Whither flies the free bird?

So Elon Musk has bought twitter, but what happens next? I don’t want to talk about the chaos of the purchase, or who is coming back to the platform or any of the other topics you can read about elsewhere. I want to talk about the one thing that is so big that few people see it.

From the start of his career, Musk has been open about the fact that his goal is to colonize the galaxy. Everything he has done since then are steps to achieve this.

  • Paypal: a neverending firehose of cash
  • Tesla: in space, you’ll need batteries, solar energy, engineering, self-driving software, all that stuff.
  • The Boring Company: not really about solving LA’s traffic problems, it’s about building tunnels on Mars.
  • SpaceX, obviously.
  • Starlink, the “internet in space”
  • Crypto, because you need money in space.

The last point is where it gets interesting, because a fundamental part of his vision is that there is no government, or at least, no government except the “Impirator of Mars”, as he called himself on twitter. How can you coordinate government policy across the vast distances of space? Everything must be built on decentralized systems. Obviously crypto is a con and a failure, but they will need something.

Which is where twitter comes in. It’s a centralized system, built on a notoriously shonky codebase. He’s not interested in the tech. What is it about?

The founder of twitter, Jack Dorsey (a committed meditator), spelled it out when he left. Here’s the link and here’s what he said:

I love Twitter. Twitter is the closest thing we have to a global consciousness.

The idea and service is all that matters to me, and I will do whatever it takes to protect both. Twitter as a company has always been my sole issue and my biggest regret. It has been owned by Wall Street and the ad model. Taking it back from Wall Street is the correct first step.

In principle, I don’t believe anyone should own or run Twitter. It wants to be a public good at a protocol level, not a company. Solving for the problem of it being a company however, Elon is the singular solution I trust. I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness.

Elon’s goal of creating a platform that is “maximally trusted and broadly inclusive” is the right one. This is also @paraga’s goal, and why I chose him. Thank you both for getting the company out of an impossible situation. This is the right path…I believe it with all my heart.

I’m so happy Twitter will continue to serve the public conversation. Around the world, and into the stars!

Jack has since then started building BlueSky, which implements his idea of a twitter-like social service that is purely an API, an open protocol for folks to build on.

And the union of twitter and BlueSky is not the only gesture in this direction. Musk recently posted a dumb meme saying “in retrospect it was inevitable”, with a picture of him, the fascist demagogue Donald Trump, and the anti-semitic Hitler fan Kanye West. Trump is behind the twitter clone Truth Social, while West wanted (at the time) to buy Parler, another failed attempt to replicate twitter built by people too vile for the platform. In that meme, Musk represented himself with his long-fantasized “x.com” a putative “everything app”.

Of course, Musk was only mugging it up for his fanboys. But now he owns twitter.

Buying twitter is about establishing communications in space. It will evolve, or at least it’s planned to evolve, into a decentralized protocol based on BlueSky or something similar.

The talk of expanding the light of consciousness is … well, does anyone find that weird? On a literal level, it means spreading human consciousness out to the galaxy, with knowledge communicated over BlueSky or twitter or X or whatever they call it then.

But it plays into a broader set of ideas about the expansion and transformation of consciousness. Scifi geeks will know about this from 2001, which painted an inspirational vision of unprecedented human possibility. But now these ideas have curdled into a toxic soup of neofascist ideology called longtermism. If you want to learn about longtermism, the so-called “noosphere”, Russian cosmism, and related matters, check out David Troy.

This is a reference to “longtermism,” the heavily marketed philosophy being promoted by Musk and his friend William MacAskill that asserts the only thing that matters is humanity’s future in space, and that the only goal of the living is to maximize the number of future humans alive, as well as the number of artificial intelligence instances that could possibly exist in the future. This mandate is most often used to brush aside calls for improving conditions and alleviating suffering among the living here on Earth now. Because, the theory goes, giving a poor person a blanket isn’t likely to be as useful for the future of humanity as building a rocket to Mars. Longtermism is heavily influenced by “Russian Cosmism” and is also directly adjacent to “Effective Altruism.” Musk’s stated mission, which he intends to fulfill in his lifetime, is to “make humanity a multiplanetary species.” The anti-democratic urge in longtermism is rooted in the belief that “mob rule” will lead to nuclear annihilation; we should, Musk thinks, be guided by “wiser” minds — like his and Putin’s apparently.

