites to smash the socialist workers’ and peasants’ organisations, and setting up his own trade unions to control the Italian workforce in the interests of Italian capital.

Ditto the Nazis, who banned the reformist socialist SPD – the German equivalent of the Labour party – and the Communist party, and destroyed the German trade unions. Their role was then taken over by the Labour Front, which also acted to control the workforces in the interests of capital and management.

As for Hitler’s use of the term ‘socialist’ and the incorporation of the colour red, with its socialist overtones, into the Nazi flag, Hitler stated that this was to steal some of the attraction of the genuine socialist left. See the passage on this in Joachim C. Fest’s biography of the dictator. The incorporation of the word ‘socialist’ into the Nazi party’s name was highly controversial, and resisted by many of the party’s founders, as they were very definitely anti-socialist.

Brady himself comments on how the Nazis’ appropriation of the term ‘socialist’ is opportunistic, and disguises the real capitalist nature of the economy. He writes

the principle of “self-management” does appear to allow the business men to do pretty much what they wish. The cartels and market organisations remain, and have, in fact, been considerably strengthened in many cases. These are the most important organisations from the point of view of profits. The larger machinery is, as previously indicated, primarily designed to co-ordinate police on threats to the underlying tenets of the capitalistic system. The fact that the new system is called “socialism,” and that “capitalism” has been repudiated, does not detract from this generalisation in the slightest. The changes made to such as worry compilers of dictionaries and experts in etymology, not economists. For the realities of “capitalism” has been substituted the word “socialism”; for the realities of “socialism” has been substituted the word “Marxism”; “Marxism” has,, then, been completely repudiated. By reversing the word order one arrives at the truth, i.e. “socialism” in all its forms has been repudiated and capitalism has been raised into the seventh heaven of official esteem.

And the structure of Nazi Germany, where there were very close links between local and state government and industry, and where private industry and big business were celebrated and promoted, sounds extremely similar to the current corporatist political system in Britain and America. Here, political parties now favour big business over the public good, thanks to receiving donations and other aid, including the loan of personnel, from private firms, and the appointment of senior management and businessmen to positions within government. While at the same time pursuing a policy of deregulation and privatisation.

And this is without discussing the murderous Social Darwinism of the Reaganite/ Thatcherite parties, including Blairite New Labour, which has seen the welfare safety net gradually removed piecemeal, so that hundreds of thousands in Britain are now forced to use food banks to survive, and around 700 desperately poor, and particularly disabled people, have died in misery and starvation thanks to the regime of benefit sanctions and the use of pseudo-scientific procedures by ATOS and Maximus to declare seriously and terminally ill people ‘fit for work’.

The Blairites, Tories and their Lib Dem partners have set up a system of secret courts, in which, if it is considered ‘national security’ is at stake, individuals can be tried in secret, without knowing what the charges against them are, who their accuser is, or the evidence against them. Cameron and May, and indeed Tony Blair, followed Thatcher’s lead in trying to destroy the unions, and have put in place progressively stricter legislation against political protests.

Meanwhile, under the guise of combating ‘fake news’, internet companies like Google and Facebook are trying to drive left-wing, alternative news networks and sites off the Net.

The Code Pink and Green Party campaigner, Vijay Prashad, gave a speech in Washington, where he stated that Trump could be the last president of the US. If he doesn’t destroy the world, the political processes that are operating under him could result in him being the last democratically elected president, should the elites get tired of democracy.

Trump’s regime is certainly Fascistic, particularly in the support it receives from racist, White supremacist and openly Nazi organisations. If the business elites bankrolling the two parties do get tired of democracy – and due to their pernicious influence Harvard University has described the current American political system as an oligarchy, rather than democracy – then the transition to real Fascism will have been completed.

And where the Republicans go in America, the Tories over here in Britain duly follow.

Did the Tories Start an Advertising Campaign to Discredit Sociology in the 1970s-80s?

