Short version: wife Wendy took an abrupt fall (the result of an unrecognized Lisfranc injury), and, between acting as a home health aide and dodging storms then making repairs, I spent 3 months with no time to write. Even with much healing and the end to a series of atmospheric rivers, time was tight. Now Wendy is highly mobile again, and it’s a glorious spring. Time to get active.
But hold on a minute.
The interruption gave me yet another opportunity to try and decide what I want to be when I grow up. I’m nearing the end of a series I call Emotional Truth / Political Lies written in order to think things through. (More of that below.) I used Medium as a platform because it makes writing look good and held out the promise of helping find readers/kibitzers.
Here’s the problem.
First, it has become clear to me that folks that get read a lot on Medium, write a lot on Medium. Like every week. Some daily! I’m not capable of that. I’m using writing to think; that’s a slow process. I can get something out every month or two if I’m pushing it. So no big rush of new readers.
Second, the wtf demon that’s had me since 2016 is releasing its grip.
I’m finishing up the analysis phase of the Truth/Lies series. There will be a summary of thoughts so far, and I do need to write something about the political capture of the Southern Baptist Church. But I’m nearing a natural transition point.
So here’s what I’m going to do.
A piece on Medium by Cory Doctorow pointed to a way to solve my ‘slow but unsteady’ approach to writing: “…interesting stuff that crosses my path gets turned into a blog post where it rubs up against other interesting stuff and crystallizes into longer, more considered pieces” I’m going to try that. Pieces here will be short, tentative, and likely awkward. Things will appear on Medium as they mature or in the unlikely event that I end up writing something quick and fun (could happen, right?).
If you want to see the long stuff, you could Subscribe on Medium.
The latest piece and the first in 6 months is Drake’s Equation and You. If you think you’ve Subscribed but didn’t see it, then either it went to spam, or you Followed me rather than Subscribed.
(If you want to see all work by a writer on Medium remember: Follow bad; Subscribe good. Their system is confusing.)
I’ll add a teaser to the current work in progress below. See it here as sections get roughed out.
Thanks for reading, Al
We Need a Smaller Them
Emotional Truth, Political Lies — Our Plot So Far
There is no doubt that something has gone terribly wrong with the world. A very small percentage of its population do control the fates of almost everyone else, and they are doing it in an increasingly disastrous fashion. –Graeber and Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything (2021)
The neoliberal project was focused on designing institutions — not to liberate markets but to encase them, to inoculate capitalism against the threat of democracy. -Quinn Slobodian, Globalists (2018)
I have elsewhere presented the case that, to survive, we need a bigger Us. This presents the corollary: we need a smaller, more focused Them.
On November 6th, 2016, I was jolted out of my assumptions about our political landscape. Now hijacked, my attention has been focused on the contradictions of our weird political culture ever since. I’ve been reading and thinking, hoping to internalize the contradictions and write my way out. I’m part way there. This is my interim report.
Something odd is going on. Folks on the lower end of the economic spectrum have been consistently acting against their own interests — or so it seems to me. Clearly, they don’t see it that way.
Here are free links to things I’ve written over the last quarter. I always appreciate your thoughts and getting a critique of mine…best if you leave them on Medium but whatever works.
I’ve sorted them by topic. They are, alas, weighted towards political coverage. That was not my plan when I started writing on Medium but the topics won’t let me go. Things are just two effing weird. Someday we’ll get back to quantum theory, evolutionary biology, Carl Jung, sex, drugs, and rock & roll. Lighter stuff, you know.
Thanks for reading, Al
PS, Medium is weird. You can Follow me and it does pretty much nothing. Subscribe to get a note when I publish. That’ll be about once a month averaged out. Also, the Medium Clap button is not like Like. If you Clap, please hold it down and turn it up to 11!
PSS, I add a few folks from my address book whenever I’m about to send a Newsletter out. You might be one of those folks. If you don’t want to receive these, note the Unsubscribe at the bottom or just reply and I’ll remove you.
After noting that he liked to move around, see the shops, and meet people in any neighborhood he lived in, he described going to a house-warming party in New York in the late ’70s.
The taxi delivered him to an address in a bad neighborhood. He suspected he was at the wrong address until, arriving at the top floor, he found himself in a “multi-million dollar palace.” He asked the host if she liked the neighborhood? The reply: “Oh, the neighborhood? Well, that’s outside.”