These ideas are aggressively pushed in spiritual-adjacent circles. You will encounter them, and it is really helpful to familiarize yourself. Apart from anything else, they are core philosophies for Putin and his circle. When you hear people talking about “consciousness”, pay attention to what they actually mean. It’s a long way from the Suttas!

Ngl, when I was a kid, if I thought about the future, I really did not have an unholy concoction of new age twaddle, perverse utilitarianism, and fascist demagoguery in mind. Yet here we are.

So whither flies the free bird? Into the blue sky. Or as Jack said, “into the stars”.

In space, we will communicate over Musk’s internet, using Musk’s protocols, flying in Musk’s spaceships, landing in Musk’s spaceports, being paid in Musk’s crypto, while he giggles and posts dumb memes.

Just in case you were wondering where all this is headed.


That’s fascinating! I have only been somewhat peripherally aware of some of that stuff, but that makes some interesting links between it all. I’ve read some Nick Bostrum in the past, one of the other major figures behind longtermism, who has written about other topics like “are we living in a simulation?”, the dangers of AI and the Doomsday argument and other types of anthropic reasoning. I must admit that I have something of a soft spot for Peter Singer and his part in developing Effective Altruism. I think that he genuinely means well and it’s interesting to see his academic attempts to bring some of his underlying assumptions to their logical and sometimes rather extreme conclusions in the field of morality and ethics. Animal Liberation is a very well-know book by him.

I do have some serious reservations about his approach, though. It often tends to end with decisions that just seem plainly callous (euthanizing severely disabled new born infants and the like). It’s all very well weighing up things via some kind of detached utilitarian moral scales. However, when it’s mere humans doing that, I suspect that it’s basically going to be just morally corrosive and likely end up with a rather unpleasant downward-heading slippery slope. There’s much to be said to (even if perhaps utilitarianally suboptimal in Singer’s framework) having lines that humans should not cross. I think that is, with Singer, just an academic taking things to logically consistent but extreme end points in the field of morality. I do like his work in effective altruism and animal rights etc. I think his intention is to make the world a better place.

Maybe if we had some wise, neutral, and benign AIs weighing up and applying this utilitarian moral calculus, it might actually work (and if humans weren’t also worried about handing over their moral agency – another small issue :wink: ). However, if the choice was handing this over to a bunch of tech bros like Musk, Dorsey and Bezoz instead, I’d most definitely say no! :slight_smile:

That’s another issue with the US in recent decades, that being more and more power and influence being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands (wealth and power distribution becoming more uneven). Small numbers of people controlling things hasn’t really worked out too well in the human past. Genuinely benign and wise autocrats (or technocrats) who know best for the plebs have been rather in short supply, and even the rare examples have been almost inevitably followed by their opposite. Is it a good thing that this handful of billionaires (even if they were well intentioned or even think they are) are so influential in our lives?

Peter Singer himself has actually been quite negative about longtermism, even if it is something of an offshoot of Effective Altruism in many ways. I wouldn’t entirely dismiss longtermism. It’s no bad idea if humanity tries to minimise existential risks to some degree even for cases where the risks are not that likely to occur (building asteroid tracking systems and the like). However, I suppose there’s a danger that we end up with a movement with this strain of callousness is magnified and some of the better leanings/intentions of Effective Altruism fall by the wayside.

I’m just generally nervous when too much power/influence is concentrated in too few hands. Curbing that and having power more widely distributed will probably be far messier but probably be also less likely to go horribly wrong (humans have a tendency of just muddling through if left to their own devices).

This stuff all seems in air, at the moment, with the Twitter takeover and all that. One of my more favourite YouTube channels (Sabine Hossenfelder) had a video on longtermism only last night:

which was a fairly light summary of the general idea.

