What the alt got right

There was a bizarre inversion earlier this month when the right was protesting against the overreach of the secret services, while the left found itself cheering them on.

This was just the clearest example of the left coming untethered from its own foundations, driven to that position in response to its political opponents. But despite an enmity that could drive such a profound inversion, many of the observations and complaints of the alt right, could have found a home in the left.

The alt-right rhetoric took a swing at issues that are concerns for people on both sides — Bernie was pointing all of this out as well. In ceding the battle ground to the right, the left’s own answers risk being drowned out by the blame and scapegoating of the right. Is engagement on shared issues a way to protect the people and communities targeted for scapegoating by the right? Would engaging give the left some leverage in reshaping the situation?

The Alt-Right recognised that intermediaries are unreliable, unaccountable and duplicitous. Much of the value that people are and create, is taken in a way that does not give satisfactory returns. The intermediaries are “blind platforms” that take individual and community goods without being transparent about how they put it to use to generate value.

Politicians receive public political capital at the ballot box, doing what they perceive they need to get the vote to be intermediaries between us at the state apparatus. Our political capital is then spent on our behalf. There are no guarantees that it is spent as we would want it. There are no guarantees that our aggregated capital is spent in defence of public goods. Instead it feels as if private political capital is able to yoke ours to its aims.

Banks get our financial capital, as intermediaries between us and the markets. We give them decision making control over our money from the perspective of making more of it, and yet the impacts of how they make it extend well beyond what we imagine. They are free to invest in ways we disagree with, whether it be in weapons manufacturers or clean tech. Their investments often erode public goods like clean air, healthy land, peace. Once they have our funds, they do with them as they like. They seem to put our financial capital at risk, but reap the rewards themselves.

Media organisations clamour for our attention capital — as intermediaries with reality. But most of the mainstream media is owned by oligarchs with an interest to present reality in certain ways. The profit motive of the media itself drives a particular representation of reality — one in which buying the products advertised is a good idea. Because they need our attention, they masquerade what draws our attention as being what is important and true.

Facebook and Google offer to mediate our social and shopping experiences. But they take a lot more in exchange; identity and data capital. They are not even transparent mediators within our own network, Facebook makes most prominent those posts of my friends it thinks will keep me on the site longer. They also decide to sell information about who I am, and who to sell it to. The alt-right is actively seeking alternatives to these internet giants and proposing wholesale migrations onto other platforms.

All these blind platforms are, or should be, of concern to the left. The opportunity to reshape them into a form that better serves humanity is exciting. Somehow the left was content with incremental improvements as long as it was in power. Now it is no longer the bulwark of institutions that failed by the left’s own standards, these institutions can be rebuilt.


Towards a post red/blue Collective Intelligence

Given the scale of the challenges ahead globally and locally, and the immensity of the opportunities that technologies on the rapidly approaching horizon offer, it is necessary to develop a collective intelligence that makes the best decisions.

The red insurgency was the better collective intelligence during the US electoral campaign, beating all other communication infrastructures. It was up against an incumbent lumbered with centralisation and ultimate disconnect.

The red insurgency, while outperforming rivals, is not the best possible CI.

Features of winning collective intelligence

Thomas Malone, founder of the MIT Centre for Collective Intelligence cites three characteristics that make a collective intelligence better able to resolve problems and come up with better solutions. These are “social perceptiveness of the people in the group, equal group member participation, and a higher number of women”.

This runs counter to the assumption that groups with simply smarter people will make better decisions. The greater educational attainment of the Blue Church is no indicator that it should perform better, despite all the surprise expressed by snobbish blues.

Blue Church did not play to its own claimed strengths. Inclusion and empathy elements of social perceptiveness and equal participation, are meant to be part of the “progressive” repertoire and yet, the imperious Blue Church communication infrastructure was neither socially perceptive, nor did it encourage equal group member participation. It did not acknowledge it’s own grass-roots distaste for Hillary nor the groundswell of social support for Bernie. Once Hillary was installed, there was little it could do to glean and reflect information from a network that was withering below it because the messages came from the centre, leaving little room for amplification of messages initiated, honed, and elevated by the swarm.

