Democrats and Non-white Voters

January 27, 2023

I wanted to scream, hearing a recent radio panel discussion about voting rights legislation. The talk was all about “politicians” not caring enough to pass it.

I’m so fed up hearing such stuff. It’s not generic “politicians” blocking that legislation. Or gun regulation. Or immigration reform. It’s Republicans.

In fact, for Democrats, voting rights legislation is life-or-death. While for Republicans, blocking it is life-or-death. Both sides understand that every vote counts, in this closely divided nation. The more Black, Hispanic, and poor people vote, the more Democrats will win. That’s why Republicans have striven to make voting harder for those demographics. That’s why Blacks often must wait hours on line; rarely do whites.

Those minorities do favor Democrats. But not as strongly as they once did. In 2022, the Black vote for Democrats was down to 86%. One in five Black males backed Trump in 2020. His Latino support was 38%. Given, again, the closeness of the overall national partisan split, that erosion of Democrats’ key voting base is ominous. If Republicans add enough non-whites to their white nationalist base, they can win.

And why do any non-whites vote for what is in essence the party of white nationalism? It seems perverse.

Part of the explanation is cultural. Of course, while the GOP used to be the fat-cat party, and Dems the party of the downtrodden, that has largely reversed. At least Republicans have conned “forgotten Americans” by talking a good game, though without doing much for them. Trump even claimed to love the uneducated.

While Democrats have become the party of the educated. I hesitate to say the party of the intelligent; though they are more planted on Planet Earth, whereas Republicans are in comprehensive denial toward reality. But anyhow, even while non-whites continue being crucial in the Democratic party’s base, its educated segment — heavily white — looms ever larger, and increasingly to the left of where non-whites are.

Non-whites actually tend to be more conservative, when it comes to politics and economics, but also, especially, culturally. More religious than the average Democrat. Maybe not exactly hostile to all things LGBTQ, but uncomfortable with it, and thinking it’s too much in their faces. They’re also receptive to Republican immigrant-bashing, feeling their own status precarious, and thus sensing some economic threat from newcomers. Hispanic voters cannot be assumed to feel solidarity with Hispanic migrants.

You might suppose on one key issue, policing, non-whites would be all-in with Democrats. But that’s not so simple either. Blacks do want less ill-treatment by police — but not less policing. Republicans’ harping on crime resonates with them, since Blacks in fact are crime’s biggest victims.

Education is another major issue, and here Democrats (captive of teacher unions) seem deaf to Black interests. Opposition to school choice, with the standard line about “draining” resources from public education must strike many Blacks as a cruel joke, because their public schools often stink. That’s a key reason why racial economic and quality-of-life gaps persist. Poor schools aggravate non-whites’ societal disadvantage. While many “woke” Democrats are bedazzled by the fraught nonstarter idea of paying reparations for slavery, the nation cries out for more practical reparation in the form of decent schooling for Black kids.

The party’s left keeps insisting it can win by unabashedly offering red-meat left-wing nostrums. But that, as all the foregoing suggests, is more the problem than the solution. This is basically a center-right country, repelled by wokism’s extremes. It’s not the left-wing firebrands who do best electorally, but Democrats in the sensible center. The left isn’t helping.

I keep wishing America will come to its senses and reject the extremes on both sides. (But especially the crazed, dishonest, racist, downright un-American Republicans.) What we really need is a strong responsible centrist party. Fat chance. Meantime, for me, the Democratic party will have to do. At least they’re sane.

UFO Abductions and America’s Reality Crisis

January 23, 2023

People on America’s right are in thorough reality denial. Headlined of course by the 2020 “stolen election” lie. False beliefs about Covid and vaccines cost many lives, perhaps hundreds of thousands. There’s much more. And the left is not immune.

How do we know what’s true? (This is called epistemology.)

At a recent social gathering of humanist friends — ordinarily a respite from all the craziness out there — one very intelligent guy, author of numerous published books (and a man of the left), brought up a UFO abduction story. In 1989, a woman was wafted out of a 12th floor New York apartment window, escorted by aliens — witnessed by a whole motorcade in the street below, including a UN Secretary-General.

The woman returned to tell her tale. She was abducted multiple times; other family members were abducted too. Leading my friend to suggest the aliens must be keeping tabs on them. He displayed a book, Witnessed, by Budd Hopkins, documenting all this.

Wow. How could a skeptic like me respond to these seemingly verified facts?

