Propaganda

Controlling the Collapse Argument With the Fakery of “Fake News”

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on December 8, 2016

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Or  More Like a Case of Plain Old (Unuseful) Idiocy?

 

As you may have read a couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post published an article entitled "Russian Propaganda Effort Helped Spread 'Fake News' During Election, Experts Say", in which it cited a report by a group calling itself PropOrNot. According to the Post,

PropOrNot’s monitoring report… identifies more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season.

In one way or another I'm familiar with about a quarter of the sites listed, perhaps one or two of which I occasionally visit. Two of them have actually published From Filmers to Farmers (FF2F) posts in the past (Truthout and OpEdNews) and a third called an FF2F post hyperbolic (!) while providing a link in its daily list of to-read articles (Naked Capitalism). That aside, what I was interested to see was whether or not there were any blogs or sites in PropOrNot's list that had a history of writing about peak oil and/or the collapse of industrial civilization. After a quick scan I didn't notice anything, but after doing a more thorough look while checking the Alexa rankings of some of PropOrNot's listed sites I did a double-take – "Oil Geopolitics? Say What!?" Scrolling back over to the Js, yup, (Journal of the) New Eastern Outlook was there as well. For those who don't know what I might be getting at, I'll try and explain.

New Eastern Outlook is a site publishing various writers on mostly Eastern issues, is headquartered in Moscow, and has as its leading author F. William Engdahl. Engdahl runs the site Oil Geopolitics, or at least did, as he hasn't posted there since mid-2013 and now regularly posts at another site of his, William Engdahl. But as the Washington Post stated, PropOrNot identified sites that were "peddlers of Russian Propaganda during the election" (emphasis mine), something that Oil Geopolitics hasn't done in over three years, but which William Engdahl has done steadily for the past year, much of whose content would certainly land it in PropOrNot's naughty books. That being so, why the discrepancy? I emailed PropOrNot asking for some clarification regarding this, but as I not very surprisingly didn't get a reply I was left to draw my own conclusions.

For starters, PropOrNot is an anonymous (not Anonymous) group of individuals whom the Washington Post describes as "a nonpartisan collection of researchers with foreign policy, military and technology backgrounds", and whose identity the kind folks at the Post have agreed to keep secret so that the group can "avoid being targeted by Russia's legions of skilled hackers." Okay.

After a Doomstead Diner article pointed out the idiocy behind PropOrNot's suggestion that Russia be excluded from SWIFT, its author, Palloy, then asked:

[W]hy would a news organisation with such an impeccable reputation for good journalism, choose to pick up this story from an anonymous bunch of idiots with a $10 web-site? Perhaps because they are not a bunch of idiots at all, but a secretive cabal of war-crazed neo-cons, and WaPo have been given the establishment nod of approval to promote them.

Which, if you ask me, makes complete sense, but still doesn't explain the Engdahl discrepancy.

Backtracking a bit, the closest that PropOrNot's list comes to covering the collapse of industrial civilization is The Economic Collapse Blog (TECB), a site that has nothing to do with the collapse of industrial civilization, but rather calls out every little vagary in the news as a sign that disaster is once again just around the corner. (No really, this time it really really is! So quick, like, buy something!) No doubt TECB sells a lot of trinkets thanks to its incessant innuendo, but like the saying goes, "a broken clock is right twice a day", and no doubt TECB will be proclaiming from the top of the rafters "I told you so!" when the inevitable economic downturn once again occurs.


Perpetually creamy on the inside (photo by Neal Fowler)

In regards to peak oil, the closest that PropOrNot's list comes in this respect is Oil Geopolitics, and this is where things get even more awry. While pretty much all of the sites on PropOrNot's list are out on the fringes of things, the fringes are by nature where not only the cutting edge can be found but also those out to lunch. Although I didn't so much mind Engdahl's first three books (although with a fair amount of reservations), his fourth book, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, is where he started to lose the plot in my eyes, culminating in Myths, Lies and Oil Wars, where things really went over the deep end. In case you didn't know, one of Engdahl's stakeouts on the fringes is as a strong proponent of the abiotic theory of oil, the (cornucopian) notion that oil is not an organic substance and instead supposedly originates from deep carbon deposits present since Earth's formation. As the theory goes (which comes courtesy of a bunch of Russian scientists actually), given enough time oil fields refill themselves with black gold.

With that in mind, and as is stated on the back cover of Myths, Lies and Oil Wars,

As Henry Kissinger said, "If you control the oil you control entire nations." The converse is also true – If oil cannot be controlled the controlling powers lose their control over other nations and the wars that go with it. This is an entirely different account of the world's most important and most political commodity – oil.

In other words, since oil is such a plentiful resource the powers-that-be have little recourse but to maintain a false sense of scarcity in order that they can maintain control over the masses – masses that would otherwise be able to enjoy lives of abiotic cornucopian bliss.

With TECB and Oil Geopolitics in mind, and while there certainly is a McCarthyite tinge to PropOrNot and its list, one could also see the list as a bit of an exercise in controlling the peak oil / collapse of industrial civilization argument, baiting the anti-establishment types to hone in on these broken clock, out to lunch, not-quite peak oil / collapse of industrial civilization sites, which in effect diverts their attention from more worthwhile ones.

Sure, there's a few worthwhile sites on PropOrNot's list, but even though much of the criteria laid out by PropOrNot for inclusion on its list "are common themes here on Doomstead Diner" (as Palloy put it), and even though John Michael Greer was a bit cheekily "disappointed to find that The Archdruid Report didn't make the cut" – and then expressed in the comments to said post that he was surprised that (Russian-born) Dmitry Orlov's site (Club Orlov) wasn't included either – I wasn't too surprised to notice their exclusion from the list of malcontents (even as mere “useful idiots”).

Supposing said (worthwhile) sites have large enough readerships to attract PropOrNot's attention in the first place, to include any of them in the list would have given them legitimacy and drawn attention to them. Might there then be a conspiracy abrew to bring attention to – and thus give quasi-legitimacy to – sites like TECB and Oil Geopolitics while ignoring sites like The Doomstead Diner, The Archdruid Report, Club Orlov, and (ahem) From Filmers to Farmers? Could such sites have been blacklisted from being blacklisted?

Well, I may have entertained such notions in the past, but after the recent U.S. elections I think it was quite clearly shown that this may not be so much of a conspiracy as opposed to idiocy reigning supreme. As just one example, and in case you hadn't heard, in the debate on climate and energy policy Trump's energy advisor did after all state that

It is complicated when you talk about the movement of electricity. You know, neurons go where neurons want to go once they're on the line, right?

Uhhh….

Anyway, according to Ben Norton and Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept,

As is so often the case, those who mostly loudly warn of "fake news" from others are themselves the most aggressive disseminators of it.


The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming –
and the Iranians too! (image courtesy of Wayne Vermeire)

Quite true. But it should probably also be added that for those concerned about energy and collapse issues, the fake newsers have little to no grasp of the big picture here, never mind having much cognizance of our perch on what is essentially a fake monetary system.

So no, no conspiracy here. More like the blind leading the blind, the fakers leading the fakees, and another case of just plain old (unuseful) idiocy.

Fake Newz

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on December 1, 2016

propaganda

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VISIT THE NEW REAL NEWZ PAGE ON THE DINER

Regularly updated links to Alternative Newz Websites

 

Fake News is news that has been made up and is completely untrue.  It is a waste of everybody's time, made worse by the mindless idiots on Facebook and Twitter, who spread it without thinking.

So some professor from a US university posted a list of "Fake News" websites on Facebook, but those on the list were mostly just anti-establishment websites, giving alternative viewpoints, not fake news. Prominent among the mistakes was RT , (formerly Russia Today), which is financed by the Russian State, and a genuine news site.  RT is comparable to the British BBC and Australian ABC news outlets, except that the latter wouldn't say "Boo" to their Prime Ministers, let alone the US President or Rupert Murdoch. 

RT.com

It has to be admitted that RT likes to publish all the things that the US Government would be embarrassed about, but that is what the US media ought to be doing as part of their job too, but don't.  RT also publishes what President Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov are saying about world affairs, including the context and background of their statements, which is important to know if you want to express an informed opinion on world affairs.

Thus if you want to get a balanced outlook on current events, and only have time for 2 sites, then CNN and RT should be your first two choices.  They won't be the same, obviously, because they represent the two sides of the argument.

So naturally some of the genuine, but anti-establishment news sites also the on the list, objected.  The financial news site ZeroHedge was one of them.  They follow the Austrian School viewpoint on finance, as opposed to the Keynesian viewpoint, and are hence always anti-Federal Reserve, and pro-"a huge economic collapse is coming"and pro-Gold Standard. You don't have to be an Austrian economist to read ZeroHedge (I'm not one) because they do manage to dig up amazing facts and charts from official sources.  ZH heaped scorn and derision on the list, which presumably caused a twitter-storm amongst the shouting classes.

And thus a new meme was born – "Fake News" is no longer fake news, but anything that doesn't follow the US establishment line.

The list was quickly taken up by the Washington Post, that cheer-leader for the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria.  Remember the WMDs in Iraq, which were ever found ?  Who grilled Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Powell over that big lie, either before or after the invasion? – not WaPo, that's for sure.

PropOrNot

WaPo cites the origin of the list as the website called propornot.com, which has been hosted by GoDaddy since 21 August, and uses free BlogSpot blogging software, and doesn't give the names of any of the people involved.  You will find this on their Home Page:
 

Quote

http://www.propornot.com/p/home.html
We call on Congressional leadership, and the Obama administration, to:

    Immediately begin investigations to determine whether any U.S. government action or inaction has allowed Russia to manipulate the US domestic political process, and interfere in the 2016 election, through online propaganda.

    Immediately begin investigations to determine whether, by action or inaction, the American public has been deprived of related information that they need to vote in an informed manner.

    Work with our European allies to disconnect Russia from the SWIFT financial transaction system, effective immediately and lasting for at least one year, as an appropriate response to Russian manipulation of the election.

 


The first two points are silly, but understandable – "begin investigations" into blah blah blah, OK.  But the third is an immediate punishment for a guilty Russia.  Huh?  Aren't we going to await the outcome of the investigation before proceeding to punishment?  You know, "Innocent until proven guilty" and all that?  That's a bit like President Obama saying Osama bin Laden got "justice", when in fact he was simply assassinated and his body disappeared, which WaPO reported on but didn't question.

SWIFT

If you haven't heard of it before, SWIFT is an internet system which allows banks in different countries to exchange the necessary paperwork before and after the actual transfer of big sums of money, over secure channels.  The threat of being excluded from SWIFT, and hence being internationally isolated, is a very big stick indeed, and would likely lead to the instant start of WW3. 

At least, it would have if the Russians hadn't already written and implemented their own version of SWIFT, known as RosSwift.  It has been up and running for over a year, catering for Russian-to-Russian bank transactions, hence relieving Russia from having to worry about having their national inter-bank transactions being monitored by the US.  All it would take for it to become internationally operational would be the issuing of log-in credentials for RosSwift to foreign banks.  Presumably the Russians have decided, for now, not to split the world into 2 competing financial blocs, but they ready for it.

A moment's consideration should be enough for you to realise that the rest of the BRICS group, China, India, Brazil and South Africa would immediately join RosSwift, as would the CSO countries, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and other assorted hangers on like Syria, Iran, Philippines, Cuba, Venezuela – well over half the world's population.  The US couldn't sanction them all, so it would have to live with it.

Then you've got the problem of how the EU countries and Turkey are going to pay for their Russian oil and gas imports, unless they join RosSwift too.  And very soon you will see that cutting Russia off from SWIFT would be a HUGE mistake with endless blowback for the US, and that PropOrNot must be a complete bunch of idiots.

