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Kevin Munger

Accelerationism is Terrorism

by Kevin Munger on October 17, 2023

Accelerating change has become both addictive and intolerable. At this point, the balance among stability, change, and tradition has been upset; society has lost both its roots in shared memories and its bearings for innovation…An unlimited rate of change makes lawful community meaningless.

Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality

The ideology of Silicon Valley is clear: move fast and break things, scale at all costs, pump and dump. The lingering earth-flavored utopianism of the California Ideology softened the edge, and American two-party politics ensured at least a facade of responsibility, but both have largely fallen away over the past year.

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The Tragedy of Stafford Beer

by Kevin Munger on September 26, 2023


During the pandemic, I was seduced by a charming British management consultant. A debonair James Bond-type who went from driving a Rolls Royce around his countryside estate to orchestrating the Chilean economic experiment under Allende to teaching Brian Eno about the principles of complex systems in a stone cottage in Wales. Stafford Beer lived a remarkable life,

What the abandonment of the pinnacle of capitalist achievement for the most realistic effort to build cybernetic socialism does to a mfer.

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Could this be damnation? Could this be salvation?

by Kevin Munger on July 3, 2023

When I wrote about Vilém Flusser earlier, some commenters here at Crooked Timber weren’t happy: why am I spouting off about this obscure Czech-Brazilian media theorist?

At first I despaired at the lack of intellectual curiosity, but then I realized that they were right: Vilém Flusser isn’t famous enough to write about, given the inexorable dictates of the attention economy.

So I resolved to make Flusser more famous by aping the blithely bourgeois consumerism of the only newspaper that matters.

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Ban LLMs Using First-Person Pronouns

by Kevin Munger on May 22, 2023

The explosive growth of Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT threatens to disrupt many aspects of society. Geoffrey Hinton, the former head of AI at Google, recently announced his retirement; there is a growing sense of inevitability and a concomitant lack of agency.

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The United States Should Ban TikTok

by Kevin Munger on March 23, 2023

This is an unusual post from me, in that I’m far from unique in making these kind of arguments. Despite what I see as a growing chorus of thoughtful critics advocating for a TikTok ban, no one seriously seems to think it could happen. If TikTok is already un-ban-able, our capacity for democratic control is already lost. I am optimistic that this is not the case, and that this remains a stand worth taking.

In anticipation of the 2020 US Presidential Election, President Trump threatened to ban TikTok — and went so far as to sign an Executive Order to that effect.

This was a hastily conceived response to what is a genuine but complicated problem. The immediate polarization of the issue and the liberal framing that Trump’s motive was xenophobic have prevented the development of a more reasoned debate. TikTok is the first major social media platform developed by a geopolitical rival to gain widespread adoption in the United States.

Although President Biden rescinded Trump’s EO, his administration has continued to investigate the platform and is considering new regulations that reflect this novel challenge. There is no reason to give TikTok the benefit of the doubt. The major US platforms have consistently failed to be responsible stewards of the awesome power they have appropriated over our media and politics, and TikTok has demonstrated the same irresponsibility — except that they are far more vulnerable to pressure from the Chinese regime.

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Why I am (Still) a Conservative (For Now)

by Kevin Munger on January 16, 2023

In celebration (?) of my book’s recent Kindle release, today’s post aims to make the connection between my interest in generational conflict and technological progress more explicit.

(In case anyone came here just to get mad about the title, let me emphasize that this is a follow-up to Why I am (Still) a Liberal (For Now). I am less invested in defending a single theoretical or political tradition than in re-evaluating these traditions—indeed, in re-evaluating everything—in light of contemporary technology, and especially media technology.)

The traditional justification for conservatism is based in epistemic humility: there is only so much knowledge that we can accumulate within our lifetimes—especially about life-changing events like marriage or raising a child—so we should defer to the condensed knowledge of the past, condensed in the form of traditions, norms and institutions. The challenge for any reasonable person is to evaluate the tradeoff between tradition and progress, and the conservative is simply someone who puts more weight on the former.

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Hello! My name is Kevin Munger, and I’m delighted to have gotten the call up to the blogging big leagues. I’ve been blogging since the beginning of the pandemic at Never Met a Science, a combination of meta-science (get it) and media theory that I intend to continue here.

Crooked Timber has been around for longer than Twitter, and it looks like that which has burnt brightest will burn shortest. 

Twitter’s spectacular conflagration, the wildfire currently burning through some of the dead wood of the digital media ecosystem, both entrances and illuminates. The fantastic release of energy produces pyrrhic phantasms, full of soot and fury…and while the catharsis and camaraderie of the bonfire are not to be taken lightly, we shouldn’t assign any meaning to the random sparks. Breathless attention to what Trump did every day in 2017 was understandable (if ineffective); breathless attention to what Musk does every day in 2022 is embarrassing.

I have been extremely critical of Twitter’s impact on intellectual life, yet I am not pleased to see so many academic colleagues “leaving” Twitter because a Bad Man is now in charge. This isn’t just hipster churlishness; being critical of a bad thing for the wrong reasons can be pernicious. The implication of the current critique is that if the Bad Man were removed, Twitter would be ok.

This wishful thinking has been the opiate of the academic/media/liberal professional class for the past six years, ever since the Great Weirding of 2016. The high water mark of any trend is of course the beginning of its decline, as evidenced by the fumbling of the Obama-Clinton Presidential handoff. This class–my class–has been adrift ever since, disoriented by the reality of contemporary communication technology. Rather than confront the depth of the challenge to the foundations of liberal democracy, we are sold crisis after crisis with the promise that solving this one will bring us back to “normal.”

To be clear: the crises are real. It’s the normalcy that’s fake: “Boomer Ballast” (the central argument of my recent book) has unnaturally preserved the façade of postwar America even as the technosocial reality shifts under our feet. I fear that ours is not an age for “normal science” in the social sciences, where ceteris is sufficiently paribus to engineer marginal gains. 
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