Category Archives: Internet

Mastering the Emerging World of Connectivity

Our civilization is a top-down hierarchical one, as are most large-scale ones in the past, i.e., one-to-the-many, ‘top-down’, explains Kall in an interview with Tom Hartmann. Kall’s book, The Bottom-Up Revolution: Mastering the Emerging World of Connectivity, is the distillation of his experience founding and running the  website Opednews, which started as a personal blog, i.e., one-to-the-many, ‘bottom-bottom’, and morphed into a many-to-the-many, with the potential of bottom-top, as a volunteer-based collective.

Kall calls this ‘gayan’, as contributors and management are directly interconnected in a symbiotic, transparent relationship. Writers can ‘fan’ their favorite writers at Opednews and both comment, generating discussions of controversial topics, and contact other members directly.

I have been a member since 2008 and can attest that it is a unique site, allowing would-be writers to submit, learning the ropes and getting feedback to hone their skills. It struggles with the tension between being open to new ideas, but constrained by the existing zeitgeist. Writers are warned on submitting to ‘think twice’ about using red-flag words (scatology, Hitler, Zionist), and the editors can just not publish something. Publishing progressive material which is highly critical of the powers-that-be (including PCness) is not easy.

So I have bitten my share of bullets, but I understand the ‘why’ of censorship/restraint in the interests of social harmony. In Soviet days, I would warn Soviet dissenters ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.’ It is my mantra in face-off with Iran critics today. As a progressive, I experience (unjust) censorship every waking minute in our ‘land of freedom’.

Kall’s baby is the only ‘open source’ publishing enterprise of a professional calibre, where intelligent newcomers to politics can cut their teeth. Like open source software (which I’m using to write this review), it is a great example of ‘bottom-bottom’, ‘bottom-up’ (screw the ‘up-up’ guys!).

Kall uses his concept to look at the broader civilizational problems, especially economics, and The Bottom-Up Revolution is a thorough analysis of the Internet from an optimist’s point of view. He uses the classical depiction of the economy as generating a surplus, first in agriculture and then in industry, and who controls this surplus as technology evolves. Marx’s insight — ‘forces of production determine the relations of production’ — today, must grapple with the Internet. How does it change who we are, how we relate?

Of course, it is the top, the 1%, who shape us and any technological advances which are deemed profitable, and thus incorporated into the economy. And interactions in the economy are in the first place top-down, until, that is, there is some kind of revolution which empowers the bottom.

Bottom-up is democratic and should be our model. Are we living through such a revolution?

Kall says yes. He points out that native cultures were first seen as savages living in a world of bare survival. As indigenous cultures were conquered and destroyed with the rise of modern-day (i.e., capitalist) imperialism, anthropologists  beginning in the 19th century began to study indigenous cultures (i.e., 3/4 of the world) ‘scientifically’, and they showed that this was not the case. Those cultures worked 2-3 hours a day to survive. They are the ‘wealthy’ civilizations. Their lives had just as much (more?) meaning as our 9-to-5 civilization, and they lived with mostly symbolic fighting, and generally in harmony with nature. Yes, there are Easter Islands of disaster and Genghis Khans, but WWII killed more people than Genghis Khan (40m), and our current environmental metal down and threat of nuclear holocaust mean the sky’s the limit these days.

So is the Internet the silver bullet? Are the 99% learning the ropes, open to critical thinking, ready for action to overcome our flirtation with Armageddon?

Kall’s hope is that revolution has been ‘catalyzed’ by the Internet and the web. He sees the turning point as the 1980s, and looks to those born after 1980 for the new society, which should be more democratic, more caring, because it’s “about connection”. “The brain’s functioning differently.”

Kall makes an ambitious claim. Is the brain really functioning differently, i.e., better? My impression, returning to Canada from living abroad (the Soviet Union, Russia, Uzbekistan, Egypt) for two decades, is that most young people are shallow, mesmerized by iphones as they stumble down the street, oblivious to their real world surroundings. And the Internet is as much a swamp, full of dross, as it is a source of the ‘truth’.

In The Age of Addiction: How Bad Habits Became Big Business (2019), David T. Courtwright points with alarm to “limbic1 capitalism”, an age of mass addiction, “addiction by design”. The corporations controlling us engineer, produce and market potentially addictive products in ways calculated to increase demand and maximize profit. They devoted a share of their profits to buying off opposition. What results is “the inversion of the forces of reason and science that made it possible.”

I personally know young guys who became addicted to video games, failing in high school and/or university. At the same time, softcore addictions (porn, alcohol, marijuana) are increasingly acceptable. While punishing users by law is wrong, encouraging such behavior is just as wrong. We need authority, structure in our lives, especially in the formative years.

Kall’s optimism is uplifting, and we should definitely look to how we can mobilize people to use the Internet for the good. But it is clear to me that responsible government, removed from corporate control, is what is most vital.

It is the chicken and egg problem. We must use the Internet to pursue responsible government. Without responsible government, the corporations will ruin this technology, just as it developed and used all previous technological advances to pursue profit and war.

Not ‘bad’ or ‘good’

Kall points to how mobile phones have already led to a ‘revolution’ in Africa, allowing a more user-friendly banking system to develop. Africans are at the forefront of this possibility of banking for the masses. There are only 5 bank branches per 100,000, vs 32 in the US, which means money sits under mattresses.

“Every dollar of cash that is moved to a digital store of value will land on the balance sheet of a financial institution which can then be lent out multiple times over.” Vahid Monadjem, the founder of the South African-based payments platform Nomanini. And there is no need for ‘too big to fail’ banks which are always bailed out by the government (i.e, the poor).

We must look for more bottom-up solutions while the ‘window of opportunity’ is still open to public use of the Internet. It’s happening in the US. 10m workers are employed in worker-owned companies, and the Internet facilitated this workers’ movement. In short, we must confront the powerful and take their place.

‘Small is Beautiful’ is Kall’s mantra, inherited from E.F. Schumacher, and many others, long before our magical computer age. I would say we’re just reinventing the wheel, though the Internet is a high-tech one which I hope can help us achieve Schumacher’s utopian vision.

In the world of biology, ‘too big’ means death. Everything has an optimal size. For people, the optimal size — as anthropologists are discovering in analyzing ‘primitive’ societies — is 150 people as an organic whole. We should be optimizing size in the economy, which will vary from agriculture, industry, banking, the arts.

This requires a new socio-anthropology, looking at our own ‘indigenous’ industrial civilization through scientific eyes and harnessing the potentially bottom-up technology of today. Can the Internet help?

In The Revolution That Wasn’t (2019), Jen Schradie argues that technology is not only failing to level the playing field for activists, it’s actually making things worse by “creating a digital activism gap.” The differences in power and organization, she says, have undercut working-class movements and bolstered authoritarian groups, creating new cleavages and reinforcing the power structure at the same time.

Countering that pessimism is the work of talented progressive individuals like Kall and a recent (Internet) acquaintance Zach Foster, whose witty Stephen Colbert-type rants are self-produced. Thank you Internet: let a hundred Colberts bloom! Sadly, such fine (progressive) efforts as Kall and Foster’s don’t ‘go viral’ like the Justin Biebers.

Our Internet heroes Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden, whose efforts did ‘go viral’, have just barely survived the reach of the global mass surveillance they were exposing. The ‘good guys’ are constantly under attack. The right thrives on hierarchy, which is much more effective in wartime, which is what we live in now with the military industrial complex getting more and more powerful with each international nightmare lurch.

I hope Kall’s view is closer to the truth than my pessimism about the pluses and minuses of the Internet. Kudos to Kall for getting in on the action with Opednews. It and other progressive news and analysis sites (Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, New Cold War) and activist sites (Leadnow, Ceasefire, Avast) are my and millions of others’ bread and butter. They are only one of the means; the real work is still face-to-face, demonstrating, door-knocking, voting, board meetings …

Connecting on the Internet is no substitute for life. The ‘casualties’ of the Internet — the tech-savvy alt-right, the video games addicts and just those who dissipate their creative energies by ‘surfing the net’ — are many. Who’s winning?

The Internet can grease the wheels of society, but it is the inertial forces governing society that determine whether the Internet is used primarily for good or bad. I’m more of the Lem school of thought, his certainty that “technological development too often takes place only in service of our most primal urges, rewarding individual greed over the common good,” Courtwright’s limbic capitalism. I hope I’m wrong.

  1. The limbic system is involved in motivation, emotion, learning, and memory

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.

The Age of Abuse

As social divisions deepen, polarities spread, extremists rise, anger and abuse grows, is growing, is being legitimized, excused. Lies are sanctioned, truth dismissed. The abuser armed, flag-waving, ignorant, spewing vitriol and poisoning the collective psychological space, weaving a brittle web of insecurity.

There are multiple forms of abuse, from exploitation as in the case of modern day slavery, to torture and sexual violence including pornography, insults, degradation, online and off. The motive is consistent, inflicting pain, physical or psychological, and in many cases both, one leading to the other, oftentimes laying a lifelong seed of suffering and trauma.

