My Conversation with Henry Farrell

An excellent episode, here is the audio and transcript.  We ranged far and wide, starting with Huawei and weaponized interdependence, moving later to the Facebook supreme court, Karl Polanyi, Ireland, and Gene Wolfe and Philip K. Dick.  Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: Arguably, dominant firms are easier to regulate. And since you seem to favor some kinds of additional regulation on the major tech companies, does this mean we’re too worried about monopoly, that we actually want to keep around a few dominant firms, and that if we split them up into many small parts, there would be more chaos or more fake news or more privacy violations?

If some parts of what they do are bad, and you get more competition in the bad, don’t we just want to put in GDPR barriers to entry, not quite public utilities, but keep them big and fat and happy and somewhat not so dynamic, yes or no?

FARRELL: It depends on what you value.

COWEN: But what you value.

FARRELL: Yeah. Let me put the tradeoff to you this way. If you value security, if the highlight is on security, then the answer is, you probably want to keep big companies around because you’re going to want to impose broad standards. You’re going to want to create collective security goods, and the only actors that can really do that in a substantial way are big businesses of one sort or another.

If, alternatively, you value things like privacy and other kinds of rights, then you probably want to move towards an equilibrium in which there are far, far fewer big firms. So that’s where I see the fight being played out. I see the fight being played out between people who value security and people who value privacy. I think they point in somewhat different directions.

COWEN: And where are you on that spectrum?

FARRELL: Well, it depends on the time of the day, and I find myself —

COWEN: It is 2:22 p.m.


FARRELL: Well, I guess the question for me is — and again, this is a wide open question because we simply don’t have enough good empirical research — but what is the relationship and the broader ecology between companies like 8chan and companies like Facebook? I suspect that companies like 8chan will be far, far less successful if there weren’t much bigger platforms like Facebook that they could effectively grow upon.

So here are the arguments, something as follows. If you think about 8chan, and if you think about 4chan before it, they were basically meme factories. They were basically these places where these bored individuals hung out. You also created these memes in a kind of process of frenzied Darwinian evolution, where you desperately want to make sure that whatever you had said was on the front page because otherwise it would disappear forever. So you’ve got this survival-of-the-fittest thing, where incredibly valuable or incredibly effective memes go out and begin to populate the entire space.

But you need two things for that to work. First of all, you need a process of generation, and secondly, you need some kind of process of dissemination. You need other platforms which have far greater reach, which can then allow for these memes to propagate through the atmosphere.

I suspect that if we were in a world in which everything was at the scale of 8chan, rather than having a mixture of companies at the scale of 8chan and companies at the scale of Facebook, that the likelihood of this stuff spreading and becoming epidemic across the entire community of internet users would be far, far less. Obviously, we would have other problems then. But I think that the problems that we would face would be a very, very different set of problems from the problems that we face in the current environment.


FARRELL: Yes. [Gene] Wolfe misleads us systematically, and clearly Severian is not a reliable narrator, but then neither is Proust’s narrator either. I think that if you really want to understand where Wolfe comes from, it really is Proust. His writing style is Proustian. His concern with time, with how it is that time works, is quintessentially Proustian.

And you don’t look to Wolfe any more than you look to other science fiction for characterization. I don’t think that’s the particular strength. What you do look for is a kind of a sense of the world. And in Wolfe, in particular, he provides this real understanding of how it is that the workings of society, and interestingly, conservative understanding of the workings of society.

I think of him almost as being Proust in reverse. Proust is describing a world in which the modern world is overtaking aristocracy. And that clearly is one of the great problems of Proust, what is happening on the social level. You have all of these aristocratic understandings: the Merovingian, all of these histories, all of these castles, all of this wonderful art, and they are being replaced by the modern world with its telephones, with its electric lighting, and so on.

And how do you think about this? How would you try to preserve what was happening in the past? What Wolfe does, which I think is an extraordinarily interesting thing, which would be impossible for anybody who is not a science fiction writer, is to take that and to reverse this and to imagine a world in which modernity has disappeared.