Fascism sees its salvation in giving people not their rights, but instead a chance to express themselves. — Walter Benjamin
Richard Boone is one bad hombre
As a kid, I loved Westerns.
When I stayed with my grandparents, the big treat was being allowed to stay up and watch them. They featured exciting heroes doing manly deeds in a bland world of Laurence Welk variety shows and Father Knows Best sitcoms. In addition, as adult fare, they were shown past my official bedtime, and (bonus!) my mom didn’t like them. (Not sure why…probably her instinct against semi-toxic nonsense.)
Each show was a slow build to a quick resolution.
The Bad Guys telegraphed their Evil nature early, generally by bullying townspeople and disrespecting women, and then the show proceeded to reveal deeper menace and a counterforce of reaction and resistance with each character claiming their spot on the Good-To-Evil Continuum.The climax was always a Shootout in which Good triumphed, Evil received its due (death!), and the morally compromised were wounded or died heroically throwing in with Good in The End.
I’m certainly not in favor of bullying townspeople or disrespecting women but there are some problems with The Shootout as a template for conflict resolution or political action. Nonetheless, it seems to be one — as American as apple pie.
The objective of this piece is to work towards an operational definition of ‘smart’ and ‘stupid’. We’ll get philosophical about that in a bit.
We are in a crisis where great need seems to lead to stupid rather than smart action — as if we’re striving to break some surface but can’t tell up from down.
In this article, I will be analyzing one way things go astray — how emotional truth can become ensnared in political nonsense.
Before it became a drug name, the term ecstasy referred to an emotional state with religious overtones. An online definition, ‘powered by Oxford’, is “an emotional or religious frenzy or trancelike state, originally one involving an experience of mystic self-transcendence.”
Religious authors frequently reframe the word into ‘ex-stasis’ highlighting the break of stepping out of one’s static self and returning changed.This resolution of conflict through cinematic violence is a peculiarly American ecstasy. It embodies an archetype of change or conversion through a story of ‘action adventure’ in which a stand-out ‘liminal’ moment of violence resolves the conflict and gives all their due.
It’s an apocalypse that delivers utopia in a blaze of glory.
Revolution Is No Tea Party
Norman Cohen, in his classic The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, traces the appearance and development of ‘revolutionary millenarianism’ in the 14th century when the common people were set adrift by the crumbling authority of the Church in a world ravaged by the plague and famine.Millenarianism can be defined as a movement powered by the vision of a new order — specifically an egalitarian utopia — and the belief that there can be a glorious and immediate transformation to that state. (Cohen draws out some important distinctions between the different types of revolts and insurrections. We’ll return to that below.)I remember being puzzled when I first read Cohen some decades ago by the frequent jumps from imagined utopia to inter-communal violence. The egalitarian utopia wasn’t going to be equally distributed. Apparently, the route to a better future leads through the murder of Jews, or of a different variant of Christians, or the nobles, or some other flavor of not-us.
Time has clarified this for me. It’s central to the whole impulse:
Things are bad.
Someone must be responsible.
We are good people; we’re acting right; our intentions are pure.
Therefore (part 1), since the someone responsible isn’t Us. It must therefore be Them acting as a poison to the body politic.
Therefore (part 2), if we purge the poison, there will be a dramatic, sudden transformation to the good.
The psychodynamics and biochemistry of this are interesting and we’ll dig into that more in a future article. For now, we’ve pretty much described the underlying mental architecture of QAnon and the Capitol Insurrection: utopia delivered in an ecstasy of violence.
Back to Amerika
But before we go further, I’ll have to admit to having more than just a theoretical knowledge of this type of thinking.
Set the Wayback Machine to 1970: we’re in a world where our amazing planet is being destroyed by a system built on the systematic exploitation of everyday people and rooted in the genocide of First Peoples and the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans. We are being fed into the grinder in a war to satisfy some sort of tit-for-tat fantasy of Henry Kissenger’s. The deep state has infiltrated and disrupted resistance movements…even lowly food coops. Our leaders are being assassinated by lone gunmen or police raids. Our compatriots have been killed at Jackson State and Kent State. Old men posture with nuclear weapons when their use would clearly be insane in a “we found it necessary to destroy this village in order to save it” sort of way.
From this perspective, a small but intensely committed subset of the 60s/70s American left argued for acts of violence — not primarily because they would themselves have an impact but because they would crystalize awareness, show that resistance is possible, and lead to a mass uprising. This manifesto from the Weather Underground is worth a quick scan if only to note what has changed and what hasn’t: Prairie Fire (sds-1960s.org.)
