Kyborg 2: Truth and Conspiracy

Today’s essay is the first in a series within a series of notes on one Kyborgian cluster - the key concepts being attention, mind and self

Seeing as we are emerging from a flurry of fake news and the US has elected representatives who believe wildfires were set off by space based lasers, we might as well start with conspiracies, truth and how they are modulated by Kyborgs.

“Truth modulated by Kyborgs” sounds as conspiratorial as laser beams causing forest fires, but I am peddling a metaphysical conspiracy which is waaaay superior to your garden variety “Rothschilds are taking over the world one pizza at a time.”

Conspiracies aren’t new, and the ‘Jews are secretly running the world’ is a tired cliche. But earlier conspiracies required a cult or a state (with the two being the same on occasion) to enforce the conspiracy. Only full spectrum dominance by a sovereign power was capable of suspending disbelief in an entire community. Or to put another way:

Conspiracies were expensive

What’s new today is the massive drop in the costs of launching a new conspiracy; the tools are cheap enough that many a garage can host a conspiracy. Attention manipulation platforms like Facebook provide the garage conspirator the tools to prototype and launch their ‘conspiracy as product.’

I should also say that (successful) conspiracies weren’t the only expensive item in the past; truth was also equally expensive and therefore only accessible to the elite. When the US Declaration of Independence says:

We hold these truths to be self-evident….

the obvious rejoinder is:

Who is ‘we’?

While they claimed to speak for everyone, (as witnessed in the phrase that follows — ‘that all men are born equal’), they spoke from a position of elite privilege. It’s taken almost 250 years for the ‘we’ to expand to ‘us’ but the very process of expansion is also fragmenting the we into many ‘we’s.’ That’s because the price of truth has collapsed, from being the product of a very expensive national act to one that can be launched on the cheap. The lowered ‘truth pricing’ has the added and paradoxical consequence of making access to conspiracies cheap as well.

Truth and conspiracy are no longer handicraft; they are industrial products.

Therefore, no single instance of truth or conspiracy is all that valuable - instead, we should pay attention to the generators of truth, of technologies that create a world of truth or a world of falsehood. Unlike the Cartesian exile who clutches certainty with the fervor of the fanatic, Kyborg’s hold truth lightly.

Attentional Communities

Conspiracies change from nation to nation, sometimes from neighbor to neighbor, but the conspiratorial mind remains far more stable. It’s a way of paying attention to the world: being hypersensitive to certain facts, emotions and arguments and oblivious to others. But there’s no such thing as a solipsistic conspiracy, either you are part of a community of conspirators or you’re merely paranoid.

Kyborgs are powerful precisely because they simultaneously produce the beliefs that constitute the conspiracy and the community that pays attention to the conspiracy. These attentional communities are beginning to replace earlier forms of population level beliefs such as the nation (remember Benedict Anderson’s imagined communities?)

More generally, attention produces both the self and the human world around that self.

I will turn to attentional communities in tomorrow’s update.

Reading: Jonardon Ganeri’s Attention, Not Self.