Dominic’s Basilisk, Part 2: The Age of Social Capital

“The worse, the better” – Lenin (who probably didn’t say it, which didn’t stop his fans)

“I never dreamed in a million years I’d see so many motherfuckin’ people who feel like me. Who share the same views and the same exact beliefs. It’s like a fuckin’ army marchin’ in back of me” – Eminem (who definitely did say that, which didn’t stop his fans either)

Part 1 can be found here: https://irrationallyspeaking.home.blog/2019/10/22/dominics-basilisk-part-1/

This stuff is getting very Notes From Underground, albeit with prose pacier than Dostoevsky would ever have imagined. There’s a lot more time to think in outer Siberia, or even Samara, than Edinburgh, facts finding, but it isn’t Dominic Cummings’s fault that the guys downstairs refurbishing their shit are at the time of writing 20 minutes over the legal limit and nearly a month over their declared refurbishing deadline. I suppose I should thank them for the energy. Them or Barr. But it is confusing that Cummings, who was at one time so obsessed with getting the lifts to work at “Number 10” (ugh) just made it known today that he wants to collect every freak and weirdo in Britain to jerry rig the government to work in his service, probably with a high-powered drill to someone’s skull.

I know I know, we saw this way back when, when Tony Blair had British citizens extraordinarily renditioned to Guantanamo Bay for a 24 hours a day 7 days a week years-long free Iron Maiden concert (or was it Metallica? Years of excessive heavy metal have rendered other minds than mine vulnerable to memory loss). But hear me out, this time is different (I didn’t say better, I said different). This time the infamous couch is exclusively open to the people least qualified to sit on it, instead of the people who paid the most to be in the room, merely regardless of whether they’re qualified to be in it.

Why would somebody who cares so much about making the lifts work in the post-colonial equivalent of the Oval Office be so concerned with only hiring the people who only know lifts as something you get access to with your gym membership? Cummings allegedly wants “weirdos” and “misfits” with “odd skills”. Not traditionally a category of people who know how to fix lifts. Or lift. People who know how to fix lifts tend to have what one imagines Cummings would consider the prosaic and uninteresting skill of knowing what it is that makes a lift, which is not traditionally the domain of recently undergraduate ingenues in data science.

Other than being a waste of my and your time in the news cycle this is at least a useful narrative moment to plot another point in the course of the Cummings-Johnson Premiership of the United Kingdom, and that story may as well begin – recall that we are following up from my previous post on LessWrong, SlateStarCodex, MIRI etc. so don’t forget to do your homework – with a subplot about MetaMed.

If you hadn’t noticed yet, the thesis of this article is that Cummings invents problems that don’t exist, fails to solve them because he’s lost in a world of the making of his own feverish imagination, presents that failure as a victory for intellectual diversity and therefore gets to fail higher up the social pecking order because people with an interest in his career are credulous and greedy.

They may also happen to be as smart as Hitler was when he burned down the Reichstag, but that’s by the by.

—–

MetaMed was a fascinatingly stupid medical experiment which started with one man’s Silicon Valley startup fever dream and ended in his immiseration and impressively total financial embarrassment, although probably not in significant enough degree to stop him earning a six figure salary somewhere quiet by five or ten years afterwards (any leads on that guys?), even if he deserved a severe shitcanning, long term, for even thinking of the plan in its original form. The idea, inspired in part by the total brokenness of America’s private insurance medical system – the one Boris Johnson and therefore Cummings’s government wants to imitate – was to decentralise and rationalise medicine so that the doctors who collect thousands of dollars at a time to dish out boilerplate nonsense, and the consequent expensive and useless prescriptions that go with it, would be undercut by a specialised team of highly trained scientists with a far more efficient method of synthesising existing medical literature and therefore giving out better advice. You would sign up for the service – at great expense – and a team of people with alleged training would diagnose you over the phone or online or at any distance other than in an actual lab or doctor’s office, using the best available medical data they could glean from Wikipedia, or whatever they could glean from Wikipedia given academic access to the sources ideally listed in the references section of what they picked up on Wikipedia.