Occam’s (or Ockham’s) razor, also known as the principle of parsimony, says that to explain any phenomenon, the simplest, least complex answer is most likely.

Here, there are two basic possibilities:

1) The book’s story is true, however mind-blowing and confounding of one’s prior understandings; or

2) It’s simply untrue.

Number 2 is overwhelmingly more probable. People make stuff up all the time; lie; get things wrong; or experience delusions. That amply explains all alien abduction reports; none has ever been proven true.

Later, quick googling produced a lengthy point-by-point debunking of Hopkins’s narrative, indicating that it too never happened. Including the supposed UN chief’s testimony.

My friend, unfazed, disparaged my “methodology” with talk about primary versus secondary sources. Well, “primary sources” can lie. It’s vastly more plausible that this abduction story was a product of human confabulation. Tellingly, people in our group were puzzled that they’d never before heard about this event. Which would have shaken the world — if real.

Religious folks deem the Bible an authoritative primary source — with the ultimate credible author. “Budd Hopkins said it; I believe it; that settles it??” I noticed that most reviewers on Amazon gave Hopkins’s book high marks — yet most were unpersuaded by its tall tale.

And which is more plausible? (1) That the 2020 election was stolen, despite Biden’s margin being 7 million; Republicans participated everywhere in overseeing elections; voters had ample reasons to reject Trump; his 60 lawsuits all went nowhere; not a single Biden ballot was proven fraudulent; indeed, the Republican-orchestrated Arizona audit raised Biden’s vote total —

OR (2) That Trump, the biggest liar in political history, simply lied because his sick psyche could not face the humiliation of losing.

Most Republicans go with #1.

And which is more plausible? (1) Most other people are nuts, or (2) I am.

Evolutionarily, the human brain was our “killer app” enabling our species to survive and prosper. Essential to that app is the ability to perceive reality. An early human who could perceive a lion lurking in the bushes had a survival advantage, and got to pass along his genes.

Moreover, to think there’s a lion and be wrong was better than the reverse. The former mistake carried a small penalty; the latter, a huge one. So humans grew very good at seeing lions even where there are none. This explains a lot of our epistemological problems. Why we are so prone to believe election lies, UFO abduction tales, conspiracy theories, and other ridiculous things. Those are lions that aren’t there.

But our evolution-derived brain software still actually serves us extremely well. We’re still very good at seeing real lions — that is, facts about reality that affect our lives. Without that, we could not even function on a day-to-day basis (especially given modern life’s complexities compared to what our distant forebears faced). We certainly could not, for example, drive cars; without a very firm grasp of realities on the roads, you’d quickly be dead.

But matters like election lies and UFOs are different. False beliefs about them seem to carry no real-life consequences. They are perceptual freebies — we can relax our guard, indulge ourselves, and believe the wildest conspiracy theories, seemingly with no cost.

Though there was a cost for many Covid conspiracy believers. That’s one indicator that our indulgence for seeming belief freebies has gotten way out of hand. And even where such false beliefs ostensibly carry no penalty for the individual holding them, for society at large they do. We are, intellectually and cognitively, drowning in a flood of nonsense. How can we be responsible citizens, members of communities, under such conditions? True understanding of the world, of reality, is essential. Furthermore, Trump’s stolen election lie, and others, have very grave consequences for our democracy, undermining trust in our institutions, setting us against each other, tearing apart our social fabric itself.

That’s a lion in the bushes too few see.

China’s Covid Catastrophe

January 19, 2023

When Covid began three years ago in Wuhan, China’s regime acted ruthlessly to contain it, with draconian lockdown, testing, and quarantining rules. This did succeed — in China — but didn’t stop Covid from infecting the rest of the globe.

Most other countries initially tried to emulate China’s zero-Covid approach, but with less severity, so their disease rates were rather higher (especially in America, whose president repeatedly sabotaged anti-Covid efforts). China’s unelected regime preened that this proved its authoritarian model’s superiority, and indeed its civilizational superiority, over the supposedly dysfunctional, decadent, democratic West.

Which, eventually — armed with good vaccines, and medicines for treating the virus — evolved its approach to one of living with it, as a manageable chronic public health matter. While in contrast China’s approach crescendoed with its monster 2022 lockdowns in Shanghai and many other places.

