Editor’s Note: Came across this piece in the Atlantic by Derek Thompson. It’s excellent.
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
Youngstown was transformed not only by an economic disruption but also by a psychological and cultural breakdown. Depression, spousal abuse, and suicide all became much more prevalent; the caseload of the area’s mental-health center tripled within a decade. The city built four prisons in the mid-1990s—a rare growth industry. One of the few downtown construction projects of that period was a museum dedicated to the defunct steel industry.
This winter, I traveled to Ohio to consider what would happen if technology permanently replaced a great deal of human work. I wasn’t seeking a tour of our automated future. I went because Youngstown has become a national metaphor for the decline of labor, a place where the middle class of the 20th century has become a museum exhibit.
In the past few years, even as the United States has pulled itself partway out of the jobs hole created by the Great Recession, some economists and technologists have warned that the economy is near a tipping point. When they peer deeply into labor-market data, they see troubling signs, masked for now by a cyclical recovery. And when they look up from their spreadsheets, they see automation high and low—robots in the operating room and behind the fast-food counter. They imagine self-driving cars snaking through the streets and Amazon drones dotting the sky, replacing millions of drivers, warehouse stockers, and retail workers. They observe that the capabilities of machines—already formidable—continue to expand exponentially, while our own remain the same. And they wonder: Is any job truly safe?
On the day I met Camille Paglia for lunch, I arrived early at the Greek restaurant she had selected and let the hostess guide me to a table in the back. To me this seemed like a perfectly fine table. Paglia, who arrived a few minutes later, disagreed.
It was a booth. And there were people right beside us. There was a table near the front, Paglia said, where she had taken meetings before; perhaps we could sit there. Accompanied by the hostess, we walked to the new table and considered it. Paglia allowed that probably the hostess could not grant the two of us this six-top. We needed a smaller table — but one that was quiet, and private. A second restaurant employee had joined us. Another booth was proposed, another booth rejected. Paglia felt it imperative that we have real chairs. Sitting on a booth’s cushions might lull us into a state of haremlike drowsiness, she felt. We needed to be alert.
I found myself swept along by her willingness to be difficult, which did not manifest itself as rudeness or a sense of entitlement but as a perfect, inviolable comfort in pursuing exactly what she wanted. She was going to get the right table. And what was I going to do, apologize for Camille Paglia? If it is possible to possess immunity to the unspoken expectations of female behavior — to be impervious, on a cellular level, to the will of the patriarchy (to use one of her least favorite terms) — then Paglia possesses that immunity.
At last we were seated at a small table a few yards from the first. We would remain there for the next 4 hours and 45 minutes. In the grand scheme of Paglia interviews, mine was brief. When Francesca Stanfill profiled her for a New York cover story, in 1991, their conversation lasted ten hours, long enough for Paglia to consume two steaks: one for lunch and a second for dinner.
“Normally I would order meat, but I think it’s going to interfere,” Paglia explained, as we considered the menu. “Because I’ll be talking nonstop.” She selected moussaka and a Corona, and began.
Here are some things of which Camille Paglia — perhaps the most famous alleged anti-feminist feminist in American history — approves: football, Bernie Sanders, Katharine Hepburn, Rihanna, the Real Housewives franchise, taramasalata. (It tastes like lox, not like nova, which is good, because nova is too refined; it’s missing all the fish taste.) Here are some things Camille Paglia scorns, and should you have a problem with her scorn, know that she enjoys a fight: Michel Foucault, Doris Day, Lena Dunham, Elena Ferrante, college students who are always whining about date rape. Here are some things of which Camille Paglia used to approve, but has since exiled from her esteem: Bill Clinton, Madonna. She continues to believe in both the ’60s and rock and roll.
Paglia’s new book, out this month, is called Free Women, Free Men, and it compiles writings from throughout her career addressing sex, gender, and feminism — in other words, her most cherished and contentious themes. Paglia first came to prominence with the 1990 release of SexualPersonae. It was a 700-page book based on her Yale Ph.D. thesis, and the rare academic volume that might be described as swashbuckling. Sexual Personae cut an eccentric, interdisciplinary path across Western culture from antiquity onward, recounting what Paglia viewed as the ceaseless battle of nature (which is violent, irrational, untamable, and female) versus culture (aesthetic, logical, ever struggling and failing to tame nature, and, yes, male).