That is not to say that the insurgent red religion performs well against these criteria.

Synthetic social perceptiveness

Social perceptiveness is the ability to discern what someone is thinking through some means of human observation.

The red insurgency (as described here) replaced social perceptiveness with “no safe space” and “attention rewards”, while dismissing expressions of values with the epithet “virtue signalling”. This served parts of the role of social perceptiveness — the elimination of friction. It reducing everyone’s motivations to the same thing, while eliminating room in which to talk about concerns. Instead of discerning other people’s meaning, it behaved as if it didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was the contribution made to the whole as measured by the attention their ideas could command. Participants were treated as only a single dimension of their self — leaving little room for acknowledging what they were thinking, feeling. Instead of social perceiving as a means to facilitating collective decision making, there was a denial of the internal life that needs to be perceived.

There are hints that this approach to social perceptiveness of the insurgent reds on twitter is responsible for some rising noise in exchanges. A few scouts have reacted incorrectly to comments, assuming that their interlocutor was a blue challenger when a little investigation revealed them to be someone seeking clarification, or even agreeing with their perspective but with a sarcastic presentation of a blue challenger. This may be an intrinsic limitation of current online platforms and not unique to the red insurgency. In fact the red approach may have been an adaptation to having to operate in such a medium.

True social perceptiveness

Developing true social perceptiveness will be one of the aims of either a resurgent/resistant blue, or a nascent post red/blue CI that has as its goal to find the best solutions to developing and deploying solutions to the challenges of the 21st century.

This will require new ways of organising and deployment of new technologies. Research suggests online communities all struggle with social perceptiveness dimension of collective intelligence and that the MIT definition applies only to face to face, or interaction with more visual cues (Jordan Barlow and Alan Dennis). A combination of more real life meetups — like protest marches, presidential rallies, town halls — and VR that allows virtual face to face could help overcome the current limitations. While still a broadcast rather than live interaction medium, the red insurgency has already made great use of live streaming and videos. It’s scouts are urging followers to start their own video channels — prepare for a proliferation of new insurgency voices.

Could a resurgent/resistant blue meet the social perceptiveness requirement as a means of improving and defeating the insurgent red CI and ultimately to escape the red/blue opposition for good?

This is a difficult task. Social perceptiveness requires an awareness of the many interests and needs of participants while also finding a way to make decisions. It is a challenge to perceive simultaneously every social angle in every conversation and to take account of every nuance in every decision. As the amount of contextual knowledge required for participating in a conversation goes up, the potential for the memetic spread and attention magnetism goes down. What does a socially perceptive CI look like if not taking into account every group’s need for recognition, acknowledgement, voice and power?

What principle can cohere post red/blue collective intelligence? The theory in Jordan Greenhall’s Situational Assessment was that what gave the red insurgency coherence was the information infrastructure rather than any point of principle, value or feeling . I expanded a bit in Collective Intelligence and Swarms in the Red Insurgency where I claimed that attention acted as a coherence mechanism and feel that now there is a new element to the coherence: the sense of winning.

Designing coherence?

The task now is to find the principle, or design the infrastructure from which a collective intelligence can emerge which can best meet the challenges and harness the technological opportunities coming our way.

Whatever the principle or infrastructure design looks like, it needs to facilitate:

Bringing in the widest range of inputs, maybe even weighting finge an unorthodox inputs slightly higher.

Filtering, testing, amplifying ideas while generating the commitment required to drive action.

Any other design principles?

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Mind Reading Hacks? Happening already.

In the not so distant future, you will be wearing your health tracker while playing a VR game, hooked up to a Brain Computer Interface (BCI). It will open up a realm of possibilities for gameplay, therapy, research. It will also open up your brain to being exploited to extract private data. While you are connected to the BCI to asses your stress levels, it could read the host of other signals your brain creates in order to glean information from you that you don’t want to share and that you might not even be aware of says Tamara Bonaci (she’s also working to protect us)

“Electrical signals produced by our body might contain sensitive information about us that we might not be willing to share with the world. On top of that, we may be giving that information away without even being aware of it.”

