MonthJune 2011

When Libertarians Were Socialists

I read these two articles years ago, and spent some time tracking them back down today. The main purpose of this post is to place links to these essays here so that I can refer back to them later. I pass them on with context, but no comment.

1. State Socialism and Anarchism by Benjamin Tucker, a proponent of individualist anarchism, a predecessor to modern libertarianism. The essay was written in 1886. The position put forward in this piece is summarized on the Wikipedia entry on Tucker:

According to historian of American individualist anarchism, Frank Brooks, it is easy to misunderstand Tucker’s claim of “socialism.” Before Marxists established a hegemony over definitions of “socialism, “the term socialism was a broad concept.” Tucker (as well as most of the writers and readers in Liberty) understood “socialism” to refer to any of various theories and demands aimed to solve “the labor problem” through radical changes in the capitalist economy; descriptions of the problem, explanations of it causes, and proposed solutions (for example, abolition of private property, cooperatives, state-ownership, and so on.) varied among “socialist” philosophies. Tucker said socialism was the claim that “labor should be put in possession of its own,” holding that what “state socialism” and “anarchistic socialism” had in common was the labor theory of value. However, “Instead of asserting, as did socialist anarchists, that common ownership was the key to eroding differences of economic power,” and appealing to social solidarity, Tucker’s individualist anarchism advocated distribution of property in an undistorted natural market as a mediator of egoistic impulses and a source of social stability. Tucker said, “the fact that one class of men are dependent for their living upon the sale of their labour, while another class of men are relieved of the necessity of labour by being legally privileged to sell something that is not labour. . . . And to such a state of things I am as much opposed as any one. But the minute you remove privilege. . . every man will be a labourer exchanging with fellow-labourers . . . What Anarchistic-Socialism aims to abolish is usury . . . it wants to deprive capital of its reward.”

From the essay:

The economic principles of Modern Socialism are a logical deduction from the principle laid down by Adam Smith in the early chapters of his Wealth of Nations,—namely, that labor is the true measure of price. But Adam Smith, after stating this principle most clearly and concisely, immediately abandoned all further consideration of it to devote himself to showing what actually does measure price, and how, therefore, wealth is at present distributed. Since his day nearly all the political economists have followed his example by confining their function to the description of society as it is, in its industrial and commercial phases. Socialism, on the contrary, extends its function to the description of society as it should be, and the discovery of the means of making it what it should be. Half a century or more after Smith enunciated the principle above stated, Socialism picked it up where he had dropped it, and in following it to its logical conclusions, made it the basis of a new economic philosophy.

The abandonment of the labor theory of value is one difference between the anarchism of then and the libertarianism of today.

2. Herbert Spencer, Labortarian, a blog post including two excerpts from Herbert Spencer‘s book Principles of Sociology Part VIII: Industrial Institutions (published in 1896), one on the subject of labor unions and one on the subject worker cooperatives. In short, Spencer believes both are valuable and that the latter could possibly solve major problems in labor.

Spencer, well known in his time, is perhaps best remembered as the original Social Darwinist and coiner of the term “survival of the fittest” (though he may not fit the stereotype of a Social Darwinist). He too was an influence what became modern libertarianism.

An Interview with Infamous Meth Chef Uncle Fester

Tracking down the reference for the process of making meth with pseudoephedrine and red phosphorous led me to stumble upon the above video interview with Uncle Fester, author of books like Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacture and Practical LSD Manufacture.

Uncle Fester also has a website, which includes a PDF of an interview done by the staff Loompanics and an article on meth production in which he is quoted. I recently finished watching the first three seasons of Breaking Bad, so I find this stuff interesting.

I might as well also plug my friends (and past EsoZone sponsors) Last Word Books and Earthlight Books, who have a wide variety of old Loompanics books in stock.

This Heroin Alternative “Eats Flesh” – But How?

Several people in my circle shared this article from the Independent about krokodil (pronounced crocodile), the street name for a home cooked heroin alternative in Russia. Krokodil is made by processing codeine into desomorphine, which is stronger than heroin but doesn’t last as long. According to the article, “It was given its reptilian name because its poisonous ingredients quickly turn the skin scaly.” After that, the article says, their skin starts to literally rot off.

But how exactly is desomorphone turning people into lizards? I looked up desomorphine in Wikipedia and found this Time article on the same subject. The Time article says:

At the injection site, which can be anywhere from the feet to the forehead, the addict’s skin becomes greenish and scaly, like a crocodile’s, as blood vessels burst and the surrounding tissue dies. Gangrene and amputations are a common result, while porous bone tissue, especially in the lower jaw, often starts to dissipate, eaten up by the drug’s acidity.