How do PropOrNot identify "Russian propaganda"?

There is a long list of ways that PropOrNot says it can tell if a website is a Russian propaganda site.  This one is quite instructive:
 

Quote

http://www.propornot.com/2016/10/introducing-propornot-be-aware-of-and.html

16. Appear to be effectively influencing public opinion in significant and very problematic ways, by promoting:
    Conspiracy theories about and protests against US military exercises,
    Isolationism/anti-interventionism generally,
    Support for policies like Brexit, and the breakup of the EU and Eurozone,
    Opposition to Ukrainian resistance to Russia and Syrian resistance to Assad,
    Support for the anti-vax, anti-Zika spraying, anti-GMO, 9/11-”truther”, gold-standard, and other related movements

 

   
Yes, if you believe in a peaceful non-interventionist US foreign policy, or supported Brexit like a majority of British voters did, or support a return to the gold standard, or are against Genetically Modified Organisms, you are a Russian propagandist !

The question is …

Getting back to WaPo, why would a news organisation with such an impeccable reputation for good journalism, choose to pick up this story from an anonymous bunch of idiots with a $10 web-site?  Perhaps because they are not a bunch of idiots at all, but a secretive cabal of war-crazed neo-cons, and WaPo have been given the establishment nod of approval to promote them. 

The implications of all this is that if a site regularly publishes articles which question US policy on its interventionist stance towards countries it doesn't like, or on going back to the gold standard, or on Brexit and the break-up of the EU, (all of which are common themes here on Doomstead Diner), then it could be branded a Russian propaganda outlet and some kind of sanctions applied against it.  This could involve lowering its ranking or removing it altogether from Google search results, and Facebook/Twitter news feed rankings, to outright closure.  Facebook has already announced that it is looking at modifying its news filters to try harder to eliminate fake news.

This is a very serious development for all people with alternative views to the US establishment.

The List

And finally, here is the list.  How many of these sites do you want to hear from as part of your political discussion?

fake-newz

“A” is for Alternative Media

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Published on the 22 Billion Energy Slaves on September 19, 2016

media manufactured consent

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The alternative media has exhibited an exponential growth pattern in recent years due to the digital revolution and the unsatisfactory narrative offered by traditional media. The ease with which new media ventures can be incubated and by which information is distributed has broken the stranglehold the mainstream media (MSM) has enjoyed in terms of setting the narrative agenda in society. In a recent survey it was found only 6% of Americans have a lot of trust in the MSM, and that figure is likely to be repeated, to a greater or lesser extent, across the industrialised world.

This rapid growth of the alternative media has occurred in parallel with the diminution of trust in the MSM. Since the early 1970s – when the rich economies of the West began to depart from a reality based upon physical productivity and currencies backed by precious metals – the MSM has caused ever-growing levels of cognitive dissonance in its consumers. However, the widespread ownership of computer technology which has occurred in recent years has allowed the vacuum to be quickly filled by thousands of YouTube videos, blogs and alt news sites, all distributed at lightning speed via social media, email lists and RSS feeds. The cumbersome business model of the conventional media has found itself unable to compete with this networked and distributed onslaught and faces a lingering death as its cash reserves and lines of credit deplete. All it can do is dig itself into an ever deeper hole as it desperately tries to rescue its own credibility, but finds it is unable to do so without compromising the power structures behind it.

One way in which the MSM and its supporters are attempting to fight back is by discrediting all alternative media. Due to the anarchic nature of the alternative media arena a wide range of controversial topics are addressed in a range of tones. Some of these are singled out as conspiracy theories in an attempt to discredit the entire phenomenon of non-hierarchical information disbursement and the old maxim of slinging mud at a wall in the hope that some of it sticks applies here. This tactic in itself seems to be backfiring as one 'conspiracy theory' after another is proved to be reality; a phenomenon that has turned the tables and appears to be inducing cognitive dissonance in the MSM itself. A prime example of this is the Washington Post's simultaneous championing of the ex-NSA computer analyst turned whistleblower Edward Snowden, whom the paper simultaneously supported to earn industry plaudits, whilst subsequently calling for his arrest due to the existential threat he posed to the establishment.

The MSM is acutely concerned by its shrinking power but does not appear to be able to repel the swarm attack. If it mimics the alt media it shoots itself in the foot, but if it ignores it it further erodes its own self-defined relevance. Instead it repeatedly doubles down on failed strategies and expects them to succeed. With so much capital invested in their enterprises the controllers of the old media have yet to figure out a way to compete with alternative media sources. The new media is unbound by any editorial and political constraints and willing to offer up their services for free, whereas the old media must play by the old rules and is forbidden from 'rocking the boat'. Thus, in the face of this existential threat they are churning out more and more 'news' in the form of entertainment, mixing commercials with supposed reality in the form of sponsored content and retreating behind paywalls that nobody wants to pay for. This has created a negative feedback loop for them and, in fact, without the help of generous benefactors or cash engines strapped onto their media enterprises, we could see the death of the MSM within a few short years. Reports of social media sites censoring alternative media material are only likely to quicken the erosion of whatever trust remains in the MSM.

What emerges from the wreckage is unclear but the issue of trust has been thrust to the fore. In the same way that not all MSM content is 'bad', conversely, not all alternative media is 'good'. The same shady array of forces harbouring murky intentions and blatant attempts at propaganda remains, and we can be sure it is desperately attempting to reconfigure itself in new ways for it to continue to control the narrative and perpetuate the status quo. Perhaps, as the collapse of industrial society intensifies more local forms of media will rise in relevance and importance. This would be one way the trust horizon of information providers could be verified. At the same time, in a deglobalising world, people may find they do not have as much time to follow world events from their own home. Instead, they may be too busy raising chickens and growing vegetables. 

How the Nazis Won WWII

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Published on Reddit r/collapse on October 15, 2016

Big-Lie

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Recently my sleep patterns have been a little messed up. This led to me waking up in the middle of the night last night and just lying in bed for three hours thinking about various things. Here are some of my thoughts. They are somewhat collapse related, so bear with me.

In the 1920s Adolph Hitler was a failing Austrian artist. In order to fix his life, he decided to embark on his greatest artistic project to date – he reinvented himself, spending many hours in front of the mirror in order to perfect a completely new image to the outside world. He turned this new man into the leader of a political movement that came close to complete global domination. In doing so, he associated with other like-minded individuals. In particular, Joseph Goebbels, who perfected the technique known as "The Big Lie", which he described as follows:

It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.

Naziism took a few very simple ideas – "Ubermensch", "The Jewish Problem", "Lebensraum", and molded them into an enormously powerful movement. If we view Naziism not as politics, with the goal of actualising these ideas, but instead as an artistic movement, a project that demonstrated how to motivate and control mass-movements in the media age, then I believe it was enormously successful.

Fast forward 70 years, and this new artistic movement, which we can perhaps call "Art-politics" is triumphant. Back in the 1930s, only the Naziis had the big lie, but now everyone is doing it. We have multiple different groups following this artistic movement and each creating there own artistic project with their own variations on the big lie. The Naziism didn't triumph politically, or militarily, but artistically. Their new creation, art-politics, has conquered the world.

Politics as it was once practiced, as an intellectual movement intent on finding the best form of governance, is dead. It has already collapsed. The days of Burke, or Marx, or Keynes, are long gone, and nowadays intellectuals are kept well away from the general public. Instead each party is an artistic statement, with no solid intellectual apparatus apparent.

None of these movements make the slightest sense under any cursory analysis. Where is the conservative answer to global warming and resource depletion? Where is the socialist answer to modern captialist globalisation? Where is the green answer for how 9 billion people can possibly live sustainably, or, if fewer people can be supported, how we can get from here to there without enormous suffering and conflict?

I am writing this from the UK, where we have recently had the Brexit referendum, a supreme demonstration of art-politics. The lie wasn't the yes campaign, or the no campaign. The big lie was the idea that the answer to a single yes/no question could possibly, either way, lead us to a coherent future path.

And yet we are almost all young enough that we have been brought up with these paradigms. We may go through a stage of flitting between them. They are all tremendously powerful pieces of art, which appeal to us on an emotional level. On a forum such as this, where most of us recognise that politics has failed, we still keep coming back to these movements, because we have nothing else. We echo their ideas even when we know they are wrong.

In a sense this represents a failure of democracy. In many intellectual movements, such as mathematics or the sciences, it can take many years of study in order to familiarise onself with current knowledge and actively contribute, but democratic politics isn't like that, in that any idea that cannot be explained over a short conversation with a guy in a bar, or summed up in a single short reddit post, is worthless. It cannot possibly present a single set of coherent answers, because to do so would make it far too complex to compete in a democratic space with the various art-politics movements.

So that leads me to where I am now, wanting to reject all the crap that dominates our modern intellectual discourse, and start anew, which is essentially a nihilist exercise. And yet nihilism isn't an answer, but merely a starting point from which answers can come. Arguably earlier political movements, such as communism, grew out of such a nihilist exercise. I feel a need to reach out and connect to people who think in the same way as me, but to do so seems essentially useless. It doesn't make any more sense for nihilists to group and work together than it makes sense for most atheists to attend an atheist church. The commonality simply isn't there.

For the time being, I feel that all I can do is study and learn more. Not necessarily about collapse, because in our current condition, collapse is inevitable, but about the human condition. Or something. I'm not sure. I just need to learn.

 

 

The power (and the limits) of propaganda

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on September 4, 2016

cassandra_retouched

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There is a new and very interesting report on the attitudes of the public on Global Warming. It was published on "Environment" on Aug 26, with the title. "The Political Divide on Climate Change: Partisan Polarization Widens in the U.S. It is written by Riley E. Dunlap, Aaron M. McCright and Jerrod H. Yarosh.

The report provides updated data from Gallup polls that basically confirms some interpretations that I had proposed in earlier posts. We seem to be completely stuck with this debate. The percentage of Americans who agree with the scientific interpretation of global warming today is basically the same as it was 10 years ago. You can see it from the figure above; all the data of the report are consistent on this point.  The two camps advance a little and retreat a little, but the front line moves very little.

The figure at the top is also interesting because it provides a long-term assessment of what propaganda can do. You see the remarkable dip in the public belief on the importance of global warming that was originated by the "climategate" psyop that raged in 2009-2010. It is something that will be remembered for centuries as a milestone in the history of propaganda. But look at the data: all the climategate sound and fury had some effect only for a few years. And note how it was most effective on the Republicans, that is the people who were already the most skeptical about climate science. On the democrats, the effect is nearly zero.

We see here both the power and the limits of propaganda. And it tells us something rather chilling. If we ever were able to mount an important information campaign in favor of science, it could hardly be more effective than Climategate was against science. At best, such a campaign would intensify the belief in good science of those who already believe in good science. The debate is stuck: as we keep preaching to the choir, nothing will change.

The reason for this situation is clear from the report – and not just from that. Partisan polarization is increasing in the US and, probably, everywhere in the Western World. And as long as the polarization is so sharp, nothing that can be said by one side will affect the other. And, while we are going nowhere, global warming is marching on.

Is there a way to unlock the situation? Possibly, but it can only be drastic. We know that there is a way to recompact the people of a country and have them fight for a common goal: war. That may be the reason why the West seems to be so much on a war footing nowadays; it is a desperate attempt to recover some kind of national unity while facing a terribly difficult economic situation. But, of course, a major war would spell disaster for all attempts to stop climate change. That is, unless it were to be the right kind of war.….