Leaky Data

This vulnerability is possible because our actions contain far more data than the content we intend to convey. Even the old adage that only 10% of communication is verbal acknowledges that we are leaky data clusters made flesh.

I first found out that a friend was pregnant because their Facebook connected Spotify account told me they were listening to Whalesong Hypnobirthing. I know now that they are ambitious parents and that the baby goes to sleep at 6:50pm because that is when Sleeping Mozart for Baby Geniuses comes on.

You might say that this does no damage beyond occasional embarassement. You are willing to put up with ads that haunt you wherever you browse because you can ignore them or even find them a useful reminder to purchase something. And if your partner discovers the present you were planning to get them, well, that’s the tradeoff for convenience.

But: If you use Facebook, you helped elect Trump. You helped the Brexit campaign. This may be alright with you, but your turn will come and your cause loses because of this as well.

Your leaky Facebook data helped Trump and Farage’s Leave capaigns target messages to you, or save money by not advertising to you at all. It told their on-the-ground campaigners to give you a nudge to go vote, or to skip your door. Oh well, that’s the tradeoff youre willing to make for convenience.

Except, you’re selling me off in that trade as well. Your likes and quizzes and posts and clickbait and rants give Facebook a better idea of who you are. Your browsing habits and the posts you click on even if you do not “publicly” interact, give them a sense of your mindset, outlook, fears. Their other data points make it possible to find other people like you — in my case the only difference is that I am just lurking and not being active on the platform (that leaves its own trail as well by the way). So your smiley faces and broken hearts are helping Facebooks corporate users target me as well. Thanks. And I now live in a Brexit Trump world as well. Thanks.

Go ahead and regret this situation on Facebook — I will probably give them this datapoint too.

Privacy Badgering

Once you’ve had a right old moan, get looking into social media and communications that let you keep hold of your own data. I am enjoying discovering the blockchain based Akasha, still in its very early infancy, which means if you’re willing to lose a bit of functionality and your friends aren’t all there yet, you can play a part in shaping it. Well, thats a trade off I’m willing to make.

If you use free email services, encrypt your messages with Thunderbird and the Enigmail extension so even The Google can’t know what you did last summer (this only works if your recipient also encrypts, so evangelise). Try out Signal instead of SMS: Android, Apple. Browse through Tor to hide everything including where you are, or use the Privacy Badger extension for Firefox and Chrome to select who tracks you.

Keep up to date with these issues at Electronic Frontier Foundation, follow the grugq.

Bit of broader context on the Trump and Brexit use of Facebook personality type profiling. They were not the only ones, and anybody trying to sell you shit you don’t need is probably doing it too.

Granted, in some ways, Trump’s campaign might have taken the practice to a new level. A case in point: its self-described “voter suppression” efforts, which involved nonpublic Facebook “dark posts” (since suppressed by Facebook and the campaign) aimed at discrediting Clinton among specific groups of African American voters.

Cathy O’Neil


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Collective Intelligence and Swarms in the Red Insurgency

I’ve been thinking about some of the features of the insurgent Red Religion’s Collective Intelligence (CI) that made it cohere independently of the idologies, values and feelings of its congregation. This was written in response to Jordan Greenhall’s excellent Situational Assessment 2017: Trump Edition , accepting his characterisation of Blue Church and Red ReligionCI for the sake of discussion. Specifically this is about Front One: Communications Infrastructure

What is collective intelligence?

Process by which a group/network generates options and decides on course of action.

In the context of the Communications Infrastructure the goal of the insurgent Red Religion CI was to achieve the election of Donald Trump by amplifying supportive messages, memes and signal while running interference and amplifying noise on Hillary messaging. The incentive for participation was the glory of recieving attention. Different tasks had different structures: creation and idea generation was distributed with distant edges, not even demonstrated allegiance was nessary; deciding which messages were amplified was carried out in a decentralised way working through a hierarchy of those who command more attention.