Amid the culture wars of the early ’90s, she presented a seductive alternative to liberal pieties, and to an academy in thrall to deconstructionism and multiculturalism. A self-described libertarian advocate of sexual freedom and free speech, she thought that second-wave feminism had become a homogenized, repressive force for ill (also, that it was intellectually bankrupt). What if, she demanded, Western civilization and the white men who built it deserved some credit? What if feminists were ignoring everything that was important not just about art but about sex? What if she, Camille Paglia, was the true feminist, because she believed women shouldn’t be asking some sexual-harassment grievance board to protect them from the world’s dangers? In her pop-culture-friendly tastes and in her noisy, splashy flair for performance, she offered herself as the populist foil to the liberal elite — she was, for a time, irresistible to the press, winning airtime and magazine covers, and claiming the throne of anti-PC provocateur par excellence. She made her name scorning all that the left held sacrosanct. “Her calling herself a feminist,” Gloria Steinem said back then, “is sort of like a Nazi saying they’re not anti-Semitic.”
Read more: New York Magazine http://nymag.com/thecut/2017/03/what-camille-paglia-understands-about-the-trump-era.html
With each day the ghost of Juvenal looms larger. This famed Roman satirist sought to capture the Emperor Domitian’s vice-infested culture, in the gloomy years ending the first century. The more people tried to censor him the more merciless his tongue became.
Trump’s America should study his incisive texts, including this famous passage often translated as “who is watching the watcher?” See:
Hey there, you
Who do you think you’re fooling [with] this masquerade…
I know the advice my old friends would give—“Lock her up
And bar the doors.” But who is to keep guard
Over the guards themselves? They get paid in common coin
To forget their mistress’s randy little adventures;
Both sides have something to hide. Any sensible wife,
Planning ahead, will first turn the heat on them.
–Juvenal’s Sixth Satire
(Trans. Peter Green. In Juvenal, Sixteen Satires (New York: Viking Penguin, 1985), 140.)
Through laughter he taught readers about fake news and kangaroo courts. The simple message in Satire VI, known as his diatribe on women, is this: See who’s paying the investigator, and you’ll know what general falsehoods the investigator is likely to come up with. Caveat Priebus.
Culture in the third phase
Three periods of the Roman Empire’s culture stand out. Just before and after the birth of Christ, Virgil’s Aeneid and Horace’s gentle satires trumpeted an Augustan “Romanitas” (or “Roman virtue”) for jittery citizens who survived decades of civil war to become the most powerful people in the whole world. Call this the “winsome phase.”
Mid-century, just after the end of Paul’s ministry, a generation of writers including Petronius (Satyricon) and Lucan (Pharsalia) reacted to the excesses of Nero’s reign by penning epic-length narratives full of viscera and gore. Call this the “gross phase.”
Over a century after Virgil’s Aeneid, in a third phase, Juvenal emerged as a new voice of satire. He felt neither inspired to offer virtuous stories nor compelled to use grotesquerie to mourn virtues lost. Call this the “crass phase.”
For Juvenal’s generation, all that remained was sarcastic exposés on the utter crudeness of a self-righteous but decadent society. He was perhaps like Bill Maher, only a social conservative. (His second satire, on sodomy, has already gotten him banned from Classics syllabi on politically correct campuses!)
To be fair—given the perverse transgender agenda of the modern left—my idea was that men (such as Bruce Jenner) would compete as “women.” My idea was not that female athletes who want to pretend that they are men (or boys)—and thus take athletic performance-enhancing drugs such as testosterone to help live such a deluded fantasy—would compete as females. I did not imagine this because (I thought) virtually every female athletic association would not allow such an advantage.
Of course, in most athletic associations this is the case, but at the high school level in the state of Texas, it seems there are exceptions. As has beenwidely reportedrecently, a female wrestler in Texas—Mack Beggs—has won the state championship in her division largely due to the fact that she has a significant competitive advantage: she’s taking steroids (testosterone).