It was all kosher because they knew what they were doing: they’d learned rationality. With the especial help of Eliezer Yudkowsky and his sequences. Maybe they read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.

They knew what they were doing, knew better than experienced professionals working in their own area. They were special.

It goes without saying that Michael Vassar, the guy heading up the project, who I mentioned in the above paragraph, is an abuser who sexually abused and harassed a good friend of mine.

—–

Why does this matter? Besides that I’m doing a better impression of that bit in the Marvel movie where Bruce Banner goes “that’s my secret: I’m always angry”? The problem here is that the problem with the Cummings announcement is that a lot of people think his solution is somehow the key to fixing the lifts. People blame bad management for problems that should be solved by management, fine, but if your solution to bad management is to invent an Ubermensch to solve your problems just with their mind and natural brilliance you’ve made a fool of yourself and made your personal Man Over All a danger to everybody else.

Imagine if David Brent started a cult and then became the most senior adviser to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. And then imagine that he had strong connections to nazi types. And then imagine that even the nazis thought, a la David Brent, that he was sort of thick.

That’s where we are with Vassar and Cummings.

Michael Vassar, who is a member of the exact same cult as Cummings – who was in his time a far more senior member than Cummings ever was (MetaMed predictably collapsed in 2015 and Vassar lost a fair amount of his standing, though not enough to not be able to mount a nasty counterclaim against NA NA NA NA NA NA) – presided over a vast group of wannabe intellects, including key members of the “rationalist” cult such as Scott Alexander, who, so to speak, ‘contributed’, to the putatively scientific knowledge offered by Vassar’s company, and considered the project a paradigmatic example of freaks and weirdos going out on their own to beat the system, from within the system (that system, I suppose, being America’s market-liberal approach to medical knowledge and due payment therefore).

You must see where I’m going here by now.

Dominic Cummings offers a cargo cult science of pedagogy and intelligence in general and the fixing of things (whatever the fuck is broken) in particular. But it’s so much worse than that. It’s a fanatics idea of what constitutes the truth.

——

Consider the slogan: “Get Brexit Done”, which as I pointed out in my previous instalment was a mewling soundbite in the mouths of its progenitors and rises to the rhetorical level of Kirk dogma as a command from Cummings et al.

What does it fucking mean?

I’m pretty sure what it represents. Something like: (a) a demand that the peoples’ will be done (whoever they are, whatever that is); (b) the establishment of an authority, a moral authority, over and above what we sometimes call politics; (c) the assertion that there exists a loose-knit polity, ideologically diverse, who all nonetheless are – even if not trapped in the headlights of it – rabidly fascinated with the possibilities of rejecting the European Union. Now, I don’t care, as some commentators do, for the institutions which comprise the European Union and environs, in fact I find much of the whole affair ridiculous when not morally and politically contemptible…but this explains nothing about the darkness which lies behind the glassy-eyed hatred of what amounts to – ultimately – a deliberate slogan against independent thought or imagination, or indeed hope.

Because it is a meaningless slogan that deliberately does an end run around deliberation and lets particularly dull and uninteresting people off the hook for proving their worth by calling their dullness interesting. I dunno, people who think taking mescaline makes you an interesting person? The kind of contrarian that gets published in some Hacker News related outlet rather than The Sunday Times?

It’s hard to care, because…

A deliberator is somebody who, tautologically, deliberates. Is concerned with things like dialogue, which as social epistemology teaches us is a crucial method for doing things like testing ideas against alternatives. Is concerned with getting the right answer to the most important question.

To what question is “Get Brexit Done” the answer?

——

Vassar would probably have a good answer to that question. Depressingly, the answer would probably be “disruption” or something similar. Such people are always giving such answers, and these – even if not quite openly – are the people Cummings is attempting to attract with his venially unsubtle blog post, people like Vassar.

Some people hate that kind of person: venal, irritatingly clever, proud of it and stupid with it. But like the character Renton in Trainspotting, I don’t hate them, they’re just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonised by wankers.