Pain is tied to pleasure, polarities of a time-bound movement of the self. And we live in a culture of pleasure, sensory, tied to desire: see it, want it, have it, discard it. Desire for stimulation, for comfort, for stuff, for prestige, desire to dominate, to control, to be superior. Desire entwined with competition strengthened by tribalism, extreme nationalism and religious ideological dogmatism; my nation is the greatest, my God the most Godly, etc.

The pursuit of pleasure, physiological, but more significantly psychological, in the form of security, status, comfort, and the avoidance of pain, fashions motive, determines action. In the world of pleasure and desire Love is lost, fear inevitable, and with it abuse.

The spread of competition into all areas, like a virus eating away healthy cells, coupled with conformity, act as agents of fear and division, and where these exist there will be conflict and abuse.

In search of group acceptance the individual conforms to The Power and Ignorance of the Pack; ‘Send her back, send her back.’ An atmosphere of abuse once established, its execution is guaranteed. Social, racial, gender and ethnic abuse meted out. Conformity weighs heavily, the division between the fact and the idealized image, leading to self-abuse – self harming, drug/alcohol abuse, sexual abuse; self-loathing based on failure to fulfill expectations or to correspond to the hollow archetypes relentlessly promoted – to adopt the values and habits of The Pack.

A bully’s paradise

The Internet is the Wonder of the Modern Age, a library of unprecedented scope and scale democratizing information, dismantling distance, connecting billions around the world; a tool for creativity, knowledge and communication. In the hands of some, though, it is a weapon of humiliation, intimidation and abuse; a bully’s paradise. Twitter tirades from a racist US president, platforms of misinformation and dishonesty; politicians are intimidated and threatened, particularly women representatives: according to a global survey almost “half of women in politics have faced serious abuse, including threats of murder, rape and assault.” Adults and children are attacked – in Britain an Ofcom report found that “23 per cent of children have been cyber bullied in the last year, while 39 per cent have been subjected to offensive language online,” and the picture is similar throughout Europe. In the US, a Pew Research Center study (2017 and its got worse) concluded that “41% of Americans (adults) have been personally subjected to harassing behavior online,” and 66% have “witnessed these behaviors directed at others.”

Terrorists, home grown or foreign based, employ cyberspace to advertise for recruits, connect to others, like minded, promote their ideology, demanding abuse and destruction; partners abuse trust, sharing intimate photographs of their lover, violent attacks are filmed, shared in ‘real time’. The number of websites specializing in child abuse, often disguised, sits at 78,589, up 37% on 2016, according to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). And the level of abuse shown on theses site is becoming more extreme, the content increasingly vile – rape and sexual torture of children has increased from 28% to 33% in three years. IWF’s CEO, “we are now receiving more reports of child sexual abuse content than ever before. This year we’re seeing offenders getting smarter and finding new ways to abuse legitimate Internet services.”

Huge quantities of porn, much of which shows abusive images: around a third of the www is dedicated to pornography. Billions of people every minute search for online pleasure, forming dependency, addiction in some cases, and is not addiction a form of self-abuse?

All this and more, including staggering levels of environmental vandalism, is a reflection of human consciousness, which is itself shaped by adopted values and existing systems, specifically the socio-economic model. Rooted in competition and greed, selfishness and pleasure, the pervasive modes of living aggravate the negative in humanity, are of themselves abusive, and, by encouraging division, foster abuse.

The Crisis of Abuse is being fanned by the actions, rhetoric and behavior of prominent political figures, from Trump to Viktor Orban and all extreme voices in between. It is not their creation though, nor is it the creation of some vague power separate from society, it is society and society with its structures and forms is the representation at any given time of the consciousness of those living within it: society is humanity.

Consciousness, as J. Krishnamurti repeatedly made clear, is its content, and is conditioned thereby. Among large numbers of people there is a substantive shift in consciousness taking place away from divisive ideals to more inclusive, tolerant ways of living. When, however, consciousness is filled with detritus, with the values of the market, of competition, nationalism and narrow ideological constructs, division, conflict – internal and external – and abuse follows.

A point of tension is being reached between the old decaying ways, and The New, between the imperative felt among many for fundamental change, and those backward-looking reactionary voices, that are feeding an atmosphere of abuse and division. Unity, cooperation and tolerance are the pre-eminent values of the time. Together with sharing and understanding these Principles of Goodness need to be, and (striking a cautious note of optimism), will increasingly form the foundations upon which the systems that dominate our lives are rebuilt, allowing the manifestation of the good to flourish.

Imperialism and the Stupid Show

During the Cold War, and especially in the wake of the Chinese Revolution, it was commonly thought by US planners that too many Third World “mouths to feed” would inevitably create conditions hospitable to Communism. The fall of the USSR failed to alleviate such fears but instead transferred them to a new set of adversaries: popular resistance groups primarily located in the Middle East and typically designated with the catch-all term “terrorists.” Thus the 1986 report of the US Vice President’s Task Force on Combatting Terrorism warned that “population pressures create a volatile mixture of youthful aspirations that when coupled with economic and political frustrations help form a large pool of potential terrorists.
Public Report 1986: Jacob Levich (Global Health and U.S. Imperialism, 2019)

But also the real government policy of population control, whether that be sterilization, genocide or anything within the military-industrial complex. Who is targeted? The poor and brown, always.
— Nick Pemberton, “Mom and Pop-ulation”, Counterpunch 2019

…the export of capital, one of the most essential economic bases of imperialism … sets the seal of parasitism on the whole country that lives by exploiting the labor of several overseas countries and colonies.
— Vladimir Lenin, Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism, January 18, 2015

There is a political consequence to injecting a pessimistic world view (as David Harvey put it) into a hierarchically structured capitalist system, one based on racial and class lines and in which it is a given that the goal is a preservation of capitalism. That consequence is, as yet, unclear. What is clear is that the proprietor class, the owners of Western capital, are terrified by the spectre of environmental instability — but they also view it in that way that they view everything, as a business opportunity.

There is also today a crisis in education. And it is intimately related to the environmental crises. Informally I have spoken to educators in Norway, where I live, and they are both frightened and appalled at the loss of cognitive skills, the erosion in writing and even speech, in students at the high school and college level. Students, they say, cannot understand even simple verbal instructions. They cannot concentrate for very long and are easily distracted. And they can barely read.

When scientists from the Norway’s Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic Research analyzed some 730,000 IQ tests given to Norwegian men before their compulsory military service from 1970 to 2009, they found that average IQ scores were actually sinking. And not just by some miniscule amount. Each generation of Norwegian men appear to be getting around seven IQ points dumber.
— Jessica Stillman, Inc. 2018

This is referred to as the reversing of the Flynn affect.

Of course, one of the first responses was linked to the racist neo-colonial logic of eugenics…

More recently, some observers have suggested that average IQs are coming down because of dysgenic fertility—that is, because less intelligent people are having more children than smarter folks—or because of lower-IQ immigrants and their children.
— Ronald Bailey, Reason, 2018

Now, the very idea of quantifying intelligence is itself a legacy of the positivist instrumental logic of western capital. It is also, almost certainly, acutely racist and classist. But…Mark Morford, a columnist for the S.F. Gate, talked to a high school teacher friend of his in Oakland….

But most of all, he simply observes his students, year to year, noting all the obvious evidence of teens’ decreasing abilities when confronted with even the most basic intellectual tasks, from understanding simple history to working through moderately complex ideas to even (in a couple recent examples that particularly distressed him) being able to define the words “agriculture,” or even “democracy.” Not a single student could do it. It gets worse. My friend cites the fact that, of the 6,000 high school students he estimates he’s taught over the span of his career, only a small fraction now make it to his grade with a functioning understanding of written English. They do not know how to form a sentence. They cannot write an intelligible paragraph.
— Mark Morford, S.F. Gate, 2018

So this is not about measuring intelligence. IQ tests are, as I say, biased in dozens of ways. But I don’t think you can find a high school or university teacher who would not agree with the general decline in reading and writing skills. And I have noted, personally, a horrifying decline in curiosity. I rarely ever have found students curious enough to go look things up for themselves. The reasons for this are complex and beyond the scope of this article. (I have written about the evolution of visual processing and the creation of an ideal observer, on my blog. Jonathan Crary and Jonathan Beller both have profound books out on subjects inextricably linked to media and cognitive development, or lack thereof). The point here is that this loss of curiosity and literacy is not the result of a single simple thing. Nor is it a moral argument about values or some shit that Bill Bennett might have come up with. It is about a system of hegemonic control that has encouraged a surplus populace to a life spent on screens, distracted and stupified. And how this is tied into western capital and its insistence on social control and domination.

There can be no question that the existing social order perceived itself to be under some kind of threat in the late 1960s (particularly in France and the US, and now in Britain). Was it accidental that the environmentalist argument emerged so strongly in 1968 at the crest of campus disturbances? And what was the effect of replacing Marcuse by Ehrlich as campus hero?
— David Harvey, Spaces of capital: towards a critical geography, 2001

There is another closely linked topic here, and that is the manner in which western capital and its various institutions, both governmental and not, are penetrating into all areas of life globally.

