Malacandra.me

The ELIZA Trap



ELIZA was...
...an early natural language processing computer program created from 1964 to 1966 at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory by Joseph Weizenbaum.
The very-human problem ELIZA unintentionally surfaced was...
...Weizenbaum regarded the program as a method to show the superficiality of communication between man and machine, but was surprised by the number of individuals who attributed human-like feelings to the computer program, including Weizenbaum’s secretary. Many academics believed that the program would be able to positively influence the lives of many people, particularly those suffering from psychological issues and that it could aid doctors working on such patients' treatment. While ELIZA was capable of engaging in discourse, ELIZA could not converse with true understanding. However, many early users were convinced of ELIZA’s intelligence and understanding, despite Weizenbaum’s insistence to the contrary
Which brings us to social media -- a new technology for both the oldest human profession (storytelling) and the second oldest profession (porn).  The early promise of Liberal political and media blogging -- of the NetRoots -- was that the grassroots could use the internet to challenge the sclerotic political establishment by bypassing the corporate media's suffocating gatekeeping stranglehold on our public political dialogue.



What happened next is a matter of history.

The mainstream would have none of it, of course, but by 2005-2006 they had painted themselves into an unsustainable corner.

By that time the mainstream media could no longer credibly continue to pretend that the Bush Administration wasn't (and one wag put it at the time) a dumpster fire.  But neither could they afford to alienate their Republican readers and viewers and their Conservative advertisers and underwriters by admitting that they had been very loudly and publicly wrong and that the Left and been right about the Right all along.

So they split the difference and thus High Broderism and the High and Holy Church of Both Sides Do It was born (emphasis added):
Independence Days

By David S. Broder
Thursday, September 21, 2006

...Bush was elected twice, over Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry, whose know-it-all arrogance rankled Midwesterners such as myself. The country thought Bush was a pleasant, down-to-earth guy who would not rock the boat. Instead, swayed by some inner impulse or the influence of Dick Cheney, he has proved to be lawless and reckless. He started a war he cannot finish, drove the government into debt and repeatedly defied the Constitution.

Now, however, you can see the independence party forming -- on both sides of the aisle. They are mobilizing to resist not only Bush but also the extremist elements in American society -- the vituperative, foul-mouthed bloggers on the left and the doctrinaire religious extremists on the right who would convert their faith into a whipping post for their opponents.

The center is beginning to fight back. Michael Bloomberg, the Republican mayor of New York, is holding a fundraiser for Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat running as an independent against the bloggers' favorite, Ned Lamont...
...
And as a measure of of fanatically tehy enforced this new Beltway State Religion, here is virtually the same Both Siderist drivel, in the same newspaperunder virtually the same headline, 12 years later (and about which I have already written more than enough):
Nov. 6 could be independents’ day

By Ron Fournier

Ron Fournier, a former reporter, editor and publisher, is president of Truscott Rossman, a Michigan public relations firm. Unite America is a client.

...
It will take small herds of reindeer in every state to change political behavior — to make conversation and comity the norm; to make and protect election reforms; to end the parties’ zero-sum games; and to force the parties to slay sacred cows and tackle intractable issues.

But, eventually and incrementally, this may be the path to radically re-center American politics.
So, yeah, we crashed the gates.  Yay!  And just as fast as we crashed them, the Beltway rebuilt them.  Because when you control the means of opinion production -- the cameras, the broadcast networks, the printing presses, the radio stations, the book publishers -- that's what you get to do.

You see, it's not that Liberal opinions have ceased to exist.  Far from it:  Liberal's have proven to be to overwhelmingly right about most things that we should be in the middle of a Libtard Renaissance. And that is exactly what makes Liberals such an existential threats to the owners and managers of the opinion-production factory.  Therefor the only way the Liberal critique of the Right can be allowed into the public square is by an out-of-favor faction of the GOP appropriating some of them, lightly rewording them, and selling them back to the public through that same opinion-production machinery as "Never Trumpism", thus reframing the parameters of acceptable political discourse from Left versus Right to Joe Scarborough-moderated "debates" between disgraced Pro-Trump wingnut Eric Bolling and hero Never Trump wingnut, Charlie Sykes.

But one new wrinkle in the art of deflecting, diffusing and co-opting the legitimate critiques of the Left into a harmless shower of pixels and air is by creating the illusion that the employees of the opinion production factory care what we think.  And in this, Twitter makes an especially useful tool.

Whether it's Joe Scarborough "asking" how the Republican Party ever got so full of Republicans:
Or Michael Gerson "asking" how the Republican Party ever got so full of Republicans:
Or Ana Marie Cox asking for "Ask Rick Wilson Anything" questions:
Or Brian Stelter asking how to do his job:
Or Chris Hayes abusing the word "we":
Or Lawrence O'Donnell doing his thing:

As humans who are reflexively prompted to attention and response when we hear a question, it is important to understands that these are not actual questions to which any of these parties are actually interested in soliciting responses.  But they are not genuinely rhetorical either.  It's a small thing, but important to understand:  what you are seeing are private conversations among 300-400 media  and political insiders being held in the most public and performative manner imaginable (after all, if brand-name blue checks want to talk to other brand-name blue checks privately, there are all kinds of alternatives to shouting on Twitter available.)

These are, in their own way, little ELIZA prompts, designed to convey the illusion of inclusion while keeping actual vituperative, foul-mouthed bloggers with inconvenient opinions to offer and axes to grind safely on the other side of the velvet rope.


Behold, a Tip Jar!