The Fall, and Further Fall, of Broadcast Journalism

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Published on The Daily Impact on April 26, 2016

fortune teller

Get into a dignified line of work, he says. Go into TV journalism, and you’ll never have to be harassed or humiliated like, you know, a hedge fund guy. (Photo by Vito Fun/Flickr)

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Once upon a time, in a galaxy far away, we were young, and journalists. We thought of ourselves as initiates in a brotherhood (which it was, mostly, then, the sisters came later), followers of a calling, and most importantly members of a profession.

A profession, according to the dictionary, is an occupation “that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification.” We were never big on the “formal qualification” part — although we had to have an FCC licence to put our hands on the controls of a broadcasting station — but we did train. For many years I spent hours each week being grilled on the word choices in my scripts (Lewis, have you no idea of the difference between continuous and continual?”) and my pronunciation of them (“Lewis, I did not hear any sub-guttural value in that initial G, and where was the labial stop at the end of ‘ship’?”)

We thought of ourselves as doctors to the body politic, lancing the boils of ignorance, quieting the fears of the afflicted by dispensing the balm of objective information. We did this without fear or favor, resisting fiercely any interference in our judgments by crass commercial or political interests — you know, like for example the owners of the stations we worked for. Seriously. We called it separation of church and state, and we believed that the ethics of truth, justice and the American Way could withstand the power of cash. Did I mention we were young?

Our high priest was Edward R. Murrow. Who brought down Senator Joseph McCarthy, and not long thereafter saw his work for television sidelined to make way for quiz shows such as The $64,000 Question. In a valedictory address made shortly before departing from the airwaves (the very year that I read my first on-air newscasts), Murrow laid it out:

“[If] this instrument [television] is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost. This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. Good night, and good luck.”

The struggle, of course, was already lost. We all soon realized, simply by taking note of who got fired and who got promoted, that the purpose of journalism was to get ratings. Cleavage and short skirts got ratings: The “weather girl” of yore was soon joined by the anchor babe. Bleeding, weeping and gnashing of teeth got ratings: “If it bleeds, it leads,” became the rule. Training? Diction? Ethics? Gedoudahere.

It’s hard to see how the degradation of a once honorable profession could go much further. At least it was, until Trump.

But there are other paving stones on the road to journalistic hell that have been little noticed or discussed. Once, “news” by definition meant an objective account of what happened. News accounts were supposed to be free of bias, opinion, even interpretation — that’s why there were editorials and columns.

Increasingly, however, turning or clicking on the news has come to resemble more and more a visit to a fortune teller’s tent. It’s all about what the President is going to say, how the election is going to come out, what somebody thinks is going to happen. Then when the President speaks, the votes are counted, or the happening happens, the “news” coverage is either how it did or did not “differ from expectations,” what the panel thinks of it, and/or what’s going to happen next because of it.

What’s the harm? In part it’s the continual reinforcement of an ill-informed, simplistic view of how the world works, with simple causes leading to simple effects, like the cartoonish representations of the human body used in drug ads.

The news industry is dedicated to its new guiding principals — no, not principles, principals, the guys in suits who demand more eyeballs, forbid affronts to sponsors and owners, and prefer crystal-ball gazing to reporting. And these principals insure that we know very little about the total collapse of the industrial world now in progress. For them the answer to last week’s revelations about the near total death of the Great Barrier Reef because of ocean warming, or about the stunning further collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, is obvious and simple. Get Trump.

Not coincidentally, three different polls have found recently that only about 10 per cent of Americans trust the media; or believe the media do the right thing; or think they have integrity. Approximately the same number of Americans trust Congress, and think Judge Judy sits on the Supreme Court.

Good night, and good luck.

The Empire of Lies

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on February 8, 2016

The Trajan Column was built in order to celebrate the victories of the Roman Armies in the conquest of Dacia, during the 2nd century AD. It shows that the Romans knew and used propaganda, although in forms that for us look primitive. In those times, just as in ours, a dying empire could be kept together for a while by lies, but not forever.  

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At the beginning of the 5th century AD, Augustine, bishop of Hippo, wrote his "De Mendacio" ("On Lying"). Reading it today, we may be surprised at how rigid and strict Augustine was in his conclusions. A Christian, according to him, could not lie in any circumstances whatsoever; not even to save lives or to avoid suffering for someone. The suffering of the material body, said Augustine, is nothing; what's important is one's immortal soul. Later theologians substantially softened these requirements, but there was a logic in Augustine's stance if we consider his times: the last century of the Western Roman Empire.

By the time of Augustine, the Roman Empire had become an Empire of lies. It still pretended to uphold the rule of law, to protect the people from the Barbarian invaders, to maintain the social order. But all that had become a bad joke for the citizens of an empire by then reduced to nothing more than a giant military machine dedicated to oppressing the poor in order to maintain the privilege of the few. The Empire itself had become a lie: that it existed because of the favor of the Gods who rewarded the Romans because of their moral virtues. Nobody could believe in that anymore: it was the breakdown of the very fabric of society; the loss of what the ancient called the auctoritas, the trust that citizens had toward their leaders and the institutions of their state.

Auguistine was reacting to all this. He was trying to rebuild the "auctoritas", not in the form of mere authoritarianism of an oppressive government, but in the form of trust. So, he was appealing to the highest authority of all, God himself. He was also building his argument on the prestige that the Christians had gained at a very high price with their martyrs. And not just that. In his texts, and in particular in his "Confessions" Augustine was opening himself completely to his readers; telling them all of his thoughts and his sins in minute details. It was, again, a way to rebuild trust by showing that one had no hidden motives. And he had to be strict in his conclusions. He couldn't leave any openings that would permit the Empire of Lies to return.

Augustine and other early Christian fathers were engaged, first of all, in an epistemological revolution. Paulus of Tarsus had already understood this point when he had written: "now we see as in a mirror, darkly, then we'll see face to face." It was the problem of truth; how to see it? How to determine it? In the traditional view, truth was reported by a witness who could be trusted. The Christian epistemology started from that, to build up the concept of truth as the result divine revelation. The Christians were calling God himself as witness. It was a spiritual and philosophical vision, but also a very down-to-earth one. Today, we would say that the Christians of late Roman times were engaged in "relocalization", abandoning the expensive and undefendable structures of the old Empire to rebuild a society based on local resources and local governance. The age that followed, the Middle Ages, can be seen as a time of decline but it was, rather, a necessary adaptation to the changed economic conditions of the late Empire. Eventually, all societies must come to terms with Truth. The Western Roman Empires as a political and military structure could not do that, It had to disappear, as it was unavoidable.

Now, let's move forward to our times and we have reached our empire of lies. On the current situation, I don't think I have to tell you anything that you don't already know. During the past few decades, the mountain of lies tossed at us by governments has been perfectly matched by the disastrous loss of trust in our leaders on the part of citizens. When the Soviets launched their first orbiting satellite, the Sputnik, in 1957, nobody doubted that it was for real and the reaction in the West was to launch their own satellites. Today, plenty of people even deny that the US sent men to the moon in the 1960s. They may be ridiculed, they may be branded as conspiracy theorists, sure, but they are there. Perhaps the watershed of this collapse of trust was with the story of the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" that we were told were hidden in Iraq. It was not their first, nor it will be their last, lie. But how can you ever trust an institution that lied to you so brazenly? (and that continue to do so?)

Today, every statement from a government, or from an even remotely "official" source, seems to generate a parallel and opposite statement of denial. Unfortunately, the opposite of a lie is not necessarily the truth, and that has originated baroque castles of lies, counter-lies, and counter-counter lies. Think of the story of the 9/11 attacks in New York. Somewhere, hidden below the mass of legends and myths that have piled up on this story, there has to be the truth; some kind of truth. But how to find it when you can't trust anything you read on the Web? Or think of peak oil. At the simplest level of conspiratorial interpretation, peak oil can be seen as a reaction to the lies of oil companies that hide the depletion of their resources. But you may also see peak oil as a scam created by oil companies that try to hide the fact that their resources are actually abundant – even infinite in the diffuse legend of "abiotic oil". But, for others, the idea that peak oil is a scam created in order to hide abundance may be a higher order scam created in order to hide scarcity. Eve higher order conspiracy theories are possible. It is a fractal universe of lies, where you have no reference point to tell you where you are.

Eventually, it is a problem of epistemology. The same that goes back to Pontius Pilate's statement "what is truth?" Where are we supposed to find truth in our world? Perhaps in science? But science is rapidly becoming a marginal sect of people who mumble of catastrophes to come, People whom nobody believes any longer after they failed to deliver their promises of energy too cheap to meter, space travel, and flying cars. Then, we tend to seek it in such things as "democracy" and to believe that a voting majority somehow defines "truth". But democracy has become a ghost of itself: how can citizens make an informed choice after that we discovered the concept that we call "perception management" (earlier on called "propaganda")?

Going along a trajectory parallel to that of the ancient Romans, we haven't yet arrived at having a semi-divine emperor residing in Washington D.C., considered by law to be the repository of divine truth. And we aren't seeing yet a new religion taking over and expelling the old ones. At present, the reaction against the official lies takes mostly the form of what we call "conspiratorial attitude." Although widely despised, conspirationism is not necessarily wrong; conspiracies do exist and much of the misinformation that spreads over the web must be created by someone who is conspiring against us. The problem is that conspirationism is not a form of epistemology. Once you have decided that everything you read is part of the great conspiracy, then you have locked yourself in an epistemological box and thrown away the key. And, like Pilate, you can only ask "what is truth?", but you will never find it.

Is it possible to think of an "epistemology 2.0" that would allow us to regain trust on the institutions and on our fellow human beings? Possibly, yes but, right now, we are seeing as in a mirror, darkly. Something is surely stirring, out there; but it has not yet taken a recognizable shape. Maybe it will be a new ideal, maybe a revisitation of an old religion, maybe a new religion, maybe a new way of seeing the world. We cannot say which form the new truth will take, but we can say that nothing new can be born without the death of something. And that all births are painful but necessary.

 

 

 

 

 

A US Media Lost in Propaganda

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Published on Consortium News on January 9, 2016

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There was once a time – perhaps just a brief moment in time – when American journalists were cynical and responsible enough to resist being jerked around by U.S. government propaganda, but that time has long since passed if it ever existed, a reality that William Blum describes.

By William Blum

Vulgar, crude, racist and ultra-sexist though he is, Donald Trump can still see how awful the American mainstream media is.

I think one of the main reasons for Donald Trump’s popularity is that he says what’s on his mind and he means what he says, something rather rare amongst American politicians, or politicians perhaps anywhere in the world. The American public is sick and tired of the phony, hypocritical answers given by office-holders of all kinds.

ABC-TV anchor George Stephanopoulos.

 

 

ABC-TV anchor George Stephanopoulos.

 

 

When I read that Trump had said that Sen. John McCain was not a hero because McCain had been captured in Vietnam, I had to pause for reflection. Wow! Next the man will be saying that not every American soldier who was in the military in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq was a shining hero worthy of constant media honor and adulation.

When Trump was interviewed by ABC-TV host George Stephanopoulos, former aide to President Bill Clinton, he was asked: “When you were pressed about [Russian president Vladimir Putin’s] killing of journalists, you said, ‘I think our country does plenty of killing too.’ What were you thinking about there? What killing sanctioned by the U.S. government is like killing journalists?”

Trump responded: “In all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that. I don’t know that he has. Have you been able to prove that? Do you know the names of the reporters that he’s killed? Because I’ve been – you know, you’ve been hearing this, but I haven’t seen the name. Now, I think it would be despicable if that took place, but I haven’t seen any evidence that he killed anybody in terms of reporters.”