Blue Church collective intelligence for both creation and amplification was centralised, carried out by directly remunerated entities.

How does a CI cohere?: I am he as you are he as you are me as we are all together

One reading of the insurgent Red CI (decentralised/distributed) vs Blue CI (centralised) is that the coherence of the New CI is not determined by an external factor at all but around the information infrastructure itself. The network is not united by a feeling, like anger, or ideology, such as white nationalism. Instead what unifies the disparate membership (including some traditional blues) is the fact that the CI swarm is structured in such a way that the idea that attains memetic critical mass, is rewarded by attention amplification by the “leadership” regardless of which sect initiated it.

The route to leadership amplification is visible. It does not take place in editorial board rooms but on open access messaging boards, social media, and realtime on periscope, facebook live, streaming youtube shows.

As an example of the dynamics of the CI swarm, Trump appeared responsive to those ideas that seemed to gain the most credence. Hilary’s health was something that lots of sects of Red Religion’s CI coalesced on and so it found its way into his performance (He questioned Hillary’s “stamina” at debates — the highest stage of the time). His ability to incorporate those points that CI coalesced around vitalised a network and created a cohesion even where there were differences with his positions eg.. his public show of support for gays. Even though some Red CI sects express deeply homophobic views, being a part of a swarm that reflected those coalesced ideas was a worthwhile tradeoff. Libertarians cheerled for him despite his promise to imposer trade barriers.

Attention! $attention

Central to all of the dynamics and elements of the insurgent Red religions’s CI is the currency of attention. Bringing attention to someone’s creation is a fairly egalitarian way of rewarding their contribution. Each participant can grant their own attention and in so doing bring an idea to the attention of others. Lending their attention comes at no financial cost and requires no production infrastructure. Everybody has attention to give.

This egaltarian approach contrasts with paywalls, subscriptions, and other transactions of fiat for access to information. In this world, Donald Trump is a central bank that is happy to mint money. A meme that rises onto his podium achieves the ultimate payoff.

This may have impliations to some of the new distrubuted social media projects like Steemit or Akasha where there is an actual currency or token transaction coupled to attention.

Group decisions: I am bee as you are bee as we are bee

When bees need to decide which of various potential new homes to move to, some bees take up a new role — scout. These bees fly out in search of suitable dry, warm spaces about the size of a couple of footballs. Each bee returns with an account of the place it has found. Each bee carries out a dance which through the strength of its enthusiasm for the site recruits new bees to visit the site. The next wave of bees head out to the site nominated by the initial scout that recruits them. Then the next wave returns and performs its own recruitment dances. At some point, enough bees are convinced by the overall enthusiasm that one nominee becomes the chosen one. At that stage ⅓ of the bees swarm to a new home, while the scouts fly back and forth between the new site and the cloud of bees, ensuring that their sisters don’t stray.

The Red Religion had plenty of scouts who were originators,amplifiers and guides to the final place. These were figures who were “always on” — the bulk of their messaging was pertinent to the task at hand. It is worth noting that many of these scouts had a way of monetising attention. They sold books, or hats, or radio shows, apps or male vitality pills.

These scouts were two way amplifiers, picking up on ideas from the rest of their swarm to amplify and offer up the chain, and echoing the pronouncements of their lead @realdonaldtrump — specially when those pronouncements seemed to acknowledge the ideas that had risen through the swarm. They also amplified actions by Trump that they had “called” or “predicted” and reinforced the idea that actions or pronouncements had started within the swarm congregation.

There were institutional scouts : Breitbart was rewarded with the ultimate attention a seat in the Oval office; Infowars was rewarded the attention of a White House press accreditation.

The Blue Chuch had no equivalents, certainly no equivalents of sufficient traction — in part because the Blue CI leadership was not responsive in the same way. Hillary’s “common touch” was not her picking up and amplifying memes from the Blue swarm, it was tapping into cultural artifacts of the high Blue Church — “whats in your bag?” “hot sauce”. Celebrities are not scouts, they do not amplify up, they broadcast down. Part of their value is the perception that they are originators of their IP. Red Religion CI scouts take pleasure in their role as amplifiers and are known as much for that as for creating their own memes.