Not everyone agreed that violence made sense, but the intensity of emotion created a pounding demand for some sort of action…not endless talk or compromise with the effing Hubert Humphrey liberals! Our lives were on the line. Things had to change. Now!
Hence, the idea of slow and steady progress seemed a slow and steady path to nowhere. Revolution seemed the only answer. Okay, Stalin was a bit iffy but Che or Lenin provided a beacon. And then along came Mao talking of ‘permanent revolution’. What could be cooler than that!Like John Lennon, you could count me out (and in) but the intent here is not to argue strategy. Certainly, uprisings and rebellions have led to progressive change and, certainly, they have backfired horribly.What I want to highlight, though, is the strong fantasy undercurrent of Revolution as the zipless fuck of progress. Transformations are quick; impact is unambiguous; consequences are as intended; evil is dispatched and good ascends. This constellation of ideas is a strange attractor in American politics.
That brings us to the modern American right.
What Were They Thinking
Followers of QAnon…believe that there is an imminent event known as the “Storm” when thousands of members of the cabal will be arrested and possibly sent to Guantanamo Bay prison or to face military tribunals, and the U.S. military will brutally take over the country. The result will be salvation and utopia on earth – WikipediaI’m now officially the dumbest guy in my whole family -QAnon follower on 1/21/21
There’s been enough ink on QAnon. QAnon’s theory in short: an evil deep-state cabal controls the country; Trump will lead a massive reset; time was running out so it had to happen on Inauguration Day, 2021.
If you’ve been out of the loop for the last 6 years, Wikipedia has it detailed for your reading enjoyment.
Since it involves less than a dozen specific well-chronicled individuals, the plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Whitman provides better grist for analysis. In short: the Wolverine Watchmen Militia consisting of less than a dozen members, meeting in secret at Adam Fox’s temporary living quarters in the cellar of the Vac Shack vacuum shop, planned to kidnap the Governor (because?), blow up a bridge to delay police pursuit (until?), and hole up somewhere (and?).
From there it gets a little vague:-) Missing were specific demands or a manifesto or a political program or tactics to connect the kidnapping to any sort of change. Various members railed against everything from gun laws (gun laws?— some of Wolverines had already shown up at the State Capitol with legal assault weapons), to COVID precautions, to deep state control, to motor vehicle laws. (Reform the DMV or the Governor gets it!)
As the reports of the plot continued to come in, I could only shake my head and keep asking, ”What were they thinking?”
Let’s see what one of the leaders of the Wolverine Watchman, Adam Fox, had to say (source Wikipedia):
In all honesty right now … I just wanna make the world glow, dude…. That’s what it’s gonna take for us to take it back
Snatch and grab, man. Grab the fuckin’ Governor. Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that, dude — it’s over.
Smart vs Stupid: Party Like It’s 1299
Norman Cohen pointed out a critical distinction between ineffective and effective social movements:
It is characteristic of this kind of movement that its aims and premises are boundless. A social struggle is seen not as a struggle for specific, limited objectives, but as an event of unique importance, different in kind from all other struggles known to history, a cataclysm from which the world is to emerge totally transformed and redeemed.
… in contrast…
How did the movements we have been considering stand in relation to other social movements? They occurred in a world where peasant revolts and urban insurrections were very common and moreover were often successful. It frequently happened that the tough, shrewd rebelliousness of the common people stood them in excellent stead, compelling concessions, bringing solid gains in prosperity and privilege.
Cohn, Norman. The Pursuit of the Millennium. Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
One key indicator of the difference is the ‘atemporality’ of misguided solutions. The aims are ‘boundless’ and the solution is a ‘cataclysm’ from which the world emerges ‘totally transformed and redeemed.’
A second indicator: there is no ambiguity. The vision is pure and complete; unintended consequences will be non-existent.
Thus, making change is not a process that unfolds like growing crops, or building a house, or baking a pie. It doesn’t require domain knowledge, or trial and error, or sustained focused work over months or years. We ‘ex-stasis’ out of a complicated world of brick-by-brick construction and fix it all in ‘cataclysm’ of ‘redemption.’As a story, this resonates. As a strategy, it fails spectacularly.