October 9, 2017

I heard this from a friend of mine, who has an MA in Cultural Studies. He told me that in the 1970s, the Tories paid Maggie’s favourite advertisers, Saatchi & Saatchi, to start an advertising campaign designed to discredit sociology. The Tories wanted to turn the British public against the subject by presenting it as an intellectually fraudulent pseudo-subject, dominated by Marxists. To do this, Saatchi & Saatchi placed comments sneering at, or otherwise disparaging the subject in other adverts. One of these, my friend claimed, was the advert for BT with Maureen Lipman, in which the actress is delighted that her son has got an ‘ology’, in this case a qualification in sociology.

Cultural Studies arose as a reaction to it, combining some social history with feminist and left-wing cultural criticism, including the French postmodern philosophers Julia Kristeva, Foucault, Derrida and Lacan. While there was a reaction against postmodernism in the 1990s, such as in Michael Sokal’s and Jean Bricmont’s Intellectual Impostures, Cultural Studies was left largely alone. This was because it’s research and conclusions were qualitative, rather than quantitative. It presented a series opinions on the nature of society, but, unlike sociology, it was not dominated by statistics, which had the potential to show unpalatable truths that the Tories would like to hide.

I’d be interested in finding out more about this. For as long as I can remember, sociology has had that image of a non-subject, taught in modish redbrick universities by Communists. And it’s true that Marx has been called the founder of sociology because of his research trying to show how the economic structure of society determined its overall form. However, others have suggested that the origins of sociology go further back to Auguste Comte, an atheist, who wished to establish a ‘religious of humanity’ with its own rituals and priesthood, and who also advocated the use of statistics for investigating social conditions.

One of the other major influences on sociology was Emile Durckheim, the founder of fuctionalism. This is the view that society functions somewhat like a machine or organism, with different parts of it performing different functions according to the needs of society as a whole. From what I understand, Durckheim was a socialist, but not a Marxist.

There’s also a very strong relationship with anthropology, which began long before Marx, and whose major 20th century influence was Boleslaw Malinowski. Malinowski was the creator of ‘participant observation’, the view that anthropologists should ‘get off the missionaries’ veranda’ and live amongst the people they are researching, in order to experience their way of life and see the world and their culture from their point of view. Or as close to it as possible. Ethnographers don’t just research the lives and customs of primal societies in the Developing World. They are also active researching different social groups and subcultures in developed countries like Britain, America and Europe. One aspect of this project was the establishment of Mass Observation in the ’30s. This was founded by a group of anthropologists, who complained that less was known about the lives of ordinary people in this country, than about tribes in remote Africa or Asia, for example. They therefore set about trying to correct this by carrying out research into what ordinary working class Brits were doing.

Some of this research was very bizarre. A book came out on Mass Observation in 1985, and I can remember reading a review of it in the Observer. One bit of research consisted of one of the anthropologists going into the toilets in a pub and timing how long it took the men there to use the urinal. I wonder how the man avoided being beaten up, or arrested. Nevertheless, they did much valuable research, some of which formed the basis for the first television documentaries on the British working class made in the 1950s.

And even in the 1980s, not every Tory stalwart was convinced that sociology was dominated by Commies. I can remember reading a piece in the Torygraph in 1986/7, in which one female Tory stated that while sociology had a reputation for left-wing jargon and viewpoints, ‘there was nothing more Conservative’.

The story that the Tories made a deliberate effort to discredit sociology isn’t one that I’ve heard before, but it does ring true. As does my friend’s opinion that they left Cultural Studies alone because it didn’t back up its critique with statistical facts, or at least, not to the same extent as sociology. Robin Ramsay, the editor of Lobster, has said there that it seemed to him that postmodernism was a retreat from actively critiquing and combating modern capitalism and Conservatism. Instead of presenting a clear expose of the way elite groups and corporations ran governments in order to reinforce the class structure and keep the working class, the poor and other marginalized groups in their place, exploited at the bottom of the social hierarchy, postmodernism instead produced mountains of largely unreadable and intellectually pretentious text, much of which was deliberately obscure. The leading postmodernists were left-wing, but the obscurity of their prose meant that to some they had little to say of any real political value. That was the attitude of Michael Sokal, a scientist of very left-wing opinions, who had resigned from his career in American academia to teach mathematics in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas.

In recent years Cultural Studies has been attacked by the right in its turn. Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic have declared that it, and related subjects, are full of Gramscian Marxists attacking traditional western society in order to introduce Communism. This has in turn resulted in anyone, who offers any kind of left-wing critique of Conservativism or traditional western society being denounced as a ‘cultural Marxist’.