Once upon a time, such behavior was widely considered cheating. In fact, some of the biggest scandals in sports history involve behavior virtually identical to that of Mack Beggs. (Alex Rodriguez took testosterone.) In fact, due to the widespread problem of “doping” (taking performance-enhancing drugs) in the world of athletics, in 1999, the World Anti-Doping Agency was created. Clearly (and always) on the list of banned substances: testosterone. In spite of being an endogenous (naturally occurring) anabolic androgenic (promotes male characteristics) steroid, testosterone use among athletes is prohibited if administered from outside the body.
In the modern era of sports, scandals involving performance-enhancing drugs are numerous. One of the largest examples (in terms of sheer volume of athletes and length of time) involves the Olympians of East Germany. In a tragic attempt to hide the real devastating effects of a communist government and a socialist economy, and instead to present itself as a strong, healthy nation, during the Cold War, the East German government began doping its athletes.
OUT of the way, human, I’ve got this covered. A machine learning system has gained the ability to write its own code.
Created by researchers at Microsoft and the University of Cambridge, the system, called DeepCoder, solved basic challenges of the kind set by programming competitions. This kind of approach could make it much easier for people to build simple programs without knowing how to write code.
“All of a sudden people could be so much more productive,” says Armando Solar-Lezama at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was not involved in the work. “They could build systems that it [would be] impossible to build before.”
Ultimately, the approach could allow non-coders to simply describe an idea for a program and let the system build it, says Marc Brockschmidt, one of DeepCoder’s creators at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK.
DeepCoder uses a technique called program synthesis: creating new programs by piecing together lines of code taken from existing software – just like a programmer might. Given a list of inputs and outputs for each code fragment, DeepCoder learned which pieces of code were needed to achieve the desired result overall.
The inevitable conflict between the mainstream media and Donald Trump has come to boil just four weeks into his presidency. The media are beside themselves that someone would castigate them at every opportunity and use hyperbole such as “enemy of the American people” and purveyors of “very fake news” to get under their skin, as their narcissism and sense of self-importance knows no bounds. They fail to understand why they are held in such disregard — polling has revealed only 32% of Americans trust the media (down from 55% in 2000) and why so many cheer Trump’s visceral attacks.
Over the past half-century, the mainstream media in the United States have evolved into interloculars for and the Praetorian Guard of the Ruling Class. They constitute a segment of society which is overwhelmingly Liberal, wealthy, self-centered, isolated, and brimming with disdain for the rabble that lives in fly-over country. Thus, what passes for journalism by the mass media is essentially a defense of the ideology, lifestyle and supremacy of their fellow travelers in the Ruling Class.
Nothing more reflects this mindset than the coverage of the Obama years. While anger with the media has been gradually building for the past fifty years, the Obama presidency more than amply explains why the current overwhelming level of disgust and mistrust of the media exists. And why a Donald Trump was elected President.
In January of 2009 the national debt of the United States stood at $10.6 Trillion, today it is $20.0 Trillion — an increase of 90% (and projected to reach $29.0 Trillion by 2026). On the other hand, despite the global recession of 2008-09, the debt of all the rest of nations on earth expanded by only 54% since 2008. Meanwhile the nation’s Gross Domestic Product grew by an anemic average of 1.4% per year (inflation adjusted) since 2008 the worst 8-year performance since the Great Depression. Yet Obama was given an eight-year pass, as the media chose to not question the administration’s blaming George W. Bush for all the economic ills of Obama’s two terms. Further, they willfully ignored or glossed over why the economy was not growing, while nearly every year of the Obama presidency claiming that the economy was on an significant upswing, and that mountainous budget deficits were not a concern. In essence they assumed the American people were gullible dupes when many were not.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: When even Slate now questions the “science” behind smoking bans, you know the science was BAD.)
Helena, Montana, does not often make global headlines, but in 2003 the small capital city became known for briefly achieving one of the most astounding public health triumphs ever recorded. In June of the previous year, Helena had implemented a comprehensive smoking ban in its workplaces, bars, restaurants, and casinos. In the first six months of the ban, the rate of heart attacks in the city plummeted by nearly 60 percent. Just as remarkably, when a judge struck down the smoking ban in November of that year, the rate of heart attacks shot right back up to its previous level.
