William Wilson, Inc.

The map of places passes
the reality of paper tears.

– Laura Riding

Out, damn’ed data…

The more tech-savvy critics of Caudillo Trump’s victory have recently let Vladimir Putin off the hook in favor of Big Data mining. A psychometrics cabal-for-hire has apparently been able to entice the masses away from the Arkansas Lady Macbeth and swing the Republic deep into the orange void. Cambridge Analytica, the firm heading El Caudillo’s online campaign, now claims both the Trumpist State and Brexit as proof of their hypermedia prowess. Это правда!

At least it seemed so for a while, until the April 7 sarin gas attack again pointed toward the Kremlin’s fiery angel. Does anyone still remember Datagate all those weeks ago? The sarin has been forgotten, too. Or abandoned; it was shot full of holes.

I do not like contradictions; I work well with others; I want to kill you.

Psychometrics is the measurement of mental capacity via statistical analyses, as well as the analysis of the instruments used to organize this data. Standardized testing in school is most well-known example, and also a tacit admission on the part of the educational-industrial complex that primary education is at heart a pseudo-military exercise in crowd psychology.

Sir Francis Galton, 1822-1911, is often called the founder of psychometrics. In addition to being Darwin’s half-cousin, he was a major light in the formative years of Eugenics. He also scientifically calculated which areas of London have the hottest chicks[1]. Galton’s book Hereditary Genius is a foundational text for modern testing, anthropometric measurement, scientific psychology and bell-curve race theory. The Victorian era is still with us, or at least many of its dreams. Vide the crazed polymath who fearfully collects his data as if it were late rents in our slumland of migrant signs and workers.

The digital traces of our online preferences are a virtual Africa for the Big Data concerns. To exploit the endless sentient sea of these clicks, psychologists use a model known as OCEAN, an acronym of personality traits: Openness, Contentiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. A handy App has replaced the old questionnaire and survey method, allowing companies like Cambridge to haunt the DMZ of public-private interface and swing elections by swinging our whims. The story of how all this leads to Trump is a morass of bought-and-sold college psych departments, coups in Ukraine and Nigeria, corporatist spooks (there is even a creep in Singapore who changes his name to Dr. Spectre!), and a Damascus moment for one Michal Kosinski, the Freeway Ricky Ross of Big Data, recounted here with great conviction. Let your electric tears fall.

It should all be taken with a grain of sulfur, however. It isn’t wise to trade Gramsci in for Demon Seed: The culprit is a complex and someone has a vested interest in blaming the Minotaur for the maze.

Forgery, no forgery

One problem with data magic lies with that old goat, Alfred Korzybski. It is the chronic confusion of appearances: “A map is not the territory it represents, but, if correct, it has a similar structure to the territory, which accounts for its usefulness”. But the map convinces its maker that his model is not just a fetish of the object but something far greater, far more in tune with the nature of the thing than the thing itself. In the mind of the psychometrician arise the object (negotiable), the model (adaptive), and the supra-model (influential). The world is not the fact but the fact of facts. The fact of the fact is raw power. Alternative facts all lead to the center, which we once called Dis.

It has apparently crossed none of the great minds in the fluoride beltway of psychometrics that their calculus does not abide by the so-called rational analysis of ‘pure’ data, that the subjects’ preferences may be just a liquid joke. Or perhaps the public has grown wise to the eggheads’ reuse after the Prisoner’s Dilemma and now use the most devious means available to heighten the contradictions which generate our desires. The irrational itself may be the laughter of the rational, or the surrational, the natural sum of a Carrolian logic of forced imputs.

Wormwood Star

The ‘like’ clicks mined by Trump’s data mercenaries are a paralanguage, similar to simian ticks or grunts, which merely express the logic of a vast digital boredom enlivened by the final spasms of rigor mortis. The streams of information that produce the OCEAN are only the ennui-driven chatter of the survivors of a prior emotional age, endlessly liking and unliking the most disparate events and concepts in order to kill time on waves of media as dry as the Sea of Tranquility. This sentimental backward glance predicts the coming tedium of interplanetary travel, immortality and space colonization so beloved by Trump vizier Peter Thiel. Our motherboard aches with the sigh of Arthur Gordon Pym.