My friend was convinced that the Saatchi campaign against sociology was part of a wider Thatcherite assault on intellectual freedom in the universities. Thatcher was rabidly anti-Communist, and passed legislation that tried to make it illegal for Marxists, or members of Marxist organisations, to hold tenure at universities. Hence the rise of people calling themselves ‘Marxian’. It was a legalistic device by which academics, who held Marxist views, described themselves as ‘cultural Marxists’, that is, people who had a Marxist culture, which allowed them to hold on to their jobs.

If it is true that Maggie and the Saatchis tried to discredit sociology, then it shows just how afraid the Tories were of their favourite economic theories being discredited by inconvenient fact. As indeed they have been for a very long time. I can remember how they began redefining unemployment to create the false impression that it had decreased when I was at school back in the 1980s. It also shows how deeply, profoundly anti-intellectual Conservatism is. There’s no particularly surprise there. The philosopher Roger Scruton in his book on the new Conservatism in the 1980s stated quite clearly that it wasn’t intellectual, but based on respect for tradition. And more recently we’ve seen a succession of Republican administrations in America attacking the teaching of evolution in schools and trying to suppress the evidence for climate change.

The Tories don’t just rely on propaganda and distorted news to support their rule. They have also been actively engaged in censoring and using propaganda in order to spread ignorance and misinformation against established academic disciplines. Their goal is to keep ordinary working people poor and uninformed. They are a party of anti-intellectuals, who aim to rule partly by spreading stupidity and ignorance.

RT’s Establishment Club Road Trip Bus Comes to Bristol

August 14, 2017

Russia Today are sending their Establishment Club bus on a road trip around the country. The name, if I’m not mistaken, is a homage to the satirical club run in the 1960s by the late, great Peter Cook, and which also displayed the talents of John Bird and John Fortune, who continued making satire with Rory Bremner on his show in the early 2000s. The bus, which is appropriately red, was looking for the best satirical talent around the country. Further auditions are planned for Brighton, Edinburgh and Newcastle.

Compered by Keith Allen, a stand-up comedian and the Sheriff of Nottingham on the Beeb’s recent remake of Robin Hood, as well as the father of pop star Lily, this short, five minute video shows some of the talent they had come aboard when they stopped in my home city of Bristol.

There are four or five performers. One chap does two pieces, including a skit at the end about how the Beeb selectively edits interviews with the general public to create the impression it wants, in this case with a drunk, who needs to be coached before associating Brexit with immigrants, before this is edited to show how Britain is alive with racism. Another fellow sings a song on his ukulele about the Fuhrage’s plane crash. May favourite is the man, who recites a poem about the dismantlement of the welfare state. This piece calls it as it is and identifies the social Darwinism underpinning the policy – he sings about ‘Mr. Darwin’s little theory’. Which might be a little unfair to Darwin, as it was formulated by Herbert Spencer.

Allen did raise a few eyebrows, and appear in the press last week, when he attacked the current state of British stand-up. Using his characteristic earthy language, he said it ‘needed a cattle prod to the bollocks’ because of the careerism amongst too many contemporary comics. All they wanted to do, according to him, was tell jokes about the colour of Trump’s hair, and then get on a panel show.

Buddy Hell over Guy Debord’s Cat has, as another comedian, also lamented the decline in the quality of prospective comics. He has said that all too often they simply recite their life history, without actually being funny or making a joke.

I’m sure there are more genuinely funny people out there, and wish Allen and the RT team every success in finding and nurturing the next crop of comedic talent. Talent that will tear great, bloody chunks off the establishment and its monstrous edifice of bureaucratic indifference, corporate greed, and institutional class hate.

Hyper Evolution – The Rise of the Robots Part 2

August 5, 2017

Wednesday evening I sat down to watch the second part of the BBC 4 documentary, Hyperevolution: the Rise of the Robots, in which the evolutionary biologist Ben Garrod and the electronics engineer Prof. Danielle George trace the development of robots from the beginning of the 20th century to today. I blogged about the first part of the show on Tuesday in a post about another forthcoming programme on the negative consequences of IT and automation, Secrets of Silicon Valley. The tone of Hyperevolution is optimistic and enthusiastic, with one or two qualms from Garrod, who fears that robots may pose a threat to humanity. The programme states that robots are an evolving species, and that we are well on the way to developing true Artificial Intelligence.