I've commented on this in other posts, so I'll say it again. The power (yes...power) of 4chan is wildly underestimated.

Its superficial (very superficial but also very useful) anonymity, daily unique visitor number, predictable static (allows you to cut through the 95% of the stuff that doesn't deserve your attention), lack of stupid up/down votes, through-put speed (unique posts per unit time), attention paid by institutions (yes...they're watching), and broad user base - and user skill - make it in my opinion one of the most unique web destinations on internet.

Not everything that grows in a petri dish is pretty. But it is sometimes informative. Not everything said by lunatics standing on milk-crates in Central Park is worth listening to...except sometimes it is.

I pay a visit each day some web pages and information sites to read posts, however this weblog gives quality based articles.|

I mean, right.

Very reasonable comments by Farrell on Huawei. It's ironic that we are having a discussion about the security risk of Huawei while our president spends much of his time revealing state secrets to friends and foe alike. He's too ignorant and narcissistic to realize it, but Trump is following the policy of balance of power: both sides know each other's state secrets so neither side has an advantage, thus reducing the risk of warfare. Would Trump's supporters acknowledge this genius of the candidate who came into office on the promise that he would out negotiate our adversaries not surrender to them.

"what the US government is currently doing is considering using its control of supply networks in order to try to block Huawei because Huawei relies substantially on chips which are made by companies like Qualcomm. "

"which is going to make people in the defense establishment very unhappy because they see Huawei as a long-term threat, because they fear that the 5G network that has been constructed around the world could be used by Huawei to give China access to people’s communications in more or less the same way as the NSA was able to help the United States listen in on the world for a number of years."

I thought the irony is that Qualcomm chips allow the NSA to spy on 5G users globally when installed in US telecom gear makers, so they must be denied to Huawei to prevent China using Qualcomm chips to spy on 5G users globally when the chips are installed in Chinese made gear.

Of course, 5G being an international standard overseen by the UN, this is to be expected:

"With big fanfare, Huawei launched what it claims is the world’s first flagship 5G system on chip (SoC), the Kirin 990 5G, a 10.3 billion transistor chip manufactured in a TSMC 7nm+ EUV process and supporting both non-standalone (NSA) and standalone (SA) radio architectures simultaneously. The chip will be a key feature of the Huawei Mate 30 phone launching in a couple of weeks."

And Qualcomm has used TSMC to fab its chips, though it's most recent contract is with Korean Samsung. Given Trump's recent statements on getting out of conflict zones and letting wars proceed, we can expect Trump to pull US military out of Asia to end the longest US war, and cede power in Asia to China and Russia, so both Samsung and TSMC are controlled by China, thus all 5G chips will be controlled by China, so China has total control of NSA spy technology.

"But if I call you now on my iPhone to your iPhone, China can’t listen in, right? We’d be giving them the whole key to all communications."

But Apple has bought all of the failing Intel 5G development work, so the iPhones with 5G will include the NSA spying technology, given the NSA dictates its spying technology be included in 5G chip designs.

As a long time computer technologist tangentially involved with computer crypto work and the Congress and Reagan mandates to give the NSA backdoors in all technology, the IBM-NSA clipper chip, the prohibition of any encryption software being exported from the US even though much of its design took place outside the US, and the First Amendment required printed information on crypto software be exportable, this just as much of a joke as in the 80s and 90s.

Of course, I find it shocking that anyone is shocked by governments spying on individuals given the very active debate in the 80s and 90s about how its critical for the NSA be able to spy in everyone, and the debate in Congress from the beginning to end of the Cheney administration on the need for the NSA to spy on everyone.

Obama forced Congress to clarify this, and Congress by due process authorized NSA spying globally on everyone.

Only the Trumplogicians argue that mandating everyone must be subject to NSA spying means not one will be spied on by the NSA thus making China spying totally undemocratic and evil. (Speak truthfully in total contradiction.)

"But we know that if it’s Huawei 5G, they can intercept any communications they want by manipulating Huawei, which is not quite a state-owned enterprise, but it’s state controlled, as are most or maybe all major companies in China."