And for a long time, we have considered ourselves untrustworthy. Our choices, that simple word which is the very definition of freedom according to our earliest lessons in state school, can no longer be trusted. We chose wrong or are ‘uniformed’, despite the experts’ best efforts. Our choices have abandoned us in disgust and have refused to lie passive while they are measured, cut, sewn together, atomized and test-marketed. What is the probable outcome? There must be some kind of certitude – at least in the memory of earlier outcomes, if not in my own. Yes, good enough: “I got entangled in my own data, and my conclusion directly contradicts the original idea from which I start. Starting from unlimited freedom, I conclude with unlimited despotism. I will add, however, that apart from my solution of the social formula, there can be no other.” (DostoyevskyThe Demons)

Donald’s Game

As the sum of harvested data, Trump is himself a product of products. He is the dimming point of gaudy lusts, the creation of a series of idiotic questions that, when added together, produce a massive impasse which groans under its own weight, unable to reach any resolution other than frenzied pastiche. The slippery American public has consented to be the sum of these measurable traits in order to propel the silliest candidate into power at the express disgust of a one sector of the ruling elite. This has created a civil war, which is precisely the goal (unconscious or not) of an utterly disillusioned, exhausted, cynical and sickened population. How can it be said that he ‘won’ the election? There was no election, just the high-speed entropy of glitz and graft. Trumpismo is the morbid result of decades of losses far too insignificant to be of interest to political power, losses that are a way of life and death for the millions outside of power. Bourgeois liberals might blame the working class for this venal millionaire, but he is after all the product of their own schools, an actor in their own historical revolution. Or they blame Russians or data hustling – but never that suburban thantos which at best adds sugar to the tips of missiles or mild regret to a subprime mortgage.

The advanced verbal state of the Caudillo is another paralanguage. The gasps, pauses (of inspiration! amazing!), lapses into aphasia, and the myriad products of an inability to stabilize objects before his retina (coma, stupefaction, the uncontrollable scowl) all put him at the avant-garde of political communication. Gone is the gusty shape of the Leader on parade or the calm centrist pipsqueak brimming with the vicious decency. Trump’s game is played along a spectrum of successive jolts and will end inevitably in total fatigue, or by overplaying his hand in the South China Sea. The whole show gives the spectator the uncomfortable feeling of being on a train without a conductor, running on an express parallel track which might be merged suddenly with calamitous results. Quite as if it had all been scripted.

But don’t mourn the bygone ages of American political discourse, of ‘Bull’ Connor or slick triangulation. And don’t believe that the present time, cruder in appearance perhaps but also more sophisticated in its essential reductions, is anything more than the most recent hypostasis of an ancient scam.

Señor’s Last Hour          

Here we should step down from the romantic sphere of world all-fires and pass through Donald’s game in order to enter back into the block of everyday life:

“We recognized that in order to bring the people to the level of consciousness where they would seize the time, it would be necessary to serve their interests in survival by developing programs which would help them to meet their daily needs. For a long time we have had such programs not only for survival but for organizational purposes. Now we not only have a breakfast program for schoolchildren, we have clothing programs, we have health clinics which provide free medical and dental services, we have programs for prisoners and their families, and we are opening clothing and shoe factories to provide for more of the needs of the community. Most recently we have begun a testing and research program on sickle-cell anemia, and we know that 98 percent of the victims of this disease are Black. To fail to combat this disease is to submit to genocide; to battle it is survival.

“All these programs satisfy the deep needs of the community but they are not solutions to our problems. That is why we call them survival programs, meaning survival pending revolution. We say that the survival program of the Black Panther Party is like the survival kit of a sailor stranded on a raft. It helps him to sustain himself until he can get completely out of that situation. So the survival programs are not answers or solutions, but they will help us to organize the community around a true analysis and understanding of their situation. When consciousness and understanding is raised to a high level then the community will seize the time and deliver themselves from the boot of their oppressors. “

– Huey P. Newton


[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-13775520


Martin Billheimer is the author of Mother Chicago: Truant Dreams and Specters of the Gilded Age. He lives in Chicago.