Or Trump could have given Stephanopoulos a veritable heart attack by declaring that the American military, in the course of its wars in recent decades, has been responsible for the deliberate deaths of many journalists. In Iraq, for example, there’s the Wikileaks 2007 video, exposed by Chelsea Manning, of the cold-blooded murder of two Reuters journalists; the 2003 U.S. air-to-surface missile attack on the offices of Al Jazeera in Baghdad that left three journalists dead and four wounded; and the American firing on Baghdad’s Hotel Palestine the same year that killed two foreign news cameramen.

It was during this exchange that Stephanopoulos allowed the following to pass his lips: “But what killing has the United States government done?”

Do the American TV networks not give any kind of intellectual test to their newscasters? Something at a fourth-grade level might improve matters.

Prominent MSNBC newscaster Joe Scarborough, interviewing Trump, was also baffled by Trump’s embrace of Putin, who had praised Trump as being “bright and talented.”. Putin, said Scarborough, was “also a person who kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries. Obviously that would be a concern, would it not?”

Putin “invades countries” … Well, now there even I would have been at a loss as to how to respond. Try as I might I don’t think I could have thought of any countries the United States has ever invaded. [Editor’s Note: Sarcasm aside, Blum has compiled comprehensive lists of U.S. invasions and interventions in his books, including Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II.]

To his credit, Trump responded: “I think our country does plenty of killing, also, Joe, so, you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on. A lot of stupidity. And that’s the way it is.”

As to Putin killing political opponents, this too would normally go unchallenged in the American mainstream media. But earlier this year, I listed seven highly questionable deaths of opponents of the Ukraine government, a regime put in power by the United States, which is used as a club against Putin.  This of course was non-news in the American media.

So that’s what happens when the know-nothing American media meets up with a know-just-a-bit-more presidential candidate. Ain’t democracy wonderful?

Trump has also been criticized for saying that immediately after the 9/11 attacks, thousands of Middle Easterners were seen celebrating outdoors in New Jersey in sight of the attack location. An absurd remark, for which Trump has been rightfully vilified; but not as absurd as the U.S. mainstream media pretending that it had no idea what Trump could possibly be referring to in his mixed-up manner.

For there were in fact people seen in New Jersey apparently celebrating the planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers. But they were Israelis, which would explain all one needs to know about why the story wasn’t in the headlines and has since been “forgotten” or misremembered.

On the day of the 9/11 attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked what the attacks would mean for U.S.-Israeli relations. His quick reply was: “It’s very good. … Well, it’s not good, but it will generate immediate sympathy (for Israel).” There’s a lot on the Internet about these Israelis in New Jersey, who were held in police custody for months before being released. So here too mainstream newspersons do not know enough to enlighten their audience.

Russian Propaganda?

There is a Russian website [inosmi = foreign mass media] that translates propagandistic russophobic articles from the Western media into Russian and publishes them so that Russians can see with their own eyes how the Western media lies about them day after day.

There have been several articles lately based on polls that show that anti-Western sentiments are increasing in Russia, and blaming it on “Putin’s propaganda.” This is rather odd because who needs propaganda when the Russians can read the Western media themselves and see firsthand all the lies it puts forth about them and the demonizing of Putin.

There are several political-debate shows on Russian television where they invite Western journalists or politicians; on one there frequently is a really funny American journalist, Michael Bohm, who keeps regurgitating all the Western propaganda, arguing with his Russian counterparts.

It’s pretty surreal to watch him display the worst political stereotypes of Americans: arrogant, gullible, and ignorant. He stands there and lectures high-ranking Russian politicians, “explaining” to them the “real” Russian foreign policy, and the “real” intentions behind their actions, as opposed to anything they say. The man is shockingly irony-impaired. It is as funny to watch as it is sad and scary.

The above was written with the help of a woman who was raised in the Soviet Union and now lives in Washington. She and I have discussed U.S. foreign policy on many occasions. We are in very close agreement as to its destructiveness and absurdity.

Just as in the first Cold War, one of the basic problems is that Exceptional Americans have great difficulty in believing that Russians mean well. Apropos this, I’d like to recall the following written about the late George Kennan:

“Crossing Poland with the first US diplomatic mission to the Soviet Union in the winter of 1933, a young American diplomat named George Kennan was somewhat astonished to hear the Soviet escort, Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov, reminisce about growing up in a village nearby, about the books he had read and his dreams as a small boy of being a librarian.

“We suddenly realized, or at least I did, that these people we were dealing with were human beings like ourselves,” Kennan wrote, “that they had been born somewhere, that they had their childhood ambitions as we had. It seemed for a brief moment we could break through and embrace these people.”

It hasn’t happened yet.

Kennan’s sudden realization brings George Orwell to mind: “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

 William Blum is an author, historian, and renowned critic of U.S. foreign policy. He is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, among others. [This article originally appeared at the Anti-Empire Report,  http://williamblum.org/ .]

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1914 WWI Christmas Truce: Truth or PsyOps?

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Originally Aired on the Doomstead Diner on December 25, 2014

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Snippet:

…It's Christmas Eve of 2014 here on the Last Great Frontier as I begin scripting this rant, the 100th Anniversary Date of the Christmas Truce of 1914, when by historical accounts Germans and British soldiers on either side of No Mans Land freezing in the Trenches spontaneously started singing Christmas Carols, and then everybody walked out of the Trenches without their weapons, hugged, shared brandy and pictures of girlfriends, etc. Then the next day, they went right back to shooting at, gassing and killing each other.

Back in the day, numerous Newspaper articles came out about this spontaneous and shall we say MIRACULOUS outpouring of Christmas Brotherhood between soldier grunts on either side of the line, who in this case were all Christians of one denomination or another, and in the ensuing years songs were written about it, movies made depicting the event, etc.

Based on what we know NOW however about how propaganda is used, how the elite control the media and all the rest, is it really CREDIBLE that this was an entirely spontaneous event, or perhaps just another means to psychologically condition people that they inevitably have to play their assigned roles as Soldiers, follow orders and go out and kill the other poor dumb bastard for King and Country?...

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Tertullian was a conspiracy theorist

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Published on Resource Crisis on October 26, 2015

The Romans knew well the dark art that we call "propaganda" today. As an example, this image, from the Trajan column in Rome, shows Dacian women torturing naked Roman prisoners; it was part of the demonization of the enemy during the Dacian campaign of the early 2nd century AD. However, with the gradual decline of the Empire, its propaganda was becoming more and more shrill and unrealistic. Christian thinkers such as Tertullian were reacting against the absurdity of the official propaganda by contrasting it with ideas that at the time were regarded as even more absurd.

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Propaganda & Irrationalism in Roman times and Ours

Quintus Septimius Tertullianus (anglicized as "Tertullian", ca. 150 – ca. 230) was one of the early fathers of Christianity. Of his numerous works, we often remember a sentence that reads "Credo quia absurdum." (I believe it, because it is absurd). This exact phrase doesn't exist in Tertullian's works, but it describes well the essence of his way of thinking. He and the other Christians of that time were proposing something truly absurd: that a virgin had given birth to the son of God, that God was at the same time one and three, and that the son of a Jewish carpenter who had been executed as a common criminal was, actually, one of the three! 

 
Almost two thousand years of diffusion of these concepts made them familiar to us and we don't see them as absurd any more. But think of how they would be perceived in Roman times: they were the very essence of absurdity. Nevertheless, there is a logic even in absurdity and, in upholding these concepts, Tertullian was reacting to an even greater absurdity: the very existence of the Roman Empire.
 
The official truth of the Roman propaganda was that the prosperity of the empire was the result of the favor of the Gods, who rewarded the Romans for their moral virtues, their courage, and their performing the proper rituals. But all that was clearly becoming more and more in contrast with reality; at the time of Tertullian, the Roman Empire was not anymore the glorious war machine it had been in earlier times. Now, it was more like a zombie; a monstrous creature stumbling onward while desperately trying to hold itself in one piece against the attacks coming from the Barbarians outside and from rebellions inside. The official truth about the favor of the Gods had become a joke; a silly and cruel joke that nobody found funny any longer.

 

 

 

 

 

Tertullian died before the start of the third century crisis that saw the empire nearly disintegrating in a series of military defeats, civil wars, economic collapse, and currency devaluation. But, surely, the symptoms were all there much before and Tertullian could not miss that there was something rotten in the Roman Empire of his time. Indeed, he was possibly the first writer in history to identify what we call today "overpopulation," when he wrote in his "Apology" that 


our numbers are burdensome to the world, which can hardly supply us from its natural elements; our wants grow more and more keen, and our complaints more bitter in all mouths, whilst Nature fails in affording us her usual sustenance. In very deed, pestilence, and famine, and wars, and earthquakes have to be regarded as a remedy for nations, as the means of pruning the luxuriance of the human race.
 

It was not just Tertullian perceiving the problem and, as a result, the Empire was being swept by a wave of new religious creeds, all of them reacting against the official Pagan religion. Christianity was seen as an especially virulent sect, and it was the object of a strong repression on the part of the authorities. If Tertullian had been living today, he would be called a terrorist. But he, like many others, as just reacting to the increasing shrill and absurd official propaganda of his times. 

Now, let's fast forward to our times. What does our Imperial propaganda tell us about our prosperity? It is not any more attributed to the favor of the Pagan Gods, but to a deity we call "Science," often endowed with attributes termed "progress" and "innovation". Our Imperial armies don't give thanks any more to the Pagan Gods for their victories, but rather attribute them to semi-divine spirits that we call "smart weapons" and which are bestowed on us by the main deity, Science. And our prosperity is attributed to the ability of science to provide better and slicker tools for us. It is scientific progress that allows us to attain the eternal bliss of economic growth.

But all this is showing evident signs of fatigue, to say the least. The prosperity of the empire we call "Globalization" is rapidly disappearing and the dark menaces of climate change and resource depletion is upon us. Now, we are told that we did everything wrong and we are told that by those same people, the scientists, who have taken us to where we are.  We are told that our smart phones, our shiny cars, our wonder drones can't save us; that our economic growth can't last forever, that the years of prosperity are getting to an end. How can that be? What kind of cruel joke is being played on us?

The result is a rabid reaction that takes different forms, but that normally takes as its main target science, or what's sometimes called "official science". Science, some seem to conclude, must be betraying us and the scientists must be traitors. It can't be that crude oil is running out; it must really be abundant, being continuously recreated in the entrails of the earth by mysterious abiotic processes. And it can't be that we are destroying ourselves by burning fossil fuels; no, climate science can only be a hoax played on us by evil scientists seeking fat research grants for themselves. And how can it be that the same people who can make a smartphone can't make a fusion reactor work? No, that can't be: they are hiding from us the fact that nuclear fusion can easily be obtained inside a huffing and puffing desktop device that looks like a water boiler.

Many people seem to be starting to see science not just as a hoax, but as something truly evil, as when the ancient Christians had turned the Pagan Gods into devils and evil spirits. And so we see the spreading of conspiracy theories: from the idea that the water vapor emitted from airplane engines is in reality a deadly cocktail of poisons designed to kill us, to the attempt to demonstrate that no human astronaut ever walked on the Moon. It is the rise of the "New Irrationalism,"  a movement of thought still officially ignored, but growing.

Perhaps, had Tertullian lived in our times, he, too, would maintain that the lunar landing had been a hoax and we would call him a conspiracy theorist. But his ideas gained ground within a dying empire. About one one century after Tertullian, Emperor Constantine ordered the Christian symbol, a cross, to be painted on the flags of his army that was preparing for battle. He was hoping that the new Christian God would play the role of the old Pagan Gods; a new daimon that would grant him victory. Constantine won his battle, but that changed little to the destiny of the Empire. When Rome fell to the Visigoths, in 410 A.D., it was left to another Christian thinker, Augustine of Hippo, to explain in his "De Civitate Dei" (The City of God) that the purpose of Christianity never was that of saving a rotten empire.

