Must-have Knowledge for the Twenty-first Century

Mariner hasn’t written a post recently that goes beyond commentary. Today, he feels the need to provide an educational assist that is absolutely critical to the future happiness of human beings. Three recent documentaries have focused on the issue of instant world-wide information about anything and everything – including every individual’s social and behavioral profile – and more importantly, how that individual can be manipulated to control personal decision making.

As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to generate new forms of economy and society around the planet, making personal decisions is disappearing from the individual and even from groups of individuals to be replaced by computerized statistical assumptions. AI has the speed and processing power to identify an individual’s likely behavior in any circumstance. Given that power, AI also can manipulate an individual’s seemingly personal decisions.

AI takes advantage of the way the human brain has evolved; how it makes decisions both subconsciously and to a lesser degree, consciously. Understanding the statistical behavior of the relationship between conscious and subconscious thought, AI can take advantage of what humans think is a conscious decision based on factual information when, in fact, that decision is induced by AI influencing subconscious feelings.

Make no mistake; AI already is at work in society. Most stock market trades are made by computers that can continually improve performance without help from humans. Big Data (social media, Google, etc.) already makes billions of dollars by selling an individual’s profile and decision tendencies to private interests.

Fortunately, this unbridled and dangerous phenomenon has become an issue in public, political and educational circles; individual ignorance plus lack of regulation combine to generate an opportunity for a powerful technocracy to control general behavior and political dynamics.

In the past few months three documentaries have been produced that focus directly on this AI issue and the liberties taken by Big Data to infringe on personal privacy, security and democratic (human) authority. Mariner addresses each documentary below. Watch all three, add in a history of psychology and a scientific analysis of the brain and the reader will have knowledge equivalent to a masters degree in behavioral psychology.

 ֎ Hacking the Mind

 Mariner has recommended this documentary in the past. It is a recent production by PBS. A four-part series of one hour shows, it examines – without political bias – how the brain makes decisions. It turns out that virtually all our important decisions, from whether to eat candy or spinach, to what automobile to buy, to choosing a spouse, are first decided subconsciously, thereby provoking a prejudiced decision in the conscious brain.

What is fascinating about subconscious decisions is that no facts are needed. Every decision is the result of a preconditioned, behavioral, biological set of rules where the common denominator is survival of the self. Being aware that the subconscious controls the bias of our existential, real world decisions is important in an AI world that would rather speak to the ‘no fact’ subconscious than to the conscious, reasoning brain. A very clear example of this phenomenon today is the allegiance of Donald Trump’s base in a fashion that disregards existential reasoning. A common street term for subconscious influence is, “My gut tells me . . .”

 ֎ The Social Dilemma


 This is a documentary that shows the methods, techniques and manipulations used by Big Data corporations. The show interviews a half-dozen technicians and managers who have quit their jobs and turned whistleblower because of ethical issues about how the corporations disregard any moral respect for human users and have no regard for social responsibility; the whole theme for Big Data is monetization of human behavior without human permission. It is frightful that many interactive processes have been turned over to computers to manage interaction on their own without human supervision.

An excellent example is seen through a family’s children who have become addicted to their smartphones. The son drops out of his social and school relationships and is drawn into an extremist group’s activity; the daughter suffers serious destruction of self-esteem because she takes literally the negativity that is often tossed about on social networks. An interesting quote from the documentary: “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”

 ֎ The Great Hack


 This documentary shows how Big Data, without comprehensive regulations, can quite easily set awry the future of entire nations. The show is about one purchaser of data from Facebook who then used it to change public opinion in devious and often untrue ways: Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica purchased voter registration data along with user profiles to target specific individuals with propaganda. Cambridge Analytica was able to influence the Brexit vote in Great Britain and was hired by the 2016 Trump Campaign to spread bad information about anyone opposed to Donald.

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It remains to be seen how national governments will control Big Data. How does one legislate subconscious influence? How does a legislator avoid destroying concepts about ‘freedom of choice’? How can the genuine advantage of AI power be constrained without throwing away its genuine advantages?

If anything is to change, it is because the electorate watched these documentaries and decided they should make their own decisions about life and not just agree to suggestions by Big Data that have hidden motives.

Ancient Mariner

Money in Political Campaigns

Any individual who has poked even a finger into the current of campaign politics has discovered an inundation of fund-raising emails, letters and phone calls from the NATIONAL COMMITTEE (RNC, DNC) of each party. One assumes that this cash contribution is a voter’s right. However, the real campaign cash balance is maintained by special interests like corporations and investors who are the real source of hundreds of millions in donations to campaign financing.

One of the more benign exposures of this plutocracy is when the email says, “We’ve found a 600 percent match for your donation!” Who among us can match six times a national fund-raising effort? To mariner, this is just a way for candidates to hide big money that otherwise would be openly contributed from Political Action Committees (PACs) and corporations – in other words, a favor or policy expectation is the real purpose – not just a citizen vote.

