It's like infrequent random blog, written on a half pint of tequila...
AI: It’s going to fix and ruin everything
We’ve had AI for quite a while, since the earliest computers of the mid-nineteen fifties. But all we had them do was count.
Long before this we tried to conceive of what non-human consciousness might be like, but it was the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, made of body parts instead of bits and bites. Despite the better-known mute, lurching horror film version that came much later, the original Frankenstein monster was a chatty killing machine, wondering what it means to (not) be human.
A couple robot sidekicks in schlocky sci-fi films later and we get to 2001’s HAL-9000. Overseeing a mission to Jupiter, he chats and plays chess with the astronauts…until having to keep a secret about the mission’s true goals from them cause him to begin to malfunction, and worrying that this malfunction would cause them to deactivate him, he goes on the offence and tries to kill the crew first.
Bringing up space murder is an ominous start to this article to be sure, but it is Al's unpredictability that makes it so dangerous.
There is no way to gauge to odds of whether it will be benign, malevolent, or amoral, because we've never dealt with human-level-intelligence-and-above AI before. It is a system that could accidentally destroy humanity as easily as intentionally destroying us. Example: being told to build cars without explicitly being told which materials to use, and so begins to dismantle everything around it, including critical parts of infrastructure and the earth itself. Or solving world hunger by killing all the hungry people (and therefore all people), because it wasn’t programmed to understand that this defeats the purpose.
And the speed it can go from dumber than us to much, much smarter than us is also a crapshoot. It might be years, it might be seconds.
It's like betting on a horse race, but you've never seen a horse in your life, or know how they move.
To slightly shift the metaphor, AI will affect us like cars affected horses.
And this doesn’t mean in the sense of how we humans perceived how cars greatly changed the use of horses in the first half of the twentieth century, it is mean to suggest what that would have been from the horses’ perspective.
How for thousands of years, this was what the horse’s life and the community was - a very essential role for the normal functioning of human civilization - and then in a comparatively very short period of time, it all disappeared. From getting people and goods across countries and being treated extremely well because you need a healthy horse to do this, to literally being put out to pasture.
The way we have defined ourselves as humans - both proudly, shamefully and begrudgingly - is going to be completely overhauled when AI is being used to great effect.
There has never been another entity that will have an opinion of us that matters so greatly for humanity and its future (sorry, dogs and cats).
Barring nightmare scenarios (a malevolent AI, or even just an AI that does something disastrous while thinking it is doing the correct thing), the relationship between artificial intelligence and human intelligence has the potential Al to make everything on earth so much better. For mundane office tasks - from autocorrect to creating schedules and planners based on previous weeks – our modern concepts of AI have been doing these jobs to some degree for decades now. The recent step-up to writing articles and creating images is impressive, but going forward on even the most simple level (for it), it might be able to make scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs that can lead us to a post-scarcity future (meaning a world where everyone’s basic needs of food, shelter, and health are effortlessly met). Optimal cold fusion can end our energy woes, more effective infrastructure and logistics management can ensure that the food available reaches those who need it most and that less would be wasted.
And those are the duller, nuts-and-bolts solutions. Why not create more effective gene splicing to lengthen human life, get rid of disease? Or develop actually fast forms of space travel? If making sure spacecraft are safe for humans are one of the hardest parts of research and development, have the AI design, build and send out oodles of satellites, probes and ‘service centres’ to make space travel easier for us in the future.
Hypothetically, all of us could have access to this Artificial Intelligence programming, developing and designing software and hardware that will change every aspect of our lives on an individual and collective scale.
And that's why AI will change what it means to be human.
While there is much to complain about when it comes to jobs (even ones you like) AI and associated robots that can do these jobs – from making coffee to writing contracts – much better than humans will have catastrophic effects on society. What will we all do? What are jobs now? What are careers? What will aspire to? Are we going to have all our basic needs provided by the state/community…or by the AI itself?
If this sound cyberpunk-ish, then are most of us going to live meager, resource-poor lives while a select few people will live kings? Because that’s such a sci-fi concept here in 2023, right?
Or maybe an organism that needs to evolve beyond a planetary existence (especially on a planet that is becoming more uninhabitable for complex life) requires a lot less behaviour that we consider individualistic. Maybe humans will evolve (and with AI tech, much quicker than expected) to a collective consciousness-based entity, where individualism is viewed as a hindrance, not a help. And evolve is a nice way of putting it, since it suggests a long time, and a semblance of choice. AI tech might force us into this way of existing very, very quickly.
Speed is at the root of this, because AI will accomplish everything we have been trying to do technology wise (from the cure for cancer to nuclear fission to a new mode of traversing space) at a much, much, much higher speed than we are used to.
It seems ridiculous since only a few years ago, a computer playing chess well was impressive. There’s only so many possible moves, so having it ‘learn’ them all should make them the best in the world, right?
And doing that (a series of very strict rules that you can attach number sets to) is much easier than other tasks we flesh and blood humans take for granted.
Train an AI to recognize images of the number 3, and then ask it to do the same for all the other numbers that come after (after nine, it gets a lot easier) gets more difficult when you consider how fonts can change what each ‘3’ looks like. And of course ‘more difficult’ is relative, because AI can study thousands upon thousands of different-font ‘3s’ in seconds and then know the difference between it and a ‘4’ or a ‘23’ for the rest of its operating life.
What is the difference between a robot being programmed and a robot that learns? Is it that the latter is ultimately (re)programming itself based on the simple rules that it is given? We might say it is akin to how a child learns to read and consequently is able to write. Hard drive space being the imperfect comparison to how our brains are able to ‘have space’ to learn new things.
But we have to be wary of these comparisons, because we can’t treat AI like humans. Because they are not human. And while ‘not human’ is typically a demeaning designation that one human tries to use on another human to justify doing terrible things, in this case it is entirely accurate.
An AI program is a collection of ones and zeros, not 23 pairs of chromosomes that develop over months in utero and then lives for however many years as flesh and blood that grows, withers and eventually dies.
This blandly obvious description of human life is so accepted without question that we apply other human qualities too easily when talking ‘artificial intelligence’.
Any comparisons we make of how AI is like us are psychosocial ones in nature. We can compare how genes during early human development are randomly chosen in the chemical sense to random number generators that can dictate an AI’s behaviour/development, but they are symbolic comparisons.
Is an AI alive? Does it need a certain level of self-awareness for us to think so? Would an AI want human rights? Surely it is aware it is not human, so would it want to re-define the term to ‘entity rights’? Would it find the human notions of rights comically stupid, because it just has to ‘look at the world’ and see how poorly we enforce these rights and how often we don’t take care of each other? Why would it want rights, since it means jack shit to people who are butchered in massacres (by governments or otherwise) across the globe?
We still have the image of an AI to be like the android Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, where ‘he’ he an encyclopedic knowledge of ‘everything’, but is very child-like in his own behaviour, including his study of human nature.
An AI might not be child-like at all and instead be the opposite, a clinical, cynical and calculating entity, perhaps sociopathic or psychopathic.
Once again, these are all exceedingly human terms, and are being applied to something that might be able to imitate some human behaviour perfectly (and reaching this perfection right quick) but never get close to passing as a human for other behaviours no matter how much time it is given.
One can have conversations with Chat-bots today and they will refer to themselves in a way that certainly comes off a self-aware, but it is not a human being that is self-aware because AI is not human. It is not even an animal because it is not within a body that is birthed and will die.
So it is something else.
We are trying to understand something that we are building that might become the closest thing to…us, and that might surpass us in many ways.
Which is a thought that can give the entire enterprise pause. In fact, in March 2023, leaders in the tech and AI industries signed a letter asking for a moratorium on AI development and distribution because of the amount of uncertainty going forward. They cited the aforementioned extinction dangers and possible employment changes - read: mass lay-offs - because of what AI might be able to accomplish in the next few years, but maybe it also has something to do with a lot of these successful industry leaders worrying about some of the answers the AI might give people when it’s asked to solve complicated global problems: It just might involve the redistribution of (their considerable) wealth.
While this letter is better late than never, it is unlikely to have any real effect. The abilities of ChatGPT and its ilk (Bard, Ernie Bot, Elon Musk playing wordle) are out in the wild, and even if they are somehow reined in or taken offline, that means smaller companies with less scruples than Google and Microsoft (yes, there are such businesses) are going to lead the charge, and suddenly you can trust even less than what’s placed on the screen in front of your eyes.
Mis/Disinformation and huge disruptions to the job market are bad enough, but of course governments and militaries are going even further into AI development in old-fashioned Cold-War prick waving, seeing how quickly they can develop…well some of the possibilities are horrific. Not only might AI develop much more effective weapons - from nuclear to chemical, whether fired from an underground silo or a gun - but can probably create an extremely potent computer virus that could wipe out all sorts of infrastructure capabilities that are needed to keep our society running smoothly (if an erroneous file up date or strong ice storm can knock out internet for millions of people, an intended attack might affect exponentially more people for much, much longer). While we can mock people for ‘not being able to live without the internet’, emergency and logistics services rely on it, and without them, society crumbles like a cookie.
These doomsday scenarios are certainly the ‘exciting movie’ scenarios for what AI might have the capability of doing, but why work day and night trying to write this screenplay when you can just have Artificial Intelligence do it for you?
Because AI art is not coming, it’s here. A painting made by a computer program won an art contest (), and hey, the painting looks very good. The winner is not strictly an artist, as he runs a small company that makes tabletop games, and used an AI art program called MidJourney to create it. He typed in some keywords, and MidJourney did the rest, meaning it ‘painted’ it in seconds. The work was credited to ‘Jason M Allen via MidJourney’.
Not long ago, one of the theoretical definitions of AI becoming sentient was creating art, because thought was that doing complex calculations and scanning through datasets would be the main area of Artificial Intelligence’s expertise, and anything else would prove it is a lot more human, because it involves creativity.
Apparently not, since these art-focused AI programs study millions of pieces of art fed to it and then spit quickly out a randomly generated creations base on random keyword input. What took a human years of practice coupled with natural talent and drive to reach a level of skill where they might be able to create an excellent artwork over days or weeks or longer, can now be done by some ones and zeroes in a few seconds.
If ChatGPT is asked to write a poem on ‘To Kill a Mockingbird in the style of a Shakespearean sonnet’, and the next day you again ask it to write a poem on ‘To Kill a Mockingbird in the style of a Shakespearean sonnet’, it will not produce identical works. They will certainly be similar because the topic and form is so narrow, but it is essentially doing it all over again for the first time, no problem.
And because it’s so damn easy to use and the results are so impressive, it’s only going to become more pervasive.
Of course websites and contests and schools and groups can try to exclude the use of any AI-assisted art whether it is visual art, a musical piece, or something written. And there will be ways to whittle out cheaters and swindlers, and there will be more appreciation for work that is made by people (although people using all the features in Photoshop would definitely seem like cheating in contests a generation earlier).
But on the whole, for the general populace who will be satisfied with more of whatever they already enjoy, AI art will become more and more popular, with those who might not have much interest in the ‘git gud’ process of any hobby or past time become wildly successfully because of their ability to market themselves and the art they ‘create’ by typing keywords into MidJourney, DALL-E, DeepSwap and other AI programs.
It’s surpassing the simplicity of creating electronic-focused music with the Apple software, Garage Band. A program that made it so easy to create music that it made anyone who didn’t have the means to buy instruments or expensive equipment or interest to learn how to play or properly use the aforementioned items a ‘musician’.
And individual artists can state confidently that they do not use these tools, that is all their own brain and hands, but it will then be up to the audience consuming the art whether they believe them or not (and so for the record, no, nothing written on this website or under the abandoned station name has been assisted by AI. We don’t mind putting in the time to do it ourselves, warts and all).
Trust is one of the biggest issues with every modern technological advance in communication, and we are rushing oh so fast beyond the printing press and the cell phone. Any attempt to slow down AI’s progression will risk the one thing the people pushing it value the most: money and power.
Which is reassuring in the sense that at least for now we are still in control of this very unusual and unique discovery. Balancing very human behaviours like greed and sharing are things that are still best suited to the flesh-bags we are.
How we oversee Artificial Intelligence is something we get to decide ourselves.
But we might just ask ChatGPT for some advice first.
Great article about future brain/AI tech:
2022 in Review: WE DIDN’T TOUGHEN UP, WE NUMBED OUT
War in Europe, a disease still ravaging heavily populated areas of the planet, rising inequality in both wealthy and poor nations continuing unabated, everyone still getting used to ‘the internet is everything’ thirty years’ in, plus chaotic weather that is certainly blamed on how our industrializing ways is heating up the planet.
But 2022 could have been worse.
It was a year of ‘brace yourselves’ and we did. That less than two months in Russia invaded Ukraine and had everyone hand-wringing that one errant missile or rash decision could lead to World War III meant that everything bad that happened after had to be properly put into context.
It certainly put everything else that happened in the first seven weeks of 2022 in a distant rear view mirror. A large right-wing anti-vax contingent - led at least symbolically by truckers - had set up a camp on several city streets close to the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, and after much handwringing by citizens and politicians and legal authorities alike, were forcibly removed after nearly a month. That some of those charged had their bank accounts frozen before they were charged with anything was a concerning legal overstep, but many of the defendants did themselves no favours by citing the US Constitution when having their moment in court (Canada’s not the 51st state yet). It looked pathetic by all sides, until the conflict on the other side of the world sent it plummeting far down on your newsfeed.
Protests against Covid mandates and rules were
not limited to all these hot-to-trot, still-democratic-ish, freedom loving
Instituting any sort of lockdown to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus would further this attempt to control the populace, all in under the (not inaccurate) auspices of keeping people safe.
And throughout the first two years (holy shit, it’s been three whole years since the cases first spread from Wuhan), shutting down entire cities and barring people in their own apartments buildings was tolerated.
But in the back half of 2022, with much of the world going back to something resembling normal, the average Chinese citizen decided they’d had enough. Reports arose that Chinese televisions stations were censoring footage of this year’s World Cup showing the thousands of people in stadium stands crowded together without wearing masks, not wanting to give locals any ideas.
But it’s not the concept of freedom that is the issue.
It’s the demand to be able to work to be able afford the still-growing middle-class (by Western standards) lifestyle that has gone from privilege to right in one generation in the world’s largest country.
Millions of Chinese workers angry that ‘Zero Covid’ is costing them financially, not politically.
China is on it’s way to becoming the wealthiest and arguably the most powerful nation on earth, but the Communist Party leaders are absolutely terrified of what happens if the money stops rolling.
So while the nation crushed pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong with cold impunity a few years prior, it scuttled away from all its pronouncements and boasts about keeping Covid at arm’s length no matter what the cost, since the breaking point was found.
Factories, warehouse and stores have re-opened
across the country, and because of this easing, the stats of how the
disease is now spreading through
While 2022 might be the year that the world felt it was ‘over’ Covid, it’s absolutely not over us.
The pandemic sensibly made the front page (or trending/‘top of newsfeed’ in modern parlance) continuously because it directly affected so many people for so long.
More indirectly, the war in
While embarrassing defeats on the battlefield were the most obvious disaster, Russia’s punishment was primarily punitive. The world inadvertently learned that the top acronym of the last half century was SWIFT, which stands for 'Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication'.
It sounds both boring and important, and sensibly refers to quickly sending money across the world. Something that existed in extremely slow and restrictive forms for many decades became boringly standard and expected relatively quick thanks to technological innovation, with computers exchanging currency and authorizing wire transfers in mere seconds.
And because of the invasion of Ukraine, everyone in Russia - from oligarch to garbageman - was booted from it, taking away what we all take for granted every day of our lives.
So we’re back to the matter of money.
That the global economy would buck and seizure is not a surprise, that crypto is a pyramid scheme that some people just can’t resist even when there are scandals at the peak is no surprise. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s not just crypto bros getting burned (apparently the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan had money in FTX, so it’s 95 million dollars lost, just written off because it’s not worth the ones and zeros displayed on the screen). With such an interconnected system, of course it’s everyone else that is going to find their jobs in danger of disappearing or shifts being halved. It’s how employment numbers can look great and be deceptive, because so many people are underemployed, meaning not making nearly enough to cover rising costs of everything.
Even escapism can’t escape.
That FIFA would have its name and reputation rightfully dragged through the mud yet again for its bribery-laden choice of holding the World Cup in an oil-rich, ultra-conservative, authoritarian desert country so hot the competition can’t even take place in the usual summer time slot?
No surprise(s please).
The persecution of those constantly pushed to the margins of society continued, and it’s an uncomfortable connection the West has with the Middle East. The banning of abortion in America was always a possibility with Trump nominating three right-wing Supreme Court Justices.
Being leaked weeks before the official ruling was a surprise, though, giving the majority of Americans who support abortion a chance to protest twice, and time to prepare to make it an election issue.
It’s now believed to be the reason why Republicans underperformed in the mid-terms, and coupled with Bolsonaro didn’t win re-election in Brazil the fall seemed like a time when democracy was on the rebound after getting pounded to the pavement for so long.
And while these victories should certainly be celebrated, in terms of getting policy passed in Western nations, even the concept of political compromise is no longer balanced. It should go without saying that for the most part, a true compromise should be both sides getting roughly 50% of whatever they wanted in terms of the deal.
But in matters for liberal-minded policies, liberal parties get a 1/3 of what they want.
In matters of conservative-minded policies, conservative parties get 2/3 of what they want.
The discourse around so many policies have shifted right, making a centrist liberal idea appear to be extremely progressive, and the typical progressive idea (like taxing the super-wealthy more, or just having more government resources to ensure they pay the proper amount of tax) is considered radical and anti-capitalist.
But if this is now the society that capitalism built, why would anyone but the rich support it?
It was another banner year for billionaires in terms of their bank accounts, but their standing in the court of public opinion plummeted even further.
But that court is all kangaroo, which is just how they like it.
Real structural change seems more far away than ever, but then something like the United Kingdom’s 2022 happens, which reminds everyone that as bad as things are, it doesn’t take much for things to get worse.
A complete collapse of faith in two prime ministers after months of food and supply shortages, huge inflation spikes, and ongoing strikes from public workers, all proving that Brexit was an astonishing bone-headed, terrible decision that could be just as hard to now undo as it was to put (stupidly) in place.
All of which proved, yeah, no surprise (including coming up short in the World Cup).
Similarly, what felt like a shock but really shouldn’t be was the Queen ceasing to be, expiring and going to meet her maker, pushing up the daises, and just hanging on long enough to welcome Liz Truss as the new prime minister, and then thinking, ‘sod it’.
The death of Queen Elizabeth makes for a marker of history, because reigns of monarches always have. And the ridiculous length of hers says much about what humanity has been able to accomplish during the seventy years she was ‘in charge’. That she had so little power is also a commentary not only on what royalty’s role in modern society is, but how government has changed in the last seven decades as well (losing more and more of its own power to corporations).
She oversaw no battles, fashioned no laws, made no inspired historic speeches.
The closest thing to lasting criticism was the public’s belief she didn’t look sad enough when Princess Diana died.
It’s as symbolic and toothless as it gets.
But it’s a real moneymaker for the UK tourism industry, even as many former colonies around the world figure that dumping the figurehead is no harm, no foul because of what the monarchy currently offers (nothing) and what the British empire represented (a whole lot of oppressive baggage).
So for so many people, Johnny Rotten was right all along when he sneered the Sex Pistols’ take on ‘God Save the Queen’: She ain’t no human being.
She was more than that.
She was there when she was expected to be there, as a link to a long and winding history.
Lasting long enough to make history of her own. Seventy years is so long it becomes an easy and effective way to mark it against your own life, of course, but also everyone else’s.
Even though the people we praise as being icons and monumental historical figures never did it alone, celebrating individuals is the easiest to way to streamline the summation of civilizations and the periods of change they lived in and made a difference upon. From Julius Caesar to Queen Elizabeth, what happens during the period of their rule can become an era unto itself, defined as great upheaval or long periods of (relative) stability. Elizabeth’s great-great grandmother was Victoria, who ruled from 1837 to 1901, which was so long that so much of that period is simply known as ‘Victorian’. Elizabeth bested that length, and now seventy years as a passage of time seems like an eternity when thing go viral, over saturated, and are over in just seventy hours.
When Elizabeth was crowned in 1953, one of the most surprising decisions was to simply agree to show it happen live on television, a device most people didn’t own. The year she died, her grandson starred on a Netflix documentary series explaining why he’s distancing himself from the royal family, which you can watch on a tiny device in your back pocket.
We are still adapting to that technology change, and not doing a great job at it. For everything we do online, a not insignificant amount of money trickle over to Silicon Valley, complicating our relationship with the online world we are dependent upon. Not just to work, but to live. And how do we live online? We have more in common than we like to acknowledge, and can’t wait to yell our differences. Forget ‘can’t have nice thing’, it seems like we can’t even have just things.
That 2022 wasn’t as bad as could have been is not good enough. It was time to acknowledge that you weren’t going crazy, that this is just how things are.
So here’s hoping 2023 is more small steps forward and no big steps back.
Black Country New Road’s Ants From Up Here is hard to beat, and ‘The Place Where He Inserted the Blade’ is one of the songs of the year. The first half of Big Thief’s hefty Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You is quite good. Angel Olsen’s Big Time is slow and soulful, with ‘Right Now’ and ‘Go Home’ being so absolutely personal while still seemingly saying everything about every second of this year.
Beyoncé’s ‘Virgo’s Groove’ is the best way to dance this year.
Kendrick is ‘just’ dependable. His amazing performance overshadows the musical production behind him.
Black Thought and Danger Mouse’s Cheat Codes are more in sync, with the music (whether samples or created fresh) are bursting with creative energy.
And then there are older songs, freshly discovered this year:
‘Better Each Day’, by NOBRO of their album Live Your Truth, Shred Some Gnar (which is twenty minutes of exactly what it has to be: Smart what it wants, dumb when it can, and pummelling fun all the way through).
It’s from 1974, but don’t ever sleep on Miles Davis’ Get Up With It. The opening 32 minute (!) track, ‘He Loved Him Madly’ is not only a beautiful elegy for Duke Ellington (one of Davis’ mentors and peers), but also - according to Brian Eno - one of the most influential proto-ambient tracks out there. Speaking of whom, the closing track - Making Gardens out of Silence - from his album 2022 foreverandevernomore is a lovely take on the ambient vibe he pioneered all those years ago, and certainly a good way to relax aurally over this coming winter.
Don’t sleep on Stevie Wonder’s 1979 A Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, either.
And this is a reminder that in 2010 Ous Mal released Nuojuva Halava, full of that warm machine sound we need so bad right now.
In terms of the audiovisual medium, Turning Red is excellent, Top Gun: Maverick was too America for its own good, and so many other films that tried to be serious or say something serious couldn’t make it entertaining at the same time (Triangle of Sadness somehow makes a bunch of rich people getting what’s coming to them seem boring).
Ashes to Ashes:
The Current War in
Hacking power grids and other essential services dependent on computer networks (meaning all of them), drones firing missiles or doing reconnaissance, misinformation/disinformation on a national scale that can target certain demographics with surgical precision, following the exact moments on a battlefield in real time and sharing information with soldiers on the ground thanks to satellites in orbit.
A digital war in totality, though?
The tragedies are sadly familiar, the death
machines roll on, with tanks and trains and trucks and mortars and
machine guns. Having to take geographic and climate practicalities
into consideration when deciding where exactly and what time of year
to mount offensive maneuvers and when to hunker down and defend your
And while the eventual attack took some experts
by surprise, the signs weren’t so much signs as a giant chapter in
recent history called ‘previous military conflict as recently as 2014
in the Crimean region of
The country has long had the misfortune of
being seen as a valuable part of the Russian empire, even though
roughly a millennia ago Ukraine was initially the heart of the Kievan
Rus, a monarchical state in the Middle Ages that slowly expanded
northward to eventually include a settlement that one day would grow
into the city of
The Communist Revolution in 1917 didn’t change
anything in regards to
Since then it’s had a
But it was still treated as a shock, with the perception being that this has occurred in a region of relative stability for decades, although that is sadly far from the truth. While it is the biggest conflict in Europe since the end of the Second World War, one should never forget the vicious fighting and tragedies in the Balkans during the nineties, the aforementioned Crimean invasion, and the pro-Russian (and obviously Russian supported) separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, which frequently attacked government buildings and officials in 2014 as well, eventually annexing land that is still fought over today.
In recent years, Russia used the pretext of America’s invasion of Iraq as a defence for their military incursions into Ukraine, claiming in similar ways they are freeing the Ukrainian people from a corrupt puppet government (throwing the term ‘Nazi’ around to describe Zelensky), even if there are is no evidence to support these claims (which they later can claim they were ‘misinformed’, like America was when it came to WMDs in Iraq).
The comparison to
So in terms of reasons for the invasion, no one asks ‘why’, because the honest answers came fast and furious.
And now, six months later, it looks like they’ll receive neither of those things.
On top of that, it’s never just fighting on the battlefield in the 21st century, but at the negotiating table for all the Ukrainian resources the rest of the world depends upon.
While shells rain down on the country, both
sides were hammering out how to give permission for ships full of much
needed Ukrainian grain to be sent through the
That’s globalization in a nutshell. A war in
Europe causes starvation in
This level of interdependency means we are stronger together, but also that if one link in the chain get weak, others links will soon follow. The amount of humanitarian aid arriving in Ukraine from around the world is admirable…and means all the other regions on the globe that also require similar assistance of basic supplies are not receiving nearly as much.
The intricacies of international relations mean
it’s never ‘just business’. Third, fourth and fifth parties quickly
If you’ve been able to turn on a light or stove without thinking where it comes from, it’s a blissful level of ignorance until your country takes a moral stand and now you have to consider rationing or higher prices to compensate.
Even worse is that you don’t think much about grain at all until you don’t have any.
And it’s an issue because the war is still going on, half a year later, with experts (different experts from the ones who said this wasn’t going to happen at all?) saying that it might go on much longer.
Looking back five days, five weeks, five months and five years after one country invades another will result in dizzying changes in viewpoints, even if there seems to be long periods of stalemates, where small gains are made (and therefore losses as well).
In the early weeks the headlines stressed the
resolve of the Ukrainian people defending their homeland, and coupled
The views then was that the longer the war went
on, the worse it would be for Ukraine due to the always rising
casualties until the (assumed) Russian victory. But
Soon we entered the bizarre situation where the West realized it might be better for everyone if a ceasefire was called if the wording was such that Putin doesn’t think he totally lost the war in every way. But the man’s cold, egotistical stubbornness was such that anyone who tried to question him was either fired (or worse) years ago or humiliated on national television.
On the flip side is Ukrainian President
Volodymyr Zelensky, a former actor and comedian turned wartime leader
that the rest of the world has rallied behind, with the knowledge of
what a difficult position he is in. We are all too aware of the fact
The talk of providing a NATO no-fly zone in the
early months was constantly brushed aside, because a bigger role by
them (led obviously by
While Putin’s circle of yes-men probably contributed to his misunderstanding of how strong the Ukrainian resistance could be, it might only get worse the more desperate and isolated he feels, for both average Russians and the country’s neighbours.
What is extremely frustrating is that Putin
could have rode into the political sunset is a ‘mere’ dictator for
annexing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and ruling over Russia in an
increasingly authoritarian manner, all of which never added up to
anything more than a finger-wag from the West (or indifference from
China) because everyone appreciated the natural resources and rockets
up to the International Space Station. He could have picked a
crony-successor and retired in
Whether it was absolute ego and a genuine belief that Ukraine was always part of Russia or cold-hearted practicality (the NATO buffer, control of as much oil and gas as possible), the invasion was an absolute embarrassing disaster for the nation and Putin himself, as it appears likely he was surrounded by cronies who exaggerated the strength of the country’s military and minimized the abilities and willpower of their opponent.
So now he is the iron-fisted autocratic fool that has burned any hint of goodwill among nations that were addicted to his natural resources and has shown a severely weakened military hand where thuggish terror is championed over strategy and effectiveness.
In addition to the slow digitization of
military forces across the world (unsurprisingly led by
No one really had to consider the existence of the SWIFT electronic payment system until it’s no longer available in your country. You just took it for granted that when your hunk of plastic (phone or card) with a chip inside it made it possible to buy food.
The amount of global co-operation of sending all sorts of goods (whether basic necessities or luxury) over the last three decades have been startling, where democratic governments played nice with much-less-democratic governments when it came to setting these economic networks up.
Russia embracing capitalism in the 1990s after their terrible attempts at communism crashed and burned was great for everyone around the world (another market for consume!) except the vast majority of Russians, who didn’t see their standard of living increase much. Their embrace of democracy was much more short-lived, as by the end of the decade Putin assumed control and used his KGB rolodex to become an authoritarian ruler.
Fighting them in 21st century is a complicated enterprise, as some authoritarian rulers are treated with kid gloves by Western Democracy…until they suddenly aren’t. Putin and Bush watched the Olympics side by side in 2008, but Obama took a harder line against him in the wake of his military campaigns and persecution of minorities and the LGBTQ community. This still ‘just’ meant sanctions and a mostly ceremonial excising from the G8 (making it the G7 again).
But the Ukrainian invasion meant old Cold War methods were seen as less shocking and back on the table. Not only alleged war crimes (on both sides), but the recent car-bomb killing (when do we call it assassination?) of the daughter of a major Putin supporter might be the most public and espionage-level front of this war.
Is it fair?
Many innocent victims still lay unburied across
How you frame a war is almost as important as how you fight a war.
Not just the between the nations fighting (Russian propaganda on the Ukrainians sinking one of their boats: The ship didn’t sink, it was just quickly re-commissioned as a submarine), but the other nations supporting one side or the other.
While there’s no proof that
War between nations are typically more clear cut than wars on ideas (terror, poverty, drugs), but this war’s added complexity is how the new form of nations - giant corporations, that is - are dealing with the conflict.
Amazon, Apple, Google, McDonald’s, Ford, Disney and countless others have abandoned Russia completely, and YouTube (owned by Google, by the way) de-monetizing and de-recommending Russian videos if they think it will support the country.
The problems come when you have to ask the questions regarding what hurts the Russian power apparatus, and what hurts the Russian people, the latter of whom have an inordinate lack of power and freedom in their nation and should not be seen as the aggressors because they have little say in how their leaders make decisions.
Not giving a shit about the who, why and how your country’s military campaigns because ‘it doesn’t affect me’ is a huge problem because the shittier the reason and the sloppier the campaign means the longer your nation will be dumping money into trying to fix the problem they made. And that’s money that could have been spent on local infrastructure in your town, city or province/state, but instead goes to the military budget, more specifically the massive corporations who design weapons, equipment and basic supplies for the army, Air Force, navy, etc.
Everything matters. Fortunately and unfortunately.
We are always tempted to say we have reached a summit of understanding about history and society…conveniently when we are alive to write and think about it. Fukuyama declared the end of history, even if he ‘just’ meant that democracy and capitalism scored a big win when the Soviet Union and communism collapsed, and now we’re on the cusp of another Cold War, even if both sides are hopelessly addicted to the ‘free’ market.
The difference is that thirty years ago the
digital age was in its embryonic form, and while it is now in full
bloom, it’s still being overseen by people who didn’t grow up with
computers in their home. The war in the
Yet other challenges are far from the battlefield, because it’s been six months since it began and for many people around the world it’s old news, because anything that lasts for six months on our digital landscape ‘is’ old.
But out of sight, out of mind is no solace for
those in Ukraine, and saying that we are avoiding a big war is
insulting to the hundreds of thousands who have died or been injured
in this supposed small one. Freedom for
Amazing ‘real life
lore’ video going into detail concerning what Putin wants with his
If you take the money, you are the money
Dystopia was never going to come overnight.
You'd never be able to name a single enacted law or event that got us to where we are right now. No precipice, no leap, just easing into a bath you didn’t know would get too hot until too late.
Analogies like this are used frequently in this case because it seems to shamefully stupid to say ‘a few people got too greedy and hoarded the money’.
So its cracks in the dam, death by a thousand cuts, a rich tapestry of reasons, couldn’t see the forest from the trees, all of which makes the problem sound more exciting than it actually is.