It’s worth noting that, since we’re working with myth, that we’re in some weird variant of the hero‘s story. The Wisconsin Wolverines clearly felt themselves to be defenders and protectors. But where Hercules had his dozen labors or, as Joeseph Campbell describes, a hero goes through stages of progressive struggle through time, here the whole story is collapsed. Everything gets fixed in a ‘blaze of glory.’
And that, in a sense, is what this series is all about: the disconnect between a deeply felt emotional impulse and an effective political program.
Emotional truth; political lies.
The Economic Truth
Life flows along the commonplace. – Carl Jung
Our current economy seems defined by the loss of a ‘meaningful commonplace’ for a huge swath of the population.
After Trump’s election, I did a deep dive into popular and academic literature trying to understand what had driven a result I did not understand…particularly the voting patterns in the upper Midwest and particularly where Obama voters that had become Trump voters.There are lots of ‘sufficient’ explanations for why Trump won. Many of them are correct. The result was ‘overdetermined’ — any of a variety of factors could explain the few votes that swung the election. Even non-voting by regular voters…the relative proportion of those too turned off to vote in this election but not in the previous…was enough to explain the result.
This doesn’t ignore the impact of evangelicals or the baleful influence of misogyny or White supremacy, but a few vote switches in just a very few states would have taken the election in a different direction. There were sufficient non-evangelical, non-misogynist, non-supremacist Trump voters to make the difference.
My finding: it wasn’t all that complicated. By and large, we’re fairly simple creatures. What folks wanted could be summarized pretty easily: a decent life — agency, respect, and a fair shake. Fifty years ago much of the White working-class could obtain that in the combination of occupation and their social capital rooted in their relationships in the church, club, union, etc.This good-enough commonplace has been steadily disrupted by the loss of jobs that might support a family and increasing economic polarization and disdain for those excluded from an economy that steadily distributes wealth upward. This has been exacerbated by disruptive technologies, globalization, and ever-accelerating ‘future shock’.
As in the times described by Norman Cohen, times of economic uncertainty, plague, and the collapse of normal meaning generation are steadily tightening the screws on everyday people. People suffer with increasingly lethal consequences. As a result, people can get a little crazy.
The Political Lies
But that craziness is being shaped and shaped in a way that directly mitigates against changing the conditions causing it. Instead of a meaningful program for change, we get ‘cosplay revolution with real bullets’. Neither the Capitol Insurrection nor kidnapping Gov Whitmer had a plan that would have created good jobs or a more inclusive economy. Our distress has been short-circuited into theater.
The call to action from the political podium, the pulpit, and Fox News ups emotional intensity but blurs focus on the material processes that underly our distress so that folks are tipped into a strange attractor of self-referential cathartic but ineffective action.
The number one factor breaking families is money…economics…but try telling that to Focus on the Family.
True and False; Smart and Stupid
Post-truth is pre-fascism…. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. – Timothy Snyder, Levin Professor of History, Yale
In part 1 of this series, we started to tally up what’s being spent to make us stupid. Here we define stupid operationally and quite simply.
Smart works toward an effective solution. Stupid action produces a non-solution or even mitigates against effective action.Telling them apart is occasionally difficult but sometimes simple. If you have a flat tire and you’re looking under the hood or you’re on a jihad to discover the evildoer who cursed your car, you’re going nowhere.
I’ll argue stupid action is clearly stupid if it has all 3 elements:
1) There’s a disconnect from facts on the ground.
One clue: an accurate analysis of any biological system, human behavior included, is always complicated. A story that refuses ambiguity or counter-evidence is at the very least incomplete.
You can’t easily jack yourself up to crazy action if there’s a chance your story might be wrong. A storyteller that gets more and more insistent without introducing additional analysis or evidence is likely heading down some rabbit hole (or running a con).
2) There’s a disconnect from effective action.
This can be caused by a misunderstanding or refusal of facts or simple political naivety. Without an informed political program, you’re simply flailing. Atemporal blaze-of-glory solutions with ‘boundless’ objectives are an invariant red flag.
3) There’s a call to action that highlights self-referential emotion release. In the cases we’re looking at here, that consists of a call to violence as transformative catharsis.
Gimee Some Truth
After decades of thinking about evolution, cognitive psychology, a few strains of philosophy, and the history of science, I increasingly believe that the closest we can get to Truth is the ability to take an action and have it achieve the predicted result.
Our politics is collapsing through the lack of it.
Effective action grounds itself in connection to what is actually there.