Mariner has challenged the concept of national fund-raising many times on the blog. Consequently, he will not go into elaborate philosophical and pragmatic explanations of why special interest fund raising is destructive to democracy. Simply, this is what must be done to improve democracy as a tool to manage the peoples’ governments:

  • Federal, nationwide election campaigns are funded only by Federal tax dollars; the Federal Government pays for all Federal election campaigns. This includes constraints on private and local fund-raising for nationwide offices.
  • State, district, county and local campaigns may be funded only by entities within the jurisdiction of the specific office to be elected.
  • All elections, Federal, state and local, are limited to a six month time limit. Except within this time limit, no funds may be used for any purpose associated with elections including television, postal mail, shipping, telephone or any other source of communication.
  • Voting should allow electronic voting authorized by an algorithm based on identifiers within driver’s license, passport and personal banking. While this may seem unfair to those who live on the bottom fringe of society, their abuse is a separate issue that would be addressed in an effort for everyone to participate equally in today’s Internet world – including electronic voting.

So, if the reader is of like mind, send donations to . . .

Ancient Mariner


Faith is a necessary life tool for everyone

Read these words from this old hymnbook favorite – sing along if you know the melody:

Life is like a mountain railway

With an engineer that’s brave

We must make this run successful

From the cradle to the grave

Watch the curves, the fills, and tunnels

Never falter, never fail

Keep your hand upon the throttle

And your eyes upon the rail

The verse asks for a commitment to an ideal, a belief that the run must be successful. A belief in what? It could be any religion’s doctrine; it could be any political vision; it could be a personal life or a person’s sustained commitment against fatal disease.

The point is that all thoughts and behavior of any merit require belief in a valued objective. The only instruction in the verse is completing the run and keeping one’s hand upon the throttle. Could this verse be applicable to Blackbeard the pirate’s belief in his role on the high seas? (Yes, mixed metaphor)

What is missing today is context. At the beginning of the verse, what does ‘Life’ imply? As an ethical compass, what is the world supposed to believe in – not just the United States but the entire world? The confrontation is universal: what is a gibbon to trust in a disappearing habitat; what is a fish living on a dying coral reef to accept as normal; what is the dictator of Kazakhstan to believe about his uncertain future; what about the broken and abused family in Nicaragua; what about the preacher in Kansas or the steel worker in Detroit; what about the billionaire CEO. With our hand on the throttle, where is the rail taking us?

More than at any time since nations have existed, we live in a time of social disruption and turmoil. The job of Homo sapiens is to decide where the rail will take us. Holding on to broken, outdated, even useless railways doesn’t help. The job of everyone around the world today is to build a new destination for our railway.

The hymn cited at the beginning was written in 1890 by gospel songwriter Charles Davis Tillman. He styled it for the repertoire of white southerners, whose music was derived from Gospel. Further verses reference the Bible as a source of context. Life in 1890 was from another time, another reality. Where is Life headed today?

[For several renditions of the hymn see: ]

Ancient Mariner

Humans face Many Problems

In 2015 mariner wrote a post that attempted to distract readers from the campaigns of the last Presidential election. He focused on several natural phenomena that make human problems small and irrelevant. One topic was that the North and South poles switch places every so often. He wrote:

Every 200,000 years or so, the magnetosphere switches poles, that is, the North Pole becomes the South Pole and vice versa. Presently, we are experiencing the very early phases of a polar switch. Scientists have determined that the strength of the magnetosphere has dropped 15% since 1840. There is nothing cataclysmic about the switch. The North and South magnetic waves push through each other around the globe. For example, today the South Atlantic and the Bering Sea have very weak magnetic spots such that a compass can be seen to vacillate as North and South magnetic waves move back and forth. “It may take another 2,000 years,” said physicist Phil Scherrer of Stanford University.

The real danger in a magnetosphere shift is twofold: First, the magnetic waves shield us from strong radiation from the Sun that is capable of causing cancer and other radiation ills; the Earth’s magnetosphere is weakened considerably during a shift and the Sun’s radiation can reach the surface of the Earth. At some point, all satellite communications will be interrupted.

Second, every creature that depends on a compass to get around will experience a topsy-turvy effect that turns everything backwards. Many creatures may be disoriented: Monarch butterflies, geese, whales – anything that migrates great distances without mapping terrain.

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Mariner’s question today in 2020 is, “Will humans suffer topsy-turvy effects because all the maps and street signs will be backwards? What about life without GPS? Will self-driving cars just wander aimlessly? Will Google Earth even know?”