Jacob Levich, begins his invaluable article this way…

Interventions in the field of public health are a significant form of “soft power” by which imperialism extracts profits from the world’s poorest billions US involvement in the health field is intended, inter alia, to help ensure efficient use of low-cost labor in transnational production chains; to support and rationalize military interventions; to create and exploit worldwide markets for health-care products, especially pharmaceuticals; and broadly to consolidate control over the lives and bodies of Global South people.

This is the world of NGOs, government initiatives, charitable and religious organizations, and pan-national corporations — all of which form what Levich calls *Global Health Imperialism*.

The biggest of these is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Overarching health-care planning, policies, and programs for the people of poor countries are determined by the experts and financiers of wealthy countries.
— Levich

It is useful to watch this half hour video by Dutch journalists on the practices (and ideology) of the World Wildlife Fund.

It speaks to the staggering racism and orientalism of western NGOs, and most disturbingly those who are provided cover by claiming to be Green.

Now, the desire for global hegemony is what fuels the U.S. foreign policy agenda. The U.S. continues (and, really, escalates) its support for the insane young crown prince of Saudi Arabia (Mohammed Bin Salman) as well as its continuing support and subsidizing of Israel. The failed coup in Venezuela has not deterred the U.S. establishment in the least. And to segue back to eroding cognitive skills the latest polls out indicate Americans view Maduro as a dictator and Assange as a criminal deserving of severe punishment. Americans are quite possibly the most indoctrinated populace in the history of the world. How much of this is to be laid at the feet of electronic media, of screen life overall, is hard to say, but I would tend toward believing quite a lot.

Television was only the first of a category of apparatuses with which we are currently surrounded that are most often used out of powerful habitual patterning involving a diffuse attentiveness and a semi-automatism. In this sense, they are part of larger strategies of power in which the aim is not mass-deception, but rather states of neutralization and inactivation, in which one is dispossessed of time.
— Jonathan Crary, 24/7

It is worth digressing just a moment here to note Crary’s insightful take on the work of Philip K. Dick, and how Hollywood predictably inverted the meaning of his books. The popularity of the film version of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (made by Ridley Scott as Blade Runner) belies the reactionary core of the film version. Here is Crary…

But the refusal to capitulate to the laws of a thing-like existence in Do Androids Dream? gives way to something very different in its film adaptation. The novel’s account of the unremitting and petty ruin of individual experience is turned into a world-weary celebration of the petrification and “malign abstractness” from which Dick recoiled. Appearing during the early Reagan-Thatcher years, Blade Runner is an outline of a reconfigured relationship to an emerging global consumer culture that would be more securely in place by the 1990s. Rather than tracking any kind of split between the self and this milieu, the film affirms a functional assimilation of the individual into the circuitry and workings of an expanded field of commodification. It makes emotionally credible the bleak threshold at which the technological products of corporations become the object of our desires, our hopes. The film visualized the de-differentiated spaces in which machines and humans were interchangeable, in which distinctions between living and inanimate, between human memories and fabricated memory implants, cease to be meaningful.

I mention this because this is perhaps a small example (though perhaps not) but it is one in a nearly infinite number of examples in which the establishment (Hollywood in this case) absorb and repurpose radical material, neutralize dissent, and turn into its opposite. How many times did the average American hear that Maduro was a dictator? A thousand? Ten thousand? The list of U.S. enemies is routinely demonized in Hollywood product. Find me a single show in which the Cuban revolution is praised? A single show that mentions the U.S. air force total destruction of North Korea in the 1950s. One example in which Ho Chi Minh is portrayed as heroic, or even as a legitimate leader of resistance to an invading army. You cannot. But you find hundreds of examples of Serbian villains or Russian gangsters, or assassins sent by Chavez or the Sandanistas. Nowhere is the real history of Haiti portrayed, or the story of United Fruit and central America. These small deceptions and revisionist mini-histories are cumulatively the history of the world known by most Americans. And we have not even touched on the history of slavery in the United States and how it is cleansed by western media.

But Ivy spilled out a rush of very different words. “They sold slaves here and everywhere. I’ve seen droves of Negroes brought in here on foot going South to be sold. Each one of them had an old tow sack on his back with everything he’s got in it. Over the hills they came in lines reaching as far as the eye can see. They walked in double lines chained together by twos. They walk ‘em here to the railroad and shipped ’em south like cattle.” Then Lorenzo Ivy said this: “Truly, son, the half has never been told.” To this, day, it still has not. For the other half is the story of how slavery changed and moved and grew over time: Lorenzo Ivy’s time, and that of his parents and grandparents. In the span of a single lifetime after the 1780s, the South grew from a narrow coastal strip of worn-out plantations to a subcontinental empire. Entrepreneurial enslavers moved more than 1 million enslaved people, by force, from the communities that survivors of the slave trade from Africa had built in the South and in the West to vast territories that were seized—also by force—from their Native American inhabitants. From 1783 at the end of the American Revolution to 1861, the number of slaves in the United States increased five times over, and all this expansion produced a powerful nation. For white enslavers were able to force enslaved African-American migrants to pick cotton faster and more efficiently than free people. Their practices rapidly transformed the southern states into the dominant force in the global cotton market, and cotton was the world’s most widely traded commodity at the time, as it was the key raw material during the first century of the industrial revolution. The returns from cotton monopoly powered the modernization of the rest of the American economy, and by the time of the Civil War, the United States had become the second nation to undergo large-scale industrialization. In fact, slavery’s expansion shaped every crucial aspect of the economy and politics of the new nation.
— Edward Baptist, The Half has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, September 9, 2014

The real problem for western capital, for those espousing green awareness and those injecting the new green pessimism, is that technology cannot cure the problems of technology’s waste. Nor the likely damage to young brains in their developmental phase. Capitalism cannot self correct for then it would not be capitalism. Pessimism, like cynicism, is a cliched form of conformity (per Adorno). The crises of capitalism is also yielding (semi intentionally) the acute rise of a new global fascism. And the western imperialist powers rely even more heavily on militarist solutions.

Maritime transport systems are also integrated into the tail end of the life cycle of digital media. The European Environment Agency “estimates between 250,000 tonnes and 1.3m tonnes of used electrical products are shipped out of the EU every year, mostly to west Africa and Asia,” with Interpol stating that one in three inspected containers leaving European ports contained illegal e-waste (Vidal) ( ) is suggests, once again, that technological solutions for technological problems may not be any more sustainable than the problems they set out to solve. It is worth reiterating that the major function of container fleets and land transport is not business-to-consumer but business-to-business delivery, including legal and illegal shipments to legal and illegal recycling zones, and consequently that consumer power has little chance of impacting industry practice.
— Sean Cubitt, Finite Media

In the United States, about 400 million units of consumer electronics are discarded every year. Electronic waste, like obsolete cellular telephones, computers, monitors, and televisions, composes the fastest growing and most toxic portion of waste in American society. As a result of rapid technological change, low initial cost, and planned obsolescence, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that two-thirds of all discarded consumer electronics still work—approximately 250 million functioning computers, televisions, VCRs, and cell phones are discarded each year in the United States. Digital culture is embedded in a large pile of network wires, lines, routers, switches, and other very material things that, as Jonathan Sterne acutely and bluntly states, “will be trashed.” Far from being accidental, discarding and obsolescence are in fact internal to contemporary media technologies. As Sterne argues, the logic of new media does not only mean the replacement of old media by new media but that digital culture is loaded with the assumption and expectation of a short-term forthcoming obsolescence. There is always a better laptop or mobile phone on the horizon: new media always become old.
— Jussi Parikka, Digital Mediations

The western affluent class is faced with the reality that they consume the most. And to change that would mean changing a system of narcissistic individualism and privilege. A system of private property. Planned obsolescence is the logic of capitalism. Designed to fail the day after the warranty expires. Crary argues, and I think he is mostly right, that social upheavals of the sixties were followed by thirty some years of counter revolutionary practice enforced by the ruling class. As Crary writes:

Beginning in the 1980s and continuing since, these events of the 1960s and their participants have been ferociously converted into hollow caricatures, into objects of ridicule, demonization, and trivialization.But the extensiveness and malevolence of the historical falsifications are an index of the danger levels the culture of the 1960s posed, even in its afterlife.

Today this ideological revanchism is clothed in green pseudo science and prey to capital’s marketing arm. I have read elaborate mathematical analysis of climatic warming and populations and consumption of petroleum, without a single word about class. Suddenly it’s all just generic *people*, as if Kazakh sheep herders were the same as Hong Kong bankers and hedge fund managers or European aristocracy. Where Berber nomads are lumped together with jet setting millionaires and their private jets. I expect this level of stupid from the Wall Street Journal but not from alternative media.

There are a few rather obvious things to be said here about globalization, too, and Imperialism, for they tie into the marketing of Green product under Capitalism, and into the ever dumber class of western youth.