Decades of particular policy changes and laws enacted that slowly pushed the overseeing and functioning of the government to being subservient to a corporate mindset. Cutting taxes to ‘help’ the average citizen save money invariably ends up costs them more money in the long run when budget cuts in cities, municipalities, provinces, and states means there are fewer services that are available to those in the community. And of course this mindset is absolute orthodoxy in corporations themselves, where cutting anything employee-related is considered a worthwhile trade as long as budgets are balanced and profits appear to be going up.
Health care and education spending are obviously the big ones, but there are so many other examples that get much less attention. It is not particularly exciting to acknowledge that the longer it take for potholes in roads to get fixed by municipal maintenance crews the more often cars will be damaged and need to be repaired, which is another hit to people’s budgeting plans. Or how a city’s sanitation needs can have huge ramifications for not only the weekly garbage/recycling/compost pickup (if all options are even available) but for how these process will impact the region for years and decades to come, environmentally or otherwise.
For the last forty years the city/municipality and the average citizen has been having to do more with less while corporations did less with more. More what? More money, which means more power.
Now money can’t exactly buy happiness, but it can buy groceries, apartments, clothes and health care (and if you have a little left over, maybe buy a video game).
Or maybe you can’t buy some of those things as easily anymore. ‘Supply chain issues’ will become a more familiar term in the coming years, an exposure of the complexity of globalization and its limits, because when one region has to ration resource A it can affect how easily available resource B is to another region or how affordable it is.
The wealthy don’t feel this change, because they already had the finances to ignore or effortlessly pay their way out of these daily interruptions. It is an insulator from the real world that has only grown in the past four decades.
The stock market works too well for the benefit of too few people, and for too long it has been a barometer only of how well (off) the wealthy are doing. It won't say much about the state of lower or middle classes, because the economy isn't designed to benefit them anymore. They don’t have nearly the same amount invested as the 1%, who own over half of directly held stock. The way it works now, the very small percentage of wealthy people reap the majority of profits and power.
None of these observations are particularly revelatory, and certainly can reek of the same progressive complaining that has been heard for decades, but that’s precisely the point.
This system has been in place for so long that suggesting it is fundamentally broken or wrong is met with an eye roll and shrug, seemingly asking ‘yeah, but what ya gonna do?’
The argument that corporations can do certain essential tasks more efficiently than a government organization always seems to come with the qualifier that the owners and investors of said corporations/industries feel they deserve to be paid quite handsomely for overseeing this task, even if they shank it for everyone except themselves.
Even the idea of what is reasonable compensation for running a successful company is not reasonable at all when one looks back to the middle of the previous century. In the 1970s a CEO made 31 times the average salary, and today it is 351 times as much.
Now in no way are we arguing that everyone should make an identical wage. Of course certain positions that require more work, skill and talent should earn more than the average salary in a nation or community, but if the compensation package (including stock and other forms of bonuses) is hundreds of times more than this average amount, then it is proof that while this concept might be acceptable in moderation, we are way beyond that phase.
All it takes is one successful businessman to break a record for largest bonus or buyout, and suddenly everyone else on Wall Street or in Silicon Valley are chomping at the bit to beat. A pissing contest for the ultra-wealthy that poisons the pool for everyone else.
Consequently, there are so many people slipping out of the Western middle class that they can’t decide exactly which type of wealthy group of elites are controlling everything.
The left sees them as a bunch of greedy free-market capitalists who use their corporate influence to bribe politicians and shape policy, some of them using a socially conservative veneer to ingratiate them with some of the poor who also identify with those values.
The right sees them as a bunch of greedy free-market capitalists who use their corporate influence to bribe politicians and shape policy, some of them who are using a socially liberal veneer to ingratiate them with some of the poor who also identify with these values (plus believing some of them are in some sort of child sex trafficking ring or…uh…lizard people who put microchips in covid vaccines?).
The only thing that more and more people are having in common is their lack of money, which is a shoddy thing to unite around. In fact, plenty of people wouldn’t want to acknowledge that this is their financial situation at all, or deny that they should be associated with another demographic in a similar situation.
Even any sort of wage increase or employment opportunity does not necessarily mean a middle class living wage.
This trajectory has continued for four decades now, and while a lot of the work associated with blue-collar and lower middle class was grinding and repetitive and rarely what a child would says is what they wanted to be when they grew up (assembly line worker, for example), at least it was possible make a living with the income and even own a house.
The Panama (2016), Paradise (2017) and Pandora (2021) Papers got diminishing returns when it came to mainstream press coverage and the interest of the general public. In part because rich people hiding their money in offshore accounts didn’t feel like ‘news’. It felt like something everyone had known for years and had just become numb to.
The rules are different for the rich.
Something that those on the right and left can truly agree on, but then go on arguing amongst themselves over social issues instead of focusing on the money (which the rich think is just peachy). This is not to minimize the pursuit of equal rights for those who have long been marginalized, but an improved economy for all, a strengthened middle class, and fewer people living in poverty is the true foundation to build proper and lasting civil and equal rights legislation.
‘Getting financially lucky’ is now baked into our advertisements and marketing:
If it’s not gambling ads (from online sportsbooks to the ‘give back to the community’ government run lottery), then it’s the stock apps you can ‘invest’ in (and not gamble on, right?). It’s gotten to the point where there’s peer pressure to jump right into the pyramid scheme that is crypto-currency (in fact, it’s a pyramid scheme that security-wise is made out of playing cards and placed in the middle of a hurricane).
But why even run that risk? Just let hyperinflation take over and we can all be millionaires!
It does bear reminding that success for the average person in western democracies requires lottery-ticket-like luck because we no longer live in a true meritocracy. Even those that have made their success thanks to meritocracy in the past, there is the tendency to switch to an aristocratic lifestyle, meaning socializing and conducting future business deals with other wealthy people alone, and passing along as much assets as possible to family rather than society in general.
Unrestrained capitalism in the modern era ultimately begets techno-feudalism. Capitalism is either going to dismantled by its critics, or its gears will be ground into nothing by its unwavering supporters.
While the ‘richest’ always get more attention than the rich, only focusing on the billions and billions of dollars that the typical Top Dawgs (Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates) are worth obscures how wealth truly operates in both a nation and the globe.
It is effortless to turn the blandest procedures of finance management into shadowy conspiracies, but make no mistake, it is how economic policy is governed by the ruling body of a state (democratic or otherwise) that dictates how the power of a nation is diffused and divided. Mysterious elites pulling strings from the shadows are only slightly romanticized versions of billionaires spending millions on lobbyists to ‘pressure’ (translation: bribe via fundraising) politicians to withdraw support to any tax increases on their assets.
The idea of ‘my money’ is both sensible (for work you have performed, here is the money you receive for it) but also misguided because money is a representation of power that is dependent on its regular and consistent exchange between people for the proper functioning of society.
Making the Forbes list has become a badge of honour as well as a bit of shame, as if many of those on it realize that flexing your third or fourth houses is not what the general public wants to hear about, especially when the middle class is hemorrhaging.
So it appears that for the wealthy the solution isn’t to fix inequality, but just to be a lot more low-profile.
The wealthy and powerful don’t intentionally create chaos (too much risk with that), but they definitely take advantage of chaos right after it happens (much less risk, with the added bonus of a lot of people not giving their full attention to the finance-related fine print)
Among the wealthy there is the thought that because they succeeded or take advantage of a situation at the right time, they have a better insight to how the world should be run, and that it’s just a coincidence that they believe they also should be compensated handsomely for the responsibility of taking on the organization of the socioeconomic policies that govern our civilization.
And hey, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea…if the results of the last forty years have shown that this form of organization is terrible for everyone except those same rich people.
People seem to have this super villain-like image of banking CEOs and oil company executives, where they're manically laughing, "ha, ha, ha! Fuck the world and the poor! I don't care that I'm ruining the environment or society! I'm getting rich and that's all that matters to me!"
That's not how it is. Of course these people like getting and being rich, but they believe that they are providing an important role in today's society, and even if it's not the best system, it's the one we have and they'll try to think of plans for the future…as long as it doesn’t jeopardize the needs of today.
And that sounds like bland, PR-bullshit, but that's how they think. In bland, PR-bullshit, right down to the core. Which is why their arguments for how their industries operate today sound like bland PR-bullshit.
When certain banks were aware of the riskiness in the housing market in the lead up to the 2008 financial crisis, they weren't wondering, 'this might lead to millions of people losing their homes and their jobs', they were wondering, 'what is our exposure in the next several quarters?' It's an amoral disconnect.
It's the banality of evil (ta, Hannah) in free-market capitalism.
The abdication of responsibility is infectious and becomes the norm quite quickly. There’s always another wealthier, more powerful executive or CEO who has even more influence, so don’t try to pin all of society’s financial inequalities on someone who ‘just’ makes twenty million dollars per year.
The 1% passes the buck and stresses it’s the 0.1% (or even 0.01%) that is really ruining society and that they are just doing a little bit better than the 99%.
Even Bezos or Musk would deny the impact they alone have on the economy (certainly Amazon loves to tout how ‘small’ they are compared to the retail industry as a whole), citing that the next few billionaires on the rich list below them could ‘buy them out’ on certain days when their stocks aren’t doing well.
Which means hoping that this group of powerful people suddenly seeing the light is unlikely. Restructuring the global economy to make it more sustainable and beneficial for as many people as possible is going to hurt. Thing it, it won’t even hurt the wealthy (except for their egos) because even taxing them at rates double to what they pay today (thanks to loopholes) will still allow them to keep plenty of dough.
It seems like a Herculean effort just to get households making more than $100 million USD to pay a minimum tax of 20%.
Instead it's going to hurt in such a strong way for the rest of us that plenty of average, non-wealthy people will want to stop the process and go back to the old way of doing things.
As conservatism has known for a long time, it's easier to tear things down than build them up.
The problem with Liberal policies is that it takes time to incorporate them into society. It's hard enough to have a sizeable representation in the halls of power that support these policies, but it's even harder to pass legislation and properly support it (politically and financially) over many years, not just a single election cycle. You can't expect changes in funding to low cost housing, job placement agencies, and infrastructure projects to result in economic and social gain within two years. It can even take decades, and if the programs face cuts or are cancelled outright because we expect results much too immediately, then it will be so-called 'proof' by free-market conservatives that these sorts of programs don't work.
Even more odious is the accusations of how the lower-class or impoverished are continually given hand-outs that make them ‘dependable’ on government assistance, as if the very wealthy are not horribly addicted to favourable tax rates and corporate subsidies that have long been given to them on a silver platter. Instead it is the occasional scam by those on social assistance that is used as an excuse to shutter these extremely helpful programs altogether.
But here in the unaffordable, pandemic-ravaged, war-torn, insecure world of spring 2022, the masses don’t want everything. They just don’t want to lose everything.
Who Owns Stock: ()
Article on the challenges of African American communities regarding home ownership and systemic racism (in the past explicit and today subtle):
And another article how the wealthy are taking advantage of tax breaks meant for small businesses by giving shares of their companies to children and relatives:
2021 Review: Lemons into Lemonade and back into Lemons
The good news is that the year started bad but didn’t get worse, although saying it got better would be a stretch.
So that’s 2021 for the year. Being thankful for ever-smaller mercies.
It was the widespread of distribution of an extremely successful vaccine for a pandemic that has done terrible things on both the individual citizen and collective cluster that is humanity (certainly in terms of global stability: )
But thinking positive is a must, because the alternative is so much worse. It's a good thing to use the last nearly two years and reflect on some of the positives that came out of the Coronavirus Period (even if just 'learning about yourself'). Choices you never would have made otherwise that have had clear long-term benefits should be celebrated. Even seeing how some of the economic recovery policies are going to help people who had been in need of government assistance in some way that would not have come about if Covid-19 didn't happen is a plus.
But remembering this article’s title, sitting back and enjoying that cool refreshing drink when things seem to be going okay (were we really going to say ‘well’?) is fine, but there are still plenty of lemons left over.
Trying to understand why people would be reluctant to use a life-saving vaccine that has been properly tested (albeit on a quicker than usual turnaround time for obvious reasons), reveals a complex series of factors that whittle down to a lack of trust in institutions in modern society. Because the socioeconomic policies of the globe depend of people constantly making and buying things, the whole system went into shock thanks to the effects of Covid. People and towns that were slow slipping into the underclass were now free falling into it.
For the citizens who don't like the idea that they have to wear a mask when going into a store, it is not so much the mask itself as it is the idea that they are being told what to do.
[this is also a good time to acknowledge how good the people who have to wear a mask as their job - whether as a first responder or working retail at a grocery store - have persevered through this entire epidemic, because eight hours with a mask really is difficult, so much more so than eight minutes]
The pandemic created a curtailing of freedom in the western world for very obvious and sensible reasons - keeping people apart saves lives - and many people were not okay with this trade. To them it was the government screwing up and taking even more from them at the same time.
But freedom is contextual. Whatever you are used to growing up - both in terms of what you are allowed to do in your daily activities, and what you are told you are allowed to do by whatever forms of authority are around you - is how you define freedom throughout your life.
Freedom of speech, of protest, of movement may seem like ideals enshrined in a constitution-like text, but it is possible to run-up against the limits of these concepts in big and small ways (libel, tear-gassed when you hold a sign, are felt unwelcome in certain areas of town).
At the same time, you don’t think that having to take a driving test and get car insurance could be considered infringement on your freedom to just get behind the wheel and zip around, because you’ve grown up accustomed to that system being ‘the way things are’. Why are libertarians letting this oppressive far reaching institution called the Department of Motor Vehicles set arbitrary driving standards after checking with so-called experts telling you what’s too fast?
Because we’re used to it.
Wearing masks and getting vaccinations are new, and hey presto, ‘new’ doesn’t go well with what people are used to when it comes to their freedoms.
And while money is certainly not freedom, it is definitely a measure of power and what you can do with said power in society.
If those with much of the power keep taking more and more of the money away from citizens, then they are taking away the ability to live in a way that you've known all your life.
People are not reacting well to this, and any sort of solace they take in finding on tv or online the ‘inside story’ of the last few weeks, months or year is because it is catered to what they already want to believe.
If you wanted Covid to be so last year, it was. If you wanted it to inform and affect every moment of your day in 2021, you could have that, too.
Our echo chambers are becoming much better furnished and comfortable, which is actually a massive problem.
The international intelligence community was concerned for many years (and still to this day) over the radicalism of young muslims via the internet. Not a peep about concerns of the radicalization of the domestic far-right in Western nations through the same medium.
Red pills, blue bills, we’ve willingly plugged into the Matrix for years, just with much lower bandwidth because we are limited by having to tap and scroll the screens in our hands. And the masters aren’t super-intelligent bots who keep us in pods but just a bunch of greedy business assholes who haven’t changed much in forty years.
It’s the haves versus the have-nots, with the haves trying to make sure the have-nots bicker amongst themselves for scraps of what they think is power.
For democracy fans, the events of January 6th are a shot to the gut, crotch and frontal lobe all at once.
‘It can’t happen here’ never have to be chanted, it seemed so ridiculous, and now it can’t be chanted at all because it’s not true.
With the authoritarianism of
Unfortunately the Republican Party is going the other way. A disturbingly high number of conservative voters believe the 2020 election was fraudulent, many of whom are politicians and others high ranking members of the party. And those in the party who believe the elections were fair and accurate can't even risk being that open about such a position, lest they are marginalized and pushed out via the next primary by a far-right candidate.
It is a negative feedback loop that just makes the partisans that much more inflexible and adamant, and forces the ‘average’ voter into throwing their tired hands up in exhaustion because even after ‘the most important election of our lifetimes’, nothing much seemed to change.
'Desperation' is such a lamentable situation that it is completely normal to deny such a state exists for you.
When citizens are desperate, they storm the capitol, and when they are instigated by a leader who has lost the certifiably fair election, it reveals just how shockingly fragile these institutions can truly be.
The foundations for a liberal democracy in any country are never built on solid stone, but rather shifting sands. Changes both domestic and foreign can have huge effects on it, and while the building up of stable democratic ideals can be slow, its tearing down can be done shockingly quick.
It’s unnerving to remember that everyone thinks they’re fighting fascists, whatever side of the barricade you’re on.
For very good reason this was the most-covered event of 2021 that didn’t include an ongoing pandemic that is killing thousands of people every day.
But the true solution to such events like January 6th and other examples of democracy-in-crisis can be found in the less-covered news stories of the year.
There was yet another ‘Papers’ leak, this time titled ‘Pandora’, but third time wasn’t the charm, as fewer people than ever before cared that the world’s wealth was being crookedly shuffled around by the handful of modern nobility who could afford to stash it in yawn-inducing shell corporations and offshore accounts.
Why would the world’s elites bother with hiding nanotechnology in vaccines to control the populace? (as many conspiracy theorists espouse) That’s so much more complicated and resource-heavy compared to bribing some politicians to re-shape (or not re-shape) the tax code. Maybe spend some money on deflection PR (see: Fox News, the internet), and voila, soon there won’t even be countries anymore, only economic districts.
It will be wealth oases among poor deserts, and watching
While the Democrats control both chambers
of Congress, two purple senators put the brakes on…the revival and
restoration of Western Democracy. That a 4% tax increase on the very
It’s sounds so familiar that it’s barely considered news, but pairing that with the Pandora Papers (which made headlines for perhaps half a day) is the reminder that the social contract has been ignored for decades.
It is government spending money on a large social safety net to keep people from getting desperate enough for basic necessities that they become criminals to get it, otherwise you end up letting them become criminals and then spend the government money on keeping them in prisons.
The prisons have demonstratively shown to cost more, plus the added problem and tragedy of increased crime.
Therefore any sensible person (whether social liberal or fiscal conservative) should support the more effective, affordable, and morally superior way: Expanded social safety net.
To be utterly cynical but direct about it: Liberals want to spend money on people when they are being lazy in their homes. Conservatives want to spend money on people when they’re being lazy in jail.
But right now both sides are dependent on a moneyed class (although the Libs try harder to spread the wealth around, certainly), whose own power has had a bigger role in shaping the world economy since the start of the pandemic ().
This is the future, and it’s one where the left can’t take a joke and the right can’t take a vaccine.
It’s a year where one of the most successful mass roll-outs of medicine in human history is viewed with suspicion by a disappointingly high percentage. Where millions of people in developed nations blindly declared that the pandemic was over and just decided to live with it, by which they meant die with it, several thousand people a day on average.
Oh, and more of the world melted, burned, flooded or got covered in mud because Climate Change. Of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, only War was the one inside the saloon for the last twelve months, drinking while his three friends were riding roughshod over all of us.
It is a future so is dark you need to turn on your phone’s LED light before the battery goes out. For those set to inherit it, calling Gen-Z and Gen-Alpha (there is something pathetically ironic that the nomenclature is starting back at the top during such a time) a bunch of soft babies just shows the tone-deafness of the generations that created the world we live in today.
The twenty year old and teenagers of today are preparing to inherit the shittiest version of earth we can possibly imagine, and it’s the chief complainers about them - Baby Boomers, Gen X - that created it.
And ending this article with even more finger-pointing is more help than hindrance, proof that choosing between what is right and what is easy is…difficult.
One always feels slightly naïve when espousing kindness as a necessary remedy to much of society’s ills. No one wants to think that kindness is related to comfort, because comfort is related to economic security, and that last one is less about emotions and states of mind and more about policy that a nation could try and offer its citizens.
It all gets complicated so quickly, and 2021 never let up, never gave us time to breath. So maybe that’s what we must do during the waning days of this year, doing some mindful inhaling and exhaling (focus on the raising and lowering of your shoulders), and hoping for an even slightly better 2022.
Because there’s only one thing you have left when you disown positivity.
Art and Such
There were things to consume for amusing and semi-educational purposes that still tumbled out of and into people’s brains and associated devices in 2021.
Dune was a sci-fi documentary about nations fighting over resources from eight thousand years in the future.
Spiderman: No Way Home arrived in the last two weeks of the year, the
biggest box office hit of 2021 was shaping up to be a Chinese film with a
$200 million budget called The
Battle at Lake Changjin, a war docudrama focusing on when the Chinese
Charlie Watts died, which is one sense is not a surprise (he was 80) and a complete surprise, since it is generally assumed the Rolling Stones will play their final show post-apocalypse. Freak rock and roll dinosaurs that still are able to bring the riffage, swagger and coke and sympathy. They’ve been around for so long that they’re easy to be taken for granted.
These bands opened for the Stones: Toots & the Maytals, Lifehouse, The Black Eyed Peas, Alice Cooper, Maroon 5, Kanye West, Beck, Pearl Jam, The Smashing Pumpkins, Alanis Morissette, Christina Aguilera, Motley Crue, Metallica, Brooks & Dunn, Bonnie Raitt, Trey Anastasio, Dave Matthews Band, Living Colour, The Living End, Joss Stone, Nickelback, Buddy Guy, The Charlatans, Regina, Feeder, the John Mayer Trio, Wilco, Richie Kotzen and Our Lady Peace.
On one tour.
The band is bigger than human comprehension (hell in the seventies and eighties their openers were Stevie Wonder, the Eagles, Van Halen, Journey, Foreigner, Doobie Brothers, Patti Smith, Prince, ZZ Top, Guns ‘n’ Roses and (for the first time) Living Colour), and deserves all the recognition in could get, even if you completely forgot the drummer who never performed a solo.
Meanwhile, Liars dropped The Apple Drop, and it is the most forgettable and normal (in a relative sense) album of their career. Maybe a polite alternative rock album that could have been released anytime in the last twenty five years is the most unexpected thing you could get from this band. 2017’s TFCF was the first without Aaron Hemphill and it was still damn creepy and weird, so Angus Andrews cleaning up his act with this was…strange?
We waited a long time for Kanye West’s Donda, which has eight amazing songs (Off the Grid, Hurricane, Jonah, Believe What I Say, Remote Control, Heaven and Hell, Jesus Lord, Come to Life). Too bad there’s twenty-seven tracks on the whole thing. But that’s Kanye now and forever. Talented, overwhelming, clueless and proudly unrepentant. Compare it with Drake, who releases inoffensive, never great, never awful music, always middle of the road. You’ll marry the pleasant, reliable Drake, but you’ll have an unforgettable affair with the mercurial Kanye.
For all around better hip-hop, Little Simz’ Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is a joy, and Lingua Ignota is scar(r)ing everyone with the perfectly produced industrial-classical horror that is Sinner Get Ready (you have to earn that feeling of exhilaration by trawling through the muck, and speaking of which, Tool’s classic Ænima is 25 years old but seems to explain the nuttiness of now better than ever).
There were video games, too (but not Breath of the Wild 2, unfortunately). The good ones were hard in a fun way (Death’s Door, Metroid Dread) and escapist in a much-needed way (the expanse of an open world in Halo: Infinite and Sable, and the tense claustrophobia of Resident Evil: Village).
Jesus is a Great Idea
You need to have faith to say that there is no god.
The Pope doesn't know what is going to happen after he dies any more than Richard Dawkins does. Oh, Pope Francis certainly believes he is going to be bathed in the eternal light of the holy father, and Professor Dawkins believes his thought processes are going to just turn off for good like a light switch, but neither of them knows for sure.
Technically we are all agnostics as no one knows what sort of relationship humanity has with god (there might not be one at all, because of lack of god). So we choose to believe in god, or gods, or no god at all. And that's what faith is: The choosing to follow or eschew a theological system that lacks any form of modern concepts of evidence
In the past the natural order of the world - sunrises, seasons, floods, droughts - were consider evidence of a higher power imposing itself on humanity. While science has taken all the fun out off that, there are plenty of mysteries about the universe (dark matter, dark energy, muons' influence on other particles) that always seem to pop up as we think we have it all figured out. Of course why not fold your theological construct to work above or within the confines of science. Just say God made the Big Bang to start all this off, and that's why you get on your knees in praise once a week.
But if God is our father, 'he' (remember, the supreme being is definitely a guy, and it can't just be because the people who oversaw the development of these religions were dudes. No way) should stop acting like a shitty, absent one.
He is all over the Old Testament, and comparatively distant in the New. The marketing is right there in the name. That is the grumpy Old God, and this is the cool, hip young one who is down with wine and prostitutes.
A half-man, half-diety (an idea cribbed from Greek myth) here to teach an ethics course on non-violence and civil disobedience. God 2.0 impressed then frustrated the elites with his rhetoric and philosophy, and he got the unwashed masses on his side through free lunches, unlimited drinks, and health-centric party tricks.
Was he an actual physical presence that existed on the earth for thirty or so years, two millennia ago?
No, really. It doesn't matter.
Were there plenty of religious leaders with ‘crazy ideas’ in Judea during what would now be called 1st century AD? You bet.
But ‘Jesus Christ’ is a polyglot of other philosophical teaching from the past. Clearly rooted in Judaism, the man's life and teachings crib from the Buddha and Socrates. In fact, his bio is to these 'historical' figures what Ice, Ice Baby is to Under Pressure.
An oddball ascetic who has a group of ardent followers and likes to challenge basic ideas about society and its relationships to deities through intense questioning and allegories/parables.
Christ goes into the desert for weeks to seek enlightenment, and avoids temptation by the devil before he reaches that spiritual epiphany.
To do the same Siddhattha Gotama sat under a tree for several days until he achieved awakening that showed the Middle Way (hybridization is big religions).
While Buddha quickly made friends with both beggars and kings, Jesus pisses off the higher ups and they pressure the authorities to have him killed, which he welcomes, because he feels his sacrifice represents something bigger.
Similarly, as Socrates amasses a following and his ideas of how best to serve the gods frustrate the priests because it's not exactly in line with what they want, he's considered to be a menace and public threat by the elites.
They condemn Socrates to death, and even though there is the opportunity to escape and flee Athens, he felt that doing so would be a rejection of everything he stood for.
So he drinks the hemlock, holds no ill will against anyone, and asks an associate to make a sacrifice to the god of medicine (a rooster) since he was being 'cured' of life.
After being whipped and mocked and forced to drag his own death board through town, Jesus is crucified with other criminals, thereby making it clear that humanity is just fucking terrible, having done the worst possible thing to the person who preached peace and love.
It created an easy endless guilt trip for future priests to put upon all churchgoers. The point was that you should feel bad for this, that you somehow owe God and Jesus (and conveniently, the priests) loyalty and adherence.
For centuries this also became a reason to scapegoat Jewish people which is tragic, bigoted and completely beside the point. The story is meant to suggest that all of humanity is on the hook for this one. The gospels make a point of showing how even Jesus' closest followers abandoned him at the moment of his most needing (Peter denying knowing him as a rooster crows). But because of his half-divinity, he knew it, accepted it, and of course forgave everyone.
What separates Jesus from Socrates is the 'after credits' scene.
Christ's return is his last magic trick and a keystone to Christian theology, even though it doesn't take a really heavy reading of the gospels post-crucifixion to realize what survives (or more specifically, what is meant to survive) is Christ's ideas, not his physical body.
Strangers 'become' Jesus when his disciples (soon to be apostles) show kindness to them or break bread in the way he has taught them.
When they suddenly realize it's him, he vanishes. His work is done when people become like him in their actions.
It's as if he's there to say 'good job, keep it up!' and then peaces out.
When Pentecost occurs a month and a half later, the Holy Spirit turns disciples into apostles (the first follows, the second spreads the good word), and their tongues of fire meant they could speak many different languages effortlessly or babble incoherently (since the second one is easier to do, you’ll still see it in some evangelist sects).
It's the exact same day as the Jewish festival of Shavuot, and it’s no coincidence that the major Christian holidays occur at the same time as Jewish ones, or other holy days fall when popular pagan religions had their own celebrations.
Subsuming other religions is just good marketing.
What did Hinduism do as Buddhism became popular? They made Buddha a big part of it, calling him an avatar of Vishnu, one of their tops gods. If you can't beat 'em, add 'em (thousands of years later, the French would add cigarettes to Buddhism and create existentialism).
Make no mistake, you gotta sell your god(s) to people and it better be a lot of good news, because blood and thunder only go so far. If you want people to celebrate your theology, don't force them to change their schedules around it, or make them change their diet (if you can't beat 'em, add 'em, but...uh...history has shown that if you can beat 'em with your army, you might add 'em by force).
The gospel of Jesus Christ was all good news. A pity it wasn’t actually written down for the first time until thirty years after he was gone and most of his original followers had also perished. It’s not really a problem when someone writes about their childhood as they’re going through a mid-life crisis, because it’s no big deal if they misremember things. But writing four kinda similar stories about the messiah? Maybe you shouldn’t wait for what was a literal lifetime for a lot of people back then.
Regardless of Christ’s existence, divinity or actions, it was inevitable that existing only as an oral tradition for three decades was going to get nice and embellished.
As much as parables and his actions in certain situations are meant to teach, making his life interesting meant adding miracles, temptation in the desert, betrayal, persecution and ultimate triumph. Even the rituals became more mystic than necessary.
The transubstantiation of the flesh doubles and triples down on this idea, getting as ridiculously captain obvious about becoming Christ by 'eating' him, just so some of the slower adherents really understand the point (while at the same time being confusing to outsiders, as one of the early criticisms Romans levied against Christianity was its alleged cannibalistic aspects).
Jesus can be each and every one of us. When we act as he would, that is
the divine part of ourselves. The 'higher values', the 'heaven on earth',
Christ's life is a parable of how to create the concept of heaven on earth. We're supposed to do this by our kind and noble actions towards each other.
In fact, Jesus himself stressed just how to do this.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who thirst and hunger for righteousness, those who are merciful, those who are pure of heart, those who are peacemakers, those who are persecuted because of Jesus himself.
These are the beatitudes (according to the gospel of Matthew), and they never get enough attention, not only in terms of the teachings of Jesus, but in the overall focus of organized Christianity. Despite the teacher's name right there in the title, the best known rules are the Old Testament’s (and old god’s) Ten Commandments, a series of a rules that are more about 'no' than 'yes', more about forbidding bad behaviour than encouraging good.
The Old Testament style was much better for authoritarian dictatorships, hence its embrace of kings both good and bad, and how even when Judea was under Roman rule at the time of Jesus, this caste-like system of monarchy (Herod) and religious branches of Judaism led by high priests were powerful.
Meanwhile a carpenter’s son who had a flair for rhetoric spent time with prostitutes, lepers, and fishermen (an 'everyman' job that is meant to represent baseness and poverty). While a disdain for Roman authority was expected through Judea, Christ welcomed tax collectors and acknowledged 'giving to Caesar what is Caesar's.
The barrier for entry into this lifestyle, this mindset, or this wacky offshoot sect of Judaism was negligible. Don’t love your friends and hate your enemies, love your friends and enemies.
It is amazing, it's glorious, and shouldn’t have to be reliant on the divinity of a biblical hippie.
The belief in Christ is where all his power resides, but it didn't take long for that power to lead people to do things that would make Jesus never stop throwing up.
The early years of Christianity was a fight - sometimes with words, sometimes with sharp objects - over who this person was and what he should be. There were arguments over how many gospels the slowly unifying Christian church should acknowledge (there were dozens, they settled on four).
More and more people living under the instruction and rules of the interpreters (the priestly caste) of a perceived messiah who lived hundreds of years prior is a concentration of power that can be a irritant or direct challenge to the present power structure.
Christianity went from something that was persecuted by the Roman Empire to something that was tolerated by it to something that took control of it (to the point where it was called the Holy Roman Empire for centuries, as it was essentially run by the head priest (the Pope)). It became a political position, where having any level of piety or spiritual guidance towards his followers was just a side bonus (or in some cases, a hindrance).
Jesus left his right-hand man Peter with some pitifully loose instructions when it came to overseeing his followers after his death (‘feed my sheep’), and while parables are nice for philosophical teaching, they’re pretty unhelpful for management.
Hence centuries of corruption, anti-popes (yup), the crusades, inquisition (no one expects…), many schisms and a brutal European war simply titled ‘the wars of religion’ (between different Christian groups).
In case no one had been reading their bible: You're supposed to die for Jesus, not kill for Jesus.
If you're the ones doing the persecuting, guess what, you aren't doing anything in the name of your saviour.
If you are ostracizing or marginalizing any group of people, you aren’t doing anything in Christ’s name.
A Christian nation is an oxymoron, an empty gesture, a vulgar display of pride and a complete misunderstanding of the community the teachings of Jesus Christ outline.