In the end, empires are just constructions of the human mind; structures that persist for times long enough that some people tend to endow them with the virtue of eternal life: Rome was said to be the "eternal city" and our empire seems to be based on the idea that economic growth can last forever. But empires come and go in cycles, they are as impermanent as the morning dew; they just last a little longer. So, we are going to follow the example of the Roman Empire in its descent toward disappearance. And it may well be that, up to the last moment, we'll hope that some scientific miracle will save us. Then, it will be the task of someone, in the future, to explain that the purpose of Science never was that of saving a rotten empire.

Why Johnny can’t understand climate

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Published on Resource Crisis on August 31, 2015

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Functional illiteracy and the rise of "unpropaganda"

 

Image from OECD Skills Outlook 2013. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264204256-en. These data show that most people in OECD countries have very limited capabilities of managing contrasting information. This lack of skill is the source of traditional propaganda (presenting to people a single side of the issue) but also of the rise of "unpropaganda;" that is, presenting to people so much contrasting information that they can't arrive to a firm conclusion. The result is uncertainty and inaction. Unpropaganda has been used with great effect on the issue of climate change. 
 

 
The "official" story that you normally find about "literacy" is that people all over the world are becoming more and more literate, that is, more and more able to read and write. Yet, there is another side to literacy: it is the concept termed, "literacy proficiency" that classifies people according to their ability to understand what they read.

 

 

A recent survey on this point has been published by OCSE. It is a massive document of 460+ pages that examines the abilities of understanding and processing text by citizens of OCSE countries. The result is a subdivision in 5 "literacy levels," as you see in the figure at the beginning of this post. You can find the exact definition of these levels on page 64 of the document, but, summarizing, the lowest levels, below 1, 1, and 2, are relative to people able to arrive only at the simplest levels of understanding of a text. Even at level 3, one may be able to perform inferences based on the text being read, but the texts are said to contain "no conflicting information". Only at levels 4 and 5, some capability of critically discerning data from competing information is required.

 


As usual, whatever you read on the Web should be evaluated with plenty of caution. What is the reliability of these data? Why five levels and not more, or less? What do these results mean? Digesting the long OECD report is not an easy task, but I think that, first of all, we can say what this classification is not: those who don't reach the highest levels are not necessarily stupid. For instance, my gypsy friends would fare very badly on the test, since most of them are really illiterate, not just functionally. But I can assure you that they are extremely smart, just of a different kind of smartness.

 

 

Then, the gist of the OECD paper is not rocket science: the tests just measure people's ability to process written text and extract its meaning And if you are classed at, say, level 2, it means that you failed the tests for level 3, for instance showing that you are able to "construct meaning across larger chunks of text". And if you are classed level 3, it means you failed the tests for level 4, for instance to identify and define "competing information". In short, it seems that, everywhere in the OECD countries, most people (typically more than 90% of the population) are not able to critically evaluate contrasting information.

The OECD report doesn't use the term "functionally illiterate", but it seems that it is normally used to describe levels 1 and 2; that is, people not skilled enough to be able to cope in full with the present complex society. It is a shocking result: nearly 50% of the population of the "rich" OECD countries are in this condition (*). Even if you limit the definition of functional illiteracy to level 1, it is still a large fraction of the population, probably much larger than most of us would have thought.

Are these results applicable to all forms of communication, including, for instance, what people hear on TV? This is not discussed in the OECD report, but I think it is hard to escape the conclusion that, yes, there shouldn't be a large difference. The data refer to people can read, and if some of them score so poorly despite being able to understand written words, why should they score differently when confronted with spoken words? Then, once you have seen these results, much of the ongoing political antics suddenly acquire a new significance. Some politicians, it seems, have attained success by tailoring their message to levels easily understandable by the large fraction of "functionally illiterate" people in their countries. Mr. Berlusconi, in Italy, is a good example; nowadays Mr. Trump seems to be using the same tactics in the US. This way of communicating is the essence of what we call "propaganda" (nowadays "public relations" or "consensus building"). It consists in presenting only one side of each issue, conveniently packaged in simple slogans: no subtleties whatsoever. It works: most people won't, normally, seek for, or consider, contrasting information.

And now let's go to the question I wanted to examine in this post: what is the relevance of the literacy proficiency data on the climate change issue? As we all know, climate change is an extremely complex subject that requires years of study to be understood in its details. However, the climate change issue can be summarized to a simple statement that says: "if we keep burning fossil fuels, we will face a major disaster". It is the same kind of statement that says, "If you keep smoking, your risk lung cancer". And to understand that, you don't need to be an expert in epidemiology. Most issues can be presented in ways which can be understood by people at all the levels of the literacy scale who, as I said, are not stupid and perfectly know what's bad and what's good for them.

The problem with the literacy scale is another one: it has to do with the debate on climate change. Here, we see the development of a communication technology that exploits the lack of functional literacy of a large fraction of the public. We may call this technology "unpropaganda." Traditional propaganda (literally, "what is to be propagated") aims at passing a message by eliminating or hiding all contrasting information. Unpropaganda, instead, aims at stopping a message from propagating by presenting a lot of contrasting information to a public unable to fully evaluate it.

Unpropaganda works, and it works wonders. The OECD data show that no more than about 5% of the population in most OECD countries can extricate themselves out of a complex debate involving a lot of contrasting information. Now, look at the "debate" on climate science and you see that the idea of presenting "both sides" of the issue is far from meaning a balanced information. It is a strategy to confuse the public. It is not so expensive; well within the reach of the lobbies that would lose money from serious action against climate change. And it is incredibly effective. Look at the Gallup polls: note how the public is confused, easily swayed by irrelevant information ("climategate") or by false information ("the pause").

So, how do we fight climate unpropaganda? For one thing, don't expect that governments will work at cultivating people's ability of reasoning. I may be a conspirationist, but I guess that most governments are perfectly happy if their citizens are not so greatly skilled in evaluating information (despite all the talk in the OCSE report on the need of more skilled citizens). Then, there is little that can be done to change a situation that has evolved over several decades of mass media development. Unpropaganda is cheap and it works very well; it will stay with us for quite a while.

Yet, understanding how unpropaganda works is a major step forward. For one thing, it is a further nail in the coffin of the so called "information deficit" model, that is the idea that if we explain to the public how things stand with climate change, they will understand and will do something about it. It doesn't work: the public does not lack information, they have too much of it! They are simply unable to make their minds. There follows that we should concentrate on producing high quality information, recognizable as such. It doesn't mean that we should retreat behind the paywall of scientific journals, but that we shouldn't engage in that kind of low level debate typical of troll-infested blog comments. In other words, we shouldn't run after deniers, trying to demonstrate that they are in error. That only generates confusion.

Then, note how the denial side has been reacting so rabidly to the finding that 97% of the working climate scientists agree with the idea that climate change exists and it is mainly human caused. The 97% meme, indeed destroys the very basis of their unpropaganda strategy. It shows that there is a broad consensus among scientists about the issue. That's something that people at all literacy levels can correctly perceive. And, let me repeat it once more, no matter what their literacy level is, most people are NOT stupid. If a doctor you trust tells you to quit smoking; you may not be an epidemiologist, but you know that you'd better quit. If 97% of the world's climate scientists (and the Pope, too) say that we should quit burning fossil fuels, then you may not be a climate scientist, but you know we'd better do something about that. So, that's another point on which to concentrate our efforts.

Not easy, I understand, but, as Sun Tzu said, if you know your enemy and you know thyself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

 

 

(*) It is some kind of a mystery why Italy, the country that once produced Dante Alighieri, fares so badly in the literacy list. On the other hand, after seeing these data, you are not surprised any more that Italy is the country that produced Berlusconi.

 

 

Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran with lies, lies, lies

Off the keyboard of Pepe Escobar
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Originally published in RT on August 21, 2015

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The Associated Press – with great fanfare – ran an “exclusive” story masquerading what was in fact a glaring propaganda piece, according to which, under the P5+1, UN-ratified nuclear deal with Iran, the country would carry out some of the inspections of its own “sensitive sites.”

There was nothing specific in the piece. The crucial document AP alleges to have “seen” was not even the final signed agreement between Iran and the IAEA. AP did not quote any passage from the document. The bombastic “exclusive” tag relied just on the opening paragraph’s sensationalist language:

"Iran will be allowed to use its own inspectors to investigate a site it has been accused of using to develop nuclear arms, operating under a secret agreement with the UN agency that normally carries out such work, according to a document seen by The Associated Press."

The article states nothing specifically. “Own inspectors” – in this context – means that Iran, according to the agreement, is allowed to exclude “inspectors” from states which have their own confrontational agenda. Everyone knows who the usual suspects are.

According to the final agreement, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors must always be present at any inspection. The additional presence of Iranian experts allows them to track the selected UN inspectors; some of them may be outright spies, which was exactly the case with the 1990s UN inspections of Iraq.

Managers shall be managed

Iran security expert Gary Sick was among the first to identify AP’s falsehoods

Here, in synthesis, is what everyone involved and/or following the Iranian nuclear dossier must know about nuclear residue testing.

Under the terms of the so-called “managed access” procedures agreed between the P5+1 and Iran, “the inspected party may take environmental swipe samples at a particular site in the presence of the IAEA inspectors using swabs and containment bags provided by the IAEA to prevent cross contamination. According to former IAEA officials, this is an established procedure.”

Scientists agree that, “the process ensures the integrity of the inspection operation and the samples for all parties.”

Here, in detail, are the key facts regarding environmental sampling and managed access regarding specifically the controversial Iranian military-industrial site in Parchin. The source is unimpeachable: Tarif Rauf is a former head of verification and security policy coordination at the IAEA, reporting directly to the Director-General.

To his credit, the head of the IAEA Yukiya Amano, released a statement seriously dressing down AP’s sensationalism. Yamano stresses the agreements are “confidential” – as in AP did not read anything; and he defends the procedures as“technically sound and consistent with our long-established practices.” Yamano – who got his job via American influence – could never be accused of being an Iran-appeaser.

What is AP up to?

AP, an American news agency whose dispatches are reproduced in full by countless newspapers and magazines all across the world, once again is being used as a crude propaganda vehicle – just like US corporate media as a whole was used as a crude propaganda vehicle in the run-up towards the invasion, occupation and destruction of Iraq.

At a micro level, this is yet another stance of the rampant politicization of the IAEA. Washington has been doing this for years.

At a macro level, the implications are really serious. The “exclusive” went out at an extremely sensitive point of the relentless campaign by the US War Party and the Israel lobby against the Vienna deal.

There’s only one purpose for selling this piece not as an Op-Ed but as an “unbiased”, fact-based breaking news story: To convince wavering politicians, all of them Democrats, on Capitol Hill, that the Vienna deal is a bad deal. 

Especially because none of these politicians will be reading Noam Chomsky’s more detailed debunking of a Washington cottage industry; the demonization of Iran.

AP at least removed some – but not all – of its allegations from the original “exclusive”. But damage has been done. If this had originated from media based in BRICS nations, especially Russia, China and Brazil, one can imagine the“international community” outrage. AP being exceptionalist-based, they might have thought they could get away with it. Well, they can’t.

 

 


Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge (Nimble Books, 2007), and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

Trump Hits a Bump

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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donald-trump-pinata--ab4d0b6b4fc61b0a
 
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation July 20, 2015
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Was it Donald Trump or the wolverine that lives on top of his head who made the dumb crack over the weekend about Senator John McCain not being a war hero? After all, that ambiguous patch of ginger-colored fur has taken on a life of its own. If I were Trump, I’d simply disown the remark and say that the hair-thing blurted it out, ventriloquist-style, because he (Donald) forgot to feed it that morning.