But this sparked widespread protests, some even demanding President Xi Jinping’s ouster. He had postured as leading a “people’s war” against Covid. However, the great wall of lockdowns was crumbling in the face of Omicron’s much higher contagiousness, the virus breaking out all over. While the restrictions were crushing China’s economy. So in late 2022, the regime capitulated and abruptly ended virtually all anti-Covid controls.

Unfortunately, given Xi’s prior inflexible zero-Covid policy, China failed to prepare for transition to a different one. Failed to phase it in, to “flatten the curve” to avoid overwhelming medical infrastructure, which remains insufficient. Failed to stockpile medicines like Paxlovid, which were quickly running short even as the floodgates for the virus were suddenly opened.

And, mainly, failed to vaccinate enough people, especially the most vulnerable elderly; it was seen as unnecessary given the zero-Covid policy. Moreover, nationalistic pride limited the regime to using only Chinese-made vaccines, barring far more effective Western ones. So even those few Chinese who’ve been fully jabbed are not well protected.

Furthermore, the lockdowns meant most people never developed antibodies through exposure to the virus. Recalling the American aborigines wiped out by European diseases for which they lacked natural immunity.

So Covid is now horrifically raging through China. Initially the regime was reporting almost no deaths, but after criticism has fessed up to 60,000 in a month. Likely still a gross undercount. Independent estimates put the infection rate at 37 million daily, and a model constructed by The Economist projects up to 1-1/2 million deaths in the coming months. And note that this surge gives the virus more opportunity to mutate new, potentially more dangerous variations, threatening other countries.

The regime had previously justified the draconian lockdowns and prison-like quarantining by scaring people about Covid’s dangers. Now they’re pooh-poohing it as no worse than flu. Gone too is the “people’s war” rhetoric. Now it’s more like “You’re on your own.”

Prior to the reversal, China had ruthlessly censored any questioning of the government’s line. Now, in an Orwellian turnabout, anyone still mouthing the regime’s own prior talking points is branded a criminal traitor; while the previously banned viewpoint has become the approved one. The Chinese must feel whiplash.

So much for the superiority of their authoritarian system. The regime was happy to posture as devoted to its citizens’ health and safety — so long as that fit with contrasting itself against Western democracies. But when that ceased to be convenient they quickly jettisoned all concern about how many Chinese would sicken and die, while masking with lies their actual callous inhuman incompetence.

The only way to get a government that truly cares about people’s welfare is to have one accountable to them at the ballot box.

Political Double Standards, Whataboutism, and Classified Documents

January 16, 2023

Promoting my “Trump Shitstorm” book has been an interesting experience. When I show it to someone, the cover usually provokes a strong reaction. And most responses are positive, because of course most people I know are intelligent and right-thinking.

But there are surprises. Which shouldn’t be a surprise since, after all, the country is so divided, and there are — even now! — still plenty of Trump cult devotees. And also, what I sometimes get is, “Yeah, Trump was bad. But the other side is worse.”

One who gave me that line was a guy originally from Russia. Gave me a long diatribe in fact. Including the “What about Hillary” trope. Yes! What about Hillary! Still relitigating the 2016 election. Actually thinking Hillary more dishonest than Trump. (He finally did buy my book.)

I was no Hillary fan and didn’t vote for her. But here was (is) a classic case of double standards. Judging her by standards diametrically different from those applied to Trump — if one is predisposed to wallow in the mud flung at her while blinding oneself to Trump’s mountain of monstrosities.

Republicans have spent years hammering away at demonizing Democrats. While of course Democrats, and especially the hard left, can be criticized in many ways, portraying them as corrupt liars and traitors who want to destroy America, impose “socialism,” open borders, promote crime, etc., is just plain ridiculous.

Yet so relentless have Republicans been at flogging this dystopian nonsense that many people now have it ineradicably implanted in their brains.

Now they’re going wild over the Biden document matter. Which would be a total nothingburger, had it not been preceded by Trump’s truly criminal behavior — deliberately carting away masses of classified documents, and lying and stonewalling authorities about them. Biden merely forgot to return some documents, which were immediately handed over when found. Yet Republicans (like Kentucky Rep. James Comer) are screeching, with straight faces, that it’s the Justice Department applying a double standard, unfair to Trump. He himself even had the brass to send a mass email about Biden “caught red-handed.” (Also falsely asserting Biden “stole” the documents, and ordered the Mar-a-Lago raid.)

The DOJ, in self-defense, has now designated a special counsel to investigate the Biden situation, as it did regarding Trump’s.