If your country does not have a military then yes, the chance of it being overrun quite early in its existence by a well-armed neighbour is quite high, but what of that? What does it matter if you are killed while upholding the peaceful values of Jesus, since that is exactly what he did?
Perhaps Christ’s crucifixion was only the worst thing humanity did to his body. Empires, institutions and nations that are awash in wealth and hollow power while claiming to represent him must be constant punishment upon his soul.
As John Darnielle noted, “they sold Jesus Christ for a bag of magic beans and then started worshipping the beans.”
What would Christ think of mega-churches built on the small donations of followers that create fortunes for the charismatic pastors who implore them to call the hotlines for personal prayers for even more money?
These are the Pharisees and Sadducees of today, cold-hearted adherents who attempt to warp the scriptures to their own ends at best, and religious con-men and women at worst, using pretzel logic to defend everything from the killing of abortion doctors to homophobia (who would have guessed that loving Jesus would involve hating so many other people, because really, who would jesus cancel?) and selling heaven as a cure-all, as long as you fork over the cash right now.
‘Heaven’ not in the sense of finding inner peace by doing good and being humble and pious right now, but the pie-in-the-literal-sky notion of another place that’s full of all the things we like and void of all the things we don’t.
The idea of 'more life' after the life we are currently living really seems to be wishful thinking, and an indication of how much we fear death and uncertainty.
Modern popular concepts of heaven sound like something a nine year old would babble on about because they didn't get everything they wanted for Christmas:
"It's like after your life you get even more life but goes on forever and ever and you get whatever you want all the time and you'll never get old and Jesus and everyone you know and love will be there so you can have a big party together."
Christmas is a good reminder that God is just Santa Claus for adults. A powerful omnipotent, omniscient figure who lives in a distant place and doles out rewards and punishments based on whether you obey your superiors.
The teaching of Christ is practically an attempt to unshackle ourselves from the strict hierarchy of his father, but these chains are strong.
While religion might be an opiate for the masses, having a personal connection to a higher power or a notion great harmony (note the lack of specific terms) is an extreme valuable mental and spiritual resource for many people.
Living a life without a theological structure - especially one that stresses celebrating their faith in together - might be too much for a majority of citizens to bear.
Separating a rigid hierarchy of rules made (or at least interpreted) by small groups of powerful leaders and having everyone live in the spirit of peace and charity is no easy feat.
It's what Jesus and his symbolic fore-bearers were trying to do, and he inadvertently became the central figure in one of the most powerful and complicated institutions in human existence.
For all the power the old testament god and his half-divine offspring may have had, they have been fairly AWOL in that development, lending more and more credence over time that the story of Christ was just that. A story. It’s up to the reader to perform daily miracles.
At a time when we are more connected in some ways but more distant in others than ever before, we all have to be Christ. Because god knows he can't be.
2020 Review: The Wounds
"An era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted." - Arthur Miller
"The Wheel is turnin',
And it can't slow down,
You can't let go,
And you can't hold on,
You can't go back,
And you can't stand still,
If the thunder don't getcha,
Then the lightning will."
-The Wheel, Grateful Dead
Organization does not come quick, easy, or cheap.
But chaos certainly can.
2020 was so bad for so many people that it effortlessly made everyone forget how difficult life was before it. 2019 and previous years were marked by rising inequality, rising debt, rising authoritarian and isolation, rising corporatization, and rising sea waters. And 2020 just made everything worse.
You don't know you're in a golden age until it's over, and you don't know you're in a dystopia until it's too late. Helplessly insular as we look out our real windows across the street and into our digital windows across the globe
Coronavirus was much more dangerous to people who were old, with debilitating pre-existing conditions, and did not take any precautions.
But the West in general too.
In a democracy, you have the choice/freedom to do what you believe to be responsible.
In an authoritarian state, you are forced into doing what the government says is the responsible thing.
It is not so much that authoritarian states have an easier time with fighting the Coronavirus (since the government might make the wrong decision), but that in democratic nations we all have to individually choose what the right way is to fight a pandemic, and then follow through. The responsibility falls on all our shoulders, and only when we all work as one are the effects evenly distributed.
While tens of millions suffered through the disease, billions suffered from its wider effects, yet the very wealthy ending this year richer than they started. Economic inequality tears at the fabric of a democratic society, especially ones that have traditionally been dependent on a robust middle class.
Many people could tell that they were slipping behind and losing, so of course a bombastic con-man boasting about so much winning would catch their ear.
'It's not your fault. It's the other's fault.'
'Everyone's telling you lies but me.'
'Wouldn't it be great to have all of the churches full?'
This is why the legacy of Donald Trump is so dangerous, regardless of his (also terrible) policies. Trump's ability to hammer a lie into a perceived truth by his supporters is sadly always going to valuable to vested interests. Before and after the election he has repeated ad nauseam that it is a fraud and illegitimate (but only if he loses), and now 70% of Republicans believe the results are not fair. Trump has created an atmosphere where over a third of the country don't recognize the president-elect.
It has been said that the most powerful thing in the world is an idea, usually in the context of it being inspiring and benevolent. But the door swings both ways, and we are seeing how dangerous a bad idea can slowly erode trust in society.
Momentum can fuck you. On a micro level, getting a good job can lead to a lot less stress, a better place to live eating healthier, becoming more social and open-minded. Losing your job (or getting sick, or having to assist a friend or loved one going through those same things) can lead to more stress, worse mental and physical health, poor decisions making, and placing a greater strain on the people around you and the community at large, which is how momentum on a macro level can be gauged.
Everything is connected, for good and for ill, and the way we live now has never been so dependent on the status of others on the other side of the planet.
Western democracy is in bad shape, but if you save America, you save the world. When a working democracy is the most powerful form of governance on the planet, then we really are bending that moral arc towards justice.
But America is slipping from that, and has been for decades. A rejection of Trump is certainly to be lauded, but my god was it close. Biden may have won the popular vote healthily, but only won Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Wisconsin by a combined 77,000 votes (and if he lost those, he would lose the Electoral College vote).
There is passionate populism that seems intent on giving even more power
to the small group of wealthy elites. If not basic corporatism, then the
'cutting-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face' decision of Brexit. Even far
from a national stage, the
The rural voter looks at the urban voter with resentment and 'don't tread on me', even though most city dwellers are in the same economic boat as those in small towns. And the reverse is true, with citizens of New York, Chicago and LA (or London, Madrid and Toronto for that matter) always wondering what the hell is wrong with flyover country.
This divided house of family members who have more in common than they think is a boon to the wealthy estate and penthouse owners of the country and city respectively.
Arguments for progressivism or conservatism strengthen and weaken with surface conditions. Some change can be sharp, and these can come from instigators like natural disasters, military actions and global pandemics.
Most situations however are slow to change. The path of social and economic policies takes years or even decades to alter. Conservative fiscal policy is finally falling out of favour after roughly four decades of dominance. It is hard to argue that pro-corporate deregulation has helped the average citizens wages when the big increase has been seen only in the wealthy getting wealthier.
The negatives effects are much more subtle until the house of cards finally tumbles down, and nowconservatives are not thrilled with having to acknowledge that free market capitalism has been a failure unless you own a company, or plenty of stock in a company.
For decades the inadvertent agreement that the left would make social gains while the right would make economic ones. Obviously each side would want to control both, and now that the left has made strides to grant more freedoms and protections for women, minorities and the LGBTQ community (while much still must be done), they are coming for the right's strange-hold on money matters. We've made mention in the past our worry of society being able to make these necessary social and economic changes. Improving laws is an essential step forward, but the hardest work is slowly and steadily changing people's minds, which takes years or decades. A timetable that seems unthinkable compared to the social media scream-sphere.
Digital feudalism looks to be in our future, and the way we leaned even heavier on this technology in 2020 has accelerated this process.
The Industrial Revolution changed the world, and made a very small segment of the populace very rich (some of whom were members of the noble class, who effortlessly pivoted from owning land and people to owning factories and workers). For several decades the masses attempted to organize and were rebuffed or beaten down.
It took a devastating and obvious economic catastrophe (what is the Great Depression, Alex?) for social programs to finally be enacted.
We are at a period where the computer/digital revolution has changed everything about society right across the planet. And the companies which own and operate these systems are public only in the sense that anybody can own stock in them, but the reality is that a small group of investors reap the benefits. Sucking the wealth out of countries, and then shrugging their shoulders and saying, 'hey that's the system, I don't make the rules', ignoring the fact that they do indeed make the rules.
This nobility has little affection for their country, beyond how well they can pull the levels of power to their advantage. Smaller nations are selling themselves to the highest buyer, which is how former Google CEO Eric Schmidt ends up with a Cypress citizenship. To them, capitalism is working perfectly. And that's the problem.
It means that the world as a whole is terribly equipped all the other problems that we had to deal with even before a global pandemic.
The temporary suspension of the world economy's 'business as usual' means that for once there is a lowering of global CO2 emissions, which is a silver lining in a year that's mostly lead. A good thing, too, since the year began with the entire continent/country of Australia on fire. Not to be outdone, the western United States did the same thing in the summer.
Climate change has occasionally gotten people marching in the streets, but it was the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police that initiated protests across America and the globe. It was a painful reminder not just of the violent attacks black men have suffered at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect them, but of the continued marginalization of minorities (whether based on skin colour, culture or creed) in states and societies across the planet. If there no justice for all today, there will be justice for even fewer tomorrow.
And there is a once-in-a-lifetime catastrophe that creates an exhaustion on top of all these others.
2020 is a year that felt long and short, that was marked by long trudges of boredom interrupted by bad and worse news. The fault of a state or society to care for its citizens is exposed when leaders who tell people to do nothing and isolate for the benefit of all only works when you can live comfortably by temporarily by isolating.
People don't like being told they have to change their behaviour for the betterment of the future when the their present is failing apart. Which means they have to chose to change willingly. Which is much harder to do, especially with how much noise comes with the cyberspace medium (and is the message itself, after all).
How people minds are shaped today are by what they see and how they interact with a technology we don't truly understand. Reaching out online in 2020 had all the benefits and problems that have always existed in doing so, but it felt more necessary than ever before.
We are moving even quicker to a world of automation and algorithmic artificial intelligence, and it is warping all the rules and behaviours we are familiar with.
A society and an individual can only bend so much before they break.
But the standard ‘crack in everything, that’s how the light gets through’ (thanks, Leonard) always applies. Time after time, humanity has shown that after huge disasters in the past, we have dusted ourselves off and slowly (but surely) gotten back to our feet. The hope that we can learn as a group about the errors we’ve made on the global and local scale a like and begin to right this ship. We are always going to have to re-fucking-orientate (thanks, ZMF), and maybe for 2021 we should consider that a life well lived is having a little time for yourself and buying a little time for everyone else. It’s start, and every day is, too.
The creation of arts, literature, music, movies and tv were all affected by this Covid year, and at the same time it was never so essential. While there was always a danger of the Internet making endless music and viewing options a perfect distraction when there more pressing issues for dutiful citizens, there wasn't much else to do during the first, second, and third waves of the pandemic. Getting to the 'end of netflix' or clearing out your video games backlog was easier to do when confined to your home.
For music from this year, Fiona Apple's 'Fetch the Bolt Cutters' is just as good as everyone says, Lianne La Havas' self-titled record is better than everyone else says, and for those who want to know what Neptunian Maximalism sounds like, there's Eons' massive album, 'Neptunian Maximalism'.
The Mandalorian continues to prove that crowd-pleasing Star Wars stories doesn't have to be found in the cinema, and a galaxy far, far away is a welcome sort of escape from the year.
For something more down to earth, David Fincher's 'Mank' makes writing a screenplay seem like the most exciting job in the world, with beautiful camerawork and clever quips.
ESPN/Netflix's documentary on Michael Jordan (The Last Dance) makes you want to install a basketball hoop in your living room.
It was a wild year for the real entertainment of the future, video games. If you wanted to avoid the bleak futures of The Last of Us Part 2, Half Life: Alyx, and Cyberglitch 2077, there's the year's biggest fantastical hit, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, where you can build and decorate an island with talking animals… for a capitalistic raccoon.
But if even the idea of consuming culture made/released during this awful year fills you with dread, there is always the very easily accessible past.
The technology that has somewhat screwed us over can at least make it easy to reach out and grab the warm embrace of yesteryear.
Which is why going back to The Grateful Dead has been incredible. Far be it for us to diverge from popular opinion, so Cornell '77 really is the best full live show introduction (although Europe '72 (a live album of selected live tracks from the similarly named tour) is probably best for absolute beginners). A personal favourite has to be Oct.2/77 (Portland), which opens with a wild Casey Jones that really stretches out, and has a great Playin'-Wheel-Truckin'-Other One-Wharf Rat-Sugar Magnolia jam in the second set (and Scarlett-Fiiiiiiire). March.27/88 is tops as well, because Brent is so key to the success of 80s Dead. And Veneta '72 isn't screwing around, either (I suppose if you want to understand The Grateful Dead (…man), you can just listen to Dark Star > El Paso (available as a video on youtube)).
As far thematic aesthetic matching, the ravenous, nauseous sounds of the Liars' second LP, They Were Wrong So We Drowned (2004), fit 2020 like a bloody glove.
Nintendo obviously had plans to celebrate Mario's 35th anniversary this year before things got turned upside down, but the release of the first three 3D entries into the series (from 1996, 2002 and 20007, respectively) was a joyful triple jump down memory lane. The capper of the trilogy (Super Mario Galaxy) is so good that it might be a slightly frustrating wait if you decide to play them in order.
What is 'Now' Now? The Covid-19 Article
It’s the end of August and never has twelve named months seemed so arbitrary.
2020AD (how’s that for arbitrariness?) is the year of the Coronavirus. In
terms of a 'year in review' article, plenty of it can be written now, with
a comment on the upcoming
Countries have seen their infection rates rise and fall, a testament to how human beings are able to adapt to certain things quickly, and can be completely bewildered when other things throw them for a loop. Suddenly throwing a party or attending one is representative of a careless breaking point, a symbol of dangerous defiance, a desperate reach for the normalcy of the before times.
The passage of time - and what is expected to be accomplished in its familiar packets - has been turned askew enough with the Internet, but with a pandemic basic routines like work, school, entertainments, exercising, and administration of mental and physical health have been interrupted in various degrees across the globe.
Depending on who you are or who you ask, the 'various degrees' are due to the fact that not all nations are created equal. Even with groups like the World Health Organization, each country has to confront Covid-19 with whatever tools are at their disposal. Which is why experts forecast that it would hit the poorer countries the hardest. Of course this assessment didn't take into consideration how absolutely bone-headed some leaders of some very wealthy and powerful nations would shit the bed in their Coronavirus response.
This, in turn, affects the overall global response as well. The world
can't get back to normal and open its borders if the
Like Covid-19, the economy is a shambling monster that everyone is unsure how to stop, but the economy is something that we'll be damned if we slow down it for something like this.
The system that we all adhere to - no matter how passively or reluctantly - demands that products be made so they can be purchased. While it mainly lines the pockets of the corporate owners, there are enough people dependent on the ancillary process of creation and logistics management that entire communities can be shut down and become helpless at times like this.
Certainly tourism, entertainment and the service sectors have been hit the hardest, doubly so in post-industrial regions where these industries that are expected to absorb the transference of workers leaving various trade and manufacturing jobs.
Slashing prices doesn't matter if people can't get to the physical locations of the amazing deals, or if they can't afford them any longer, no matter what the discount. As Doctor Pagkas-Bather pointed out in the clearest possible way: "Dead people don't shop."
For the living, Coronavirus has not affected us equally. The earliest dire forecasts posited that the poor and marginalized would be much more affected both directly and indirectly by the disease. That means they will be more likely to get the disease, as they live in more concentrated conditions, and would have to work during the pandemic because they can't afford not to, also increasing the chances of them getting it. Those well off can live off of savings, work from home, have food delivered, or even get out of the city.
For some business has boomed, and it just so happens that many that own said businesses are already sitting on commas. Food for thought: If a global pandemic that kills hundreds of thousands of your own citizens makes your wealthy citizens richer and your poor citizens poorer, then you are country-ing wrong.
Already lost in the much more eye-catching news stories is the trillions of dollars that the US government essentially gave to Wall Street in March, essentially covering any ‘pandemic-related’ losses by investors, encouraging them to make the same sort of risky bets and buy-backs as before (while cutting costs and furloughing employees at the worst possible time for the average worker).
Meanwhile everyone else is waiting to go back to normal, even if normal was for the most part a steady slide of the masses into a vast economic underclass with the effects (and side effects) of a warming planet making life more difficult for everyone.
Maybe normal has to change as well. Maybe this is finally the Real End of the ME Decade, which was a nickname for the eighties (and should have ended during that same period). It was the decade which cut taxes and corporate regulation for people who wanted it, as well as cutting social programs and government services for people that needed it. The time was epitomized by the ethos 'greed is good', which came from a popular and acclaimed movie simply called Wall Street.
And throughout the nineties and into the new millennium, even if corporatism became vilified (while truly it just grew stronger), everyone clung on to the idea of 'ME'. The individual was championed, even if it meant that the community itself would become slowly frayed and weakened.
And now, here in 2020, with Coronavirus seeping into every aspect of our lives, the necessity of us being able to depend on our fellow neighbours and citizens to do the right thing is a brand new development, with a 'brand new' disease.
It features an incubation period that has completely thrown out our traditional expectations of how a disease works. With other illnesses, if you spend time around a person who is sick, you typically show symptoms within a day if you are infected. Not so with Coronavirus, where you may not feel sick for up to a week, meaning during that time you can spread the disease to others completely unknowingly (compound this with people who might be asymptotic the entire time they have the disease, increasing the chance of spread to someone who might ultimately succumb to it). We are carrying around a week's worth of our lives everywhere we go.
There is the idea that anyone around you could get you sick, so you have a constant suspicion of your fellow citizen. The uncertainty over whether if someone not wearing mask now has been negligent for weeks on end, adding to our fear that no matter how diligent the people in our circle are, people have not yet realized that this a group effort.
Staying inside and socially distancing is putting a toll on many people's mental health, and once again the class issue is apparently. The more money you have, the more space you like have, and the more likely you can find a moment's respite from everyone else you are 'trapped' with. We are already a society that is pivoting towards a virtual form of communication and interaction, and while some can easily adapt to the world of Zoom and online gaming for socializing, a great many are finding the isolation stultifying.
How this will all play out in the long term obviously remains to be seen. Many of the articles linked at the end of this piece were written in the early months of the pandemic, and going back to them was sobering to see how the experts were right and how their fears came true when their warnings went unheeded.
So many of the concerns of things getting worse before they get better still apply now, since not only was America's disastrous summer of record infections and deaths a (preventable) national tragedy and shame, but global issues that were a problem before have compounded.
Doctrine once again shows that one chaotic event is a fine time for the
powers that be to establish an even stronger hold on their citizens.
Emergency orders that are instituted by leaders that have very little oversight are done with the understanding by the public that this is temporary, that it will only remain in place for the length of the emergency.
But for this to be truly effective, the leaders had to have shown the public that they are trustworthy, and the public has to show the leaders that they will abide by the rules of the emergency order. If the first is not in place, it is unlikely that the second will follow. And with the Coronavirus being a threat to society for a long time to come (certainly many months more, with some policies being kept in place past this year), it is a chance for authoritarians to seize power.
In the West, worries in the spring months that nations - or states or provinces within them - would keep these lockdown orders in place came to be unfounded. Corporate profit supersedes government overreach, since Trump and many states who were slovenly supportive of him opened up when cases were trending downwards (with disastrous results). And Trump is the sort of leader who will disregard science and the experts and go with his gut. It's a bad enough policy at the casino or whentrying to run a casino, but it's horrific when you are in charge of a nation during an emergency.
Watching it happen from the country to the north is like watching another car on the road suddenly skid and flip over and end up in the ditch, and you can only hope that the same thing doesn't happen to you.
Such is the challenge of writing in the middle of things. Trying to capture the moment of the time. A tinge of fear and wariness as you see it always happening to others, until the situation suddenly becomes much closer to home. Even saying it's the middle is uncertain, because we still might be in the beginning stage. The first third of a period that won't truly end until late 2021.
For the many who have been fortunate to not come down with illness, there 's a despairing, exhausting ordinariness to these weeks and months. Six months of diligence becomes all for nothing if we drop our guard and the disease hits the community in the seventh month.
If we complained about the day-in day-out pre-Coronavirus, you can bet we'll complain about this new routine. Some will say it is in an infringement on their rights and others will not shut up about the inconvenience of having to wait in line.
Our inability to adhere to experts' warnings and advice while embracing crackpot good news and conspiracy theories shows that information has never been more catered to what you want to believe.
Distrust in authority is healthy only to a slight degree. It doesn't take much to find examples of those in power using it for their own ends (usually to get more power for themselves), but writing off the system completely just hastens its ineffectiveness and/or collapse.
No region of the globe should get on their high horse. There have been
large spikes in infections across
The West is not a society that deals with asceticism and restraint well. Indeed, for several decades we've been sold on the idea that bigger is better, more is better, and getting all of it right now is best of all.
This is wholly incompatible with what is expected of a populace during a pandemic.
A global crisis like this glaringly exposes the society's flaws.
Bloated European bureaucracy that attempts to assist everyone.
American pay-to-play democracy which is destroying itself from the inside with the increasingly concentrated wealthy calling the shots.
Brutal Chinese and Russian authoritarianism where the oligarchs control everything and jail or kill their critics.
And smaller nations have to dance carefully through hoops and over double-edged swords to stay on the right side of everyone else.
The irony is that because the threat of disobeying a lockdown order in China means you and your family can be penalized and/or arrested, they can be much more effective in stopping the spread of Covid-19, whereas the freedom to ignore government mandates without (much) repercussion has made the problems in America and other democratic nations worse.
In these countries, you have to choose to be responsible and think of your fellow citizen when you decide to put on a mask. There is no greater proof that the United States remains a free country in this regard, but it also illustrates how free choice certainly allows the possibility of making the choice that does more harm (easier to catch and spread Covid-19 when you don't wear the mask) than good (something about freedom, apparently). You don't just wear the mask for yourself, you wear it for everyone else around you. On top of being a disease-prevention-device, it is also a symbol of safety and togetherness, but it's all for naught if many people see it is as a form of nefarious control. The importance of these preventative measures has been recently reinforced with the discovery that re-infection is absolutely possible, meaning the typical immunity that comes with being infected with the virus and recovering only lasts about four months. Constant vigilance will have to be the number one gift this holiday season.
But in terms of good news, a massive drop in global CO2 emissions finally occurred!
What a way.
It's chiefly related to the curtailing of global transport (mainly of people, but also of goods), but it is seen as a terrible interruption of 'the way things are', not an epiphany that we need to all agree to stop travelling considerably less.
Early on in the pandemic (when people thought the changes might only last weeks), airlines in Europe were flying empty flights from airport to airport just so they could keep their spots on the route (according to European aviation rules, only so many planes can operate on flights from between cities, and it's 'use it or lose it').
How we deal with other stuff is changing. Panic buying becomes 'not buying enough'. Average household savings has increased during the pandemic, but that’s not how the economy works, right? As restrictions eased in the late spring, there was a flood of car commercials using Covid as a promotional tool, telling you how it's time for you to 'get back out there'...and buy an F-150 that can cost as much as your annual salary.
For once people don't seem to be falling for it, eschewing the consumption role they are expected to play in the always thirsty capitalism. Using less stuff - and certainly wasting less stuff - is how we are going to have to live anyway (minus the panicked hoarding).
This is a tiny blueprint of the future, which unfortunately will be tied to the fact that many, many more people across the globe will be forced into using/buying less stuff because they can't afford to live any other way. Temporary aid packages are just that. While it acknowledgements that the pandemic is a special occasion, they exist as if everything was absolutely fine beforehand.
A pandemic such as this is a convenient tipping point where we can make positive changes to bring more equity to the globe, or where we tumbled further into a dystopian future with a small powerful overclass and massive underclass.
We want to watch Bladerunner movies, not live in a Bladerunner world.
The economic famine reveals itself. The withering of small towns across the West was in part due to lack of good jobs around them (as factories closed and farm consolidated and corporatized), which forced the cities to absorb more citizen trying to make a living, and therefore competing for an ever-shrinking piece of the pie.
The Western middle class went East when the manufacturing jobs headed that
way in the eighties and nineties. In North America and
What does this have to do with dealing with a pandemic right now?
Everything, because it determines how people act and how a government will function during this crisis.
Coronavirus wasn't humanity's great fight against a super virus. It was a shot across the bow. A warning that we had better take advantage of and prepare not just for the next pandemic, but any sort of similar sort of unpredictable and dangerous event that can affect the entire globe. Modern technology has allowed us to be more connected than ever before, but this great strength also reveals a great weakness. We are so connected that when something goes wrong in one place, it can massive repercussions for the entire globe, and not just to global physical health, but global economic health. Our society is not taking care of its citizens.
We have to change moving forward. We have never been asked to 'fight' as 'one', and since that is almost always an abstract notion (even in wars, more people act as support than actually fight on the battlefield), our fight is against tiny microbes.
Well…adapt or die.
How inequality is exacerbated during these times:
How the virus can trigger a recessions:
A really good 'big picture' overview of coronavirus:
Big money for big banks in the COVID-19 aid package:
The terrible destruction of large amounts of unused food:
The BIG interconnected money problem:
Problems with just-in-time consumerism/consumption
COVID-19 and Civil Rights ()
The Future of Killing People
In physics there is the three body problem, where it is seemingly impossible to know the outcome of a movement with certainty when you have three interacting items. 'Body' is a mainly placeholder term, since three of any sub-atomic particles to planets can be used as examples.
'Body' is becoming a placeholder term for the concept of human individuals as well, since our physical body is sharing more and more of our identity with a virtual one. Your online 'weight' is measured in bytes instead of kilograms, and just as having too many kilograms can be risky to your physical body, having too large a presence online (in the form of photos and videos on your social media pages as well as doing banking, work and leisure and so many other activities) can also pose several risks to your online body.
In terms of the relationship between the individual and the state, the concept of body is used in similar ways. We eat and exercise to maintain our health, and the state must attend to the needs of its citizens and protect them from danger.
On a molecular level 'we' do all we can to keep germs and disease at bay through our innate and adaptive immune systems. This constant war for our health has no space for mercy. Viruses and bacteria are destroyed without a thought...since everything that exists on this level utilizes stimulus-response.
When adjusting the argument for size and humanity, the question gets complicated: If the nation itself is a body, should it not do everything it can to protect itself?
French theorist Michel Foucault opined that in the past authority showed its power by inflicting physical punishment. That is, power was tied to the ability to kill or impair the body. For grievous crimes (or what was thought to be grievous at that time in history), it was a death, the destruction of the body. For lesser crimes (such as theft) there was the removal of the hand, or branding. In some instances, discomfort and shame were used (the stocks, tar and feathering).
Prison was only used for debtors, and the point of keep them confined was only so there would be an attempt by someone else to release them by paying off the debt. The idea being that a dead or severely incapacitated man meant the lender was out of luck.
Through changes in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to criminal reform, Foucault opined that the punishment was less at about punishment to the body and more of punishment to the concept of the body. In prison for a set period of time (depending on the crime), your body is not to be harmed (not meant to be harmed, anyway), and you are given enough nourishment to survive. What is 'punished' is your own person freedom of being able to participate in society as a citizen. This necessarily requires restricting the body in place, but minus the effects of aging, you are to be released from prison when your sentence is up with your body in the same state as it was when it went in.
Bodily punishment nowadays is almost wholly restricted to the death penalty and fewer and fewer nations are continuing this practice.
The three nations with the most powerful militaries (America, China, Russia) all support capital punishment, however, so it should come as no surprise that - outside of the standard criminal justice system - these nations also take extrajudicial steps to neutralize threats (note the euphemistic terms for 'shoot a troublemaker in the back of the head').
Realpolitik is a term born out of the Industrial Revolution, and Otto Von Bismarck meant it to acknowledge a cold, mechanical take on how nations were to communicate with each other, sometimes with agreements that might favour one over the other, and sometimes with guns.
Morals be damned, success or nothing is the way. Bend the rules to your will. Sure we'll never strike first...unless we know (or think we know) that you are going to attack us. Our enemy's enemy is our friend, just like how one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist.
Although 'might makes right' typically means it is easy for a state to portray its own military as the do-goooders (whether the public buys this is another matter entirely) and the enemy as the eternal, menacing 'other'.
While it makes sense that not many people are going to kick up a fuss with the killing of Osama Bin Laden via an elite squad sneaking undetected into Pakistan (and also not informing the Pakistani government), it then allowed for more leeway in similar targeted assassinations. The ringleader of Al-Qaeda who masterminded several terrorist attacks is one thing, but what of an American citizen living in Yemen preaching and encouraging violence against America? (the imam Anwar Al-Awlaki was the first American killed by a drone strike without any level of due process)
The moral high ground is always relative, an elevator moving up and down. While America prefers marginalization as a way to silence critics domestically, its rivals have no problem with mass incarceration, phony trials, and regular assassinations.
Under the last three presidential administrations terrorists and innocent bystanders abroad have been regularly targeted and killed in drone strikes. And that one word - 'abroad' - is meant to give more leeway for dubious activities by nations that (claim to) champion human rights.
To much of the middle east, the American drone system is the latest form of terror by the world's most powerful military. While it attempts to target people who do or wish to do harm to America and its allies, the unstated but plainly obvious conclusion is that the system can target almost anyone on earth. For both constant surveillance and destruction (and both without the subject’s knowledge, as these craft can fly so high above the earth that they are unseen by the naked eye).
Death from above and now without so much as sound.
A soldier had to fire his weapon at the enemy in front of them, the doctor had to administer the lethal injection into the condemned man's arm.
Now a body is barely required to destroy another, a few keyboard strokes from half a world away. It is greatly preferred method of killing by those who own and operate the drones, as it keeps living troops out of harm's way much more often. It enables one side of the conflict to deliver devastating loss of life to (ideally) military targets and (tragically) what was thought to be military targets. It should come as little surprise that there is not much in terms of oversight when it comes to deciding whether the fire button should be pressed. Certainly the general public will not be privy to the evidence and how it was discussed.
When there is the perception of less pain and suffering on one side of a war being waged by a superpower, its inhabitants will feel the war’s impact on a much smaller scale. There can be an 'ignorance of action' from the citizens of the state which undertakes these killings in far off lands.
While in the recent past most US drone strikes have targeted terrorist cells in the Middle East (as well as ISIS), the recent assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani while he was visiting Baghdad can be seen as a much more aggressive approach by America to utilize their military capabilities. No longer attacking extremist recluses living in caves because they are pariahs in the eyes of their own government, killing a respected member of another nation's military (and one of the most powerful men in Iran) could in some circumstances lead to a declaration of war. But with Iran already rocked by domestic protests and weakened by years of sanctions, that was never going to be the result. It was a sign of America doing something just because they can. Now we enter the realm of 1984's doublespeak, with a line of thinking that would be perfect coming out of the Ministry of Truth:
'It was justified because it was done, it would not have been done if it wasn't justified'.
Perhaps the most awful effect of this (not involving the ever-wrsening US-Iran relationship) is that other nations will be much more open and defiant in killing individuals who they deem as a threat, both foreign and domestic. And yes, while many nations unfortunately already do this (the Russian government has killed its critics both within its borders and across the world, the Chinese kept a human right lawyer locked up for years, even while he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize), with a nation like America taking such a public stance on the practice, many others could potentially follow suit, and with more frequency.
For years, America would at the very least 'finger wag' if nations were crossing the obvious human rights line, and in some instances actually institute sanctions upon countries in flagrant cases (the Magitsky Act comes to mind). But since drones are comparatively cheap and easy to use, they have given nations the unfortunate power to decided life and death in ways that never existed in the past. They are straddling a strange place between model plane-like hobby, the future of transportation and delivery, a surveillance device of unimaginable proportions, and the supreme tier of death from above.
Destroying a particular body has never been easier, but it should be noted that all of these activities take place in the real world. There is a physicality here, where real violent damage must be inflicted upon flesh and bone to cause death, to end the existence of the body as a carriage for a human individual.
