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Since my last work-related dispatch, I’ve published several new articles. Here’s the complete rundown.
In the first of several articles for UnHerd, I wrote about AI and the human touch in a piece for which I used ChatGPT to analyze my father’s fascinating e-mails:
The general public, most of whom skim content rather than paying attention to form, may struggle to differentiate between authentic and AI-generated content. More perceptive readers can sometimes detect minor discrepancies that reveal the artificial nature of the imitation — but even they aren’t perfect. In one study, researchers investigated if LLMs could be as good as humans at creating philosophical texts, by fine-tuning GPT-3 with philosopher Daniel C. Dennett’s works. While experts and philosophy blog readers performed above chance level in distinguishing Dennett’s answers from the model’s, they still fell short of the expected success rate.
The implications here are alarming. If most people are unable to distinguish between human-generated and AI-generated content, creativity and critical thinking will become rarer attributes. A new class divide could spring up, between the privileged few capable of discerning the nuances of AI-generated content, and a growing mass of individuals left to consume, without question, whatever is presented to them. The “priestly class” would consolidate power by reading between the hieratic lines of AI-generated content — just as the literate elites in ancient Egyptian and Sumerian civilisations did, by controlling access to sacred texts and legal knowledge. Their ability to recognise genuine information would give them a competitive edge in everything from financial markets to politics, further widening the gap between the informed and the uninformed. Meanwhile, the vast majority — an ever-expanding pool of digital-age helots left to hew wood and draw water — would become increasingly vulnerable to manipulation and misinformation. The forces that shape our lives would be less accountable, and it would be ever harder to address ethical concerns or make well-informed decisions.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to even imagine the mass education needed to achieve the necessary levels of discernment — much less its effectuation. Most people would rather be watching 15-second TikTok videos than close reading. And while a significant percentage of the world’s population will always, unfortunately, lack the cognitive skills or cultural capital to navigate our swiftly-changing content ecosystem, even the well-educated are in danger. We are witnessing a decline in the humanities, which traditionally turn future workers into critical thinkers, capable of discerning the idiosyncrasies in human expression.
As AI-generated content becomes increasingly sophisticated, we must prize those idiosyncrasies. They are, as I saw when I attempted to replicate my father’s emails, what make each writer’s voice distinct and authentic; they are the reason discerning readers might pay to read a mind-expanding Substack instead of boring, one-note op-eds or paint-by-numbers YA fiction. By embracing the unique aspects of the way they communicate, writers may create work that resonates on a deeper level, appealing to an audience that still wants to read the best work that humans can produce.
I wrote about Andrew Tate’slatest social media goings-on:
It remains to be seen how Tate’s current legal troubles will impact his future grift-oriented endeavours and unorthodox personal life. This latest round of social media activity paints a picture of a man grappling with uncertainty and fear as he faces an increasingly precarious future in which he may eventually find his relevance, such as it is, ceded to other claimants to the manosphere throne, like former Brigham Young University quarterback and up-and-coming “Alpha’s Creed” grifter Jeremiah “The Bull” Evans.
That said, since Tate’s Twitter account was reinstated, he has gained more than six million followers. Despite the erratic nature of his posts, his heightened engagement online could be bringing in revenue for both him and the social media platform. As the walls close in on Tate, it will be interesting to see how low this manliest of online men might sink, as well as who might rise to take his place in that particular demimonde.
I also reviewed Maggie Bullock’s surprisingly good history of J.Crew — Kingdom of Prep — in the course of discussing fashion and identity more broadly:
The American Dream is a constant quest for an identity that is both recognisable and exceptional, and the divergent paths of J.Crew and A&F expose this seesaw between inclusivity and exclusivity. The Ronald Reagan-overseen Eighties, the true heyday of J.Crew, still held the promise of upward mobility and material success for all. Everyone was invited. Meanwhile, the 2000s were a time of economic retrenchment, eventually leading to the major recession of 2008. The elite felt threatened, and needed to differentiate itself, even superficially, through something like the vision A&F was selling. The effect of economics on the identity of Americans played out through off-the-rack fashion; it seems as if Americans are forever in high school, anxiously buying new looks to fit in with whichever lunch table they find themselves sitting at. This never-ending quest for identity and belonging speaks to a deep-seated, uncomfortable need to navigate the complexities of American society, where class, race, and personal identity intertwine and continuously evolve.