I just want to go on record to say that if John McCain is not a war hero — what with getting shot down in the Vietnam jungle and spending 5.5 years being thrashed daily by his captors — than Donald Trump is not an asshole, or a pendejo, as the landscaping crew might put it (perhaps even amaricón).

One thing the Trump campaign is proving — to the flustered consternation of the moiling herd of other candidates — is what intellectual chickenshits all mainstream American politicians are. I know it is hard to see through the prevailing rainbow fog of diversity propaganda, but the USA really does have an immigration problem. My peeps in the old Democrat fold are the worst, of course, because they are not even capable of stating the plain truth that an illegal immigrant is something more than just “undocumented,” as if some bureaucratic error were made in God’s intake stack. And the issue of legal immigration policy is simply unmentionable, of course, because being “a nation of immigrants” means never having to say enough is enough.

It’s obvious that much of the developed world is now sore beset by past immigration policy choices and by the current inrush of desperate souls fleeing the evermore general breakdown of societies across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). European pols are at least willing to have the debate, unappetizing as it might be. This dreaded political dance is now occurring against the background of a probable financial breakdown across Europe. When the utopian project of the European Union fails, as seems likely now due to the sovereign debt fiasco, I suspect that we will see a renewed effort to defend national cultures — French, German, and all the rest — in a manner that has a great potential for turning ugly. Financial failure means the death of the current banking system and the disappearance of massive notional wealth, and if that isn’t a recipe for extreme nationalism (plus xenophobia) than we are truly blind to the lessons of history.

And then, of course, there is the problem of Jihad. It’s for real, and it’s on the move all over MENA, and quite a few of its faithful agents are in place across Europe to make a whole heap of trouble in the event that the Euroland project falls on its face. This is perhaps beyond the question of merely preserving national identities. I think we will live to see an era of mass expulsions, fair or not.

It is not so easy to explain why America has its head so far up its ass on the issues of immigration, but maybe it is enough to say that sixty-plus years of TV advertising have set us up to be suckers for every sort of paid shill selling a sentimental sob story for one interest or another. This seems to be true most particularly of the educated class that labors in the trenches of advertising and public relations (i.e. propaganda). They have come go believe their own bullshit absolutely. Apparently, these true-blue believers are more hostage to the narratives they are paid to spin than the ragtag followers of Trump. (We’re a nation of immigrants….)

Were I a pol, I would propose a “time-out” from immigration of all kinds. The USA did it before, in the 1920s, after a half-century of prodigious immigration when new states needed to be settled, and new industries needed to be manned, and new cities needed to be built. We are not in the same circumstances anymore. The empty places have been filled (and then some). The factories were banished to China and elsewhere. Some of America’s farming regions aren’t working out so well a hundred years later — Nebraska has been depopulating and God knows what the fate will be of California’s Central Valley as the epochal drought creeps forward. The Chinese may be building super-duper mega-cities, but every fact of coming resource scarcity suggests to me that they are making the wrong bet on that disposition of things. It ain’ happening here, anyway. Our cities (with a few exceptions) face contraction.

Unfortunately, Trump’s antics will make it only more difficult to hold a sane debate about taking that time-out from immigration. So, one alternative is an insane debate about it, one based on sheer grievance and gall rather than the responsibilities of governance. I’ve proposed for many years that we are all set up to welcome a red-white-and-blue, corn-pone Nazi political savior type. I don’t think Donald Trump is it. But he will be a stalking horse for a far more skillful demagogue when the time comes. There’s a fair chance that the wheels will come off the banking and monetary system well before the 2016 election. Who knows who or what will come out of the woodwork before then.

Meanwhile, notice today’s headline from the fabled “newspaper of record” (The New York Times):

Women Who Dye Their (Armpit) Hair

Yes, these are the mighty issues that concern us most.

 

James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

The Anti-Empire Report #139

From the Keyboard of William Blum
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female jihadi

Published originally in The Anti-Empire Report May 23, 2015

 


Their precious young minds and our precious young minds

She was a redheaded rebel, the singer in the family, a trash-talking, tattooed 21-year-old wrapped up in a hip-hop dream of becoming Holland’s Eminem. Then Betsy found Allah. After her sudden conversion to Islam last summer, Betsy began dressing in full Muslim robes. By January, the once-agnostic Dutch woman, raised in a home where the only sign of religion was a dusty Bible on a shelf, began defending homegrown terrorists. … Denis Cuspert, a German hip-hop artist known as Deso Dogg who converted in 2010 and later joined The Islamic State [ISIS], delivers a rap-like chant portraying the path to jihad as a chance for empowerment, spiritual fulfillment, vengeance and adventure. … ‘The door to jihad is standing there waiting for you,’ says a Swedish convert to Islam in a video. ‘It is the fastest way to paradise.’ 

Tales told many times in recent years, all over Europe, at times in the United States. Parents and authorities are deeply distressed and perplexed. How can young people raised in the West – the freedom-obsessed, democratic, peace-loving, humanitarian, fun-filled West – join the Islamic State and support the public cutting off of the heads of breathing, living human beings? Each of us in our own way are lost souls searching for answers to the awful mysteries of life. But THIS? What life-quest does The Islamic State satisfy that our beloved West can’t satisfy? ISIS is unique in the world in making US foreign policy look good. The Defense Department and the State Department have special task forces studying the new enemy; the latter regularly puts out videos to counteract the many Islamic State videos.

I hope those researching the question look inwardly as well as at ISIS. How do young people raised in the West – the same West we know and love – coldly machine-gun to death more than a dozen Iraqis, men, women, children, reporters, absolutely in cold blood, in the video made famous by Chelsea Manning; but this of course is nothing compared to Fallujah with its two-headed babies, even three-headed, an eye in the middle of the forehead. The Islamic State has done nothing compared to what the United States did to the people of Fallujah. Can anyone name a horror in all of history more gruesome? Yes, there are some, but not many; and much of Fallujah was personally executed by nice, clean-cut, freedom-obsessed, democratic, peace-loving, humanitarian, fun-filled made-in America young men.

Here’s US Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, in his memoir, April 6, 2004, the time of Fallujah, in video teleconference with President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. “We’ve got to smash somebody’s ass quickly,” said Powell. “There has to be a total victory somewhere. We must have a brute demonstration of power.” Then Bush spoke: “At the end of this campaign al-Sadr must be gone. At a minimum, he will be arrested. It is essential he be wiped out. Kick ass! If somebody tries to stop the march to democracy, we will seek them out and kill them! We must be tougher than hell! This Vietnam stuff, this is not even close. It is a mind-set. We can’t send that message. It’s an excuse to prepare us for withdrawal. … There is a series of moments and this is one of them. Our will is being tested, but we are resolute. We have a better way. Stay strong! Stay the course! Kill them! Be confident! Prevail! We are going to wipe them out! We are not blinking!” 

“Years from now when America looks out on a democratic Middle East, growing in freedom and prosperity, Americans will speak of the battles like Fallujah with the same awe and reverence that we now give to Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima” in World War II. – George W. Bush, 2006 

Well, George, it’s either that or Fallujah was one of the key reasons for the rise of ISIS.

My point here is not that United States foreign policy is as barbaric and depraved as The Islamic State. It’s not. Most of the time. I simply hope to make it a bit easier to understand the enemy by seeing ourselves without the stars in our eyes. And I haven’t even mentioned what the United States has led the world in for over a century – torture.

The ever-fascinating and ever-revealing subject of ideology

Jeb Bush has gotten himself into trouble because, like all politicians running for office, he is unable to give simple honest answers to simple straightforward questions, for fear of offending one or another segment of the population. How refreshing it would be to have a politician say only what s/he actually believes, even if it’s as stupid as usual.

The brother of the previous president has been asked repeatedly: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion of Iraq?” At first his answer was “yes”, then at times “I don’t know”, even “no” at least once, or he’s refused to answer at all. Clearly he’s been guessing about which reply would win him points with the most people, or which would lose him the least.

This caused a minor uproar, even among conservatives. Right-wing radio host Laura Ingraham was moved to make a rare rational remark: “You can’t still think that going into Iraq, now, as a sane human being, was the right thing to. If you do, there has to be something wrong with you.”

Such discussions always leave out a critical point. Why did millions of Americans, and even more millions abroad, march against the war in the fall of 2002 and early 2003, before it began? What did they know that the Bush brothers and countless other politicians didn’t know? It was clear to the protesters that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were habitual liars, that they couldn’t care less about the people of Iraq, that the defenseless people of that ancient civilization were going to be bombed to hell; most of the protesters knew something about the bombings of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Panama, Yugoslavia, or Afghanistan; and they knew about napalm, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, etc. Those who marched knew that the impending war was something a moral person could not support; and that it was totally illegal, a textbook case of a “war of aggression”; one didn’t have to be an expert in international law to know this.

Didn’t the Brothers Bush, Hillary Clinton (who voted for the war in the Senate), et al know about any of these things? Of course they did. They just didn’t care enough; supporting the empire’s domination and expansion was a given, and remains so; no US politician gets very far – certainly not to the White House – questioning the right of American Exceptionalism to impose itself upon humanity (for humanity’s sake of course).

Consider the darlings du jour of the American Left, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. They very seldom speak out critically about US foreign policy or even the military budget. The anti-war/anti-imperialist segment of the American left need to put proper pressure on the two senators.

Mr. Sanders should also be asked why he routinely refers to himself as a “democratic socialist”. Why not just “socialist”? It’s likely a legacy of the Cold War. I think that he and other political figures who use the term are, consciously or unconsciously, trying to disassociate themselves from communism, the Soviet Union, Marxism, etc., all those things that are not good for you. (The word “socialist” once connoted furtive men with European accents, sinister facial hair, and bombs.)

It would be delightful to hear Sanders openly declare that he is simply a “socialist”. Socialism can be democratic; indeed, a lot more so than capitalism, particularly concerning the distribution of wealth and all the ramifications of that. Presented here are some relevant thoughts on these issues, from myself and others:

It’s only the socialists who maintain as a bedrock principle: People before Profit, which can serve as a very concise definition of socialism, an ideology anathema to the Right and libertarians, who fervently believe, against all evidence, in the rationality of a free market. I personally favor the idea of a centralized, planned economy. (Oh my God, a damn Commie!) Modern society is much too complex and technical to leave its operation in the hands of libertarians, communitarians, or anarchists seeking to return to a “community” or “village” level.

“Washington has always regarded democratic socialism as a greater challenge than totalitarian Communism, which was easy to vilify and made for a handy enemy. In the 1960s and ’70s, the favored tactic for dealing with the inconvenient popularity of economic nationalism and democratic socialism was to try to equate them with Stalinism, deliberately blurring the clear differences between the world views.” – Naomi Klein

“If it is true, as often said, that most socialist regimes turn out to be dictatorships, that is largely because a dictatorship is much harder to overthrow or subvert than a democracy.” – Jean Bricmont, Belgian author of “Humanitarian Imperialism” (2006)

Without a proclaimed socialist vision, radical change becomes too many different things for too many different individuals and groups.

“Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.” – Martin Luther King

The United States is so fearful of the word “socialism” that it changed the “social sciences” to the “behavioral sciences”.

If for no other reason than to save the environment, the world needs to abandon the capitalist system. Every day, in every spot on earth, in a multitude of ways, corporations are faced with a choice: to optimize profits or to do what’s best for the planet.

