Category Archives: Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The Online Double-bind

The trap was set at least twenty-five years ago and the mice jumped at the smell of the cheese.  I am referring to the introduction of the computer as a mass necessity and the Internet that followed. I was slow to enter the trap, “forced” finally in 2007 by the college where I was teaching. Up to that point I was just a member of The Lead Pencil Club, whose motto was “a speed bump on the information superhighway” and whose membership list numbered twenty-three and a half people worldwide. When I slowly and reluctantly reached for the cheese, the trap snapped not on my neck to finish me, but on my head that was half in and half out.  The out part kept thinking.  What follows are that half-head’s musings on why I didn’t follow my intuition, the whole damn sorry situation we are all in, and what we might do to spring the trap and run free.  I don’t like this trapped feeling.  And, by the way, the cheese was American, which is not exactly real cheese.

In 1960 the sociologist C. Wright Mills said that there was far too much information for people to assimilate and make sense of and that lucid summations were needed.  He was echoing Thoreau who in 1854 said, “If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?” Mills said people needed to develop what he called the sociological imagination that would allow them to condense and simplify news and to connect personal and social matters within historical and structural contexts.

That was the long-lost era of newspapers, long-form paper magazines, the reading of books, and minimal television stations.  To think that there was far too much information then can only make one laugh, now that the digital revolution has buried us in data, information, and “breaking news” at warp speed, usually contradictory and lacking context.  The internet has literally made people crazy, created schizoid or split personalities who don’t know whether they are coming or going or what world they are in, physical or virtual.  This is the era of social schizophrenia.  It is also the era of Covid-19 lockdowns when a far greater online life is promoted as the necessary future.

If people once felt that all the information was too confusing and they were ending up thinking and doing things ass-backwards as a result, back then they might have understood it if you told them that the only way you can do anything is ass-backwards.  Today, many would probably greet you with a look of bewilderment as they googled it to see if there was a way to swivel their asses to the front to get adjusted to the way they feel while waiting online for clear directions to emerge.  Which way does an ass go?

They will be waiting for a long, long time.

The Internet is a double-bind because we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. News, writing, and information of all sorts is now often not available any other way. The era of paper newspapers is coming to an end. This was meant to be. Other sources of fact and fiction have gradually been eliminated, while the content on the Internet has been dramatically increased and progressively censored. The dream of an open Internet is turning into a nightmare. If you look at the Internet’s  creation and development by the U.S. military-intelligence-Silicon Valley network as a tool for social control, propaganda, and total spying, if you grasp this nexus and their intentions, you will come away realizing that the Internet and the total integrated digital world is a dystopian tool designed to make you crazy.  To sow confusion and endless contradictory information from minute to minute. To “flood the zone” (see Event 201) with propaganda and disinformation. To give you a headache, keep you agitated, and destroy your genuine human experience in the physical world. To put you into a state of frenetic passivity while whispering in your ear that there is no escape, while allowing elements of truth to emerge to keep you addicted.

This is the double-bind. It is what Jacques Ellul in 1964 called the technological society that is ruled by technique in every aspect of its life.  Technique is a way of thinking that emphasizes efficiency; it is a way of thinking that emphasizes order and standardized means to a predetermined end.  It is rational, deliberate, and focused on results.  It is a way of thinking that has penetrated deep into the psychic structures of society and opposes spontaneity and unreflective action.  Machines grow out of technical thinking, and today the computer, the internet, and artificial intelligence are the ideal manifestations of such thinking.  They are the result, not the cause.  As such, digital technology satisfies the technical mindsets that have been created over the decades, which includes regular people who have been gradually softened up to believe these machine dreams.  Efficiency, results, practicality, and speed. The human body as a wonderful machine.

We have all been so conditioned, even those of us old enough to have lived before the computer era. Starting particularly in the early 1990s with the rat-a-tat electronic frenzy of the U.S. televised aggressive war against Iraq, euphemistically called the Gulf War and presented live with round-the-clock television coverage by ghoulish announcers more excited than 13-year-old boys with a porn magazine, the speed of everyday life has increased.  If you lived through those years and were sensitive to the social drift, you could feel the pace of life pick up year-to-year, as everyone was induced to get in the fast lane.  On the information superhighway, it is the only lane.  Paul Virilio, a French thinker, has focused on this issue of speed in his studies of dromology, from dromos: a race, running.  While his language is perhaps too academic, his insights are profound, as with the following point:

The speed of the new optoelectronic and electroacoustic milieu becomes the final void (the void of the quick), a vacuum that no longer depends on the interval between places or things and so on the world’s extension, but on the interface of an instantaneous transmission of remote appearances, on a geographic and geometric retention in which all volume, all relief vanishes.

This is the world of teleconferencing and the online life, existence shorn of physical space and time and people.  A world where shaking hands is a dissident act. A haunted world of specters, words, and images that can appear and disappear in a nanosecond.  A magic show. A place where, in the words of Charles Manson, you can “get the fear,” where fear is king.  A locus where, as we sit at home “sheltering in place,” we are no longer there.  Ernest Hemingway sniffed the future when in The Sun Also Rises, he has the protagonist Jake Barnes say no to Robert Cohn, who wants him to travel to South America with him, with these words: “All countries look like the moving pictures.”  That was 1926.

Things have changed a wee bit since then. But the essence of propaganda and social control remains the same.  “All those people who seek to control the behavior of large numbers of other people work on the experiences of those other people,” wrote R.D. Laing, in The Politics of Experience. “Once people can be induced to experience a situation in a similar way, they can be expected to behave in similar ways.”  Mystification takes place when people can be convinced that a social construction – e.g. the Internet and the digital life – is part of “the natural order of things,” like the air we breathe.  And that life online is real life, better and more real than physical existence.

I believe the digital revolution has gone a long way toward destroying our experience as persons. It is the endless magical mystery tour that goes nowhere.  It is the ultimate psychodrama conjured by a satanic magician.

Do I exaggerate?  Perhaps.  But how else explain the spell this medium has cast on billions of people worldwide?  Did the human race suddenly get smart?  Or are many more people crazy?

I ask myself this question, and now I ask you.  Has the Internet and the devices to access it made your life better or worse? Has it made the life of humanity better or worse? Has its essential role in globalization made for a better world?

Obviously, there are pluses to the Internet, just as there are pluses to almost everything.  I don’t deny that. The plus side of death is that the thought of it reminds you that you are alive. The plus side of television is you don’t have to turn it on. Like you, I could rattle off many good things about the Internet (not cell phones, sorry).  But on the scale of good and bad, where do you come down?  Where do I?

Or is it possible we can’t decide because we are too conflicted and caught in a double-bind?

I am of two minds, or more accurately, two half-heads.  The upper part, pinned in the trap and dead to my situation, can only answer yes, sir, now that I am trapped, my life is better.  I can debate endlessly the minutiae of every issue thrown out like pieces of meat for caged lions.  I can check the weather forecast for every hour of every day of the week, even though I know they will probably be wrong.  I can get directions even though I know you don’t need a director to know which way the roads go.  I can research issues quickly and pontificate as if I were an expert on every matter from a to z.  I can feel I am informed while feeling deformed by the contradictory information that appears and disappears every few minutes.  Essentially, I can feel in-touch and worthy of respect from friends and neighbors because I can exchange empty words with them about nothing.  I can feel so very normal and rejoice in that.  I can feel sane.

On the negative side, well, my lower half-head, the one that’s still thinking lead-pencil thoughts, the slow and easy stuff, the calm cool breeze oh what a lovely day dreams – you don’t really need to hear what it has to bitch about the Internet.  You can probably guess.

In a fine article, “Vicious Cycles: Theses on a philosophy of news,” in Harper’s Magazine, Greg Jackson writes the following about our addiction to so-called “news” (the Internet):

When we turn away from the news, we will confront a startling loneliness.  It is the loneliness of life.  The loneliness of thinking, of having no one to think for us, and of uncertainty.  It is a loneliness that was always there but that was obscured by an illusion, and we will miss the illusion…. And we will miss tuning in each day to hear that voice that cuts boredom and loneliness in its solution of the present tense, that like Scheherazade assures us the story is still unfolding and always will be.  I don’t know whether we can give it up.

Nor do I.

Proposed Federal “Distance Learning” Rules Help Big Tech Shut Down Brick-and-Mortar Public Schools, Replace Human Teachers with AI

The DeVos Department of Education’s new “Proposed Rules” for federal regulations of “Distance Education and Innovation” (85 FR 18638) will effectively open the floodgates for online education corporations to put public brick-and-mortar schools out of business by streamlining “adaptive-learning and other artificial intelligence” technologies that replace “human instructors” with “competency-based education (CBE)” software which provide “direct assessment” through “subscription-based” courseware that data-mine students’ cognitive-behavioral algorithms to “personalize” digital lessons.

What Is Computerized CBE? No More Classrooms, No More “Credit Hours”

As I have documented in several articles, “CBE” is a euphemism for educational methods that deploy computer modules based on Harvard Psychologist B. F. Skinner’s “teaching machines,” which implement operant-conditioning methods to “shape” student learning into “competent” behaviors geared toward college or career readiness. The terms “competency-based education” and “CBE” are used 147 times in the new Proposed Rules for 85 FR 18638, which is a total of 64 pages long. Compare this to the 392-pages of federal legislation that cover the entire Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which only contains 6 references to “competency-based education.”

According to Skinnerian CBE advocates, competency-based computer learning at home is better than human instruction in a classroom because the one-to-one student/computer ratio enables each student to learn at his or her own pace. 85 FR 18638 states “CBE programs . . . measure student progress based on their demonstration of specific competencies rather than sitting in a seat or at a computer for a prescribed period of time. Many CBE programs are designed to permit students to learn at their own pace.” Stated differently, when a student enrolled in CBE courseware is ready to move on to the next lesson, he or she can click on the next learning module without having to wait for the teacher to deliver the next lecture. And if a CBE student is not ready to move on to the next virtual lesson, he or she can remediate by repeating the same digital learning module without being “left behind” when the teacher moves on to the next lecture.

“Subscription-Based” Distance Learning, Pay-as-You-Go

To facilitate “self-paced” CBE learning, online education corporations and other software companies are offering “subscription-based” e-learning services that enroll students on a pay-as-you-go basis. These self-paced CBE courses allow a student to “subscribe” for enrollment into virtual-learning modules which can be rolled over with monthly subscription fees for as long or as soon as it takes for the student to demonstrate “competency” in the course.

Now that basically every US school has converted to virtual “distance learning” through computers, 85 FR 18638 is attempting to loosen federal requirements for self-paced CBE courseware so that online education corporations can rake in federal funding for delivering more subscription-based “competency” lessons through digital platforms:

Current regulations require an institution to evaluate a student’s pace of completion by dividing completed credits over attempted credits. This calculation is difficult to apply in competency-based programs, including subscription-based programs, because there is often no set period of time during which a student “attempts” a competency in such programs; rather, the student works on a competency until he or she can demonstrate mastery of it. Given the limitations in this proposed definition on a student’s eligibility to receive additional disbursements [of federal funds], we believe it is unnecessary and needlessly burdensome for an institution’s SAP policy to include pace requirements for subscription-based programs.

In other words, these new (de)regulations will relax the legal requirements for online education corporations to receive federal funds, such as financial aid grants, as payments for students’ CBE subscription fees. It should be noted that “subscription-based” e-learning is referenced 112 times in these new Proposed Rules.

Adaptive Learning = Post-Human Artificial Intelligence

As I have documented in numerous articles, self-paced CBE subscriptions and “adaptive-learning” software basically go hand in hand. CBE “courseware” subscriptions “personalize” lessons for students through “adaptive-learning” computers, which are nothing less than modern digitalized versions of the “Skinner box,” or “teaching machine.” Adaptive-learning software revamps B. F. Skinner’s “programmed instruction” with “artificial intelligence” that automates “stimulus-response” methods of educational psychology to train students for academic and career “competences.”

Essentially, adaptive-learning courseware enables “self-paced” learning because the psychological-conditioning software “adapts” its lessons based on how the student “responds” to the virtual “stimuli,” such as multiple-choice or short-answer modules on digital windows. The faster the student responds with correct answers, the faster the learning stimuli will progress the student towards full “competence” at the end of the subscription-based course’s module sequence.

Incentivizing broader enrollment in subscription-based adaptive-learning courseware, 85 FR 18638 expands the definition of accreditable “academic engagement” as “participation by a student in . . . an online course with an opportunity for interaction or an interactive tutorial, webinar, or other interactive computer-assisted instruction.  . . . Such interaction could include the use of artificial intelligence or other adaptive learning tools.” Under this revised definition of “academic engagement,” schools will be given expanded flexibility to accredit a vast range of self-paced CBE curriculums delivered by online education companies through adaptive-learning AI that programs students with operant-conditioning algorithms.

Moreover, “academic engagement” is being further expanded to give adaptive CBE courseware the green light to phase out certain requirements for human instruction: “[a]ctive engagement . . . could include the use of artificial intelligence or other adaptive learning tools so that the student is receiving feedback from technology-mediated instruction. The interaction need not be exclusively with a human instructor.” Indeed, adaptive AI can deliver “feedback” on student learning through “direct assessment,” which is referenced 226 times in the new Proposed Rules.

Of course, in a bankrupt economy where people are locked down under emergency pandemic pretenses, such adaptive AI courseware will be more convenient since the software can be available for the student 24-hours a day (unlike a human teacher). In addition, the non-human AI bots will be much cheaper than human instructors who need to be fed and housed. So it looks like the proposed (de)regulations will set up incentives which will ensure that the virtual-learning industry is able to swallow up federal education funds while public brick-and-mortar schools and human teachers are starved out into obsolescence.

Sweeping Deregulation of Artificial Intelligence: AI Will Make Decisions for You

To be sure, AI adaptive-learning algorithms are evolving faster than legislators can deliberate on new regulations for such new “machine learning” innovations. Thus, to get out of the way of “progress,” 85 FR 18638 is basically writing a blank check for AI corporations to sell schools and students new e-learning products and ed-tech “updates” without preliminary regulatory permission from the federal government:

[t]he current regulations [which] do not address subscription-based programs or consider programs made possible through artificial intelligence-driven adaptive learning.  . . . Because of the time it takes to implement new regulations, it is unlikely that the Department will be able to keep pace with developing technologies and other innovations in real time. These proposed regulations attempt to remove barriers that institutions face when trying to create and implement new and innovative ways of providing education to students, and also provide sufficient flexibility to ensure that future innovations we cannot yet anticipate have an opportunity to move forward without undue risk of a negative program finding or other sanction on an institution.

