Reflections on Five Years and Why Numbers Matter

Numbers matter. I commenced this on December 7 of 2021, a day of intrigue for several reasons. As a child, I would have connected this day solely with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, described by Franklin Roosevelt to be “a date which will live in infamy.” More important to me is that December 7, 1928 was the day Noam Chomsky entered this world. And today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the debut of Democracy Now!, an independent media organization devoted to covering the news of the world largely omitted by the mainstream press. I’ve just returned from the Farewell Nichelle Nichols convention in Los Angeles, and though I’d consider the execution by Atomic an utter logistics disaster, I nonetheless met some awesome folks, including an ethnics studies professor, Marcelo Garzo Montalvo, his partner Zoila Lara-Cea, along with others, including Anne Burton, a physician and woman of color from Michigan. Our discussions throughout the weekend enlightened me greatly, furnishing common ground between indigenousness, color, and sexual orientation, a topic to which I’ll return later.

Five years ago, I started this blog with the aim, as stated earlier, to inform and hopefully prompt my fellow technologists to recognize and apply their collective power to better the world about us. Of course, the election of Trump coinciding with my inaugural post is by no means incidental–he has proven to be the most dangerous person in world history, to say nothing of the worst of American presidents. I’m hardly a fan of any of them, but his was an order of more terrible than all those preceding him.

But as I reflect on the past five years, I’m persuaded of the soundness of Stuart Stevens’ central argument: Trump was an aberration only in the brazenness of the cruelty, racism, and classism. One can trace the roots, at least in the modern GOP, to Barry Goldwater’s bid for the White House in 1964. Rather a shock to party insiders, Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act, destroying black support for Republican politicians. Almost sixty years later, the Republicans maintain a narrow minority hold on the state sector, trumpeting exclusivism and hysteria with no articulated platform. Feral labels the party well.

Joe Biden managed to win the White House a year ago, claiming a few states typically thought to go to Republicans. It was a favorable achievement, and Biden chose to advance a saner climate policy than I ever expected. And yet the fifty republican senators represent 143 million people, while the fifty democratic counterparts represent 185 million, according to a piece in the Guardian released last March. That is, the republican half of the senate play surrogate for 44% of the population, while the other 56% contend with the democratic half. Pew Research numbers suggest that 44% of the population lean republican, while 49% lean democratic. Yet Mitch McConnell retains immense power, along with the skewed U.S. Supreme Court. I mentioned statistics on the past decades, namely forty years of presidential elections. In particular, Republicans assumed the White House in six out of the past ten quadrennial extravaganzas, though two of those elections lost them the popular vote, and the 2004 election remains rather suspicious, considering the brazen and vicious disenfranchisement of minority voting blocs in Ohio and other battleground states, a phenomenon documented exhaustively by investigative journalist Greg Palast. Palast doggedly researched racial disenfranchisement long before mainstream media decided to take interest in 2016 and 2020. I remember reading about the dilapidated polling equipment, last minute adjustments, early closures, and unreasonable wait times in poorer, generally more democratic districts. No major outlet, at least that I could find at the time, reported on this. Instead, they posed the heady question, “should Al Gore resign?” This was despite the fact that the Florida split of votes saw neither candidate with a statistically significant head. Yes, numbers matter. As a thought experiment, imagine that one hundred people participate in an election, and for greater simplicity, let us assume only two possible choices. Suppose one candidate receives 52 votes, the other 48. First, let’s consider the hypothesis that neither candidate enjoys a lead over the other among those who voted. Through the science that is statistics, we can show that the difference between votes tallied could be two or more some 68% of the time, meaning the votes leave us without a clear winner.

To complicate matters further, let’s say that eight percent of votes count the wrong direction one way, whereas only two percent count the other (the true differences are much more striking, but this example would demonstrate the quagmire nonetheless.) So the process is this–votes are tallied, then something random happens, shifting two percent one way and five the other. So in the expectation, if neither truly holds an advantage among voters, this random process, at expectation, leaves us with 56 to 44, even under the uniform hypothesis that each candidate should receive fifty percent of the votes. So it seems very clear that 52-to-48 tells us nothing about the true outcome.

This is, in fact, precisely how the system works. We know from decades of polling that people prefer, in general, progressive policy. We know that the Democratic party represents a broader coalition of voters than does the party of the space cadets. Even those from within the Republican party confess the narrowing of the tent. So numbers matter. Maybe not to everyone, but if we start from the axiom that democracy best functions among all forms of government, we cannot deem our biennial pantomimes to be true elections.

Matters are worse, to quote the pop culture bastion of wisdom, Yoda. The release of Facebook internal reports and memoranda by whistleblower Frances Haugen, reported by the New York Times, paints a frightening picture of the new national norm, something to which I can attest anecdotally from a recent visit to Texas, and to which I have long suspected. We live in a world of severely divergent narratives.