Last week, Garrod went off to meet a Japanese robotics engineer, whose creation had been sent up to keep a Japanese astronaut company of the International Space Station. Rocket launches are notoriously expensive, and space is a very, very expensive premium. So it was no surprise that the robot was only about four inches tall. It’s been designed as a device to keep people company, which the programme explained was a growing problem in Japan. Japan has a falling birthrate and thus an aging population. The robot is programmed to ask and respond to questions, and to look at the person, who’s speaking to it. It doesn’t really understand what is being said, but simply gives an answer according to its programming. Nevertheless, it gives the impression of being able to follow and respond intelligently to conversation. It also has the very ‘cute’ look that characterizes much Japanese technology, and which I think comes from the conventions of Manga art. Garrod noted how it was like baby animals in having a large head and eyes, which made the parents love them.

It’s extremely clever, but it struck me as being a development of the Tamagotchi, the robotic ‘pet’ which was all over the place a few years ago. As for companionship, I could help thinking of a line from Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic Solaris, based on the novel by the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem. The film follow the cosmonaut, Kris, on his mission to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The planet’s vast ocean is alive, and has attempted to establish contact with the station’s crew by dredging their memories, and sending them replicas of people they know. The planet does this to Kris, creating a replica of a former girlfriend. At one point, pondering the human condition in a vast, incomprehensible cosmos, Kris states ‘There are only four billion of us…a mere handful. We don’t need spaceships, aliens…What man needs is man.’ Or words to that effect. I forget the exact quote. I dare say robots will have their uses caring for and providing mental stimulation for the elderly, but this can’t replace real, human contact.

George went to America to NASA, where the space agency is building Valkyrie to help with the future exploration of Mars in 2030. Valkyrie is certainly not small and cute. She’s six foot, and built very much like the police machines in Andrew Blomkamp’s Chappie. George stated that they were trying to teach the robot how to walk through a door using trial and error. But each time the machine stumbled. The computer scientists then went through the robot’s programming trying to find and correct the error. After they thought they had solved it, they tried again. And again the machine stumbled.

George, however, remained optimistic. She told ‘those of you, who think this experiment is a failure’, that this was precisely what the learning process entailed, as the machine was meant to learn from its mistakes, just like her own toddler now learning to walk. She’s right, and I don’t doubt that the robot will eventually learn to walk upright, like the humanoid robots devised by their competitors over at DARPA. However, there’s no guarantee that this will be the case. People do learn from their mistakes, but if mistakes keep being made and can’t be correctly, then it’s fair to say that a person has failed to learn from them. And if a robot fails to learn from its mistakes, then it would also be fair to say that the experiment has failed.

Holy Joe Smith! I was also a reminded of another piece of classic SF in this segment. Not film, but 2000 AD’s ‘Robohunter’ strip. In its debut story, the aged robohunter, Sam Slade – ‘that’s S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’ – his robometer, Kewtie and pilot, Kidd, are sent to Verdus to investigate what has happened to the human colonists. Verdus is so far away, that robots have been despatched to prepare it for human colonization, and a special hyperdrive has to be used to get Slade there. This rejuvenates him from an old man in his seventies to an energetic guy in his thirties. Kidd, his foul mouthed, obnoxious pilot, who is in his 30s, is transformed into a foul-mouthed, obnoxious, gun-toting baby.

The robot pioneers have indeed prepared Verdus for human habitation. They’ve built vast, sophisticated cities, with shops and apartments just waiting to be occupied, along with a plethora of entertainment channels, all of whose hosts and performers are robotic. However, their evolution has outpaced that of humanity, so that they are now superior, both physically and mentally. They continue to expect humans to be the superiors, and so when humans have come to Verdus, they’ve imprisoned, killed and experimented on them as ‘Sims’ – simulated humans, not realizing that these are the very beings they were created to serve. In which case, Martian colonists should beware. And carry a good blaster, just in case.