House Republicans are launching their own investigation of what Biden did — and what the FBI and DOJ did — while blowing off what Trump did. Double standard indeed! One’s head explodes.

This episode epitomizes my bottom line answer to those saying “the other side is worse.” Trump Republicans are dishonest to the core. As with their absurd demonization of Democrats described above. A central party dogma is the big “Stolen Election” lie, which most GOP politicians cynically know is false. Whereas most Democrats are basically honest and sincere; their indictment of Republicans grounded in reality.

A former lifelong Republican, I see this clearly. Anyone who can’t is blinded by partisanship.

Judge LaSalle and the Left’s Performative Politics

January 13, 2023

Governor Hochul has nominated Brooklyn Judge Hector LaSalle for New York’s Chief Justice, headlining this as the first Latino in that post.

Such ethnicization is cringeworthy. It’s great that previously disadvantaged minorities have entered the mainstream. But that’s the point: a judge who happens to be Latino is mainstream now, it shouldn’t even be remarked upon. Hochul’s making this the appointment’s centerpiece is identity politics pandering that actually detracts from the judge’s capabilities and virtues. (BTW, I don’t say “Latinx.” Lefties made up that word as yet another way for them to posture as more advanced and with-it. No people to whom the word supposedly applies call themselves that. But maybe “Latinx” is already dropping out of use.)

I had the same problem with President Biden appointing Judge Jackson. A great choice, whose greatness was undermined by his having previously pledged to appoint a Black woman. Making it seem as though Jackson was merely the best available Black woman — not the best person, period.

Anyhow, LaSalle’s ethnicity is not enough to make “progressives” love his nomination; they are lining up in opposition, slamming him as anti-union, anti-abortion, anti due process, et cetera. Making this a cri de coeur of principle. Or so it might seem. What it really is is performative politics. The left just loves to posture as more advanced, enlightened, and indeed of course “progressive.” (That is the heart of “cancel culture,” trying to make themselves feel morally superior, by casting into outer darkness anyone not in lockstep with their catechism.)

But what really makes this LaSalle story one of performative politics is that there’s no there there. Ginned up to create the appearance of something to mount a high horse of umbrage about. They’ve combed through his hundreds of judicial decisions and picked out a few that went against unions, or abortion rights, or due process claimants — as if they should win every case — regardless of the law!

An Albany Law School professor has labelled this cherry-picking indictment of LaSalle’s record “absurd.” Former Chief Judge Lippman has chimed in based on a broad review of LaSalle’s extensive record of decisions, arguing that what really characterizes it is conscientious application of the law, precedent, and proper legal principles. Which is what a judge is supposed to do. Not be a warrior for a particular point of view.

I recall my own 1977 interview to be a PSC administrative law judge. The chief judge pointedly took note of my reputation as a particularly zealous advocate, as staff counsel, battling the utility companies in our proceedings. I responded that that was my job. And that I understood the ALJ position was different. That judges must be impartial, not letting personal opinions color their decisions.

I got the job.

(Note: Nothing here should be taken as saying the left is worse than the right. Today’s Republican right is vastly more reprehensible — their politics almost all performative.)

Biden at the Border: Democrats and Immigration

January 9, 2023

President Biden has now made a show of visiting the southern border. The one promise he made to me personally in 2020 was to end Trump’s cruel war on refugees and immigrants. “Immediately, immediately,” he told me.

He did swiftly reverse some of the worst of it, notably the child kidnapping. But we are far from restoring the status quo ante, leaving us actually still closer to the Trump regime than to what obtained before. Our refugee admissions remain way below pre-Trump levels. In fact, we continue to flout international and U.S. law concerning those who have a right to come here seeking asylum. The standard criteria — legitimate fears of home country maltreatment — are simply disregarded. People deported without even an opportunity to be heard.

The Biden administration also continued to enforce Trump’s notorious “Title 42,” a pandemic-inspired measure to turn back migrants on a public health pretext, long after that pretext had become plainly hollow. When the administration finally relented, (Republican) judges ruled it must continue applying Title 42. But surely it could choose to do so less zealously.

We’re now seeing a wave of refugees from Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela — all viciously repressive human rights violators. Exactly what international principles for accepting refugees were conceived for. Yet Biden has now announced that migrants from these countries will instead be summarily ejected.