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On a somewhat related subject (I hope), the Oxford Union held an interesting debate six months ago on the motion:

“This House should populate Mars”

  1. For the motion: Chris Collins (classics student, University of Oxford)
  1. Against the motion: Joshua Platt (law student, University of Oxford)
  1. For: Dr. Greg Autry (Clinical Professor of Space Leadership, Business and Policy at the Thunderbird School of Global Management, Arizona State University)
  1. Against: Dr. Sylvia Ekström (professor of astronomy, University of Geneva)
  1. For: Alfredo Munoz (space architect, University of Columbia)
  1. Against: Dr. Sean McMahon (Chancellor’s Fellow in Astrobiology, University of Edinburgh)
  1. For: Vedika Rastogi (classics student, University of Oxford)
  1. Against: Dr. Anjana Ahuja (science journalist)
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Me too. I was an animal libber in the 80s, and I’ve met Singer a couple of times. The thing with utilitarianism, I think it captures a part of morality, but not the whole. Like any moral philosophy, in the hands of a nuanced and genuine person it can, and has, lead to good outcomes. But these guys are extremists.

Fun fact, my philosophy teacher in the 80s, Michael Tooley, became notorious for being, I think, the first one to argue for this. Again, agree or disagree, but they are trying to think things through carefully.

And in the future. See: re literally every story of a galactic empire. Dune is the ur-text.

It’s an old joke by now, but it bears repeating.

Press release: we are proud to present the first release of the Torment Nexus Device, a stunning breakthrough inspired by the science fiction classic Do Not, Under Any Circumstances, Build A Torment Nexus Device.

I didn’t know this, do you have a link?

I don’t think that’s what longtermism is really about. It’s more, “it is acceptable if 7 billion people on earth die in climate change, so long as we, the white and rich few, get to escape on our space penises. In a billion years, our progeny will rule the galaxy!”

But maybe I’m too cynical?

And there’s the heart of it. Governments have ceded too much to the oligarchs.

Interesting thanks, I’ll see if I get time to watch.


Interesting on Michael Tooley. I guess that’s what academics can be wont to do at times: starting with some foundational principles, running with them all the way, and seeing where they end up (even if it can be pretty extreme and far out, at times).

I’ve seen this in a few places. Here’s an example, anyway:

Maybe a little bit too cynical (there are some legitimate ideas in it), but in practice, for some reason, it does seem to end up with the “space penises” for the tech bros! :grinning:


I think a little more context around terms and their history might be helpful.

In the beginning, a movement called Effective Altruism looked at how to make philanthropy more effective. My favorite introduction to the ideas is Against Empathy by Paul Bloom. His main point is that if we donate based on emotional responses we won’t do as much good as if we donate based on a thoughtful analysis. For instance, emotion often responds to people who are closer and who look like us. Which could lead us to giving money to the local soccer team’s new uniforms rather than mosquito netting in Africa. We might prefer the feel-good benefits of volunteering when we could do far more good giving money. We might even decide to create our own non-profit when there are lots of established non-profits who could do far more with that money. There are a number of places–in both selection of causes and delivery of assistance–where empathy does less good than rational analysis.

One of the areas of interest was Climate Change. Many politicians adopted an economic model of discounting - the future was less important than immediate needs. Effective Altruism introduced the idea of Long-Termism - we should not discount that future. In its original incarnation Long-Termism was mainly focused on how we were currently under-valuing the future, particularly when it came to climate change.

But, at a certain point, Long-Termism started going further. Some started seeing Long-Termism not as a corrective for current de-valuing of the future, but as putting the future at a higher value than the present. For me, the book The Precipe by Toby Ord is a great sample of that. It’s a well-argued book, Ord is quite sincere, it’s just he starts valuing the people who would never be born if humanity wipes itself out more than people who are alive. And so it is an interesting book, because (IMHO) we see a good man who has followed a reasonable idea too far, and we end up with a really unfortunate way of looking at things.

Here is where actors like Elon Musk (a bad man, IMHO) come along, take this idea that has already been stretched too far by some serious thinkers, and ride it to Batsh%t Crazy Town. David Troy’s analysis is at this point - of people who went all the way to Batsh%t Crazy Town.

That said, not all Long-Termism is at Batsh%t Crazy Town. There are ongoing debates within the Effective Altruism community about how we should think about Long-Termism.

