Computer Dream

I have a theory. And it is just a theory, I’m spitballing not researching so let’s not get carried away here. But…

I hypothesize for the purpose of discussion that the real purpose of all these fake news stories is not exactly to deceive us, but rather to place us unto an epistemic fugue state in which truth and falsity commingle to such an extent that the question of ‘what is true’ and ‘what is false’ is lost.

In order to do this, these sites circumvent the gatekeepers who normally keep garbage out of circulation (the much and somewhat wrongly derided ‘mainstream media’) by exploiting the network effect.

After all, if one is to see a wild, wild lie mixed in with the truth, is it not possible that the presence of this lie would impeach the credibility of the truths rather than the truths’ presence falsely bolstering the credibility of the lie?

If I give you a list of five claims, one a clear lie and the others undetermined, wouldn’t you then presume that the accuracy of the 4 remaining claims is in doubt. If I lie once, might I not lie again?

And, If we do not know what is true and what is untrue might we then be more susceptible to non-rational forms of persuasion?

So, an obvious question is ‘who is behind these fake news sites?’ In some cases it is clear that it is Trump associates. Brietbart’s head honcho Stephen Bannon is a key Trump adviser. In some cases it appears to be bored teenagers, but in many cases (including many of the latter cases which seem at least slightly suspect to me) it is unclear, particularly with the small ones.

The most probable answer is that it is Trump. Either the Trump campaign or arms-length bodies or advocacy groups. Many of the site’s DNS registration information is hidden, the sites are registered on behalf of the real owners by proxy companies. (This is a perfectly legitimate and commonplace business.)

But… let’s go really far down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole for just a moment here.

Could it be Russia?

Why Russia? Well, because simply put something very similar is happening in Russia.

In the Soviet Union, everything was fake. Everyone knew it was fake but everyone pretended that it was not. To do otherwise was crimethink. In modern Russia, everything is still fake. Or more accurately, everything is postmodernist. Because now, everyone accepts that it is fake and just moves on.

The chief of fakery is Vladislav Surkov. He is Mr Putin’s gray eminence but also writes lyrics for rock bands and avant garde poetry. I’m not joking. He also is generally thought to have written a novel about himself and what he is doing under a pseudonym which is a masculinized version of his wife’s maiden name.

Surkov sponsors everyone and everything, even the political opposition at times. yet, everyone knows. According to the dissident writer Eduard Limonov, the strategy is based on keeping the opposition constantly confused. The political system relies on everyone being unsure of what is actually happening and what is not. Is even the opposition real? Who knows!

Surkov speaks of ‘nonlinear warfare.’ Once there were many groups in two sides (Axis vs Allies, NATO vs. the Warsaw Pact.) Now, everyone is against everyone.

One of the jobs of News is to expose fakes. But News can only expose things which are hidden. How is that supposed to work? Does Fact Checking work when hardly any effort is made to hide that it isn’t really so? How does one get any purchase against nothingness?

Maybe this is not true. Maybe ideas of Russian influence are a form if cranky nonsense cum wishful thinking.

(How would we know?)

But even if it is not, even if the usefulness to those of power and wealth of this postmodernist fog that has settled on our lives is a coincidence, it is still a huge problem.

The Traditional Critique is that Newspapers are dying because advertising has moved online. This is partially true. But, I think that it misses the fundamental point that the truth binary no longer is a major feature of a huge number of people’s daily lives. Since that is what newspapers sell, why buy them?

We feared, once, that we would create a computer world, upload ourselves into the dream and forget who we were. That, I think was optimistic, not dystopian.

The real dystopia is that we don’t have to do any such thing in order to find ourselves in a reality of illusion. We don’t have to upload ourselves to the computers to become lost in them.

One of the oldest traditions is the sacred knowledge. That there is some esoteric ‘truth’ that only the ‘chosen’ few can understand and so slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of god.

Even seemingly completely secular systems can have this silly feature. Marxists called it ‘dialectical materialism’ and Abraham Mazlow called it ‘self-actualization.’