To put it another way, AI-learning algorithms evolve faster than legislators can regulate, so these new federal rules will “remove barriers” to AI ed-tech progress by allowing educational institutions the “flexibility” to rubber stamp new AI courseware programs without prior regulatory approval from the US Department of Ed.

But if the federal government allows AI ed-tech to develop faster than Congress can regulate, then the Department of Ed will render itself into a mere ceremonial bureaucracy that has abdicated its authority to AI algorithms, which means artificial intelligence will be in the driver’s seat taking control of the future of education policy as virtual distance learning becomes the mainstream mode of schooling in a post-corona economy.

It should be noted that Edgar McCulloch, who is a Government Relations representative of the IBM Corporation, sat on the “Accreditation and Innovation negotiating committee” involved in the proposal of these new federal rules. This is worth noting because IBM develops AI ed-tech through its Watson artificial-intelligence program which partners with the globalist Pearson Education LLC: the “world’s largest education company,” which also runs online schooling companies including Connections Academy.

How much stimulus money will be vacuumed up by online education corporations and AI courseware companies under these new federal rules? Will brick-and-mortar schools be able to survive in a post-corona economy in which people are either heavily travel restricted or too poor to pay for school buildings and human employees? Will human teachers, or even human ethics, survive in a world in which the total deregulation of technocratic advancement exalts AI as the judge, jury, and executioner of human learning?

The Rise and Fall of the Work Society

The victories of Bernie Sanders in the early primaries had people talking about socialist revolutions, while Biden’s wins on Super Tuesday (in largely conservatives states) have tempered that enthusiasm.  This is an important reminder of something we all need to remember:  The Capitalists already won.  There may still be a few scattered enclaves of subsistence farmers and indigenous peoples who haven’t been forced to pay to exist, but in the West they won a long time ago.  That victory has been so complete that we don’t even notice anymore.  It’s completely normal to us to rent our lives away to “earn a living.”  Faced with a such world, few can even ask how we got here, let alone how to fight it.

It started with Protestantism, or more specifically with John Calvin.  Ignoring that Bible quote about camels through the eye of a needle, he preached that wealth was a sign of God’s favor and therefore the wealthy were virtuous and moral.  In contrast, the poor were immoral and lazy (despite the fact that any poor person can testify to how much work being poor requires).  This led directly to the Protestant Work Ethic, and the idea that hard work could make anyone rich.

It was a mindset that well served the farmers and craftsmen of the era.  But that was not enough for the factory owners and the rising capitalist class of the time.  They needed people to work for them.  Most people were content with self-sufficient agrarian lifestyles.  Which is why the capitalists pressured governments to enact a series of laws to push peasants off the land and into the cities and factories, events often known as the Enclosure of the Commons.  This is not to say peasant life was utopian, it was not, but it did allow for a certain degree of independence.  People were then stripped of the means of that self-sufficiency, forced into the cities and the factories with only their labor to sell.  Patrick Colquhoun1 explained it in the late 18th century: “It [poverty] is the lot of man. It is the source of wealth, since without poverty, there could be no labour; there could be no riches, no refinement, no comfort, and no benefit to those who may be possessed of wealth.

It was there in the cities and factories that people began to think of themselves as Workers.  Capitalists secured their victory with various strategies that usually came down to destruction or cooption to make sure that people never think of themselves as anything other than workers, and we started paying to exist.  This was when the capitalists won.  In the centuries following, the world has been reorganized as a Work Society, with all social interaction revolving around labor.   Today, political pundits often speak of “workers” and the “working class” in the abstract.  Look at nearly any TV show, comedy or drama, and see how many of them revolve around the workplace.  Even the current buzzphrase “Work-Life Balance” places work first.  But “Worker” is a performative identity: workers must work.  In such a society, the providers of work will always have the advantage.  Labor may demand better working conditions, better hours and above all, better pay.  They may even organize workers’ political parties almost everywhere except in the United States) but beneath it all, they demand to work.

With jobs the be all and end all of demands, the best many of these workers now hope for is to change roles, move up in the Worker Hierarchy from Worker to Boss.  Unfortunately, this dovetails with a fascist mentality.  As Wilhelm Reich described it2: “The subjugated “little man” who desires authority and rebels against it at the same time.”  This means the potential for fascism remains latent in any Work Society.

But even capitalism’s favorite bogeyman, communism, is at its heart based around the idea of Human as Worker (i.e. the Proletariat).  The Worker identity was too strongly established in the industrialized countries so successful communist revolutions happened in countries that had no longstanding history with Protestantism (more specifically Calvinism), and more importantly, had large peasant populations.  Like our ancestors in the West, these peasants were in no way eager to accept poverty as the “lot of man.” And no matter how much they hated their feudal overlords (whose arrogance and abuse of power often sparked the revolutions in the first place), they did not wish to give up a self-sufficient way of life for waged labor, a condition that for centuries was regarded as little better than slavery.  In the end, many of the communist countries attempted to industrialize their people which meant forcing a worker identity upon them anyway, and often led to catastrophe.

This points to the contradiction at the heart of the Work Society.  Despite training us to see ourselves as workers, to capitalists labor is a cost to be reduced so that they may maintain their profits.  Always seeking to reduce those costs, they eagerly downsize and force less workers to do more.  That gives them a pool of surplus labor, makes workers so easily replaceable, plays factions of workers off against each other and keeps wages down.

Since the beginning, capitalists have been investing in technological innovation to increase labor power and further extend profits.  The problem, however, is that technological development and automation makes Labor more redundant than simply downsizing.  Up until now, this resulted in shifting workers from one occupation to another.  But recent developments in automation and Artificial Intelligence threaten workers to the point of irrelevancy. The Work Society is beginning to break down and workers are faced with a crisis of identity:  When workers cannot work, what then are they?  Neither labor nor capitalists are prepared to answer to that question.  Capitalists don’t want to lose their exploited slaves and laborer faces the fear of losing their identity (in addition to losing their livelihoods).  This threatens to overturn the very foundations of the Work Society.  Like any threatened system, it will fight to survive, and it has several strategies to do just that.

First, capitalists continue their old “divide and conquer” strategy of playing workers off against each other, this time including migrants and refugees into the mix.  Then they pay off their sycophants in government to unleash a full-throated neoliberalism in an attempt to turn the clock back to the Gilded Age.  A newer strategy is to blur the line between life and work by expanding the Work Society into more of people’s lives in order to marketize and monetize every aspect of it.  Under the trendy name of the “gig economy” they tell us how we can all profit by driving for Uber, renting our homes out on AirB&B and producing endless amounts of online “content” in what is essentially cyberbegging.  All in a quest to make ourselves ever more sellable, because if we can no longer be Workers, they would make us into Products.

But there is another more dangerous stopgap.  When faced with crises, combined with economic stress, the latent fascist tendencies will remerge.  Fascism is an emergency reaction of the Work Society as it tries to reorient itself to new circumstances.  We have seen it before, such as the defeat of Germany in the aftermath of WWI and the Great Depression in the previous century.  Similar conditions have appeared with the Crash of 2008 combined with increased automation and outsourcing in the labor market.  This time, even fascism may not save the Work Society as fascism is no more equipped to stop what’s coming than the previous order.

This is the world as it stands now.  There is a saying that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.  Capitalism (and Work Society) is the dominant global system to which There Is No Alternative, in the words of Margaret Thatcher.  With the fall of the Soviet Union, our capitalist ruling classes have even deluded themselves to believe that we live in the End of History.  However, there’s another old saying we should heed: “Those whom Gods destroy, they first make mad with power.”  In the madness of seeing the world only in this context with no alternatives accepted, capitalists have set up themselves (and the rest of us) to face an Outside Context Problem.  The Scottish author Iain M. Banks3 described the Outside Context Problem as something that: “…most civilizations would encounter just once, and which they tended to encounter rather in the same way a sentence encountered a full stop.”

Climate change is our Outside Context Problem.  It is a problem created by the capitalists, no matter how much they try to foist the blame on individuals for simply trying to survive in the society they created.  Once again, the capitalists have pulled out their usual bag of tricks: destruction and cooption.  Yet climate change cannot be killed, bought out, or paid off (even if those fighting against it can be).  Even bribing politicians to send in the military has brought chaos and suffering, but has not stopped the problem.  The desire to take on climate change directly is all but impossible because the US treats energy as an American monopoly (OPEC countries hold their reserves in the form of US securities).  Any attempt to mitigate climate change by decreasing fossil fuel use is regarded as a threat to US interests.  Forbidden to confront the very nature of the problem (unlimited growth on a finite planet), it is no surprise that many now are falling back on denial.  They say that this is just a bump that requires a few tweaks and not a world encountering a paradigmatic shift.  They sit back and trust in a technological solution to save us and continue on as before.

What it boils down to is this: in the coming years there is a choice to be made, either we continue down the road of misery we are on to destruction and possible extinction, or we make some very deep fundamental changes to our society.  Not just tweaks and marketing slogans like Sustainable Growth or Green Capitalism, but questioning capitalism and abandoning the Work Society and other changes so profound that they almost literally cannot be imagined in our current mindset.

Maybe it’s too late, and we have already destroyed ourselves.  And for people who see themselves as nothing more than workers, maybe extinction is a mercy.  But in the end if we do survive, we will have to rediscover what is is to be fully human and remember what we were before we allowed ourselves to be convinced that we were only workers.

  1. A Treatise on Indigence: Exhibiting a General View of the National Resources, 1806
  2. Listen, Little Man, 1971
  3. Excession, 1996

Moderately Liberal, Extremely Dystopian: Establishment Democrats and Big Brained Centrism

As we approach the middle of March 2020 with Super Tuesday behind us, the moderate candidacy of Joe Biden has gained momentum, notching ten victories. The recent spat of moderate candidates dropping out (Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Bloomberg, Steyer) alongside Elizabeth Warren’s decision to stay in for Super Tuesday (and dropping out right after) boosted Biden into the lead in delegate count, but it is unclear going forward whether he will be able to gain ground or maintain his advantage.

His campaign is essentially a redux of Hillary Clinton’s in 2016, a dystopian offering of neoliberal establishment ideas: essentially the most harmful, bland, out-of-touch, uninspiring, and ignorant set of centrist policies. Biden offers nothing new, substantial, or exciting; and he himself stated to donors last year that “nothing would fundamentally change” under his presidency. By continuing to go with “moderate”, centrist agendas, the Democratic Party establishment, corporate America, and mainstream media reveal they would rather lose to Trump than get behind the progressive choice, Bernie Sanders.

Support for Bernie Sanders is strong across all national polling, yet in past debates, his moderate rivals continued to shoot themselves in the foot by offering up the most ridiculous arguments against progressive causes. Regardless of his success, Biden has learned nothing and absorbed no lessons from his fellow moderates’ failures or the excitement and promise offered by the progressive wing of his party. He is a living fossil. Like his corporate-backed counterpart moderates, his whole shtick is based on presenting himself as the lesser of two evils, offering the most milquetoast set of policies, and attempting to make voters fearful of Sanders’ incremental reforms by casting them as socialist and authoritarian.

By representing Sanders’ social democratic policies as “dangerous” as well as his supporters as being rude on social media because they actually care and are passionate about changing the direction of this country, the centrist hydra of campaign rhetoric and establishment media devolved into offering an infantile, McCarthyite debating style.

Much like the centrist triad of Biden, Buttigieg (who suspended his campaign March 1st), and Klobuchar (also suspended March 2nd), who are equal parts sell-outs, windbags, and sycophantic brown-nosers to the ruling class, the professional class choice, technocrat, pseudo-progressive Elizabeth Warren as well as what I’d call the “Silicon Valley candidate” Andrew Yang also represent the epitome of “big-brained centrist” thought.

Basically, this term represents the attitude of mainstream liberal as well as conservative candidates, commentators, and their supporters who believe they truly understand the world better than anyone else due to what they consider their meritocratic success, and use all sorts of neoliberal fallacies, deliver paeans to pragmatism and bipartisanship, mock social democratic reforms with calls to be “reasonable”, and generally act as puppets of corporate and imperial power. Of course, it should be obvious that those who harp on achieving “realistic goals” are those that view anything involving a transformation of society involving redistribution of wealth from the rich to the working classes as prima facie unrealistic.

As for Steyer and Bloomberg, they too fall prey to neoliberal notions of rugged individualism; i.e., that their economic success is due to their own “hard work”, and were so completely out of touch that they cannot realize the electorate is not prepared to substitute one billionaire for another, no matter what party they represent, or what good they claim they’ve been able to accomplish in their philanthropic endeavors.

All of the candidates, except for Bernie Sanders, completely debased themselves when asked if the candidate with the most delegates should get the Democratic nomination. That’s how democracy is supposed to work, right? The person with the most votes should win, no? Not if you want to suck up to the ruling class, who are deathly afraid of Sanders’ redistributive agenda.

Climbing corporate and political hierarchies as well as the fake meritocracy in this country inflates politicians’ egos and warped the ability to self-reflect on their own abilities and intelligence. In psychology, this is known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect, defined as: “a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. This tends to occur because a lack of self-awareness prevents them from accurately assessing their skills.”

Terrifyingly, one of the consequences of this effect is that many of the afflicted exude rare confidence due to their overestimation of their skills that can be mistaken for dedication, passion, expertise, and conviction. While truly intelligent people constantly question and doubt their own ideas and preconceived notions, lesser intellects rigidly cling to dogmas in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. This was summed up best by Yeats, when he wrote: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

In politics and social relations, this effect is compounded because the awareness of the suffering of others is blunted the higher you go on the socio-economic scale. The effect of ascending political hierarchies is not much different in a capitalist economy, because the higher you go the more beholden you are to elite interests. As studies have shown, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) declines significantly the higher you look on the corporate ladder. CEOs and business owners tend to have more sociopathic, narcissistic, and psychopathic traits.