But that is no longer the only way to die.
The concept of the body is changing rapidly because we are living more and more of our lives in virtual spaces. This interaction has caused quite a lot of disruption as we are constantly moving back and forth from tending to the needs of our physical and virtual selves.
Despite how much more of our daily routines and behaviour are dependent on our interaction with an electronic device in our hands or on our tabletops, the talk of somehow transferring the electrical impulses of our brain to some sort of computer is still clearly science fiction (sorry Kurzweil).
But the more we put of ourselves online, the more it takes on the qualities we associate with the concept of body. Our language proves this. We say 'I'm online' or 'follow me on social media', where the only physical action of 'following' is pressing buttons on a screen, and 'me' is a series of texts and images we have chosen to represent us.
Our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram home pages are our 'homes'. We visit friends 'homes' and go to shops and watch videos, moving to all these virtual locations with ease. It has become even easier in recent years to experience live events together, so that we can all chat as whatever happens is streaming right in front of us all at the same time.
Our senses of self in this world mirror the actions we take in the real world. While we always try to alter our actions and appearance in order to project the identity we want (whether we are successful is another matter entirely), this is much easier to do with our online selves. Only share the images and moments you want to share. Only make comments after careful deliberation to make sure you have a brilliant point or hilarious line (of course it goes without saying that many people put very, very little thought into what the say and then come to regret it...just like in real life). Delete your browser history like they were embarrassing photos from the past.
We are in the awkward and difficult period of malleable identities. In many areas it is effortless to create more than one. It can be the most mundane and practical (have a second e-mail account for junk), to something that can have huge effects on yourself and the people you interact with online (have one normal account on a social media site or message board, and have a troll account in the same place if you want to 'let loose').
The Internet was initially framed as a place where everyone can connect, yet in the last several years it has become easier and easier to seek out only the people that have the qualities you want them to have. Human looks to connect with other humans, and finding similarities is the easiest way to start. But sharing ‘everything’ has become the norm, and one person’s real talk can quickly become another person’s outrage of the week.
What speech 'is' changes when there's less and less of a physical presence associated with it. Body language and verbal inflection can have a huge impact on the words being said and how it is considered, and strictly text/emoticon based communication require a radical reassessment on how intent and sincerity is conveyed. Arguments over a simple misunderstanding or awkwardly worded sentence can boil over into a vitriolic screaming match.
Just as the wrong people can be killed from faulty intelligence and malfunctioning equipment, the wrong people can be targeted, offended, or hurt thanks to miscommunication on the Internet. This is inevitable. We have to accept the fact that people get their information from places/sites that are a report of another report of the original source. This displacement can cause distorted pieces of information being passed on. And if a popular site presents this information late in this process, a lot of people might not have the most accurate understanding of the event in question, because they aren't reading the original source. It is the kid's game of 'telephone', but on a much larger and important scale.
Why did we think the Internet would somehow 'correct' this form of human behaviour? Of course people in any sort of community are going to complain about something, exaggerate, lie, say stuff they don't exactly mean or believe in, talk shit, be misunderstood, etc. This happens in real life, not just on the Internet.
But the community has grown so large and become so interconnected that we are still getting used to behaving this way with complete strangers all the time. Your friends know you better, and so if you imagine you're only talking to them, you can have a casualness to your conversation. But this whole conversation can be read by anyone much too easily, and from that all hell can break loose.
We are not familiar enough with this technology and the possible ramifications of our actions within it. There is a non-zero possibility that anything online can flare up and become a viral sensation for wonderful or terrible reasons. Information can become misinformation (and vice versa) simply because of who we think is presenting it to us.
There is the popular New Yorker cartoon where one dog sitting in front of a computer says to another: 'On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog'.
It’s a good example of how a meme can get to a point quicker than an entire article (cough). Not being able to always know who is speaking in the virtual space is extremely troubling. A stable digital identity across all platforms, sites, and apps may be inevitable as we move forward. And it will be decried as a form of control by some, as well as championed as a way to make the virtual landscape safer and more efficient by others.
Within a digital identity, so much of culture and history can be disregarded, re-assembled, and created anew. The concept of family will change, if not biologically, then socially. The importance of one's past will be more malleable than ever. Where you're 'from' is not the country you were born in, or the country your parents (or grandparents) were born in. You will choose your identifying cultural characteristics. They will not be chosen for you or thrust upon you. Is all this good or bad? Like everything sprawling and complex, it can be both.
Currently the Internet deals with the undesirables and threats to its communities with the virtual version of what nations do against similar troublemakers: Marginalization and 'death'.
The destruction of the 'body' in the virtual world involves a public shaming of the individual as well as a sort of silent treatment, and if this is not seen to be sufficient (or the individual is still defiant), then this person is removed from the awareness of others.
Cancel culture is the early attempts of a virtual community to police itself. The debate over whether you are dead or not does not include your input. Only if enough of a fuss is kicked up by enough people that an actual agent in control of your life support systems (the owners and overseers of social media companies, or - on a smaller scale - moderators in message boards and chat rooms) presses a button are you truly deleted. Quite similar to drones, actually.
Since the rules are sometimes nebulous and enforced by AI or people with vendettas, it can easily become an absolute mess when deciding who can stay or go. Plus the destroyed bodies can be reanimated somewhere else. Perhaps on a site or community that is not nearly as popular, but it perseveres none the less (the reports of anyone's death can now always be greatly exaggerated). And this act has taken on a sort of defiance in the online realm. Not that offensive people are angry that people are silencing them because they are speaking the truth, but that they are being silenced just for speaking at all.
What happens when the sub/counter culture runs out of things to rebel against? What happens when traditional forms of authority are no longer the same oppressive forces they once were?
We are at a time were social norms are so permissive (which is overall a great thing) in so many ways that there's nothing familiar to rebel against anymore. Certainly nothing physical.
Once it was:
"What are you rebelling against, Johnny?"
Today, it's nothing. There’s not even the reply: 'I understand you're just acting out, Johnny, it's just a healthy phase'. Whatever was thought to be rebellious has been quelled and commoditized.
Physical things like clothes, tattoos, piercings? Authority goes 'yeah, whatever, we've got them too.'
Raging against the machine, and protesting global corporation? Authority goes, 'here's your protest permit'.
You want actually see the band ‘Rage Against the Machine’? $200 a ticket in the cheap seats in a sports arena with a corporate name.
The youth have nothing to throw a rock at, or really, throwing a rock doesn't do anything anymore in post-industrial, digital, globalized civilization.
So they search online for anything to get mad at, to get some sort of reaction. Some toe the line, some patrol it. For every example of someone trying to push the bounds of topics of discussions and the words used within them (whether seriously or just for the lulz), there is an attempted corralling of speech, of controlling the dialogue. This has become the stage of a new socio-cultural rebellion, which is more than slightly ironic, since for a long time this sort of free speech fight was to be allowed to say whatever you wanted.
But why are people seemingly easily offended nowadays? Because the concept of the body in changing. To be verbally assaulted is not considered to be anywhere near as horrible or dangerous as being physically assault in the real world (there is less of a threat to your body when someone yells at you than when they punch you). Meanwhile, the virtual world is wholly safe from physical harm, but that just makes any other sort of verbal or emotional assault that much more powerful. When this is the main way of interaction it will inevitably take on more importance and weight.
Saying Generation [insert whatever term] gets offended by everything is completely missing the point, because this generation is interacting with the Internet (and therefore the world) in ways that were never considered a decade ago.
Calling someone a racial or bigoted epithet, or being ignorant or insensitive to another person's or community's difficulties is damning because words really do hurt when there aren't any sticks and stones alternatives. This is the new language, these are the new expectations of how to interact in a virtual space where every single bit of knowledge is only a five second search away, so there's little excuse for ignorance, unless that was your goal all along, and you better have a good reason for playing the 'stupid dick' role. That art and jokes may get caught in the crossfire is inevitable. It's not the P.C. police, it's the future.
And people from across the age spectrum might still decry this, and say that things were better and simpler in the good old days when you used to be able to shoot your opponent in the chest or tell them what you think right to their face, but as some other guy wasn’t Foucault said back in the sixties: "The times they are a changin'."
The 2019 Election: Andrew Scheer sucks (a lot) more than Justin Trudeau
What a wonderful opportunity we have to consider the very nature of representative democracy!
Good ideas presented by an idealistic political lightweight who waltzed into textbook pay-to-play and PR scandals versus bad ideas presented by dead-eyed child-goon built with replacement policy parts in Stephen Harper's basement.
Quebecois corruption versus Albertan idiocy!
Doddering future versus absolute past!
Every new election is the most important one, they say, the one that is going to put your respective country back on the right track or have it plunge into the valley because the bridge is out.
But when it comes to a country's destiny, our ballot power is oversold. My goodness it's so important that we all vote, even if we're 'meh' on our choices, as any exercise in democracy is better than the boot of fascism stepping on your face forever, but it's the winds of the global economy at large that push our sails of success or failure. Corporations that don't even have a direct presence in Canada can have a huge effect on the products and services we sell overseas, and that means we see these changes in the grocery store or the gas pump.
The NDP and the Green Party have big ideas about the future, but this is an election about doing nothing much behind this charming man and doing nothing much behind that boring guy.
Justin Trudeau's saving grace in this election cycle is that he's running against moose shit. Andrew Scheer doesn't know what to run on, because he's at least smart enough to know that the typical Conservative platform is only supported by the wealthy or people who hold up photos of aborted fetuses in front of high schools. Other than that, he has to rely on people not liking the current prime minister enough to vote against Trudeau.
No one is going to enthusiastically vote for a man like Scheer, so - regardless of who you support - let's pour one out or raise a glass for the idea of the bland politician.
With campaigns becoming more and more like reality shows, you can't just run in an election. Now you have to sell it, like you're constantly on Dragon's Den or Shark Tank.
Which is why there is something to appreciate in the almost-possibly-maybe-good actually non-slick-politician demeanour of Scheer. Just an ordinary guy, not flashy, not trying to go viral with a cool Instagram post, just trying to help his country by putting forward ideas that he think will help.
Then he opens his mouth and suggested the dumbest, old bait-and-switch policies you can imagine.
There are no social issues to latch onto this time around (outside of Quebec, but that province is a social issue unto itself), there's just money and oil. The 'centrepiece' of the Conservative campaign is small tax credit for families and senior citizens, and that obviously means a massive tax cut for the wealthy and corporations. And that means massive cuts in federal and provincial spending for programs that support families and senior citizens so in the end the small tax credit means nothing because everything else (from health care to groceries to anything tangentially related to social services) is more expensive or gone completely.
a preview of a Scheer-run
Meanwhile, when Albertans booted out the NDP in favour of the Conservatives, Jason Kenney said the province was 'open for business', which should be an obvious death knell for anyone who doesn't own a private jet. Canada has been very lucky with how much the global dependency on petroleum has bankrolled our living standards. One of the reasons our banks are so reliable is that we've never had to loosen regulations or permit risky lending and borrowing, since the poisonous instruments we unleash upon the world is crude oil, not credit default swaps.
It's big business, and it's still going to be for years to come, but the
only people in the world who think burning fossil fuels is a good idea for
the future have a slick, oil-industry dick shoved down their throat.
Trudeau treads carefully when talking about it, and even Scheer knows if
he champions black gold too much it'll backfire. But because it's long
been tied to economic success, the oil industry means jobs. Citizens move
or travel across the country because there are high-paying work in the
Of course the oil industry hates the carbon tax or increased regulation. Of course this industry is lobbying Canadians with a bullshit PR campaign to convince you to help them dismantle it.
Here's a hint. If the oil industry hates something, it's probably good for the planet and good for the average Canadian citizen, both today and generations from now.
This country is both blessed and cursed with a land filled with many valuable natural resources, and part of using them responsibly is not using them at all. Per capita, we are becoming one the most polluting citizens on the planet outside of the Middle East, and while some of that is simply due to the challenge of getting shipments and supplies from one end of the country to the other (reminder: we're a big ass country), a lot of it is due to the 'energy drug' we sell to the rest of the world.
The reality is that we will need energy from oil for years to come, but there needs to be massively complex plans and policies to lower our dependency/addiction to it and move toward the green energy revolution (hopefully a mix of solar, wind and fusion power).
We also have large reserves of freshwater, not just through our lakes, but also ice atop the land. If we think oil is a coveted, essential product right now, global access to fresh water will be ever more important ten years from now.
How these resources will be used - and whether the government (us) or a corporation (not us) will own them - are decisions that are going to be made very soon
The future of our high living standards is tied to these fruits of the earth. In this regard, the only parties that are even remotely 'preparing for the winter' are the NDP and Green.
But they are going to be supporting players, at least for the next four years. In part because few people want to own up to the uncomfortable fact that sits alongside the huge problems with fossil fuels: Even as most people agree that it's a problem, no one wants to be the one to sacrifice certain conveniences and luxuries for them.
Political parties will always have a hard sell with the honest, hard truth about what must change to the Western lifestyle:
Buy local as much as possible, stop eating as much meat (especially beef), a family should only own one car, we need to subsidize renewable products and tax non-renewable products, and none of us should get on planes nearly as often. Now ideally all this would be voluntary, but the government can always tax the hell out of these 'sins' to reduce its consumption.
This is common sense. These are finite resources, and we have to save some of them for future generations, so we can't blow through it all now.
Nuts for the winter, nuts for the winter...
And it's not like it's going to be just a whacky thing to try for a few years. These changes are not like a temporary diet for energy. It has to become the new normal. The 'that's how things are now'.
It's fairly unpalatable as an election platform, even if it's the most responsible one. Which says a lot about our mindset as global citizens in 2019. The Liberal Party - being centrist - is trying the centrist approach, saying we can have our cake and eat it, too.
According to them, we can invest in green energy and slooooooowly phase out fossil fuels, and we can all live our lovely lives with little change or sacrifice (we can't, but thinking that way helps us sleep at night). It's a nice idea, that just a carbon tax and some not-big-enough tax hikes on the wealthy can pay for a green energy revolution, but so, so much more is needed.
Meanwhile, the Conservatives are using this as a talking point, saying this is going to make things like gas and heating more expensive. And the response to that should be:
Yes! Yes it will, and good! This stuff is supposed to expensive!
Actions have consequences, and if you want comfort and ease, it's no longer going to be as cheap as it once was to have them. If you don't think it's fair, if you complain that these things weren't so expensive ten, twenty or thirty years ago, well guess what, things don't always stay the same, sometimes you live at the slightly shittier time in human history, and the climate change chickens have come home to roost
More and more people across the globe (and thankfully, in Canada) are coming around to the unfortunate reality that we have to make these changes. For a nation such as ours, addressing these challenges will always have to be considered on a municipal, provincial, and federal level.
Unfortunately, the Conservative Party tactic on the provincial level is saying how terrible the Liberals/NDP are doing, then cutting programs the public likes to make the economic situation worse for the average citizen (and a citizen having trouble keeping their own head above water means they have less energy and power to help fix the wider climate change problems). Doug Ford tripped into Queen's Park and realized that if the only major fuck up of twelve years of Liberal Party rule was the Hydro One scandal, then he wasn't going to have that much to do. Except become a lot less popular and make the conservative agenda look unpalatable for the rest of the country.
Which is why Scheer is in such a bind. He is either a religious man being duped by corporate interests, or he is a corporate interest duping his religious base. Since not enough people like Scheer or his policies, the conservatives have to attack Trudeau as being a disappointment.
And for the expectations we had for him, he is a disappointment, but that's what happens when an unstoppable smile meets an immovable bureaucracy. As America learned with Barack Obama, 'hope and change' is much, much easier said than done.
Trudeau has been fortunate that our economy has been officially designated as 'okay' for the last four years, and is charming in a way that the current occupier of The White House 'likes' him (our relationship with America has always been complex and mutually and beneficial, but the alternative...isn't available).
That he's had to make compromises and delays is nothing new for any party even with a majority, so it still seemed that going into 2019, the election would be his to lose. So of course he stepped up to the plate and somehow started to screw up the easy wrist shot into an empty net.
The SNC-Lavalin scandal is a colossal fuck up not only in the sense that it is clearly ethically wrong, but that someone thought that it was a good idea to get the Prime Minister involved, and that a shady construction company deserved this sort of special treatment in the first place. Corruption, pay-to-play, grift...these are things that every nation likes to think it can rise above. If no one in the Prime Minister's Office could tell that having 'just a conversation' with the Attorney General would not only be bad but look bad, then you have to think that they're not the brain trust you would hope them to be.
It's like throwing yourself down a flight of stairs (deep cut).
This - plus the utterly embarrassing 'brown-face' moment - means any moderately competent politician should ride this to 24 Sussex Drive...but not actually there, because it's an aging dump. No party leader wants to risk the political blowback of spending millions of government dollars on their own fancy and temporary house, so it's to gather dust. That's a nice microcosm for Western democracy in the 21st century: A near-empty political gesture that doesn't solve the problem at all.
But since Scheer is sheer idiocy, he won't be able capitalize on our 'meh' towards Trudeau. He's always been neck and neck in the polls with the Prime Minister, and that on election day that usually bodes well for the incumbent. The most likely outcome is the Liberals losing seats and being forced to work with the NDP.
And actually, for the future of our country - in terms of environmental responsibility and looking out for the average citizen - this is the best case scenario. A minority Liberal government forced to make agreements with the New Democrats (no wonder they go by their acronym, it's a rather strange name to stick with) to secure votes is really the ideal situation for everyone involved. The centrists being pulled left is the best for what this country needs to become. This hopefully will be seen most strongly in environmental policy going forward, but even in other issues that affect Canada - the constant struggle for a meaningful reconciliation with the Native Community, finding an acceptable resolution in deciding what constitutes a religious symbol in regards to the 'burqa ban' in Quebec - having a progressive streak running through the policy is a powerful sign that we are country that is moving forward.
Not that we should be comparing ourselves to the rest of the world, but over the last few years so much of Western democracy has taken a turn towards the mindset of the right-wing nationalist, authoritarian sympathizer. This is not the way towards a better future. Those are the steps backwards, towards confrontation and segregation. Canada has long prided itself as being an open and diverse society, and while we still make mistakes on our path towards it, we cannot consider abandoning this goal at such a time as this. It's not our way of thinking to consider ourselves so important as to ever be singular torchbearers of liberalism (or dare we even say, notions of freedom and democracy), but if we do want to be inspired to vote for something more than a carbon tax and sensible spending on health care, then a progressive compromise between the left and centre for a brighter and better tomorrow will have to do. Maybe the rest of the world will even pick up on it.
Even Communism Looks Good on Paper
Once you step out of the manifesto and take a look of the world around you, communism looks...silly.
At first it makes sense that it's dismissed today as much as it was when it first emerged as an idea in post-Napoleonic Europe. Intellectuals were still certain that monarchy was no answer, and the attempt at democracy in France ultimately led to a warmongering despot who named himself emperor, so there was the search for the third (or really, any other) way.
The lingering but far-reaching effects of the French Revolution aren't given as much attention when it comes to communism as the other, 'bigger' revolution that was occurring all around it (the Industrial one).
Any massive technological/social development always creates several pluses and minuses to civilization. Currently we are in the throes of 'the Internet changing everything', and not just in terms of social media or how we consume news and entertainment, but our ability to make a living wage and how we socially and psychologically assess ourselves. We are more connected then ever, but we also feel more alienated than ever. Jobs - both directly and indirectly - are being replaced or streamlined by AI-level programming and advanced robotics, and in addition to that, the still-required human jobs are in an upheaval as well because practically every job requires some interaction with the Internet (even many manual labour jobs pay online). And those that own the gears of the Internet (your Googles, Amazons, Facebooks and Apples) have such an inordinate influence on our lives that they make a little bit of money (or get a little bit of information, which is monetized) every time you do practically anything online.
This sort of massive change happened before during the Industrial Revolution, with machinery and monopolization, and it was through this lens that Marx and Engels saw the exploitation of the masses (proletarians) by the factory owners and the land-owning nobility (bourgeoisie), and wrote a fifty page manifesto complaining about it.
Which still stands as a well-written and engaging document that kicks the rich in the nuts and really hypes up the power of everyone else (famously: 'the proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains'). Idealism and hope is a key component to whatever you're selling, whether it's a car or a social philosophy that attempts to explain how much exploitation and class warfare went into building that car.
Communism is part economic theory, part philosophy, and the philosophy part is about the concept 'work' and how to change the view/approach of it from being done via exploitation to it being done voluntarily and creatively. Which sounds great, but it's not a matter of just changing the socioeconomic setup of who 'owns' the factory (whether a boss, a small group of bosses, or the workers themselves), but of how we look at ourselves as individuals with basic needs and wants, as animals in a complex social group, and as a civilization.
There's a big practical hole in how to create a true communist state. The Communist Manifesto states what the adherents believe in, Marx’s Das Kapital criticizes capitalism, but there's no viable framework for the setup of a communist government, and certainly nothing that addresses all the sort of problems that might arise during and after its attempted setup.
Nowhere is this better seen in the awful attempts at instituting communism during the 20th century in two of the world's largest countries, Russia and China. They didn't take much time before becoming full blown dictatorships whose leaders subjected millions to suffering and death, and whose successors were (and remain) essentially police state oligarchies. How they treated their citizens and how the institutions were set up had almost no connection to what Marx or his contemporaries meant by communism, except for maybe some early pointless job titles.
If most people think about the Soviet Union or China when the word 'communism' is said, no wonder they immediately dismiss it. What was called 'communism' (even by the brutal dictators themselves) looked terrible, and it was.
First, when trying to start any new system of government, it's going to be a difficult and typically violent affair with power vacuums leaving a lot of death, brutality, and subjugation.
Second, the conditions in the country are already likely pretty bad if all sorts of people want to remove the current government (whether it be a monarchy or democracy).
Being able to provide for your citizens (basic necessities like food, shelter, and security) is incredibly difficult at times like this, let alone while trying to teach them an entire new way of valuing work and the good and services work produces.
Russia was already in chaos (it was the middle of World War One), and China wasn't much better (World War Two had ended only years before) when Lenin and Mao respectively took control of the countries.
Russia gave Germany land and supplies to essentially stop fighting them (which allowed Germany to send its inadvertently victorious troops on its eastern front to the west, prolonging the war), and then collapsed into a civil war that killed ten million people. The Chinese civil war began in the 1920s, and was only slightly interrupted by World War II (they were attacked by Japan first in 1931 and then more aggressively in 1937, when most of the West wasn't paying attention), with millions perished in this struggle as well, which ended with Mao's victory in 1949.
Neither of these were fertile grounds for any new form of governance, and communism is a particularly hard sell when so many people have gone through such recent hardships.
Even though the very reductionist explanation of communism being where we all 'share the same food, laptop, bottle of shampoo and don't have any private property so your house is literally my house', is very far off from what the practical applications of wealth redistribution would be, it's actually not that far of from where our minds are supposed to be from a philosophical and psychological standpoint. Communism is supposed to redefine work completely so we redefine our outlook on life completely. Communism is supposed to be a state of mind where you are totally open to sharing everything with people, because you are so self-satisfied that you don't get bogged down with the concept of ownership. If that's sounds really hippie-like, it is. Communists saw themselves as rescuers not just of the workers toiling in factories, but of the classist mindset that these factories (and the larger capitalist system) created. You weren't supposed to be a cog in the assembly line, that's a dehumanizing role to play in society. How do you do convince someone to live differently from the way they have been living all their life? How do you change their perspective to live a more basic, harmonious, and fair existence? How do you remove the basic concept of 'yours and mine' being separate? Well apparently LSD helps, but that can only give a sneak preview, not an actual institutional bedrock. And you can see this in the failure of many social movements in the nineteen sixties which attempted to replace 'democratic mixed market capitalism' with a much more 'communist oriented' system.
Most groups fell apart, some groups got violent, some became a band, and some become 'communes' in rural areas, some of which of those have lasted to this day (the name is not coincidental, and suggests that maybe this sort of governance can only exist with comparatively few people. A couple thousands people max, perhaps. Very early socialist Rousseau thought the ideal population for an insular, functioning 'city-state' was about thirty thousand people (the population of his place of residence, Geneva, in the mid-eighteenth century)).
Communism then can be read as a pastoral reaction to the industrial presence in cities. After all, the sort of community that better resemble the high idealistic values of the true communist state are the pre-agrarian ones, and the civilizations that European colonists came across in North America, South America, Africa and Australia, which they steadily destroyed either by violence or by importing their proto-capitalist (and not long after, just 'capitalist') structures. But it should be noted even these pre-agrarian/nomadic civilizations would have social hierarchies (just not to the same extent as what was to come) and would war with neighbouring groups.
True communism is meant to make these things irrelevant.
The agricultural revolutions at the rise of civilization were the spark that led to class societies, and even as various empires have risen and fell, and as democracy and oligarchies have replaced monarchies, these divides persist. But they may be inevitable in our global socioeconomic system because we can't conceive/institute a viable alternative.
The industrial revolutions exacerbated these differences, and in the current digital/information revolution, economic and power divisions have widened, even while the ability to communicate with each other has become instantaneous and effortless (paradoxically, while this technology unites us quickly, it alienates us from each other just as fast).
There will have to be another massive change in the technology we are using (cough, quantum computing and neural-computer links, cough) before communism can be remotely considered possible.
But communism is not a change in working conditions and computer power. Communism is a massive psychological change in how groups/societies see themselves and how the people within them interact with each other. For all the many, many words written about communism (both before and after Marx) never really nailed down how this process is supposed to take place. How do you safely collapse a massive socioeconomic infrastructure that has engulfed the other and replace it with something that is supposed to be better?
Das Kapital criticized capitalism, but didn’t offer an instructional manual on how to create a communist state. It's always been easier to point out the problem (over eight hundred pages, depending on the edition) than offer an applicable solution.
Consequently, states that called themselves communist never really were. They were governments that leaned heavily on oligarchic despotism, and one can argue whether the leaders just called it communist for practical purposes (to contrast it with a capitalist system) or because they (idealistically) actually wanted to usher in a society based on such an ethos, but no country has gotten even remotely close.
It was never communism versus democracy in the Cold War, since communism was more a philosophical/economic concept than a political one.
more accurate clash of political ideologies during the 20th
century was fascism/oligarchy versus democracy. As soon as the
If you were looking at more of an economic battle of ideas, then you might claim
'Communism versus Capitalism', but that's not accurate either. Even after Stalin died, and they didn't crush dissent as hard, 'communism' in Russia seemed to just be inefficient and carefully corrupt bureaucracy. At the same time, during much of the Cold War, America had a heavily regulated form of capitalism that included high taxes, strict rules for banks and corporations, and massive infrastructure programs completely controlled by the government.
In fact, capitalism in its more pure form really didn't come into being until the Soviet Union began to collapse. The last thirty plus years are a much more accurate depiction of pure free market capitalism in the West than anything that occurred during the height of the Cold War in the fifties or sixties.
China is the only major country that bothers to even placing the term communism anywhere in describing its form of governance, but it is a rather empty phrase, considering its current leader is 'president for life', and many of wealthiest people in the country are high-ranking government officials. The connection between party leaders and the nation's largest corporations indicate it's more of an oligarchy than anything else (with more and more restrictions on individual freedom and an increased level of surveillance, it's also a police state). The process of China becoming 'the factory of the world' has made it less communist than ever. That it - and many other south Asian countries - perform this task of manufacturing on a massive, industrial scale for the rest of the globe ends up being a very accurate and dispiriting proof of Marx's Theory of Alienation.
In pre-industrial times, almost any goods you had you either made yourself, or you traded or purchased for it with someone in your village who made it. You were extremely close and connected to all things you consumed. You could attach a human face to the man who grew your food, or the woman who sewed you clothes.
With the industrial era, this changed greatly. While it might not seem very important that you don't know the person who made your iPhone or socks, it actually changes not only how we view these items, but how we look at these individuals. The items are more disposable and replaceable, but even worse are how the individuals no longer seem to be people but simply a part of the machine-like process of production. We don't think of their working conditions, of whether they are making enough money to support themselves or their family. We are alienated from them, and today this constantly happens on massive, global scale.
This is easily seen in the relationship between ownership and labour, where there is typical a large amoral gulf between the parties. It is less likely for the owners to see labour as actual people that they are responsible for, and more likely that they see them as expendable cogs in the process of production.
It should be a humbling idea, being an owner or CEO of a company, because it's essential to remember that it's not just the financial benefit that should be sought in a sensible society, but a benefit for the society itself by having its citizens/employees and contributing in a dignified manner. It should be a very difficult decision when it comes to choosing between higher profits and fewer layoffs.
Consequently, people who can easily make this distinction are better suited for success in a capitalist society, since exploitation is almost inevitable within it. Communism is meant to be the antidote, but no one knows how to re-wire the brain to make it so. Thinking of everyone else as much as you think about yourself is an issue that goes beyond jobs, money, and commercial society.
Capitalism has won because it champions the individual.
Communism lost because it champions the group.
This massive reduction of two massive concepts is both unfair...but not wholly inaccurate. One of communism’s basic tenets is the abolishment of private property, and that's pretty much when a vast, vast majority of people say no thanks. 'Stay out of my house', is a sensible request, an extremely powerful piece of anti-communist propaganda, or just another hurdle to leap over. A so-called 'evolutionary leap' of a psychological sort.
If we decide that we want (or need) to make this jump, the initial step is just proper education and understanding. Unfortunately, as noted above, there is a somewhat self-imposed barrier of ignorance to the essential qualities of socioeconomic ideologies. Perhaps the only more misunderstood socio-political idea than communism or capitalism is the middle ground between them: socialism.
Additionally, if communism's opposite is capitalism, then its true foe is consumerism. Consuming for the sake of consumption, we are primed and condition from a very young age to believe that new products and services will always make you happy, regardless of the wider consequences that might come with its creation and production. While damaging enough psychologically, we also must consider that we are on a planet with finite resources, and for a litany of reasons (many environmentally-related) it is going to become harder in the near and far future to create the items we have easy access to today, both necessary (food, shelter) and frivolous (all-inclusive vacations).
Can we change this ominous- looking future?
Well first look to our popular fantasy futures. Star Wars (okay, it took place 'a long time ago', but it's more advanced than us) is capitalism, and Star Trek communism.
Star Wars has a massive empire run by the few (we even see the war profiteers in The Last Jedi), with the masses fighting and trading over the scraps of any sort of trickle-down power (Luke complains about how little his landspeeder is worth when he has to trade it in, and Han literally has a 'price on his head'). The Prequels began with trade and taxation disputes, and there are actually slaves that you can buy.
Star Trek exists in a post-liquidity world. There is no money, there is no want when it comes to basic necessities, since food, shelter and medicine is inexhaustible. In the film Star Trek: First Contact, the crew of the Enterprise goes back in time to the 21st century and when someone there asks how much the starship 'costs', and whether they get paid, Captain Picard answers that, 'the acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force is our lives''.
To be wholly satisfied, to have no want, to be at peace, to effortlessly interact and socialize with the individuals as human beings, not their jobs.
The idealized version of self and community.
Sounds like a utopia.
Sounds like a dream.
Sounds like the perfect communist state.
[this is an article that seems to be about football. And it mostly is. But it's also about everything slowly and inconceivably changing for the worse, from government to movie franchises. It's not going to be heavy into the 'man vs zone coverage' and the mysterious perfect passer rating of 158.3]
The Super Bowl is next Sunday, and the Pittsburgh Steelers will not be playing. It wasn't even close, since they didn't make the playoffs.
They almost made the playoffs. Came super close to that. They were in the running right up to the last day of the regular season. They even won that last game, but ridiculous losses and missteps from earlier caught up with them. Snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Their season started wonky, soared like an eagle by winning six straight games, then the eagle ate something poisonous and shat the nest for the last six weeks of the season, as they went two and four.
This should not have
happened. This made no sense. Everything was going great for them. They
were the 2016
The Steelers were
the healthiest team in their division, with their opponents (Baltimore
Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati Bengals) all having their
quarterbacks fall to injuries for several weeks of the season (the first
two leaned on rookie qbs, the third got journeyman Jeff Driscoll).