Garrod and George then went to another lab, where the robot unnerved Garrod by looking at him, and following him around with its eye. George really couldn’t understand why this should upset him. Talking about it afterwards, Garrod said that he was worried about the threat robots pose to humanity. George replied by stating her belief that they also promise to bring immense benefits, and that this was worth any possible danger. And that was the end of that conversation before they went on to the next adventure.

George’s reply isn’t entirely convincing. This is what opponents of nuclear power were told back in the ’50s and ’60s, however. Through nuclear energy we were going to have ships and planes that could span the globe in a couple of minutes, and electricity was going to be so plentiful and cheap that it would barely be metered. This failed, because the scientists and politicians advocating nuclear energy hadn’t really worked out what would need to be done to isolate and protect against the toxic waste products. Hence nearly six decades later, nuclear power and the real health and environmental problems it poses are still very much controversial issues. And there’s also that quote from Bertrand Russell. Russell was a very staunch member of CND. When he was asked why he opposed nuclear weapons, he stated that it was because they threatened to destroy humanity. ‘And some of us think that would be a very great pity’.

Back in America, George went to a bar to meet Alpha, a robot created by a British inventor/showman in 1932. Alpha was claimed to be an autonomous robot, answering questions by choosing appropriate answers from recordings on wax cylinders. George noted that this was extremely advanced for the time, if true. Finding the machine resting in a display case, filled with other bizarre items like bongo drums, she took an access plate off the machine to examine its innards. She was disappointed. Although there were wires to work the machine’s limbs, there were no wax cylinders or any other similar devices. She concluded that the robot was probably worked by a human operator hiding behind a curtain.

Then it was off to Japan again, to see another robot, which, like Valkyrie, was learning for itself. This was to be a robot shop assistant. In order to teach it to be shop assistant, its creators had built an entire replica camera shop, and employed real shop workers to play out their roles, surrounded by various cameras recording the proceedings. So Garrod also entered the scenario, where he pretended to be interested in buying a camera, asking questions about shutter speeds and such like. The robot duly answered his questions, and moved about the shop showing him various cameras at different prices. Like the robotic companion, the machine didn’t really know or understand what it was saying or doing. It was just following the motions it had learned from its human counterparts.

I was left wondering how realistic the role-playing had actually been. The way it was presented on camera, everything was very polite and straightforward, with the customer politely asking the price, thanking the assistant and moving on to ask to see the next of their wares. I wondered if they had ever played at being a difficult customer in front of it. Someone who came in and, when asked what they were looking for, sucked their teeth and said, ‘I dunno really,’ or who got angry at the prices being asked, or otherwise got irate at not being able to find something suitable.

Through the programme, Japanese society is held up as being admirably progressive and accepting of robots. Earlier in that edition, Garrod finished a piece on one Japanese robot by asking why it was that a car manufacturer was turning to robotics. The answer’s simple. The market for Japanese cars and motorcycles is more or less glutted, and they’re facing competition from other countries, like Indonesia and Tokyo. So the manufacturers are turning to electronics.

The positive attitude the Japanese have to computers and robots is also questionable. The Japanese are very interested in developing these machines, but actually don’t like using them themselves. The number of robots in Japan can easily be exaggerated, as they include any machine tool as a robot. And while many British shops and businesses will use a computer, the Japanese prefer to do things the old way by hand. For example, if you go to a post office in Japan, the assistant, rather than look something up on computer, will pull out a ledger. Way back in the 1990s someone worked out that if the Japanese were to mechanise their industry to the same extent as the West, they’d throw half their population out of work.

As for using robots, there’s a racist and sexist dimension to this. The Japanese birthrate it falling, and so there is real fear of a labour shortage. Robots are being developed to fill it. But Japanese society is also extremely nationalistic and xenophobic. Only people, whose parents are both Japanese, are properly Japanese citizens with full civil rights. There are third-generation Koreans, constituting an underclass, who, despite having lived there for three generations, are still a discriminated against underclass. The Japanese are developing robots, so they don’t have to import foreign workers, and so face the problems and strains of a multicultural society.

