Monday, September 17, 2018

Trumposaurus Rex @ 3QD – Toward a cybernetic interpretation

That’s what my current piece at 3 Quarks Daily is about, Feed Me Donald! – Trump, Musk, The Internet, And Monsters From The Id. I start with Elon Musk’s conversation with Joe Rogan. For example:
Elon Musk: A company is essentially a cybernetic collective of people and machines. That’s what a company is. There’s different levels of complexity in the ways these companies are formed. ...

Joe Rogan: Humans and electronics all interfacing, and constantly now, constantly connected.
And then on to my buddy David’s report of Trump’s performance at AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) in 2016:
These were not Trump supporters. It is AIPAC’s tradition to cheer for good rousing lines. Standing ovations are not endorsements. On the other hand, you can see how the cameras may have shown us being turned into a Trump mob. And maybe we were. Maybe you would have stood and cheered, too. Yet at the very moment I became part of the mob, I had this sudden schizoid flash of rational clear sight into Trump. I saw, I mean really saw, the Trumposaur in its naked, primitive state.
And then I toss some lines from Little Shop of Horrors, a 1986 rock horror musical comedy. These lines are being sung by a blood-drinking carnivorous plant with luscious lips and no eyes:
Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!
Feed me, Seymour
Feed me all night long
That's right, boy
You can do it
Feed me, Seymour
Feed me all night long
‘Cause if you feed me, Seymour
I can grow up big and strong
Except that you’re supposed to hear it as “Feed me Donald” and the plant is Trump’s smart phone, the one he uses to issue his tweets, the personal ones that go zinging into the cyberverse at three in the morning where they end up on Fox News and scoot under the skirt of The Gray Lady (aka The New York Times), giving her a vile thrill she experiences as $$$$.

All night, baby, all night long. Just you and me. So good! So good!

And if Trump feeds his smart phone, what’s he get from it? Why satisfaction of course. Just what gives him satisfaction, only he knows, and he probably doesn’t know it all that well, though he’s been feeding it all its life. Word is that he’s got an endless need for praise and approval and he does whatever he can to get it. For the purposes of this piece I’m willing to let it go at that.

Consider this diagram, which is a standard cybernetic diagram I’ve adapted from William Powers, Behavior: The Control of Perception (1973) – a classic, if you haven’t read it, you should:


We’ve got Donald Trump at the top; he’s governed by his goals (aka reference levels), endless praise and approval. At the left we’ve got the media’s presentation of the world, which is DJT's Input Function. THAT’s what Trump attends to; that’s what he cares about. Everything he does is intended to have effects there. That’s what he’s trying to control.

He attempts to control them through various actions (aka Output Function), which I’ve grouped together at the right. Those actions in turn have some effect on the world; there it is, at the bottom. The world is big and complicated, lots going on. While Trump, as President of the United States, is undoubtedly one of the most powerful men in the world, if not THE most powerful man in the world, the sorry (or fortunate, depending on your POV) fact is there’s not a lot he can do to affect the world. He can certainly do something, more than you and me, but not a lot.

Whatever it is that Trump does, it scatters and dissipates into the world, the world does what it does, and the media takes note. That brings us back to the box there at the left (aka input function). Of course Trump does pay attention to everything in the media, just a little bit of it.

Let’s add a little detail to the diagram:

T-Rex 2c

I’ve divided his actions into four categories: 1) Tweets, 2) campaign-style Rallies, 3) Presidential Actions of all kinds, and 4) Everything Else. Over at the left I’ve singled out Fox News, which apparently is his favorite source of media input and grouped his other media into Select Media (of whatever kind, cable TV, print, internet, etc.). That box now contains only the media Trump attends to, nothing else, and I’ve shuffled everything else down there into the world (where it is in any case). But I’ve also added Rally Buzz to Trump’s input function. That’s clearly important to him, and that isn’t mediated by any media at all. He gets that directly.

Trump’s major innovations are those (unofficial) tweets and those rallies. Forget about all those ways he violates presidential norms, including keeping some undisclosed degree of control over his businesses. It’s not that they’re unimportant – certainly they are. But all presidents have bent the rules and gone off the farm now and then. It’s not new, though Trump may well be doing more of it than any others. But none of them have produced flotilla after flotilla of personal tweets and none have done all those campaign-style rallies. Those are new.

Why’s he do it? Isn’t that obvious? The rallies and the tweets are his most direct means of gaining some control over what appears in his input function. The rallies give him precious direct real-time feedback. Alas, he can’t do them every day.

But those tweets, he can do them every day. The effect is not so immediate as the rally buzz, and it is often unpleasant rather than favorable, but it’s fairly predictable. Those tweets show up on Fox and they show up in all sort of media, including that august bastion of FAKE NEWS, The New York Times. In fact, even when the feedback is nasty, that’s OK for Trump as long as he’d anticipated that nasty feedback. Those tweets also reach his Base, and thus primes them for the rallies where they share the mutual satisfactions of direct interaction.

Of course, his tweets have other effects out there in the world, diffuse effects. Those effects he cannot control. As for the various actions he undertakes as president, well, it’s complicated. I’ll leave those complications as an exercise for the reader.

I note that one of the biggest and most important complications is time scale. A tweet may show up on the radar screen (Input Function) within hours, but, depending on its content, it may have effects the diffuse out across days or even weeks. The same is true for everything else Trump does as president. What about those tariffs? He calls for them in a tweet, a speech, whatever, then the chatter. In time the orders are issued. And then, and then the results come rippling in over weeks, months, years.

Sorting all those things out in order to fine-tune the system, that’s tough. Heck, it takes a whole federal bureaucracy to do that. But Trump can always emit another tweet and see what sticks.



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