Image from @vmishRRa Vishal Mishra at Right Relevance http://www.rightrelevance.com/insights#us-presidential-election-2016-final-twitter-analysis

This is a representation of “high voice users” (or scouts) on both sides, on the left, Hillary on the right Donald. Hillary has far fewer scouts, represented here as thick lines. Trump on the other hand as a throng of scouts, all focused on him, driving their followers to him their back and forth interactions. There was a clear hierarchy of decisionmaking and amplification, even while there was a distributed meme creation.

Let a million followers bloom

Red Religion membership was not prescriptive, its CI cast its net far and wide in search of memes that would rise through its chain of people deciding on whether to amplify or not.

Even non-church jokers could get in on the act. Pepe the Frog started as a joke on messaging boards, where it’s rise in that edge of the network was determined partly by the roll of the digital, post-numbering, dice.

In the end it rose all the way to the top, with @realdonaldtrump amplifying it, and then even Hillary gave it air time. In fact the Blue Church seemed to give more airtime to the Red Religion’s congregation than its own, even while Trump openly shunned the centralised press. What came out of the Red Relgion’s congregation had such innate replicability that even its opponents couldn’t help but be vectors for it.

You don’t even have to pin your colors to the flag (anonimity)

Much of the creation work was carried out by unidentifiable participants. Serious amplifiers and scouts, were identifiable, but the network was open to “non-verified” sources.

Thick skin/ no safe space

Within the Red Religion’s hive and all its different sects, there is an attitude of relentless mockery. There is no “safe space” and anybody calling out a particular “negative” behaviour receives abuse in return. There is a staunch “free speech” at all costs ethos and this in turn extended the catchment area for Red CI meme creation, and in return, pushed Trump deep into the long tail.

A related element of this Red Religion’s CI, was that it didn’t need to bring everyone along. An idea just needed enough amplification, enough commits and opposition to it did not matter. Compare with the Blue Church that at times felt like it wanted to achieve unanimity rather than concensus, meaning every sect effectively had veto power that it could excercise if it’s set of interests were not adequately reflected.


No Church can be only online and the Red CI was backed up by the mass rallies. One of the most interesting phenomenons was also a meme that crossed from a digital one into a real life action for followers. Maga3x was a campaign to get followers to convince 3 of their real life acquaintances to join the church and vote Trump — evangelise. Scouts involved in this campaign even created scripts and “how to” guides.

Red Insurgency Combat:

Shifting point of attack

Trying to anticipate which line or lie from the broad Red Religion CI to rebut exhausted the blue machinery and served to amplify ideas that Trump was never going to amplify himself. Pizzagate didn’t get into the public eye via Trump, but via blue church responses to scouts.

Diffusion defence
The coherence around process instead of around ideology/sentiment makes it difficult to pin down and criticise. “Pence is a homophobe” — but “Milo is a standard bearer”….”Spencer is an anti-Semite,” well, “Cernovich is vociferously not”. Red CI has been able to use this to its advantage in a way Blue hasn’t (centralisation makes single points of failure).

What next for the children of the Blue

As the Church falls away, the “children of Blue” will explode out in a Cambrian explosion and reach out to engage in all out culture war with the still nascent Red Religion.

In Indivisible there is an example of a Blue Church succession. It still bears the hallmarks of the Blue Church, but is ceding its Latin and opening its knowledge to the flock. It may be enough to stall action by the Red Religion CI, while children of the Blue regroup.

The new Blue will have to listen to its own edges, to blues that, denied access to the pulpits and printing presses, found and mastered their own information infrastructures. But at the same time it may need to relax its need to bring everyone on every decision and develop a hard skin during discourse.

It must not be a regressive attempt to reestablish church. It probably can not simply ape Red CI either. This is an exciting time to be around. Blue has been forced to shed its skin and now it is all up for redefinition just at a time when technologies and global circumstances look primed to force a new world upon us as well.

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