You probably have a friend who’s into Bitcoin. You almost certainly read some glowing review of some shite that’s being touted as part of the “Internet of Things” (we’ve had devices connected to the internet since the internet). If you’re reading this blog you’re definitely connected to a social media site that’s owned by somebody who believes in some significant amount of this crap.

—–

In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, Cummings touted his skills with data-handling. Needless to say it was thin gruel, spread over pages and pages in The Spectator. But Ron Liddle writes for them, so why would you give it a second glance? But it’s useful to do so, so you can see him tout his weirdos and blah blah blah who thought outside the box to win him…a thinner than thin victory in a few parts of the country in a probably illegal vote that made no fucking sense in the first place to…

Ok I’m boring you now.

—–

How do you fix a lift?

You get the lift guy, or the guy in charge of the lift guy, to come and fix the lift.

What if there is a problem with the lift that’s been persistent for a long time now, and management won’t help you sort it, perhaps because they’re inefficient?

Obviously, the answer is you get in a kid from some Silicon Fuck tech company to design you an automatic data-processing system that runs on the blockchain to ensure that every request to have the lift fixed gets filed on a distributed server that runs on every computer from here to fucking Beijing, whether the owner of any such device knows it or got pirated by some savvy American teenager trying to buy cheap gay porn because he happens to live in Turkmenistan where it’s relatively hard to do that kind of thing without being blocked or even attracting the unwelcome attention of the murderously homophobic government.

And then you explain, on your blog, or in The Spectator, that this is why you and your wannabe cronies, your Michael Vassars and the children of rich people who approvingly quote from blogs that they don’t understand like SlateStarCodex, should own the government.

—–

I left this space open to do an extended metaphor about The Myth of Jones, a bit from analytic philosophy of epistemology, science, and perception, but I think the rant kind of speaks for itself.

Like Lenin said: the worse, the better. And if you don’t get what I mean by that quote you never will.

I suppose my readers should count themselves lucky I only quoted from Eminem once and didn’t call anybody a nazi.

And pending further research, I’m done with this shit. Which means I’m not done with this shit at all. It just means I’m bored of everybody else’s takes on Dominic Cummings: you know the ones, the ones that don’t talk about Vassar and the dark shit that happens in the rationalist community.

—–

I swear to God if you want to talk about somebody who buys into this sort of shit you had better fucking have a handle on the community in question’s habit of tying up young women on psychedelic drugs with chains for fun.

On grounds of rationality.

4 thoughts on “Dominic’s Basilisk, Part 2: The Age of Social Capital

  1. I knew Cummings at university (as well as Dan Hannan, JRM and several others in the Brexit govt). I studied Russian there (and was mentored by Norman Stone for a bit of history on the side) and he had such a hard on for post-Soviet chaos. He tried to make it there on someone else’s dime and got sacked for drinking and sacking it off. When I saw his blogroll I realised with horror that the posturing loon had developed of hard-on for AI/rationalist crap. He is a walking personality disorder and it shames us that people give him any credence at all.

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    1. This doesn’t surprise me at all (assuming it’s true – no offence). His Russian airline thing always struck me as probably motivated by that sort of thing, especially in light of his life since then. In particular I find it strange that so many people place so much faith in, essentially, the rants of a guy who clearly has spent so much time, quite deservedly, in the wilderness on the basis of his own ego and lucked out his way to the top.

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  2. At that time in Oxford there was a group of right-wing students and tutors (Roger Scruton being one, Norman Stone being another – to be fair, his area was centered on the region) who were obsessed with the collapse of the Soviet Union and their interests intersected with the Dan Hannan/Rees Mogg anti-EU Tory crowd. Cummings didn’t hang out with the Tories but did with Stone. I was also involved with the Union Society, where these flaneurs spent much of their time.

    I went out with someone who was Russian AND also a Tory (has recanted, I believe) and was protege of Norman Stone so I had the chance to be a fly on the wall. I was at a party and was introduced to Enoch Powell – I think that’s when I slowly crept backwards out of the room whistling….

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