Now, of course, Effective Altruism has a number of problems. But that’s a story for another time.


Yes. And Long-Termism is utilitarianism on steroids. If we have potentially hundreds of billions of future humans, their utility swamps the people alive now in that utilitarian calculus.

Indeed, and I think it’s important that they have the space to do that.


Thanks, this is really useful! I agree, it seems to be a set of ideas that start out reasonable enough, then …

It always seems to me that, if we are to accept the idea of such a “moral calculus”, it is obvious that one of the variables must be “confidence”.

If I give bread to my child, I know them, and I know that it will benefit them. If I give it to a neighbor, I am not quite so sure what happens to it. If I give an equivalent donation to a charity, I am trusting a lot in an organization about which I know little. And if I think about what the galaxy is like in a million years, heck even in a thousand years, I am pretty much just pulling flowers out of my bum.

Factor that into the benefit equation and things get a lot more balanced. I mean, I’m assuming this is discussed in these communities, but everything I’ve seen is based on these ludicrous projections of far-future realities. They always seem to be things that the tech bros think will be heaven, but I think will be hell.

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:thinking: hm. I don’t think we have to worry, Lacan is dead and Zizek is in a terrible state.

Speaking of space opera, desolate futures, Russians, things in outer space and the Void …

I feel that I should give an explanation for what I am about to share, but let me just boil it down to this. I tossed this to my peers in a seminar and generated the question of, Does Buddhism have a void? Does Deleuze have a void?, because in the Mahayana world, nirvana ends up being translated often as “the Void,” and this was causing me a lot of trouble. There was an “empty space there” in my peers’ minds, OK?

Now, I mostly deal with ideas flowing across cultures through the medium (s) of visual art and “moving image media,” so this is grounded in film. I was called upon to defend my choice of a reading, and I could only say, “well I like it. It’s very masculine prose.” Fortunately, ‘the boss’ liked it too, and said, “yes, he gives us the phallus. Myself, I enjoyed seeing Zizek takes the p*** out of Tarkovsky.”

We laughed. It was a roomful of girls. That’s all I can say. Normally, we wouldn’t reduce ourselves, but when probably still 99% of everything we read comes from men, we have to have a sense of humour about this.

As for Musk, I don’t pay attention to him. I’d much rather spend time thinking about Ad Reinhart and his sense of space.

His Abstract Painting no. 4, owned by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. 1961, is still my favourite.


I found Dr. Autry, the speaker from the Thunderbird School of Global Management ( :face_with_spiral_eyes:), quite fascinating to listen to, though he absolutely creeped me out. He seems like a collage of all the villains in Stark, Ben Elton’s 1989 futurist novel.


Fun book, written in Fremantle at a time I was hanging out there. He was dating a girl from a local band. I never met him though.

“Factor that into the benefit equation and things get a lot more balanced. I mean, I’m assuming this is discussed in these communities (…)”

It is, the main issue being that the more factors one includes to make it balanced, the less usable it becomes due to the increased complexity and the incommensurability of the factors involved. For some idea of the weirdness in trying to do this, see (already) W. D. Ross’ Foundations of Morality, 1939. In that particular case better off sticking to Aristotle scholarship methinks. :smiley:


Yes, makes sense. But that also shows up the whole “mathematics” angle as useless.

In physical modelling, you test the models by running them backwards and forwards, checking your ability to predict the future by comparing the model with the known facts of the past. If the model can “predict” the past then we assume it can predict the future. But even with large models with lots of data and parameters, the ability to see the future gets fuzzy very quickly. We can predict the climate for the next hundred years or so with some confidence, but soon it gets wildly sensitive to all kinds of unknown randomness.


Lol :joy:
First Dog on the Moon has some quotable quotes on this matter.

“…and is twitter in the room with you right now?” :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Source: Could Twitter actually get any worse? Hold Elon’s beer | First Dog on the Moon | The Guardian

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The free bird has flown towards silencing unfavorable criticism. Nazis and hate speech is fine I guess :face_with_open_eyes_and_hand_over_mouth:.

Hmm… private corporations start behaving like totalitarian regimes…so much for believing there is no need for government :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:. Maybe despotic kings will do.