My personal experience with the narrative divergence has led to frightening discoveries. A cousin believes the world is, in fact, flat. An aunt, along with this cousin, believe that Hillary Clinton supports a child sex trafficking ring in Washington, and, newly brought to my attention, that she sacrifices and eats infants. These are not stupid people. I left my home state flabbergasted, questioning my perception of reality. I felt as though I’d never known these people. Thank goodness for the positive, spirited friends and family there.

I decided I must understand this divergence. And I think it’s pretty obvious, especially now that I’ve tested this metaphor on a few people, to applause. Consider we are living in the 1980s, and for most of us in America, we draw our news from papers, journals, periodicals, and, of course, television. Now, imagine that in 1984, a race of aliens descended, and through a series of machinations, purchased all media sources. And thenceforth, they would take the New York Times, for instance, and create two separate versions each day of the paper’s run. Half of subscribers would see one version, half would see the others. Now, the rub is that neither of two subscribers know that they’re receiving different versions. They only know that over time, people begin disagreeing on more and more commonsense and intuitive thinking. For one, it could be that Reagan was fitted with hearing aids, the other with glasses, but no mention of the other in either. These changes grow, and finally, after just a few years, people are prepared to kill one another under a delusion of understanding the world.

This is precisely where we are now. Only we replace the aliens’ collective mischief with the cancerous greed of multinationals, flush with cash while avoiding regulations. Facebook, now calling itself Meta to confuse its critics, places dwell time of its users ahead of the truth. So, if you click on links suggesting Hillary hankers for the blood of the aborted fetuses, the algorithms will feed you more and more slight variations on the topics of interest to you. This is true of all search algorithms running behind ads on the major search engines and social media. It takes little commonsense to understand this, but we now confront willful ignorance, flaunting of the elite media’s failure to deliver messages of real value to people. CNN may not fabricate as much as Fox, but it certainly neglected its duties leading into 2016.

The fearful among us find new terrors, the angry find more provocation, the hopeful more despair. The recent release Matrix Resurrections couldn’t have put it better: the Analyst, a character representing control, cheers weaponizing feelings in maintaining his ideal order over human beings. The same takes place within big technology, whether we in the sector want to believe it or not. Lana Wachowski and David Mitchell remain true to form, highlighting our frailties with blinding clarity and clever storytelling. My favorite movie remains Cloud Atlas, despite competition from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Alien, Interstellar, The Shawshank Redemption, and Twelve Angry Men.

The new political spectrum, satirized recently by Robert Reich, raises a notion of “immodest moderation”, or appropriation of the unassuming label “moderate” to justify extreme positions. But Reich misses one of the more unpleasant realizations one can draw from the whole affair: “moderateness” has become the cult of the self. One of my acquaintances swears that Biden raped his daughter, that climate change is too politicized to lead to any reasonable conclusions, and that voter fraud is rampant. No evidence exists for these claims, but so long as one feels moderate, he need not question his perspective. After all, it means all things wise, and all things mad. It is the ultimate expression in our political economy of the obstinate misanthrope. It’s become more of a thing in recent years as we’ve watched the American political spectrum distort, as though one were examining it with a carnival funhouse mirror. I’ve heard Noam and others suggest for a long time. Returning to Reich, he has studied politics for fifty years, and his positions haven’t changed much. But the spectrum has shifted tremendously, letting the conspiracists and extremists lay their paws on normalizing labels. I think this follows from a very real human need to feel normal, to feel rational, to be correct. I would be a liar if I said I didn’t often feel the same way. To me, democracy, and commonsense economical thinking should go hand-in-glove with altruism, solidarity, egalitarianism, and anarcho-syndicalism. Are my views moderate? Are they normal? Are they rational? It can be a conceit, no matter how I might disguise it. My point is that one can find no value in thinking this way. It conveys virtually no information to proclaim my own correctness. Would I trumpet my own lies and vices? I just can’t think of a non-pathological person who professes to promote fabrications. Because of this bizarre shift in political perception, it leads to moderates opposing vaccination, something one couldn’t find in the history of such paradigm-busting medical advances. Their labels are lies, though they don’t necessarily know it. In fact, the most accomplished liars among us likely don’t know they’re doing it. To me, this self-deception sprays gasoline on an all-consuming fire, separating us, dividing us into our cult of self. Perhaps it’s just a pedantic observation, but so be it. Then again, statistician Nate Silver comments on the cult of moderation: independents and moderates believe everything. They may think of themselves as free-thinking, counting themselves among the very wise. But they’ll literally believe anything. Any conspiracy theory that affirms their claims to moderateness. Why am I not surprised?