For three anti-smoking advocates—local physicians Richard Sargent and Robert Shepard, and activist and researcher Stanton Glantz from the University of California at San Francisco—this sudden drop in heart attacks was proof that smoking bans usher in extraordinary benefits for public health. “This striking finding suggests that protecting people from the toxins in secondhand smoke not only makes life more pleasant; it immediately starts saving lives,” said Glantz in a press release sent out by UCSF.
What is going to happen to society when robots are able to do just about everything better, faster and cheaper than human workers can? We live at a time when technology is increasing at an exponential pace. Incredible advancements in robotics, computer science and artificial intelligence are certainly making our lives more comfortable, but they are also bringing fundamental changes to the workplace. For employers, there are a lot of advantages to replacing human workers with robots. Robots don’t surf around on Facebook when they are supposed to be working. Robots don’t need Obamacare, lunch breaks or vacation days. Robots never steal from the company and they never complain. Up until fairly recently, human workers could generally perform many tasks more cheaply than robots could, but now that is rapidly changing.
Tired of your barista misspelling your name on your morning cup of joe? Perhaps a robot could do better. On Monday, Cafe X opened its very first robotic cafe in San Francisco’s Metreon shopping center. Promising “precision crafted specialty coffee in seconds, the way the roaster intended,” Cafe X thinks that anything a human can do, its machines can do better.
Specifically, one very special machine. Nicknamed Gordon, after a Cafe X employee, this robot mans, or robots, two standard professional coffee machines in order to serve up espressos and lattes. In the San Francisco location, customers can grab a cup of coffee with beans from AKA Coffee, Verve Coffee Roasters, or Peet’s. While the coffee itself may not make Cafe X stand out from the competition, the startup hopes that the robot’s efficiency will.
If that coffee shop demonstrates that it can be much more profitable than a coffee shop with human employees, it is just a matter of time before human baristas start to be phased out all over the nation.
A similar thing is happening in many supermarkets. Personally, I hate the “self-checkout lines”, but you are starting to see them everywhere these days.
“Those who ignore history are doomed to listen to lectures from those who study history.”
~ Alan Poirier
As the scholars and politicians on the Left bemoan the resurgence of nationalism in the United States, Europe, India and Russia and are driven into fits of rage over the election President Donald Trump, they would do well to reflect on the forces that drive history.
In this respect, R.R. Palmer’s The Age of Democratic Revolution is a much unappreciated tome in comparison to the renowned essay by Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the book The End of History and the Last Man.
I remember reading Palmer’s award winning study of the American and French Revolutions back in my last year of high school in 1967 and thinking how incredibly well he had managed to pull together the disparate themes of the great exercises in popular will.
The late ’60s, of course, were a tumultuous time. There had been race riots in the United States and violent demonstrations worldwide against American involvement in the Vietnamese civil war. It seemed the people were once again on the move, restless and demanding change on all fronts – economic, social and political.
What Palmer showed was the American and French Revolutions were essentially outgrowths on the historic drive for individual liberty founded on a belief in natural rights.
That, of course, is the driving force of all Western civilization and, by extension, a driving force of countries which came under the control of the West in one form or another.
Those revolutions established the mold for the modern nation state and, by definition, nationalism. They established the rights of the individual and that the state existed to protect those rights.
That was truly revolutionary thinking and the world has been reeling from its effects for hundreds of years as peoples seek liberty and self-determination around the globe.
Of course, there were a few great thinkers like Fukuyama who argued History was essentially over because in the aftermath of World War II capitalism and socialism had merged into a synthetic, neo-liberalism embraced by the entire world. Communism was dead. The United Nations was in ascendance. The New World Order had arrived.
Well, history is back with a vengeance and nationalism is resurgent.
In the United States, Trump road to victory on the back of nationalism. It was nationalism that saw the British voted to leave the European Union. It is nationalism that is fueling Marine LePen’s march to victory in France. It is nationalism that brought Narendra Modi to power in India.