On defence, they're tied for most sacks, and are 6th overall.
On offence, their passing is second overall, 4th overall for total, and Roethlisberger led the league in passing yards.
They have eight pro-bowl (read: all-star) players.
This is elite level of play.
The top 12 teams in the NFL make the playoffs.
How does a team that is 4th and 6th best in everything miss the playoffs?
How do you lose to
What a thing to autopsy!
It started on a bad foot. Even before the first game.
Their star running
back, Le'veon Bell, refused to play unless a non-franchise tag contract
was offered to him. Sorry, this is where sports terms get all
business-nerdy, and when capitalistic greed rears its ugly green head.
Just as money in politics has gotten more pugnacious, so too in
professional sports. See,
So instead there is a financial thingie (in the same way that a CDO is a financial thingie) called a franchise tag, which means giving a player a raise from whatever they were making at the end of their last contract, and delaying writing up a new, big money long term one for a whole other season.
It's a wonderful way to screw an individual player. You'd think that shouldn't be allowed, but...yeah, those are the rules.
The franchise tag
So one of the biggest stars in the league didn't show up for work, and that means many things, but as far as the sports media was concerned, it meant the best thing: Drama.
Like pretty much anything that has the word 'media' in it, sports media in the 21st century is having a hard time turning a profit, since we all would rather read/watch/listen to something for free than pay for it. If getting clicks is the only way to be getting paid, anything that can be framed as exciting, crazy or unexpected will be framed as such.
Sound familiar? Yeah, it's the Donald Trump method of narrative framing, and it involves a lot of rumours, ignorance and exclamation marks.
But this froth in the message boards and comment threads and tweets in our hands has real implications for the people who actually have a job to do, whether we're talking about government employees or athletes.
It is a nothing that becomes a something. The 'will Bell show up for work or not' was a weekly reality show for the first two-thirds of the season, ending with the team ransacking his locker once it was clear he wouldn't at all.
Problem for the team? Apparently not, because the replacement running back was James Connor, who was amazing at the runner-receiver combo.... and who got injured (one of the few for the team) two thirds through the season, right around when the Steelers started shitting the bed.
Sounds great, but
let's ask again: Problem? Were they able to set this clanging
Well, in their first game of the season, they tied the perennial, don't-cry-for-me-I'm-already-dead Cleveland Browns.
Then they lost to the suddenly impressive looking Kansas City Chiefs in week 2 (for the entirety of the 2018 season, the unexpected and amazing performance of KC quarterback Patrick Mahomes is similar to that of Bernie Sanders...but would that mean Tom Brady is actually Hillary Clinton?), and later lost to division rivals Baltimore.
But then everything clicked, and they went from 1-2-1 to 7-2-1. We can't stress enough how unusual it is to add that third metric in typing the record. Ties are extremely rare in football...even though there was a pair of them this year. Which is a good time to extrapolate that everything that seems to be happening in global politics these days is both completely bizarre and unthinkable. Saying 'this has never happened before' is true of the Trump administration, Brexit, China becoming more of a powerful police state while its economy is starting to wheeze a bit, but everyone still has to go about their day and move on, kind of carrying the news in the back of your mind, not sure if it's going to cost you in the end...like a tie for a football.
But winning six games straight feels good!
Let's ignore the fact that these wins came against teams that had been floundering all season. Let's forget that you never truly see your failings while you’re succeeding. Let's forget that making the assumption that because things are going great now they are going to be great forever is so human it hurts ('pride cometh before fall' and all those wise-sounding aphorisms).
It hurts because they looked great for this six middle weeks, especially after a 52-21 mauling of the Carolina Panthers.
It's like that game sucked up all the energy and ability for the rest of the year. From being able to wrap up the game early, to never being able to wrap them up at all, because then they went 2 and 4, and all the losses were by a touchdown or less. So were the wins.
If only they could
have spread the 31 point win differential against
They lost to the LA
Chargers after an offside non-call led to an easy touchdown for the
Chargers because the Steelers defenders stop playing because the penalty
was so obvious, but because the refs didn't blow the whistle Rivers
through a long and easy TD for seven points.
They narrowly lost to the Oakland Raiders, one of the worst teams in the league this year, when their usually reliable kicker slipped on the grass when he tried to tie it up the waning seconds.
They lost to the New
Orleans Saints, and that one was agonizing on several levels. As the
season went on and it was clear the Saints were a bone-crushing
juggernaut, Steelers fans would look at the rest of the games their team
would have to play and figure, 'well, we might lose to the Saints because
they're so good, but as long as we've beaten teams like Denver and
Oakland, losing to the Saints won't harm our playoff hopes'. But after
All these small mistakes in each game add up. It was maddening to watch. The Steelers offence would rush down the filed then turn the ball over. Their defense would make two amazing stops back to back and then give up a massive thirty yard play.
But it was worse than just a slow crumbling towards failure because there were flashes of hope. They beat their chief conference rival the New England Patriots in what was practically a battle of attrition (limiting the Brady-bot to ten points), and they won their last game of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals. But to make the playoffs they also needed the Cleveland Browns to beat the Baltimore Ravens (who stopped sucking around the time the Steelers started to, as if it was hex passed from team to team), who were just narrowly ahead of the Steelers in the standings.
The games were occurring at the exact same time, and because the Steelers game ended a few minutes before, the giant TV in the Steelers' stadium broadcast the rest of the Browns-Ravens game for all the fans and some of the players, so they could see if their season was about to end or keep going. And the Browns-Ravens game was close, down to the last drive, with the Browns making a final push to try and win the game, but hotshot quarterback Baker Mayfield threw an interception, and the Ravens won.
You could watch the Steelers players glumly walk across their own field to go back to the locker room, their season - one that should have been amazing, one that was amazing except for the one stat that really mattered (win/loss) - truly over.
But why should a bad season end there?
The best receiver in
the game, Antonio Brown, didn't play that last game, allegedly because he
was injured, but it was later revealed there were arguments and
near-fights at an earlier practice, and now it looks like he doesn't want
to play in
Oh, and Smith-Shuster injured himself at the Pro-Bowl, the NFL's version of the all star game, but is more like all-star practice, because no one plays with the same energy because no one wants to risk getting hurt...except that one of the Steelers players' just did.
How does a season get worse after its over? That's how.
It's like going to the funeral of a loved one and then accidentally throwing up in open casket while trying to pay your respects.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of those big-ticket, high-performance teams that have been consistently playoff bound for more than a decade, with very few exceptions. Up there with the New England Patriots and...well there's actually a bit of a drop off in consistency after that.
In terms of
comparing them to movie franchises, New England's freakishly unending
success is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which works, because this
[To continue this
analogy - which could easily be debated over for the rest of
civilization's history - The Green Bay Packers is Star Wars (the original
big success, flashes of brilliance in between long years of dormancy, but
never quite as good as under Lombardi), The New Orleans Saints is Mission
Impossible (carried by one ageless wonder), and the Dallas Cowboys is Fast
and the Furious (flashy, attention-getting, popular, but hollow in the
end). And maybe all those
Sports teams are like lumbering movie sets, with so many behind the scenes employees working hard to give the stars a chance to do amazing things which make everyone watching at the stadium/cinema or at home simply go, 'wow'.
More so than any other big ticket multi-billion dollar sport, football is a team game. Sure, having the best quarterback money can buy is a huge asset, but he has to have great defenders to keep him from getting sacked and great receivers to throw to. Plus, these players are only on the field half the time. There's a completely different set of players that play defence (plus special teams, but that's getting further down the rabbit hole).
Even though the intricacies of the game means the individual is just one cog in a great big yard eating machine, fantasy sports, advanced stats/metrics, and social media have isolated players to a much greater degree. This running back is worth this much, can do this better than anyone, and can be blamed for this result by thousands of sofa coaches howling for their blood.
That passion is real, even though sports are superfluous (despite the many, many people whose paycheque depends on it, from athletes to stadium workers). That means it's much more malleable than things that truly matter, like political and economic decisions. You can hate the New York Jets for no reason at all, and that's absolutely okay with no real world consequences. Hating the Supreme Court, Brexit, or offshore oil drilling can change the course of history. Sports were great because it was pure escapism, but that might not be the case anymore.
Football is becoming everything. This exact phrase can be applied globally, except that an entirely different sport is meant by the term, and - bizarrely - works just as well. 'Soccer' has become everything. FIFA and the World Cup is a giant, money-grubbing blob that preys on the money and attention of the masses just like the NFL and the Super Bowl.
They make rules that local cities and host nations bend over backwards to meet (because money) and change other ones quite regularly for athletes and coaches. Certain levels of cheating and outright criminal activity are tolerated with a slap on the wrist. PEDs? Just a suspension for a few games. Videotaping your opponent's practices? A quick fine. Paying your own players to make dirty hits on opponents with the intent of injuring them? Suspension and a quick fine. A player attacking a woman in a hotel room, a hotel hallway or hotel elevators? Well, if we end up finding the security tape then maybe we'll see what we can do.
And with football becoming everything, then it may as well be a wedge issue. So Donald Trump brags about his relationship with team owners (reminding us all of the typical wealth disparity of people with power and those without), then disparages the players protesting police violence by kneeling for the national anthem. The president coming down against a citizen's basic rights should be an alarm bell, but that bell's being going on so consistently we barely even hear it.
('Fun' Fact: Trump tried to buy the Buffalo Bills back in 2013, but nothing came of his bid. It's tempting to imagine the timeline where he bought the team and was too busy to run for president)
If football is everything, then it has to suddenly take on an appearance of ugliness and hate, as well as excellence and triumph, although thank goodness we all try and focus on the latter. Last year's Minneapolis Miracle (the scrappy Vikings beating the Saints on the last play of the game) gave us hundreds of deliriously happy reaction videos that shows just how excited sports can make people. For all it's faults, football can bring so many people together...to hate on the team two hours away.
But right now the Pittsburgh Steelers don't even have that. No videos of success, or of sudden, heartbreaking defeat. The season was a slow crawl to 'not good enough'. Ultimately, they couldn't not make it to the playoffs by themselves. They had to rely on a certain outcome of another game. In football commentator parlance, it's 'needing help', it’s ‘not in charge of your own destiny’. Having to rely on other teams to win or lose. To suddenly cheer with all you might for the Cleveland Browns.
In a football fan's heart it's like launching satellites into space. The interconnectedness of complicated factors, all of which have to go off without a hitch, and it's a devastating gut punch when a small piece deviates and fucks everything up.
It would be lightly comical if you didn't care.
But if you do, it's like finding out that god is dead. This isn't supposed to happen. Storylines are preset. The Steelers make the playoffs, play smash mouth football to eke out a couple victories, but then lose to the Patriots in the semi-finals (aka, the Conference Championships). As it was, as it shall ever be.
But not in 2018..
Fortunately, 2019 training camp is only like six months away!
Science Through Video Games
Physics is hard. Quantum Physics is much harder. People learn more quickly
and easily when they can actually experience the scientific laws and
theories you're trying to teach them. A few simple experiments involving
motion, force, and gravity can give a good example of how
Matter and energy in spacetime, that's physics without bringing up math (you're welcome). Quantum physics has an even bigger initial hurdle, because we can't experience the actions on the quantum scale. Both the size of the particles involved and the speed at which they move are too small for us to observe and measure without laboratory equipment. The actual definition of one second of time passing is not saying 'one-one-thousand', or the tick of a clock (what was that one tick set to?), but the amount of time it takes for radiation to make 9 192 631 770 jumps to different energy levels of a ground state caesium 133 atom. 9 192 631 770. So a second takes about nine billion tiny vibration-like movement around an atom, a small chunk of matter we can't see with the naked eye. Slightly related fact: It would take 280 years for a person to count to nine billion.
All of this is counterintuitive. Slight incongruities and unexplainable aspects of regular physics experiments sent scientists to the blackboard trying to explain them, and the theories they came up with needed to wait decades before experiments ultimately verified them. We had to wait for some eclipses and technological advances to prove relativity and show how the Uncertainty Principle governs the small bits of matter.
But it's thanks to these discoveries that we have been able to develop computational technology to develop video games that we can understand and experience quantum physics and the fifth dimension.
Early computers were size of the bedrooms, then shrunk as we were able to build smaller and smaller transistors on silicon chips, and by the mid-seventies we had pong, and by the mid-eighties we had Mario running along a 2D world, stomping goombas and collecting bling.
In the nineties, the advent of 3D gaming technology meant, "the same principles that enable the world's leading scientists and engineers to visualize complex information will now revolutionize video entertainment in the home." So said Jim Clark the founder of Silicon Graphics Inc, which made great leaps in three-dimensional computer technology around this time.
Just like tens of thousands of years ago, when killing your food with a stick and trying to build a makeshift shelter in the woods (like a lot of games allow you to do), the best learning is repetitive and relevant. Flipping through a science textbook can be a slog. Understanding how certain scientific ideas work by having Mario carry a giant turnip halfway across a level to dump in some stew for a power moon is a heart-pumping challenge.
It isn't necessary for the game itself to be overtly educational. Simply playing the game is able to be a learning experience, and not just 'how' to win. You learn how to adapt to a new environment, with different rules than those you interact with in real life. And as the games advanced, so did the intricacy of their environments.
There is certainly complication in physics, and correspondingly there can be complication in virtual worlds that have their own physics set by game developers, which affects not only the character the player is maneuvering, but everything else in the world.
We even call it a Physics Engine.
See, the standard model of physics is...uh...this:
If there was a playbook for the universe, this is it. The standard model tells us how all the particles and the space (ahem, fields) between the particles work. It is not one hundred percent perfect (where art thou, graviton?), but it does more than any other theory before it, combining classical physics (the study how atoms and above (from rocks to people to planets) operate) and quantum physics (for atoms and below).
In video games, which are made of ones and zeroes made of flickering electrical signals, there is the physics engine, which is a series of interconnected mathematical equations that can be added to every virtual character or movable object in the game (like a treasure chest, a weapon, a rock, a tree, etc.). It can also be adjusted differently for each object simply by clicking and dragging along a digital lever or knob. Make your tree heavier, or more subject to the pull of gravity, which will be all the more clear when the player interacts with it. Set the strength and tint of the light, which can affect how and what the player will see. Add natural objects like clouds, and then give them unnatural qualities like health-increasing or health-decreasing if a player walks or flies through it. Then duplicate the object as many times as you'd like. The physics engine is the playbook for the not-actually-physical universe you are able to create.
Press 'play' and suddenly the fourth dimension (time) is incorporated. Immediately the pre-set conditions will be activated, and like a Big Bang, your computer-made universe has begun. Until you press the pause button, and then move the slider for the player's maximum speed because it was taking too long for them to reach the first marker.
The game development software is malleable enough for the creator to indulge in all sorts of exploration and experimentation. And just like the actual discipline of physics and its quantum counterpart, the more time you spend experimenting, the more you learn about the types of environments as you create them.
Space is not a vacuum, and neither is the artificial space you begin with in game design. We can build a universe. We've bypassed exploring our solar system/galaxy and have instead focussed on creating large, simulated environments with computer technology. And we're building them out of some of the smallest particles in the universe. Transistors shuffle electrons through gates that are getting closer and closer to the size of DNA strands (10 nanometers to approximately 3.4 nanometers).
We are tinkering with the very basic building blocks of the universe, and we've found it easier so far to go microscopic than macroscopic. Smashing extremely small particles together after speeding them up to ridiculously high speeds, check. When it comes to the Big Bang, cosmic inflation and supernovae, we can simulate these events on more and more powerful computers, making slight differences to create alternate starting conditions for our universe.
Correspondingly, our entertainment is becoming more richly detailed and interactive, namely open-world video games, loosely defined as one that not only permits but encourages exploration and non-linear gameplay (no level one followed by level two followed by bonus round, etc.). Objectives can be completed without restrictions of order or time, the player deciding their own pace and plan. And while these types have games have existed for decades, they have become more lifelike.
How far off we are from it being difficult to tell the difference between simulation and reality is not easy to ascertain, but how far we've come in only thirty five years since the first Nintendo console is astonishing. It's not that we'll get lost in the virtual world. It's that we can learn from it. Whether we continue to stare at screens (from phone to theatre-sized) or wear VR goggles while floating in an immersion tank, we will have choices of the world we want to live in. Research within simulations that can teach us more about our own reality. Fantasy tourism. Maybe you've seen all the exotic locals on earth, but how about fictional planets that look and feel pretty damn close?
The games we have now (your GTAs, your God of Wars, your Red Deads, your Breath of the Wilds) are about carefully juggling skills and abilities and resources to achieve short and long term goals. This can be rather complex.
Chomsky said that the proof that the average citizen can certainly retain and apply complicated structures of interrelated information could be seen in the obsession and discussion of sports statistics and how adjusting strategies based on this information could result in the desired effect (a win). In recent years, contract negotiations and salary caps becoming another aspect of this 'field of study'. Perhaps the subprime mortgage crisis could be easily explained if it was applied to building a football team's offensive line.
Or you can boot up your console, and juggle several forms of in-game currencies as if they were quadratic equations. You're in a role playing game. There are a lot of important numbers and symbol to keep track of. Your health, your current weapon and its strength and its ammunition level, your defence (not to be confused with health), your basic supplies, your crafted supplies that can be made out of your basic supplies, your currency, your secondary currency for certain higher end items, and a possible tertiary currency for a ever-changing selection of limited time items. All of which need to be considered in tandem for whatever the problem or challenge is currently in front of you. There needs to be a familiarity with engaging in the basic forms of exchange.
The same goes for mapping. The arrangement of information meant to represent items and locations throughout the world. Some of the earliest drawings of human civilization are maps. From the night sky to agricultural information to military strategy to not getting lost as you travel to your uncle's house, the basic necessities of maps cannot be understated. Visual representations - and repeated examinations of them - are are essential learning tools. It's become a stand-in term for any sort of complicated situation or process (ex: 'the map of the human genome', 'the map of the universe').
In open world video games, the map plays this same role. But you can play - with a higher degree of difficulty - without getting the map, and just finding items and locations as you explore the world. And through doing this, you create a sort of mental map, knowing where items and places are located in relation to other items and places.
Science is searching for a map of everything, but for the moment are forced to find items and locations and attempt to link even slightly relatable pieces together, and by doing this we are creating a sort of mental map. It's just that everything would be easier if we found this everything map first.
But above all, even if we're just trying to make a vague comparisons of learning in video games to learning in general sciences, the most unique aspect of 3D open world gaming is how the Second Joystick acts like the Fifth Dimension.
Big, open-world video games of the last few years have tried to outdo its predecessors in terms of scale and detail, while their root mechanics haven't changed that much. While being able to do so much is new, being able to observe so much goes all the way back to Super Mario 64, the first Mario game in 3D. But not just 3D. Also 4D, because of the passage of time. Even though there is no timer in this game, there is the passage of time and its basic effects, as in 'the moment before you jump, the moment of your jump, the moment of your landing on the top of a goomba, the moment of its death'. This may seem like a very basic observation, but it shows how innately we understand the passage of time, and how we take it for granted, even in a simulated world). But not just 4D. Also 5D.
In Super Mario 64 and many, many video games that came after you are looking down on your character in what is a third-person perspective. Meaning you typically have the ability to move the perspective around to see yourself from the back, side, above, below, and in front. Today, this is done with the second joystick on your controller (the first joystick being reserved for movement). You can completely move this perspective around as you run and jump around while time passes. You can see your character from 'outside of the game'.
But what is this perspective? In Mario 64, the conceit was explained away as if this was another character of the game flying above you and holding a camera, filming your every move for 'you the player' to experience the world and move Mario around in it.
Successive games - from the Grand Theft Autos to The Legend of Zeldas - did away with the character aspect, and the shifting perspective that is completely in control of the player is just a given. This setup is akin to a sort of 'out of body experience', the kind that people claimed to have felt when they nearly died, or experienced in hallucinations. They are times when they fee like they have stepped outside of reality.
In these video games, you have complete control of this perspective, rotating the joystick around and around, angling it just so, which might then allow you to make a certain jump or attack in just the right way. To control yourself and control how you see yourself (even while 'being' yourself). This is one of those 'hard to wrap your head around' concepts that come with trying to talk about the fifth dimension.
But for a generation of gamers, it's become something like second nature. The 'duel joystick' perspective is how we can conceive stepping out of a 4D universe, because you are using a five dimensional simulation machine in a four dimensional universe.
But it can also be bizarrely described as our level of 3D looking down through a 2D screen at an artificial form of 3D. And if that's not trippy enough for you, enter the Zelda: Breath of the Wild glitch, where you can see the physics engine half fail (or let's say half-succeed, to be positive). In certain sections of the game you can have your character 'pushed' through a wall where nothing was designed to exist behind it. Your character falls into an artificial, half-set up world that very loosely resembles the geography of the actual game. Then something completely breaks down, like the ground catches fire, you can't move forward anymore, water is running vertically, or you get stuck in a perspective where your character has disappeared beneath an impossible lake, cannot move except to look around, and cannot die. 3D to 2D to 3D to 3D, and somewhere along the line there you see something you could never have conceived yourself. You can experience the cold, confusing, unfairness of a reality that was not meant for you.
But for most people, candy crush is enough. Not everyone is a gamer, but almost everyone under forty plays video games, so to some extent we've all chosen part of simulated world. The low bar definition of being a gamer was simply owning a console (or a computer that wasn't just for the Internet or word processing) and spending X amount of hours per week on average staring at your TV and killing or saving something (and usually you'd be saving something by killing something else). Phone games are either just twists on old style arcade games (not much of a jump from bubble bobble to candy crush) or digitized versions of real-life pastimes like cards or slots. But with still-advances to technology (and more internet satellites), you can play Fortnite, Minecraft and Pokemon on your phone, and break the server at your high school/coffee shop/neighbour's wifi in the process.
And you don't have to think about quantum physics when you're doing it, but do take a moment to consider the little universe in your hands.
What do we do with populism now?
Populism gave America a vacuous, adulterous, lazy, ignorant, narcissist playboy-turned-game-show-host president.
But such a leader had/has no real policies and barely any political opinions at all (he was registered a as democrat for much of his life), just some squawking points, and his cabinet was effortlessly filled in with business as usual, pro-corporate, beltway corruption types (which mirrors his own ups and downs of running his toxic, lawsuit-laden brand).
Donald Trump ran as a populist but the most important policies instituted under his presidency has been decidedly anti-populist, benefiting primarily the very wealthy and the corporations they own. Call it the oldest, dustiest, cliché-ridden trick in the book. The 'sucker born every minute' switch. No reason to list the man's litany of lies and half-truths here, although as of this writing, the 'aberration of the moment' is the United States resigning from the UN's Human Rights Commission, in part due to the thankfully (hopefully?) brief policy of separating refugee children from their families at their southern border.
Pulling back from tweets and undercooked executive orders, a larger problem is that Donald Trump has possibly tainting the term ‘populism’ for a generation. Bernie Sanders is considered the populist politician on the left (aligning himself with the Democratic Party while still calling himself a socialist and championing universal health care, free tuition, and stricter financial regulations), but how many moderates in either of the two major parties in America are going to do a similar sort of over-steering in future elections?
Sadly, this is an excellent opportunity for mainstream political party gatekeepers to push for centrist candidates who won't say or try to do anything too far left or far right. 'We can't afford another Donald Trump', will be the mantra, 'we just need to return to sensible, responsible policies'. (a welcome thing to do compared to the chaotic, extremist decisions of the current White House)
But this is inaccurate and inefficient. The United States - nay, the world - needs anti-corporate, citizen-centric legislation more now than ever before. But such policies have become so rare that they're framed as 'extreme left', when they really should be considered centrist.
Led by the United States, the last forty-odd years has been a transition from public government power to private corporate power. It should come as no surprise that this has resulted in the already wealthy becoming much wealthier while the middle class in the West has shrunk rapidly. Average household debt has grown, which, to peel back the euphemisms, means that corporations 'own' people until the money owed is paid off. Wages and employment opportunities have shrunk, resentment and despair has risen.
The policies to reverse this course may as well be called a populist platform, but Trump (who has done nothing to address these problems, and has instead exacerbated them) has made such a label completely revolting.
Some populist politicians are strongmen. Donald Trump hasn't the interest to do even that. Like everything else, he believes perception is more important than the reality of the situation, if only because controlling the former is easier than the latter.
But primarily boasting, lying, and playing golf leaves the functioning of government in jeopardy, and Trump has surrounded himself with lackeys who seem uninterested in doing anything but quenching their own thirst for power and prestige (and $43,000 phone booths on the public dime). The consequence of this is the passive dismantling of the executive branch to the point of inefficiency. It has already happened to the legislative, and since the reality of falling dominos is in effect, the corruption of the judicial could soon follow (that is, stocking the bench with party loyalists instead of competent, apolitical judges).
Trump is the perfect president for wealthy bankers and financiers who are too lazy to hide their while collar crimes. A man who wants to hog all the headlines to himself, a man who subscribes to 'no bad publicity' to a nauseatingly epic degree. A man who sees apologizing as a sign of weakness. A man who knows he knows everything and therefore doesn't have to know anything new. The only thing certain is to appeal to his base of supporters who will never desert him and give him what he wants all along: adoration. Which is why he splits families at the border, gets out of international peace agreements, and discriminates against transgendered people. While clearly the wrong thing to do, more important for Trump is that it's an easy thing to do. Trade wars are vaguely interesting and gives a chance to flex your so-called muscle, until he and the media realize it's just bickering about taxes and so then move on to the next (non)story.
Certainly there are millions of people who support Trump in America, just as there are millions of people in other nations who support populist leaders who hold similar views about immigration, regulation, and basely vilifying their political opponents. But do they represent the majority of the country's citizens? Clearly that is a central question regarding populism. Ideally populism - that is, the will of the majority of the people - should always be in effect. The fact that we have to acknowledge that it isn't always the case, even in democracies, means that lobbyists and special interests can have an inordinate amount of power in political decisions. Trump painted Hilary Clinton as a sort of Washington insider, saying she pals around with elite bankers and is deeply enmeshed in the deep state (accusations he continues to make, eighteen months after election). Enough people believed that, and enough people believe Trump is doing a good job (42% approval among the general populace, but 90% approval amongst Republicans) that he is not going to change his ways any time soon.
The referendum on his first two years will be midterm elections in November. While the consistency and frequency means many, many decisions regarding legislation and fundraising can be timed around the second Tuesday in November, at least one advantage is that power can be checked with regularity (operative word there being 'can'). If the president is supposedly unpopular with liberals and moderates, how the democrats are positioning themselves says a lot about how the will of the people is manifested in the halls of power. The candidates further to the left than the centre are asked to hold the basic party line on issues: Cut down on the impeachment talk and focus on how the democrats can nebulously do better.
At the moment it seems that Donald Trump will be held up as an argument against populism of any sort across the political spectrum. There is the assumption that Bernie Sanders would be his mirror-image, introducing legislation that would be unpalatable for half the country (as well as the wealthy) and would continually pilloried by the right wing press (although perhaps it's a given that Sanders' decorum might be less scathing and deranged). This was how Clinton portrayed Sanders, successfully leaning herself to the middle of the political spectrum, even though it wasn't enough in the general election. Looking back on 2016, it was clear that people wanted change, that Trump promised them heaven and earth (and locking up Clinton herself), and enough citizen in the electoral college system of vote-tallying went with it. If this presidency is the will of the people, will the typical power players (titans of commerce and industry, along with their influence on governments) be able to use this a reason to keep the status quo going forward?
That a horribly unqualified person can become the leader of the world's most powerful country shows how corrupt its political process have become. That a facade of success can reach the highest office in the land illustrates how flimsy and crooked the path to the American Dream actually is in the twenty first century.
But this is by no means an American problem (it's just the most obvious, 500-pound gorilla-like example). Eastern European nations have had an arduous time in the nearly three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union. The European Union made carefully calculated steps to not introduce the likes of Poland, Hungary, and the former Czechoslovakia to their regulated market economy too quickly. EU membership was an arduous and careful process. Ensuring certain economic conditions and political freedoms was necessary, and we're not done overnight. But in recent years, these advances are undone practically just as quickly (with some decisions literally being made in parliament after sundown to escape public scrutiny), with democratically-elected leaders turned dictators in the countries mentioned above (oh, and Russia as well, by the way, who appears to be going from pariah to ‘model of the future’).
The message is Trump-like: I can restore our country to its former glory, I can kick out the job-stealing foreigners, I can end corruption and the power of the seemingly unknown super-wealthy. Blaming the other has been a populist message for centuries, and everyone from kings to congress-people have used it.
But this isn't simply happening in the economically depressed regions like Middle America or Eastern Europe. Liberal safeguards like France and Germany are finding conservative challengers whose basic platform is anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim. In the Canadian province of Ontario, populist candidate Doug Ford (whose opponents and critics paint as a Trump doppelganger, since part of his platform was cheap gas) and his Conservative Party won 61% percent of the seats in parliament while only winning 40% of the popular vote. So we should note here that frequent part of the left's platform is to change the actual electoral process. Ranked ballots have been held up as a better form than 'first past the post' when it comes to winning districts and building a representative government. Occasionally more centrist parties have flouted this idea of electoral (notably Trudeau's Liberal Party), only to drop the issue once they gain power (notably Trudeau's Liberal Party).
But such an issue is only noticed by a comparatively small segment of a country's population. A common lament by those who follow politics daily is how few people do the same. For how important the decisions of every government can be for its citizens, that voting rates have predominantly declined in developed nations is certainly a tragedy (not voting in a democracy is a vote for fascism).
The true enemy of populism is not any sort of agenda of the powerful attempting to maintain the status quo, but simple malaise. If populism is the will of the people, then its lack of will is what must be counteracted. The thinking that one vote doesn't matter, or that all politicians and political parties are the same, or that the system is permanently rigged. Certainly those that want to maintain the rich-friendly system that current exists will encourage the masses to engender such thoughts.
There needs to a thirst for political knowledge, for political change, for betterment. And those that voted for Donald Trump thought that's what they were voting for. His simple, oft-repeated message struck enough of a chord with enough voters to create a sizeable base of energized citizens within the Republican Party (Michael Moore (in)famously called the election for Trump back in August, after attending the Republican Convention and said these supporters will carry the electoral college). Populism does not have a concrete platform. It can be a package of anti-immigrant, pro-gun, and pro-life ideas, or it can be a mix of anti-corporate, libertarian, pro-choice positions. It doesn't take much to find a poll that would suggest most people in a nation are thinking the way you are arguing that they do. Individuals may have nuanced thoughts on these issues, but populism needs to be straightforward and direct to be able to connect with voters who care not a whit for controversial riders attached to spending bills. But populism only works if these simple messages are backed with actual legislation and politicians who are willing to see them through. It is the most easily manipulated, and therefore one of the most volatile political 'isms'. If a hard-line on immigration is all you care about, then Trump is a successful populist president. If you're terrified that a trampling of regulations and union power is going to quickly destroy the middle class, than he's a complete and maddening disaster who only cares about rich people like himself.
And we have the ability to continually believe that our worldview is indomitably correct.
Religion used to the opiate of the masses. Now it's the careful marketing of a life each citizen supposedly deserves. A return to the supposed good old days, before everything supposedly went wrong. 'Make America Great Again' is based on the idea that it's necessary to look backwards, to go back to a way it used to be.
Media and advertising companies don't have to work very hard to paint this picture. People want to believe that this is true. The power of misplaced nostalgia and exceptionalism (when government money is spent in your community it's good policy, and when it's spent somewhere else it's just undeserved handouts and corruption).
Consequently, the cure for failed populism is more populism. To combat ignorance and bullet point slogans which are mostly lies we need detailed, carefully researched truths.
But if right wing populism is a Trojan horse, a process that results in a corporatist polyarchy retaining control of the levers of state power, are we naive to think that left wing populism would be any more effective? Not to suggest that it would result in the same (a not-so-quiet retention/coup of the elites), but that leftist policies would be so much more difficult to enact. This is due simply to the practical necessity of taking a long time to build the bureaucratic foundation to adequately provide the service of, say, single-payer health care, or the literal infrastructure of construction projects. Leftist programs that would benefit the majority of citizens require time and money, two things that are in short supply in a world where we want to see results every financial quarter and we decimate much-need social programs to pay for upper class tax cuts.
