Friday 28 July, 2023

Stairway to where, exactly?

West Cambridge Hub

Quote of the Day

“Almost every desire that a poor person has is a punishable offence”

  • Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Musical alternative to the morning’s radio news

Regina Spektor | SugarMan


Long Read of the Day

The Twilight of Neoliberalism

My friend Sean French and I have one thing upon we both agree. Whenever there’s an article in the New Yorker by Louis Menand we down tools and read it.

He rarely fails to deliver and this essay is no exception. It’s particularly fascinating if (like me) you’re seeking explanations of how democracies wound up in the mess they are currently in.

It’s really a review-essay triggered by the publication of The Big Myth: How American Business Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.

In the book, Orestes and Conway tell

the intellectual story and the political story of neoliberalism, so their book is, in effect, three histories piled on top of one another. This makes for a very thick volume.

The lobbying story is good to know. Most voters are highly sensitive to the suggestion that someone might take away their personal freedom, and this is what pro-business propaganda has been warning them about for the past hundred years. The propaganda took many forms, from college textbooks funded by business groups to popular entertainments like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” books, which preach the lesson of self-sufficiency. (The books were promoted as autobiographical, but Oreskes and Conway say that Wilder, with the help of her daughter, completely misrepresented the facts of her family story.)

The endlessly iterated message of this lobbying, Oreskes and Conway say, is that economic and political freedoms are indivisible. Any restriction on the first is a threat to the second. This is the “big myth” of their title, and they show us, in somewhat fire-hose detail, how a lot of people spent a lot of time and money putting that idea into the mind of the American public.

Menand is very good on Hayek, and particularly good on Milton Friedman’s persuasiveness as a hawker of memorable untruths and simple slogans. And his essay left me with the sinking feeling that I’ve now got to read The Big Myth — and re-read Gary Gerstle’s book on The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order, one of the best books I read last year.

Such a shame there are only 24 hours in a day.

My commonplace booklet

  • 15.6 – concentration of nitrogen dioxide in micrograms per cubic metre of air in urban areas of the UK in 2022, above the World Health Organisation recommendation of 10 micrograms per cubic metre.

  • From “What AI Teaches Us About Good Writing”, an interesting (long) essay in Noema by Laura Hartenberger.

”ChatGPT, in a sense, plagiarizes our voices as it parrots the writing it was trained on. It tends not to cite the specific sources it synthesizes to craft its phrases, and when it does, they are unreliable — the MLA Style Center website cautions writers to “vet” any secondary sources that appear in AI-generated text, as the programs have the occasional tendency to “hallucinate” false sources and provide information of questionable accuracy. Given the opacity of the AI’s sources, a student who tries to pass off AI-generated text as their own may be inadvertently performing a multi-dimensional transgression, plagiarizing an AI that itself is plagiarizing others.”


Something I noticed, while trying to drink from the Internet firehose.

  • Hanif Kureishi on life, death and dreaming of returning home. Truly extraordinary interview. Ten minutes on confronting the consequences of a catastrophe.

Weekend Viewing

John Oliver on AI Link. 27 minutes. Make some coffee.

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