Make It Glow
Like a moth to the flame, Adam Fox had an image in his head. 100% intense; 100% ineffective. Emotional truth; political nonsense.
He didn’t arrive there by accident.
I don’t know that the path that led him astray was mapped in advance. Trump, for example, would fish for emotional responses and then build his narrative through iteration at repeated rallies.
A story just had to be ‘good enough’ to achieve the desired result: to tip us from effective action that might alter the current structures of power and oppression into an ineffective self-referential fugue.
Our stories of shootouts — violent cathartic transformations — provide archetypal draw… a strange-attractor into which an unmoored Adam Fox can be tipped to his and all our detriment.
Thanks for reading.
My mailing list and various projects can be found at altabor.org.
Premise – We Need to See What They Think They Have On Us
The intersection of innovations in data collection, tracking, and online advertising has created a novel situation in which the public is vulnerable to manipulation by unscrupulous advertisers and hostile foreign actors. In order for we as citizens to understand and take appropriate action, we need to start with an understanding of what information is being collected about us and how it is being used. From there it will be possible to tell what, if any, further regulation might be necessary. I, personally, think that this step should be all that’s needed.
We need a regulation paralleling the Fair Credit Reporting Act that allows us to discover 1) what data has been compiled on us and 2) who is using it and when.
This is particularly true for political advertising.
The companies that sell access to us including Facebook and Twitter, but, also, the Agencies that track our browsing history via cookies or feeds from our (now unregulated) Internet Providers need to make available information on what they are tracking about us and how it is being used. Continue reading Privacy and Data Protection Lobbying
We rely daily on science and it’s models to guide everything from what we eat, to the medicines we take, to the construction of the machines we use to get to work and back.
But are the models 100% certain? Are they True with a capital T?
That question misunderstands how science works.
There are all sorts of stories about how the world works.
If your story is going to be science you need to be able to use it to generate bets.
The bets need to be bets you can settle using something observable.
The outcome has to be defined clearly enough that all parties agree it settles the bet and are willing to pay up. Even folks that do not like your story have to admit you won the bet.
If your story productively generates enough bets and then wins those bets, your story is considered a ‘robust’ explanation of how things work.
Scientific Theories are the stories. They need to be able to generate Testable Hypothesis: the bets. Experiments test the hypothesis and declare the winner. Some theories win a lot.
We call the robust big winners ‘true’…but it’s more complicated.
Newton’s theories were incredibly robust until they got reframed by Einstein. Now they’re consider ‘true within limits.’ Big components, eg gravity itself, mean something very different to Einstein than to Newton.
Einstein’s Theories of Relativity are considered incredibly robust. And, along with most of physics (the most precise science we’ve got) there’s evidence that they’ll be reframed again within the next decade or three.
Net net, Newtonian mechanics aren’t ‘100% certain’…just true within the limits of our current understanding…but you bet your life on them every time you get in a car.
Science: being 25 years past my pre-science life expectancy, I’m a big fan!
The theory that we’re seeing potentially catastrophic human-caused climate change is, unfortunately, extremely robust at this point.
The models, also, point to ways we can mitigate that if we act in time.
Theories about climate change are contained in big models with precise mathematical relationships between the working parts. Globally there are 26 different research groups building competing climate models.
The models are in broad agreement on the big picture and are battling the fine points. On that front, they’re duking it out in peer reviewed journals for glory and funding. Yes, scientists do want glory and need funding. They are competing for attention and get glory and funding by winning bets, ie making accurate predictions. There’s an argument that this is harmful to the overall progress of science but, for now, winners win and losers lose.
It’s easier to shrug off the scientific evidence for climate change if you don’t dig into the modeling. This article from Bloomsberg Business Week, “What’s Really Warming the World?”, shows the detail and complexity being modeled better than anything else I’ve read. I think it makes the evidence much more compelling.
A final observation: if you do not have a model that’s winning bets against the others then you haven’t made table stakes. I don’t care if you’re some yahoo on talk radio or Freeman Dyson, one of my heroes.
I’ve been trying in this essay to stay carefully neutral on the Right / Left thing although I’ll cheerfully admit to being on the Left.
One has to ask why Russia supports alt-right movements not just in the US but across a broad range of Western democracies?
Russia, which views open societies and functioning democracies as a threat.
A point of interest is the easy alignment between Russian oligarchs and Republican operatives. (Although, I’m not sure both sides have the same level of insight into what it is they’re doing.)