The great majority of people in any society work for a salary. They don’t need to be motivated by the profit motive. It’s not in anyone’s genes. Virtually everybody, if given the choice, would prefer to work at jobs where the main motivations are to help others, improve the quality of life of society, and provide themselves with meaningful and satisfying work. It’s not natural to be primarily motivated by trying to win or steal “customers” from other people, no holds barred, survival of the fittest or the least honest.

And what about this thing called “democracy”, or “majority rule”? Many millions marched against the invasion of Iraq before it began. I don’t know of a single soul who marched in favor of it, although I’m sure there must have been someone somewhere. That lucky soul was the one they listened to.

Finally, the question being asked of Jeb Bush and others is not the best one. They’re asked: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion of Iraq?” A more important question would be: “Knowing what we knew then, would you have authorized the invasion of Iraq?” And the answer should be “no”, because we knew that Saddam Hussein had destroyed his weapons of mass destruction. This is very well documented, from diverse sources, international and Iraqi, including Saddam himself and his chief lieutenants. 

The American Mainstream Media – A Classic Tale Of Propaganda

“When an American warplane accidentally struck the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999 during the Kosovo campaign …”

These words appeared in the Washington Post on April 24, 2015 as part of a story about US drone warfare and how an American drone attack in Pakistan in January had accidentally killed two Western aid workers. The Post felt no need to document the Belgrade incident, or explain it any further. Almost anyone who follows international news halfway seriously knows about this famous “accident” of May 7, 1999. The only problem is that the story is pure propaganda.

Three people inside the Chinese embassy were killed and Washington apologized profusely to Beijing, blaming outdated maps among other problems. However, two well-documented and very convincing reports in The Observer of London in October and November of that year, based on NATO and US military and intelligence sources, revealed that the embassy had been purposely targeted after NATO discovered that it was being used to transmit Yugoslav army communications. The Chinese were doing this after NATO planes had successfully silenced the Yugoslav government’s own transmitters.  The story of how the US mainstream media covered up the real story behind the embassy bombing is absolutely embarrassing. 

Over and above the military need, there may have been a political purpose served. China, then as now, was clearly the principal barrier to US hegemony in Asia, if not elsewhere. The bombing of the embassy was perhaps Washington’s charming way of telling Beijing that this is only a small sample of what can happen to you if you have any ideas of resisting or competing with the American juggernaut. Since an American bombing campaign over Belgrade was already being carried out, Washington was able to have a much better than usual “plausible denial” for the embassy bombing. The opportunity may have been irresistible to American leaders. The chance might never come again.

All of US/NATO’s other bombing “mistakes” in Yugoslavia were typically followed by their spokesman telling the world: “We regret the loss of life.” These same words were used by the IRA in Northern Ireland on a number of occasions over the years following one of their bombings which appeared to have struck the wrong target. But their actions were invariably called “terrorist”.

Undoubtedly, the US media will be writing of the “accidental” American bombing of the Chinese embassy as long as the empire exists and China does not become a member of NATO.


Personal stuff

I’m part of a panel at the annual Left Forum in New York, Saturday, May 30, noon to 1:50, Room 1.89: US Wars of Aggression & Islamic Jihad: What is the Bigger Danger and How Should the Antiwar Movement Respond?

Other panel members are David Swanson and Alan Goodman.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice
524 W. 59th St (Between 10th and 11th)

On May 20 the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a list of 39 English-language books recovered during the raid that reportedly killed Osama bin Laden. Noam Chomsky and I are the only two authors on the list with two books.

As some of you may remember, in January, 2006 bin Laden, in an audiotape, recommended that Americans read my book Rogue State. This resulted in the US media discovering my existence for a week. You can read the full story in my book America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy (pp. 281-84). 

 


Notes

 

  1. Washington Post, May 7, 2015
  2. Ricardo Sanchez, Wiser in Battle: A Soldier’s Story (2008), pages 349-350
  3. Associated Press, November 11, 2006
  4. William Blum, America’s Deadliest Export: Democracy, pp. 61-2
  5. The Observer (London), October 17, 1999 (“Nato bombed Chinese deliberately”), and November 28, 1999 (“Truth behind America’s raid on Belgrade”)
  6. Extra! Update (magazine of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting [FAIR], New York), December 1999; appeared first as solitary article October 22, 1999 (“U.S. Media Overlook Expose on Chinese Embassy Bombing”)

William Blum is an author, historian, and renowned critic of U.S. foreign policy. He is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, among others.

Any part of this report may be disseminated without permission, provided attribution to William Blum as author and a link to this website are given.

 

Limits to Hopium

Off the keyboard of Michael Snyder

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Published on The Economic Collapse on April 22, 2015

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Hopium: How Far Can Irrational Optimism Take The U.S. Economy?

Thought Bubble - Public DomainIf enough people truly believe that things will get better, will that actually cause them to get better?  There is certainly something to be said for being positive and thinking that anything is possible.  And as Americans, optimism seems to come naturally for us.  However, no amount of positive thinking is ever going to turn the sun into a block of wood or turn the moon into a block of cheese.  Any good counselor will tell you that one of the first steps toward recovery is to stop being delusional and to come to grips with how bad things really are.  When we deny reality and engage in irrational wishful thinking, we are engaging in something called “hopium”.  This is a difficult term to define, but the favorite definition of hopium that I have come across so far goes like this: “The irrational belief that, despite all evidence to the contrary, things will turn out for the best.”  In hundreds of articles, I have documented how the U.S. economy is mired in a long-term decline which is about to get a lot worse.  But most Americans see things very differently.  In fact, according to a brand new CNN/ORC poll, 52 percent of Americans describe the U.S. economy as “very” or “somewhat good”, and more than two-thirds of all Americans believe that the U.S. economy will be in “good shape” a year from right now.  But if you asked most of those people why they are so optimistic, they would probably mumble something about “Obama” or about how “we’re Americans and we always bounce back” or some other such gibberish.  Well, it’s wonderful that so many people are feeling good and looking forward to the future, but are those beliefs rational?

We witnessed a perfect example of this “hopium” on Wednesday.  Sales at McDonald’s restaurants have been in decline for quite a while, and the numbers for the first quarter of 2015 were just abysmal

The ubiquitous burger-and-fries chain said US sales, the largest share of global income, fell 2.6 percent from a year ago for comparable outlets.

Sales in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East region dropped 8.3 percent, helping bring overall global sales down 2.3 percent, “reflecting negative guest traffic in all segments,” the company said.

Total revenue sank 11 percent to $5.96 billion in the quarter to March 31, and net income plunged 32.6 percent to $812 million, or 84 cents a share (-31 percent).

So you would think that the stock price would have tanked on Wednesday, right?

Wrong.

Thanks to news that a “turnaround plan” would be announced on May 4th, McDonald’s stock actually skyrocketed

McDonald’s closed up 3.13 percent after spiking more than 4.5 percent in early trade as investors cheered a turnaround plan expected on May 4. However, the fast food chain’s earnings missed on both the top and bottom lines.

This is pure hopium.  Why don’t McDonald’s executives just tell us what the plan is now?  But instead, the mystery of a “secret turnaround plan” gives people just enough hope to keep the stock from tumbling – at least for the moment.

And of course there are all sorts of other stocks that are being massively inflated by hopium right now.

Many years ago, when I was an undergraduate, I was taught that a price to earnings ratio of more than 20 was really, really high.

But these days that is the norm on Wall Street, and at the moment there are quite a few stocks that actually have price to earnings ratios that are greater than 100

There are 10 stocks in the Standard & Poor’s 500, including industrial giant General Electric, video-streamer Netflix and oil and gas explorer Cabot Oil & Gas that are trading for 100 times their diluted earnings the past 12 months excluding extraordinary items, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data from S&P Capital IQ.

And if you can believe it, General Electric has a PE on its training earnings of more than 200

Take General Electric, the industrial giant that’s swiftly selling off banking assets so it can return to its manufacturing roots. GE sports a PE on its trailing earnings of 227, says S&P Capital IQ.

This is completely and totally irrational.  General Electric is a giant mess and is being very badly mismanaged.  But investors continue to pay a massive premium for GE stock because they hope that things will turn around eventually.

Look, hope will get you a lot of things in life, but it won’t put money in your pockets or dinner on the table.

Our politicians and the mainstream media continue to sell us hard on the idea that things are getting better in America, but meanwhile our economic infrastructure continues to decay.  Just check out what is happening in the steel industry

United States Steel Corporation issued layoff notices to 1,404 workers in the latest sign of struggle for the American steel industry. The missives went out in recent days to workers producing pipe and tube products that are used in the oil and gas sector. Job cuts could come as early as June for 17 to 579 employees at a plant in Lone Star, Texas, 166 at a factory in Houston, 255 at a mill in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and 404 managers across the company’s tubular operations nationwide.

Since last June, the company has informed 7,800 employees of potential job cuts, a tally from Pittsburgh Business Times indicated. U.S. Steel spokeswoman Sarah Cassella said the ongoing layoffs are the result of “challenging market conditions and global influences in the market including a high level of imports, reduced prices for oil and natural gas and reduced steel prices.”

A little over a month ago, I published an article entitled “10 Charts Which Show We Are Much Worse Off Than Just Before The Last Economic Crisis” in which I demonstrated that we are in far worse economic shape than we were just prior to the last recession, and now another great economic crisis is at our door.

Unfortunately, most Americans have no idea what is going on out there.  Most of them get their news from the giant propaganda matrix that very tightly controls the flow of ideas and information in this country.  This is something that I explain on my new DVD.  Six colossal corporations control over 90 percent of the news, information and entertainment that Americans consume, and that gives them an awesome amount of power.

And right now that propaganda matrix is assuring the American people that everything is going to be just fine.

Well, they better be right.  Because if not, they are going to have millions of people extremely angry with them when things really start falling to pieces.

On Belief

Off the keyboards of Geoffrey Chia & Rebecca Willis

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on April 15, 2015

the thinker

Discuss this article at the Doom Psychology Table inside the Diner

ON THE NATURE OF BELIEF or:

Why do people believe what they believe (or claim to believe) ?

G. Chia & R. Willis April 2015

INTRODUCTION

In our previous essay, Thinking about thinking we described the characteristics of dysfunctional (or unhealthy) and eufunctional (or healthy) thinking. We dispensed with the notion of “normal” thinking, because this term is essentially meaningless and unhelpful. If normal thinking is defined as the mode of thought adopted by the majority of a population, it is possible, indeed common, for “normal” thinking to be utterly dysfunctional and destructive, as shown by the many examples of mass delusions leading to chaos and warfare not only in history, but in our present day. As such, it may actually be a very bad thing to be “normal”, to run with the herd. We previously described the techniques by which the media, corporations and governments systematically exploit the infantile and reptilian aspects of our brains to impose particular views and values on the masses who lack the faculties of critical thinking. It turns out you can actually fool most of the people all of the time. Such social manipulation leads to the perversion of democracy.

Seminal publications such as “Irrationality” by Stuart Sutherland and “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre have elucidated the mechanisms of flawed thinking and the tactics of pseudoscientific fraud in detail. Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway wrote the landmark book “The Merchants of Doubt” which described the origins of systematic global warming denialism, perpetrated by a few so-called “free” market ideologues funded by billionaire fossil fuel oligarchs. Notwithstanding her outstanding research and scholarship, Oreskes in this podcast interview

https://soundcloud.com/inquiringminds/43-naomi-oreskes-the-collapse-of-western-civilization/sets

could not fully explain why such blatantly fraudulent denial continues to be so readily accepted by large sections of society. She criticises the scientists for not being more forceful in opposition to such deceit.

The “new Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris were active some years ago in debunking the nonsensical foundations for supernatural religious myths. They too did not provide a comprehensive explanation as to why many if not most members of society are unwilling or unable to shed the brain virus of religion (apart from stating that innate obedience to authority by children has historical survival value).

