The Essential Purpose of Memory

Being an imbecile is harder than one might think.

NOTE: Within this text, wherever gender is not key to the explanation, I am using the Elverson ey/em construction of the Spivak Pronouns.

Image by David Cardinez from Pixabay

Those who are skilled at critical thinking; those who enjoy pondering the occasional sticky problem and resolving it; those who welcome contrary ideas and mash them into current beloved ideas to see if anything useful comes out will find emselves believing that the thirty to forty percent of U.S. voters who believe Donald Trump is still president are stupid. In polite conversation you may be more diplomatic. You may refer to the “sincere misled” or to the “misguided unfortunates” but in your head those translate into “stupid”. We often equate those who are stupid with those who are lazy — with those who choose the easy path, believing what they are told and dreading the impulse to do research. This, I fear, may not be the case. If only it were, we could solve this problem through skilled education. Education will not solve this problem.

This is very much about being present in the moment and being aware of your position and agency within that moment. Several times in my writing it has been necessary to distinguish between one who is skilled and one who is intelligent. I once worked with a highly skilled software engineer. His understanding of network security and clever mechanisms to protect against invasion by hostile hackers was second to none. That skill required a mastery of mathematics, psychology and network protocols. Despite that, he once entered my office and began writing on my white board as he explained that the world was only 4000 years old and all of the dinosaur bones were planted by God to test our faith. After that, I realized that skill and intelligence are completely different things.

My engineer friend had been trained to sniff out cyber-threats and correct them in the same way that a dog may be trained to sniff out bodies after a building collapse and indicate them for rescue. Yes, my friend’s much more complex brain could be trained to do a much more complex thing, but it was merely training. Nothing about his specialized and valuable skill had equipped him for the daunting task of evaluating claims by his fundamentalist minister against current research and assessing its veracity. He could process data, identify a problem and implement the corresponding solution to that problem but he could not think.

Modern education, if my many dozens of interviews with prospective engineering candidates is a guide, trains humans like animals. “If you see this evidence then you are confronting this problem and you correct it with this procedure.” The entire content of most modern skill sets could be fully recorded in a large set of alphabetized index cards. The mind of an intelligent person is packed with gray area, nuance and doubt. There is a daily struggle with new information, evaluating it against known-reliable referents. Every day, there is the re-evaluation when new information contradicts prior beliefs. This may appear to be a difficult struggle but it is not. An intelligent person has established this cycle of evaluation-and-review as a fairly routine part of being alive. Abandoning an established belief because new data has made it false is familiar territory.

The Trump supporters, anti-vaxxers, and Q-influenced conspiracy theorists are not stupid. It goes much deeper than that. They are (and this is an unusual term with a definition of my own coining to be fully explained in my next book) unselfed. In a controversial conversation with such a person, you will find a strange vacancy in the eyes. You will make rational arguments and hear back a rote recitation of something. Merely something because it came quickly and easily and it didn’t actually respond to your argument. Here is the point: As with merely skilled people, the entire content of the unselfed mind could be fully recorded in a large set of alphabetized index cards. The cards have entries of this form: “When I last heard <some Liberal trope>, <my personal hero> responded with <some clever quip> so that will be my response.” As you speak, the person is simply looking up what one of eir exemplars said when ey last heard that statement. The person to whom you are speaking is literally not there. You are talking to a skilled Tucker Carlson emulation, trained in exactly the same way as my cyber-security friend was trained. In exactly the same way that Ben Carson was trained to be a successful brain surgeon and yet is an imbecile; in the same way that Rudolph Giuliani was trained to be a successful attorney, actually passing the bar exam for the State of New York, and is yet an imbecile; in the same way that Andrew Card was trained to be a successful civil engineer and is yet an imbecile; the skill, no matter how complex, is not intelligence.

The Sad Plight of the Unselfed

This being the case, we must ponder the plight of the unselfed. These are people who have passed Jacques Lacan’s mirror stage without ever seeing themselves. They have developed without a sense of self or personal agency which was frozen in development, at around the age of twelve. Like a twelve year old, they are exploring their heroes. They are playing as if they are their heroes. They are Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman. They are certainly not themselves. They are certainly not creative individuals actively choosing their actions with all of the myriad options available to them. They are not what some may call self-actualized. They are not any specific person except the hero or heroes they are emulating.