Not only did Cuba’s Communist leadership avail themselves of every opportunity to denounce imperialist exploitation and arouse workers, farmers, and youth to rise up in revolt against it, they also fought hard for trade with the Soviet Union and other Comecon countries to fundamentally break from the exploitative pattern of trade between rich and poor countries. Indeed, the only example of fair trade between industrialized and developing nations in the modern world is to be found in the economic relations developed between Cuba and the USSR until the latter’s collapse in 1991.
— John Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century, January 22, 2016

The new pessimism coming from liberal and pseudo leftist writers is pure narcissism. There is a global crises of capitalism and it is built on the super exploitation of the global south. Running alongside this are critical problems of pollution, industrial waste, and global warming. The impact from the latter is still unclear partly because so much of its reportage is from sources devoid of any class analysis or marxist education. In other words most science writing is western-based and couched in the delusions of liberalism. The institutional corruption one sees in nearly all western based NGOs (think Amnesty International as the prime example) is structurally the cause of so much suspect science-ism, which mimics the Hollywood world of computer geniuses and Marvell Comics super heroes, and Mad Max landscapes. One can know the climate problem is deadly serious, but still evidence credulity about pop-explanations and all the new grammar associated with it (wet bulb, carrying capacity, etc).

Although the global crisis first manifested in the sphere of finance and banking, what’s now engulfing the world is far more than a financial crisis. It is the inevitable and now unpostponable outcome of the contradictions of capitalist production itself. In just three decades, capitalist production and its inherent contradictions have been utterly transformed by the vast global shift of production to low-wage countries, with the result that profits, prosperity, and social peace in imperialist countries have become qualitatively more dependent upon the proceeds of super-exploitation of living labor in countries like Vietnam, Mexico, Bangladesh, and China. It follows that this is not just a financial crisis, and it is not just another crisis of capitalism. It is a crisis of imperialism.
— John Smith, Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century, January 22, 2016

The effects of screen damage, or screen addiction, are acute. The extent and nature of this damage is yet to be determined, I don’t think, but clearly we are into probably the third generation now of cognitively mutilated children and youth. And it is hard, and I am speaking of the West and perhaps primarily the U.S., not to analyse much of this as resulting from a pathological narcissistic state.

Social effectiveness is equated by liberals with economic efficiency which, in turn, is confounded with the financial profitability of capital. These reductions express the dominance of the economic, a dominance characteristic of capitalism. The atrophied social thought derived from this dominance is “economistic” in the extreme. Curiously, this reproach, wrongly directed at Marxism, in fact characterizes capitalist liberalism. (  ) Economics and politics do not form two dimensions of social reality, each having their own autonomy, operating in a dialectical relationship; capitalist economics in fact governs the political, whose creative potential it eliminates.
— Samir Amin, The Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World, 2004

And this narcissism overlaps with the idea of ‘American Exceptionalism’. An exceptionalism that is, in fact, the legacy of Puritanism and Protestant morality that helped shape the American consciousness and has abetted the ruling class in its designs for social domination. Donald Pease posits the siege at WACO and the Oklahoma City bombing as the twin poles of the ‘apocalyptic state fantasy of American exceptionalism’; a kind of regeneration through violence (as Richard Slotkin put it) …a violence that was set against a kitsch frontier landscape, the sort that white America seems to endlessly desire and consume. But then…

The events that took place on September 11, 2001, supplied the state with a traumatizing event out of which it constructed a spectacle that accomplished several interrelated aims. September 11 supplied a conclusive ending to the cold war even as it permitted the state to inaugurate an utterly different social configuration. The description of the site of the attack on the World Trade Center as “Ground Zero” supplied this scene with a representation that the bombing of Hiroshima had installed in the national psyche as one of the terrifying images with which to imagine the conclusion of the cold war. The Shock and Awe campaign with which the Bush administration inaugurated its response to these attacks became the first event in a total war—the Global War on Terror—whose powers of governance surpassed even the reach of the cold war.
— Donald Pease, The New American Exceptionalism, October 30, 2009

And the nearly hysterical insistence that “socialism failed”, the Reagan outspent the Soviets trope, or that somehow everyone in the world hated communism and it was an evil empire! In fact, the super exploited global south remains steadfastly loyal to the memory of communism and the Soviet support for African and Latin American independence.

Bourgeois economics mirrors the unreality one sees in much lay science writing, the same conformist consensus about expertise overrides even basic logic.

Economics thus becomes a discourse which is no longer engaged in knowing reality; its function is no more than to legitimize capitalism by attributing to it intrinsic qualities which it cannot have. Pure economics becomes the theory of an imaginary world. The dominant forces are such because they succeed in imposing their language on their victims. The “experts” of conventional economics have managed to make believe that their analyses and the conclusions drawn from them are imperative because they are “scientific,” hence objective, neutral and unavoidable.  This is not true.
— Samir Amin, The Liberal Virus: Permanent War and the Americanization of the World, 2004

The counter-revolutionary movement employed, from the start, an ultra nationalistic rhetoric and symbology. As Donald Pease put it…“And after 9/11, the national myths that had undergone wholesale debunking in the post-Vietnam era underwent remarkable regeneration.”

The assault on civil liberties was launched by Bush in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. This was a national emergency, a national trauma. Today the emergency is global and being used and taken advantage of by the same ownership class and the same marketing teams at Madison Avenue and the State Department. The enemy is everyone now, not just Arab terrorists. People are going to soon (and already are) being asked to sacrifice (themselves even) for the global good. But, of course, as in the aftermath of 9/11, when Bush emphasized our *ownership society* (as opposed to the godless socialists or Islam who refuse to sufficiently worship owning stuff) he was encouraging Americans to see themselves as special (well, white Americans anyway). The once prosperous middle class, though, the wage earners, both white and blue collar and who made up close to 60% of the population were plunged into precarity, poverty and downward mobility. And this via real estate manipulations and a kind of social engineering.

One wonders at how quickly the public seemed to forget the photographs from Abu Ghraib. The brutalizing of the helpless, of the ‘Other’, began the normalizing (or returned to the normalizing) of a hatred of the poor and vulnerable. Today the constant news stream of police brutality against (mostly) the black population re-enacts, on one level anyway, the theatre of cruelty that was Abu Ghraib. But the emergency of the environmental crises has made these near unconscious associations ambivalent. The threat to the planet is just *people*, too many people, not global capital and western imperialism. So the narcissism of the bourgeoisie becomes self loathing simultaneously. There is a fair ration of guilt manipulation going on here, too, and the attendant projections of that (and the U.S. was already and always had been a culture of shaming and stigmatizing). But self-stigmatizing is a hugely complicated mental process. And, again, one runs into the cognitive deteriorization of much of the populace. Suicide rates increase, anti-depressant use increases, and polls suggest vast numbers of people in the so called advanced west suffer acute loneliness and generalized anxiety.

The indigenous bourgeoisies have lost all capacity to oppose imperialism—if they ever had any… There are no other alternatives. Either a socialist revolution or a caricature of a revolution.
— Che Guevara, Writings of Che Guevara {quoted by John Smith)

Trying to find the reality behind the unreality of this moment is nearly impossible. And it is why I consider the first step toward a genuine future, a possible future, is a commitment to a platform of anti-war and anti-imperialism. From there one can begin to chip away at the massive nearly ubiquitous assault of corporate media and the promotions of capital. I saw an article in VICE (an outlet worth over a billion dollars now and owned in significant measure by FOX) about the planet’s coming extinction. There were glossy photos, too, of arid salt beds and a bright sun. This is marketing.

Now, tweezing apart the implications of that marketing, and even its target demographic, is not easy. But it’s safe to say that somehow the super exploited global south should expect more misery.

Imperialism never did dissolve into abstract notions of ‘globalization’ or ‘empire’, or fantasies involving ‘multitudes’, a ‘global village’, ‘the age of access,’ and so on. Rather the term neo-imperialism captures for us the new features it acquired in the 1980s and 1990s with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Washington Consensus and the end of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc. As we have seen, democratization in Latin America signaled the end neither of imperialism as a geopolitical and economic system of global domination, nor Brazilian sub-imperialism, nor the authoritarian neoliberal regimes common in Mexico and elsewhere. Instead it served to restructure them in the post-Cold War period, providing new foundations and characteristics.
— Adrián Sotelo Valencia, Sub Imperialism: Dependency Theory in the Thought of Ruy Mauro Marini, July 17, 2018

Ultra-imperialism of the kind now favoured in Europe has, however, its own negative connotations and consequences. If Robert Cooper, a Blair adviser, is to be believed,it favours the resurrection of nineteenth-century distinctions between civilized, barbarian, and savage states in the guise of postmodern, modern, and premodern states, with the postmoderns, as guardians of civilized collaborative behaviour, expected to induce by direct or indirect means obeisance to universal (read ‘Western’ and ‘bourgeois’) norms, and humanistic (read ‘capitalistic’) practices across the globe.
— David Harvey, The New Imperialism, 2004

Change can only come from recognizing the US as imperialism’s center. The U.S. exerts military coercion, from Iraq to Afghanistan and now Yemen, as well as via Venezuela style coup attempts. It has built a string of military bases, most of them at least semi permanent, across the planet and yet rarely do I hear critics ask why? What is being enforced here? What is being protected? The answer is super exploitation and at the same time a monitoring of any communist ghosts or radical dissenters. Marcuse was right about token resistance. This is the era of Bana and now Greta; it is the digital age of internet marketing, a tool even for ISIS. And the age of an American populace searching for environmental solutions at the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream section of the supermarket. Or at the Prius dealership. There are no capitalist solutions. Full stop. Indulging this stuff is an absolute waste of time. The Green New Deal et al…waste of time. The environmental crises is real but obscured by western media, not clarified. Education is critically important, and stopping the extreme privilege of the elite class. Equality is the real green.