Meaning, "But we know that if it’s Apple 5G, they (NSA) can intercept any communications they want by manipulating Apple, which is not quite a state-owned enterprise, but it’s state controlled, as are most or maybe all major companies in the USA."

How else can the NSA spy globally?

General strike till the final victory. Today we are all Chileans.

Just a troll or is this paid content? What's the going rate on a post tr?

Gabbard. In my heart, I know she is right.

Up until yesterday's assorted links, I was on the fence about Tulsi...her being a Russian asset and all.

But I've had a change of heart in my heart too. She is definitely on to something. She has my vote and, if she so desires, my everlasting love and affection.

Gabbard is right for America's children and she's right for me. Tulsi 2020.

I can assure you Mrs. Gabbard is not a Russian asset. Quite the opposite indeed: she is a war veteran and has vowed to protect America and America' interests from foreign aggressors.

Thank you for putting me at ease. And yes, her service to this country proves it. Gabbard for president.

She will be a great president. Gabbard: In your heart, you know she is right.

I hear she is strong against Terrorism and isn't afraid to push back against foreign intervention into American politics. She has said "Neither Brazil nor Russia will have any influence in her administration."

Russian or supposed Russian interference in American politics is an important issue that has plagued the current Administration evoking the worse days of the Cold War, but I don't think there is any reason whatsoever to think there have been any Brazilian attempt to influence American policies.

That's what they want you to think! There's a mysterious Brazilian influencer named Pierre Delecto...I hear he has assets everywhere. Are you insinuating Tulsi is a Brazilian asset!?!?

I'll have you know sir that such slander directed at a pure creature like Ms. Gabbard requires satisfaction. So what shall it be, pistols or swords? Shall we say at dawn?

I have said nothing of the sort at all. Quite the opposite, I doubt there has been any attempt whatsoever from Brazilian authorities to achieve influence over American politics.

the energy levels of business guys at the airport obey bose einstein statistics because they're indistinguishable

I'm about halfway through. Good podcast. Audacious to show up in a suit and tie.

I don't think we're going to be able to wish away the network effects that make Facebook and Twitter Facebook and Twitter. We're just going to have to settle for 8chan wrecking democracy or whatever it is these memes of theirs are doing.

I think we are reaching the limit of the Democratic Party’s willingness to tolerate the Chans.

I fully expect the Overton window to shift to a Great American Firewall within the next few years.

It won’t be framed that way. It will be about domestic terrorism and mass shootings.

It already has been framed that way, but everyone knows the real reason.

the House of Reps has this charm the Senate lacks, mainly that at least 75 percent of its members literally could not do anything else for a job. most members were too stupid and emotionally volatile to even be corrupt local lawyers. the Senate is just pure icy reptiles

Anyone who believes spending more money on public education is a sucker. The money will be sucked up by teacher's unions and admin costs.

If you want to improve public education then start firing incompetent teachers and enroll better students.

Deadbeats hanging on until retirement aren't inspiring. Firing their unmotivated asses would be the humane thing to do.

Firing is good. It's been tried in the private sector and it works.

It is not that simple. Many schools are grossly underfunded. And public education is not a business and is not supposed to be. America can not just pick and choose which children she is willing to educate and which ones she feels good sentencing to a lifetime of ignorance and squalor. We must make sure every American children has a chance to develop his or her potential to the fulles so that a hundred flowers may bloom.

I've often wondered about this analogy: Suppose everyone were forced to shop at the closest supermarket. Would anyone be surprised by high cost, low quality, little variety, a proliferation of measures to keep the customers quiet other than providing food on the shelves?

And for K-12 NONE of the standard arguments for government intervention hold. It's not an asymmetric information problem -- the parents are smarter on average than the teachers.

Yet voters put up with this garbage.

"the parents are smarter on average than the teachers."

Some are, but the average parent, almost by definition, is not. The point, however, is we must make sure each child, no matter hus or her parents' station in life, may have an opportunity to develop his or her potential to the fullest.