This is why it is so hard to change the minds of the privileged and affluent: it is not simply a matter of intellect and rational argumentation to help bring change to another’s belief system. If only logical persuasion worked that effectively! One must also help cultivate awareness, a sense of interconnectedness with the less fortunate, the environment and the universe, and a way to empathize with poor, vulnerable, and minority communities. One can prove empirically over and over how a socialist economy, universal healthcare, and a society of free association of producers would significantly improve the lives of people around the world. Those in denial still won’t believe you, because their self-awareness and sense of empathy for the poor, dispossessed, and vulnerable has atrophied.

It is at this stage in history that the nihilism of rich liberals and conservatives as well as the professional-managerial class reaches truly epic proportions, threatening the survival of humanity and most species on the planet. The real material conditions and problems of working people are abstracted as inequality rises. The obvious cause of the immiseration of the population and the devastation of the environment, capitalism, is obscured. Conservatives and republicans are even more delusional due to their slavish devotion to the status quo and political and economic hierarchies, as well as their mythical belief that the capitalist “free market” can solve all manner of problems. Further, conservatives view any government intervention to regulate corporate monopoly power and lessen environmental degradation as an infringement on their rights, or inane arguments that sensible environmental regulation will hurt the economy are used.

The only option left for moderate liberals is to succumb to the dystopian vision of neoliberal thought which dominates center-left and center-right thinking, because it is all-pervasive. Even mild progressives who stray even a bit to the left (such as Warren) are instantly and predictably vilified by the press, by billionaires who literally cry in public in protestation of her wealth tax. This leads the opportunistic and ambitious (Warren, just like Obama before her) to tack to the center in order to secure donors to stay in politics and keep their jobs.

The moderate candidates know their ideas are viewed as trash by a significant amount of voters, so identity politics, as well as rhetoric and euphemisms about “structural change” are predictably trotted out. Neoliberal is now a dirty word, so liberal politicians deflect as much as possible and claim their policies are “pragmatic” and are willing to work across the aisle and compromise, in contrast to the “uncompromising” style of Sanders. These are the big-brained centrists, who let their ruling class donors do all their thinking for them as to what constitutes an acceptable and “realistic” policy.

Big-brain centrism is also a term to describe a type of neoliberal wonkery which emphasizes that only technocratic policy, which echoes the Third Way of Blair and Clinton, a centrism in which the patina of “progressivism”, economic “pragmatism”, and the appearance of caring for marginalized groups dominates. Increased political representation of minorities is a wonderful thing, but the moderate democrats will never grow a spine and ask for economic redistribution from billionaires to poor people of color. Only “moderates” can deliver the best model for liberal democracy, and everyone to their left, even the mild-mannered reformism of Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is an “extremist” or a “populist”. Of course, this hodge-podge of power-hungry politicians, clueless think-tank sycophants, and conniving corporate vampires are totally beholden to elite interests, as they represent a class of smug affluent liberals and republicans who pray to the Almighty Dollar.

The big-brained liberals are hypnotized by the concept of bipartisanship, which is what Obama tried and failed to do for eight years. For the centrists, the idea that the two-party system is become more polarized is an unmitigated disaster, leaving only “far-left” politics in fashion (we wish!) alongside far-right politics (accurate). True progress can only be made “in the middle”, what some like to call “radical centrism” and politicians should not pander to their constituents with “empty promises” and “populist rhetoric.” What this radical centrism misses is the rightward shift in economics and federal policy which has been underway for 40+ years, and the consequent shift in the Overton Window: the range of ideas that are considered acceptable in US politics. In the 1960s, for instance, Sanders’ reformism would have been seen as standard, middle-of-the-road liberal set of policies, rather than today, where social democratic agendas induce shrieking from rich know-nothings and talking heads who insist that Bernie is an authoritarian communist.

In this Beltway bubble-world, Sanders is simply the converse of Trump, a dangerous left-wing populist, who, in words of Buttigieg, “wants to burn this party down.” What Sanders simply wants is to bring the US into the 21st century by adopting the social democratic policies of Scandinavia and most European nations. Yet, this is unacceptable to the “realistic” and “electability” thought-police. Big brain centrism is what it would look like to put Thomas Friedman and David Brooks in a room together and let them try to come up with federal policies. Their policies and worldview probably would not look very different from some of the ideas and concepts of each of the recent candidates, presented below.

The main thing to recognize is that all the moderate candidates, Warren included, are careerists. It’s not about helping others, it’s about them. If and when politics no longer is a viable career path for them, they will be happy to sell themselves as consultants, lobbyists, mainstream media propagandists, sit on corporate boards, and rack up speaking fees to parrot back to the ruling classes what acceptable discourse and policy is, within a capitalist and imperialist framework.

To see more examples of what I mean by Big-Brained Centrism, we will look at a statement, tweet, or policy idea from many of the moderate candidates, even the ones who have dropped out. We’ll start with a statement from Andrew Yang, because it might be one of the best examples of big-brained idiocy.

Yangonomics: “Beware the Technocracy”, The Accelerationist Candidate

Andrew Yang’s entire campaign and many of his tech/start-up supporters represent exquisite examples of the big-brain mindset. In his final debate, he stated:

The entire capitalism/socialism dichotomy is completely out of date. The fact is when people were talking about these economic models they did not foresee the technology getting stronger, more powerful, and capable of doing the work of thousands of humans…what we have to do is get the markets working to improve our way of life…instead of following GDP and corporate profits off a cliff, we should be measuring our own health and wellness…the way forward is a new human-centered version of capitalism that actually uses the markets to improve our families lives.

This is absolute garbage, cloaked within the progressive notion of redefining national well-being and taking easy shots at corporate greed. Capitalism is utterly and inexorably based on over-consumption and chasing profits over everything else; there is no way to make it “human-centered”

If we were to take him at his word of meeting in the middle, a fair response would be that the closest version of a compromise solution for the “outdated dichotomy” is the social democratic and redistributive agenda of Bernie Sanders. More importantly, Yang is attempting to erase two hundred years of public debate as to the distinctions between two radically different economic models and the invaluable contributions of generations of activists, scholars, and citizens. Perhaps he believes that by virtue of being a “successful entrepreneur” and business owner, he can see things the rest of us can’t.

As for the “no one could have foreseen technology getting stronger…” give me a fucking break. You have to be drop-dead naïve or just plain ignorant to think this. You don’t think people who built the first trains, light bulbs, cars, worked in the first mills and factories, etc., couldn’t see how these inventions and new methods of production would reshape the world? Indigenous peoples, radical artists, environmentalists, communists, and anarchists have been warning about the negative impacts of industrial-scale technology for generations. In Western literature, towering figures like William Blake and Henry David Thoreau as well as many others prophetically warned of the dangers posed by the Industrial Revolution.

What happened, of course, is that the monopoly power of capital never allowed for the more efficient distribution of resources to make lives better for the working classes, because there is little money to be made by helping and caring for people and the environment. Capitalism relies on parasitical master-servant relationships, exploiting nature and the working classes for as many resources and as much labor as possible in order to produce the most profit in the shortest amount of time.

Contrary to Yang’s ahistorical word salad and his implicit assumption that people in the past were stupid, those who lived hundreds of years ago were just as intelligent as today (if not more so) and realized exactly where this was leading. In a very good piece for The Guardian, Yanis Varoufakis explains how Marx and Engels predicted our crisis over 150 years ago:

Anyone reading the [Communist] manifesto today will be surprised to discover a picture of a world much like our own, teetering fearfully on the edge of technological innovation. In the manifesto’s time, it was the steam engine that posed the greatest challenge to the rhythms and routines of feudal life. The peasantry was swept into the cogs and wheels of this machinery and a new class of masters, the factory owners and the merchants usurped the landed gentry’s control over society. Now, it is artificial intelligence and automation that loom as disruptive threats, promising to sweep away ‘all fixed, fast-frozen relations’. ‘Constantly revolutionising … instruments of production,’ the manifesto proclaims, transform ‘the whole relations of society’, bringing about ‘constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation’.

Like the rest of the moderate candidates, Yang is a product of his insular milieu, his ideology molded by anti-communist/Cold War/red scare propaganda and the fevered dreams of Tech-mogul capitalists. Being an entrepreneur apparently means one does not have to read or understand political economy, or basic history; one is a political expert simply based on the ability to “create jobs.” He is the Silicon Valley candidate, those true believers in unrestrained automation who believe they understand the economy better than everyone else because they’ve spent the most time sitting through meetings about “corporate synergy.”

“Sensible” policy must be in the center, as one of his slogans suggests: “Not Left, Not Right, Forward.”  Yang, Warren, and Mayor Pete were considered “the smart candidates” by the media and many liberals. Primarily because they mirror back upper-middle class narcissism and promise not to disturb the security and comfort of the affluent.  This just goes to show how simpleminded and anti-intellectual mainstream political commentary has become. Capitalism has had over 200 years to develop the chance to become “human centered.” It cannot because it is fundamentally set up to serve the profit motive over basic needs of people. Capitalist markets have always skewed the vast majority of benefits to the upper classes, with pipe dreams of wealth “trickling down” to the masses.

Yang could have made much more progress had he tacked harder to the left, but instead he falls prey to his belief in “human-centered capitalism.” His UBI proposal was popular; yet as an affluent business owner and stand-in for the entrepreneur class, he could not manage to go against his donors as well as his own interests by creating a framework for price controls to fight against inflation and parasitical price-gouging. Despite his concern over AI and automation leading to massive job loss, he does not fundamentally address the exploitative relationship between employer and employees, or understand how increased digital and robot-led production will lead to new levels of coercive labor monopolization of the means of production.

One Mike Weinstein explains Yang’s worldview quite well here, in a piece titled “Beware the Technocracy”:

Yang speaks the language of the ruling class, one of inscrutable economics to uphold the narrative of technology as savior. His aim is cloak this in popular socialist ideas such as universal healthcare and income. Yang promotes this package as a self-proclaimed ‘human-centered economy’. It’s worth noting that the robot antagonists in The Matrix had a human-centered economy, too.

Andrew Yang is a privileged tech-bro, but he had one thing going for him, he was earnest, somewhat open-minded, and willing to listen to others. In this piece, his interviewer sketches out the basics of accelerationism to Yang, implying that this is the first time Yang has heard of the idea, and Yang responds with interest, wanting to know more. Yang, unlike the rest of the moderates, might be a know-nothing; but at least he can have a human conversation, and is at least open to learning about new ideas.

His refusal to include a social safety net for the needy, disabled, and elderly that could stand to lose under his UBI, as well as his refusal to endorse Medicare for All, is further proof of his myopia, however. See this summary of his thought, published in Big Think, or this one, at Ted.com, both of which specialize in big-brain centrism. Yang also proposed to raise revenue for the UBI via a value-added tax, which is a tax on consumption and disproportionately hurts low-income workers, rather than a more sensible wealth tax.

Warren: Feel-good candidate for the Professional-Managerial Class

Elizabeth Warren also tacked to the center, repeatedly describing herself as “capitalist to her bones”. While the act of adopting progressive liberal values and rhetoric mixed with pro-capitalist corporate-speak worked in the past, for instance, for Obama and even for Jimmy Carter before him, there is no popular “middle ground” to occupy now in the Democratic Party. The 2008 economic crisis advanced political consciousness in such a way that mainstream liberals now see the ground shifting underneath them. Either you are a firm Democratic establishment centrist, or you’re in the progressive/social democratic/democratic socialist camp.

Warren, straddling both sides of this fault line, could not seem to pick a lane. Her attacks on the banks and her wealth tax proposal would seem to mark her as a progressive, but her professional-managerial class (PMC) background pulls her to support the Clinton/Obama technocratic way of governing. Politics is about having big ideas and pointing out the systemic problems in society (which Bernie Sanders has, and does) and finding ways to implement them; not about having a series of band-aid solutions and incoherent plans for “structural change” without examining the root cause of our maladies: capitalism. No one wants to hear flip-flopping about a “transition plan” to shift to Medicare for All in three years. People want to know that you will fight for them on day one, because every day that you hesitate poor and homeless people literally die in the streets because of lack of access to health care; also men, women, and children are killed each day due to our imperial and frankly genocidal foreign policy, which she demonstrated hardly any basic knowledge of, or real interest towards.

Both Warren’s wealth tax and her climate plan were considerable tamer than Sanders’ plans. If you’re going to challenge corporate power, even within the confines of US electoral politics, you can’t excite the “populist” liberal-left with halfway measures. Voters were canny enough to see through her fence-sitting, hence her relative lack of support, even within her home state of Massachusetts.

One of Warren’s most glaringly dystopian plans was for “fighting digital disinformation”. There is a glimmer of a good idea hidden in the concept, in that she proposed penalties for those who engage in voter suppression. The real doozy is that she plans to criminalize “disinformation” and wants the corporate social media behemoths like Facebook and Twitter to censor and moderate political speech, as well as leaving the door open for government censorship of news. In this she parrots the desires of the Democratic establishment who, of course, are deeply entwined with the Military-Industrial-Intelligence complex. Liberal establishment figures have become emboldened since 2016: for instance Hillary Clinton views anyone who disturbs her as being aided by Russia; such as Trump, but also Jill Stein and Tulsi Gabbard, absurdly. Liberals such as Warren aim to increase paranoia in the populace, consciously or not, surrounding the idea of “foreign meddling” and seek to weaponize the election interference narrative against any politicians who do not support the ruling class. This is why Bernie Sanders was told his campaign was being aided by Russia, in effect to smear his entire campaign. The real targets in the “interference” narrative are leftists who want to redistribute wealth.

Agent Pete

Pete Buttigieg represents a special type of stupid. First, Buttigieg’s policies (or lack thereof) show just how worthless a Rhodes scholar-level education truly is, just like it showed for Cory Booker. Just like Kamala Harris, Buttigieg is the offspring of a worldly and erudite Marxist professor who didn’t learn a thing; in Mayor Pete’s case, he decided to rebel against his father and work for the machine in the killing fields of Afghanistan and the corrupt scandal-ridden firm McKinsey.

There is much more to the Mayor Pete back-story regarding his intelligence and national security connections. He worked in Naval Intelligence in Afghanistan alongside the CIA. He penned an op-ed in The New York Times with a friend about visiting Somaliland and meeting with “local leaders.” He keeps a map of Afghanistan displaying its mineral resources in his study (the alarm bells should be going off). He wrote in his book about visiting a “safehouse” in Iraq. Many foreign policy and national security figures backed his candidacy. And yes, thanks to Left Twitter, #CIAPete was blowing up on social media.