Gangrene explains the “rotting,” but gangrene is caused by bacterial infection and is a potential side effect of any unsafe IV drug use. So what’s with the green, scaly skin that precedes the rotting? I couldn’t find anything. The Wikipedia entry and some commenters on the Independent article indicate that it’s not actually desomorphine (which was sold commercially under the name Permonid for some time), but the impurities of its extraction from codeine pills. According to Time, addicts use “gasoline, paint thinner, hydrochloric acid, iodine and red phosphorous, which they scrape from the striking pads on matchboxes” to make krokodil from codeine. As the Wikipedia entry points out, that sounds similar to one of the easiest ways of making methamphetamine from pseudoephedrine.

The Independent also mentions the frequency of administration, difficulties addicts face finding veins and the use of dirty needles. I suspect these details may help explain the damaging effects. Due to desomorphine’s short duration, users have to shoot up more frequently the users of other drugs. This leads to collapsed veins and injections that miss veins. Add dirty needles to the mix, and the risk for gangrene infection goes up. It’s also possible that impurities in krokidil lead to scaly skin before gangrene infection occurs.

Another note: perhaps the name doesn’t really derive from the effect it has on the skin. According to Wikipedia, desomorphine is derived from a chemical called a-chlorocodide. I don’t think it would be a stretch to suggest “chlorocodide” as the source of the street name.

Latest Drug Scare: Oxi, a “Highly Addictive Hallucinogenic” That is “Twice as Powerful as Crack Cocaine”.

What’s Next for Cognitive Training Games?

brain

Most of the cognitive training games of 2011 resemble the simple games you can play online for free or apps designed for smartphones. However, in ten years, we can expect many of the big developers, following Nintendo’s lead, to introduce critical gaming elements. Envision games featuring improved graphics, compelling gameplay, and engaging storylines that compel players to train their brains often and in a variety of ways. Imagine a role-playing game (RPG) in which your character’s level and progress are determined in part by your performance on a variety of cognitive training tasks, and the selection of tasks are dependent on the class chosen by the player, and thus tailored made for each individual user. Much in the same way that RPG style games will foster unique training experiences, cognitive training games in general will become tailored to individual interests, focusing on training specific cognitive mechanisms, rather than providing a general training regimen that the user may not be looking for. [...]

Non-Conscious Defenses- Starting all the way back in the 1950’s, firms have sought to understand human psychology in order to capitalize on our biases and tendencies through influencing us on the sub-conscious level. In the past couple decades however, research into non-conscious processing and subliminal priming have begun to unravel the fascinating ways that people develop preferences for products and how they estimate value. Companies have been following this research closely and already implement their findings into many forms of media: magazines, movies and even presidential election commercials (5). Expect that training games will begin to offer cognitive defenses against advertising seeking to influence us on the sub conscious level.

The Future of Brain Workouts

See also: N-Back Training Exercise Still Holding Up in Tests

Poll: Would You Buy a Technoccult Premium Dossier on Life Extension?

One of the various ways that media organizations make money is by selling special reports. These include technical white papers from Information Week or the various guides from Vice or the very high-end business data from The Economist or the dubious quality “info products” from Internet marketers. I’ve written about this before.

I’ve been thinking about doing something like this for a while, but have never been sure what I could cover that would be of interest here. Then it occurred to me: life extension. I’ve covered a number of studies on how to improve your own longevity, and I’ve been following the transhumanist thing with some interest for years. I could do a “premium dossier” covering everything from practical longevity to Kurzweilian ideas. Studies covered would use the rating system I proposed earlier.

It would probably be between 20 and 40 pages, and cost, say, $23 (it’s called “premium” for a reason). It would be available in multiple formats – PDF, epub, HTML, etc. No copy protection.

It would happen when it happens – I’m still plenty busy writing for ReadWriteWeb, it would take a while to write an extra 20-40 pages on the side. That’s part of why I’m asking in advance about interest.

What do you think?


Technoccult Interview: Douglas Rushkoff On Kicking the Consensus Reality Habit

Douglas Rushkoff
Photo by Johannes Kroemer

“Are you a practicing occultist?” was the first question Douglas Rushkoff asked me when I met him at the Webvisions conference in Portland, OR. It’s not a typical question for a keynote speaker to ask a journalist he’s just met at a technology event. Then again, Rushkoff is not a typical keynote, and I’m not a typical journalist. After all, I’d just introduced myself as a writer for ReadWriteWeb and Technoccult.

“No, not anymore,” I told him.

“I’m thinking about starting up again. I feel like I’ve been fooled by all of this,” he said, gesturing around the room.

“All of what?” I asked him.

“Consensus reality,” he told me. He went on to talk about the vitality that practicing magicians like Phil Farber and Grant Morrison have. We chatted a bit longer about our common interests, and made an appointment to meet up for an interview. I talked to him about some of the themes of his new book, Program or Be Programmed, and the Contact Summit, which he’s co-organizing with Venessa Miemis and Michel Bauwens. You can find that portion of the interview at ReadWriteWeb. Then we got into stuff that fits better on this site.

