Surveillance Capitalism, 13

One of the most interesting concepts Zuboff introduces is that of the uncontract. It’s best understood through examples.

Car insurance companies are doing trial runs for programs that can monitor your driving behavior and shut down the engine if the software decides you are not driving safely. This already exists. The only obstacle is to get drivers to agree to sign up but that will be easy.

Now, let’s think of the following possibilities. We keep hearing words “safe” and “unsafe.” People need to feel safe. They can be made to feel extremely unsafe by anything, including words. How hard is it to install cameras in a classroom and institute some sort of an automated disciplinary response whenever a professor or a student uses an unsafe word?

How hard is it to get your phone to listen in to what you are saying to your family members and do some sort of an automatic reaction (like sending police to your house) if your language, tone of voice, or the sounds you make sound “unsafe”? How fast will you learn to perform for the benefit of the smart machines in everything you do? I’m guessing, extremely fast.

The result will be to substitute the social contract, where people negotiate relationships and meanings with each other, with the uncontract, where relationships between humans are ruled by an algorithm.

This will all be done in the name of safety. And the groundwork is being laid right now. Have you noticed how often we hear about things or spaces being unsafe? This is a recent thing. And it’s not accidental. This is how we prepare to hand over our agency to smart machines. We are all riling ourselves up to make this process easier. Because it’s too much of a bother to try to resist.

Why I Like DeVos

There is an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (it’s paywalled, so I don’t link) about Summer Naqvi, a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She tried to get a professor to change her grade to an A. When he refused, she accused him of sexual harassment.

An investigation ensued. Naqvi realized that evidence would prove that she’s lying. So she assaulted an ex-boyfriend, held him at knife-point, and demanded that he delete emails and online chats proving that she lied. She’s been charged with aggravated battery. The professor is still on administrative leave.

Because of Obama’s directives, it became extremely hard for such falsely accused professors or students to avoid persecution. De Vos is repealing the directives, so the professor still has a chance to lead a normal life after this. This is something really good she’s doing, and it’s only happening because Obama did something extremely wrong-headed.


Here’s my plan: Under a Warren administration, the Secretary of Education will be a public school teacher.

— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) May 13, 2019

Oh, Lordy.

Why does everyone say Warren is oh-so-knowledgeable? She sounds deeply clueless with everything she says.

Honestly, I’m not seeing many benefits to the DOE at all. It’s wasting something like 70 billion every year to produce standardized testing, the Common Core (which I don’t know much about but teachers seem to hate), NCLB, Race to the Top, the notorious “dear colleague” letter, and other ridiculous initiatives. DOE is also being overrun with the imperatives of surveillance capitalism.

I understand what motivated its creation at the dawn of the neoliberal revolution. I even support the thinking behind it. But it’s been 40 years, and no good results are forthcoming. What’s the point? To make sure everyone teaches a decent curriculum? It’s not happening. The system churns out students who are less and less knowledgeable and prepared to exist in the world.

Does anybody know of anything that the DOE is doing that’s good and useful? Forget DeVos, what did it do that was great before her?

Young Chef

Klara looked critically at her bowl of cauliflower soup, fished out every single Lima bean from the stew I was planning to eat, added it to the soup, plonked a cup of fresh blueberries and raspberries on top, mixed it all up, and devoured the concoction with great gusto.

Apparently, it turned out so delicious that she licked the bowl to avoid wasting a single drop. I’d try it myself if I didn’t detest cauliflower.

Best Link Encyclopedia

Folks, Micah Mattix is a guy who sends emails with the best links ever. It’s a small number of links in every newsletter but they are always superb. Do subscribe, he’s amazing.

Here is a small excerpt from the most recent newsletter where Mattix links a story of a failed academic who visits the MLA:

The problem with the discipline is not just the language English professors have adopted over the past fifty years, it’s the view that literary works are mere tools in a power struggle between individuals and groups in a society. The discipline replaced literature with politics long ago, and so it should come as no surprise that literature is seen by politicians and others as superfluous.

Good, eh?


A right-wing populist promises people what they want and then doesn’t deliver.

A left-wing populist promises people things he believes they should want and then does deliver.

Everybody is saying that after Trump’s right-wing populism voters are ready to try the left-wing kind. “Great!” says the Left and rolls out a list of the most unpopular measures anybody can think of.


Trump is shitting on the free market orthodoxy with his tariffs. Being who I am, I can’t find it to be bad just because he’s doing it.

Unlike most people on this blog, I actually experienced savage capitalism in an absent nation-state. It stank. Long before I heard Trump’s name, I knew it stank. I can’t unknow it because Trump is icky and sends idiotic tweets.