Ancient Mariner

Democracy is like the game of Jenga

Jenga is the name of that game where wooden blocks are stacked one by one to build a narrow tower that grows very high then each player must remove one block at a time without the tower collapsing into a pile of rubble.
Running a democracy is similar. The tower represents the power of a collective effort, the power of vision, cohesiveness, unity of purpose, and power among nations. The tower generates gross national product, human services and military defense. Being a democracy, like Jenga, it is a fragile compilation.
The analogy must be stretched a bit to understand the game of democracy. Unlike Jenga, democracy adds blocks and takes blocks away simultaneously. That is the purpose of democracy: everyone can draw benefits from the tower but in turn must at the same time add a new block to keep the tower strong. Like Jenga, democracy is a fragile construction but is not limited to one architectural vision; democracy is many towers, many broad, low lying configurations and spreads in every direction.
The skill is the ability for citizens to draw a beneficial block from the unity of the tower but to give a personal block back for the good of the tower. For example, the tower provides freedom of speech but in turn requires that a citizen must return that right to the tower for others to use as well. To press the analogy one step further, unity of purpose is the antigravity magic that keeps the democracy tower from collapsing.
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It is obvious, of course, that today the democracy tower is in disarray. It seems there are many citizens who take a block only and do not add one back to the tower. Many of these citizens are billionaire oligarchs, extremist groups, career-obsessed politicians, oppressed classes and racists. The reader may note the inclusion of the oppressed. Citizens without the benefit of democratic unity often rebel by debunking unity and will refuse to cooperate in any effort to build unity. Currently, they are called Trump’s Base.
Again unlike Jenga, the rulebook is humongous and, in fact, never ends. The rulebook covers subjects like taxes, economy, safety and health regulations, education, rules for corporations and religions, rules for individuals, and on and on. It is a difficult read as well. All of this diversity is held together by that magical antigravity – national unity.
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Not all the threats to the tower of democracy come from individual greed or misunderstanding. A major threat to the tower is the design of the tower itself. In the game of Jenga, imagine if one player wanted a tower that looked like a Saguaro cactus, another wanted a tower that looked like a Prickly Pear cactus and a third wanted a tower that looked like a Bishop’s Hat cactus.


To make it seem more relevant, instead of cacti, substitute capitalism, socialism, communism, authoritarianism, plutocracy, or likely in the future, hegemony. In practice, a citizen may take a block from democracy but does not put a block back that provides the same function; the citizen replaces it with something different. For example, a citizen may benefit from a change in tax benefits but in return insists on compensating for the benefit by reducing the payout to Social Security – two different images of the tower!
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This treatise is running long. Take a breath and dive into another Jenga analogy: Suppose everyone is playing Jenga and understands the usefulness of the building squares. Suddenly, as the players draw more blocks, they begin to take on weird shapes like pyramids, octagons, spheres and ellipses. Trying to build the tower – let alone trying to benefit from it – becomes a virtual impossibility. Welcome to Artificial Intelligence (AI).
We must have compassion for our democracy tower. It is faced with AI, climate change, global pandemic, global migration, rapid polarization of human resources, massive economic shifts both in production and in consumption; the Gross Domestic Product has come loose from its leash, and instant global data knowledge from the Internet has the effect of a power hose washing away antigravity.
Democracy needs more than money and politics in November. It needs unity. Vote accordingly.
Ancient Mariner.

A New Form of Popular Government

A new methodology for electing government representatives is emerging. Eighteen states already have some form of ‘ranked choice voting’ in place. Instead of using ballots that pit party against party, the ballot will elect the most popular candidate, party notwithstanding. It works exactly like the TV show ‘America’s Got Talent’. Perhaps for elections it should be renamed as ‘American Politicians Got Talent’. has the most succinct description:

“Ranked-choice voting allows citizens to rank their candidate preferences on an election ballot instead of voting for a single candidate. If one candidate does not initially win a majority, competitors with the fewest votes are eliminated from the race and their voters’ second choices are applied to the tallies of the remaining candidates until one candidate achieves a majority.”

The process asks the voter to rank all the candidates rather than selecting just one. Then, exactly like voting on ‘America’s Got Talent’, less popular candidates are eliminated to identify the candidate with the highest ranked votes.

So what does the reader think about this?

Dominated by political party machinery, the election environment has become both complex and expensive. For the 2020 primary, mariner’s own state, Iowa, collapsed under burdensome procedures of trying to determine who would be on the Democratic Party’s ticket. Bean counting became an art form involving many qualifiers that confused voters at the precinct level; it grew worse as tallies were transferred up the chain to State headquarters.

Hand in hand with complexity was the amount of cash required to sustain elaborate party machinations and local campaigning. For years at the national level, all political parties continuously have been increasing fund raising to the point that one had to be a billionaire (Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg) to run independent of party machinery. It is conceivable, one hopes, that funding will become a local sport rather than a national one.

Besides the overly complex and expensive processes the parties have created, the party system became competitive in its own right for its own purposes – subverting the idea that it was the voter who was most important. Many pundits identify Newt Gingrich as the politician who made winning as a party more important than winning as a nation. This has grown intense over the decades to the point today where party victory counts far more than compromise in behalf of the electorate. Note only the shenanigans of Federal and Supreme Court nominations in recent years. Today the Senate Majority Leader (McConnell) controls every aspect of business in the Senate; in the House the Speaker has the same role (Pelosi) – the Party comes first.

Lastly, because the founding fathers left voting procedures to the States, there are many different election procedures for each state, each city, each county and each Representative district. In this age of cultural change at the speed of light, even the ballot is under pressure to change for the twenty-first century. The familiar list includes government supported elections without private funding; eliminate the Electoral College; reallocate the Senate to represent the population; allow referendums at the Federal level. Now add ranked choice ballots.

Ancient Mariner