Rushkoff is disappointed about how technology is being used today. He describes feeling of computer networks in 1991 as being like taking acid – there was a sense that anything was possible. In Cyberia he wrote that the only people that would be able to handle the new information reality would be psychedelic people and kids. He expanded upon the notion that kids would just inherently get cyberspace in Playing the Future.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Rushkoff admits he was wrong about kids just getting cyberculture. He says recent studies have found that younger Internet users are more likely to fall for hoaxes or believe incorrect things they read on the Internet. Young people are less critical, not more.

Meanwhile, technology has become more about control than about liberation from consensus reality.

“When Video Toaster for the Amiga came out everyone was really excited,” he Rushkoff said. “We believed that we could use it to create deeply alternative states of consciousness using lights and colors and things.”

“Today, those technologies are used by companies like Fox News to make you pay attention to what they want you to pay attention to, or to make your eye fall on a particular ad. Stuff like that.”

But he says if you know how the program works, you’re less likely to be hypnotized by it. “There’s two ways to experience magic,” he says. “And I don’t mean stage magic.” You can either experience it as a spectator, watching a priest or guru. Or you can participate. “Having a guru will only take you so far,” he said. “You have to become the guru.”

But it’s not easy. Rushkoff admits he’s been having trouble participating in magic these days. “My sense is that the suppositional conditioning that I’ve undergone – making a living, raising a kid, keeping a house in working order, paying a mortgage – I’ve expended a lot of energy in less efficient ways,” he said. “I’ve become less trusting of the more subtle ways of influencing the world around me.”

“Part of that is because the stakes are higher,” he said. “I’ve got a real kid, a real wife, a real house, a real bank account, a real mortgage. When it was just me, the stakes were lower. It was just ‘Will I get this book deal?’ and ‘Will I get with this girl?’ Not expending that energy in the conventional ways wouldn’t lead to catastrophic failures.”

He said he hasn’t reached a point where the stakes are lower. “I’ve just gotten to a point where this is no longer working for me. Too many of my day-to-day concerns are not consonant with the way I want to experience the world. It’s about maintaining security, avoiding death and getting things done.”

He says he’s not interested in performing rituals or ceremonies. Instead he said “I want to maintain a greater availability towards pattern recognition. A greater sensitivity to the subtle effects of my actions.”

He wants to spend more of his time and energy connecting with people and “Being and experiencing myself as part of the unfolding of reality.”

So what stands in the way?

“The cultural things in my life and how I relate to them are all fairly rigid – marriage, schools, etc.” he says. “But unless you find an intentional community, it’s hard to feel that balanced. But I feel it can be done.”

I mention that Grant Morrison seems to pull this off. “Yeah, but he’s childless,” Rushkoff replied. He explains that he’s worried that if he goes off the deep end, he’d end up with some fucked up kids. “I don’t know if that’s because of society or what,” he says, pointing out that society has certain expectations from parents and childhoods and your children can end up being the victims of your choices, even if it’s not fair.

I told him that I don’t have kids, but society still limits what I can do. “Right, money is a big limiting factor,” he says.

“It’s like Bill Hicks said,” I replied. “‘You think you’re free? Trying going anywhere without fucking money.'”

“Yeah, not everyone can move out to the woods, and have solar panels and all that. It’s just not sustainable.”

I told him about EsoZone, and how part of my intention for it was to create a sort of urban Burning Man – a semi-autonomous zone that people could bus or bike to, instead of something way out in the desert away from civilization.

“Yeah, and that’s great,” he said. “But it’s temporary. It’s like acid. When you come down, the question is always ‘how can I make this last forever?'”

And it’s at that point that someone from the event came over and told him it was time to get ready to go on stage and we had to part ways before I could get to the other questions on my list about localism, alternative currencies, etc.

But I’ve been thinking about this last point – how do we make these special experiences last forever? Part of the point, I think, of these sorts of shamanistic experiences – whether it’s Burning Man, or drugs, or fever or lucid dreaming or whatever – is that they are temporary but that you can take something of value away from them and apply it to normal, every day life.

I relate to Rushkoff’s experience, even though I’m childless. My day-to-day concerns are meeting my deadlines for work, making sure I have enough money in the bank for rent, my conference travel schedule, the best types of dish washer tablets and whether my wife and I need a new coffee maker. I’m considering buying a subscription to Consumer Reports, and what sort of retirement savings account is best for me.

Did we learn nothing from our experiences that we can bring back into our day-to-day lives? Are there really no options between being square or living on a commune?

I for one choose not to be believe that.

Since this interview, I made it a point to work less and to spend more time with friends. Even before the interview I’d been realizing that I didn’t do much actual socializing on social media. Twitter and Tumblr are participatory, but not particularly social. I use Facebook mostly as a way to send and receive invitations, and as a sort of back-up e-mail system. I want to spend more time connecting with people, and I’m doing my best to do that.