This resurgence of nationalism leaves some people filled with dread. In the U.S., for example, Democrats and their allies on the Left see nothing less than the reincarnation of Nazi Germany, whose toxic nationalism nearly enslaved an entire world. And those who believe globalism is the answer to all our problems are sickened by the thought the EU and the UN will crumble.
That nationalism can be a force for evil is true, but nationalism at its foundation is a force for good.
It is founded on the idea that the state exists to protect the rights of individuals, that liberty and equality are fundamental rights.
That is why Brexit succeeded in Britain and why Trump succeeded in the U.S. , because both campaigns vowed to put national interests first. For voters rightfully aggrieved by policies and institutions that took away rights, that took away economic and political liberties, that message rang true.
The campaigns succeeded too because individuals understand that all relationships are based on reciprocity, be they personal, social, economic or political. A person entering into any relationship has an expectation that that he or she will get as well as give. And if all you do is give and get nothing in return, then the relationship will fail.
Mainstream journalists to a man and woman have succumbed to the Trump Derangement Syndrome where everything newly elected President Donald Trump does is reproachable, evidence of xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia and every other politically correct phobia there is.
Case in point is the near universal hysteria in the press about Trump’s so-called Muslim ban.
To hear the bobble heads drone on after Trump signed the executive order temporarily halting entrance to travelers, immigrants and refugees from a number of countries one would think that the president had declared war on Islam.
What utter nonsense. This is not a Muslin ban. Repeat, THIS IS NOT A MUSLIM BAN.
Islam, after all, is not a religion exclusive to the Middle East. In fact, the top five Muslim countries are not even located in the Middle East.
Travel by citizens of Indonesia (210 million Muslims), India (176 million Muslims), Pakistan (168 million Muslims), Bangladesh (135 million Muslims) and Nigeria (78 million Muslims) is not affected by the order.
The countries whose citizens are affected are: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.
All of those countries are notorious breeding grounds for terrorists and, as such, pose a threat to the United States.
So how can the press promote the notion this TEMPORARY ban is a Muslim ban?
It is being portrayed by mainstream media as a Muslim ban because the press see themselves as the opposition to Trump and the Republican Party in the face of the decimation of the Democrats. Journalists have taken it upon themselves to oppose everything the new president does – everything.
This is not journalism. It is advocacy.
If journalists were doing their jobs, they would be pointing out that former President Barrack Obama did exactly the same thing in 2011.
What’s that? Yes, the feel good president of all time imposed a six month ban on the processing of immigration and refugees from Iraq in 2011.
The decision to stop processing Iraqi refugee requests for a full six months came after the FBI had discovered that several dozen terrorists from Iraq had infiltrated the United States via the refugee program.
Let that sink in for a moment. SEVERAL DOZEN TERRORISTS.
In other words, the vetting of refugees is nowhere as thorough as it should be.
In fact, the capture of one Waad Ramadan Alwan only came about because his fingerprints were found on a phone used to detonate an IED.
Let that sink in as well: It was PURE LUCK that this terrorist, who was living in the US and had gotten in as a refugee, was found.
The interesting part of about this little trip down memory lane is that NO ONE in the media said a blessed word about the ban. NOT A SINGLE JOURNALIST called Obama a xenophobe. No one said he was an Islamophobe.
Let that sink in: Obama was given a FREE PUBLIC RELATIONS ride courtesy of the press.
Today, you would be hard pressed to find a single journalist who has even bothered to read the executive order. If they had, they would know it contains no reference to Muslims, that the ban is temporary, that the president calls upon agencies to address deficiencies in the vetting process and has given them strict deadlines to follow.
Let that sink in: The leader of a nation which has been a target of terrorist attacks temporarily halts travel from countries that harbor terrorists until security agencies can develop proper vetting procedures.
Does that sound unreasonable? Was it unreasonable when Obama did the very same thing, but failed to manage the security agencies responsible for improving vetting procedures?
Trump’s first duty is to Americans, to ensure their safety and security. That is what national leaders are supposed to do. Yet he is being castigated by gutless journalists for doing his job.
The press is destroying whatever little bit of credibility it has left. Less than 40 per cent of Americans trust the media today. It used to be 70 per cent. Soon it will be zero.