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?

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Hillary Clinton and guns

Someone recently said that they are considering voting for Donald Trump because they fear that Hillary Clinton will take away their guns*.

I respectfully disagree, here is why that is wrong.

To begin with. I am fine with personal gun ownership. I know that this is liberal heresy but I never claimed to be large-L Liberal. Beside, let us look, clear-eyed, at the candidates; if we accept the common definition that conservatives wish to retain the way things are now, or return to earlier ways and liberals wish to try new ways in no meaningful sense is Trump conservative or Clinton liberal. Trump is a radically disrupting, innovative, even deviant force. Clinton is the ultimate status-quo candidate. “Liberalism” and “conservativism” are now dead.

Hillary Clinton will not take guns away because that is legally impossible.

Not even the most contorted reading can get around the fact that the constitution flatly prohibits a total ban on private gun ownership. Aside from the obvious 2nd amendment dimension, in practice a gun ban would involve the 5th amendment (illegal taking) the 14th amendment (ditto) and, vitiated though it is, the 10th amendment (limits on Federal power vs. State power.)

Hillary Clinton will not take guns away because that is politically impossible.

Forty-three percent of Americans own at least one gun according to a Gallup poll. The same poll showed 72% oppose a handgun ban. 56% said an increase in concealed-carry would make the country safer. 58% had a favorable opinion of the NRA. Remember: those people vote.

However, polls (and not just this one) do show considerable support for expanding background checks. That, however, does not constitute taking guns away.

Even barring the overwhelming legal obstacles, gun confiscation is politically suicidal. In addition: while predicting the future in normal years is a guessing-game and in this political year doubly so, I do not think that the GOP will lose the house. Their majority will surely be diluted but they will not likely lose the house because they have the largest majority in modern history.

Probably, Democrats have a chance of retaking the Senate. (Just as districting (the ‘Electoral College’) currently works FOR Democrats in the presidential election, districting currently works AGAINST them in the House. Democrats are largely and heavily concentrated in blue-leaning urban districts. Many of those districts are leaning so-far to the blue side that they’ve fallen and can’t get up. That means remarkable levels of ‘wasted’ votes. Moreover, the GOP controlled the last gerrymandering–excuse me, ‘re-districting’, and naturally distorted the system heavily to their favor**. Therefore: even though in 2014, Democrats won 47% of the vote, excluding minor parties, they won a mere 43% of seats.)

A significant additional reason why the Dems did so poorly in 2014 was that their core voter didn’t turn up. Now, in an election year, with a fabulously unpopular if not downright toxic candidate at the head of the ticket…. don’t hold your breath, especially if it looks like (and it does) that Trump is hurtling toward inevitable defeat.

So, in order to seriously dent gun rights. Clinton would have to win legislation that cannot pass, that would see root-and-branch resistance among a large percentage of the electorate and that would be shot down by the Supreme court. It is more politically probable that the Eritrea will apply to become the 51st state than that significant gun policy changes will occur.

There are three “live-rails” of American politics: Medicare, Social Security and Gun Rights. Even politicians of singular conviction and moral strength cannot touch these.

Speaking of that…. Hillary Clinton is singularly vacuous and lacking in principals, thus it is foolish to imagine that she will actually blow a huge amount of her already meager political capital on something that cannot occur.

Clinton has flippity-flopped on so many issues that it buggers belief. No politician is more nakedly blown here and there by every wind of doctrine. Only the presence of you-know-who prevents me from describing her as the “dada-candidate.”

Trump is the Dada candidate. It’s silly to assume that a candidate who has no rational or coherent policy agenda, may be insane and does not even bother to try to hide his constant policy gyrations would actually support any thing whatsoever. He is a splintered reed. That goes for gun rights as for anything. At this point, if Donald Trump said he was for three square meals a day I would disbelieve him.

*This was before Trump hinted that his followers should assassinate Clinton. However, in political writing you can pick no more than two of currency, sophistication and style.

** In fairness, oh yes Democrats 100% do that too. They just weren’t in a position to do so at the time.

Trump is a natural product of frustration with the two-party system

So as everyone in power and wealth and media (or some combination thereof) seems to agree that the prominence of Donald Trump is a sign of severe political turpitude the question naturally arises: “What will we masters of the universe do to prevent this from happening again?”

My guess is nothing but then again I’m a cynical gadfly.

One one level, Trump’s rise so-far has been fueled by specific mechanisms in the primary system which reward outlandishness and punish innovative thinking to say nothing of sobriety and discretion.

One example is the prevalence of closed primaries. Because I, for example, am not a registered Republican and I live in New York which has closed primaries, I cannot vote against Trump in the primary. That means that sane voices who happen to have registered no party (like me) or even, let’s face it Democrats cannot act as a lid on kookiness. [Technically, this problem also applies to Democrats, however in practice, it expresses less frequently in that party.]

Even below that we must acknowledge that gerrymandering, the first-past-the-post election system, the Electoral College and even the election of senators instead of their appointment have deeply entrenched the two-party system and moreover have enabled addle-pated, stale thinking and have encouraged non-representative representation.

The perception that politicians are bought-and-sold through campaign finance is damaging. Though I think the left over-rates the importance of Citizens United as a cause, it is certainly a symptom. This frustration with ‘the system’ is real and valid and it is something that Trump is tapping into.

I still believe that the much loathed ‘party establishment’ will pull out all the stops to sink Trump if he looks likely to actually take the nomination but I could be wrong on this.