Japanese society also has some very conservative attitudes towards women. So much so, in fact, that the chapter on the subject in a book I read two decades ago on Japan, written by a Times journalist, was entitled ‘A Woman’s Place Is In the Wrong’. Married women are expected to stay at home to raise the kids, and the removal of a large number of women from the workplace was one cause of the low unemployment rate in Japan. There’s clearly a conflict between opening up the workplace to allow more married women to have a career, and employing more robots.

Garrod also went off to Bristol University, where he met the ‘turtles’ created by the neuroscientist, Grey Walter. Walter was interested in using robots to explore how the brain functioned. The turtles were simple robots, consisting of a light-detecting diode. The machine was constructed to follow and move towards light sources. As Garrod himself pointed out, this was like the very primitive organisms he’d studied, which also only had a light-sensitive spot.

However, the view that the human brain is really a form of computer have also been discredited by recent research. Hubert L. Dreyfus in his book, What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Intelligence, describes how, after the failure of Good Old Fashioned A.I. (GOFAI), computer engineers then hoped to create it through exploring the connections between different computing elements, modelled on the way individual brain cells are connected to each by a complex web of neurons. Way back in 1966, Walter Rosenblith of MIT, one of the pioneers in the use of computers in neuropsychology, wrote

We no longer hold the earlier widespread belief that the so-called all-or-none law from nerve impulses makes it legitimate to think of relays as adequate models for neurons. In addition, we have become increasingly impressed with the interactions that take place among neurons: in some instances a sequence of nerve impulses may reflect the activities of literally thousands of neurons in a finely graded manner. In a system whose numerous elements interact so strongly with each other, the functioning of the system is not necessarily best understood by proceeding on a neuron-by-neuron basis as if each had an independent personality…Detailed comparisons of the organization of computer systems and brains would prove equally frustrating and inconclusive. (Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can’t Do, p. 162).

Put simply, brain’s don’t work like computers. This was written fifty years ago, but it’s fair to ask if the problem still exists today, despite some of the highly optimistic statements to the contrary.

Almost inevitably, driverless cars made their appearance. The Germans have been developing them, and Garrod went for a spin in one, surrounded by two or three engineers. He laughed with delight when the car told him he could take his hands off the wheel and let the vehicle continue on its own. However, the car only works in the comparatively simply environment of the autobahn. When it came off the junction, back into the normal road system, the machine told him to start driving himself. So, not quite the victory for A.I. it at first appears.

Garrod did raise the question of the legal issues. Who would be responsible if the car crashed while working automatically – the car, or the driver? The engineers told him it would be the car. Garrod nevertheless concluded that segment by noting that there were still knotty legal issues around it. But I don’t know anyone who wants one, or necessarily would trust one to operate on its own. A recent Counterpunch article I blogged about stated that driverless cars are largely being pushed by a car industry, trying to expand a market that is already saturated, and the insurance companies. The latter see it as a golden opportunity to charge people, who don’t want one, higher premiums on the grounds that driverless cars are safer.

Garrod also went to meet researchers in A.I. at Plymouth University, who were also developing a robot which as part of their research into the future creation of genuine consciousness in machines. Talking to one of the scientists afterwards, Garrod heard that there could indeed be a disruptive aspect to this research. Human society was based on conscious decision making. But if the creation of consciousness was comparatively easy, so that it could be done in an afternoon, it could have a ‘disruptive’ effect. It may indeed be the case that machines will one day arise which will be conscious, sentient entities, but this does not mean that the development of consciousness is easy. You think of the vast ages of geologic time it took evolution to go from simple, single-celled organisms to complex creatures like worms, fish, insects and so on, right up to the emergence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens within the last 200,000 years.

Nevertheless, the programme ended with Garrod and George talking the matter over on the banks of the Thames in London. George concluded that the rise of robots would bring immense benefits and the development of A.I. was ‘inevitable’.

This is very optimistic, to the point where I think you could be justified by calling it hype. I’ve said in a previous article how Dreyfus’ book describes how robotics scientists and engineers have made endless predictions since Norbert Wiener and Alan Turing, predicting the rise of Artificial Intelligence, and each time they’ve been wrong. He’s also described the sheer rage with which many of those same researchers respond to criticism and doubt. In one passage he discusses a secret meeting of scientists at MIT to discuss A.I., in which a previous edition of his book came up. The scientists present howled at it with derision and abuse. He comments that why scientists should persist in responding so hostilely to criticism, and to persist in their optimistic belief that they will eventually solve the problem of A.I., is a question for psychology and the sociology of knowledge.