Whether or not Mayor Pete is a spy asset or not does not really matter. What matters is he thinks like them, and shares their worldview of supporting US imperial and economic domination at all costs.

How do we know this is true? Buttigieg had a line in a recent debate about “being inclusive” by taking donations from billionaires. Who honestly thinks taking money from billionaires is to make society more inclusive? Only a little slug willing to completely debase himself to his ruling-class overlords would admit this publicly; even Biden at his most incoherent would never blurt this out.

Listening to Pete talk in general was just bewildering. He imitates Obama’s style at every turn, yet cannot match his soaring oratory and simply does not answer questions or deliver any tangible idea of what he will offer. He is the platitude candidate; every time he speaks it’s like opening a fortune cookie, as he’s full of vague truisms.

One of the most dystopian plans of Pete was a “National Service Program”.  Predictably, it is framed with patriotic, nationalistic rhetoric. The goal would be to increase the service program with the end goal being a “universal, national expectation of service” (from his website) while also claiming it will be “strictly optional”. High school and college students are already exploited enough in the classroom and at their jobs, and funding a plan so that young people can put a gold star on their resume pretty much sums up Pete in a nutshell. Here’s his justification:

In the great unwinding of American civic society underway, and at a time when Americans are experiencing record-low trust in fellow citizens and American institutions, few — if any — single policy solutions carry the promise of democratic renewal more than national service.

A simple rebuttal would be to ask what is causing the “unwinding” and “record-low trust”. It’s obviously inequality, corruption in government, corporations which are legally bound to choose profits over people, little to no regulation of technology and fossil fuel corporations, monopolization in virtually every sector of the economy, lack of health care and a living wage. There is no indication that this plan would solve any of these issues, because the Oxford-educated Mayor cannot be bothered to think critically. Or, rather, an Oxford education blinds one to the fact that capitalism is the root cause of our systemic crises. Typical of elites, he confuses class conflict with national frailty and disunity, much like Trump. He is a true believer in the system, and projects his privileged fake-meritocratic upbringing onto everyone around him with a call to service. Any national service plan with Pete at the helm feels like a plan for assimilating youth into our Death Star corporate-driven empire; for creating a “McKinsey Youth” for America.

Steyer and Bloomberg: Upholding a Nation Run for Plutocrats, by Plutocrats

Today one must be for the poor and working classes to gain mass political popularity, like Sanders; or conversely offer a proto-fascist program of a return to national greatness, like the racist, money-worshipping, chauvinist Twitter troll, like Trump. That is why the elites are even more afraid of Sanders, because he and more crucially his base offer a clean break and a qualitatively better and more egalitarian organization of society.

The super-rich must be excluded from the political process because they will always put the interests of capital above the common good, and refuse to see how their actions directly contribute to the impoverishment of workers and the degradation of the environment. Any intervention by them, in the name of philanthropy or donations to politicians, proves that their money buys political power, social control, and makes a mockery of any notion of “democracy” in this nation. This is called an oligarchy. Which reminds me, Mike Bloomberg should no longer be addressed as “Mayor Bloomberg”; “Plutocrat Bloomberg” or “Oligarch Bloomberg” would be more appropriate.

Amy’s Rage

Amy Klobuchar is a lot of things. She is undoubtedly driven, hard-working, and passionate about her work. The problem is the work she does is inherently bad for most people and she did not have any good policy ideas that differentiated her from the other centrists. Her other problem is that she has extreme anger issues.

Klobuchar is an abusive boss and her employees described her offices in Minnesota and D.C. as a “hostile work environment.” The most she’s addressed this is by stating she’s “tough” and has “high expectations” for her staff. The clues to her barely-bottled rage are under the surface, as this article in The Atlantic opines: her childhood spent with a neglectful, alcoholic father severely messed her up.

This is not an uncommon situation, with a subset of leaders put into positions of power that were traumatized in childhood. Many become highly-driven over-achievers in the corporate and political worlds: it’s easier to run from the ghosts when you’re showered with accolades and money. Many also burn with rage, are vengeful and prone to irrational outbursts, consider any slight or unavoidable accident a personal affront, and crave domination and control over others. Much like management in large corporations, her former staff describes a brutal hierarchical and tyrannical environment where the smallest mistake could set her off into tantrums or the throwing of office supplies, forcing staff to do demeaning work involving her personal effects, and would regularly condescend and shame her employees openly in person and through email. We already have an authoritarian in the White House who needs psychological counseling. Klobuchar should not be attempting to seek power: like the rest of the corporate and political ruling classes, she should be seeking professional help.

Biden: Senior Moments

Let’s just get it out of the way: Joe Biden is seriously slipping upstairs. I suppose that’s not an anomaly anymore for presidential politics, as we have dealt with cognitive decline before with Reagan in his second term. We’ve dealt with not-so-bright presidents too: the entire George W. Bush presidency, and now Trump. If Biden becomes the nominee and president it will be a national, collective senior moment. I don’t really have the words to describe a head-to-head Biden-Trump debate, other than it being extremely depressing, and that I would predict an increase in sales of alcohol. It would break the country on some visceral level. Nominating Biden could end the Democratic Party for good, so maybe there would be a silver lining.

Interestingly, Biden spoke to donors in 2019 and stated that “no one’s standard of living would change” and “nothing would fundamentally change” if he became elected. It would make for an honest slogan, at least. Vote Biden in 2020: Nothing will change.

When moderate democrats say “be realistic”, say it back to them: be realistic, Biden would surely lose to Trump. Only Sanders has a shot at defeating him, as Trump would absolutely eviscerate Biden and run circles around him. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and Trump is as broken a person as they come; but he is smart enough to harp on Biden’s mental decline and his son’s shady job as a board member of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, a position he had absolutely no expertise in.

Oh Canada!?: Trudeau Marches for Climate

The most ridiculous and absurd example of big-brain centrism comes from our neighbor to the North, however. In September of 2019, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took part in a climate protest in Montreal. He tweeted: “Today we marched for our planet, our kids, and for their future.” It did not seem to dawn on him that his fellow citizens were marching to protest the lack of action his government was taking to battle global warming. You’re their leader, Justin. If you want to take action, use every available mechanism in your own government to make a change. The people put you in power to do exactly that. Was he protesting himself? Was he admitting that even as PM he is as powerless as the average citizen to fight the fossil fuel industries? Under his administration, Albertan oil sands continue to be extracted, and new pipeline expansion is in place against the will of the Wet’suwet’en First Nations tribe who are currently protesting.

The Moderates Serve the Ruling Class

Just to stick with Trudeau’s nastiness for a moment, everyone should read this article on the First Nation protestors in Canada fighting the Coastal GasLink Pipeline expansion. If you feel called, watch the embedded video. The RMCP point their rifles at nonviolent protestors- police who operate under the orders of Justin Trudeau. Make no mistake, Biden would be no different in the US. He serves at the behest of the ruling classes. It doesn’t matter if it’s Obama with Occupy Wall Street and the Dakota Access Pipeline, Trump, Trudeau, or a possible Biden regime: they all will intimidate and if necessary kill their own citizens who use direct action to resist fossil fuel expansion and corporate rule. It’s all a sick twisted game to protect the property of the rich for the “sensible”, “highly-esteemed”, blue-check mark politicians and media flunkies.

Even if the moderate liberals gave one single solitary fuck about average working people, the environment, future generations, and the citizenry they pander to, they are too weak-minded because they insist everything be done at the glacial pace (as glaciers are now in rapid retreat in many parts of the world this metaphor may no longer be useful, thanks to them) of bipartisan electoral politics, and will compromise with conservatives at every turn to water-down absolutely any and every possible progressive or radical legislative reforms.

Like Trudeau, they all want to have it both ways: to be seen as a progressive, “woke” politician; a radical climate protestor in his case, while at the same time being central figures of the establishment, upholding an inhumane system, walking corpses who prop up the status quo, absolute tools of corporate and imperial rule. Which in the end means that they really only care about themselves: their fame, power, glory, and their money.

Bernie Sanders has his own serious flaws, most especially in regards to foreign policy. Yet he is the only candidate who speaks to the need to create a better, kinder, more reasonable and egalitarian nation; and the best chance to popularize socialism right now, however ill-suited he may be to the task.

Even Hillary Clinton weighed in on Sanders recently and said “nobody likes him, no one wants to work with him.” It might be worthwhile for citizens and neoliberal imperialists like Clinton, Biden, Trudeau, and the rest to question what it means to be “popular” and what positive “work” has actually been accomplished in a Congress which hasn’t cracked a 30% approval rating in over 10 years.

There are a couple of references from pop culture which sum up the sad but true nature of the centrist liberal and conservative politicians. Their commitment to strengthening capitalism at all costs leads to a hollow shell of a life. The first quote is from the movie Casino Jack, a fictionalized version of the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s life. When the walls are closing in on him, his wife reminds him there will be no one to help: “We have no friends, Jack, none. All we have are people we do business with.”

The second set of quotes, which I’ll end with, are from rap legend Tupac Shakur. In the song “Holler If You Hear Me”, 2pac warns of the perils of compromising one’s beliefs for material gain:

To the sellouts livin’ it up/

One way or another you’ll be givin’ it up.

In the last verse, 2pac has a prophetic line, alluding to black militancy, manufacturing consent and the return of the repressed in American society. His words remain eerily prescient, and remind me of the way moderate liberals and conservatives view the rise of Bernie Sanders and socialism in the US today as dangerous:

And now I’m like a major threat/

‘Cause I remind you of the things you were made to forget

Normal Intrusions: Globalising AI Surveillance

They all do it: corporations, regimes, authorities.  They all have the same reasons: efficiency, serviceability, profitability, all under the umbrella term of “security”.  Call it surveillance, or call it monitoring the global citizenry; it all comes down to the same thing.  You are being watched for your own good, and such instances should be regarded as a norm.

Given the weaknesses of international law and the general hiccupping that accompanies efforts to formulate a global right to privacy, few such restrictions, or problems, preoccupy those in surveillance.  The entire business is burgeoning, a viral complex that does not risk any abatement.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has released an unnerving report confirming that fact, though irritatingly using an index in doing so.  Its focus is Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology.  A definition of sorts is offered for AI, being “an integrated system that incorporates information acquisition objectives, logical reasoning principles, and self-correction capacities.”

When stated like that, the whole matter seems benign.  Machine learning, for instance, “analyses a large amount of information in order to discern a pattern to explain the current data and predict future uses.”

There are several perturbing highlights supplied by the report’s author, Steven Feldstein.  The relationship between military expenditure and states’ use of AI surveillance systems is noted, with “forty of the world’s top fifty military spending countries (based on cumulative military expenditures) also [using] AI surveillance technology.”  Across 176 countries, data gathered since 2017 shows that AI surveillance technologies are not merely good domestic fare but a thriving export business.

The ideological bent of the regime in question is no bar to the use of such surveillance.  Liberal democracies are noted as major users, with 51 percent of “advanced democracies” doing so.  That number, interestingly enough, is less than “closed autocratic states” (37 percent); “electoral autocratic/competitive autocratic states” (41 percent) and “electoral democracies/illiberal democracies” (41 percent).  The political taxonomist risks drowning in minutiae on this point, but the chilling reality stands out: all states are addicted to diets of AI surveillance technologies.

Feldstein makes the fairly truistic point that “autocratic and semi-autocratic” states so happen to abuse AI surveillance more “than governments in liberal democracies” but the comparisons tend to break down in the global race for technological superiority.  Russia, China and Saudi Arabia are singled out as “exploiting AI technology for mass surveillance purposes” but all states seek the Holy Grail of mass, preferably warrantless surveillance.  Edward Snowden’s revelations in 2013 did more than anything else to scupper the quaint notion that those who profess safeguards and freedoms are necessarily aware about the runaway trends of their security establishment.

The corporation-state nexus is indispensable to global surveillance, a symbiotic relationship that resists regulation and principle.  This has the added effect of destroying any credible distinction between a state supposedly more compliant with human rights standards, and those that are not.  The common thread, as ever, is the technology company.  As Feldstein notes, in addition to China, “companies based in liberal democracies – for example, Germany, France, Israel, Japan, South Korea, the UK, the United States – are actively selling sophisticated equipment to unsavoury regimes.”

These trends are far from new.  In 1995, Privacy International published a report with the unmistakable title Big Brother Incorporated, an overview of surveillance technology that has come to be aptly known as the Repression Trade.  “Much of this technology is used to track the activities of dissidents, human rights activists, journalists, student leaders, minorities, trade union leaders, and political opponents.”

Corporations with no particular allegiance except to profit and shareholders, such as British computer firm ICL (International Computers Limited) were identified as key designers behind the South African automated Passbook system, Apartheid’s stand out signature.  In the 1980s, the Israeli company Tadiran, well in keeping with a rich tradition of the Repression Trade, supplied the murderous Guatemalan policy with computerised death lists in their “pacification” efforts.

The current galloping power in the field of AI surveillance technology is China, underpinned by the clout-heavy Belt and Road Initiative rosily described by its fans as a Chinese Marshall Plan.  Where there are market incentives, there are purchasing prospects for AI technology.  “Technology linked to Chinese companies are found in at least sixty-three countries worldwide.  Huawei alone is responsible for providing AI surveillance technology to at least fifty countries.”  Chinese technology, it is speculated, may well boost surveillance capabilities within certain African markets, given the “aggressiveness of Chinese companies”.

Other powers also participate in what has become a field of aggressive competitors.  Japan’s NEC is its own colossus, supplying technology to some 14 countries.  IBM keeps up the pressure as a notable American player, doing so to 11 countries.  That particular entity made something of a splash in May, with a report revealing sales of biometric surveillance systems to the United Arab Emirates security and spy agencies stirring discussion in May this year.  Another recipient of IBM surveillance technology is the Philippines, a country more than keen to arm its police forces with the means to monitor, and more than occasionally murder, its citizens.  (The Davao City death squads are a bloody case in point.)

Issues with the report were bound to arise.  A humble admission is made that the sampling method may be questionable in terms of generating a full picture of the industry.  “Given the opacity of government surveillance use, it is nearly impossible to pin down by specific year which AI platforms or systems are currently in use.”  Nor does the index “distinguish between AI surveillance used for legitimate purposes and unlawful digital surveillance.”  A murky field, indeed.