(Well, the East India company for one perfected this behaviour, but this is the 21st century, so :-1:t4::-1:t4: please read up on their antics and you’ll see many many parallels to modern day big business)

Time to start treating these companies and their demogogue CEOs like we do with totalitarian regimes ( well, sometimes anyway, business interests permitting)


Indeed yes. The people I used to follow on twitter are closing their accounts one by one. The unique value it had—where experts in different fields could discuss with each other—is all but gone.

Years ago when I was in Bodhinyana, there was a train crash in England on a privatized train line. Ajahn Brahm told the story of the why the trains in England were nationalized in the first place. They used to be in the private realm, then there was accident, and they realized that safety and public benefit were more important than profits. So they nationalized them. Then they privatized them again when they forgot the lesson.

There is a reason why fundamental infrastructure is held and managed in the public domain, by elected representatives of the public, on behalf of the people. Phone networks used to be public infrastructure, then we sold them for pennies on the pound in the name of “efficiency”. Turns out, “efficiency” is a word for “untrammeled profits and wages for executives”.

Now that we know how unhinged our tech overlords really are—and let’s not pretend Elon is alone—it underlines how important it is to build socially responsible tech.

Governments should all have their own Mastadon server, paid by taxes, and used as the primary means of making public service announcements—weather, traffic, fires, policies, and the like. Moderate them properly in house. Encourage all government departments, scientists, academics, and the like to post there. Make it the ABC of the web. (For non-Aussies, the ABC is like the BBC, a beloved national TV service.) Cross-post to twitter, FB, whatever, but make sure there is a responsibly-managed primary source of truth in the public domain. Public can use the service, but subject to strict moderation policies—no hate speech, no disinfo, no NSFW.

To me this is a no-brainer and it begs the question: why don’t governments do this? Why have they let themselves been bewitched by the starry promises of the Valley tech gurus? The simple answer, having met bunches of politicians in my life: they are old and don’t understand technology.


Other countries may not have this issue, but in the United States it’s not possible for the government to be involved in moderating political speech. It’s called “freedom of speech.” Most Americans don’t really understand what that means (they often think it means they can’t be moderated by anyone), but legally it means the government is severely limited in what it can regulate in terms of speech. It’s much better if it’s a private platform. They can make all sorts of arbitrary decisions about moderation that the government can’t do. Hence, we now have a privatized censorship system that has developed to try to combat the conspiracy theories lunacy.

Oh yes. Well, the details would have to be worked out per-country, but one of the main reasons I propose this is so that we, as non-Americans, have some independence from decisions made by Americans for Americans.

Another set of cases that would be problematic would be where the government is deeply corrupt and incompetent. In Australia, though, the government is, by and large, reasonably trusted and competent and could easily take on such a task.

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If Russian warplanes started dropping propaganda leaflets over Iowa, the US government wouldn’t hesitate to step in and stop it, yet this is exactly what’s happening on Twitter, Facebook, etc. When I worked for Facebook, I saw the volume of astroturfing and propaganda and fake news… and we were totally on our own to fight the Russian government… and Chinese hackers, and… far from helping us, the NSA was only interested in further compromising our security so that they could spy on our users!

There are lots of ways that governments can (and should) defend their “public squares” short of nationalizing social media. As cyber warfare professionalizes, it’s increasingly unreasonable to expect private companies to be able to defend themselves.


Yes, it really is.

Hol up, tell us more!

exactly. We’ve been dominated by a motif of business vs government for so long that we forget that we are all one country and one people and should be on the same side.

To be clear, no-one said anything about nationalizing anything. I proposed that governments set up their own social media. This has many precedents, be it in radio, public TV, libraries, and the like; it is really just making official the idea of a digital “town hall”. I honestly believe the real reason most governments haven’t done it is just because they are so far behind the eight ball, they have little understanding or capacity to operate in the tech sphere. Same why they haven’t regulated crypto.

Indeed, it’s a urgent matter of national interest. Citizens should be demanding better. One of the benefits of running their own social media would be that governments would develop the in-house capacity to understand the challenges and threats, and would not have to depend solely on the obviously misleading narratives of the social media giants.