But there are also very strong issues about human rights, which would have to be confronted if genuine A.I. was ever created. Back in the 1970s or early ’80s, the British SF magazine, New Voyager, reviewed Roderick Random. Subtitled, ‘The Education of a Young Machine’, this is all about the creation of a robot child. The reviewer stated that the development of truly sentient machines would constitute the return of slavery. A similar point was made in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in an episode where another ship’s captain wished to take Data apart, so that he could be properly investigated and more like him built. Data refused, and so the captain sued to gain custody of him, arguing that he wasn’t really sentient, and so should be legally considered property. And in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the book that launched the Cyberpunk SF genre, the hero, Case, finds out that the vast computer for which he’s working, Wintermute, has Swiss citizenship, but its programming are the property of the company that built it. This, he considers, is like humans having their thoughts and memories made the property of a corporation.

Back to 2000 AD, the Robusters strip portrayed exactly what such slavery would mean for genuinely intelligent machines. Hammerstein, an old war droid, and his crude sidekick, the sewer droid Rojaws and their fellows live with the constant threat of outliving their usefulness, and taking a trip down to be torn apart by the thick and sadistic Mek-Quake. Such a situation should, if it ever became a reality, be utterly intolerable to anyone who believes in the dignity of sentient beings.

I think we’re a long way off that point just yet. And despite Prof. George’s statements to the contrary, I’m not sure we will ever get there. Hyperevolution is a fascinating programme, but like many of the depictions of cutting edge research, it’s probably wise to take some of its optimistic pronouncements with a pinch of salt.

Buzz Aldrin in Physical Pain at Trump’s Rambling Speech about Space Programme

July 6, 2017

Donald Trump has alarmed scientists and laypeople with the anti-science stance of his administration. They’re alarmed at legislation he’s passed allowing the teaching of evolution and climate change as fact to be challenged in schools, who may also be compelled to teach Creationism and present the arguments of the lobbyists in the oil industry that deny the reality of climate change.

Trump’s comments about space also appear to have caused serious pain to Apollo 11 astronaut, Buzz Aldrin. Aldrin is a genuine American hero. He was the second man to step out on the Moon after Armstrong. He was deeply religious. A devout Roman Catholic, her age himself Holy Communion while on the lunar surface, but afterwards became more ‘New Age’ in his beliefs. He has also been a committed champion of America’s space programme and of opening up the High Frontier to ordinary folks.

In this clip, David Pakman discusses the very pained expressions crossing the old flyboy’s face at Trump’s rambling speech. Trump was passing legislation supposed to reaffirm and strengthen the American space programme. It’s clear from his comments that Trump himself actually doesn’t have a clue about space. At one point, after he signs the piece of legislation, one of his aides remarks ‘To infinity and beyond!’

This, of course, is the watchword of Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear. However, Trump fails to recognise the quote, and thinks it’s about the law, commenting, ‘It is infinity. Well, it could be infinity.’

And when Trump does for a moment appear to understand what he’s talking about, it’s actually quite sinister. At one point he starts talking about how space exploration will benefit American industry.

Well, space does indeed have the potential to benefit industry. There are substances, such as ultra-pure crystals, that are difficult to create on Earth, but can be made much more easily in microgravity. But that’s not what Trump’s talking about.

What the Orange Buffoon is talking about is how good space will be for American defence contractors, which raises the horrendous issue of the militarisation space, which is prohibited under international law.

Pakman comments about how, after his immense achievement in landing on the Moon, and then having his patience tested by a conspiracy theorist, who challenged him with the statement that he hadn’t really gone to the Moon, the 87-year old spaceman now looks as though he’s really in physical pain at Trump’s incoherent speech.

Unlike the conspiracy theorist, Trump did actually walk away from his meeting with Aldrin. The challenge to the old astronaut’s integrity and achievement was too much for him to bear, and he decked the offender. Clearly, Aldrin has too much respect for the presidency to hit its current incumbent. But it seems very clear Trump’s ignorance was a bit too much for him.