He did say we’d admit 30,000 of them monthly — provided they have a U.S. sponsor; pass background checks; go through bureaucratic hoops; and arrive by plane. Are you frickin’ kidding me? Arrive by plane? Yeah right; plenty will qualify.

Also terrible is our treatment of Afghan refugees, brought here in the wake of our shambolic surrender of the country. With many left behind. But many we took are now in bureaucratic limbo, in real danger of deportation.

For two decades we’ve been told what we really need is Congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform. We can’t even get legislation to regularize the status of “dreamers” brought here as children. But I’m fed up with hearing “politicians” and “dysfunctional Congress” faulted. No, it’s not generic “politicians.” As with so many other seemingly insoluble problems (notably guns), IT’S REPUBLICANS. They are the ones blocking action, with their absolutist hostility toward migrants (and worship of guns).

Democrats are called pussies for not standing up enough for the policies they believe in. President Biden does seem spooked by the “toxic” politics of immigration, toward which many Americans have fear and loathing. And yet those are actually a minority — indeed, a fairly small minority. For all the Republican shrillness on this issue (“open borders!”), a strong majority of voters embrace instead the ideals inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

They understand that we should take in refugees and immigrants not only because it is the right thing to do, noble and humane, but also because it benefits America. Rejuvenating our culture, making it richer and more vibrant. Migrants also make our economy richer — contributing more than they consume in resources.

And they replenish our labor force, as our population otherwise ages, with ever larger percentages in retirement. A key reason we see so many “help wanted” signs is because, since 2016, new arrivals to this country are way down. It’s a cliche that immigrants, rather than “taking jobs from Americans,” take the jobs that Americans don’t want to do. But they also fill many other gaps in our workforce. And our big labor shortage — forcing employers to offer higher wages to attract staff — is a major cause of inflation.

President Biden’s half-Trump measures to curtail immigration and refugee admissions won’t in any case gain him votes from migrant-haters. He, and the Democratic party, should stop being scared of their shadow when it comes to these issues. They know what’s right. They should do it, and loudly defend it.

My book talk, “The Trump Shitstorm,” SAT. JAN. 14, 3 PM

January 8, 2023

Hi,

You’re invited to a talk and open discussion on my new book, THE AMERICAN CRISIS: Chronicling and Confronting the TRUMP SHITSTORM — 3 PM, next SATURDAY, Jan. 14 — at Bookhouse of Stuyvesant Plaza, 1475 Western Ave., Albany. 

I aim to make it fun, informative, and entertaining! 

Please come, I’d love to see you there.

The book is an edited chronological selection of blog essays, trying to understand and analyze events as they were unfolding — echoing the notion of journalism as “the first draft of history.”

The American Crisis: Chronicling and Confronting the Trump Shitstorm, by Frank S. Robinson; Verity Press International; 247 pages; $12.95 (+ $4.50 shipping in USA). Payment by check, credit card, Paypal or Zelle; 518-482-2639 

The United States House of Reprehensibles

January 6, 2023

I kept warning that voters giving Congressional power to these Republicans would be insane.

Kevin McCarthy is a reprehensible character, totally self-serving and dishonest. But that’s not why he’s failing to get elected speaker. It’s actually because he’s not reprehensible enough.

Those Republicans refusing to support him for speaker are irresponsible bomb-throwers. They see their mission as blowing things up. One even justified his vote against McCarthy because McCarthy wouldn’t be sure to force a government shutdown. He’s just not extreme enough for them.

Not Trumpy enough, even though McCarthy had disgraced himself kissing Trump’s butt after initially condemning his role in January 6. And then he tried to sabotage the January 6 investigation, even defying a subpoena by the very institution he “serves” in. Yet the extremists still won’t forgive his initial condemnation of Trump. Even though Trump himself did, endorsing McCarthy for speaker. Jim Jordan, another reprehensible, also backs McCarthy, yet the rebels nevertheless voted for Jordan against McCarthy.

McCarthy had overwhelmingly won the GOP caucus vote, re-electing him as their leader, and speaker nominee. Ordinarily all party members vote to make their leader speaker. McCarthy’s situation is virtually unprecedented.

There are 222 House Republicans, and the needed majority is 218, leaving McCarthy only four votes to spare. And he’s twenty short. Previously it was thought Republicans could resolve the problem by changing the rules, to elect the speaker by a plurality, not requiring a majority. However, with McCarthy 20 votes down, that would elect the Democrat, Hakeem Jeffries.