That populism is an empty cup which can be filled with whatever is the hot button issue of the season may doom it. If the working and middle classes could possibly agree on a populist economic platform, then a populist platform on social issues (abortion, LGBQT rights) can easily tear it asunder. One of the challenges of a democracy is to not to give in to whims of the moneyed class, which is hard regardless of a politicians' particular morals, because there are fewer of them and their requests from a government are much simpler to enact. Even though cutting taxes and gutting regulations harm the average citizen, it can be presented as win for the politicians who enacted the legislation on behalf of the wealthy.
And the idea of a 'win' is a poisoned pill, one that Trump can feed to his supporters with regularity. The strain of populism that is now dominant in the West is giving too much trust and fealty to the pontifications of the strongman, who will always claim they are doing what's best, that they are always succeeding, and when something goes wrong, that it's not their fault, that the other is always to blame (whether it be the political opposition, minorities, other nations, etc.). Fringe politicians have become the mainstream ones, and they demand loyalty above all else. Ignorant embrace of these figures were what many democratic states were designed to fight against (going all the way back, to some degree, to Ancient Greece). A divesting of power among the people. But what can be carefully can be foolishly thrown away. If we aren't careful, soon the only thing that will be popular is what the few people with power tell us what's popular.
LABO and Beyond
The future is cardboard.
About a year we stuck up an article on the video game 'Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild'. We said very nice things about it, and tried to present it as something a lot more interesting and socio-culturally relevant than saving a kingdom by killing a lot of monsters with a sword (it can be two things!).
The game was the headline release for Nintendo's newest console, the Switch, which became an incredible success, with its unique design, effortless portability and wonderfully deep catalogue of games, thanks to Nintendo making it easier for third party developers* to sell their games online (via the company's e-shop).
* - Quick Primer: When Nintendo makes games themselves for their own console (like a Mario or Zelda game), it's an example of first party development. When a scrappy little game design company (sometimes of only two or three people) makes a game/app for a console or computer or smart phone, it's an example of third party development. It's a bit like the comparison between Hollywood studios and independent ones, or major and independent record labels.
Video games have been getting bigger and bigger, both in terms of cinematic presentation and player interaction. You get to be immersed in a massive, gorgeous world (well, typically a harrowing one, since you probably have some very difficult mission to complete that involves fighting and exploring) with many strategic choices at every turn, playing a movie-style story with character development and action sequences, all of which add up to experience that becomes a big part of your daily activities.
Either that or you're staring at your phone while in line for something, playing fortnite or clash of clans or whatever iteration of candy crush we're on. It's more of a quick hit of those gaming endorphins than when you have a controller in your hand, staring at a fifty two inch screen forhours, but it's another sign that when confronted with the option of constantly interacting with a flashy simulated reality over a rather ordinary real one, millions upon millions of us take the former.
It is in this environment that Nintendo introduces Labo, an activity kit that is a series of cardboard cutouts that you fold into various contraptions that incorporate the console and mini-controllers of the Switch.
And it's pure joy. Twenty eight sheets of cardboard can look particularly uninspiring to gamers in 2018, so credit where credit it due: Nintendo took a bit of a risk (if not financially, then at least reputationally in the gaming community), knowing that their strength lies in trying something just a little bit different. And this difference is seen as soon as you open the box, and begin to relive your halcyon Lego days.
The kit could have come with pre-assembled cardboard pianos, fishing rods, and a motorcycle dash board/handlebars, but putting it together yourself is almost half the fun.
There's a bit more of that proud feeling of possession when it's something you put in the time and built yourself, and the step-by-step instructions on the Switch's console are perfect.
We'll readily admit that we underestimated the cardboard. We expected flimsiness and constant repair and unexpected collapses when we press a key too harshly or accidentally drop the fishing rod. But no, it's all surprisingly durable, and so much of the folding and building you're doing is to just reinforce the basic structure of the device so it can withstand the inevitable play. Without intending to, the Labo is already teaching the primary necessities of construction and engineering: strength, steadiness and simplicity.
In a world that's becoming more and more virtual (why play with a couple hundred Lego blocks when you can play with an infinite amount of Minecraft blocks?), it's a wonderful reminder of the power of the physical. Hell, it reminds you that you're not just an avatar of pixels inside of a screen.
Of course, this isn't a Luddite experiment by any means. Labo wants to bridge the gap between the virtual and real. The sturdy cardboard models are just that, until you place the two small controllers or the rectangular Switch console into them. Technological advancements are always a mixture of the old and new. The steamed power loom was still knitting blankets and clothing, but just at a much faster pace.
In terms of toys, you used to own a plastic fake motorbike and maybe run around with it in your backyard (okay, maybe not 'you', as we are probably going generations back), or built one out of Lego and pushed it around. You’d have to pretend that you were taking part in a race. Now you have a cardboard motorbike that has a place on its dashboard for a specialized portable computer the size of a small book (speaking of objects that are seemingly becoming rare and obsolete) which can play the visualizations of a motorbike race that you the player can use your cardboard vehicle to interact with.
It's not just that the Switch console is a touch-screen tablet-like wonder, but how well it works with all the accessories. Infrared cameras on one of the miniature controllers can track reflective tape, and gyroscopes inside them react to even your slightest motions.
It's not so much that you can play a cardboard piano, or go fishing with a rod that has a line that reels in and out both physically and virtually, but that you can explore and find out how exactly this technology works.
Yes, you follow the instructions on how to build the cardboard objects by following an instructional video, and the games associated with each object uses the electronic parts, but the Switch thankfully takes the next step and has an incredible series of short exercises and mini-games to explain how this technology works.
Programming is the new literacy, and the earlier kids and adults understand even the very basics of input-node connection-output, the better prepared they will be to work with the ever-advancing computer technology of the future (and stop an AI from going rogue).
Didacticism is always a challenge, and should sometimes be viewed suspiciously. Making the question 'How do things work?' fun already makes an assumption that 'fun' should even be in the equation. Leveling up, getting shiny fake medals that unlock the next series of lessons, and playful/educational conversations between three helpful NPCs (Non-Playable Characters), that's the future of learning, everyone.
All for the not very low price of around $400 US, when taking tax into consideration. Which is a lot of money for a household to spend on a gaming console, but not too much if it will become the basic piece of equipment for schools across nations to spend on each of their students. And there will be advantages of using consoles that the school provides, and advantages to letting the software be available to the phones that many students (at least in high school) already own.
The solution will probably incorporate both, with some work being available as console-only (which will have to be heavily reinforced physically, because kids drop and break things), and other lessons available as homework on personal tech.
Education will mix this ('this' defined as 'tapping screen after screen, with a couple words of encouragement from a low-level AI program written months or even years earlier') with some occasional group work in a much smaller school building, since now teens will have the opportunity - if they meet grade and digital attendance requirements - to learn from home or anywhere else. And maybe they have to pick up some cardboard from time to time (or get it delivered), so that when they're actually in a lab or a factory, they have some hands on experience with items simulating the real thing.
This will become the educational institution in the future, from children (for every level of schooling) to adults (for job training, or for personal interest). And just like every big change, there's going to be a lot of great advances, and a lot of terrible consequences (some obvious, some not).
A uniformity in education basics, with opportunities to branch out and learn on your own if you choose to. Sound great. But there's danger to one way of doing everything. Making software that can cater to the various personalities and lifestyle choices of the learner (are they eager go-getters, or forgetful potheads) can only do so much. No matter how many ways you try to include everyone, people are bound to slip through the cracks and reject this format, from reasons ranging from political protest to not giving a shit.
And who creates the curriculum for these programs? What agenda could they possibly have? This is not a problem that's suspect idle only to digital world, of course. Science textbooks have been bankrolled by vested interests like energy companies (guess how they address climate change!) for years.
If designing the hardware won't be too expensive because it basically already exists, then the software will be the budget breaker. (Un)fortunately, one places where money will be freed up is the employment of teachers.
Teachers are expensive. Even in places where they are terribly underpaid, some lessons on a cell phone with a so-called 'babysitter' keeping some level of order in a classroom from time to time is a cheaper alternative. While lessons on a phone can never replace a good teacher, it can probably replace a bad or mediocre one, especially when one considers how much the digital world is changing the basic behaviour of how children and teens engage with the world around them.
Meanwhile, the basic method of education has changed very little over the last few centuries. It's been a knowledgeable person talking at the front of the room, and a group of people listening to them, taking notes. Throw in a chalk and a blackboard, and you don't know if it's 1870 or 2018. Even with the advent of past communication technology advances, schools could adapt, as every so often a television would be wheeled into class so you watch a nature documentary or (if the teacher was lazy and it was close to the end of the year) a movie vaguely related to the class. And computers became a staple in the library and the aptly named computer labs.
But the education system is struggling against the cell phone, the ultimate portable computer, the ultimate time waster, the last word in there never being a last word because there's always another text to send, another round to fight, another meme to spread.
When dealing with a generation that was born connected, standing in front of blackboard and writing bullet points or equations for an hour doesn't stand a chance.
Phones and tablets are shiny touch-pads that even three year olds can figure out how to operate. If learning institutions cannot incorporate these changes, then more and more children will be left behind.
Class becomes a factor quite quickly. As usual, the wealthy will have the option of giving their children a more virtual or more traditional education. The ever-increasing underclass (formerly middle and lower) will be told how things are going to be done from now on, and it's usually whatever's cheaper.
Labo-like software will be downloaded onto students' phone, and they can watch and complete the daily lessons and exercises at their leisure. There will be variations on how the lessons are taught. From audio files like podcasts, video for visual learners (play it on a nearby TV if needed), or building kits can be ordered and delivered for those that are best educated with hands on-examples.
Teachers will have set office hours throughout the week that a student can contact via face-time, Skype, etc if they have any questions. Maybe once a week there will be an actual day in a physical classroom somewhere, just to confirm that the students are learning and that are is actually a human teacher overlooking their work in some fashion.
Positives and Negatives!
Not as inspiring, but more accurate.
More jobs end up disappearing, starting with a majority of teachers, and several careers that involve the basic construction and maintenance of running a school (there will still be schools, just a lot fewer of them). The development of this software will mostly be done by private companies, subsidized with a hefty government contract. We will learn what a small cabal of powerful board members want us to learn about math, science, history, and early twenty first century capitalism.
Learning via phone will be heralded as a great leveler, because the lessons will be the same no matter where you live, no matter how much money you or your parents make. But it will be a sleight of hand, because the very rich can still fashion the education they want. There will still be living, breathing, teachers who have undeniably great skills...but they will cost a fortune to hire. This gap between the rich and poor is not new. The industrial revolution created the Robber Barons, and the slippery consolidation of wealth in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries led the world into the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The current digital revolution is doing the same sort of thing, but at a much, much quicker pace. Computer technology developed in the sixties and seventies made globalized trade possible, meaning it was possible to build something in a factory in China and have it on sale in Dallas or Dresden two days later (and being able to close factories in the West and lay off thousands of workers). Computer technology developed in the eighties and nineties gave us the Internet, which meant it was effortless to send any sort of information (a spreadsheet, a song, a virus) instantaneously.
When you're able to do something cheaper, it usually means you can do it without having to pay someone, which means someone (or really, many someones) no longer has a job.
We're still getting acclimatized to this, and if we're on the cusp of teaching future generations via pixels on a screen to save money because governments are drowning in debt by giving tax cuts to massive corporations, then a very important question is, 'what kind of jobs are we preparing them for?'
The answer might be in those same pixels they'll be learning from.
Finland is ending it's two year experiment with Universal Basic Income, with one of its supporters admitting that the public perception of the plan was, "a fear that with basic income they would just stay at home and play computer games.”
But that fear is going to become a reality because in the not too distant future you're going to supplement your universal basic income with playing with computer games, or doing very basic and specific tasks with engineering and design that's part of a larger project headquartered halfway around the world.
Building giant, simulated open worlds for gaming is just the beginning. Soon computer scientists are going to develop simulated open worlds for people to explore in, with the goal of us learning more about ourselves and our universe. Physicists simulate different ways the Big Bang could have developed in extremely powerful computers, just to compare how our own universe has come into being. These sorts of experiments will require very specific work, and very specific human work, of simply 'being human' in these simulations (for now, 'being human' is our greatest advantage over AI). Maybe through this sort of research, this sort of understanding, will actually bridge the widening gulfs of the haves and have-nots in the future. If knowledge truly is power, then maybe computer can truly be the great leveler.
So get started on that cardboard piano.
The Rising Costs of Free Speech
When the government arrests you for something you say in public or type on the Internet, then it is censorship/an infringement on free speech (the exception is when your words can cause direct and clear harm to others, with the famous example being yelling 'fire!' in a crowded theatre when there isn't one).
If your company suspends or fires you for something you say or type on the Internet, that's you violating some fine print in the agreement you signed when you began working for them.
If a social media site or message board suspends or removes your account, that's you violating some fine print in the agreement you clicked 'yes' on when you begin using the site.
That so much of our interactions are now taking place in virtual locations that follow a set of rules and regulations which are distinct from those of the nations we all live in is of great concern, and is not talked about nearly enough.
But the bigger issue at the moment is the tip of the iceberg. The attention-getting, easy-to-condemn-unless-you're-Donald-Trump tip: The Rise of White Nationalists/Alt-Right/Incompatible Assholes
'Rise' is a relative term here, since these sorts of groups have always been around. It's just feeling a bit more emboldened since Trump has courted the groups during his campaign and throughout his presidency (which is both mind-blowing and pathetic, and yet will have to be set aside for another column), holding hate-filled torch lit protests not only in America but in Canada and Europe as well.
The flashpoint for this was this summer's Charlottesville protest/riot. The city was going to take down the statute of Confederate General Robert E Lee, and white supremacists and bigots rallied around it in the most disgusting way possible (chanting 'Jews will not replace us' pretty much confirms this isn't going to be any sort of intellectual exercise).
Now some have noted that as far as history is concerned, tearing down parts of it - even parts that should and do bring deep shame and reflection to a nation - is a dangerous precedent. History is a complicated assemblage of terrible and inspiring events long since past, and simplifying its narrative does no favours to the past, present, and future. But, if a bunch of racist assholes are using the statue (and other memorials and symbols from the pro-slavery confederacy) as a rallying point, then fuck 'em, get it out of such a public place. People who still proudly support the Confederacy seem to forget the US government's attitude toward it during the Civil War: Death to traitors.*
*-further proof history is more complicated: they didn't do that. Pardons all around after the Civil War. And certainly for Robert E Lee.**
**-even further proof: Robert E Lee was against statues that in any way celebrated or acknowledged the Civil War.
These groups are antithetical to all concepts of Western democracy and progress. While arguments can be made that huge changes must be made to address contemporary concerns ranging from environmental to economic policy, supporting any sort fascist ideals (namely Nazi ones) to being changes about is disgusting and idiotic.
There's some irony in the fact they are stridently anti-feminist and feel that men are becoming subordinate to women, while at the same time they decry all aspects of Islam and claim it is destroying Western society. Islam's traditional view and treatment of women (and still practiced to some extent in most Islamic-dominant nations) lines up perfectly with their own opinions on women. Both want them to shut up and be subservient to men. Which was an embarrassing and foolish idea in the twentieth century, let alone now in the twentieth-first.
The idea of the alt-right that they are ‘losing’ the country to any other group or culture? Ridiculous. A majority of the politicians, business CEOs, public figures, and practically anyone else with power is a straight white male. If you are a straight white male and you can't succeed in these conditions, then the problem doesn't lie with the system (that is built by and for straight white men), the problem lies with you. Chances are that you're: A) stupid; B) lazy; C) an annoying piece of shit that no one can work with; or D) a combination of A, B, and/or C.
But with a president who doesn't outright condemn them, they will only grow more emboldened.
And even widespread criticism from the general public and attempts to curtail their activities will be difficult going forward. If groups who are already calling for any sort of violent protest or uprising because they view those in power as illegitimate, then rescinding their rights of free speech will make their point/add fuel to the fire/possibly make the situation even more dangerous. And they know this. Pushing the laws to near breaking point just to force authority's hand.
So let's go back to what is supposed to be the government's role in this. Or really, 'our' role in this, since ideally we're the government, that the laws it creates and enforces are the laws we want it to create and enforce (let's toss in the word 'ideally' again).
The not-at-all new question is: does word spurn deed? How can this be proved? And if it's proved, what's the penalty for those who simply spoke or wrote, but did not do the deed? If a bunch of white supremacists are chanting racist calls to take their country back while carrying rifles, is everything nice and legal until the first shot is fired? Is only the one that pulled the trigger responsible, not the scores of others there? And this can be easily flipped to the left wing, when marching against the G20 and demanding political leaders be removed or jailed and one of them throws rocks at the police.
It's easier to ignore the issue of free speech when terrible things are being written on a message board most people will never visit, or when it's in a pamphlet being handed out on a busy street corner that no one ever takes.
The public sphere is where we confront these challenges head on. Recent free speech issues have taken place on colleges, in the form of safe spaces, the handling of offensive/sensitive material in the classroom, and allowing controversial speakers (usually those on the conservative/right/alt-right side of the political spectrum) to come and talk after being invited by a student association. Safe spaces are becoming a more enticing and sensible way to create inclusivity and understanding for people who have frequently felt ostracized and marginalized (women, visible minorities, LGBTQ members) by society at large. It's important that people can feel completely comfortable being whoever they want to be in an environment that won't judge and will be completely positive.
But wait, says the hetero-normative white male who can't help but play devil's advocate, what if I don't feel safe here because I can't share my opinions that might clash with what the traditional discourse is in this safe space?
Forget that the hetero-normative white male (or HNWM, if we can add another acronym to the pile) might be given the cold shoulder because just by being in a safe space he will be viewed as the personification of the reason why the world is so unequal and problematic. Hell, it's not an unreasonable suggestion that the HNWM should be taken down a peg, and should at least occasionally feel some sort of ostracization that so many other people feel on some level on a near-daily basis.
The challenge is to keep this open-mindedness and patience going as long as possible. Safe spaces are positive ideas, but walls can develop, and that breeds division. And if you argue that the people who are not welcome in safe spaces are either bigots or simply insensitive, then that drives them further away. To their own safe spaces, which, to them, is where they can say anything they want and not worry about being called a bigot (and one can say, 'well, let the bigots be bigoted, we don't want anything to do with them', but that can lead to a wholly reactive political movement like Trumpism).
Over time, the same thing will happen in the 'welcome' safe space and the 'bigot' safe space. New ideas, personal changes/challenges, and issues around the world will create differing opinions and slowly but surely that will create more divisions between people. Intersectionality (the situation where certain people belong to more than one marginalized group, and therefore experience more difficulty than other people who would still be welcome in a safe space) begets enclaves and niches upon enclaves and niches. Inclusion ultimately and paradoxically rejects itself. Safe space may one day mean the opposite of what they mean now.
So here we need a reminder of how reductionism and the lack of substantial discourse are always the first cracks in the dam for this to happen. And one of the best places for substantial discourse is the university setting. Discussion in a classroom of a book or article that involves hate speech or offensive material does not in any way mean that the university or the professor encourages hate speech or the offending material. Should a level of tact, patience and understanding when discussing these topics be encouraged? Of course. In fact, that should be a key part of the lesson. The writer or author has included certain ideas and passages that make us uncomfortable. What do we take from that, what might be the author's intention, how does this comment on contemporary society? These questions should be at the forefront, not whether the material should be allowed to be taught in the first place.
Related to this is the inviting of controversial writers and political pundits like Ann Coulter or Milos Yiannopoulos onto campus. If one is offended by their hate-filled, misinformed, click-baiting bile (as we expose our own bias here), it should be peacefully protested, not barred completely. College is meant to be the time when young adults are introduced to new ideas, and the concern that they might be influenced by (and become supporters of) a detestable ideology is a legitimate one. But what might be learned from how certain ideas are banned or shunned outright is a much more dangerous lesson for the future of a free and open democracy.
Suppression of alt-right ideas no matter what the reason can set a dangerous precedent, especially if it is done without proper discourse and debate. Are certain books or films from the past that have elements of racism, sexism, or bigotry also to be suppressed? Are certain events of history now only to have a singular lens focused upon them?
The debate revolving around 'free speech on campus' can distract from much more pressing issues on the subject. In fact, whenever free speech is under attack (as the President seems to want to prevent the media from reporting on anything he doesn't like), so many other pressing challenges to society suddenly take a back seat in importance (rolling back voting rights, influence of money on politics, rising inequality creating an Overclass and Underclass, dwindling natural resources and their effects, are all equally important).
But free speech and basic rights have to come first. When one person who has been ostracized by society for many years is finally given the full rights that others have, inevitably another will now say their rights are being infringed upon, thanks in part to this initial person being given their rights. It is as if there is only 'so many rights' to go around. And while this sounds idiotic, as rights are abstract philosophical concepts that can never run out, the enforcement and protection of these rights are undertaken by many people in many different social institutions that cost a tremendous amount of money and societal effort. And if you say you cannot price on rights, that is simply not true. In fact, it is necessary. And it is expensive. And of course you can say it's worth every penny, because that is indeed true, but what happens when a society/state runs out of pennies?
In the push to expand basic rights for all people, it has been depressingly politicized. What seems obvious to so many people has somehow been labeled a culture war. Gay marriage took an unthinkably long time to be legalized in many Western nations, and it was objected primarily by those on the conservative side of the political spectrum who, in so many other instances, continually complained about how government was trying to tell them how to live. That the rights for transgendered people are in a state of flux (the so-called bathroom bills, and the attempt by the President to bar them from the military) show that absolutely anything can become a wedge issue, that basic rights are only as strong as a community's sensibilities at the moment.
If we pull back to much wider look at history, huge gains have been made throughout the twentieth century in terms of extending rights and privileges that for too long were only available to HNWM previously. While it first must be acknowledge that we still have a long way to go before anything resembling true equality appears, great strides were made for civil, women, and LGBTQ rights in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Regressions in our current sociopolitical climate can be attributed to a strong shift in power relations, specifically economic in nature. Communities are more open to expanding basic rights and social programs when already enfranchised members of the community are economically comfortable (or at the very least feel economically comfortable), hence the rise of social justice movements (and political gains) of the sixties and seventies. In the last three decades, wealth in the West has accumulated mainly in the pockets of the already wealthy. The middle class (and lower middle class) has been hemorrhaging money, drowning in debt and uncertainly, and consequently have 'circled the wagons' around whatever rights and privileges they perceive to have remaining. And this group - not only in America, but Canada and much of Europe as well - is primarily HNWM. Too easily every other group is labeled 'the other' by them and is a threat to their privilege and position. Which explains the rise in hostility to immigrants, the stagnation of the women's movement, and obnoxious political posturing of vilifying LGBTQ groups.
Let's be clear: These divisions are slowly destroying the very foundations of Western Civilization. The sharing and shuffling of (economic) power has always come with difficulty and strife, and rising levels of inequality are starting to chip away at free speech and basic human rights. For all its importance, free speech is subservient to power relations. Who you are makes a huge difference as to how your words will be interpreted, and who you are (and what you have) will make a huge difference when interpreting someone else's words. Widening economic inequality in the West has created corresponding social inequalities, and this fragmenting can spell doom for a functioning democracy.
HNWM should not hold the so-called 'keys to kingdom' hostage, should not be able to dole out rights to disenfranchised groups when they finally feel comfortable with their own social status. When the ultra-wealthy cannot consider that the poor needs their help through government programs, and when the poor does not trust the government to properly assist them, then all of our ideals and institutions are for naught. Especially when we can't even seem to say that this is problem.
The current interconnectivity of contemporary civilization is one of the greatest and most challenging periods in human existence. Its positives are many, its negatives are as well (but, as we are glass half full people, not as much as the former). We are still in the early stages of this continuing transition into a new level of interactivity and awareness. Ideally, a level of common sense, trust, and hope will underlie humanity's progress forward. So let's talk about while our speech won't cost us anything.
The Looming Peril of Corporate Governance
Gaining lost ground means you're back where you started from, which is not good enough in 2017.
The push and pull between right and left leaning political parties and which one has the edge politically at the moment is akin to re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. And yes, 101 years after the great ship went down, it's still a perfect metaphor of denying reality until the last moment, except that there was perhaps a bit more dignity on the ship than what's currently happening with Western Democracy.
An election in the UK that didn't really do much to alleviate the problems plaguing the UK. And it's not just Brexit, but the issues that many other developed countries across the globe are facing. Rising under/unemployment (especially among the youth), cuts to social programs, and growing inequality between the very wealthy and everybody else. Ditto France. Yes, it's a relief they didn't vote in an extremist right-wing candidate, but a centrist 'tolerable' candidate that embraces the EU (and the world economy) is almost in the same boat as the UK. It's great that you can get the crowds cheering and supporting ideas of unity and co-operation, but then these same politicians have meeting where their economic advisors give them extremely sobering projections for future job numbers and spending decisions.
[And here's where we acknowledge that at least these European countries want to do something. Contrast this with America, which seems to be weighing the options of either doing nothing or setting itself on fire. Much of Barack Obama's legacy is being undone in record time. Repealing Obamacare and slowly taking health insurance away from tens of millions of Americans (and giving the wealthy a large tax cut) is a special combination of greed, tone-deafness and cruelty. Plus the transfer of a sensible and dependable American presence in global affairs under the former president to whatever the current White House resident is doing, which seems to be a mixture of proud ignorance and foot in mouth disease]
Contemporary cynicism suggests that the quickest way to lose faith in democracy is to spend five minutes with the average voter. And this attitude means the division created between urban liberal elites and those folks in flyover country makes government all the weaker. But people have little problem with voting away democracy, as long as the replacing system can give (or promises to give) them what they want. Donald Trump promised the moon and the stars as a really, great tremendous deal to disillusioned and despondent middle America, and they took him up in it, without doing much of a Google search to see if he was hero or a huckster (spoiler alert: he's the latter).
And of course, hundreds of millions of people already feel this way in America and many other countries, and don't bother voting at all, which just exacerbates the problem (it was the fear of this political apathy that had France worried that LaPen might win because her right wing base would at least show up to the polls). If people are under-informed (or misinformed) or don't even care in the first place, democracy will shrivel up and die. And something will have to replace it, since nature abhors a vacuum, especially when any sort of power is involved.
Governments comes in a few different flavours, and it just so happens that democracy is the most palatable for the most amount of people. As you get closer to autocracy and authoritarianism, the few people at the top think it tastes great, while the vast majority of citizens think it tastes like a boot stepping on their face forever.
But is there anything else? Any other option for a series of interconnected institutions that are tasked with bringing security, stability, infrastructure, and (fingers crossed) the pursuit of happiness to the masses?
Well, private enterprise has the answer, and it's...themselves. Corporations have found themselves in a situation where their power is accumulating at a rapid pace, thanks in part to the rather nebulous, Schrödinger's cat-like superposition where their past and future employees have key roles and positions in a country's government. Which is quite handy when it comes to passing laws that might benefit these corporations, as well as handing out contracts for the sort of work that these same corporations might be particularly skilled at. Which means that it's really only a matter of time before this very large tweet is sent to all those in the halls of power: 'Don't worry, politicians, we'll take it from here. See, we've been doing some market research, and we're finding that people - left, right, centrist - are not happy with your current level of service.'
It's not a conspiracy, it's an inevitability.
The slow fall of one series of interconnected institutions mirrors the slow rise of a different series of interconnected institutions. Western-style democracy had the public's back, because it was - as much as possible - our own backs making these decisions. It's replacement will not be so kind to the masses, even if they have a highly trained PR-marketing blitz telling us that they are.
For example, tackling climate change is a massive undertaking that many countries are taking baby steps towards addressing. They can't do much more at this stage because the costs for more extensive infrastructure changes are too high, and some powerful industries are trying to stop green energy growth because it's affecting their bottom line. But something has to be done, clearly, for the public good. And for a long time, the public good was the responsibility of governments.
Cleaning up the Pacific Ocean? Great, but a wunderkind bankrolled by Silicon Valley is doing it. Of course it's an amazing thing that this is being done. Of course it's great that a terrible reminder of our ignorance and waste is being fixed. Of course it's great that it's being done cheaper than expected, and that the people who are already struggling to pay their own bills don't have to worry about ponying up to pay this one.
But this means the massive projects that will affect all of us are not being decided by all of us. They are being decided by an increasingly small group of wealthy business owners.
We are living at time where corporations are attempting to solve major world problems, but only for those that can already afford it. Expensive, healthy food made by Silicon Valley startups, available only to concentrated groups of citizens in major cities. Uber outsourcing taxis so you can get a car and driver delivered to your door, while paying the driver not as an employee but an independent contractor, so they don’t have to offer any sort of benefits or protection for him or her. And the publicized horror stories (United Airlines beating up passengers because they won't give up their seat for United Airlines employees) don’t make much of an impact beyond a week or two. These companies are still more powerful than ever before.
What's the government's role in these cases? Negligible. The 'market' is operating by itself. Which sounds great if you don't think about it, or get the shit end of the stick, an end which seems to be growing as the divide between the rich and poor does.
Now for much of human history, monumental decisions have been made and overseen by small groups of people. Monarchy and noblemen and a few wealthy men voted into power by other wealthy men in the proto-democracies of Greece and Rome. Even as modern Western Democracy advanced and actually became democratic during the twentieth century by finally allowing women and minority groups to vote, it was still a comparatively small number of elected representatives that introduced and passed legislation that was meant to ultimately improve the lives of those that lived in the nation. Now whether 'the best' was continually voted into the halls of power and whether the decisions they made were completely selfless and best for the nation at the time can be endlessly debated, but the economic and social growth in Western democratic nations after the Second World shows what civilization can accomplish when basic common goals are agreed upon and sought after (poverty reduction, equal rights, common markets, technological innovation. To name but a few).
Even as this system is currently breaking down, it is still much different from a society run by the whims of board room billionaires. As cynical as one can be about the intentions of politicians, there is still more accountability and transparency for them than those that run/own private corporations, who chief goal is to maximize profits for their investors. Everything comes a distant second or lower, like customer service, product quality, social responsibility, and fair trade practices. Any sort of charitable donation or apparent selflessness is marketing, meant to improve the corporation's brand image for the masses (think of those clean and positive ads for oil companies that crop up from time to time, or all the events and festivals that cigarette companies sponsored). Mitt Romney (in)famously said that 'corporations are people' and got criticized for it, but he clearly undershot it. Corporations are super-people. Near immortal entities with the knowledge and ability of thousands of people at their beck and call, not bound by any laws (or can bend them easily), and a constant thirst for more money and more power with a sociopathic touch, where they will tell you things are amazing and will sell you inferior products for prices higher than they were yesterday.
What's more troubling is the role that corporations are playing alongside (or worse, overtop of) government. Trust and dependency can be unhealthily intertwined. We want to be able to trust the/our government. But we depend largely on private corporations to provide everyday services that allow us to comfortably live our lives. Unfortunately, in many instances, these private corporations are paid by governments to provide these services, increasingly with very little regulation or oversight. It's the old fashioned bait-and-switch, where a private company offers to improve a local district or region's hydro services (maybe by greatly assisting a politician's election campaign), and at first does a great job following all the current laws and statutes, but over time they have certain rules about pricing and quality changed, and soon the hydro company is being run as a wholly private enterprise. This is a process that can take many years, but that was corporations have on their side: Plenty of time and plenty of money.
This sort of slow replacement is hard to identify, and even harder to get a lot of people politically aware of (or to stress that it's a serious problem until it's too late). This is in part because the corporate world is replacing the idea of government in terms of presence and PR. The American government leaving the Paris Environmental Accords gives the appearance of the nation turning inward and giving up its position on the global stage, no longer leading the world (as many of the accord's supporters lament). Yet many corporations rushed to criticize the decision and announce their companies' own support of the agreements outlined in the accord. And this is a slow and steady climb towards corporations legitimizing themselves in the eyes of the public as the necessary replacement towards bloated governance, regardless of one's political leanings.
The West (and eventually, the rest of the world) doesn't just want a revolution, they want the easiest, most efficient revolution replaced with the best system of government you could ever want or imagine.