This incessant buying and selling of the product-mediated self fascinated me long before I entered a high school refectory. It probably began with my father, who wore the same half-dozen ill-fitting Brooks Brothers Number One Sack Suits all through his four-decade career as a car dealer. He considered anyone who linked their identity to branded material goods — whether Ford, Chrysler or J.Crew garments — to be susceptible to manipulation by the rapacious, advertising-driven economy. What he sold were ephemeral dreams: were you a Chevy man, an Oldsmobile man, a Cadillac man? The answer didn’t matter to him — they were all quick-to-depreciate “hunks of junk” — but it was this question that could motivate uncertain people to fork out their life savings. Everyone in America wants to be someone else, someone different and better; we can be easily convinced to invest hard-earned money in ourselves.
Our pursuit of branded identities is a curious one: we are seeking uniqueness in the context of comfortable conformity, looking for the “right stuff” to distinguish us enough to join the clique of our choice. By providing affordable, aspirational style, J.Crew may have democratised fashion to some extent, but even when worn by the Obamas, it also subtly reinforced the class distinctions that are so deeply ingrained in American society. The wearers we are seeking to emulate are, in turn, seeking to appear more like us. But they are in fact part of an American upper class whose true markers of distinctions are subtle or deliberately obscure. A&F, at least, was frank about the existence of an obscure qualification to enter the elite that some will never attain. But online, it’s easy to forget that the carefully-curated versions of ourselves are often amplifying social divisions, pre-existing biases and class structures — rather than challenging them.
What the story of J.Crew teaches us is that our constructed styles, and by extension our constructed selves, are always on the way out. Their expiration dates are getting closer, and the periods of planned obsolescence shorter. The time-limited high school experience serves as an apt metaphor. Individuals strive for both self-expression and acceptance by conforming to an accepted aesthetic, and hundreds of high school movies have ended with characters achieving this tightrope walk. But in reality, it’s impossible to simultaneously break out as a unique individual and be accepted by the masses for adhering to a specific set of rules. Ultimately, our continuous reinvention of style highlights the fact that social politics always reduces, as in high school, to perpetual insecurity.
I discussed possible landing spots for the recently sacked Tucker Carlson:
There is a chance that Carlson could link up with smaller but nevertheless established conservative networks like Newsmax or OANN, where he could benefit from their existing audience base and infrastructure, thus ensuring he remains in the public eye. These networks might also offer him greater resources and support compared to venturing out on his own. However, aligning with a specific network could limit his independence and expose him to potential editorial or ideological constraints, which he has already faced at the much larger Fox. Indeed, he might already be a bigger draw than either of those lesser Right-wing networks put together.
A deal with Ben Shapiro and the Daily Wire might be even more lucrative, but it presents its own drawbacks: could a massive personality like Carlson coexist alongside Shapiro and other Daily Wire-associated figures like Matt Walsh, who aren’t as popular but certainly aren’t insignificant? He already had an opportunity like that with Fox, where he wasn’t the most popular guy in the room — his own staffers apparently rejoiced at the news of his departure. A platform like Rumble, Substack, or simply his own media operation would give him the total content and staff control he likely needs at this stage in his career, even if there’s more risk in the move.
As for the independent online media sphere, which Carlson will likely join, it remains uncertain how an impending recession and changing listener preferences will affect the industry’s future. As the US faces multiple potential crises, will people be willing to pony up for yet another $5 subscription? If not, Carlson — who climbed to network prominence partly by appropriating the “meme magic” and talking points from this segment of the online sphere — could risk becoming just another face in that crowd.