Speeding into the Void of Cyberspace as Designed

The internet was hardwired to be a surveillance tool from the start.  No matter what we use the network for today – dating, directions, encrypted chat, email, or just reading the news – it always had a dual-use nature rooted in intelligence gathering and war….[Surveillance Valley shows] the ongoing overlap between the Internet and the military-industrial complex that spawned it a half century ago, and the close ties that exist between the US intelligence agencies and the antigovernment privacy movement that has sprung up in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks.

– Yasha Levine, Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet, February 6, 2018

My Dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place.  If you wish to go anywhere, you must run twice as fast as that.

– Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland, November 26, 1865

Speed and panic go hand-in-hand in today’s fabricated world of engineered emergencies and digital alerts.  “We have no time” is today’s mantra – “We are running out of time” – and because this mood of urgency has come to grip most people’s minds, deep thinking about why this is so and who benefits is in short supply. I believe most people sense this to be true but don’t know how to extract themselves from the addictive nature of speed long enough to grasp how deeply they have been propagandized, and why.

A key turning point in the creation of this mood of an ongoing emergency and tense urgency was the naming of the attacks of September 11, 2001 as “9/11.”  “Quick, call 911” permeated deep into popular consciousness. The so-called “security” it elicited became a cloaked form of interminable terror.  The future editor of The New York Times and Iraq war promoter, Bill Keller, introduced this emergency phone connection on the morning of September 12, 2001 in a New York Times op-ed piece, “America’s Emergency Line: 911.”  The linkage of the attacks to a permanent national emergency was thus subliminally introduced, as Keller mentioned Israel nine times and seven times compared the U.S. situation to that of Israel as a target for terrorists.  His first sentence reads: “An Israeli response to America’s aptly dated wake-up call might well be, ‘Now you know.’”

By referring to September 11 as 9/11, an endless national emergency became wedded to an endless war on terror aimed at preventing Hitler-like terrorists from obliterating us with nuclear weapons that could create another “ground zero” or holocaust.  Mentioning Israel (“America is proud to be Israel’s closest ally and best friend in the world,” George W. Bush would tell the Israeli Knesset) so many times, Keller was not very subtly performing an act of legerdemain with multiple meanings.  By comparing the victims of the 11 September attacks to Israeli “victims,” he was implying, among other things, that the Israelis are innocent victims who are not involved in terrorism, but are terrorized by Palestinians, as Americans are terrorized by fanatical Muslims.  Palestinians/Al-Qaeda/Iraq/Iran/Afghanistan/Syria versus Israel/United States.  Explicit and implicit parallels of the guilty and the innocent.  Keller tells us who the real killers are, as if he knew who was guilty and who was innocent.

His use of the term 9/11 pushes all the right buttons, evoking unending social fear and anxiety.  It is language as sorcery. It is propaganda at its best. Even well respected critics of the U.S. government’s explanation use this term that has become a fixture of public consciousness through endless repetition.  As George W. Bush would later put it, as he connected Saddam Hussein to “9/11” and pushed for the Iraq war, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”  All the ingredients for a linguistic mind-control smoothie had been blended.  Under Obama, it was Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and Russia, and now Trump touts Iran as the great threat.  So many emergencies following fast upon each other are enough to make your head spin.

This sense of ongoing urgency and dread was joined to the fast growing (and getting faster by the day) internet and cell phone world that has come to dominate contemporary life.  Permanent busyness and speed – a state of on-edge nervousness and panic with digital alerts – are today’s norms.  The majority of people live “on” their phones with their constant beeps, and the digital media have fragmented our sense of time into perpetual presents that create historical amnesia and digital dementia.  In a so-called progressive world of consumer capitalism, the era of what the astute sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has called “liquid modernity,” time itself has become an online transaction, a liquid commodity that flows away faster than a scrolling screen.

We live in a use-by-date digital world in a state of suspended animation where “time is short” and we must hustle before our use-by date is past. The pace of private and public life has outrun most people’s ability to slow down long enough to realize a hidden hustler has taken them for a ride to Wonderland where the only wonder is that more people have not gone insane as they slip and slide away on the superhighway to nowhere.

John Berger, as only a sage artist would, noted this essential truth in his 1972 novel G.:

Every ruling minority needs to numb and, if possible, to kill the time sense of those whom it exploits.  This is the authoritarian secret of all methods of imprisonment.

Today the vast majority of people, trapped by the manufactured illusion of speed, are in their cells, quickly texting and calling and checking to see if they’ve missed anything as time flies by.

Much is said about various types of environmental pollution, but the pollution of speed and its effects on mind and body are rarely mentioned, except to express gladness for more speed.  The rollout of 5G technology is a case in point. Mental and physical health concerns be damned.  Back in the 19th century, when space and time were being first “conquered” by the camera, telegraph, and telephone, these inventions were described as flying machines.  Time flew, voices flew, images flew.  Soon the phonograph and film would capture and preserve the “living” voices and the moving images of the living and the dead. It was scientific spiritualism at its birth. Today’s comical research into downloading “consciousness” to conquer death by becoming machines is its latest manifestation.

That the clowns behind this speed culture are growing rich on this research at our elite universities that are funded by the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies doesn’t make people howl with sardonic laughter puzzles me. Laughter’s good; it slows you down.  I just had a good laugh reading an article about scientists wondering why new research “suggests” that the universe may be a billion years younger than they thought.  I love their precision, don’t you?  My students, in their learned helplessness and desire to be told what to do, have often asked me how long their term papers should be, and when I tell them probably 37 1/2 words, they look at me with mouths agape.  What do you mean? one finally asks.  I tell them that writing 37 1/2 words is much faster than having to think slowly as you write, and when you have nothing left to say, to just stop.  A fast 37 1/2 words solves the thinking problem.  Maybe you can text me your paper, I often add, even though I don’t do texting.

On a more serious note, a lifelong student of speed (dromology), the brilliant French thinker Paul Virilio, has shown how speed and war have developed together and how totalitarianism is latent in technology.  Few listen, just as they did not listen to Jacques Ellul, Lewis Mumford, Neil Postman, and others who warned of the direction technology was taking us. Nuclear weapons are the supreme technological “achievement,” of course, devices that can eliminate all space and time in a flash. They work fast.  Virilio says,

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 very extension, but on the interface of an instantaneous transmission of remote appearances, on a geographic and geometric retention in which all volume, all relief vanish.

As I write, I look down at my wristwatch lying on the desk and laugh.  My sister gave it to me after her husband died.  He had won it as a member of the Villanova track team that won the 4 man, 2-mile relay at the famous Coliseum Relays in Los Angeles in near world record time.  Young men whose bodies were in motion to move across terra firma as fast as possible.  No drugs produced in a technological chemical factory to aid them. No gimmicks.  Just bodies in motion, unlike today.  It is an analog watch that must be wound every day when the sun rises.  But my brother-in-law never wound it because he never used it. He was saving it as a stashed-away memento in some sort of suspended time. I like it because it always runs a bit slow, unlike the Villanova flashes.  I like slow.

In a brilliant book written in 1999 before the hyper-speed era was fully underway – Speaking Into The Air: A History of the Idea of Communication – John Durham Peters, while not especially focusing on the issue of speed and technology as does Virilio, indirectly explores the fundamental issue that underlies technology and its control by the elites.  The problem with technology is that it is the use of a technique applied to physical things to control those who don’t control the machines. Today that is the Internet and digital technology, controlled by those Virilio calls “the global kinetic elites.” Many readers might remember the iconic line from the film Cool Hand Luke with Paul Newman: “What we have here is failure to communicate.”  That is our issue.  How to communicate, and to whom, and who controls our means and speed of communication.  Speed kills genuine communication, which may be its point.

Here’s what Peters has to say about the new media of the 19th century.

Media of transmission allow crosscuts through space, but recording media allow jump cuts through time.  The sentence for death for sound, image, and experience had been commuted.  Speech and action could live beyond their human origins.  In short, recording media made the afterlife of the dead possible in a new way.  As Scientific American put it of the phonograph in  1877: ‘Speech has become, as it were, immortal. That ‘as it were’ is the dwelling place of ghosts.