For all the grimness of Feldstein’s findings, he is also aware of the seductive element that various platforms have offered.  Rampant, amoral AI surveillance might well be a hideous by-product of technology, but the field teems with promise in “deep learning; cloud computing and online data gathering”, “improved performance of complex algorithms; and market-driven incentives for new uses of AI technology.”  This shows, in a sense, the Janus-faced nature in critiquing such an enterprise; such praise tends to come with the territory, given Feldstein’s own background as former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Bureau of the US State Department.

Feldstein leaves room to issue a warning.  “As these technologies become more embedded in governance and politics, the window for change will narrow.”  The window, in many instances, has not so much narrowed as closed, as it did decades ago.

Questioning the Extremely Online

This essay is in regard to a crime that too often goes unmentioned when the conversations turn towards political analysis, the contemporary journalistic scene, and broader social critique: the crime of being extremely online.

What does it mean to be extremely online? It mostly is as straightforward as it sounds. Generally, activities such as spending too much time on the web, scrolling through social media feeds out of habit, checking email or notifications dozens of times a day, all are symptoms of the extremely online person. Particularly, too much smartphone use is a devastating problem.

There is also a more specific version, which both mainstream journalists and alternative media commentators employ on both the right and left: constantly posting every news update; sharing a gazillion times every day each and every version and opinion on a current event/post/tweet about the lead news stories of the day, whether it is something interesting about global warming or something as ignorant and banal as the president’s tweets; prognosticating about the presidential election a year and a half before it happens;  using dubious polls or statistics to bolster weak arguments; and basically reacting to every media spectacle with behavior including, but not limited to, juvenile tantrums, posturing, faux outrage, jaded cynicism, pompous virtue-signalling, ironic detachment, and narcissistic self-aggrandizement.

Quite a few alternative media commentators tend to replicate and mimic the 24/7 spectacle that is mainstream news. That is to say, many have internalized the messaging style; the hyper-fast response time to current events…generally speaking, the norms of mainstream commentary and thus bourgeois values are being internalized. The more time spent posting for an online following on social media, the stronger the pull of an affinity to a certain type of power. Digital hierarchies become hardened, and the bourgeoisification of the web intensifies. As we shall see below, even those who identify as anti-capitalist or socialist are not immune.

The types of online behaviors regarding political debate exhibited above may be the exception, but with the expansion of social media along with its hyper-stratified tendencies, it may soon become the norm.

What research has shown is that digital literacy creates a path towards more open attitudes towards digital technology, which can be called Technophilia.1 This research points towards entertainment as one of the key drivers in promoting positive emotions and behavior when using digital technology, which results in a positive feedback loop leading to more intense and rewarding use.

If you extrapolate from this a bit, I’d suggest that the top online influencers in various political schools of thought will be more predisposed towards promoting digital technology, simply because they are benefitting from it financially. We have a situation where the most popular commentators are economically tied to social media, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that their naïve optimism regarding the power of digital media will not stop there, but rather, the naivety extends to industrial society as a whole.

The social media environment creates a logic of its own, just as most modern technology does. One obvious materialist analogy is to the medical industry. As long as for-profit companies are allowed to dominate pharmaceutical and research endeavors, the logic of the system will mean that more people are made sick, anxious, depressed, etc., to make more money for corporations. With social media, the logic of its internal dynamics precludes nuanced, informed, lengthy public deliberation in favor of sound-bite quotes, sloganeering, and focusing on personalities, along with the most shallow forms of identity politicking. Its logic depends on divisive, sensational, hateful, and ultimately fascistic rhetoric dominating political discourse.

Since the scope of Technophilia broadens and intensifies with continued use of labor-saving devices made under exploitative conditions, it ultimately results in many self-proclaimed anti-capitalists falling under the sway of propaganda emanating from mainstream technological society, as we shall see below.

Class is never taken seriously in our society. In many rural areas around the USA broadband internet access is still out of reach, and is expensive for many poor urban Americans as well, creating a digital divide. Thus it is no wonder that the rich and middle-classes are more “open” towards the web and smart-phone use. They derive more pleasure from them in terms of entertainment, increased digital literacy, and monetary success. The flip side of being more open is being more immature and blind to dangers, however. In contrast the poor and working classes respond to the digital life-world with more skepticism, as the above study indicates.

My contention here is that this digital literacy creates a new form of “digital spectacle” for technophilic Westerners on both the political right and left, especially for the middle classes. The elite implicitly understand that in a society based on artificial scarcity, only a certain amount of online influencers can vie for position in digital media. The professional and managerial classes, and their children ensconced in privilege, all too easily fall under the sway of the competitive forces in online media as well.

The poor and working class understand that in regarding to digital media, they are getting crushed under the weight of start-up costs, social capital which is either unobtainable or sleazy to get, and various online fees and hurdles to make it in a new rigged game of digital society. The digital divide is becoming a chasm, because it too it based on market forces.

As alluded to above, election cycle mania, the fascination with polling data, as well as fixation of GDP, job growth, and many other factors which the mainstream media focuses on are now internalized across the political spectrum, included much of Western Left analysis. This isn’t to say that socialists overly reliant on statistics and polling are wrong; simply that it’s mostly ineffective, as the tone is technocratic, academic, and is filled with the jargon that turns off the average citizen, even some of what is written here. I am not immune, this is a self-criticism as well, as the lack of engagement and overly analytical framework extends throughout journalism and academia across the entire social body.

Most of this behavior has been internalized and learned from mainstream media, which creates a market and manufactured interest in nonsensical statistics and banal news trivia, as Neil Postman points out:

Statistics create an enormous amount of completely useless information, which compounds the always difficult task of location that which is useful to a culture. This is more than a case of ‘information-overload.’ It is a matter of information-trivia, which has the effect of placing all information on an equal level.2

Once data becomes transmuted into a sort of holy substance, it is wielded by both the political Right and Left as a weapon: statistics back their cause and any deviation from the issue is irrational and illogical. This sets the table for false binaries and political polarization across the spectrum of political thought.

What being extremely online has done is given the very few big “influencers” in mainstream media as well as alternative spaces huge egos and warped their ability to think critically. This is most clearly seen in our “troll in chief”, Donald Trump. Time, space, and perception are distorted and it has led to a predictable and unimaginative online discourse.

When a post appears on social media, often if you know the contributor and some of the followers/friends, you can glean and predict what the reaction is going to be and who is going to say what. Depending on the news of the day, I can guestimate what the “takes” will be of my various friends and those I follow. I admit this can be sometimes comforting given the horrendous news we deal with daily. However, it also kind of implies that real people are reacting, thinking, and forming commentary algorithmically, as if our thoughts now mimic apps like Spotify and Pandora which play tracks from one’s favorite musicians; or at least similar artists which won’t offend the listener’s taste. How banal and horrifying all at once.

With podcasts or Youtube videos, as well as message boards, one can see political commentary forming a script, where individuals rattle off reels of their “greatest hits” of points, observations, and reflections, rather than engaging with the subject matter. No matter how hard we try, social media can never replicate oral traditions and real-life conversations. Dysfunction is baked into modern capitalist-based digital communication.

How being extremely online works to the advantage of the few at the expense of the many is easy to ascertain. We are told we are living in an “attention economy” and the extremely online predicate their behavior on this premise, even those who ostensibly identify as anti-capitalist. The extremely online mimic the 24/7 blather of mainstream media discourse, because nothing is too insignificant not to post, nothing too small not to get out in the lead as being “on top of” any given issue or current event. This is the sort of competitive striving absolutely essential to capitalism.

Outrage, shock, compassion, repulsion, empathy, and even “rational, objective” sober media analysis vie for our attention spans, and the extremely online prey upon those among their followers who due to loneliness, emotional issues, or escapism already spend too much time online, and are thus more vulnerable to screen addiction, sensationalist appeals, fear-mongering, gossip, consumer trends, etc.

Of course, the mainstream outlets have been deeply complicit, as it suits their financial interests. As seen by the CNN executive during the 2016 election gloating that the insane coverage of Trump was horrible for the country, but good for their bottom line, or something to that effect.

As for the reaction time of news sources, and thus political commentary, it may strain one’s memory to recall, but only twenty years ago any major news stories that broke after the evening news broadcast did not appear until the next morning, nearly an eight to twelve hour delay

Now, every media outlet is constantly bombarding us with every update and crisis in real time. The main reaction to this (notwithstanding the many sincere alternative media, community-level, and individual critiques) in the collective consciousness is shock and numbness, and it only compounds daily.

Now, many leftists tend to unconsciously mimic the same tendencies of mainstream media. This is done by copying the tactics of mainstream online influencers who use marketing, PR, and advertising firms to get ahead. This is done by pandering to the crowd and reacting to every Trump and establishment faux pas, whether Democrat or Republican. This is done by opportunistic virtue signaling and online activism viewed as a substitute for in person organizing. The virtual becomes more real than the real. Egos become more tied to the digital social environs, a derivative of a derivative.

Apparently the twisted logic is that if the extremely online use social media as a way for exposure and fame, it’s worth it. Social media becomes a tool, a means to an end to uproot the system. The downside tends to be that we become instruments of social media itself, not a new phenomenon in Western Civilization.

Posting dozens of times a day on social media simply is not in anyone’s best interest. It is in the best interest of capital, however. Why else would one post 30, 50, a hundred times a day if not to create an attention economy around oneself, to gain digital “followers” whose gaze will be diverted from possibly more important issues closer and dearer to their hearts…as well as to one’s family and friends, one’s material reality and ability to help the vulnerable and those in need close to them.

What should be obvious is every moment spent online is time away from the natural world and thus a huge time-suck where we exist as zombified, trance-induced crazy people for more information, useless updates, more drivel-data and bits of trivialities that do not change a thing.

Being online means being on the grid and the computing power needed to keep our information superhighway running is increasing like a runaway train. Despite the relatively low cost of powering one’s individual smartphone and computer/laptop/tablet etc., the internet via server farms, cell towers, etc. uses approximately 10% of the world’s total electricity consumption and the total energy use for the web increases by about 20% each year. The rollout of harmful 5G technology and internet of things only will accelerate the technological dystopia we’re enmeshed in.

Regardless of what technophiles and delusional people want to think, modern industrial civilization is a fad. We are going to have to go through an extended period of degrowth and lowering our power consumption and that will have to include less internet use. Most especially, too much smartphone use must be addressed head-on. Smartphones need to go away, for good, and it’s not too hard to imagine a workable society without them. It existed twenty years ago.

This should be simple enough to understand, but again, chronic habitual internet use and social media creates a form of addiction which leads to denialism. For those that do partake in nuanced forms of online discussion, in message boards or even in comment sections, yet limit, self-reflect, and moderate your use, congratulations. This is not directed at you. This is written is response to the serial social media addicts. For those in this group, I’ll posit that one of the root reasons for this malady is that our addict-Left comrades unconsciously identify with the system.

This isn’t meant to sound callous, these people are suffering to different degrees, and I do empathize. Boredom, loneliness, and lack of in-person human connection are endemic to our culture and these factors shouldn’t be minimized when understanding addictive behavior.

Part of the problem is the speed of society now. It’s understandable, people want to keep up with events and chime in with their two cents. It’s a human reaction. Part of the problem is also that the people who have convinced themselves they are part of the solution remain part of the problem. Mainly, because they are unable or unwilling to critically examine the technophilic ideology at the heart of the capitalist-based internet.

The “Left-opinion makers”, as the Situationists were wont to call them, thus fall hopelessly further into the spectacle.

Caveat

Social media use is not a horrible thing in and of itself. Although much of its use tends to replicate competitive and hierarchical relations, there are alternative visions of what the web could be like. Internet and social media companies could have been, and should be now, directed through public funding and non-profit models decades ago to engage and educate working class people, to provide jobs and new opportunities, and to raise the consciousness of the public sphere. This could easily be done even within the confines of a social-democratic system.

What we have now is a web and social media landscape that is largely, but not completely, irredeemable. Again, this does not mean one should completely ignore it, only that social media should be seen as a vessel to get people out of their homes and into the streets: like we saw in Tunisia, in Egypt and many other nations during the Arab Spring.

I don’t know if this metaphor is useful at all, but social media could be used as a sort of liberatory portals or gateways, networks to awaken the masses from their slumber, to take them out of the virtual and into the “natural” world. Web and social media technology can be used to “tune in” people to serious movement-building, to Marx, to environmental protests, to issues like climate change and nuclear war, through digital communication; but eventually there has to be a period when citizens step through to the other side and “drop out” to take the struggle onto the public squares. The thing is, many of those involved in just such struggles seem hopelessly “addicted” or too enamored with the power of internet technology itself, much like what has happened with the fetishization of the internal combustion engine, the printing press, the personal computer, and many other examples.

The Professional Bloviators

Sadly, quite a few self-professed anti-capitalist public intellectuals seem to be ensnared by bourgeois ideology today. Many rightly view our political and economic systems as hopelessly corrupt, yet still cling to the privilege, perks, and soapboxes offered by their academic positions (tied to student and faculty exploitation, which is either conveniently unmentioned or under-emphasized), viewing their own credentials as somehow a basis for a true and fair meritocracy, as if academia is somehow above the vagaries of blind chance, sheer luck, white privilege, and jockeying for power.

Any academic worth their salt should be either heavily insinuating, or outright stating to their students, that college is a huge waste of time and money, depending on how much “free speech” they can actually afford to say without getting canned. Universities function today as huge indoctrination camps to train the next generation of good “liberals” (or good Germans, it might be more appropriate to say) who will never question or threaten to overturn the system: the professional-managerial upper-middle class technocrats, financiers, doctors, lawyers, etc.

Thus, even some dissident academics manage to paint themselves into a corner with ineffectual arguments backing the college system, turf wars, theatrical posturing, lack of engagement with the working class, etc. This has all been said before, but again, it may be worth repeating. For instance, in 2011 in the US there were some “socialists” and “anarchists” supporting the US/UK/French bombing of Libya, and a few who equivocated and vacillated, citing the responsibility to protect civilians, parroting State Department propaganda. Oy vey.

The internet and social media has accelerated this trend, making things worse among the wider population, as even those with core anti-capitalist ideas fall into internecine bickering. This is peak aspersionary politics, or passive-aggressiveness if you prefer, which apes wider bourgeois culture. To recast Allen Ginsberg’s opening line of Howl for today, and I only mean this half-jokingly, we can think of something like: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by social media.” Some Left twitterati self-identify as being “extremely online”: brazenly, unashamedly, and unreflectively revealing the depths of their own screen addictions.