But there does seem to be something else that’s missing. As we parted ways, Rushkoff told me to feel free to e-mail him if I came across anything that I thought would help him in his situation. I chuckled, saying that it’s the exact same situation seemingly everyone is in.

Scientists Want to Make a Lysergic Acid Factory from Microbes

Lysergic acid

The headline for The Guardian article about this says the scientists want to make LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), but the article itself says they want to make lysergic acid (with no diethylamide), a precursor to LSD with other uses.

They said developing biofuels was a terrible business strategy, because fuel was so cheap. Why not make expensive compounds, like pharmaceuticals, instead?

The advice got Wintermute thinking. What was the most valuable compound they could make with the toolkit of synthetic biology? Some research came up with a few candidates including a few very sophisticated cancer drugs. But another compound was up there in monetary terms: LSD. The value by weight was astronomical.

Wintermute and his colleagues had a good laugh about that. But the more they looked into it, the more interesting – and viable – the drug looked. Around 20 tonnes of lysergic acid, a precursor of LSD, are made each year and turned into real medicines, such as nicergoline, a treatment for dementia. The drug is purified from big vats of fungus (which make the compound naturally) using technology developed decades ago.

The Guardian: Harvard scientists to make LSD factory from microbes

(via DrBenway23)

Trailer for Cronenberg’s Movie on Freud and Jung

Mentioned previously here, A Dangerous Method is directed by David Cronenberg and stars Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud, Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung, Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein and Vincent Cassel as Otto Gross.

(Thanks James!)

For more on Cronenberg, see our dossier on him

Most Students Don’t Learn Much in College Researchers Say

Academically Adrift

[This post refers to a study with a large sample, but which has not been replicated]

One of the arguments in favor of college is that, regardless of whether you learn practical content in college or whether it helps you find a better job, at least it teaches you to “learn how to learn” and enriches you with knowledge. Unfortunately, according to research presented in the book Academically Adrift, colleges aren’t doing a very good job of this. The authors used the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which measures skills like critical thinking and analytic reasoning to assess 2,300 students enrolled in several different colleges.

According to Inside Higher Education, the authors found:

  • 45 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” during the first two years of college.
  • 36 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” over four years of college.
  • Those students who do show improvements tend to show only modest improvements. Students improved on average only 0.18 standard deviations over the first two years of college and 0.47 over four years. What this means is that a student who entered college in the 50th percentile of students in his or her cohort would move up to the 68th percentile four years later — but that’s the 68th percentile of a new group of freshmen who haven’t experienced any college learning.

Inside Higher Education: Academically Adrift

There are various causes for this lack of learning, but low expectations from professors is allegedly the biggest cause. Students are getting by with less and less work and being rewarded for it. But what’s causing the grade inflation? The demand to keep enrollment up may be one cause, exacerbated by professors desire to reduce the amount of work they must grade. This avoidance assigning more work may itself be caused by budget cutting at universities, and by professors’ focus on their own research instead of teaching.

Another interesting finding is that business, education and social work majors learn less than those in other majors. This lengthy New York Times piece looks at the sorry state of undergraduate business education, and notes that my own major (communications) was among the worst as well.

This study has not, to my knowledge, been replicated. But according to New York Times higher education blogger Jacques Steinberg, it is consistent with the finds of the National Survey of Student Engagement, which found that students spend relatively little time studying.

William Gibson on the Creation of Cyberspace

Apple ads

The Paris Review has an interview with Gibson in which he explains how her arrived upon the idea of cyberspace. I knew the famous story about seeing the Apple ad at the bus stop, but in this he puts the whole process together:

I was walking around Vancouver, aware of that need, and I remember walking past a video arcade, which was a new sort of business at that time, and seeing kids playing those old-fashioned console-style plywood video games. The games had a very primitive graphic representation of space and perspective. Some of them didn’t even have perspective but were yearning toward perspective and dimensionality. Even in this very primitive form, the kids who were playing them were so physically involved, it seemed to me that what they wanted was to be inside the games, within the notional space of the machine. The real world had disappeared for them—it had completely lost its importance. They were in that notional space, and the machine in front of them was the brave new world.

The only computers I’d ever seen in those days were things the size of the side of a barn. And then one day, I walked by a bus stop and there was an Apple poster. The poster was a photograph of a businessman’s jacketed, neatly cuffed arm holding a life-size representation of a real-life computer that was not much bigger than a laptop is today. Everyone is going to have one of these, I thought, and everyone is going to want to live inside them. And somehow I knew that the notional space behind all of the computer screens would be one single universe.

Paris Review: William Gibson, The Art of Fiction

Unfortunately, in order to read the whole interview you have to buy the entire issue in print. Update: The whole interview is now available.

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