I believe that exactly idea is what is found in optimistic science fiction such as The Matrix and World on a Wire. And that is why I call it ‘optimistic,’ because it asserts the existence of a true world into which the properly initiated can awaken. And so, I think impliedly it stimulates our secret desire to believe that not only is there is something beyond our own experience but that all of the things which we hate about our world are just nightmares, from which we can awaken without actually doing anything.

This is not so. Neo can’t wake up.

The imaginary seems real because it is real.

If this sounds totally hopeless and depressing, however, remember that a dream is like a train which goes on its course and which cannot be turned to one side or another. You cannot change a dream, not even in theory. But you can, theoretically, change the world.

We just have to discover how.

PS: there were traces, and just traces, of the miasma around Mr Obama, particularly during the first campaign. But isn’t it weird that the first truly hyperreal postmodernist candidate is a Republican?


Donald Trump wins III

Let’s be careful not to fall into hermeneutic interpretation of simple facts. Or, to put it another way…. let’s not B.S. ourselves. Donald Trump is a bigot. Moreover, and perhaps worse, Mike Pence is a mega-Mega-MEGA bigot.

Given Trump’s vagary, Pence may be the ‘power behind the throne’ like Cheney. Some people have wishfully said, ‘Maybe Trump will get bored and quit?’ That might not be an improvement. In the new congressional majority too there are many people who are, let us say, not so nice.

MANY people looked at Trump and saw a chance to take back their country… to the fifties. That is why so many people, including myself, are deeply frightened at Trump’s win. We have suddenly realized that this particular problem was much bigger than we thought (or, returning to the fist post in this series that it is as big as we disavowed knowing but to some degree knew nonetheless.)

When people chant “Jew-S-A” at Trump rallies and when the KKK and other white-supremacist organizations can hardly contain their glee at his ascension, in these cases no further analysis is necessary or possible.

Again, let’s not B.S. ourselves or try to say things like “they don’t know what they’re saying” or “they’re just burning off steam.” That’s crap. Take them at their revanchist word.

However in other cases there is a reason to be nuanced. I think that there are three basic types of Trump voter. In addition to those ‘a priori’ bigots there are the desperate and the ‘adjunctive’ racists.

Many people said “My and my friends’ standard of living has cratered. Our children’s will surely be lower still or they might drown in a sea of heroin and fentanyl. Our town/city will never recover. I am desperate and I’ve had it with trickle-down economics, political correctness and arrogant elites. How do these things help anyone, let alone our children?”

Also for these people do not miss the importance of Clinton’s closeness to Wall Street.

Another important fact is that in the key “flip” states many of them are actually lifelong Democrats. They voted for Trump, not with malice but out of reckless desperation. “This,”—I am sure many thought—”is our one and only chance.”

In voting for Trump on this basis (or by refraining from voting or by voting third-party which is basically the same thing) did these people act with lack of empathy for and perhaps disregard for minorities? Yes. Is this the U.S.A at its finest? No.

However, in two years there is a midterm and it is of paramount importance that we zero in on the parts of that logic we can work with and ignore the parts we can’t, for now anyway. We must be able to credibly say “We can help you and your children.” We must make the case (and then we must actually do it, ‘natch.) They did not believe that Clinton could help them or would. And I think that they were right. They are wrong that Trump can help them but that must be a part of our case.

Here is a quotation from a November 10 Reuters piece by Peter Eisler. The dateline is Bethlehem, PA.

[Jim] McAndrew, 69, a retired steel worker, voted Democrat in every presidential election for half a century. This year he stayed home… [He] was intrigued by Trump, but decided eventually that “all he does is insult everybody … women, black people, white people, rich, poor. He’s an idiot.” He considered Clinton, but was concerned by the scandal over her handling of classified material on a private email server as secretary of state. “I hated both of them, so I just said, ‘the hell with it,’” McAndrew said. His wife, also a life- long Democrat, went to the polls without him—and voted Republican. “First time ever,” he said.

The title of the article? “How Hillary Clinton’s white voters melted away.” Notice how this man specifically identified disparagement of black people and women as a reason to not vote for Trump. His response to this situation was not perfect, but there is reason for hope. To denounce these people and shout “bigot!” is counterproductive.