Finally, I recapped an Elon Musk interview with the aforementioned Carlson:
In the course of their discussion, Musk expressed his fears about AI development. He spoke with regret about his efforts in recruiting the OpenAI team, highlighting his concerns about the organisation becoming closed-source, for-profit, and closely allied with Microsoft. With Google DeepMind now another dominant player, Musk stated his intention to create a third option in the AI landscape.
Despite starting late, Musk hopes that a new project led by him, which he tentatively called TruthGPT, could do more good than harm by focusing on understanding the universe, rather than just being “politically correct”. Drawing a parallel between humans and chimpanzees — a species that humans could conceivably wipe out, but choose not to — the Twitter CEO argued that an AI trained to value understanding the universe is less likely to pose a threat to humanity. The big questions in terms of AI development, he told Carlson, come down to: “will humanity control its destiny or not? Will humanity control its future or not?”
For Splice Today, I wrote a fun FAQ about the ways of the rich:
What foods do the rich eat? The rich wouldn’t dream of consuming potato chips or Coke—not even if the former are organic and the latter is made from hand-harvested sugarcane. Styrofoam cups and plastic utensils never brush against their collagen-injected lips. The rich can’t believe that anyone would purchase a $5 pizza from Little Caesar’s. Discount coupons are never clipped by the rich. The rich refuse 2-for-1 specials and won’t have anything to do with Red Dog beer, even in an ironic way. The rich feast on the stem cells of their genetically-engineered toy children. The rich are always going to dinner parties and benefit galas in support of distressed places (Darfur, Hurricane Katrina, Philadelphia’s open-air heroin market). The rich wouldn’t consider eating bugs or lab-grown meat, but they’d be glad to get richer from investing in these foodstuffs of the future.
What kind of jobs do the rich have? Time is money. The rich couldn’t stop wheeling and dealing if they tried. The rich are shorting the dollar to hasten an American debt default. The rich play the market the way the poor play the video slots at casinos operated by the servants of the rich. The rich have enough clout to break the Chinese yuan or the Japanese yen. The rich keep getting richer, but that’s how it has to work if you’ve got a son at Oxford and a daughter at Princeton. The interest you pay on your debt subsidizes the idle hobbies enjoyed by the rich. However, the rich contend that the heavy taxes they pay have stifled their creativity, innovation and ability to purchase luxury condominiums near sunny beaches. The rich have corner offices in skyscrapers named after their grandparents yet prefer to work from home. Lockdowns of all kinds are good for the rich; they’d much prefer to stop the spread of their wealth, and despair born of isolation leads to further financial consolidation.
How should you behave around the rich? Anyone who’s watched Secret Millionaire knows that the rich have warm hearts and deep pockets. Since they have security guards and attack dogs to protect them, never startle the rich. The rich reside in gated communities, though sometimes they’ll let you in for a “hook-up” and you can attack them with a hammer or other blunt implement (the rich are only human, after all, and use Grindr just like us average joes). The rich aren’t used to touching callouses, so remember to use moisturizer before shaking their hands. If the rich seem to have thin skins, it’s because they’re used to commanding total obedience from their subordinates. The rich in America aren’t royalty, but they probably wouldn’t mind if you curtsied or perhaps even genuflected when you met them (don’t bother sharing your pronouns with the rich, though—to them, you’re nobody/special). The rich expect nothing but the best for themselves and the devil take the hindmost.
I also took a deep dive into the work of getting a little size on you:
Consider this: your latest bout with the freshman 15 is who you are.
There are plenty of do-gooders and try-harders writing for America’s top checkout-line fitness magazines who’ll tell you that you deserve some other kind of body, but a beefier physique has lots to recommend it.
First, now that you look different from the way you did in high school or college or grad school or whenever you weren’t so big, you’ve got an appropriate frame of reference for your glory days.
Knee injuries sustained during junior year of high school football—when you were certainly going to be all-state or at least all-county—aside, getting out of shape is an awesome way to develop a usable past you can exaggerate and idealize.
Prom queen? Abercrombie & Fitch model? Splice Today columnist? Now is the time to relive the dreams that never came true.
Second, you can embrace a new supporting role. Ever watch one of those hot college comedies? There’s always a choice part in those for a fat, obnoxious roommate.
