3 min read

Kerim’s Triptych for Sunday, November 19th, 2023

Kerim’s Triptych for Sunday, November 19th, 2023

Welcome to Kerim's Triptych, a free newsletter that delivers 3 items to your email inbox, 3 times a month.

If you find yourself sharing something you found here, please be so kind as to let people know you learned about it from Triptych (the newsletter, not just me). Thanks!

If you didn't intend to subscribe, or you don't want to receive these anymore, there is an unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email.

Item 1: Ineffective Altruisism

One thing that ties together to of the biggest tech stories from the past few weeks, the Bankman-Fried trial and Sam Altman’s ouster from OpenAI, is a cult among the uber-rich called “effective altruism” or “longtermism.” I say cult, but "scam" might be the more appropriate term. The way it works is as follows:

A. You want to spend your money in the most effective way possible.

B. The biggest threat to humanity is a rogue AI.

C. Therefore, you should give all your money to support companies investing in AI.

According to The NY Times, two of the OpenAI board members who ousted Altman subscribe to this philosophy/cult/scam. So I really enjoyed reading Mary Townsend’s essay about effective altruism (EA) from back in May.

There she writes: “the desire to admire EA despite its flaws indulges a quixotic longing to admire an ineffective altruist.” She goes on to quote Simone de Beauvoir:

Chillingly, it’s the inhumanity of depending on the consequence at all costs—backed by a wrongheaded faith in the goodness of one’s chosen project and so placing project and principle above real human lives—that appears “serious” to us, Beauvoir observes, and therefore good and worthy. This, she argues, is the essence of fanaticism, and it is anything, anything but good.

Item 2: Indigenous 'Kings' Watch Macbeth

From JSTOR Daily, an account of the Haudenosaunee-Mohican mission to London in the eighteenth-century, during which Queen Anne invited them to attend an operatic performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, an event at which they were as much a part of the entertainment as the performance itself.

In their jockeying with the French in North America, and their role in what’s known as the War of Spanish Succession, Queen Anne required the assistance of Indigenous allies within the interior of the continent. Eric Hinderaker writes in The William and Mary Quarterly that Queen Anne’s hosting of the mission “posited the existence of native peoples who were capable of serving as effective allies and agents of the crown in the empire-building process,” while Roach counsels readers to remember that “their embassy predated most off the genocidal ruin of North America and that the situation of the English, thinly settled close to the Atlantic seaboard in 1710, was not yet such that they could expect to dictate terms to the Iroquois Confederacy, the influence of which extended across the Great Lakes to the Mississippi Valley.” In other words, the four kings in London are best read in the context of their time, a perspective which grants them their agency, power, and sovereignty.

Item 3: Anti-colonial Cosmic Disco

In 1968 a shipload of the latest electronic synthesizers by companies like Korg, Moog, and Hammond got stranded off Cape Verde. When revolutionary anti-colonial leader Amílcar Cabral heard about them, he declared that they should be distributed to schools. The students who grew up experimenting on these instruments eventually created an entirely new form of music. You can listen to a new compilation of the sounds that emerged from this historical accident by searching for “Space Echo – The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde” on your favorite streaming service.

Here is a link to an article about the collection in The Guardian.

Endnote

Triptych will always remain free, but my hosting costs are not. If even a handful of subscribers choose to upgrade to paid accounts (just $1 per issue, or significantly less with a yearly plan) it will help cover my costs and also greatly encourage me to keep going with this experiment. Thank you!