They are hollow shells of what might have been (and may yet be) a self-aware human. Instead, no great teacher pulled them into the real world of adults. No exemplar enthused them with the power of their own agency in the world. No relative encouraged them to explore the multi-variate possibilities of this unfathomable kosmos. They are and have remained tremendously useful automata. Each automaton, unfortunately, possesses a massive neural network in the frontal lobe of eir brain. A neural network is an artificial attempt to simulate the higher functions of the human brain. It is a questionable experiment, at this point, but the frontal lobe of an unselfed human is very similar to this primitive artificial mechanism, an artificial mechanism that is programmed through a method literally called “training”.

We humans use our natural built-in network of neurons to solve complex problems and to store a model of the world against which our actions may be assessed. This model, while detailed and complex, is not the seat of memory. Memories are stored elsewhere in the brain. The fantastic neural network in the brain’s frontal lobe is all about dealing with the here-and-now based upon the model (simulation of the world) that it has established. How do these automata decide what to do next? It is in exactly the same way that an artificial neural network decides what to do. They wait for their programmer to give them a goal.

I cannot speak for the inner life of the unselfed but I suspect that it is one of constant fear and worry. The capital insurrectionists had formed within their brains an emulation of the hero they believed Donald Trump to be. When Trump said that he would march with them they actually believed that even though he obviously walked away. They became Trump supporters because they had been frightened about the corruption of their mother country by foreigners, pederasts and libtards. They were assembled in Washington because they were angry about fictitious offenses against their dignity. They were riled to a fever through appeal to a twelve-year-old’s understanding of patriotism. To be an unselfed automaton of a Republican programmer; to be the dupe of a sociopath; to be the slave of raw emotions that constantly roil and electrify the complex horror show in the terrifying world of the untempered cerebral cortex, must be a living nightmare beyond the comprehension of the rational being.

The latest Q stand-in provides a cryptic statement. Donald Trump provides a provocative email. A Proud Boy provides an unconventional fascistic tweet. With that trigger, the unselfed brain is motivated to resolve the message and its inconsistencies into its disjoint artificial world of manufactured goals and nefarious relationships. If the programmers (e.g., Shawn Hannity, Donald Trump, Alex Jones, etc…) have managed to unify their instructions effectively, that neural network will resolve to a next action similar to the other sycophants processing those messages. It will instruct its host to invade the Capitol or scream at physicians at a town hall meeting or threaten a progressive governor. That the primary programmers are almost all Republican interlocutors is an indication of the skill with which the Republican Organization has mastered this form of persuasion.

This fundamental evil corrupts all of society.

Masters of Memory

I give credit here to veteran blogger and podcaster, Driftglass who, on many occasions, has emphasized that “the Liberal super power is memory.” I suspect that this super power is reserved for those who are capable of rational thought. The desperate follower of the regressive Republican Organization knows only what has been revealed this day. Since ey is simply emulating an exemplar, no memory of historical events is required, only a memory of the exemplar’s latest statements. Ey simply repeats eir most recent training. What the exemplar said last week was the response for last week; but now, (even if it contradicts previous proclamations) the response may be reformed to an entirely different one.

The free thinking progressive lacks this simplifying process. Various concepts are playing within the mind of the progressive. Bernie Sanders’ understanding of the role of government in a prosperous society is well founded through actual examples in successful social experiments such as Denmark; but, could Elizabeth Warren’s preoccupation with virtuous capitalism be a better fit for the U.S.? Can such a powerhouse as Capitalism be tamed and made virtuous through government restrictions despite the decades of failed attempts? How can the profit-motive (enhanced by turmoil and repressed by contentment) lead to improved outcomes for a civilized society?

The unselfed are not confronting these issues because they themselves are confronting no issues. They are not present to consciously review these problems. They are merely processing, consistent with the world model in their massive neural networks, the latest pronouncements from their exemplar(s). They are merely waiting for the next stimulus to trigger an addition or modification to the fantastic and corrupt model of the World that their programmer has intimated.