Speaking of Noam, the man at ninety-three remains perhaps the world’s most important living mind; my uncle calls him the “secular Jesus,” a very high compliment. Few who live so long remain so productive, so dedicated to the causes he’s supported for most of a century. He could simply retire; goodness knows his many allies, myself included, would never fault him for taking the break he deserves. But instead, he continues. I’m loathed to paraphrase one of the most despicable men in the world to describe one of the most hallowed, but nevertheless, Noam persists. In recent work, he observes that anti-science evangelical fascism has never been so well-organized, despite antecedents persisting throughout American history. The RAND corporation remarks that fifty trillion dollars have been “transferred” from the bottom ninety percent of the population to the top in the past forty years. Numbers matter. Pew Research in 2020 found that one in three Americans do not believe scientists ought play a role in policymaking. The Guardian reports that one in three republicans believe violence may be necessary to save America. Social collapse is what Noam calls this. The neoliberalism has destroyed household wealth for most of the country, and thus even the slightest cataclysm leads to bankruptcy. It seems insane that during the Great Depression, a time of great suffering and deprivation for Americans, those same Americans were hopeful, chasing social democracy. Noam observes that Europe fell to fascism while America ascended to a conscientious labor class democracy, yet the opposite seems to be happening now. Distrust among Americans remains severe; almost everywhere I go, those employees willing to remain in the service industry, drawing pitiful wages, feel the weight of caustic American customer egoism: if I pay you, I may abuse you. It’s heartbreaking, despite the tremendous wealth in our nation. These people suffer. And yet simple measures, outlined in the meager Build Back Better plan Biden submitted to Congress, may never see the light of day. One hundred percent of republican senators oppose paid maternity leave, astonishing, considering the sworn adherence to family values. Blow up Planned Parenthood, but starve the mommies and babies saved for the eternal hell most evangelicals see in their future. Two democratic senators, Joe Manchin, and Kyrsten Sinema, trumpet their immodest moderation, the cult of self, honoring the lobbies flooding them with cash, oppose Biden’s ever whittled Build Back Better; they so remind me of Susan Collins’ desperately self-aggrandizing speech on why she would support confirmation of an alleged rapist to the US Supreme Court. The narcissism of the moderate’s cult of self astounds, genuinely. Millions of Americans would benefit from these social programs. But do numbers matter if no one hears about them? If we do, in fact, commit omnicide, an alien species in the future may dig through our landfills to discover how many glass bottles we wasted. Robert Reich often speaks of the cost of doing nothing, reminding the so-called fiscal conservatives (an idiot moniker, considering the giveaway grab bag of limited liability, tax sheltering, IP, and all the other flows of cash into the pockets of shareholders) cannot even discuss the cost to the world if we fail to address the catastrophic climate change occurring around us. Jesus, everywhere I’ve lived in the past eleven years, four metropolitan areas, experienced the most intense weather in recorded history, just in the years I was there. Despite the hilariously convoluted word salad of professional moron Jordan Peterson, climate change is real. Peterson may very well be the most bizarre of right wing fetishes, for he professes everything, and nothing. His attitude is essentially, “how dare you claim to be able to study microbes, because telescopes don’t work for that.” Zeugmas abound, the mother’s resentment coupled with the rustle of enemies in the bushes behind you; Nathan Robinson offers a pretty good look at the immodest moderate philosopher. Peterson finds a home in disaffected white men, offering them solace in a world that despises them. They aren’t evil, after all. In fact, they’re victims too. Everything has been taken from the straight white man, for he didn’t earn the elite advantages on purpose. Admittedly, I once felt this way, though I can thank my lucky stars that being gay forced me to think differently. That and a marvelous handful of teachers: Clyde, Candy, Pat, you know who you are. Yet my high school counselor told me that white men were having a terrible time getting into colleges, and, oddly, I believed her at the time.

Five years of blogging make me wonder whether the form reaches anyone. It’s unfair to say it is ignored, for the stats suggest something else. But early last year, I suffered with COVID cognitive fog, and I discovered one thing I could do without my once powerful memory and power to focus helping me along: fiction. I decided to write a novel. I wrote short stories as a kid, and a few stories for a creative writing course in college, but that was it. For twenty years, in fact, I’ve written only nonfiction. I thought of the best of Star Trek, a vehicle for social commentary set in a fantastic future in which humans, by and large, act upon their better angels. I decided to place my novel in said universe, sequelizing the confusing yet raw Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. What began as an idea on describing the Trump cult phenomenon in a the fictional heavenly twin golden worlds of Novis Prime and Novis Lumid became a trilogy of novels, Star Trek: The Revenant of the Soul. Of course, publishing a Star Trek novel would prove nearly impossible in a first pass, so I’ve devoted the past four months to writing another novel, one I hope to submit for publication soon; it is a book that examines the contemporary world, superimposing upon it my own conspiracy theory. Hell, it’s as plausible as anything else. The point would be that fiction may be the best means of communicating ideas. I once thought that only a well-lived life could supply the makings of a good story. Four decades and change might well be that. We’ll have to see what happens.

At the very least, I aim to cover some interesting topics this year, with interviews of my cousin Carlos Robinson, an up and coming labor leader in public education, and with my uncle Charles Slagle, the liberal evangelist, and more. The aim here is in helping sides understand one another; there isn’t going to be a shootout at the OK Corral that resolves differences between the willfully ignorant and timid optimists. Violence almost always galvanizes opposition, and our society is fraying, racing to a precipice of trinitarian maladies: nuclear destruction, civil war, and ecological collapse. All three may happen, and even one will spell doom. Five years feels like a long time. I’m hopeful that 2022 might lead to some real change.