The House of Representatives cannot function until it elects a speaker. Can’t even swear in members. This is no joke. Some months hence a Congressional vote will be required to raise the debt ceiling. Otherwise America will default on its financial obligations, with ghastly global economic consequences. That vote was always going to be tough with nihilist Republicans in control of the House. But absent a speaker, there can be no vote at all.

McCarthy has long relentlessly thirsted for the speakership. (A previous bid was derailed by his gaffe of publicly saying Republicans’ Benghazi hearings were just a ploy to smear Hillary Clinton.) Now his prize seems tantalizingly close, and he won’t easily give it up. But his actually winning it becomes increasingly unlikely; he’s already offered his nemeses maximal concessions while gaining nothing, and has meantime embittered them even more against him. I don’t feel sorry for that creep.

The question becomes: can anyone else (Steve Scalise?) achieve the requisite near-unanimity among House Republicans?

This is not about principle. Those Republicans (most from the so-called “Freedom Caucus”) torturing McCarthy are not interested in policy issues, governance, or tackling America’s problems. Indeed, they are aimed at doing the very opposite: on the warpath against governance itself. While also focused on trying to score political points against the Biden administration, so they can win future elections — and more power to obstruct and blow things up.

While wearing their “Make America Great Again” hats.

Blacks Go Back to Africa

January 3, 2023

“Go Back to Africa!” the marchers chanted, shaking their torches. “Go Back to Africa!” their signs declared.

One small detail they overlooked. Black Americans’ ancestors hadn’t exactly come on tourist visas. It was not a “choice” (contrary to what Kanye said). Yet nevertheless, “Go Back to Africa!” the marchers intoned.

The next morning they awoke to find their wish granted! Black Americans had overnight all decamped to Africa.

It wasn’t reported in the newspaper. In fact, the first sign of something amiss was the paper not found on people’s porches that morning. Then they noticed the trash hadn’t been collected. To find out what the heck was going on, they turned on their smartphones, TVs, and radios, but none of those were functioning as normal either. So they went over to the local diner hoping their neighbors might have some information. But the diner wasn’t open. Nor was mail delivered that day.

All of it of course because the Blacks had gone back to Africa. All those who used to work to produce the daily paper, now gone. And the ones who’d worked on the garbage trucks. All those internet workers too; the TV and radio folks; the staff at the diner; the postal system personnel. And so many more, in every part of society. All those Black people who toil every day to make it function. All gone.

It quickly got worse. Much worse. Some bright bulbs thought they’d better head right over to the supermarket, to stock up on groceries and other necessities. Well, guess what.

Mad Max time.

Very soon another march was organized. This time without torches, and the chants were desperate: “PLEASE come back from Africa!”

But the Blacks couldn’t hear them from so far away.

An Artificial Intelligence Rebuts Me!

December 30, 2022

I’ve been rebutted by an Artificial Intelligence bot.

My nephew, Ben Broderick Phillips, works for Microsoft, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) within his wheelhouse. For Christmas, he fed one of my recent blog posts — “Ai Weiwei and Bono on Art and Capitalism”* — to an AI program (“ChatGPT”), asking it for a summary, and then a rebuttal. (Note the synchrony between the name “Ai” and AI.)

The AI was operating not just on my blog post’s bare words, but bringing into play a ton of information it had previously been fed about the world, presumably including many other polemics. That is the kind of “deep learning” making AI powerful.

So, here is its summary:

“This blog post discusses Ai Weiwei’s critique of capitalism in the art world as expressed in an essay he wrote for The Economist. The author of the blog post disputes Ai Weiwei’s assertion that contemporary art is primarily focused on entertainment and wealth accumulation, rather than addressing important social and political issues. The author also discusses Bono’s belief that capitalism is the solution to poverty and asserts that it is the default mode for human interactions. The blog post suggests that while capitalism has contributed to economic growth and the lifting of some out of poverty, it is not the only solution and can often perpetuate or exacerbate inequality and exploitation. It is important to consider alternative economic systems and how they might better serve the needs and interests of artists and the broader society.”

It’s quite well written — better, I daresay, than most humans would do, reading smoothly, intelligently and concisely. I think it passes the “Turing test” — Alan Turing (1912-54), the Brit who really invented the modern concept of the computer, posited one whose answers to questions would convince a human interlocutor that he’s talking to another human.

