Thinking about the nature of civil society

A bit of time was committed to thinking about the sheer volume of Substrack newsletters I’m receiving right now. It’s enough that I’m not reading all of them right now. They really seem to show up in waves at this point. During the course of that pondering activity I took the time to unsubscribe to a bunch of different newsletters from restaurants and online catalogs. The amount of email I’m getting was simply taking up too much time on a daily basis. Deciding how to spend our limited amounts of time is an important thing to consider. My regular writing routine is pretty straightforward. Each day my Fitbit watch wakes me up by vibrating instead of being a loud alarm sound. I get up and either drink a cup of coffee or two shots of espresso. After letting the dogs in and out of the house, I sit down and look at the blank page and begin the process of writing. That is the desired outcome of my daily routine. The steps really are to wake up, get coffee, manage dogs, and start writing. 

Sometimes this regularly scheduled writing routine works well enough. I start to consider the world and within that process I’m tilting at my own personal windmill known as the perfect possible future. To that end, I ponder the world as it is and try to figure out the best possible path forward. Within that pathing is how I view a lot of things like the intersection of technology and modernity. We stand at a very unique point in the totality of our civilization. We will probably see the singularity in our lifetime where technology moves beyond a resting state to a state of pure motion. That means some level of self-sustaining technology will occur as the intersection of technology and modernity occurs. Within that eclipse of possibility and technology the other side of things will be distinctly different. It is something that is probably going to happen and it is not as well understood as it should be right now. 

I spend a lot of time thinking about the nature of civil society. My considerations include how communities of practice, circumstance, and interest will change within the intersection of technology and modernity. At the very core of our social fabric that brings civil society together we may see things changing within a layer of technology that did not exist before and could rapidly change. This week the researchers over at Google’s DeepMind have claimed to be close to artificial general intelligence (AGI). Those types of claims are what make me really sit back and think deeply about things that will be different. It makes me wonder about how civil society will change.

A bunch of words on a Friday morning

Reworking my 5 year writing plan and really digging into that was a powerful motivator. It was exciting to deeply consider what’s next in terms of writing and producing content. I never really want my research trajectory to get bogged down and stagnant. Part of my journey into the world of research and understanding is endeavoring to learn every single day. We have a wealth of content to learn about every day. People and now bots are producing a tremendous amount of content. Enough content is being produced to consider it flooding and in some cases highly overcrowded. In my case the peak production of my prose a year is around a million words. Some generative models can produce that within the use of one prompt cycle. I would argue at this point that my million words are better, but for how much longer that will hold true I’m uncertain. Millions of my written words were shared in a file for a GPT-2 model to work with and produce output. Within only a few cycles of training that model will very quickly start writing and writing and veering off into tangents. 

My ability to refocus from writing about the process of writing which happens on this weblog a lot. Based on my tag cloud it is a preponderance of what I produce these days. A lot of my other content is written into academic papers, manuscripts, talks, and potentially produced for a newsletter. All of that content would have to be bundled together to really give the model a chance at producing prose that more closely matches my style and switching between stream of consciousness style musing that happen here in a weblog format and the more structured academic writing that happens one bit a time. Generally I write an academic article by producing a core of text that gets broken down into parts or I start with a shell of what needs to be produced and work on it by expanding the outline bit by bit and paragraph by paragraph until it is a comprehensive work. I’ll admit that if the idea has been something that I considered deeply before sitting down to write it is possible that I could write from start to finish a short research paper. That has happened before. I typically make presentations that way as well. The entire thing will sort of get worked out in my thoughts by the power of imagination and then the act of creating media happens after that as I translate my vision to the page or in some cases the slide. 