Quite frankly, when the Soviet Union went away and Bush the First declared a peace dividend, I figured Republican Party would dissolve and that most Democrats and Republican’s would peel off into some center right party leaving me and those of like mind happily occupying the fringe Left. Having to be moderate is really not much fun.
I underestimated the Republican big wigs.
If the core mission of your party is making the rich richer, you need tricks to get elected. Fear and sowing division are the most effective tricks. I watched in amazement as the Republicans, post Soviet Union, pulled boogie after boogie out of their hat starting with gay guys in San Francisco and ending now apparently with an UN/US secret agreement to round up patriots and take their AK-47s.
Well, the GOP should be happy. The Rooskies are back, big time…but they seem to be on the side of the Republicans. Life is weird.
PS, not all Republicans are big wigs, of course, particularly in South Dakota where I grew up.
30 years ago I considered the Republicans the party of choice for folks I enjoyed arguing with about the appropriate role and size of public sector.
At this point, given their more or less complete capture by the oil industry, the GOP has morphed into an existential threat to the human species. I’m hoping my friends on the right are noticing that.
4) Data Point: Manipulating the Emotional Environment
Text and images below from The Agency, Adrian Chen, New York Times Magazine.
On 9/11/2014, the Columbian Chemical plant near Centerville, LA, appeared to have exploded.
Locals received text messages: “Toxic fume hazard warning in this area until 1:30 PM. Take Shelter. Check Local Media and columbiachemical.com.”
Hundreds of Twitter accounts were documenting a disaster right down the road. “A powerful explosion heard from miles away happened at a chemical plant in Centerville, Louisiana #ColumbianChemicals,” a man named Jon Merritt tweeted.
The #ColumbianChemicals hashtag was full of eyewitness accounts of the horror in Centerville. @AnnRussela shared an image of flames engulfing the plant. @Ksarah12 posted a video of surveillance footage from a local gas station, capturing the flash of the explosion. Others shared a video in which thick black smoke rose in the distance.
Dozens of journalists, media outlets and politicians, from Louisiana to New York City, found their Twitter accounts inundated with messages about the disaster.
Some included screenshots of CNN’s home page, showing that the story had already made national news.
ISIS had claimed credit for the attack, according to one YouTube video; in it, a man showed his TV screen, tuned to an Arabic news channel, on which masked ISIS fighters delivered a speech next to looping footage of an explosion.
In December of 2014 the same accounts touted a fake Ebola disaster at the Atlanta, GA, airport. Simultaneously, a different set of accounts began spreading a rumor that an unarmed black woman had been killed by police again in Atlanta.
Again, the attention to detail was remarkable, suggesting a tremendous amount of effort. A YouTube video showed a team of hazmat-suited medical workers transporting a victim from the airport. Beyoncé’s recent single “7/11” played in the background, an apparent attempt to establish the video’s contemporaneity. A truck in the parking lot sported the logo of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
On the same day as the Ebola hoax, a totally different group of accounts began spreading a rumor that an unarmed black woman had been shot to death by police. They all used the hashtag #shockingmurderinatlanta. Here again, the hoax seemed designed to piggyback on real public anxiety; that summer and fall were marked by protests over the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
5) Social Cohesion defined and some insight into it’s dynamics.
A great place to start is Peter Turchin’s War and Peace and War, particularly Chapter 8: “The Bowling Alley in History: Measuring the Decline in Social Capital”. He considers various definitions of social cohesion, what he terms asabiya, and an provides as an example an eye-opening look at the quite different societies of northern vs southern Italy.
What is being discussed is the degree to which all members of a society assume common purpose.
What are measures of disaffection? What’s the assumed social contract and how widely is it shared? What happens to societies when common purpose dissolves or is destroyed?
Amazon’s paragraph book summary does a decent job: “The main driver of inequality—returns on capital that exceed the rate of economic growth—is again threatening to generate extreme discontent and undermine democratic values.”
Quoted in the New Yorker, “Piketty notes, the level of inequality in the United States is ‘probably higher than in any other society at any time in the past, anywhere in the world.’
6) = (The Long Playing Version of 12) —
The Counterforce: Where They Attack, We Defend
A longer list of Counterforce possibilities
A Legislative First Step
To get a grasp on this we need some immediate transparency.
