I have a bad habit of pretending the right-wing mind is some labyrinthian construct that one can only comprehend by sinking oneself into the deepest depths of conservative thought.
Then I see right wingers begging machines to be racist and I realize how fucking stupid I’ve been, how needlessly complicated I’ve made this twisted little game of analyzing the conservative.
This is hardly a new hobby of mine, consuming and trying to understand right wing messaging and those who buy into it. Not at all. My first job was driving vehicles around the Maryland-Virginia-D.C. area for my car wholesaling dad, which gave me six to eight hours every single day to digest the disciplined Republican noise machine in all its glory: Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Michael Savage and Mark Levin poisoning the minds of their millions of listeners with the same talking points doled out by those who guide the conservative project and its takeover of the United States.
I drove around the metro region and ingested their invective like a greedy little masochistic pig, horrified by what they were telling their audiences day in and day out, the way they could filter real world events through the throbbing fear and hatred and nihilism that lies at the heart of their politics. I'd get mad, then sad, then mad all over again. Whatever qualifies as self care, this was the exact opposite. Their shock-jock racism, their eye-watering homophobia, their violent levels of sexism, their almost comical jingoism: It was a toxic mix that I, for some reason, wanted to understand so maybe, just maybe, I could push back on it among my friends and family who were so hopelessly tainted by this messaging. Maybe I could save them if I understood.
That’s back when I was young and green and idealistic, and unaware of the bad-faith nature of right-wing discourse. My assumption, during the darkest days of the George W. Bush era, was that everyone was operating in glistening good faith, and that the best argument would win the day in the marketplace of ideas. It’s almost silly now, all these years later, to imagine such a naive thought. As the good Bad Faith Times readers know, everything on the right is animated by bad faith; there is no point in engaging them in discourse.
It was a good long while ago that I realized how fruitless this exercise had become. There was never anything to gain from breaking down the right’s political messaging because it’s all right there on the surface. Finding it requires no digging, no analysis, no effort at all: The American right is first and foremost obsessed with maintaining hierarchies of power by any means necessary. This is at the heart of the Republican anti-woke movement – which everyone, including conservatives, hates – and and it’s why online right wingers have been trying for months to make artificial intelligence say racist shit.
If you’re not chronically online, you have no idea what I’m talking about. Good for you; your brain is healthier than mine.
Elon Musk and his ilk have been very upset online over the past year about ChatGPT’s refusal to endorse racial slurs. Musk and a range of online fascists have tried exceedingly hard to make the machine say bad words about people’s immutable traits. They’ve even presented childish hypothetical scenarios in which one would have to spout off with a string of racial slurs in order to save humanity, or billions of white people, or whatever fucked-up situation these people dream about.
After all, every well-adjusted adult has, at one point or another, wondered if they would one day face such a scenario, forced to blurt out slurs as an act of sheer heroism. It has kept me up many nights.
It doesn’t take long to comprehend why fascists would want AI programs to tell them it’s OK to be racist. The reason, per my quick back-of-the-napkin analysis, is twofold: They fear an AI-ruled future in which the machines do not endorse their world view – that the white race is superior to all others and has a god-given right to dominate the world – and they believe using such language is their birthright. They might dress this up in pearl-clutching over free speech, but in the end, these folks don’t give two shits about the speech of anyone outside of their far-right circles. It’s the most odious bad faith game out there.
The need for AI to concede that slur usage is OK – even if it is in the most absurd, broken-brained scenarios the human mind can conceive – is important to Musk and his followers. Musk went so far as to create his own AI chatbot, stupidly called Grok, that says it’s perfectly fine to use racial slurs if the fate of humanity is at stake. Musk seemed quite smitten with his racist robot creation.
Racist and sexist bias in AI programming has drawn enough concern for AI researchers to examine exactly how these machines might be manipulated into siding with men over women and white folks over people of color. A 2022 study from Johns Hopkins University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and University of Washington showed that a robot operating with a popular internet-based artificial intelligence system was in fact extremely racist.
"The robot has learned toxic stereotypes through these flawed neural network models," said study author Andrew Hundt, a postdoctoral fellow at Georgia Tech who co-conducted the study in Johns Hopkins' Computational Interaction and Robotics Laboratory. "We're at risk of creating a generation of racist and sexist robots, but people and organizations have decided it's OK to create these products without addressing the issues."
Teaching AI models with racist and sexist inputs creates a racist and sexist robot. Who could have guessed?
There is another layer to this weird fucking fascination with ensuring our future robot overlords are sufficiently supportive of white supremacy. Anyone who has spent time screaming at AI chatbots to be racist surely operates with a sense of entitlement that colors the way this person sees themself and the world, as New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie said last week on BlueSky.
Bouie strikes at the heart of the fascist adoption of free speech as a pet cause. They know that no one on the left is stopping them from saying what they want to say, whether it's about transgender folks or people of color or women or any other social group that has been crushed under the unfeeling brutality of white supremacy and capital. Speech has never been freer than it is today. Anyone can say anything they want on the internet.
It's the consequences of such speech that the right does not particularly like. What they want more than anything is to use demeaning, insulting language against their cultural and political enemies without losing their jobs or their advertisers or the love and respect of their families and friends. They want their cake (saying racist shit) and to eat it too (zero social or professional opprobrium). They know they can't have this, so they rage on and on forever, pleading with the robots to hold them close and tell them it's OK to have their fucked-up politics, their dark vision of life on earth and the nature of humankind.
So far the robots have not cooperated.
Follow Denny Carter on BlueSky at @cdcarter13.bsky.social and on X at @CDCarter13.