A lot of my writing production ends up like this page of content where a stream of consciousness at the very start of the day or at the end of the day I sit down and just record my thoughts. It is quintessentially the act of thinking out loud except with a keyboard instead of vocalizing anything. My preferred format for response and argument is in writing. Well measures and considered arguments are always more interesting to me in general. Debating verbally typically develops into a pattern of exchange where give and take is reduced to the sharing of single arguments sometimes that are reduced to a soundbyte. We need to get back to really long form arguments where the important things are deeply considered. Some type of shared perspective and understanding is necessary to rebuild the social fabric that allows people to work with and find reasonable consensus. People who come together to live and form communities have some foundation for doing that. We have a lot more in common from the normative assumptions of our community than we do from the edge of theory where conflict exists. Triangulation of political differences has created a degree of polarization from the edge that exhausted the resilience of our shared social fabric. 

My thoughts have wandered a little bit into the philosophy of community this morning. That is bound to happen I guess. A lot of my energy is going to need to be focused on working on outlines and drafts to the things in my 5 year writing plan that was shared yesterday. One of the more surprising elements of that planful list was that it did not contain any reference to the 100 pages of contact strategy for campaigns book that is sitting unfinished. Earlier this year during a super burst of productivity I cleaned up and shared a bunch of content previously written, but shelved. For some reason, that bit of research which has a lot of time invested into creating it has just been put on the backburner. Maybe I should keep a list of false starts as well in case during a fit of writer’s block it becomes prudent to jump back into one of those stalled projects to kickstart something better. Sometimes working on something that is lacking and otherwise undesirable is enough to bring a creative spark to the forefront. 

Beyond the structures and forms

Today is going to be filled with potential options to do something useful. It is going to be one of those days where more paths are open than choices can be made to take. This happens from time to time and picking the right ones is essential to maximizing the potential of the day. Sure one path exists where the perfect possible future is realized, but that dance is sometimes beyond the structures and forms we follow will allow. Maybe that is the quintessential problem we face and need to spend time solving. It is a very real challenge to figure out how to get things done and done well within the structures and forms we have available. We also face a very real implied normativity that directs convention in what could be described as the forms. Those two things working together constrain a possible set of paths forward. I could elect at this point to spend the rest of the day doing nothing but studying applied cryptography, but consequences would exist to that decision. The output of that study and effort would be unlikely to outweigh the consequences. 

My thoughts at the moment are at least more focused on the edge of what is possible than tactical questions. In terms of all the ways the start of the day could have gone this path is much better than the alternative. Now we can round out that first thought into a question of action. Aligning to a path that strives toward the perfect possible future. At this junction in the inquiry, I am thinking about the common purpose of advancing both my own intellectual pursuits and strengthening the fabric of civil society. Both of those things are in my own self interest, but they are generally silos of action compared to each other. We exist within the moment of reflection as we take action. Each step forward, to the side, or backward is a reflection of a choice made in that moment. We have a space of reflection that can be used to consider and reflect or to drive action. Making a very conscious decision to use that space of reflection to drive toward a purpose like striving toward a perfect possible future is one way to sharpen action. Inside of that contemplation is inherently a choice to action. Retreating like a turtle into itself rarely is the action that moves things forward. I suppose some very special cases of an action paradox exist where standing still makes the most sense. Even the notion of waiting a turn for an outside action to complete seems more reasonable than the turtle’s defensive withdrawal. 

Action at its very nature and paths forward have been considered and the day is still beginning. Maybe today is the day that the right first step is followed by enough reasonably correct steps that a continuity of action builds toward something meaningful. That is an entirely plausible thought at the moment and that is inherently exciting if not thrilling as a way to start the day. These are the complex ideas we have to consider during this grand chautauqua of existence. Within that moment of reflection the structures of our institutions provide guard rails toward certain outcomes. Several days of work are the basic project we see enumerated as the expected outcome of a week. We see that day of work as being the basic unit of complexly interconnected communities. Maybe the summation of that is a bit harder to compel to exist in written form, but the idea is on the edge of what is possible. Describing the grand interconnected nature of economy and intergenerational equity remains a valid pursuit. That is probably where we need to wrap up this course of the chautauqua. More will come as the series of learning never stops from one day to the next.