Aldous Huxley described the brain as a “reducing valve”, yet I’ve not heard a fully-encompassing phrase for the situation created by a digital milieu where web algorithms which reinforce harmful beliefs and behavior, prey on our addictions, amplify hatred, sow discord, polarize media and community; by devices that seize and sustain our attention long after we realize it no longer serves our interests; by neurotransmitter hijacking, empathy-deadening, critical-thinking atrophying smartphones and media built explicitly to mine us for money, use our thoughts/photos/creativity/etc. as free content while social media companies and those who advertise on the platforms make billions, and generally to simultaneously distract, outrage, and numb us. “Limbic capitalism3 is the closest term I’ve come across, but perhaps the more brutal, if less artful, phrase is more apt: mind control.

There is less and less nuance and space for radical dissent as many left-leaning alternative media and social media influencers close ranks and offer only very mild criticism of social democratic policies. Again, the striving is self-evident, is it not?

These are symptoms of unhealthy minds, formatted/manipulated/brainwashed to choose between false binaries no matter what contradictions follow from the starting premises of whatever topic is at hand. For instance, take the so-called socialist opportunists who offer very mild public criticism of the Green New Deal, or those who don’t mention the huge cuts in military spending needed to give the deal teeth, so as not to seem confrontational or radical, or perhaps to save what’s left of their perceived (yet, worthless) reputations. In other words, their take is: we don’t have time to build real socialism. Let’s form a coalition with the new social democrats, as if that didn’t end in complete disaster over 100 years ago.

Paths Forward

Now, of course it’s true that reform can indeed broaden and deepen the prospects for revolution, and it is not an either/or proposition, as Rosa Luxembourg explained so well. Yet, we cannot let the crass opportunism and striving for attention on digital media to enact important reforms derail us from steeping workers, students, minorities, and women in the rich intellectual tradition woven by the anti-capitalist Left.

Right in the introduction to the Social Reform or Revolution, Luxemburg states: “The entire strength of the modern labor movement rests on theoretic knowledge.” Despite big advances in the last three years, clearly there is a need for the deep type of work involving the framework for constructing and advancing a truly emancipatory Green New Deal, as well as fighting for open borders, the abolition of prisons and police, and the military-industrial complex.

Anything less than a systematic and intersectional approach will do a huge disservice to the movement and will replicate the cloistered, privileged milieu which unduly benefits the extremely online and their techno-utopian backers.

Reform is welcome because it can lead to tolerance, and its eventual byproduct, solidarity. Solidarity is a radiating emotional, behavioral, and intellectual stance from which flow social bonding and necessary healing mechanisms for our culture. The main ideals of environmental, social, and economic justice revolve around solidarity. Which gives us space to breathe, and here I’m reminded of Eric Garner’s last words. The minorities and the poor in this country have been suffocating for centuries. With no mass base, even the good intentions of those in Congress, such as the “Squad” who advocate for redistributive measures, will be for naught.

If some of today’s US socialist “thought leaders” are so spineless to feign from even mentioning how the prospect of renewable energy corporations left in the hands of private control will end in utter disaster, or to simply pretend it won’t, there’s not much left to say to these people. Then there are US socialists who advocate insanely for nuclear power. Forget theoretical knowledge.  This is basic common sense.  Nuclear energy is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. If there is intimidation by peers, or simply self-censorship, or to maintain a lifestyle by promoting such anti-life policies on the Left, well, it’s entirely understandable, predictable, and wretched. It’s also an abdication of responsibility: clearly these are bourgeois stances.

To sum up, pointing fingers at the ruling classes’ blatantly obvious sociopathic tendencies provides the convenient scapegoats and diversionary tactics from confronting the holes in many of our own thinking

Back to theoretic knowledge for a minute. First, we have to take into account the anti-intellectual climate here in the US. One encounters quite a few semi-influential figures, especially on the right but increasingly in anti-capitalist outlets, which are quick to criticize French postmodernists, or the Frankfurt School, or various strains of thought which are deemed too obscure or weighty.

There’s no time for theory is one of their complaints, because it is too time-consuming or turns off too many people. So whatever is too complicated for the gate-keeping digital left-liberal editors is thrown by the wayside, but it ain’t clear where this process is headed other than an even more dumbed-down society. What is clear is we are dealing with lightweights.  It’s pretty paternalistic too, because the subtext seems to be that regular people are just too dumb to be introduced to “Theory” and serious academic work.

The other side to this is that many of the same people who are wonderful at explaining theory or offering political critique, many of the “the Left opinion makers”, have absolutely no environmental or ecological knowledge base. You wouldn’t trust them with a shovel; never mind on a factory floor, a communal farm, starting an activist movement or union, or organizing a cooperative. The materialism part of the equation never kicked in. It’s a function of middle-class squeamishness that needs to be squashed.

Another point I want to mention is the US and UK analytic preference for social critique and philosophical investigation, in contrast to the continental style. And I cannot emphasize enough that the dominant Anglophone trend is to turn socialism into an equation, a formula. Put another way, to offer models of governance and even to organize in the technocratic style. Not only that, but to uncritically accept a model for the future based on unrestrained use of technology, with very little understanding of environmental impacts,  conservation, or basic ecology in general.

We see this techno-fetishism in some of the ideas floating around such as “Fully Automated Luxury Communism”, notably Aaron Bastani’s recent work of the same title. Bastani is close to Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. And look who gives a plug for the book, Bhaskar Sunkara. And if you follow these connections down the rabbit hole you’ll see Sunkara’s most recent work gets a plug from Ezra Klein of Vox. So there are all these ties from UK socialists to US democratic socialists to elitist technocratic liberals. And what is in common is a shared naivety regarding technology.

Again, ideas around degrowth are never discussed by the automation admirers. It’s clearly a total dismissal of the idea to preserve their own affluence. Total energy use in the West will have to decrease immensely. The economy, which is inexorably tied to energy use, will have to contract. Nearly all large buildings will have to be retrofitted to remain cooler in the summer and warmer in winter using natural insulation methods. Many large office buildings, skyscrapers, malls, etc. will simply have to be abandoned because there is no way to heat/cool them even remotely efficiently. Modern agriculture will have to be dismantled and converted to decentralized permaculture community-worked gardens.

None of this is even mentioned by the automators. This is because their thinking, their ways of being online, have already started to slip into the manner of the automaton. Which many people acknowledged, where Brzezinski dispassionately saw it as an inevitability of modern life, and famously Marcuse saw it as a downright horror in his One Dimensional Man.

The majority of the world can see through all of this talk of AI, robot, quantum computer, 5G drivel. Most people understand, even if they cannot quite communicate their ideas as coldly or eloquently as the technophiles, that the mind cannot be reduced to a mechanical device or a computer processor. As below, so above, society cannot be viewed or treated as a factory floor for renewable energy powered robots to bring us to some Jetsons or Star Trek lifestyle.

The opportunities for control and manipulation of minds have already grown at a frightening pace in the past fifty years. Even further automation would simply open up more avenues for alienation and exploitation. Here’s how. A pro-automation society would be more open to new hierarchies created by divides among the digitally literate, could empower the pharmaceutical companies to create dangerous new drugs to control moods and perception, could open up more geo-engineering of the planet, to more spying and tracking of individuals, and generally more of the full-spectrum digitization of our lives.

This isn’t to suggest that those among the extremely online don’t have any good ideas, or that the FALCers don’t either. It’s simply a reminder that some of these people are being very naïve in regard to the future of technology, some are materially benefitting from the current toxic social media environment and are therefore biased, and others do not realize the internal logic of the system which engenders some of the very barriers they wish to destroy. In most cases high technology acts as a drug, with an intelligence of its own, and once you’re on the ride you don’t control where you’re going to get off.

  1. Ronit, Purian, “Technophilia: A New Model For Technology Adoption” (2011), UK Academy for Information Systems Conference Proceedings 2011, Paper 41.
  2. Postman, Neil. Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Vintage Books, New York, 1992.
  3. Courtwright, David. “How ‘Limbic Capitalism’ Preys on our Addicted Brains”, Quillette, May 31, 2019.

Why China will win the Artificial Intelligence Race

Two Artificial Intelligence-driven Internet paradigms may emerge in the near future. One will be based on logic, smart enterprises and human merit while the other may morph into an Orwellian control tool. Even former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has foreseen a bifurcation of the Internet by 2028 and China’s eventual triumph in the AI race by 2030.

In the meantime, the US seems more interested in deflecting the smart questions of today than in building the smart factories of tomorrow.  Nothing embodies this better than the recent attempt by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) and the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI) to create an AI-based filter to “stamp out fake-news outlets before the stories spread too widely.”

But what exactly constitutes fake news? Does it include media-colluded lies over Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction in 2002? Or the egregiously fraudulent Nurse Nayirah testimony a decade earlier? Will the binary logic of “either you are with us or against us” be used to certify news sources?

According to US President Donald J. Trump, fake news is a 24/7 specialty of the CNN, Washington Post and just about every other US mainstream media. The author agrees with Trump on this note. As a futurist, he relies heavily on credible news sources.  The CNN and WaPo therefore rarely feature on the trusted list. At the same time, the author squarely blames Trump for the ongoing US-China trade war. This raises several questions: How will MIT’s AI filtration system treat editorial divergences in the same publication? Will they all be feathered and tarred as “fake news” once a threshold – 150 articles according to the new system – is crossed? How will it evaluate analytical gems in the unregulated alternative media and open source fora? Will social media evidences, planted and generated by a critical mass of trolls, be machine-aggregated to determine true news?

It is also disturbing to note that this digital commissariat is being partly developed by Qatar – a nation that has been routinely singled out for its human rights abuses, use of slave labour, rampant anti-Semitism, runaway fake news and support of jihadi terrorism.  While Qatar and the US media have incessantly accused Syria of wielding chemical weapons, experts from MIT and the UN have adduced otherwise. How will such contradictory reports be treated in the future as more Gulf Arab money pour into MIT and its cohort research institutions?

Not Made-in-America

The future of US artificial intelligence and its emerging technologies is overwhelmingly dependent on foreign talent drawn from Asia and Eastern Europe.  This is unsurprising as 44 million US citizens are currently saddled with a staggering $1.53 trillion in student loans – with a projected 40 percent default rate by 2023.

The US student loan bubble is expanding in tandem with the rising un-employability of young Americans. Fake news overload naturally leads to pervasive intellectual stupefaction.  US policy-makers will ignore this ominous trend, just as they ignore the perennial national slide in global indices that measure the quality of life, education and human capital yields. Can the human mind – incessantly subjected to politicized fairy tales and violent belief systems – be capable of continual innovation?  It is, of course, easier to blame an external bogeyman over a purely internal malaise. Herein lies the utility of fake news; one that will be filtered by a digital nanny and policed by thousands of ideologically-biased fact-checkers.  Funded, of course, by the US deep state!

Somehow no known form of intelligence – artificial or otherwise – has impressed US policy-makers on the national security dimensions of the immigrant-citizen digital divide. High-achieving immigrant communities, for example, may be targeted by irate citizens during a period of intense economic distress, precipitating a reverse brain-drain to their countries of origin.

Even otherwise, the children of highly-skilled naturalized immigrants face a variety of discriminatory practices when they come of age. The most notorious of this is the “Asia fail” intake regimen at vaunted US universities where smart second-generation Asian Americans are routinely sacrificed on the altars of artificial diversity and multiculturalism.  In future, a digital panopticon may selectively reject meritorious applicants based on “inappropriate” social media posts made a lifetime ago.  Any litigation-unearthed bias in the admissions process can be blamed on a technical glitch. Or on the Russians!

Forget about merit! The prevalent imperative is to develop next generation rubber-stampers for the privileged 0.1%.

Divergent Futures

Just like the Internet, the middle classes of a rump US-led Greater Eurabia and a China-led world may have separate trajectories by 2030.  With China experiencing a middle class boom and record numbers of STEM graduates, AI is poised to boost the quantity and quality of a new generation of digital scientists.

At the same time, the search algorithms of Google, YouTube, Facebook and its cohorts are making it harder for individuals to access critical open source data and analyses.  The convenient pretext here is “fake news” and the need to protect society from misleading information.  Why think… when a state-led AI Commissar can do the thinking for you? Ironically, the West routinely charges China for this very practice. How is it possible then for China to develop rapidly and become a leader in AI?  In the core Asian societies, the art of “constructive criticism” incentivises erudition, knowledge and a face-saving approach.  Knowledge is also unfettered by ideology or provenance.

The US, on the other hand, is hopelessly trying to find a balance between its ideological dictates, visceral populism and next-generation knowledge. Talent and AI are sacrificed in the process. According to Google’s Eric Schmidt, “Iran… produces some of the smartest and top computer scientists in the world. I want them here. I want them working for Alphabet and Google. It’s crazy not to let these people in.”

It is even crazier to think that a smart society can be moulded by AI-mediated claptrap and news filters.  This is why China will win the AI race, and Asia will prevail in the Internet of Ideas (IoI).

Haiti: An Example of Fake News by Omission

The people who created Facebook and Google must be smart. They’re billionaires, their companies are worth multi-multi billions, their programs are used by billions around the world.

But all these smart people, because of Congressional pressure, have swallowed the stories about “fake news”. Facebook hired a very large staff of people to read everything posted by users to weed out the fake stuff. That didn’t last too long at all before the company announced that it wasn’t “comfortable” deciding which news sources are the most trustworthy in a “world with so much division”. We all could have told them that, couldn’t we?

Facebook’s previous efforts to ask its users to determine the accuracy of news did not turn out any better. Last year, the company launched a feature that allowed users to flag news stories they felt were inaccurate. The experiment was shuttered after nine months.

“Fake news”, however, is not the problem. News found in the mainstream media is rarely fake; i.e., actual lies made from whole cloth, totally manufactured. This was, however, a common practice of the CIA during the first Cold War. The Agency wrote editorials and phony news stories to be knowingly published by Latin American media with no indication of CIA authorship or CIA payment to the particular media. The propaganda value of such a “news” item might be multiplied by being picked up by other CIA stations in Latin America who would disseminate it through a CIA-owned news agency or a CIA-owned radio station. Some of these stories made their way back to the United States to be read or heard by unknowing North Americans.1

Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” in 2003 is another valid example of “fake news”, but like the CIA material this was more a government invention than a media creation.