We currently have the right to see our credit data and when it is used. It is no less vital to know when some enterprise is selling our stats to advertisers. We need the ability to find out ‘what they have on us’ and how they’re using it …particularly since it seems pretty easy for anyone, no matter how fucked up their purpose, to purchase ad space embedded in our social stream.
Making this information available to each of us individually would be the most effective engine of change. We could see how and why we were targeted and by whom. It would have the advantage letting us take subsequent steps from an informed position.
There’s Legislation in Europe that does this but not in the US.
California, Massachusetts, or New York would be great places to start. Let’s race!
Assume that the enemy’s key attack point is where they see or most significant vulnerability. They’re primarily attacking solidarity, looking to create hopelessness, and dissolve the type of social cohesion that leads us to seek broad solutions. The Russian operations are teaching us that these are key points to defend.
Strengthen the Tribe; Build Bridges
Since the enemy’s key attack point is where they see our most significant vulnerability and they’re primarily attacking solidarity…trying to dissolve the type of social cohesion that leads us to seek broad collective solutions…that is where we defend.
First we can take the easy step of defending by strengthening the tribe to buffer it against future fractures. Take the time to cultivate your real world connection with friends and family. We’re a tribal species. This part is essential to our cultural, collective, and individual health and it is the antidote to letting ourselves be driven into isolated hopelessness and become ineffective cultural and political actors.
Then comes the hard part: building bridges. This requires us to assume common ground with folks where that assumption can seem a stretch. Yet there are folks of decent intent on all sides of most issues and, important to note, while the most extreme examples of a position are the most visible, they’re not the most numerous.
70% of the folks on any particular ‘side’ have a nuanced and rational position that is open to dialog, and an instinct to meet folks halfway. The concept of ‘sides’ is in itself non-helpful. Most folks likely agree with you on other significant political and cultural issues even if they go another route on some. (We might want to save putting effort into the other 30% until a bit down the road:-).
Let’s make a pact to assume we’re all good guys until we’ve figured out a way to frustrate the enemy. They want us at each other throats. Once we’ve got that out of the way we can go back to being amazed at how misguided everyone else is.
The social media post or news item that disgusts, outrages, or depresses you might be designed to do precisely that. In fact, it probably is, whether the intent is your demoralization or simply getting clicks. Awareness of that can help. It is likely going forward that the more effective you are, the more you’ll be a target.
Here and in the point below, disrupt your initial reaction. Disconnect, take a walk, sit zazen, wait 24 hours before hitting send…then act.
Everyone loves outrage. Heck, I love outrage. The Right uses it as motor. The Left likes a good wallow. Without getting into ego, politics, and contaminated emotion, I think we need to give it up. It’s been eaten by the Grey Goo! It hurts us as it pretends to provide value. We are more manipulable but not more politically effective. It dissolves opportunities for common ground and erodes dialog.
Seek Unmediated Experience
It can be a beautiful thing to dance all night in an evil time.
– Micheal Ventura, Shadow Dancing in the USA
If the information flow is manipulating you, get out of the flow. This is part signal jamming and part reset. Look for the things that give us back to ourselves: nature, dance, art, ‘non-ordinary’ experiences that take us out and then return us more complete, communal cooking, nature, friends / connections…to each their own. Anything done with a tribe gets bonus points.
The articles in section 2 above give pointers. Here’s another resource:
Yet science is the best engine we have for separating the wheat from the chaff. Being 25 years past what would be my likely pre-science expiration date, I’m a big fan of science.
The key is a better understanding of how science works as a grand long-term project, i.e. go with skepticism but avoid ignorance. I’ve got a more extended look at that here. Hint, a deeper look at how science works and the models behind climate science make it pretty clear that ‘climate skepticism’ is mostly ignorance and not honest informed skepticism.
Big Boat Religion
In a world of Us vs Them there are clear religious mandates for broad inclusiveness…at least in the religions I know enough about to offer comment. Christianity’s core is (should be) love God and love your neighbor…with a clear Big Boat definition of neighbor. (I consider the use of Christianity as a tool of division to be blasphemy.) Mahayana Buddhism is almost literally Big Boat religion and seeks the enlightenment of all sentient beings. More recent religious geniuses such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King tell us that no one is free until all are free.
Considering our survival now depends on our finding broad common cause with all sentient beings, they might just have had a point.
1) First, I need to rethink how I think about political strategy.
2) I am struck by the paradox at the core of the WWC’s economic situation.
3) There’s a massive amount of misinformation that provides the context for most decisions in America politics.