selfaware soup

Esther Weidauer

Week of Impact


Glitched and shattered Twitter logo on a background of colorful spray paint blotches

Here be dragons: Twitter, ridiculous philosophy, and Lord of the Rings

It has actually happened. Last week, Elon Musk acquired Twitter. He is now in pretty much full control of the company. This has been brewing for months in a drawn out back and forth but now it has become a reality. Reactions have been … mixed, even among just my peers which are mostly strongly left-leaning people, and queer folks. Some are immediately abandoning the platform either so withdraw from this format of social media entirely or to move over to Mastodon/Fediverse for example.

I remain cautiously optimistic, not because I have any trust in Musk’s abilities or intentions, but his incompetence. Also, I’ve been on Twitter long enough that the current state of content moderation (which is what most people are worried about right now) is a fairly recent addition. For most of my time on Twitter, reporting either didn’t exist at all or was practically pointless. To be fair, it is still little more than pointless but at least there is a meaningful number of cases where accounts that repeatedly harass people and spread misinformation or hate get taken down. With Musk’s announced intent of making “free speech” a top priority (mostly meaning freedom of consequences for the far-right spewing hate and lies) it’s reasonable to expect that Twitter will return to a state before those already weak moderation policies went into practice.

I have no doubt that a lot of this is going to suck for a lot of people, including myself. But I also know that it’s always been this way. Twitter has never been a good place, but a pretty hostile environment where some people do important and beautiful things despite that. It has always been a garbage dump, but it has also been our garbage dump for a lot of people. I believe a lot of the positive outcomes of Twitter over the years have been driven by spite, and I also believe this will continue to be the case. There were several times when I considered closing my account entirely, often after weeks of unrelenting harassment and threats. But every single time I said “Fuck you! You’re not pushing me out of there!” and I plan to maintain that for as long as possible.

Despite all its problems, Twitter has been a hugely positive influence in my life. It has exposed me to many new ideas and challenged my previous beliefs, it has gotten me in touch with queer people who were instrumental in my own self-discovery and I found friendship and love through it. I’m not giving all that up now.

Also, I really want to see Elon Musk fail miserably at everything he’s trying. I won’t deny that I’m already full of preemptive schadenfreude for him.

I can’t and won’t blame anyone who feels differently and comes to different conclusions. If you’re one of those who leave and you want to stay in touch, you can find me in these places:

Instagram: @selfawaresoup

I hope to see you around 💜

There’s been some talk lately about Mark Zuckerberg’s plans for a “Metaverse” future, all of which sound incredibly bleak. I recommend the latest episode on Tech Won’t Save Us: “Mark Zuckerberg is Burning Meta to the Ground”.

But something else that came up in this context again is Roko’s Basilisk. If you don’t know about this thought experiment yet, I’m sorry, you’re about to know and it’ll suck. It goes like this:

Assuming that super-intelligent AI is inevitable (big assumption right there), it paints a future where the world is run by all-powerful intelligent machines, or maybe just one singular one. This intelligence then would have a strong interest in preserving its own existence. So it would persecute and punish individuals who threaten its existence. Ok, so far that makes some sense if you accept the first assumption.

Now the weird part in this idea is that it wouldn’t just do that to its then present day contemporaries. It would also run simulated versions of past people who didn’t work towards its creation, therefore posing a sort of hypothetical past existential risk to it. In response it would then punish those virtual souls of long dead people by torturing them for eternity.

Why exactly would it do that? Apparently out of some sense of eternal guilt or something.

Now, some might recognize this as a form of Pascal’s Wager, which states that it’s the smart move to assume that the Christian God exists and will punish non-believers, and follow Christian faith just in case, because the risk of that being the case and burning in hell for eternity, no matter how tiny the chance, outweighs the risk of missing out on a bunch of “sins” (meaning things that make life enjoyable). After all, time spent alive is finite and a non-zero chance of eternal suffering always wins in a pure risk/reward calculation.

Roko’s Basilisks takes this idea and adds a whole new layer of hubris to it by replacing the assumed to already exist God with one that humans are assumed to inevitably create. Because that’s just the kind of megalomaniac fantasy that a bunch of highly privileged dudes will come up with.

Proponents of this idea will also claim that knowing about it will make your live worse because they imagine it’s so convincing that you’re then bound to obsess over how you can avoid becoming resurrected by a torture computer in a fictional far future. Of course, in reality you’re worse off knowing about this idea because it’s one of the most head-up-your-own-ass ideas that modern philosophy has brought forth, and you’re now wasting time thinking, talking, and writing about how shitty it is. Like I am doing right now, you’re welcome.

Over the past two weeks I re-watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy in small chunk, as if it were a TV show. This works remarkably well, especially of you’re already familiar with it and know where the good moments for breaks are.

I’ve seen these films many times since they came out but this time they hit different. It’s pretty well known that one of the core themes of LotR is trauma and recovery, especially in Frodo’s character arc. Now, after having worked through a lot of my own trauma, watching it again hit some very intense emotional spots for me and I got to appreciate the trilogy from a new much more personal level and it.

I knew on a sort of literature-analysis level why Frodo can’t stay in Middle Earth at the end but that point often didn’t really land for me. This time it did and really feeling why he had to leave was a cathartic experience.

“Welcome to Hell, Elon” over at The Verge is not only a delightful rant but also makes a few great points about why Musk’s plans for Twitter are very likely doomed from the start. It’s already one of my favorite pieces of tech writing this year.

How To Shoot A Film At 3 Different Budget Levels is a nice primer on how film production can work in extremely low budgets, indie production budgets and Hollywood industry levels of budget.