As with any neural network, natural or artificial, the programmer doesn’t know the outcome until the stimulus has been provided and the outcome reviewed. For this reason, tried and tested stimuli must be modified in small increments and deployed, waiting then to assure that the correct response was elicited. The nature of the response serves as feedback to the programmer to carefully modify the next stimulus in hopes of an even more appropriate output: An emergency-room melt-down, a town hall riot, a capital insurrection. But that isn’t all. A neural network unburdened by a self-aware consciousness is an automaton of yet-unfathomed power and influence. As these programmers at Fox News and OANN and Newsmax hone their inputs, the outputs will resolve to even more precise actions. With enough practice, this army of the unselfed may be uniformly programmed to march on Washington DC with arms and second-hand tanks yielding a successful coup.

Those who remember may actually recall the images of the January Insurrection in their mind’s eye, thus impeaching claims that it was a tourist event. To remember the presidency of Richard Nixon is to recall his personal flaws leading to criminal activity; but also, his support for the EPA and OSHA leading to a safer world and workplace. To remember the Carter administration is to recall that mistakes were made by an otherwise decent and far-sighted guardian of the common good. To truly remember the Reagan presidency is to recall the sudden shift from the sincere tending of the commonwealth to the glorification of the comic-book individual actor as supports for the common citizen were replaced by private charity and private profit. The accumulated memories of the past fifty years yield a trove of insight that could guide future actions if only a sufficient number of citizens were capable of processing such complex and nuanced data.

To forget Jim Crow, as our Supreme Court justices have, is to rekindle that wretched era in our future world. To forget the “N-word” is to forget the historic and inexcusable debasement of our citizens of African lineage and to mistake as innocent the subtle, terms and gestures of its renewed practice. To forget the Communist Scare of the era of Joseph McCarthy is to lose our ability to distinguish between signal and message and surrender our precious reason to the ape-like grunting of “socialism”, “entitlement” and “government debt”.

We often mistake the wisdom of Eastern philosophies that encourage us to live in the here and now as an entreaty to forget the past. Such philosophies are not so shallow. Here and now must be understood as a complex construction comprised of every step that led to the immediate moment. We must not forget the past. We must not agonize over the past. We must wield the past as a tool for the construction of an incrementally better future. The problem is this: In order to process memories, we must understand the world as concepts. The unselfed are controlled using simple messages that shape their broken inner world followed by signals that trigger a reaction. This challenge is one of concepts versus signals. The signal drives the automaton to react. The concept drives the human to reassess and review.

Here politics fails us, since while the rational are reviewing, the unselfed are invading the halls of Congress. Those who are cautiously reflecting must now be aware of the real threat posed by a Facebook/Twitter/podcast complex of continuous stimulation of unselfed automata. This must drive a rational but urgent response from thinking, self-aware individuals. The always bubbling gray area of rational thought must resolve into active messages to these unselfed proxies for unhinged sociopaths. Rational folks must act to secure and correct the corrupted worlds of these mere automata and steer them to a world of constructive advocacy that benefits both themselves and others.

Can the Democratic Party pull this off? Can Progressive advocacy groups pull this off? Herein lies the fundamental deficiency of the rational mind: the assumption that reason will persuade. It will not. The unselfed require only two things: a program and a stimulus. Their fertile brains must be seeded with new features for their internal fictitious world: features which fit that world but are step-wise less twisted than their current dystopia. With those features in place, signals must then prompt them to act: to rise up in support of mask mandates; to demand universal health care; to advocate for forgiveness of student debt. These are, until their hoped-for awakening, merely automata which must be wrested from the authoritarian grip of their controllers. There is only one way to manage this hoard: brilliant marketing. Until the rational population of this country is prepared to fight message-for-message and signal-for-signal we are unlikely to escape the upcoming authoritarian, every-man-for-himself, gun-toting twelve-year-old fantasy that the Republican Organization is bringing to a future near you.

Julian S. Taylor is the author of Famine in the Bullpen a book about bringing innovation back to software engineering.
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Julian S. Taylor

Julian S. Taylor

Software engineer & author. Former Senior Staff Engineer w/ Sun Microsystems. Latest book: Famine in the Bullpen. See & hear at