The main problem with the media today, as earlier, is what is left out of articles dealing with controversial issues. For example, the very common practice during the first Cold War of condemning the Soviet Union for taking over much of Eastern Europe after the Second World War. This takeover is certainly based on fact. But the condemnation is very much misapplied if no mention is made of the fact that Eastern Europe became communist because Hitler, with the approval of the West, used it as a highway to reach the Soviet Union to wipe out Bolshevism once and for all; the Russians in World Wars I and II lost about 40 million people because the West had twice used this highway to invade Russia. It should not be surprising that after World War II the Soviets were determined to close down the highway. It was not simply “communist expansion”.

Or the case of Moammar Gaddafi. In the Western media he is invariably referred to as “the Libyan dictator”. Period. And he certainly was a dictator. But he also did many marvelous things for the people of Libya (like the highest standard of living in Africa) and for the continent of Africa (like creating the African Union).

Or the case of Vladimir Putin. The Western media never tires of reminding its audience that Putin was once a KGB lieutenant colonel – wink, wink, we all know what that means, chuckle, chuckle. But do they ever remind us with a wink or chuckle that US President George H.W. Bush was once – not merely a CIA officer, but the fucking Director of the CIA!

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg now says: “We decided that having the community determine which sources are broadly trusted would be most objective”; “broadly trusted” sources being those that are “affirmed by a significant cross-section of users”.

Right, a significant cross-section of users – Will that include me? Highly unlikely. Broadly trusted sources – Will that include media like my Anti-Empire Report? Just as unlikely. Anything close? Maybe a single token leftist website amongst a large list, I’d guess. And a single token rightist website. Zuckerberg and his ilk probably think that the likes of NBC, NPR and CNN are very objective and are to be trusted when it comes to US foreign-policy issues or capitalism-vs-socialism issues.

On January 19 Google announced that it would cancel a two-month old experiment, called Knowledge Panel, that informed its users that a news article had been disputed by “independent fact-checking organizations”. Conservatives had complained that the feature unfairly targeted a right-leaning outlet.

Imagine that. It’s almost like people have political biases. Both Facebook and Google are still experimenting, trying to find a solution that I do not think exists. My solution is to leave it as it is. There’s no automated way to remove bias or slant or judgment from writing or from those persons assigned to evaluate such.2

Fake news by omission – the Haiti example

“I’m happy to have a president that will bluntly speak the truth in negotiations,” Eric Prince commented on Breitbart News. “If the president says some places are shitholes, he’s accurate.”3 Thus did Mr. Eric Prince pay homage to Mr. Donald Trump. Prince, of course, being the renowned founder of Blackwater, the private army which in September 2007 opened fire in a crowded square in Baghdad, killing 17 Iraqi civilians and seriously wounding 20 more.4

Speaking of Haiti and other “shitholes”, Prince declared:

It’s a sad characterization of many of these places. It’s not based on race. It has nothing to do with race. It has to do with corrupt incompetent governments that abuse their citizens, and that results in completely absent infrastructure to include open sewers, and unclean water, and crime. It’s everything we don’t want in America.

Like the US media, Prince failed to point out that on two occasions in the recent past when Haiti had a decent government, led by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, which was motivated to improve conditions, the United States was instrumental in nullifying its effect. This was in addition to fully supporting the Duvalier dictatorship for nearly 30 years prior to Aristide.

Aristide, a reformist priest, was elected to the presidency in 1991 but was ousted eight months later in a military coup. The 1993 Clinton White House thus found itself in the awkward position of having to pretend – because of all their rhetoric about “democracy” – that they supported the democratically-elected Aristide’s return to power from his exile in the US. After delaying his return for more than two years, Washington finally had its military restore Aristide to office, but only after obliging the priest to guarantee that he would not help the poor at the expense of the rich – literally! – and that he would stick closely to free-market economics. This meant that Haiti would continue to be the assembly plant of the Western Hemisphere, with its workers receiving starvation wages, literally! If Aristide had thoughts about breaking the agreement forced upon him, he had only to look out his window – US troops were stationed in Haiti for the remainder of his term.

In 2004, with Aristide once again the elected president, the United States staged one of its most blatant coups ever. On February 28, 2004, American military and diplomatic personnel arrived at Aristide’s home to inform him that his private American security agents must either leave immediately to return to the US or fight and die; that the remaining 25 of the American security agents hired by the Haitian government, who were to arrive the next day, had been blocked by the United States from coming; that foreign and Haitian rebels were nearby, heavily armed, determined and ready to kill thousands of people in a bloodbath. Aristide was pressured to sign a “letter of resignation” before he was flown into exile by the United States.

And then US Secretary of State Colin Powell, in the sincerest voice he could muster, told the world that Aristide “was not kidnapped. We did not force him onto the airplane. He went onto the airplane willingly. And that’s the truth.” Powell sounded as sincere as he had sounded a year earlier when he gave the UN a detailed (albeit imaginary) inventory of the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq, shortly before the US invasion.

Jean-Bertrand Aristide was on record, by word and deed, as not being a great lover of globalization or capitalism. This was not the kind of man the imperial mafia wanted in charge of the Western Hemisphere’s assembly plant. It was only a matter of time before they took action.5

It should be noted that the United States also kept progressives out of power in El Salvador, another of Trump’s “shithole” countries.6

Liberals today

On January 24 I went to the Washington, DC bookstore Politics & Prose to hear David Cay Johnston, author of It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America. To my surprise he repeatedly said negative things about Russia, and in the Q&A session I politely asked him about this. He did not take kindly to that and after a very brief exchange cut me off by asking for the next person in line to ask a question.

That was the end of our exchange. No one in the large audience came to my defense or followed up with a question in the same vein; i.e., the author as cold warrior. The only person who spoke to me afterwards had only this to say as he passed me by: “Putin kills people”. Putin had not been mentioned. I should have asked him: “Which government never kills anyone?”

Politics & Prose is a very liberal bookstore. (Amongst many authors of the left, I’ve spoken there twice.) Its patrons are largely liberal. But liberals these days are largely cold warriors it appears. Even though the great majority of them can’t stand Trump they have swallowed the anti-Russia line of his administration and the media, perhaps because of the belief that “Russian meddling” in the election led to dear Hillary’s defeat, the proof of which sees more non-existent with each passing day.

Sam Smith (who puts out the Progressive Review in Maine) has written about Hillary’s husband:

A major decline of progressive America occurred during the Clinton years as many liberals and their organizations accepted the presence of a Democratic president as an adequate substitute for the things liberals once believed in. Liberalism and a social democratic spirit painfully grown over the previous 60 years withered during the Clinton administration.

And shortly afterward came Barack Obama, not only a Democrat but an African-American, the perfect setup for a lot more withering, health care being a good example. The single-payer movement was regularly gaining momentum when Obama took office; it seemed like America was finally going to join the modern advanced world. But Mr. O put a definitive end to that. Profit – even of the type Mr. Trump idealizes – would still determine who is to live and who is to die, just like Jews intone during Rosh Hashanah.

Poor America. It can travel to other planets, create a military force powerful enough to conquer the world ten times over, invent the Internet and a thousand other things … but it can’t provide medical care for all its people.

Now, three of the richest men in the world, the heads of Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase, which collectively employ more than a million people, have announced they are partnering to create an independent company aimed at reining in ever-increasing health-care costs for companies and employees alike. The three men will pursue this objective through a company whose initial focus will be on technology solutions that will provide US employees and their families with simplified, high-quality and transparent healthcare at a reasonable cost. Almost no details were made available on how they plan to do this, but I predict that whatever they do will fail. They have lots of models to emulate – in Canada, Europe, Cuba and elsewhere – but to an American nostril these examples all suffer from the same unpleasant odor, the smell of socialism.

I say this even though their announcement states that the new company will be “free from profit-making incentives and constraints”.7 And Warren Buffet, head of Berkshire Hathaway, is cited on CNN as follows: “Warren Buffett says America is ready for single-payer health care. The billionaire investor tells PBS NewsHour that government-run health insurance ‘probably is the best system’ because it would control escalating costs. ‘We are such a rich country. In a sense, we can afford to do it.’”8

Of course, the US could have afforded to do it 50 years ago. I really hope that my cynicism is misplaced.

The Trump Bubble (Written before the market crashed)

Repeatedly, President Trump and his supporters have bragged about the “booming” stock market, attributing it to the administration’s marvelous economic policies and the great public confidence in those policies. Like much of what comes out of the Donald’s mouth … this is simply nonsense.

The stock market is, and always has been, just a gambling casino, a glorified Las Vegas. Every day a bunch of people, (gamblers) buy and/or sell one stock or another; sometimes they sell the same stock they bought the day before; or the hour before; or the minute before; the next day they may well do the exact reverse. All depending on the latest news headline, or what a corporation has done to elicit attention, or what a friend just told them, or a fortune teller, or that day’s horoscope, or just a good ol’ hunch. Or they make up a reason; anything to avoid thinking that they’re just pulling the lever of a slot machine.

And many people buy certain stocks because other people are buying it. This is what stock market analysts call a speculative bubble. Prick the confidence and the bubble bursts. “The stock market,” Naomi Klein has observed, “has the temperament of an overindulged 2-year-old, who can throw one of its world-shaking tantrums.”

Walter Winchell, the 1960-70s powerful and widely-syndicated gossip columnist of the New York Daily News, famously wrote that he lost his faith in the stock market when he saw that a stock could jump sharply in price simply because he happened to mention something related to the company in his column.

And all this occurs even when the stock market is operating in the supposedly honest way it was designed to operate. What are we to make of it when sophisticated investors devise a computer scam for instantaneous buying and selling, as has happened several times in recent years?

Yet President Trump and his fans would have us believe that the big jump in stock prices of the past year is testimony to his sterling leadership and oh-so-wise policies. What will they say when the market crashes? As Trump himself will crash.

Driverless police cars

Yes, that’s what they’re thinking of next. Among other things these cars will be able to catch speeders and issue tickets. But here’s the real test of the system’s Artificial Intelligence – can the police car be taught how to recognize a young black man, drive to within a few feet of him, and fire a gun at his head?

  1. Philip Agee, Inside the Company: CIA Diary, published in 1974.
  2. Washington Post, January 19, 20, 23, 25, 2018.
  3. Breitbart News radio program, January 12, 2018.
  4. Wikipedia entry for Eric Prince
  5. William Blum, Killing Hope, Chapters 22 and 55; Rogue State, pp. 202-3, 219-20.
  6. Killing Hope, Chapter 54.
  7. Business Wire, January 30, 2018.
  8. CNNMoney, June 28, 2017.

The Next Great Recession?

The transnational capitalist class is pouring billions of dollars into the rapid digitalization of global capitalism as the latest outlet for its surplus accumulated capital and hedging its bets on new investment opportunities in a global police state. But will these ballooning sectors of the global economy allow the world capitalist system to avoid another catastrophic crisis?

There is good reason to believe that recovery will be ephemeral and that another crisis looms on the horizon.  The underlying structural conditions that triggered the Great Depression of 2008 remain in place and a new round of restructuring in the global economy now underway is likely to further aggravate them.  These conditions include unprecedented levels of inequality, public and private debt and financial speculation.   A new crisis could be triggered by a bursting of the current stock market bubble, especially in the high-tech sector, by defaults in household or public debt, or by the outbreak of a new international military conflict.

Growth has plodded forward since 2008 through monetary instruments such as “quantitative easing” (essentially, printing money and making it available as credit) and bank and corporate bailouts, along with escalating consumer debt, a wave of speculative investment, especially in the high-tech sector, and ever increasing levels of financial speculation in the global casino. Now, however, central banks are running out of monetary instruments to promote growth.

In the United States, which has long been the “market of last resort” for the global economy, household debt is higher than it has been for almost all of postwar history. U.S. households owed in 2016 nearly $13 trillion in student loans, credit card debt, auto loans and mortgages. In just about every OECD country the ratio of income to household debt remains historically high and has steadily deteriorated since 2008.  The global bond market – an indicator of total government debt worldwide – has escalated since 2008 and now surpasses $100 trillion.

Meanwhile, the gap between the productive economy and “fictitious capital” grows ever wider as financial speculation spirals out of control.  Gross world product, or the total value of goods and services produced worldwide, stood at some $75 trillion in 2015, whereas currency speculation alone amounted to $5.3 trillion a day that year and the global derivatives market was estimated at a mind-boggling $1.2 quadrillion.

The more farsighted among transnational elites have expressed growing concern over this fragility in the global economy and the specter of chronic long-term stagnation.  Former World Bank and U.S. Treasury official Lawrence Summers warned last year of “secular stagnation” in the global economy, which has “entered unexplored, dangerous territory.”  Yet these elites are not prepared to address the larger backdrops to global economic malaise, namely, capitalism’s intractable problem of over-accumulation.

Over-accumulation: Capitalism’s Achilles Heel

The global economy remains plagued by the structural Achilles heel of capitalism – over-accumulation.  The polarization of income and wealth is endemic to capitalism since the capitalist class owns the means of producing wealth and therefore appropriates as profits as much as possible of the wealth that society collectively produces.  If capitalists cannot actually sell (or “unload”) the products of their plantations, factories, and offices then they cannot make profit.  Left unchecked, expanding social polarization results in crisis – in stagnation, recessions, depressions, and social upheavals.

As capital went global from the 1970s and on the emerging transnational capitalist class, or TCC, was able to get around state intervention in the capitalist market and undermine the redistributive programs that had been established in the wake of the 1930s Great Depression.  The TCC promoted vast neo-liberal restructuring, trade liberalization, and integration of the world economy.  Public policy has been reconfigured through austerity, bailouts, corporate subsidies, government debt and the global bond market as governments transfer wealth directly and indirectly from working people to the TCC.

The result has been unprecedented global inequalities that, far from diminishing, have escalated at an astonishing rate since the 2008 Great Recession.  According to the development agency Oxfam, just one percent of humanity owned over half of the world’s wealth in 2016 and the top 20 percent owned 94.5 of that wealth, while the remaining 80 percent had to make do with just 4.5 percent.  Given such extreme polarization of income and wealth, the global market cannot absorb the output of the global economy.  The Great Recession marked the onset of a new structural crisis of over-accumulation.  Corporations are now awash in cash but they do not have opportunities to profitably invest this cash. Corporate profits surged after the 2008 crisis and have reached near record highs at the same time that corporate investment has declined.