Fine, I agree with that, but there is no reason to believe that throwing more money at local public schools is going to improve outcomes. We want improved outcomes, not fat, lazy, and incompetent teachers and admins sitting on their hands until retirement. We also need to dump tenure. Obviously incompetent teachers free ride until retirement. That is just plain stupid.

Evidently, no system is perfext, and America can and should implement reforms that make our schools more efficient. Representative Gabbard has vowed to make America's government work for common American citizens and fight special interests.

But we know the solution to the supermarket problem: Decentralize! Customer control!

Why not schools?

How would we assign school spots under a decentralized administration? It would be exceedingly impractical.

Just like with supermarkets. :-)

Not at all. We don't have to assure that everyone can buy caviar and arugula. But we must make sure every American child is taught to read, write and count.

We do precisely that with food at supermarkets now.

It is different.

"... an opportunity to develop his or her potential to the fullest."

It would astonish me if compulsory mass schooling was the way to do that in every case, or even most.

Mass schooling is the best tool we have to make sure every American child is educated and ready for the jobs of the future.

why is this guy so scared to say whether national security is more important than "privacy and other kinds of rights" relating to people's shopping habits?

either the security concerns he's harping on are in fact frivolous, or it's a no-brainer.

I believe it will be impractical to ban end-to-end encryption. People seem to think it is a matter of forbidding Facebook to use end-to-end encryption, no consumers will notice, the end.

But there are many applications that use end-to-end encryption. Modern browsers for example contain the WebRTC API which is end-to-end encrypted. And there are many messaging clients like Signal that have been end-to-end encrypted for a long time.

Many of these applications are likely to remove themselves from US app stores instead of removing end-to-end encryption. Will consumers really accept an American internet where the government bans some social networks? I don't think so.

So many false equivalencies... there is no comparison at all between American and Chinese government, even when both are doing an equally wrong thing (regarding 5G and privacy).

Europeans are against liberty.

False equivalences? I just see self-reinforcing neocon talking points with hints of rah rah USA thrown in there.

... if you don't like it go away!!!!!

"This is something that Bruce Schneier, for example, has talked about in a wonderful book that came out about nine months ago called Click Here to Kill Everybody, where he more or less talks about the huge security risks which are associated with the so-called internet of things, which turns out to be an internet of really, really badly designed and badly secured things"

And Alex is worried about robots. Can we limit the existential dread to one post a day?

These guys love abstraction, using game theory to play 11-D Chess against Russia, Black Mirror hypothetical scenarios but can't even bother to talk or estimate the amount of non-combatants killed by US military actions directly or not for the past two decades in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, etc. even if it is still going on.

From Farrell's website: "I’m a member of the Council on Foreign Relations."

"Council on Foreign Relations, another beneficiary of Epstein largesse, grapples with how to handle his donations"

Open interview, ctrl+f 'Epstein': 0.


Arguing Gene Wolfe is not an author to go to for characterisation on the basis of Severian alone is not quite right! Though I would argue that the more skeptical interpretations of what Sev is telling us ("Severian lies, constantly") are probably overshooting what Wolfe intended, and that while relatively opaque he is a deeply compelling character, its a poor show to argue his strengths on characterization on New Sun alone. I can think of few authors in or out of sci-fi who can meet the depth of character and personal emotion that we see in Short Sun, for a shining example.

I would add that one reading of Wolfe's work is less as a science fiction author - while an engineer he's not very concerned with sci-fi 'What If' technological and scientific questions in and of themselves; never "pure sci fi" in the sense that Liu Cixin would argue for - and more as an author of historical fiction who happens to extend his palette to speculative future histories. (He's also a religiously inspired non-materialist who includes magical and spiritual elements as real, which is also confused with "fantasy", but is no more fantasy than Rushdie).

And historical fiction is precisely the place you want to go to if you do care about human character, beyond producing replications of the pretty narrow social and cultural circumstances of our world today and the pretty narrow scope of human character it breathes.

What I took away from this:
1) Yeah, but whatabout the U.S.?
2) Have you heard the word of our lord and saviour, Elizabeth Warren?

Anytime I hear someone talk about regulating "fake news," I know that there goes an enemy of freedom.

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