The first three of the AI’s five sentences are spot-on, recapping what I wrote. However, the last two sentences strangely detour, reading like something the AI might imagine the blogger saying, but it’s not what I actually said. (Maybe a tribute to my independent thinking.)

The AI’s rebuttal is rather longer, six paragraphs. (Interestingly, I’m told the AI initially produced only the first two, and added more on further prompting.) Here’s the full text:

“Ai Weiwei’s critique of capitalism in the art world is not unfounded. While it is true that art has always been a means of expression and personal development, it is also a reflection of the society in which it exists. In a capitalist society, it is not uncommon for the commercialization and commodification of art to take precedence over its intrinsic value. This often leads to the neglect of important social and political issues in favor of wealth accumulation.

“It is not fair to say that all contemporary art is solely focused on entertainment and detached from spiritual life. Many artists, including Ai Weiwei, use their work to address important issues and bring attention to injustices. However, it is important to recognize that the capitalist structure of the art world can often hinder the ability of artists to fully explore these issues and have their work recognized and valued. It is also worth considering alternative economic systems and how they might impact the art world. While capitalism has certainly led to economic growth and the lifting of some out of poverty, it has also contributed to inequality and exploitation. It is important to consider the ways in which different economic systems might enable artists to more fully express themselves and address important issues without the constraints of capitalist values.

“Furthermore, it is not fair to dismiss Ai Weiwei’s critique of capitalism in the art world as simply self-promotion. While it is true that he is an artist who addresses important social and political issues in his work, it does not necessarily follow that his critique is motivated solely by self-interest.

“In addition, Bono’s assertion that “commerce” and “entrepreneurial capitalism” are the only ways to lift people out of poverty is reductionist and ignores the complex factors that contribute to poverty. While economic growth can certainly play a role in reducing poverty, it is not the only solution and can often perpetuate or exacerbate inequality and exploitation.

It is important to recognize that the art world, like any other industry, is shaped by the economic and political systems in which it exists. By acknowledging the ways in which capitalism can impact the art world, we can better understand and address its limitations and explore alternative systems that might better serve the needs and interests of artists and the broader society.

“Additionally, it is important to recognize that the art world is not a monolithic entity and the experiences of different artists will vary. While some may find success and financial stability within the capitalist system, others may struggle to have their work recognized and valued. It is important to consider the ways in which the capitalist structure of the art world may disproportionately impact marginalized artists and communities.

“In conclusion, Ai Weiwei’s critique of capitalism in the art world is not without merit and it is important to consider the ways in which the economic and political systems in which we live shape the art world and the experiences of artists. While capitalism has certainly contributed to economic growth and the lifting of some out of poverty, it is not the only solution and can often perpetuate or exacerbate inequality and exploitation. It is important to consider alternative economic systems and how they might better serve the needs and interests of artists and the broader society.”

[End of rebuttal]

Note first that this essay does not (like the summary did) miscast what I said — it’s indeed a pointed response to it. It may be a bit repetitive; and a trifle wooden; yet a fairly coherent, even glib essay, sounding judicious, reasonable, and persuasive. (Its talk of alternatives to capitalism is facile — as my blog post said, capitalism’s critics never really offer a workable alternative.)

Thus the rebuttal demonstrates the benefit of all the AI’s prior deep learning — spitting out a point of view that actually mirrors what a lot of people might think in response to my blog post. If most would not be able to express it so nicely!

This shows the huge power of AI, how far it has come. Prompting, at our holiday gathering, some discussion of uses for it — someone mentioned writing grant proposals. But the potential is far vaster. How many human jobs can be done — and done better — by AI? Another example: we already know AI does better than human doctors at making diagnoses from X-rays. The world of the future is going to be very different.

The question arises — when does AI become conscious? It’s hard to avoid thinking (what does that word really mean?) that the AI that rebutted my blog is, on some elusive level, sentient.

Futurist Ray Kurzweil has foreseen a “singularity” when machines become smarter than people, and thereafter propel their own further enhancement. Leaving us in the dust? In my seminal 2013 Humanist magazine article — The Human Future: Upgrade or Replacement?** — I envisioned a convergence between biological and non-biological aspects of humanity.

* https://rationaloptimist.wordpress.com/2022/12/13/ai-weiwei-and-bono-on-art-and-capitalism/

** https://rationaloptimist.wordpress.com/2013/07/07/the-human-future-upgrade-or-replacement/