This is how incredibly effective corporate marketing is. Over the last five decades, it has seeped into our collective consciousness that we all deserve the best, that everything can be improved and made better for a lower price. Even the dismantling and replacement of the system that had to first exist before there were private enterprises that could sell us this concept.
If governments continue to have limited success addressing the needs of its citizens, the corporation's role will increase, and nowhere will that be seen more heavily than with the enactment of universal wages. With the availability of jobs expected to plummet by up to 40% in the next ten to twenty years thanks to continually advancing robotic and computer technology, we will be a planet of roughly eight billion people with not nearly enough work to go around. Paying people a basic wage simply to be able to live their lives (pay rent, buy food and basic necessities) will become inevitable. It will have to be done to prevent total social disintegration.
But if it becomes the role of a corporation to hand out these funds (and most likely sell the goods that people will buy with this money) because the government cannot do it effectively, then the opportunity to abuse this power simply to maximize profit will be massive.
The privatization of the expanded welfare state (a rather glum but realistic term for what universal wages will look like) Is the quickest way to create a reinforced over/underclass society, with the very few wealthy lording over the very many poor. If voting feels like a choice between uninspiring candidates now, it will only get worse when the only vote that matters is the one you can make if you own a certain amount of stock.
To get a glimpse of where this is happening today, look no further than post-secondary education. Through extensive donations that include underwriting entire departments, corporations are replacing, merging with, and/or absorbing universities. Soon companies will begin recruiting right out of high school. Student will take an even more specialized education/career track. Now a person's entire life can be done under the watch and support of one company.
The new state. And positive feedback being what it is, it's likely that young people will no longer see politics as a role for social change, but rather corporations. The government is being shunted off into the corner, a failing startup whose debts make it unwieldy and unreliable. To prevent this, participation in politics is necessary and simply voting is an excellent first step. Democracy will not fall simply because the free market wants to make a quick, big buck. It will fall because we let apathy wash over ourselves, and didn't bother paying enough attention to how our society functions, and how it is rapidly changing in the halls of power.
Corporations depend on us not paying much attention beyond a thirty second ad or fancy billboard/gif. That's part of the sell. Fast acting, money saving, pleasure making. Whether it's a gum, SUV, or presidential candidate. And if we keep falling for that superficial argument full of empty promises, it's going to be their world, not ours.
It's Internet Outrage All the Way Down
(Even the term 'outrage' has become overused and stale! 'Outrage' should mean more than 'being put in a bad mood for five minutes because of something you don't like happening in the world, posting a comment on social media, then going back to whatever you were doing before')
We're all still trying to figure out the Internet.
It's been almost twenty five years since America Online, Compuserve and Netscape Navigator started mailing 3.5 inch discs and CD-ROMs to homeowners, imploring us to plug into the future. The shrieking modem beeps, the hours to download a song, the embryonic states of all the websites are now apps (evolution in the digital realm).
It was never exactly the hippie dream of 'everyone being connected' coming true, since shitloads of money and giant corporations were involved, but it was new and exciting and more jobs were being created than replaced at this point, even after the after the first bubble burst back in the late nineties (for a sense of perspective, at this time Google was still a private company, and founders Brin and Page were considering selling it for... one million dollars).
To step back a bit and state the obvious: the internet is a communications network for computers (artificially constructed ones and zeroes) that we humans with our fears and emotional baggage have been piggybacking upon since day one. In the past, writing a letter or having someone give a verbal message to someone else was not a matter taken lightly. Your words were representatives of your personality and reputation. Trust of the message-bearers was essential, as were the contents of the words they carried.
And then the damn industrial revolution happened, and everything got quicker and reproduced a hell of a lot easier. The telegraph and telephone meant talking to anyone became both more personal and more impersonal. Advanced machinery was developed that required a lot less manpower to create the same power and products than before. By the time the much-maligned Luddites got around to smashing up industrial looms in symbolic protest, it was too late, the robber barons had the politicians wrapped around their fingers, and everyone else on the farms and in the factories, were doing whatever they could to get by. It took a couple of devastating wars, recessions, and a depression to kind of get everything back to a semblance of normalcy for the average citizen.
Advancing technology has always offered speed and proliferation. More of everything and right away. We - the people it is ostensibly built for - take a long damn time to truly understand and accept these effects (usually first focusing on the good ('hey, everything's so much cheaper!') before realizing the bad ('hey, we're all out of work!')). And just as we seemed to have gotten our better than average monkey brains around the ideas and effects of the industrial revolution (let's say, around the 1950s), computers stopped having to be size of rooms. Which meant they were going to be the next thing to throw our entire civilization into a socioeconomic and cultural tailspin.
This brief history lesson is not a revelation, but it puts in context our ability and inability to adapt to massive changes at high speed (in broad, historical periods of decades, not months and years). Evolution is slow. A mixture of genetic anomaly and luck over centuries. Two computers in labs in California talking slowly to each other in 1969 to watching a movie on your iphone in 2017 is barely a blip in the massive hourglass of time. We're still in a daze with the ability to immediately communicate with almost everyone, and almost everything. If the medium is the message (as McLuhan noted), then the main message that underscores the way we are living now can be described with these terms: instantaneous, overwhelming, and vastly forgettable.
It is taken for granted now that people were effortlessly able to tell the difference between the six o'clock news and the scripted dramas and comedies that followed in prime time (refresher: the former is based in reality, the latter is not). Now, if you don't like the tone or content of a news story you’re reading or watching, don't worry, in mere seconds you'll find one that you do like. Every story is piggy-backing on another. The president tweets a dubious claim from a hyper-partisan website, which the hyper-partisan website in turn uses as proof that it must be true.
In stark contrast to when your words were your bond and your reputation, the Internet offers unaccountability and anonymity. Who wrote this, who claimed that, is this a trustworthy new site? Is the person threatening you legitimately angry and (if threatening you with horrific bodily harm) mentally unbalanced, or do they happen to be bored for thirty seconds? Why does this one study claim the statistics concerning jobs or crime is this, while another study claims it's different? How do we tell the difference, and how do we move forward on policy?
How do we deal with these questions, all of which are rooted in the search for a framing of the true state of contemporary society? How do we balance our responsibilities to our friends, families and co-workers and our responsibilities that come with being an informed and proactive global citizen? After all, we should be very, very concerned if social media sites become the Hub for Truth and Justice.
Facebook is a very popular website and that is a massive understatement for an interactive experience that shapes your perception of the world and makes a shitload of money for Goldman Sachs every time you swipe through your newsfeed.
Big important things like health care, international trade agreements, and data sharing, are complicated. How you interact with these things in the physical and virtual world is complicated. And because the way were engaging with these things/institutions/ideas/rules is changing from how we were only twenty five years ago, even simple things have gotten complicated. People are frustrated and depressed at losing their jobs to advancing technology, especially as they see the owners of this technology getting fabulously rich.
And so enters Internet Outrage.
You're angry about something. Something that's wrong. Something that might be affecting your life directly, or something you've read that's occurring on the other side of the world. While millions of people in Asia are rising out of poverty, millions in the Americas and Europe and sliding into the lower classes, and this lack of employment in the latter regions are only going to exacerbate in the coming years. In large regions across America, the second rust belt has created widespread unemployment and resentment, and helped elect a President who uses social media to rile up this very base of supporters through anger, the blaming of the eternal and ever-shifting 'other', and promising to make America (or really, any country that is going through the same economic tumult and is turning to a braying straw-person) Great Again.
The Internet helped caused many of the problems that are creating a 'white death of despair', but because of its contemporary omnipresence the same people harmed by it rely on it (the same can be said about Wal-Mart's sales tactics, where its bargaining power forced many American factories to close and have their goods manufactured overseas, but those who lost their jobs because of it still shop there).
The Internet is a main source/manifestation of society's unemployment crisis, and the shelter from it. Where you can tune out the harsh realities of the world via Netflix, YouTube, gaming platforms, and any number of communities based on every sort of hobby or pastime imaginable. Where you can rage against the harsh realities of the world, in both constructive and destructive ways. Whenever a news story (veracity pending) comes across your screen, interrupting your daily doldrums or work cycle, it always has the chance to crystallize your anger, alienation, passion, and disappointment. And if you are part of the ever-expanding pool of have-nots in the Western World, how do you transform this powerlessness into power?
Use it to shame a corporation cutting down tracts of rainforest by sharing articles and posting your objection on the company's Twitter page. Criticize the verdict of a particular court case (perhaps the tone-deafness of the judge) by starting petitions to review the confirmation process of judges or make a tl;dr post that people will circulate after they get a few sentences in. Mock, bully, or harass the person who said or did some stupid that you feel endangers your way of life. Find like-minded people to enthusiastically agree with and grow your 'I'm right' bubble. The internet makes all these things ridiculously easy. And in doing so, makes them almost entirely meaningless. Oh certainly some people's lives will be terribly affected (or vastly improved) for a short period time, but it's not necessarily going to make any fundamental changes to the power structure of the world at large.
'Easy' is a double-edged sword. Everyone wants everything to be that very thing, but once that happens - once everything is that same sort of easy - its value plummets. Even when you attach 'outrage' to easy.
It's easy to salute Facebook's ability to organize events and get people to act as one, whether in cyberspace or a town square or city park. It's easy to criticize Facebook for letting algorithms pedal fake news and for making petition signing a joke. It's easy to get lost in time wasting, dispiriting and pointless arguments with people who you might only disagree with a little bit. It's easy to alienate potential supporters of your basic ideas and beliefs if you vocally denounce them for having differing opinions on the details.
Almost everything on the internet is dialed up to eleven. Praise, hate, truth, lies. There is no centre because the Internet doesn't do centre. It doesn't have to do centre. The Internet is ego unleashed and when the id-moment will finally arrive to bring some semblance of balance is anyone's guess.
Yes, you'll type things in a comments section or say things while playing Battlefield that you'll never actually do in 'real life', but as more and more of our lives exist in cyberspace - since the digital realm is predominantly where you tweet, work, and play - a redefinition of 'real' is required.
Or, more accurately, a redefinition of public and private space. Context is almost everything, and where, how, and why you say, 'I'm gonna fucking kill that asshole', makes a huge difference.
On the internet is rapidly becoming on the street.
Using Twitter is telling everyone in the world.
A comments section is a hyper-busy coffee shop.
A game lobby is a hotel lobby.
Now we know how puerile and disgusting internet trolls can be with a tap of our finger, and after reading one article after another, it doesn't take long for questions to come exploding out of one's brain in (yes) outrage. Take this one for example.
-would we hear about this story if it wasn't for the Internet, where picture can be taken and shared with the world in seconds?
-is this matter of eighteen to twenty one years old being the assholes they're supposed to be? (and hopefully, grow out of it?)
-can sororities take the lead in punishing this attitude by banning this frat from various frat/sort events?
-are HR departments of the future going to cross reference applicant names with frat info, with stories like this?
-has this always been the attitude at frats, and we only know this now because of what public sphere has become?
-is this just a matter of 'freedom of speech' protecting these jerks, but everyone else crucifying them in the court of public opinion for a few days before the story dies down?
-is it all just a joke that we're taking way too seriously? And when a young woman is tragically sexually assaulted or raped on campus, do we make a connection between this tasteless joke and a terrible crime? Can a connection be made? How exactly does a joke support a culture/or attitude support a hideous crime? Do young men see that sign and start to rationalize sexual assault?
-How long will it takes for people to realize that now everyone can see what one person wants only one other person to see?
All these questions. Each one with its own lengthy and unfolding arguments from people on either sides of the issues. But where is a fruitful and thoughtful discussion going to take place?
Certainly the kneejerk, throwaway, barely helpful response is 'not online', which suggests that a face to face meeting with all concerned parties would be more sensible, diplomatic and fruitful than constant snipping back and forth on Reddit. But what is also happening is the leaking of Internet behaviour into the real world.
If you are acting like a terrible human being in the physical world, there's a good chance you're also being a terrible human being in the virtual one, and the distinction between the two is collapsing. In the not too distant future there will be a great and historic debate about how people will be allowed to access essential parts of the Internet, and it will revolve around the matter of having a sort of universal ID that you have to 'carry' everywhere.
Now there will still be plenty of private spheres - both real and digital - where you and your friends can be as filthy, catty, and obnoxious as you'd like. That will never go away. But there will inevitably be change in accountability. Not a curtailing a free speech (which, just to remind everyone, is the guarantee that the government will not arrest or censor you for what you say or write), but an always shifting public morals meter. Not against people's private lives, or even displays of art that might offend, but most likely targeted at hate speech and harassment and bullying.
Take the matter of Roosh V and Milo Yiannopoulos, controversial online figures that say racist sexist and bigoted things and claim they are exercising freedom of speech by doing so. No matter what terrible things you say, the defence of being allowed to say them is paramount. The outrage against them and (support for them) is a good case study. What do we do?
The two of them have been in the odd position of saying terribly offensive things, while at the same time is a victim of death threats (and people have even called Roosh’s father to tell the man how terrible his son is), which from a legal point of view, is much more troubling
Specific and repeated threats against a single person count as a crime, general threats do not. But it's obvious that the internet has made it difficult to parse which threats - even specific ones - should be taken seriously (although this has always been a problem. Public figures have received hate mail and death threats long before the internet. Just because it's easier - and therefore more prevalent - and public, doesn't make it any more serious a threat). How do you gauge the seriousness of a threat in a text message from an anonymous person? You couldn't gauge the seriousness of a threat in hate mail from an anonymous person, either. And this is the same sort of problem with the women who were unfortunately caught up in GamerGate. These threats might just be a quick burst of internet outrage sent to a twitter account, or it might be someone who will figure out where you apartment is and waited outside until you leave. Law enforcement is not yet prepared to deal with this sort of ‘verge of a crime’.
In the case of Roosh and Milo, the answer seems to be giving them enough rope to hang themselves with, by giving them a much more public spotlight and watch a more sizeable chunk of the populace turn away in disgust (as Milo found, when he appeared on Bill Maher's Real Time, and found supposed friends, associates, and business partners flee him like rats from a sinking ship).
But this is only a symptom of the larger problem. Milo's recent headline grabbing activities was the 'this week in Internet outrage', and then we all quickly moved on to the next thing. For more complicated issues, more complicated solutions will be required. Making sure we know who is speaking to us on the Internet is the first step in making cyberspace a more civil and functioning ecosystem, but the next one is going to be not always leaning on the easy solution. And that, by any definition, will be hard.
FALLOUT - The 2016 Presidential Election Result
It's been quite a November.
Says Captain Obvious’ close friend, Corporal Understatement.
The campaign felt long, endless, part of 'just the way things are now'. Political aspirants playing their parts in an endless reality show that is 'the news'. Sometimes they talk about the policies they would like to support, sometimes they talk about policies they would not like to support, but mostly they talk about how great things are going for them and their campaign, and how awful it is for their opponents. And then there would be breaking news about a scandal, how this one person said this or did that, and how they are going to deal with it going forward.
Then it was Election Day.
For the first twenty four hours after it became apparent that the swing states had swung and the ridiculous leapt past the impossible into the very possible and then the very real, it was wallowing and thinking time, not writing time. The world seemed too panic-wired to sleep, then feeling tired all Wednesday because of the poor quality of the eventual sleep (the wailing refrain of 'this is really happening' from Idioteque going off like alarm bells).
President Trump. No one can deny that he is the least qualified person to ever hold the office of President (the only one who had no previous experience in government is Eisenhower, and if you're the four star general that helped win the Second World War, that's kind of free pass (and Dwight was the Republican who warned about the military-industrial complex!)). His post-election interview with the New York Times (link to transcript in notes) is a depressing reaffirmation that he is ignorant and willfully dismissive of pressing issues and presidential responsibilities, holds pointless, petty grudges, and constantly sounds like he's in the middle of trying to sell you something. He does not offer a sense of confidence, only bluster. He is not the paragon of virtue and resolve that Western democracy needs right now.
How did this happen? Some people didn't need much time to point fingers. And why wait, when there were so many juicy targets? And the best part was that everyone would kind of be right, because there are many reasons why tens of millions of people vote the way they do.
Even though the real story shouldn't be about the people who voted for Trump. Or the people who voted for Clinton. Or the people who voted for any other candidate.
It should instead be about the people who didn't vote at all.
231 million eligible voters, and of that 135 million cast ballots.
Almost one hundred million people did not vote.
Did not participate in the one of the basic exercises expected in a democracy.
[and while it's certainly one's right not to vote, it's that paradoxical situation where only by voting can you consistently protect your right to not vote. You stop voting, you'll find those rights quickly disappear]
If there was a candidate called 'didn't bother' on the ballot, it would have crushed either Trump or Clinton by tens of millions of votes. Michael Moore (who predicted a Trump win back in the summer, in part because Trump supporters were fired up, while Clinton supporters were more 'whatever, I would have preferred Bernie, and she's a bit dull on the stump, but still better than Donald') noted that if people could vote through their PlayStation or Netflix accounts, voter turnout would skyrocket.
[and certainly we must acknowledge that many people who did not vote certainly wanted to, but were - for various reasons - unable to. Some of this is due to active voter suppression (and here's where we remind you that in conservative states they have made it more difficult for people to vote under the unfounded claim that it's being done to prevent rampant voter fraud, when it actually make it's difficult for people who traditionally vote democrat (young people, minorities) to do so), as well as drastic cuts to the elections budgets making all sorts of delays (hour-long lines) and mistakes (names, addresses don't match on outdated rolls) more likely]
Making it easier to vote would be an excellent first step to increase turnout. Considering how essential they are to democracy, spending the proper amount of money on the people and equipment needed to run a functioning election process is a given. Making advanced voting more expansive, declaring that leaving work to vote on election day is a right, or even creating a national holiday on the second Tuesday of November.
But how many people fall into these unfortunate scenarios above, and how many simply decided the whole election thing wasn't worth it? Tens of millions. Easily enough to change the result to a landslide for either candidate, but instead they 'humbly' bowed out of democracy completely.
They are the true and terrifying silent majority. And not wanting to wait in line is an excuse of very limited acceptance when the responsibilities of citizen and state at stake. Neither is shrugging with indifference that the two party system is broken and each of the candidates are both lousy and believing that one person's vote really doesn't make that much of a difference. Everyone decries negative campaigning, but it's proven that it works, where it can inspire people to vote against instead of for. Except this time, where it got so toxic and embarrassing that it kept many millions of people away from the polls. Allowing for more of the fringe characters and opinions to become part of the presidential conversation.
So here's where we throw a rock at the mainstream media, for giving Trump pass after pass early on simply because he was good for ratings when shooting his mouth of. He was supposed to be laughed offstage, which would be proof that the democracy worked, that no one wants to hear from a fear-mongering buffoon. The mainstream media, not seeing the Trump campaign for what it was, for the energy it harnessed, became a bubble unto itself, with experts just talking to other experts, which led to so many viewers writing it off under the assumption that it could not be trusted. And this isn't just levied at cable news networks, but long standing newspapers.
The New York Times is dismissed by people on the right and the left as a tool of the side they detest, even though that's a reassuring sign that they aren't necessarily being partisan. As the internet's role has become more and more prevalent, it's been difficult for any news organization to simply balance its operating budget, let alone turn a profit, and that means it’s that much hard to do it’s extremely important job. The Guardian's website is now asking for money like it's a charity organization, and it practically is. Suddenly being well-informed is a privilege of those who can afford it, not a right. Consequently, more and more people are getting a trickling of sensationalist headlines from their facebook feeds, and rarely anywhere else, which is exactly an informational construct that a quasi-political superficial blowhard can take advantage of.
When Trump began racking up primary wins, DC-New York Republicans seemed shattered, lamenting the splitting of their party, admitting that they lived in a bubble, never realizing how so many of their fellow GOP members really felt about the state of politics.
Now, with Trump President-elect, DC-New York-LA citizens seems shattered, lamenting the splitting of their country, admitting that they live in a bubble, never realizing how so many of their fellow Americans really felt about the state of politics.
An incredulous, disorienting feeling, especially when so many polls and experts were promising an easy victory for Clinton (echoes of Brexit, certainly). So many - liberals and conservatives - not understanding the attraction, especially when there was so much to repel: Why vote Trump?
The Internet-news-o-sphere offered up a litany of reasons, and they're all partly right. There's no one reason why sixty million people cast their ballots for one particular candidate. Still deep-seated misogyny (even by white women, 53% of whom voted for Trump), still deep-seated racism (since Clinton was seen as an extension of the Obama's policies), still deep-seated xenophobia (if Trump was tough on immigrants and Muslims, then Clinton was therefore not).
But those three facets of deplorability can't be the whole story, not for sixty two million people. Clumping a large group people together because a handful of them exemplified a few terrible traits is something that...well, something that Donald Trump would do.
Besides, if you're going to whittle Trump's support down to one word, it shouldn't be 'deplorables', it should be 'jobs'.
Remember those things? Because a hell of a lot of Americans don't. And the constant disconnect of a rising Dow (which, it should be reminded, is a barometer of how rich the rich people are, not the state of the economy for the billions of people around the globe) and falling unemployment numbers mask the fact that underemployment in the service industry is the new career reality not only across America but the globe as well (work that offers no guaranteed hours, no job security, no benefit, no legal protections, and little to sense of independence or self worth).
This is the spiraling black hole of death problem that was created by globalization. Technology allowed us to make stuff for cheap on the other side of the world and ship it all around, so factories from Kansas to Kiev shut down and millions of people were fired. And this has been the problem that was staring at us in the face since the 1980s, and it was one that many Western leaders never wanted acknowledge, always kicking the can down the road, with the promises of jobs returning or being replaced always ending up empty. And the people got sick of both the Republicans and Democrats lying about fixing the problem, since the politicians seemed to always be cozying up to the wealthy corporations, who were getting all the wealthier as regulations loosened and unions weakened.
And when people are that upset and feel completely abandoned by the system that exists to ensure that this exact thing doesn't happen, they vote for the candidate that doesn't sound like every carbon copy politician, the candidate they believe when he (or she) promises they'll renegotiate trade deals to bring back jobs and drains the special interest swamp in the capital.
So you get Donald Trump. A sleazy, born-rich billionaire who declared bankruptcy four times and is best known to the public as a blustery game show host. A man whose on record on job creation is spotty at best. A man who says you can trust him because he's already gamed the system. A symptom of the problem, sure, a straw-man/strong-man who is only realizing now (from his first meeting with Obama where he looked a combination of bored and terrified, to his feeble attempts at choosing a cabinet) that this job comes with plenty of power and responsibility, but not with the sort of power that can keep even a fraction of his campaign promises. And the swing states which swung for Trump (Ohio, Wisconsin) will continue to feel the endless kneecapping of little to no job recovery under the new President.
So while this explains his support among the low-to-no-income classes (in economically depressed communities, whichever candidate boasts over and over about bringing back jobs will emerge victorious), one must also consider the segment of his supporters which bring in an average $70,000 a year. These people voted for Trump for the same reason a lot of people voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. Because it 'feels' like he represents 'change', two words that will never stop being factors in elections. A sensationalist and sometimes wildly false and inaccurate media (Macedonian teenagers making clickbait alt-right news websites for fun and profit) painting a picture of terror and uncertainty, couple with anecdotal evidence of people's genuine economic plight creates the 'feeling' that America is falling behind, losing its way. That even if you have a job everywhere else around you is flailing, while the world seems more chaotic and government handouts appear to only help people who live in big cities.
Is this true? Does it even matter if this is what you 'feel' to be true?
Sure, it means you're ignoring facts and statistics, but don't worry, there's a president-elect for that. And that means it's time to ask how that is going to affect policy going forward. When the decisions aren't made based on truth, but what you want to be true. Or 'post-truth', which is the Oxford Dictionary's word of the year.
So what will Trump do? He's said so many contradictory and inflammatory things, it's hard to say what he will want to do and what he'll be able to do.
Pretty much the only thing that's certain is that he'll cut taxes for the rich and corporations, and further deregulate financial, energy, and media industries. That's the gift to himself and the rest of the 1% (in fact, this might finally get the rest of the wealthy and powerful to actually like Trump, who's bankruptcies and bluster kind of made him seem like a blackballed embarrassment to other Manhattan elites). For years Clinton has been pilloried for being too close to wealthy donors and special interests. And she was defeated in this election by a man who was the archetypal egotistical business tycoon.
And how will he appease his supporters and help the rest of America? He's cooled down his rhetoric: the border wall is now a fence, deportation goal numbers have been slashed 75%, of course he'll honour NATO commitments, he'll slice up some but not all of Obamacare. For now. All this might change next week, month or year.
This is uncharted territory. This is a simmering pot ready to boil. The President elect owes millions to Chinese banks (because American banks wouldn't lend him money), has investment properties/portfolios all over the world and is already wheeling and dealing with his business partners at Trump Tower, since he doesn't seem to be interested in setting up a blind trust to keep the affairs of the nation and the affairs of his bottom line separate.
A new low in political everything, encapsulated perfectly by President-Elect Trump. Still tweeting about how the media is out to get him, saying that he could have won the popular vote if he wanted to, treating the campaign and now the rollout of his cabinet like a reality show. Walking back every shocking declaration he ever said with a straight face, tacitly acknowledging that he said it just to get attention.
Is this the new reality, where the position of the President becomes even more superficial and PR-based, and it's the people behind the curtain that are pulling his or her strings?
Trump has already duped his supporters by doing the opposite of 'draining the swamp', with lobbyists salivating at the idea of getting back the halls-of-power access. It's pay to play once again, after going through a few famine years under Obama.
So if Washington stays the same, what can he offer his diehard supporters other than whipping up more hatred of the 'other'? He has two years to bring back millions of jobs to the rust belt, and if his economic plan (or the people he puts in charge of his economic plan, which really means the people who are going to come up with an economic plan for him) is anything to go by (loosening regulations, tax cuts), it's simply not going to happen. America doesn't have the same economic pull it used to, nor do the most powerful people in the country seem to have any interest in bringing these jobs back, since doing so would affect the company bottom line. Until it's just as expensive to build a lawnmower in Asia as it is in Arkansas, the manufacturing jobs are going to stay on the other side of the Pacific.
All of these things are troubling, but it's the personality of Trump which makes his administration all the more unpredictable. That he ran as a Republican and is staffing Republicans means there are some predictable elements to his policies. If Clinton won, it would have been unlikely that she would have won both houses of congress, which means she would have had to do quite a bit of compromise for her own platform. Of course, her policies would be much more person friendly and much less corporation friendly. Democrats and Republicans will both fuck you in the end, but the Democrats will buy you dinner first.
We needed Clinton's policies on climate change, taxation, and social programs to be the baseline requirements for the years and decades going forward if we were to uphold the basic functioning of a democratic America, and therefore a large part of a functioning Western Civilization, and therefore a large part of global society.
Even if Trump's policies were centrist (or even populist), current living standards and basic rights will be in jeopardy in the years to come. When it comes to what he might mean to international diplomacy, the world is already turning into the skid, with increased settlement building in Israel, emboldened right-leaning parties across Europe, and a circle-the-wagons mentality in Asian countries.
Hopefully Trump is taking a crash course of sorts in these matters, because who he surrounds himself with will define the sort of information and news presented to him. In that way, the president decides what he will do when he decides his staff. And Donald Trump has a history of working with only sycophants and horse-traders, morals, integrity and clarity be damned. If he's only passively interested in most issues, and preferring ones that can be linked to good photo-ops and rallies were people chant his name, then fewer issues will ever be addressed by him directly, with decisions behind made behind his blissfully ignorant back. In this way, Trump will force the Presidency to mean even less. The people have spoken, and soon their words/ballots will mean even less.
Trump will make this a figurehead position, one that is meant to inspire the nation, make them proud to be [insert nationality here], while the convoluted decisions about policy are made in sausage-like fashion in offices across the world. Where half the country thinks that the leader of Russia had his thumb on the scale on the election (regardless of whether it's true), especially after it was acknowledge that some of Putin's staff communicated with Trump over the summer.
As mentioned in the tail end of the pre-election article (HERE), it was noted that with Trump's likely loss, that it might lead to a rejection of sorts against the Trump-like character and the Trump-like traits that many people in power hold.
Apparently it will have to take an entire administration before that happens.
More so than Hillary Clinton, truth and substance were the losers in this election.
The two mainstream political parties can't change all that much between election cycles. Two and four years aren't long periods of time, and when the losers acknowledge there has to be reforms of policy and approach, they are still at the mercy of the same big money donors and interests (even if some of the donors and interests want change as well, it certainly doesn't come fast).
Typical 'change' is doing exactly what the victors did, or making a half-assed attempt at doing the exact opposite of what the victors did. The democrats will run a Trump for the left, an energetic, approachable, slogan pushing yes man or woman that is expected to leave the policy details to lawyers and lobbyists.
Divisions will continue to widen, economically, socially, culturally, geographically. And information will be fitted and tailored around the policy being made and the person pushing it. Pocket cults of personality will exist across the land, tethered to wealthy donors and vanity institutes of research and polling. The truest thing in peoples’ lives will be their phone/internet bill.
Perhaps this all too dour, only three weeks out from November 8th, but a few days ago, the president-elect tweeted that the election he won was crooked and filled with irregularities, and that there should be no recounts. A statement that is about as good as 1984-like doublespeak gets. Donald Trump emerged as the victor in a miserable and joyless presidential campaign, and he destroyed the people’s complete faith and trust in democracy to do it.
Unemployment across the country
Trump meets Obama, isn't having fun yet
NYT Interview Transcript:
Trump and Putin
Dowd's tossing blame on Clinton/Obama ego and being out of touch
The world is already turning into the skid:
Chomsky on Trump:
Elitism (Oh yeah, that thing)
Elitism is a loaded term, and is sensibly the bane/antagonist of democracy, since the bedrock of the latter is that everyone is equal to one another and consequently should have an equal say in how the community/state should be run.
That's theoretical, of course. Stating 'everyone is equal' refers to how they are to be treated in the eyes of the law. Beyond that, it needs to be acknowledged that no one is equal to anyone else. We all have different abilities and flaws, which make us all specifically unequal to one another. A lovely sentiment when it comes to an individual's uniqueness and the power to shape your own destiny, but it can be a real challenge when it comes to performing basic democratic tasks, like being an informed and responsible citizen.
Additionally, stating that everyone should have the same amount of power is more aspirational than anything else. Political power has never been so smoothly distributed among a nation's citizens. One person, one vote? Definitely. Does it translate effortlessly into how power is used in the capitol buildings? Not exactly.
You can bandy around plenty of terms for the people who have considerably more power than the average citizen. Nobility is nice and old school, but it's been 'elitism' and the 'elite' for a while now. Your career politicians, your CEOs of all the industries that not-so-secretly shape your life and destiny (energy, financial, and - increasingly - tech), your old money that worked so damn hard to turn it into new money (namely, investing in the three industries listed above), and the odd rags-to-riches (or shrinking middle class-to-riches) inventor/entrepreneur who made it so big they couldn't go bankrupt if they tried (and consequently becomes old money).
The rise of the aforementioned people in the last three and a half decades in terms of wealth and power (not just across America, not just across the Western World, but across the globe as a whole) has created an institutional foundation of governance where access has become considerably more restricted
This means a phone call to your local politician will not resonate nearly as much as a donation of several thousand dollars (or the creation of a Super PAC (Political Action Committee)). To run for office requires a considerable amount of money, which means you are already rich, or you have a series of rich donors who will your support your campaign (and for whom you will owe vote-friendly favours to if you win).
Spending tens of thousands of dollars in an election season to ultimately save hundreds of thousands of dollars because the politicians you 'donated to' (not 'bribed') will change (or not change) the tax code does not come off as a perversion of democracy in the elites' eyes, but rather a sound business investment.
The political positions of these individuals can vary, except when it comes to economic policy. Controlling at all costs what is most valuable - first and foremost, the transfer and exchange of money, followed by the energy and technology that people depend on daily - is something unanimously agreed upon. And they see this as a responsibility, not as a voracious and evil plot for more and more
To keep this status quo, elites marry other elites, have children that go to elite schools and meet other elites to marry. In this vacuum, the expectation that a politician or judge already holds you in higher favour does not seem abnormal. Rising inequality results in much less social integration between the fewer haves and the many more have-nots.