As this uninvested capital accumulates, enormous pressures build up to find outlets for unloading the surplus.  Trumpism in the United States reflects a far-right response to the crisis worldwide that involves authoritarian neo-liberalism alongside a neo-fascist mobilization of the disaffected, often nativist, sectors of the working class.  Yet this repressive neo-liberalism ends up further restricting the market and therefore aggravating the underlying crisis of over-accumulation.

The TCC has turned to two outlets to unload surplus.  One is militarized accumulation.  The wars on drugs and terrorism, the construction of border walls, the expansion of prison-industrial complexes, deportation regimes, police, the military, and other security apparatuses, are major sources of state-organized profit making.  The Pentagon budget increased 91 percent in real terms between 1998 and 2011 while defense industry profits nearly quadrupled during this period.  Here there is a convergence around global capitalism’s political need for social control and repression and its economic need to perpetuate accumulation in the face of stagnation.  Putting aside the escalating rhetoric of Trump’s war mongering, there is a built in war drive to current course of capitalist globalization.  Historically wars have pulled the capitalist system out of crisis while they have also served to deflect attention from political tensions and problems of legitimacy.

The Digitalization of Global Capitalism

The other outlet has been a new wave of financial speculation in recent years, and especially in the over-valued tech sector.  The tech sector is now at the cutting edge of capitalist globalization and is driving the digitalization of the entire global economy.  Karl Marx famously declared in The Communist Manifesto that “all that is solid melts into air” under the dizzying pace of chance wrought by capitalism.  Now the world economy stands at the brink of another period of massive restructuring.  At the heart of this restructuring is the digital economy based on more advanced information technology, on the collection, processing, and analysis of data, and on the application of digitalization to every aspect of global society, including war and repression.

Computer and information technology first introduced in the 1980s provided the original technological basis for globalization.  The first generation of capitalist globalization from the that decade and on involved the creation of a globally integrated production and financial system whereas more recently digitalization and the rise of “platforms” have facilitated a very rapid transnationalization of services, which by 2017 accounted for some 70 percent of the total gross world product.  Platforms refer to digital infrastructures that enable two or more groups to interact.  As the dependence of economic activity on platforms spreads the tech sector becomes ever more strategic to global capitalism.  Digitalization and the transnationalization of services have moved to the center of the global capitalist agenda.

In recent years there has been another wave of technological development that has brought us to the verge of the “4th industrial revolution,” based on robotics, 3-D printing, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, bio- and nanotechnology, quantum and cloud computing, new forms of energy storage, and autonomous vehicles.  While the tech sector that drives forward this new revolution constitutes only a small portion of the gross world product, digitalization encompasses the entire global economy, from manufacturing and finance to services, and in both the formal and informal sectors.  It is central to all of the processes associated with the global economy, from controlling and outsourcing workers, the flexibility of production processes, global financial flows, the coordination of global chains of supply, subcontracting and outsourcing, record keeping, marketing and sales.

In his study Platform Capitalism, political scientist Nick Srnicek shows how institutional investors, especially speculative hedge and mutual funds, poured billions of dollars into the tech sector since the 2008 Great Recession.  This tech sector became a major new outlet for uninvested capital in the face of stagnation.  Investment in it jumped from $17 billion in 1970, to $65 billion in 1980 to $175 billion in 1990, $496 billion in 2016.

A handful of U.S.-based tech companies have absorbed enormous amounts of cash from financiers desperate for new investment opportunities.  In 2017 Apple held $262 billion in reserves, Microsoft held $133 billion, Alphabet (Google’s parent company) held $95 billion, Cisco held $58 billion, Oracle held $66 billion, and so on.

Apologists for the current ruling order claim that the digital economy will bring high-skilled, high-paid jobs and resolve problems of social polarization and stagnation.  But everything indicates quite the opposite: the digital economy will accelerate the trend towards ever more mass un- and underemployment along with precarious and casualized forms of employment.  We are poised to see the digital decimation of major sectors of the global economy.  Anything can be digitalized, and this is increasingly almost everything.  Automation is now spreading from industry and finance to all branches of services, even to fast food and agriculture as members of the TCC seeks to lower wages and out-compete one another.  It is even expected to replace much professional work such as lawyers, financial analysts, doctors, journalists, accountants, insurance underwriters and librarians.

In the United States the net increase in jobs since 2005 has been almost exclusively in unstable and usually low paid work arrangements.  In the Philippines, an army of 100,000 outsourced workers earn a few hundred dollars a month searching through the content on social media such as Google and Facebook and in cloud storage to remove offensive images.  Yet they too stand to be replaced by digital technology, as do millions of call center, data entry and software workers around the world, along with their counterparts in manufacturing and in other service sector jobs.

Digital Warfare and Global Police State

Digitalization makes possible the creation of a global police state.  As it brings about a concentration of capital and heightened polarization, dominant groups turn to applying the new technologies to mass social control in the face of resistance among the precariatized and the marginalized.  The dual functions of accumulation and social control are played out in the militarization of civil society and the crossover between the military and the civilian application of advanced weapons, tracking, security and surveillance systems.  The result is permanent low-intensity warfare against communities in rebellion as theaters of conflict spread from active war zones to urban and rural localities around the world.

The new systems of warfare and repression made possible by more advanced digitalization include AI powered automated weaponry such as unmanned attack and transportation vehicles, robot soldiers, a new generation of “superdrones,” microwave guns that immobilize, cyber attack and info-warfare, biometric identification, state data mining, and global electronic surveillance that allows for the tracking and control of every movement.  Militarized accumulation and accumulation by repression – already a centerpiece of global capitalism – may become ever more important as it fuses with new fourth industrial revolution technologies, not just as means of maintaining control but as expanding outlets for accumulated surplus that stave off economic collapse.

In this context, the rise of the digital economy appears to fuse three fractions of capital around a combined process of financial speculation and militarized accumulation into which the TCC is unloading billions of dollars in surplus accumulated capital as it hedges its bets on investment opportunities in a global police state.

Financial capital supplies the credit for investment in the tech sector and in the technologies of the global police state.  Tech firms develop and provide the new digital technologies that are now of central importance to the global economy.  Ever since NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden came forward in 2013 there has been a torrent of revelations on the collusion of the giant tech firms with the U.S. and other governments in the construction of a global police state.  And the military-industrial-security complex applies this technology as it becomes an outlet for unloading surplus and making profit through the control and repression of rebellious populations.

The structural crisis of capitalism in the 1970s launched the world on the path of neo-liberal globalization.  The bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 then threw the world into recession.  The bursting of the housing bubble in 2008 triggered the worst crisis since the 1930s.  Everything indicates that the current tech boom is generating a new bubble that could bring another crisis when it bursts, perhaps in conjunction with debt defaults.  The next Great Recession is likely to cement this fusion of digital economy and global police state, absent a change of course forced on the system by mass mobilization and popular struggle from below.

• An earlier version of this article appeared in Telesur

Capitalism’s Failure Of The Flesh: The Rise Of The Robots

Humankind, being an inherently tool-making species, has always been in a relationship with technology. Our tools, weapons, machines, and appliances are crucial to forging the cultural criteria of human life. At present, amid the technology created phantom-scape of mass media’s lurid — yet somehow sterile — imagery, one can feel as if one’s mind is in danger of being churned to spittle.

On a personal note, an informal consensus has formed among my friends who share a passion for reading: We read far fewer books since the time we became enmeshed with the internet. Worse, we find the feelings of isolation that we have attempted to mitigate by an immersion in online activity, at best, provides only a palliative effect. Yet, in the manner of addiction — or a hopeless love affair —  we are prone to trudge deeper into the psychical morass by further immersion into the very source that is exacerbating our feelings of unease and ennui.

Yet we insist on remaining mentally epoxied to electronic appliances, as the oceans of our technology besieged planet die, as the atmosphere is choked with heat-holding greenhouse gas emissions, and, as a result, exquisite, living things disappear forever.

Therefore, it is crucial to explore why we are so isolated from each other but so connected to our devices, and are married to the belief system that misinforms us, technology can and will lift us from our increasingly perilous predicament. When reality dictates, if the past remains prologue, a fetishising of technology will further enslave us in a de facto techno-dystopia. A reassessment, for numerous reasons, of the relationship between humankind and technology must come to pass.

Moreover, the reevaluation must include machines, at present and in the future, we have created in our own image. For example, those such as IA technologies, that on an increasing basis, will cause a significant number of the workforce to be rendered idle.

Of course, it is a given, bottom line obsessives that they are, capitalists crave to replace workers with an automated labor force. The parasitic breed has always viewed workers as flesh machines, of whom, they were inconvenienced by having to pay wages. Capitalism is, by its very nature, dehumanising. From the advent of the industrial/capitalist epoch, the system has inflicted mass alienation, societal atomisation, and anomie. Moreover, the vast wealth inequity inherent to the system allows the capitalist elite to own the political class — a mindless clutch of flunkies who might as well be robots programmed by the capitalist order to serve their agendas.

The question is, what effect will the nature of being rendered superfluous to the prevailing order have on the powerless masses — who have, up until now, been kept in line by economic coercion, by meretricious, debt-incurring consumer bribes, and by mass media indoctrination and pop culture anaesthesia? Will consumers continue to insist that their mental chains are the very wings of freedom?

Yet the Age Of Mass Mechanisation carries the potential to bestow an era of liberty, artistic exploration, scientific inquiry, intellectual fervour, the pursuit of soul-making, and inspired leisure. Or the polar shift in cultural raison d’etre might inflict a crisis of identity so harrowing that demagogues rise and despots promise to seed a new order but harvest the corpses of dissidents and outsiders.

A couple of weeks back, during a visit to a neighbourhood playground with my four year old, I had a conversation with an executive on voluntary leave from her management position at BMW (Bayerische Motoren Werke). She was grousing about a infestation of seaweed choking the beaches of the Florida Keys she had encountered on a recent excursion to the US. When I averred the phenomenon of the warming oceans of the planet, the progenitor of the exponential growth of the sea flora she had been troubled by, was caused, in large measure, by the very socio-economic-cultural dynamic that financed her trip to Florida in the first place…well, it put a crimp in the conversation.

It can be unsettling to be confronted with one’s complicity in the ills of a system that, by its very nature, provides camouflage to its perpetrators — the big bosses, down to its functionaries, and foot soldiers. Soon, she, by a series of subtle moves, extricated herself from the conversation — and I cannot say I blame her. I myself experienced discomfort by the thought of the discomfort I inflicted on her. Therefore, as a general rule, under the tyranny of amiability, which is the rule of the day of the present order, one is tempted to avoid trespassing into the comfort zones that aid in enabling the status quo.

Yet we are faced with the following imperative: The system and its machines must begin to serve humanity, as opposed to what has been the case since the advent of the industrial/technological age: the mass of humanity serving the machine. Therefore, there must arrive a paradigmatic shift in metaphors and the ethos of the era; e.g., a renunciation of the soul-decimating concept of human beings as flesh machines — who must, for the sake of monomaniacal profiteering, divorce themselves from human feeling as well as must forgo exploration, enthusiasm, and craft in the pursuit of expediency.

We do have a choice in the matter, all indications to the contrary. Yet, in the prevailing confusion regarding what ethos should guide our relationship to technology, we are confronted with phenomenon such as the situation chronicled in a recent article in The Guardian. Headlined: “The Sex Robots Are Coming: seedy, sordid – but mainly just sad“.

Regarding the supercilious nature of the headline, wouldn’t it be more propitious for all concerned to ask and explore why, under the present order, men are so alienated, socially awkward and lonely, as opposed to lapsing into all the predictable moral panic, wit-deficient snark, and supercilious value judgments these sorts of stories evoke?

Isn’t being attracted to consumer goods what it is all about, identity-wise, under the present order? Don’t customers demand that the de facto slaves of the service industry evince the demeanour of compliant androids? Isn’t it a given that the underclass workforce, holders of service industry jobs, will soon be replaced by robots? Do we not worship and are ruled by the gospel of the cult of efficiency?

Withal, for the present order to be maintained, it is crucial for the general public to remain both alienated thus using consumerism as a palliative, and that includes the production and retailing of sexualised, simulacrum appliances that mimic sex partners and the psychical release valve of finger-wagging, easy virtue and shallow vitriol aimed at the poor sods who seek comfort from them.

Addendum: I’m much more mortified by robotics designed for surveillance and war than for ones designed for simulacrumatic sex. I’m simply beastly that way.

Robots can be programmed to simulate copulation but it is doubtful that machines can be tuned and tweaked to experience the manifold, complex states of being that define human consciousness and its innate ability for self expression; for example, the ability to express themselves by means of spontaneous generated metaphors. While it is true, AI technologies can mimic forms of poetic and artistic expression but, in any honest account of the processes they utilise, machines engage in the activity sans a depth of feeling, the facility to evince empathy and the ability to access imagination; i.e., the phenomenon we human beings term soulfulness. Sans the ineffable quality of soul, AI entities, as is the case with our present information technology, will contribute the palliative, yet inherently alienating, effects inherent to our hyper-commodified era.

In contrast, writers/artists/activists must proceed to dangerous places. It is imperative that they descend into the danger zone known as the soul. The soul is not a realm inhabited by weightless beings radiating beatific light. Rather, it is a landscape of broken, wounded wanderers; inchoate longing; searing lamentation; the confabulations of imperfect memory; of rutting and rage; transgression; depression; fragmented language; and devouring darkness.

The reductionist metaphors inherent to the age of mechanisation — which limn human beings in mechanised, commodified terms — as opposed to the organic, unfolding pantheon composed of needs, longings and desires we are — inflicts not only alienation from our fellow human beings but from our essential natures. In our misery and confusion, we have bloated our bodies, maimed and poisoned the earth, and scoured the hours of our lives of meaning by the compulsive commodification of all things. Therefore it should not come as a surprise when alienated, lonely men become enamoured of glambots.

We have delivered insult after insult to the soul of the world, and yet it loves us with an abiding and bitter grace. The question remains: do we love it in turn, and deeply enough, to mount a resistance to the present order thus turn the tide against the love-bereft forces responsible for the wholesale destruction of both landscape and soulscape.