These people might not land the partners of their dreams, but their frolicsome antics never fail to steal the show. So answer this: Why wouldn’t you want to be a show-stealer, friend?
Finally, the freshman 15 is a rite of passage, akin to catching your best bro flirting on Grindr with your dad or watching The Boondock Saints for the 50th time. It marks the boundary that separates exciting adulthood—with its 9-to-5 workdays, Netflix binges, tearful visits to the bathroom, and assorted pairs of pleated khaki pants that are uncomfortably tight in the waist yet curiously loose in the ass—from the marathon sleeping sessions and drunken bacchanalia of dreary adolescence.
And last but not least, I revealed the secrets to becoming a big success:
The first step to becoming a success is thinking successful thoughts. Unless you approach your life with a successful mindset, you won’t have a chance of harnessing your gr8ness (never mind your gr9ness!). Here’s an example of how adopting such a mindset can change the course of your existence:
You: Look, I’m not going to accept that F. I clearly wrote an A+ paper, and that’s what you’re going to give me.
Your Professor: This is just a printed copy of a Geocities page from 1995 with your name written in pen at the top. You didn’t even change the formatting. It’s not even on the right topic. It’s a Taurus-Gemini compatibility guide, not a discussion of the presidency of Chester Alan Arthur.
You: You’re making the mistake of a lifetime, you gaslighter. I’m a big success, and you better not forget it.
Your Professor: Do you think this is okay?
You: It’s okay by me.
See that? There’s a person who refused to give in, even when the odds were at their longest. He just stayed true to his successful self and wound up right back where he started: on top. Of course, if you’re genuinely successful, you’ll never be anywhere but at the top. Nor will you take anything short of a Steve Austin-style “hell yes!” for an answer. Check out this hot text exchange:
u: hey dude why don’t you come over tonite n we can rock out
urfriend: nah dawg I gots some stuff 2 do
u: sorry man but I don’t take no for an answer
Your friend tried to weasel out of a serious obligation, but you stopped him dead in his tracks—you’re a success, and you’ll never kowtow to the likes of him. He’ll be over there rocking out a game of flip cup before you can say “Madden 2004.”
Around the Web
Check out this article on caffeine in Esquire by my friend John McDermott, which has really fired them up. And Mark Alastor has a good piece on political polarization over in Splice Today.
Palate Cleanser: The inside story of the NABBA 1974 Mr. United Kingdom competition
Does anyone ever read any of this? I wouldn’t know! I’m paid to write, not to be read.
I’m a columnist for UH, so expect to see one long article and one short one for the foreseeable future — much like how Splice Today publishes one of my pieces each week. I prefer working with the same editors whenever possible.
A common refrain related to Tate is “I don’t like him, but he’s servicing a felt need among wayward young boys.” This is frequently how bad actors on what one imagines to be their own “team” are defended. I have no interest in their merits or demerits. None of these people — AOC, Jordan Peterson, Andrea Long Chu, Scott Adams, et al. — are my “frens,” nor am I in need of “role models” or “patrons.” It’s all grist for the content mill. Punch the clock, hammer the keyboard.
Give my podcast episode on Abercrombie & Fitch a listen, too. Or don’t — I’m not your dad.
The love and hate directed at Carlson is interesting, as he strikes me merely as a right-aligned “content aggregator” who has, across a long and varied career, run with whatever keywords were hot. Flannel shirts? Raw eggs? Sunning one’s balls? Great Replacement? Sure, why not. Anything to keep the drink stirred (but not shaken, ideally). Over the years, I’ve watched acquaintances lapse into rages about this large-headed TV presenter (relatively large heads being important in the TV presentation game, to be sure) or wax rhapsodic about how an appearance on his streaming show could launch their hustle into the stratosphere. I couldn’t care less. I just work here.
The trolls seem to think it’s an op-ed rather than a reported piece, which is good in terms of driving engagement (but not clickthroughs; most angry people prefer to react to headlines without ever touching the source material).
Submitted by Joe Clark.
The UnHerd article is fire.