Despite our advanced technology today, we still die, but we live faster, which is not to say better.  We live faster until modern medicine makes our dying slower.  Speed grants us the illusion of control, an illusionary sense of stop-time in the midst of techno-time, digital time, pointillistic time where so much is happening simultaneously across the internet and we “have” it at our fingertips.  Awash in cultural nostalgia that gives us a frisson of false comfort, we scroll the past as fast as we can.  In the small town where I live, urbanites come in droves for nostalgia and create hyper-gentrification.  I see them rapidly walking the country roads talking from their cells as bird song, rustling leaves, and lapping water passes them by, the technology serving as a shield from reality itself.

To realize that the Internet was developed as a weapon and has killed our sense of flesh and blood natural time to exploit us through speed should be obvious, though I suspect it isn’t.  The invention and control of the Internet by the Pentagon, the intelligence agencies, and their allies in Silicon Valley, as Yasha Levine chronicles in Surveillance Valley, is a fundamental problem that deserves focused attention.  However, who can slow down enough to focus?  As he says, “American military interests continue to dominate all parts of the network, even those that supposedly stand in opposition.”  This includes Tor and Signal, two encrypted mobile phone and internet services highly touted by journalists, political activists, and dissidents for their ability to make it impossible for governments to monitor communication.  Levine writes:

While Internet billionaires like Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Mark Zuckerberg slam government surveillance, talk up freedom, and embrace Snowden and crypto privacy culture, their companies still cut deals with the Pentagon, work with the NSA and CIA, and continue to track and profile people for profit.  It is the same old split-screen marketing trick: the public branding and the behind-the-scenes reality.

The Internet is, as he argues, an “old cybernetic dream of a world where everyone is watched, predicted, and control.”  It is also where you are reading this, another article that will fast disappear from your mind as a stream of more urgent articles rush into print to push it aside.

We are homeless modern minds now, exiled from earth time, and if we don’t rediscover our way back to a slow contemplation of our fate and the ontological reality of human being itself, I’m afraid we are speeding into the void.

Somewhere On Spotify: My Own Industrial Collapse, Part 2

Spotify is not single-handedly responsible for my relatively impoverished financial state as a working musician.  But it is certainly one of the most prominent reasons for it.

Somewhere on Spotify:  My Own Industrial Collapse, Part 2.  I could agree with myself on the heading for this one, but I’m having trouble with the subheading.  This is the kind of thing writers, and editors, agonize over for some reason.  Nobody else probably cares or notices, or at least that’s what they think.  There are so many things like that.  But I digress.  The subheading to follow up Somewhere On Spotify:  How To Throw the Baby Out With the Bathwater was one idea.  How To Become A Dinosaur was another.  But then this is basically a followup to missive #27 from a few months ago, My Own Industrial Collapse, so, My Own Industrial Collapse, Part 2 made sense.

Listeners of my podcast will be aware that I always end it with an original song relevant to the subject at hand, sometimes one I just wrote.  Often it’s a song related to recent events somewhere in the world — Gaza, London, California, or wherever else.  This week I’ll stay closer to home — my own, specifically.  And by extension, millions of other people in the world who used to make a living traveling, playing music, and selling their recordings at their shows and through the mail.

The song I wrote that predicated this missive was not inspired by international, national or even local news.  Maybe local, but really, really local.  The news of my windowsill, in front of which sits a laptop on a desk, through which I have access to so much of the world’s knowledge, art and music, basically for the cost of the Xfinity corporation’s usurious monthly broadband fee.  I got one of those emails from CDBaby that I get every three months, telling me I can use their platform to upload a new album to all the various music streaming services — use this code to get their fee waived, because I use them for web hosting, and that’s part of the deal.  Then that email reminded me that I intended around now to make my most recent album, Historic Times, available on Spotify.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve put an album up on Spotify.  The last one was Ballad of a Wobbly, in 2017.  With that recording and several others before it — Punk Baroque, Live in Rostrevor — over ten thousand dollars altogether went into making the recordings I made between 2016 and 2017, and I never had any intent of making that money back, or turning a profit on it, or releasing the recordings in physical form.  For two of the aforementioned recordings, I crowdfunded the recording costs, as I have done on many other occasions, with varying degrees of success.

The album I’m about to put up on Spotify, however, is a bit different.  It was, it is, a vinyl record — my first and last.  I’m guessing I will have boxes full of vinyl records sitting on top of my closet, along with the boxes of CDs under my daughter’s bed, for years to come.  The broad lack of interest in vinyl appears to me to be just as total as the lack of interest in CDs or any other kind of merch I might try to sell at shows or on my website.

Which makes perfect sense from a consumer viewpoint, and, of course, we all do it every time we search on the internet — find free information, news, music, art, movies, podcasts, whatever else.  But from the vantage point of those of us who are what they call “content creators” it’s an unmitigated disaster at this point.

Those of us born yesterday might take heart at recent Spotify-related news.  Spotify has invested half a billion dollars into becoming a major podcasting platform.  I don’t know if this is related, but my listenership on Spotify has recently doubled — up from 2,700 monthly listeners to over 5,000, each of whom are streaming about an album’s worth of music about once a month.  My monthly revenue from Spotify has risen from a three-digit number beginning with a “1” to a three-digit number beginning with a “2.”

In the business cycle of a touring musician there are times when you’re making money and times when you’re spending it.  Well, you’re always spending it, but there are times when you’re also making it, and other times when you’re just spending.  Like when you buy lots of plane tickets for tours coming up that you haven’t done yet, so you haven’t actually made any money yet, you’ve just put a whole bunch of plane tickets on your credit card.  The hope, and sometimes the reality, is that at the end of the tour, you’ve paid off your credit card and you’ve even got some money in the bank.

So as I was contemplating uploading my latest album to Spotify, I actually found myself looking at my $9,000 in credit card debt after all those plane tickets and everything else, contrasting it with the $2,000 currently in my bank account after having just paid rent for the month of May, and thinking, if I upload this album now, maybe by next month there’ll be an extra $50 coming from Spotify.

That’s when I was suddenly overwhelmed with the kind of emotion that leads a songwriter to write a song, let’s just say.  Sometimes it seems too dangerous just to let yourself feel what you’re feeling, and to acknowledge it to yourself.  You can always put a positive spin on most things, if they’re not totally dire — I’m putting my album up on Spotify, cool, now I’ll make an extra dollar a day for a little while, in ten years or so I will have paid for the cost of the recording, and hey, all those people out there who are too lazy or otherwise will never bother downloading the album for free on my website can now get it the way they prefer to consume all of their music, on Spotify, without leaving that particular Swedish corporation’s now-ubiquitous platform.  I might get dozens of new fans around the world because of this album being on Spotify.  Maybe some of them will even come to my shows, on the unlikely occasion that I happen to be playing wherever on the planet they happen to live.

Sometimes my internal voice of motherly optimism just gets squelched by the reality of my collapsing industry.  The act of putting this album on Spotify, which I invested so much time and money and effort into, this album that represents everything that went into four different recording projects, including a days-long session to record new songs specifically for this album — it hit me that the feeling was almost exactly like how I felt as a kid on behalf of my friend whose parents forced him to “give away” his dog to someone who lived on a farm in the countryside, because the dog would be happier there.  In retrospect, they probably made up the bit about the farm in the countryside.  But, assuming, as we did, that it was true the dog was going to live out the rest of its days on a nice farm somewhere, romping around in the fields, our overwhelming sense as children was one of loss.  We wanted to keep the dog, even though we only lived in the suburbs, not the countryside, where dogs apparently belonged, according to my friend’s parents.

This record isn’t alive, but I raised it.  I wrote all those songs.  Each one represents a day or several days or sometimes weeks of spending much of my time reading, writing and playing to get the song right.  Most of the money for making most of the recordings was crowdfunded, it’s true, but the idea of being compensated in some real way for my time and effort in this whole process, the idea that there’s any direct relationship between making these recordings and paying my rent, is at this point a cruel joke.  If the money for the recordings weren’t crowdfunded, where would it possibly come from?  There are no sales.

Putting the album up on Spotify feels like nothing more or less than an admission of this fact.

I had a wonderful concert at a labor history conference last weekend in Portland.  These are my people — I recognized a lot of the faces in the room, labor organizers and leftwing academics from all over western Canada and the US.  There were 130 people at the show, I believe.  An enthusiastic and appreciative crowd in the triple digits.  A decade ago at a show like that I would have easily sold enough CDs to pay that month’s rent.  As it is, I was happy that I sold a handful of recordings.  Let’s see, I still have the cash right here, let me count it — $110.

I know that depending on what you do for a living, whether you’re paid by the hour or on a salary — or not at all — it’s hard to get your head around the workings of someone else’s profession, and the expenses and costs involved with it.  But you probably get the basic idea.  I made a lot more money at gigs when I was in my thirties than I do now, in my fifties.  I didn’t crowdfund for making expensive recordings because I didn’t need to.  Now it would be impossible any other way.

But wait, people say, when I whine about the state of the profession I’m in.  There’s home recording — you can get a nice microphone and set up a studio in your nonexistent extra room in your overpriced apartment or perhaps somewhere in between the cribs and the diapers.