The third group voted for Trump because of adjunctive racism. The difference between this and a priori racism is that this racism emanates from something identifiable. It’s basically superstition, an incorrect explanation for something which is real. “Mexicans took my job.” “Blacks come into my town and deal drugs.” You know the drill.

They lashed out in anger because they perceived themselves as victims (and they may have a point about that) but blamed the wrong victimizers. This can be dealt with in basically the same way. If we point to the real facts and make credible promises to ameliorate the social ills, the racism will be abandoned as it will no longer seem attractive.

Deprive racism of an argument and it won’t give even false explanations for anything. We need well-founded, unhostile counter-arguments that focus on the factual inaccuracy of the logical linkage and which leave the valence of the racial disparagement for later.

I use the term “adjunctive racism” not “adjunctive bigotry” because 99% of this is wrapped up in nativism. However to the extent that it applies to other categories of bias then mutatis mutandis the same solution may also apply.

(But obviously, some of Trump’s supporters are dangerous. Violence has entered into our public discourse in a way that is quite scary. Emotions have exploded out of control. So be smart about who you talk to and how.)

Donald Trump wins II

In the thirty years since the fall of Communism, we have lived in an intellectual famine. Basically, the left and right stopped developing, frozen like insects in amber. Our politics became consumed with Manichean zero-sum fables.

‘There is no Alternative,’ Margret Thatcher said, “T.I.N.A.” We came to agree with her. The right-wing historian Francis Fukuyama termed it “The End of History.”

Have you noticed how even a supposedly socialist candidate did not call for the abolition of property of markets and of normal buying and selling? That’s not socialism. It’s not even fabianism.

But the politics of fear which defined that era did not go away, rather than fear the Reds, we came to fear each other. This fear sank in and stained our minds.

I have a troubled and uneasy relationship with the American left which to me seems to have lost its teeth and mind and to have settled for a sort of economic-neoliberalism with fuzzy-edges and a penumbra of weak, arrogant thinking. Liberalism is like a cheap suit, it fits me—but poorly. It always sucks being more catholic than the pope.

The Internet and the modern media landscape have made it so easy, so natural to find only those who we agree with and to see only the information which confirms our biases.

The Left is very good at diagnosing this problem in others (Fox ‘news’, Brietbart) but cannot diagnose it in itself.

In 1972, Paulene Kael delivered a speech to the Modern Language Association in which she famously said “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.” Far too many of us live in Kael’s “rather special world.”

This is a part of what went wrong.

This election reveals that the Left has utterly failed to convince people of certain things that we thought were at least the grudging consensus.

Presented with the “establishment-Left” candidate nonpariel, 58+ million people rejected capitalism-lite and more than 90 million thought the whole matter so insipid that they did not bother to vote at all (or they cast pointless ballots for 3rd party candidates.)

Yes, your math is correct: only about 25% of people voted for the man who will become President of 100% of Americans.

“There is no Alternative!” we said. Many agreed and decided to make no choice. But some said “Aha!, You are wrong! The Alternative is Trump!” And we could not answer them because they were technically right.

It seems history did not end, though we may wish it had.

Donald Trump wins I

Donald Rumsfeld (a broken clock is right twice a day, hear this out) famously spoke of the “Known Unknown,” the gap in knowledge which we are aware of and of the particular danger of the “Unknown Unknown,” that which we do not begin to realize that we do not know.

Slovenian postmodernist semi-philosopher (a broken clock is right twice a day, hear this out) Slajov Zizek spoke of the “Unknown Known”, being that which we know but but do not acknowledge knowing. The obscene, dark, Lynchian side of daily life. The hidden practices which are always on the periphery.

The news has been greeted with much popping of monocles and clutching of pearls. I have read many insincere choir-preaching, huffy Gawkery rants. I have read many sincere and humble professions of total shock.

I have heard and read so much that begins “I can’t believe…” But is that really so? Or is it, rather, that we knew but did not know we knew? “I COULD not believe…” or “I DID not believe…” One word, so much difference.

Might it not be the case that we knew far more than we knew?