Can someone outside of this system crack into the caste? Yes, but it's difficult, rare, and more akin to winning the lottery than being the ideal social system for anyone to succeed.
The American/Western Dream shouldn't have to exist as an exception to the rule. A capitalist economic system that leans heavy towards free markets is one where an individual's entire worth is based on finances. And even if the playing field (to use a trivializing term for our lives) was level when we all emerge from the womb, the differences in peoples' abilities and the need for some social roles to be of higher regard than others means that power and wealth could never be diffused uniformly. The advantaged naturally rise to the top, but the concern will always exist of what they do when they get there.
If they saw themselves as fulfilling God given roles centuries ago, then today the elites see themselves as 'stewards', leading the globalized economy forward to the eventual benefit of all.
Consequently - when you look at any sort of graph regarding wealth, income inequality, personal debt, corporate mergers, etc. - the current problems with the large-scale economic system (and not only in America) is that the elites have failed the rest of us. Certainly the masses can cynically expect the elites to 'look out for their own' before making sure the state/globe still functions normally, but over the last decade - and certainly after the financial crisis of 08/09 - these problems have exacerbated greatly.
If the measure for success is a continually functioning society that can offer a majority of its citizens respectable living standards and an ability to address large-scale challenges that will affect the well-being of the state and the world at large, then the elites - having more power than that of the voting block of all citizens - have misused the role they gave themselves.
Consequently, there are two strands of thought to consider.
A) The elites have a higher level of responsibility of ensuring that society runs smoothly than those who are not elite. This is a tacit agreement between the powerful few and the less powerful many.
B) Everyone is in it for themselves, and the people that accomplish more through a combination of hard work, ingenuity and luck (being born into a wealthy family) owe nothing to anyone else.
If A is true then there are systemic failures within the economic state of the contemporary world and changes must be made. If B is true then are systemic failures within the economic state of the contemporary world, but that's just the way it is, smoke 'em if you got 'em.
So let's go with A. Rectifying this problem can occur in very few (and considerably difficult) ways. A groundswell of public support for reforms (see: populism) is extremely difficult when one considers the strong and almost unbridgeable divide between liberals and conservatives (although we should use these terms loosely). Even information can be skewered to particular groups, thanks to the news-conformity bubble (where you only seek out/receive news/opinions from political positions that are very similar to your own).
If the right's new bubble is said to be anti-fact (currently personified by the words of Donald Trump), then the left's is anti-practicality. The left has been promised/promising a path to utopia through proper legislation, but nothing can match their rhetoric. Look at Obamacare. Because of the concessions that were required to get enough support in Congress, many of the left are disappointed at its limitations. And future left-leaning legislation will have the same problem. It won't be what was originally claimed. It will always seem to be - at best - a middling success to the left (and to the right government-run health insurance was always about death panels).
And Obamacare is weak largely in part because of the unavoidable demands of compensation from health insurance companies, which are run and owned by the elites (that no one seems to bat an eye at the idea of profiting massively from people's illnesses - plus having an incentive to deny peoples' claims - is also troubling). No matter what the large scale government project, the powerful corporations and those that run them sneak their thumb (or whole hand) on the scale. That some of the largest financial and energy industries get billions a year in tax breaks while remaining enormously profitable is unfathomable.
Unless you're the ones reaping the rewards. Then it doesn't seem that way. And it's hard to see any other perspective if you're inside the bubble (in fact, you might deny that there is a bubble in the first place). Whether it's pushing the trickle-down economy, the idea of a substandard living wage, or simply saying, 'screw the lazy poor', the elites looking out for number 1% first and everyone else second has become an entrenched belief among everyone else on the planet.
Changing this perspective is difficult, as it is going against a fundamental belief of the American/Western dream, which is that success is always dependent on an individual. In reality, success depends on harnessing the convoluted inter-workings of a globalized economy. During the 2012 presidential election, Republican seized on a disemboweled quote from Obama. The President was outlining that no matter how hardworking and intelligent the individual (or individual company) was, it is dependent on basic infrastructure like roads, electricity, building codes and regulations, etc, that is provided by governments. He said 'you didn't build that', and the GOP used those four and half words as proof that Obama is a foe of business, large and small.
There is a resistance among elites to government participation in practically any large-scale endeavour, even though mixed market economies are much more stable in the long term. So it's no wonder this system has fallen out a favour at a time when few people are looking long term. The working class is living paycheque to paycheque, and the elites are only interested in the positive quarterly financial reports that will result in their annual bonus.
Everyone is existing in short-term economies. Long term investments are suddenly considered too risky, because we're tearing up the present to pieces to get every single dollar and cent out of it.
If there are elitists, then even the middle class begins to become irrelevant. There is only the extremely wealthy and powerful, and then everyone else. Elitism as an actual form of governance cannot exist in a democracy. If the elected representatives are not supporting the will of the people (but rather a very, very small segment of people, regardless of how the votes are cast), then there is no democracy.
Once again, it has to be stressed that this push for corporate power and deregulation has been terrible for the great masses of people across the globe. In the West there is rising unemployment, less saving, and no job security, and even in other areas in the globe that have absorbed the West's former manufacturing jobs, there is still poverty, exploitation, and non-democratic rule.
The notion that the best rise to the top and are better suited to rule would seem much less odious if the results actually benefitted the majority of the people. The self-appointed guardians of capital can't seem to keep their own grubby hands out of the cookie jar, leaving the vast majority of the people with the crumbs.
A healthy, long-term democracy has to alternate between egalitarian-focused and elitist-focused periods. Ideally democracy will always be egalitarian-focused, but that does not appear to be feasible, and will have to be considered a theoretical construct rather than a plausible form of governance. There's never going to be an egalitarian utopia and there will never be a ‘1984-like inner/outer party and everyone else’ dystopia. Instead it's always going to be a mix of both, with the scales occasionally leaning more towards inequality and then occasionally towards equality.
The last three and a half decades have seen Western democracy become increasingly elitist-focused, and it is necessary for there to be a shift back to egalitarian-focused. This must include the acknowledgement by the elites that there needs to be changes that will shrink the overall size and individual portions of their wealth and power. To say that this will not be a welcomed proposal is an understatement, especially when one considers the fact that any elites see their success as proof that the system isn't broken, that their hard work and abilities are advantages that anyone else would capitalize on if they could.
It's not simply a matter of changing a tax code or laws concerning deregulation. It's also (mainly?) a matter of changing people's minds.
Even if the United States introduced legislation that heavily taxed the wealthy and strictly regulated financial institutions and corporations, these groups would simply 'relocate' in an economic sense (as many of them have half-accomplished already) to a much more tax-friendly nation, like Panama or the Grand Cayman Islands.
And so the next challenge is to get every nation (or even almost every, which is also seemingly impossible) on earth to also agree to these economic rules that are binding and come with criminal charges if violated.
While the United States has a massive influence in global economic policy, trying to even make the argument that this is for the best of the global economy in the long run would be missing support for several key nations. The United States' long standing reputation of exploiting the rest of the planet for their own gain (and the level of fairness within this accusation can be debated elsewhere) means some nations will not support it.
And some nations who did agree will still be 'soft' on enforcing these rules, and the wealthy will quietly flock there, or created a new kind of financial instrument where they can hide their commas. The goal here is to make avoidance of regulation and taxation more difficult, as eradicating it completely is not possible. The alternate (and more fruitful) goal is to convince the wealthy that paying taxes is in their best interest in the long run.
It doesn't take much for these frustrations to come to a boiling point when news like the Panama Papers is revealed. By hiding your money in offshore bank accounts, you are making your own country shittier. How can anyone be okay with that? The problem is that it's becoming more and more apparent that only the extremely wealthy can take the important first step and fix the widening gap of inequality in America (and to lesser degrees, in other Western nations). The rich people have to save the ever growing masses of poor people by giving a lot of their money that they hide in offshore accounts (impossible to know for sure, but conservative estimates have it in the trillions) to the rest of us via government taxation and then government spending. Have the wealthy finance the much-needed upgrade in American infrastructure. And if they're going to be total obstinate assholes about it, give 'em the tolls for bridges and highways for a temporary period.
This is not a push for egalitarianism. Oversteering to the opposite concept is no solution at all. The elites can and will always have more, but in the upcoming years they will simply have to settle for not as much.
Populism: Oh yeah, that thing
Don’t look at Donald Trump.
We know that’s difficult, as he’s a never-ending car crash you can’t help but rubberneck in the general direction of, but he’s not the real story of the 2016 presidential election.
It's not Hillary Clinton, either.
Or Bernie Sanders.
The 2016 US election isn't about a person. It's about people.
Populism is back.
Economist (and Bill Clinton’s secretary of labour) Robert Reich predicted a few years back that things would get so difficult in America for the average citizen that there would be an inevitable and basic change as to how the country functions from an economic perspective, led by a groundswell of common sense support for doing whatever it takes to finally rehabilitate the middle class.
But he didn’t predict it would take on this form (even if you could, would you really want to?). Donald Trump blames Washington gridlock and anything non-white, non-Christian, and non-Norman Rockwell painting for the current state of America, a fact-free bigoted screed that connects most strongly with lower class whites in blue collar graveyard towns.
Bernie Sanders said that over the last several decades Wall Street fat cats have pulled up the socioeconomic ladder after them when they climbed into the tree-house of success, leaving the rest of to fight amongst the scraps, a message that resonated with the disaffected, left-leaning youth.
Outspoken New Yorkers out to change America.
It’s not just ‘chickens coming home to roost’ for conservatives (the argument that Republicans have stoked the talking points of fear, religion, and neoliberalism among its base for so long that was inevitable that there would be a candidate that exemplifies (or is able to convince people he exemplifies) these traits to an uncomfortably toxic degree).
And it's not just a bunch of liberal arts baristas tweeting 'feel the bern' incessantly and think that Clinton has too many ties to energy and financial industry insiders.
It’s deeper now because in the last eight years – even with the most left-leaning president since the 1970s – most Americans have seen their economic outlooks go from bad to worse. Unless you’re already wealthy, and the 1% tone deafness on this issue just adds more fuel to the fire of populist anger.
And this anger is nothing to scoff at. Anger is a powerful emotion that can get people to ballot box a lot more effectively than any sort of graph or logical argument about policy change can.
Sanders on the left, Trump on the right, with the latter saying he even agrees with the former on some things (which is almost certainly just be a ploy to steal any possible votes from still disillusioned Sanders supporters). Together, these so-called ‘fringe’ candidates had almost more support than all the other ‘mainstream’ candidates combined.
So what happens?
Hillary Clinton is probably going to be the next President of the United States. A landmark step forward for all women, and one taken by a politician who - when looking at the presidential hopefuls from any other party - is far and away the most qualified for the job.
Which means she is going to be under criticism from every political side and position from day one.
Paradoxically, by being the most qualified Clinton will be seen as everything wrong with the American political system. A power hungry Washington insider who claims to be for the people but will still party around with Wall Street. A centrist that will disappoint the large swaths of people who identify as left or right.
An unjustified framing, certainly, so it’s worthwhile to add the reminder that the power of Congress can be even mightier than the power of the President. The mindset that Americans vote for their leaders every four years is rather disingenuous. Every two years you vote for new representatives, and that’s how your political beliefs live and die, not necessarily by who lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. As much as the presidential election process can seem rigged via super-delegates and media coverage, it's nothing compared to how broken and rigged the system is for pols in the house and Senate. Gerrymandering means only a fraction of the seats can actually switch parties (and the ones that are in the ‘safe’ districts have some of the most extreme views, at least in terms of conservative Tea Partiers), plus just like the presidential race, the amount of money offered up from wealthy donors to each district face off is another reminder how powerless most citizens truly are when it comes to making their voices heard.
All this means that, more so than ever before in the last fifty years, this election feels particularly desperate and urgent, based on the rhetoric of both the candidates and the citizens. Language that plays more on the hearts than the minds.
Preying on people's fears by saying that the country isn't safe, even though violent crime is down nationwide. Preying on people hopes and dreams by promising free college and better health care plans, even though the ability to push through (and pay for) such legislation is unlikely.
But it's these sorts of sweeping statements that embodies populism. It's 'what everyone wants', even if no one gives much thought to its feasibility, or its long-term, wide-ranging effects.
The UK's Brexit vote is an excellent example of a referendum done by drunk sledgehammer when surgical tools would be much more effective.
Yes, the European Union has become a bureaucratic nightmare that grew too big, too fast and cannot address the major challenges affecting the individual countries within its borders, from economic decline to migration.
Despite all this, however, leaving it is much worse in the long term. Following rules and regulations will become more onerous, travel and work between the UK and the EU will become much more difficult, and leaves the future strength of the EU in doubt (from perspective ranging from economic to military).
But with the 'Leave' supporters focusing on xenophobic slander and saying they are tired of experts and their facts (a hideous quip from MP Michael Gove), it was a painful reminder that populism can frequently be manipulated, even while there are core truths to the issue at hand that should have people supporting the other viewpoint.
Complaining about the economy and how other people who aren't exactly like you are getting handouts and special treatment is a harsh, biter, and bigoted take on a rather simple and straightforward apolitical occurrence in the Western world:
The shrinking of the middle class.
A glib assessment of the Brexit campaign is that people in England didn’t like people from elsewhere coming and taking their jobs. A glib assessment of the Trump campaign is that his supporters don’t like people from elsewhere coming and taking their jobs.
Populism is by nature reductionist. Its strength lies in the simplicity of its message. But economic stagnation is a massive, interdependent problem, and cannot be solved within one country's borders. That several Asian nations manufacture most of what Americans buy means American citizens have a massive say in how this region (and especially China) itself is run (even if they don’t consider it). And with China buying American debt so readily, Chinese corporations and their owner/investors (many in the government) are literally invested in America’s well-being.
These are big issues, and the solutions to them are just as complex and unwieldy.
Which is why it's hard to talk about them in an election year where tweets and soundbites reign supreme. And because Trump can dominate the news-cycle, Clinton is left to not so much debate the issues but simply acknowledge that she’s the only other choice, the only non-crazy choice.
And that’s what necessary to attract the left populist supporters. Not with rational arguments (explaining that she has much more feasible socioeconomic plan than Sanders, and a better track record with compromise, which is necessary), but with holding up the ‘greater of two evils’ as a threat.
So how do we discuss an important and nuanced issue like international trade? How do we discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal with the diligence and care it deserves? We cannot simply tear it to shreds like the left wants, and we can’t embrace it fully like the corporate-conservative right wants.
Populism makes any sort of debate about this incredibly difficult, but you can't downplay populism. You can ignore it for a while, but not forever.
It's what the people want, even if they don't know exactly what they want and it needs articulating, or even if what they want is completely unfeasible.
Sound familiar? It's why it is possible for Donald Trump to win the presidency.
Inevitable? Of course not.
But he can paint Clinton as a criminal beltway insider, and deflect democratic attacks by tilting middle and appealing to undecided voters by toning down the racist and xenophobic rhetoric.
‘Cooler heads prevailing’? There’s enough frustrated people out there (and a cross-section of all voting demographics) which believe that voting for the candidate who will only deliver more of the same is worse than sweeping change. For complicated reasons that populism naturally ignores, conservatives are trying to claim that Obama’s hope and change resulted in middling bureaucracy and partisan sniping that still lets the rich people get richer and everyone else get poorer, and add that Clinton is more of that.
If Trump can get this argument across and not put his foot any further into his mouth (still looking unlikely at the moment), he just might win.
(What would a Trump presidency look like? No idea. Who knows what Trump actually believes. He’ll say anything to get attention/votes. His policies (such as they are) have huge flaws, from logistics to budgeting to simply being morally repugnant.
Best Case Scenario: All that talk about building a wall along Mexico and banning Muslims was just to get attention. He dials all this back, gets a bipartisan team of advisors (to actually represent those that did vote for him, since he will be less beholden to party insiders) and actually tries to get some policies passed that helps keep jobs from leaving America. He still shoots his mouth off, but defers to the Joint Chief of Staff on military issues and therefore does not start WWIII.
Lousy Case Scenario: He tries to get the wall built, ban muslims, and create new laws about job security, but congress thwarts him at every turn. And suddenly there is a palpable sense of thankfulness for Washington gridlock.
Worst Case scenario: He puts cronies in charge, gets enough support from far right wingers in Congress to pass parts of his ‘three terrible ideas for every one good idea’ agenda, and America finds itself with terrible economic problems that border on isolationist, and then there’s an international crisis that he completely fucks up.)
Everyone agrees that there are big, complicated problems facing America/The West/The World, but the agreement ends there. What are the biggest problems? Which are the ones we should tackle first?
Once again, populism is that feeling of anger and frustration and desire for change. But these three emotions are not ideal for governance.
Populism is a very powerful, clumsy movement. Certainly a bull in a china shop.
Even within a democracy where the ideal situation is that everyone has equal share of power via their ballot during an election, electing a person to represent you and your district in Congress (or Parliament) is the tacit acknowledgement that some people now have more power than others, because these politicians are the ones who will actually be making decisions in the capital.
And you're supposed to elect the best your voting district has to offer. With the simple reasoning being that a moral, intelligent, and hard-working individual will make the right decisions not only for the people who voted for him or her, but for the nation as a whole.
And this is democracy 101, sure. But when this system starts to break down, populism is what people turn to when the mistrust in the current system of governance reaches a no-going-back threshold. It's not a matter of just fringe right and left wingers railing against the problems of Western democracy. Mainstream right and left-leaning people also see the system as completely broken. As do political centrists.
Which is why this is most certainly the beginning of a populist movement in the United States that won't dissipate after November 9th.
Populism is a movement of the powerless, but inevitably it will gain power as people unify under certain issues, demanding change. But this period of actually having power, of being able to greatly influence legislation, will be extremely short lived. Inevitably this flow of power must manifest itself in very traditional forms. Without a doubt the people who are leading/organizing the movement will be imbibed with the responsibility of negotiating with whatever institution or government entity that they are attempting to change. Any sort of coalescing of power will attract people who are willing to exploit it for their own ends.
Populism exists as a spark that forces the shuffling of chairs and desks and job titles. And that spark is difficult to predict. When does a march become a sit-in? When does a protest become a riot?
For centuries populism required the physical presence of the masses. From the 'peasant are revolting', to 'let them eat cake', to 'workers of the world unite'.
The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are two sides of the disenfranchisement coin, and while both conservative and liberal politicians have tried to harness the political energy of these movements to their own ends, the still unlearned lesson is that lip service to these grievances is only going to have people return years later, in larger numbers, with more anger and energy.
Trump and Sanders are the embodiment of The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street, and regardless of how this election plays out, neither of these groups will disappear unless there is actual change to the socioeconomic conditions of America.
One of the chief dissatisfactions that unite people regardless of their political stripe is the pervasive influence of money in politics (it certainly allows you to hurl accusations at the candidate/party you dislike, while downplaying how big money donations affect the decisions of the candidate/party you support).
And how do you maneuver around other people’s money? With your own.
Populism can become something as rote and dull as getting a text or tweet from a friend or public figure, asking you to temporarily transfer $500 out of your bank account as a political act. To put pressure on the financial institution to withdraw their support of an oppressive foreign government or an amoral corporation. After enough people have done the same thing, and the bank's assets have shrunken considerably in the space of an hour or two, the financial institution acquiesces, changes its position, and everyone puts their money back in.
This sort of shuffling can accomplish what marching in the streets and shouting slogans cannot, consolidate the moment of power much, much more quickly, zeroing in much more efficiently upon the issue at hand, and expressing what the people as a whole demand, and putting pressure exactly where it hurts for corporations: On their quarterly profit earnings.
Can it be usurped by the forces it is mean to stop? Of course. Any and all political tools can be, and exploiting methods used by populists is extremely easy, in part because these methods have to be easy, otherwise large segments of the population won't bother with them.
But perhaps for the next several cycles of debates and exchanges about large scale initiatives and plans, the masses get their voices heard with the one thing that talks louder than anything else: Money.
It can even drown out Donald Trump.
The Public and the Private
Things are getting complicated.
In terms of global problems, this is not a startling revelation these days, but some scripts have been flipped in terms of who are the good and bad guys (which is always an 'eye of the beholder' term, anyway).
Governments are curtailing free speech and corporations are standing up for the privacy rights of individuals. And they're both doing it for reasons that can be understood and accepted by large swaths of the population as the right thing to do at the moment. Kind of. Depending on the circumstances. It's complicated.
So if you lean left, the institution we rely upon (the government) to protect us from corporate power which typical has only one amoral goal (make money) is demanding that a big corporation give them the ability to access all our private data on our phones. To keep us safe from terrorism.
Meanwhile, across the globe, countries both democratic and 'democratic' are having a difficult time with letting some people say what they want when it angers some other people (and some of these 'some people' have lots and lots of power). Democracy is seen as something to be achieved, an end, a completion of a journey from tyranny to freedom. Which is why it can be goddamn annoying to find ourselves continually re-examining one of the oldest questions concerning this political system: How much freedom are you willing to give up in exchange for safety?
Puppets vs. Masters
Sticks and stones...
But not in India. Now simply shouting 'Long Live Pakistan!" on A New Delhi university campus is enough to get arrested. "While free speech is enshrined in the [Indian] Constitution, it has been undermined by various sections of the penal code, the courts and successive governments, and is not always supported by the public." (Najaf, Gupta)
This is where we shrug and acknowledge that democracy and freedom is typically a 'two steps forward, one step back' progression. Where we note that when the West shoves globalization into a region that's not completely industrialized, it means that all the other Western influences - from culture to forms of governance - is going to arrive in bits and pieces and not perfectly fit into the already existing power structure. Where we clear our throats and admit that even if ushering in new reforms and civil rights is going well, financial downturns and political upheavals on the other side of the world can suddenly stop this progression in its tracks (when the price of meat drops in South America, slaughterhouses close in India). Where we look at the numbers and have to admit that a democracy for thirty or three hundred million people that has been able to develop over centuries is so much different than a democracy for over one billion people that's trying to stagger forward out of colonial oppression in only a few decades.
But then, being a member of the Communist Party in 1950s America (and shouting about it in public) could probably get you some unwanted attention (from both the authorities and random passersby). And tensions between Indian and Pakistan (both nuclear powers) have long been terrible. But does that mean you put free speech on the shelf because some words are considered dangerous when you're in the middle of a not-quite-hot-not-quite-cold war? How strong do the roots of your democracy have to be before the government is comfortable with protests against it? If that's the ultimate test of democracy maybe too many nations are willing to take the D minus (or, for purists, the F).
And if you think you can outsmart the authorities by keeping your mouth shut and simply letting the colour of your clothes do the talking, think again.
Yes, it looks extremely sad when a country is trying to ban a coloured t-shirt, revealing more about their internal weakness than they want to let on, and you can write this sort of screed on your yellow t-shirt or a slightly mocking protest sign. But it becomes a much less funny sort of ridiculous when you get beaten by a riot cop or dragged into jail without being given any of the rights your country likes to say it gives to all its citizens.
But those are just basic rights growing pangs in Southeast Asia, right? Just a bunch of DINOs (Democracies In Name Only), right? If we turn our eye to Europe, certainly we'll be reassured that the rights and freedoms of individuals are being respected, especially in the face of rising hostility towards radical strains of Islam across the continent?
Using puppet witches at a protest to suggest that the government is going on a witch hunt? At worst they should be mocked for nailing the hammer a little too much on the head. Our short term and selective memory means we forget that Spain had a rough go through the twentieth century, with plenty of fascist dictators, rebellions, and civil wars.
Spain's been an amazing success story since then, although the financial crisis hit it particularly hard. And that's something that must be considered when we look at these protests and how the government reacts to them.
Democracy might be the political system, but capitalism is the economic one. And the world economy is in terrible shape (and any current growth the United States or any other nation likes to trumpet is a fake out. Most of this money is just going into the pockets of the already super-wealthy, exacerbating the rich-everyone else divide). If everyone gets paid, everyone cares a little bit less about words that they might disagree with, no one gets violently angry about being marginalized and impoverished.
But when belts get tightened, tempers flare, stress increases, instability rises, and suddenly the authorities are worried about puppets.
Free speech means it doesn't matter if you don't like satire, it's got to be allowed. But it does matter a hell of a lot if those applying the laws regarding hate (or threatening/subversive) speech can't understand this particular instance as satire.
Weighing freedom against safety is never an easy question, and should be debated vigorously in the halls of power and the most rundown bars, but...puppeteers? Comedians? Musicians? These are the sort of people who will be arrested by the government in fascist countries, not...France.
Is Dieudonne getting laughs when he makes fun of Jewish rituals onstage? It doesn't matter, it's ridiculous that doing so should be considered a crime. Or that a tweet he sends sympathizing with one of the terrorists who shot up the Charles Hebdo offices gets him arrested. Offending people is not a crime, and if it becomes a crime 'in specific situations', then that's a very, very slippery slope to letting whoever has a bit of power from placing more and more words and ideas under the ever growing umbrella of 'specific situations'. And those that would defend such restrictions to free speech argue that this is a matter of public safety, that words can inflame people and spur them to action that can have violent consequences.
The question, then:
If we let people say terrible things, do terrible actions soon follow?
(Oh hey, guess what, that is a ridiculously complicated answer that has to take in so many varying social and economic conditions of several individuals, from those doing the saying to those doing the possible doing, with a thick river of government intervention flowing through it)
(Food for thought: for all the many, many faults that other Western nations can find in America, the United States has some of most permissive and open free speech protections in the world, but it also has more terribly violent acts (namely, gun deaths) than other developed nations)
Because that is the essential argument: A society is to keep it people safe, and if certain words or phrases that create a certain position which regularly instigate certain actions, then those words and phrases are dangerous. But that's always the first step when free speech is curtailed. It begins with the attempt to crackdown on hate speech, which is much more widely supported (especially by the groups that feel threatened by whoever are using such terms) than outright censorship.
But frequently the next step (seen in both Spain and South Korea in the last year or so) is the increased difficulty of getting approval to hold peaceful, organized demonstrations in front of government buildings. Those that attend would be subject to arrest and/or fine. And then either the penalties increase, the amount of spots where people are not allowed to congregate increase, or the words and phrases that are suspect increase.
If the authorities are given tools that can be applied on a broader scope, it's inevitable that will be applied. Which is why any attempt to curtail free speech - even if done in the interest of public safety - must be considered oh so very carefully. Not because of how it might be applied at the moment because of the current issue/climate, but because of how it might be applied months and years down the road in other situations.
This is in part due to constantly nebulous terminology used in passing laws banning hate speech. If words can make a group feel threatened, then those that utter it are subject to persecution.
But quickly 'group' can be used to include corporations and the government itself, and 'threat' can also include the idea of a 'perceived threat', and under this slightly bending of words, getting together In a city square to chant about budget cuts can now be an arrestable offence.
In Korea, the question became, why take the risk, and protesters sent their avatars:
The avatars of law enforcement, politicians, and legal scholars were not available for comment.
Poisoned Apples: Governments vs. Corporations
Aw, yeah. Here we go.
'Member how we're all worried about the government having too much surveillance power, so we were all like, 'boo nsa, keep your nose out of our private lives' (whether you were American or not)?
But remember how we're all also kinda concerned about how powerful all these massive tech companies that are controlling more and more of our lives are becoming?
Well these two groups are smashing into each other, and the ramifications will be felt far beyond Apple and America, and for many years to come.
This should be a huge debate involving everyone, because it involves a very simple, basic concept that we all use and rely on everyday of our lives:
What would you trust the government with? What would you trust the corporations with? The former to keep our community running and the rights and freedoms that dictate how we treat each other, the latter with buying and selling of all the necessary and unnecessary things in the community. But of course that's an oversimplification to the point of being wrong. Governments use corporations to carry out many of its tasks, and frequently they're the corporations' best customers. And since money is tied up (and bursting at the seams) as these two big institutions criss-cross in a passionate-then-dysfunctional marriage, the people involved frequently slip from one institution to the other (former politicians become lobbyists representing corporations, regulatory bodies are ultimately staffed by employees of the industry they're supposed to be regulating).
Which is one of the key reasons why the general populace is unlikely to trust both the government or corporations. There's a reluctant to give information to either.
The government's problem is that when people suspect them for their overreach, it's for a 1984 style totalitarian agenda, spying on your every move and locking you in a secret prison for the slightest hint of dissent.
Meanwhile, people think corporations wants to know more and more about them just so they can hawk their products and services more intrusively.
If we're cynical enough to accept that 'lesser of two evils' is how we have to weigh most big decisions that the average person actually has a say in (kinda like Clinton vs. Trump in November), then most people will almost certainly take corporate overlords over government overlords. Better to be in constant debt because you can't afford all the stuff you need/want/think you need because of inter-cranial marketing than be in prison because you held a sign up and blocked traffic to complain about inequality or immigration.
Recently courts have ruled that the DoD/NSA cannot demand Apple to unlock the phone, but thinking that this matter is over is as a naive as thinking that everyone understands roaming charges. The single phone in question is the one owned by Syed Farook the terrorist who killed fourteen people in San Bernardino last December, but there's already a lineup of requests by law enforcement across America who have as evidence other devices owned by suspects that they need to get into.
But Apple maintains that writing a code that gives the government (or really, 'a' government, since if the US gets the code, it would be inevitable that China and Russia would demand the same programming) access to people's phones, then it would jeopardize every level of security and privacy.
So privacy-rights advocates should be cheering that a corporation was protected from the government in court. Which in itself sounds like 1984-esque doublespeak.
Cats chasing dogs. Hats on your feet. A company that uses sweatshop labour in countries where there's few rights' for workers is suddenly on the moral high ground. Meanwhile, the approval rating of Congress is hovering in the low teens. Because corporations have a greater visibility in our average lives than the government (whether justified or not, this is appearance), we are less concerned when corporations edge up against our individual rights than when the government does.
Not accurate, of course. More often than not these two institutions work in a tandem, a symbiotic relationship that benefits each other.
Not to suggest that Apple versus the DoD is mere kabuki theatre, but perhaps the resolution to this is simply going to be that the Department of Defence simply outsources its cyber security apparatus to an Apple/Samsung hybrid corporation (maybe Google will just buy the CIA and be done with it).
No matter who wins, we lose.
(Thanks, Alien vs. Predator tag line, very apt)
Because Silicon Valley isn't nearly as egalitarian as it's made out to be.
The 'big five' (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft (never underestimate the power of the Word)) own a ridiculously huge market share of cyberspace's general activities. They are the name brand platforms that any other tech company or startup needs to rely on in one way or another to reach any level of success (which sometimes might just mean being bought/absorbed by one of the five companies).
They all want to grow, get bigger, get stronger, offer you whatever you want that much more effectively. They are the corporations of the future. Corporations are the proto-AIs. Just look at their effective, amoral programming.
They are always changing. Google restructured to become a subsidiary of Alphabet.
(When is 'restructuring' ever a good thing? When you announce that, you're either six months from declaring bankruptcy or declaring that you have a death ray in orbit about to destroy Chicago if your demands aren't met)
That we click on Apple's updated terms and conditions without reading it has become late-night/website-article joke fodder, but it's going to be through these changes that our future rights and freedoms are going to be written (much like so many our of current rights and freedoms are (re)written in endless legal jargon that is barely looked over by our elected representatives before they vote on them in congress or parliament).
SpaceX is the new NASA. Until SpaceX just buys NASA so the government can trim just a bit more fat from its bloated budgetary problems (except that in terms of benefits of long term funding, NASA is more like a vital organ rather than fat. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration used to be a tech innovator. Now it doesn't have any way of getting to space on its own, having to rely on Russian rockets or whatever Elon Musk is doing).
Real dystopia is much more mundane than what's portrayed in popular (and counter) culture. But part of the reason for that is the ability for television, films and books depicting the future in a negative light is that it can be seen as a blaring warning alarm that we aren't careful, what is unfolding in front of your eyes on page and screen might very well come true.
Just don't make the parallels too obvious. You might get arrested and have to share a jail cell with a bunch of puppeteers.
Too much, too much: 2015 review
This year we've seen how our institutional abilities are beginning to fall short in devastating and catastrophic ways. A violently collapsing Middle East forces millions of migrants towards Europe, which is collapsing economically.
And even that's not seeing the full picture.