Which brings me to the bits about throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and being a dinosaur.  I am, I now realize, a dinosaur, and I presumably will be for the rest of my life.  Because I remember what it was like to make a living as a touring musician, largely from income derived from selling your physical recordings to people who liked your music so much they wanted to listen to it at home, which more or less required that they buy physical albums.  I remember those days, and I always will, and so will everyone else who had that experience, which now seems like a fantasy.  Hard to believe that there was once a time where it made sense to spend thousands of dollars of your own hard-earned money on making another recording every year, because if you made it, you’d sell more during that year of touring than you would otherwise, such that it would easily make up for the expenditure involved, and then some.

I’ll be the dinosaur who remembers the days before we embraced USB mics and technological optimism at the expense of recording studios with engineers and producers in them.  My well-meaning fans, friends and acquaintances on Facebook and Twitter give me advice — cut costs, record at home.  Some of them are even musicians, most of whom are too young or outside of the realm of more professional music circles to have ever worked with a professional engineer and producer in a real studio.  If even musicians don’t know the difference, why would anyone possibly expect music consumers to know how much of a difference such professionals can make?  One of the fantasies currently being promoted by the pop music industry is about this one young woman who supposedly makes her recordings in her brother’s bedroom.  Maybe they live in a mansion somewhere in Beverly Hills and her brother is a producer.

You’ve probably heard about George Martin, the producer who was behind many of the Beatles’ albums.  He’s one of those producers that people have heard about.  One of those producers where people might have some idea that his contributions to the music of the Beatles were as incalculable in their impact as the contributions of any of the actual members of the band.  They call him “the fifth Beatle” because he was.  Now multiply George Martin by thousands and thousands.  Behind most great albums is a great producer.  That is certainly true of anything I’ve ever recorded with other musicians.

I was recently stranded at the Los Angeles airport overnight by a late flight and a tight connection.  Exhausted, I booked a nearby hotel room, though it was outrageously expensive on my budget, rather than spend the night as a zombie wandering the airport until my new flight left at 6 the next morning.  I wanted to get to the hotel, and I didn’t see any taxis anywhere.  I asked someone who worked at the airport where the taxis were to be found.  He looked at me, confused.  “Oh, you mean like Uber?”

I lived with two cab drivers in San Francisco for years, and I have never yet paid to ride in an Uber.  But I discovered that near where the Ubers were, there was still a taxi stand.  It had three taxis in line — a far cry from the dozens that would have been in the line there years ago.  I know that those taxi drivers have all been told by their friends, why don’t you just drive for Uber?  It’s something about the tens of thousands of dollars they spent on those medallions that are now worthless, that keeps them from driving for Uber.  Others give up on cab-driving, sabotaged and betrayed by capitalism, technology and government corruption, and drive for Uber, as the debt they incurred from the medallions that they never finished paying for now mounts, since they don’t make enough on Uber to keep making those payments.  In the space of eight months, six such cab drivers in New York City killed themselves last year.

Unlike with the medallion system, with all its flaws, recording studios with engineers and producers didn’t exist just as some kind of control on the industry.  It’s not like, get rid of medallions and you have freedom — get rid of medallions and you have total unregulated capitalist insanity in the form of the terribly exploitative Uber corporation.  By the same token, it’s not like you get rid of recording studios and then you get lots of great home recording.  You get rid of recording studios and people will still write songs and make recordings.  However, they certainly won’t be nearly as great as they could be.  But there will be fewer and fewer people alive who know that to be true as the years go by, and people like me will seem more and more dino.

And, of course, although the great producers we are losing may never be replaced, the skills of the engineers in the real studios are gradually being replaced by technology.  As the software improves, it can increasingly compensate for everything — background noise, bad microphone technique, bad microphone placement.  We have more and more control with software over making adjustments to pitch and rhythm and so much else.  I’m sure that someday soon the idea that anyone used to go through the trouble of soundproofing rooms for recording purposes will become as obscure as the notion that cars once had drivers, or that there were once people who made a living by recording albums and selling them at their concerts.

I’m one of the lucky dinosaurs.  One of the ones who was lucky enough to record a dozen albums back in the days when they paid for themselves, who developed a following around the world because of those albums and the fact that they paid for themselves, and who can now beg my relatively numerous fans for support in the form of the Patreon-style program I run from my website — I call it my CSA, which stands for Community-Supported Art.  To really make the whole thing work without needing to crowdfund for recordings and such, I would need four times as many CSA members than are signed up at present or at any given time.  But the support I do get has allowed me to at least stay in the running as someone making some kind of a living from making music.

But before I put the next album up for adoption, out to pasture on the Spotify ranch, I will memorialize it first, too, and all the time and effort I put into creating the next album that I will give away — whether or not it involved a producer, an engineer, an assistant engineer, seasoned studio musicians, soundproofed isolation booths with really thick windows, or if the next album is made somewhere in between the cribs and the diapers, while carefully avoiding the days when the guys with the leaf-blowers are outside my window.

The Attack on Facebook is not for our Benefit

It’s some achievement to get me sympathising with Mark Zuckerberg. But denunciations from a powerful combination of a parliamentary committee in the UK and self-appointed watchdogs of the new media like the Guardian almost managed it.

The digital, culture, media and sport select committee finally published a damning report into Facebook after an 18-month investigation, as reported today by the Guardian.

The solutions demanded by the committee, however, are intended not to make Facebook and new media more accountable, as the report claims, but to reassert the dominance of the British state in surveilling the public and revive the declining fortunes of the more trusted old media corporations, the Guardian very much included.

And lurking behind it all is the terror of the political-media class at the spread of a new kind of political insurgency – a rejection of the current status quo for war and neoliberal pillage – given voice on new media platforms that is readily dismissed, by both the committee and the Guardian, as “fake news”.

What is really at issue becomes clear the moment one starts to unpick the report. It intentionally conflates three entirely different problems, muddling them together to win support for all three.

The aim is to hammer Facebook into submission, not for our benefit – as is desperately needed – but so that the state and media establishment can “take back control”.

Let’s look at the report’s conclusions.

First, it rightly accuses Facebook of being “digital gangsters”, harvesting private information so that it can be sold. Facebook, the committee warns, has been monetising our private lives.

“Facebook continues to choose profit over data security, taking risks in order to prioritise their aim of making money from user data,” the report states.

It hardly needs pointing out that Facebook is a for-profit company that specialises in accumulating information, the details of our lives we willingly hand over.

It was inevitable that a global company providing a digital platform for sharing information between friends would get greedy and share that same information privately with those who wish to exploit us, whether commercially or politically.

Until data-sharing companies arose, the state and its security services had a near-monopoly on such covert surveillance. Think of all those CCTV cameras dotted along the high street. Or watch an episode of TV show The Hunted, where former police officers quickly hunt down members of the public on the run.

The parliamentary report sounds much less like a clarion call for our privacy to be respected than a threat to Facebook from the establishment over such information being spread around too much.

Because when this kind of data becomes too accessible, you risk unpredictable outcomes, like a Dominic Cummings using it to engineer victory in the Brexit referendum. And who knows, if this carries on, one day the Scottish nationalists might find a way to win independence from London rule.

Second, the committee is exercised by the fact that Facebook has created “market dominance” for itself to “crush rivals” and is “shutting them out of its systems to prevent them from competing with Facebook or its subsidiaries”.

Hmm, doesn’t that sound exactly like what companies are supposed to do in our neoliberal capitalist societies? After all, if we turn our attention to the old media for a moment, hasn’t Rupert Murdoch been allowed to create “market dominance”? Doesn’t he seek to “crush rivals”? Don’t all large companies try to “shut out” competitors? Why is it so bad only when Zuckerberg, does it?

Or is this not really about “market dominance”, but about a young upstart social media corporation replicating the economic models of the old media giants and nudging them into the long grass?

The problem is not that Facebook has market dominance, but that our economies are nowadays premised solely on the idea that a tiny number of corporations gain market dominance. Let’s challenge that idea, not single out Facebook.

Third, we get to the nub of what this is all about. The giveaway is in the report’s remit, as explained by the Guardian: it was set up in response to concerns “about the influence of false information and its ability to spread unscrutinised on social media”. Or as the paper describes it more pithily elsewhere, the committee was investigating “disinformation and fake news”.

The goal here is not just to ensure that the state regains control over our private information and that the old media regain their commercial  advantage.

More importantly still, the goal is that both get to control the political agenda, the ideological narrative. All that fearmongering about “Kremlin bots” and “fake news” on social media is designed to curtail dissidents voices, those who demur from the centrist – warmongering, planet-destroying, neoliberal – consensus.

The critical left – anything to the left of the Blairites, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – are being presented as politically toxic as the white-supremacist right. Both are viewed as equally a threat, as evidence of a dangerous populism, as the wild weeds sown by “fake news”.

The committee report is simply the latest hammer blow against the new media, with Facebook most prominent, to bring it into line, to fully subordinate it to the traditional political and media class.

Tom Watson, the Labour party’s deputy leader, and the man best placed to stab Corbyn in the back should the right moment arrive, is not even shy of making that clear: “If one thing is uniting politicians of all colours during this difficult time for our country, it is our determination to bring him [Zuckerberg] and his company into line.”

Facebook, of course, has no ideological objections to complying. It does not care about freedom of speech, or pluralism, only about its image and market position.

Karim Palant, the company’s UK public policy manager, happily responded: “We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee’s recommendation for electoral law reform.”

What holds it back from full compliance is not the damage that will be inflicted on our political freedoms from a crackdown on dissident views, or “fake news”, but the the economic pain it will incur if it hands back control of the digital data it has amassed.

GDPR and Big Tech: The Cookie Monster Versus Joe Public

Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation which was implemented last summer has far-reaching privacy rules. Commonly referred as the , this is now the standard which has forced most tech companies to rethink not only data collection practices but also how data is collected or they risk high fines. Where the US lacks a similar regulation to protect privacy of Internet users, many characterize Europe’s GDPR as hurting privacy instead of protecting it while others accuse the EU of policing across its own borders.

The Washington Post announced last week that France has fined Google almost $57 million for the first major violation of the GDPR and tech companies in Silicon Valley and beyond are paying close attention. Accused of  failing to disclose the collection and use of personal information to users, Google also failed to obtain permission from these users to do things such as to expose them to personalized advertisements. To most North Americans, such regulation are almost joke-worthy, but that is because most internet users are completely unaware as to how Google harvests the information it uses, which does involve accessing private data. Yet, there is cause for concern when Android users set up a new mobile phone and followed Android’s setup process.

Two nonprofit organizations, None Of Your Business (noyb) and La Quadrature du Net originally filed a complaint back in May 2018 but noyb filed its complaint against Google and Facebook. Under the GDPR regulations, complaints must first be transferred to local data protection watchdogs so France’s top data-privacy agency, CNIL (Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés), took the case in hand and started its investigation 1 June, 2018. Concluding that Google did not comply with the consent and transparent aspects of the privacy law, it pointed to specific areas of non-compliance such as how information is not easily accessible and that information is not clear or comprehensive. Of particular note is how data is processed:

Users are not able to fully understand the extent of the processing operations carried out by GOOGLE. But the processing operations are particularly massive and intrusive because of the number of services offered (about twenty), the amount and the nature of the data processed and combined. The restricted committee observes in particular that the purposes of processing are described in a too generic and vague manner, and so are the categories of data processed for these various purposes. Similarly, the information communicated is not clear enough so that the user can understand that the legal basis of processing operations for the ads personalization is the consent, and not the legitimate interest of the company. Finally, the restricted committee notices that the information about the retention period is not provided for some data.

So what is the information that can be accessed by Google and other tech companies? Take browser cookies, for instance. While “cookies” sounds like a cute word, these small files store a lot of private data: where you have browsed, information you have filled in online forms, even information you have entered into highly personal online financial sites, free website builders, and basically everything you have done on your browser, everywhere you have browsed.  Tracking cookies are used for advertising purposes, specifically involving what is called retargeting, a tactic that depends upon tracking cookies to show ads to people who have previously visited a specific site or shown interest in a particular product. If you’ve ever looked up something on Google or on Amazon and then saw it or a similar item on a popup advertisement while browsing, this is no coincidence. You’ve simply been retargeted.

The information cookies contain is set and accessed by the servers of the websites that you visit and cookies allow servers to identify you and remember things about you.  So, while a cookie might be considered to be no big deal by some people, imagine that any website having access to your cookies would potentially have access to anything you have typed into your web browser. Silktide founder, Oliver Emberton explains cookies like this:  “The problem is that those same cookies can also be used to track people, and do things that many people don’t like, like deliver targeted ads. And this has got a lot of people understandably concerned.” The GDPR means that users are to be asked for consent before cookies can be accessed. You can read the CNIL summary of their report here.

Google is now fined for violating France’s General Data Protection Regulations to the tune of US$57 million. When the GDPR was first announced, many claimed that this would be bad for business. But on the other side of the argument, privacy groups have firmly stood behind the necessary privacy measures to be observed by all companies to include tech giants like Facebook and Google which have come under scrutiny in recent months.  And earlier this week, Poland, the UK and Ireland were implicated in not safeguarding users with regard to “how ad auction companies, including Google, unlawfully profile Internet users’ religious beliefs, ethnicities, diseases, disabilities, and sexual orientation.”

Ultimately, there is a clear contradiction between what’s good for big business and what is good for privacy protections of individual. The real question is what will give in first–our human right to privacy or big business’ desire for profit?

“Instagram Helped Kill My Daughter”: Censorship Tendencies in Social Media

It is all a rather sorry tale.  Molly Russell, another teenager gorged on social media content, sharing and darkly revelling, took her own life in 2017 supposedly after viewing what the BBC described as “disturbing content about suicide on social media.”  Causation is presumed, and the platform hosting the content is saddled with blame.

Molly’s father was not so much seeking answers as attributing culpability.  Instagram, claimed Ian Russell, “helped kill my daughter”.  He was also spoiling to challenge other platforms: “Pininterest has a huge amount to answer for.”  These platforms do, but not in quite the same way suggested by the aggrieved father.

The political classes were also quick to jump the gun.  Here was a chance to score a few moral points as a distraction from the messiness of Brexit negotiations.  UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock was in combative mood on the Andrew Marr show: “If we think they need to do things they are refusing to do, then we can and we must legislate.”  Material dealing with self-harm and suicide would have to be purged.  As has become popular in this instance, the purging element would have to come from technology platforms themselves, helped along by the kindly legislators.

Any time the censor steps in as defender of morality, safety and whatever tawdry assertions of social control, citizens should be alarmed.  Such attitudes are precisely the sorts of things that empty libraries and lead to the burning of books, even if they host the nasty and the unfortunate.  Content deemed undesirable must be removed; offensive content must be expunged to make us safe.  The alarming thing here is that compelling the tech behemoths to undertake such a task has the effect of granting them even more powers of social control than before. Don’t they exert enough control as it is?

While social media giants can be accused, on a certain level, of faux humanitarianism and their own variant of sublimated sociopathic control (surveillance capitalism is alive and well), they are merely being hectored for the logical consequence of sharing information and content. This is set to become more concentrated, with Facebook, as Zak Doffman writes, planning to integrate Instagram and WhatsApp further to enable users “across all three platforms to share messages and information more easily”.  Given Facebook’s insatiable quest for advertising revenue, Instagram is being tasked with being the dominant force behind it.

The onus on production and exchange is on customers: the customers supply the material, and spectacle.  They are the users and the exploited.  This, in turn, enables the social media tech groups to monetise data, trading it, exploiting it and tanking privacy measures in the process.  The social media junkie is a modern, unreflective drone.

In doing so, an illusion of independent thinking is created, where debates can supposedly be had, and ideas formed.  The grand peripatetic walk can be pursued.  Often, the opposite takes place: groups assemble along lines of similar thought; material of like vein is bounced around under the impression it advances discussion when it merely provides filling for a cork-lined room or chamber of near-identical thinking.  All of this is assisted by the algorithmic functions performed by the social media entities, all in the name of making the “experience” you have a richer one.  Far be it in their interest to make sure you juggle two contradictory ideas at the same time.

Instagram’s own “Community Guidelines” have the aim of fostering and protecting “this amazing community” of users.  It suggests that photos and videos that are shared should only be done by those with a right to do so.  Featured photos and videos should be directed towards “a diverse audience”.  A reminder that the tech giant is already keen on promoting a degree of control is evident in restrictions on nudity – a point that landed the platform in some hot water last year.  “This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks.”  That’s many an art period banished from viewing and discussion.

The suicide fraternity is evidently wide enough to garner interest, even if the cult of self-harm takes much ethical punishment from the safety lobby.  Material is still shared.  Self-harm advisories are distributed through the appropriate channels.

Instagram’s response to this is to try to nudge such individuals towards content and groups that might just as equally sport reassuring materials to discourage suicide and self-harm.  Facebook, through its recently appointed Vice-President of Global Affairs, Sir Nick Clegg, was even happy to point out that the company had prevented suicides: “Over the last year, 3,500 people who were displaying behaviour liable to lead to the taking of their own lives on Facebook were saved by early responders being pointed to those and people and intervening at the right time.”

This is all to the good, but such views fail in not understanding that social media is not used or engaged in to change ideas so much as create communities who only worship a select few.  The tyranny of the algorithm is a hard one to dislodge.

In engaging such content, we are dealing with narcotised dragoons of users, the unquestioning creating content for the unchallenged. That might prove to be the greatest social crime of all, the paradox of nipping curiosity rather than nurturing it, but instead of dealing with the complexities of information from this perspective, governments are going to make technology companies the chief censors.  It might well be argued that enough of that is already taking place as it is, this being the age of deplatforming.  Whether it be a government or a social media giant, the same shoddy principle is the same: others know better than you do, and you should be protected from yourself.