In this essay we assess the nature of human beliefs and try to explain the “stickiness” of nonsensical ideas which may have little or nothing to do with reality. The key question is this: what purposes do such false beliefs serve?

Belief refers to the acceptance of, or claimed acceptance of a particular paradigm. In theory, there might be some difference between sincere belief and proclaimed (but insincere) belief, however in practice there is little difference in real world outcomes (see next paragraph). Therefore we will not distinguish between the two for the purposes of this essay. Furthermore as behavioural psychologists assert, it can be difficult if not impossible to determine what is really going on in a person’s mind1. Hence empirical science focuses on measurable actions, deeds and outcomes.

Twenty years ago when most people may not have personally been experiencing the effects of anthropogenic global warming or AGW (apart from seeing photographs of melting glaciers retreating all around the world), it was conceivable that many global warming denialists, unable to comprehend the science, sincerely believed that AGW was not true. Nowadays with exponential changes and extreme weather events occurring all round the world far exceeding the IPCC projections, rendering the fact of AGW indisputable, global warming denialists face a rearguard action. Those who remain intransigent cannot truly believe their position unless they are insane or stupid. Yet they persist in their purported belief that AGW is a hoax. If they are not insane or stupid, we can only conclude that their proclaimed “belief” is insincere and is cynically being used to serve their personal agendas and short term vested interests. Whether a result of stupidity (inability to see the overwhelming evidence for AGW) or mendacity (realising the truth of AGW but refusing to admit it), the outcome is the same, ie opposition to the reduction of GHG emissions, opposition to the adoption of renewable energy initiatives and continuation of business as usual to the point of annihilation.2

A paradigm may be accepted at emotional and/or intellectual levels. Generally, emotion tends to have a much stronger grip over people than intellect. This is because the majority of homo sapiens are not, in fact, sapient, but are driven primarily by their reptile brains. This fact was comprehensively demonstrated by the remarkably effective propaganda campaigns perpetrated by Bernays in the US and Goebbels in Germany, which were described in our previous essay3.

PART 1: THE NINE MAJOR FUNCTIONS OF FALSE BELIEFS

We assert that beliefs should be based on truth. What is truth? It is that paradigm which provides the closest approximation to reality. We know a belief is most likely to be true when it is backed up by evidence and reason, stands up to empirical validation and resists falsifiability. The belief passes the tests of scientific scrutiny, offers the best explanation for the circumstances being investigated and has useful predictive value. We assert that such reality based thinking should be the only valid reason for holding any belief4. All else is speculation or delusion. Unfortunately it appears that reality based thinking may actually be the least common reason for holding beliefs.

Why then do so many supposedly mentally “normal” people subscribe to non-reality based (ie false) beliefs? We assert that many, (probably most) people tend to seek out world views which:

  1. justifiy the pursuit of their self interest
  2. represent the easy option, the path of least resistance, which requires minimal intellectual, social, physical or financial investment or effort on their part. Ideas requiring sacrifice or hard work tend to be rejected.5
  3. cast themselves in a positive light to impress others (especially to gain favourable treatment or special dispensation from others or advantage over others)
  4. cast themselves in a postive light to boost their own egos. They subscribe to self-flattering narratives which elevate their status, which portray themselves as “special” or “exceptional” or “superior to” the rest of humanity and to the rest of creation (ie views which verify their infantile predisposition to believe they are the centre of the universe).
  5. cast others in a negative light to justify the belittlement, ostracism, subjugation, oppression, exploitation and/or murder of “the other”.
  6. cement the bonds of belonging, solidarity and pride within their social group or tribe. This is of important survival value to the individual, because historically, membership to a group or tribe was essential for material sustenance. Expulsion from the group, being left to fend on your own, could lead to death. One useful tool to bond tribal members is that of camaradarie resulting from being part of the same sporting team or fan club. If we regard the Nation as an extended tribe, this can take the form of overt displays of fanatical support for National sports teams or sportsmen. Hence former PM John Howard, despite himself being physically inept and hopelessly uncoordinated, took every opportunity to promote to the public his image as a “cricket tragic”. He even insisted that prospective Australian citizens learned the history of Donald Bradman, no matter that such useless pablum did nothing to educate them about core Australian values such as the Rule of Law, separation of powers, liberal democratic principles and freedom of (responsible) speech.

Tribal solidarity, even if based on imaginary myths (such as the Jews being the “chosen” people of God), has historically been of critical survival value to the group, as the members had to stick together to compete against or defend themselves from other groups.

  1. offer psychological comfort, emotional solace and hope, particularly during difficult times. This is comforting function is exemplified in the famous passage from Psalm 23 of the Bible, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”. Religion in particular can reassure the believer that “everything will be alright” no matter how dire and depressing their actual reality. This mindset can also confer survival value, because even if a situation poses a 99.99% likelhood of death, which a “rational” person may deem hopeless and therefore give up hope and perish, the “irrational” optimist, comforted by their ideology, will seize that 0.01% likelihood of survival. Hence in a mass die-off of a million people with a 99.99% death rate, the 100 or so people who do manage to survive against all the odds may mostly be those with “optimism bias”, who eventually propagate this trait to future generations. This may explain why “optimism bias” may be hard wired into human populations, as our distant ancestors have in fact faced mass die-offs more than once.
  2. confer upon the believer a sense of schadenfreude smugness, a sense of satisfaction that somehow in the long run, their enemies will inevitably face horrible violent retribution in this life or the next.
  3. offer simplistic pseudoexplanations which are easy to grasp (but are wrong). Most people are unable to comprehend complex ideas and therefore gravitate towards infantile scenarios or myths which superficially or intuitively “make sense” to them, but have no evidential or rational basis. For example, their “explanation” for human existence is that a supernatural father figure called God created everything just for us. Beyond this myth, the thoughts of the faithful congregation are then censored, they are not allowed to ask the next logical question, which is “who or what then created God?” because that would be blasphemy.

There is of course a tenth possible reason for holding a false belief, which is organic brain disease. We mentioned unusual conditions such as Capgras syndrome in our previous essay. Schizophrenia is characterised by “thought disorder” and deluded beliefs such as aliens broadcasting messages into one’s brain. Temporal lobe epilepsy can create hallucinations of an intensely religious nature. This essay on belief however focuses on the factors affecting belief in people without organic brain disease, hence here we will only apply the nine major factors described above and ancillary factors mentioned in parts 2 & 3, when analysing the nature of false beliefs.

Unfortunately the inevitable conclusion we must reach if the nine factors are indeed true, is that most human beings are self serving, lazy, boastful, egocentric, xenophobic, tribal, fearful, mean spirited and simple minded. The profusion of brutal human conflicts and Machiavellian behaviour in history can indeed be best explained by these traits. Some pundits such as Steven Pinker have argued that there has been a trajectory of increasing peace, diminishing violence and greater social enlightenment in human societies over the past couple of hundred years (which they expect will continue into the indefinite future). Such pundits invariably write from the perspective of (and within the cocoon of) rich industrial societies, which over the past two hundred years have accumulated immense material wealth derived from our ability to harness fossil fuels. However we would argue that such diminished violence is not due to greater enlightenment nor wisdom in the population, but due to the hugely abundant resources available per capita in rich societies in contemporary times. Unrest, dissatisfaction and violence are quelled when an abundance of resources are available. When per capita resources become scarce (due to increasing populations, climate devastation and diminishing supply of high net energy sources ie Peak Oil) as is happening now in more vulnerable countries, revolution erupts among the deprived who are unable to obtain sufficient food or clean water. Deprivation was the root cause of the “Arab Spring” revolutions of 2011 (extending into 2012, when Syria thoroughly disintegrated), not the pursuit of greater freedom nor human rights nor democracy among those populations. As the rest of the world experiences worsening deprivation, we will see many more such revolutions erupt around the world, with the inevitable imposition of martial law. We witnessed this unfold in Egypt. After Mubarak was deposed, the subsequent democratically elected government was also unable to provide the resources demanded by the population, resulting in ongoing unrest. The only way order could be restored was by a military takeover. The military government will of course be no better at delivering resources to the people than any other government. They merely serve to maintain order by brutally suppressing dissent6.

Using the criteria above we can immediately understand why certain religious and political myths have such a strong hold over the human psyche, despite having no basis in reality. Let us examine the mindset of right wing Christian “patriotic” Americans, such as US Republican Tea Party members or the Republican Neoconservatives, with regard to the nine points above. Their typical beliefs, which are held to a greater or lesser degree among the faithful are:

  1. The “exceptionalism” of the USA, that they are entitled to do anything, anywhere, to anyone in the world (eg invade Iraq), using any fabricated excuses. They make up the rules and everyone else has to comply (or face trade sanctions, a CIA backed coup or invasion). American exceptionalism means that International Law does not apply to the USA or its citizens eg they can kidnap anyone arbitrarily and render them to prisons without trial and subject them to torture. Habeus corpus does not apply to “alien” nationals.
  2. The renewable energy option is just too much hard work and involves too much sacrifice. Much better to deny that global warming or Peak Oil exist, so they can blissfully continue their easy, comfortable fossil fuel based American way of life forever, a lifestyle which is “non-negotiable” (as famously declared by George HW Bush). Hence their favourite catchphrase “drill baby, drill”.
  3. The USA is the “last best hope” for the world, a beacon of freedom, liberty and democracy for a glorious future, which everyone else, everywhere else, will do well to emulate. They conveniently ignore the fact that the USA since World War II has a track record of actually undermining freedom, liberty and democracy around the world. They have a prolific history of corrupting governments to enslave their people to the service of American profits, or of overthrowing democratically elected governments, from Guatemala to Iran to Chile to name a few, then installing murderous despotic puppet leaders who offer sweetheart deals to predatory US corporations.
  4. They (the good Christian Neocons) were created in the image of God who has given them dominion over all creation to do with as they please.
  5. The “other” represent the forces of evil, whether it was Reagan’s view of “the evil empire” of the Soviet Union or Bush’s “crusade” against Saddam Hussein the “terrorist”, (even though Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 and actually opposed Al Qaeda and it was in fact the US destruction of a functioning Iraq which turned it into a hotbed of terrorism and a breeding ground for ISIS). In preparation for the US invasion of Iraq, grunts in boot camp training were encouraged to denigrate Iraqis as “towel heads” or “sand niggers” to facilitate the indiscriminate oppression or murder of innocent people.
  6. The common views and values of the GOP faithful reinforce their prejudices and serve as social glue between them. “Patriotism” and “Nationalism” are regarded as lofty virtues, just as the Nazis promoted such unquestioning mindless conformity. (We see a similar mindset with Tony Abbott’s “team Australia”). Those who exposed or undermined illegitimate or murderous US government practices, such as Aaron Swartz or Edward Snowden, were labelled as traitors. The vicous pursuit of Swartz and Snowden by the US government illustrates that the Obama administration is, in this respect, no different in practice to the rabid, foaming at the mouth Republicans.
  7. God is on their side and as “good” Christians in the “end times”, they will be magically levitated to paradise in the Rapture and enjoy heavenly bliss forever.
  8. Everyone else in the “end times” will die and suffer excruciatingly in the fires of hell. Unbelievers and non-Christians will get their just desserts in the form of relentless torture for all eternity. Furthermore these good Christians hold the view that Jihadi suicide bombers, who believe they will be rewarded with 72 virgins in Muslim heaven, are utterly deluded.
  9. Global warming is a hoax, it is far to complicated to understand and must therefore be a greenie conspiracy. Evolution is a hoax, it is far to complicated to understand and must therefore be an atheist conspiracy. They cannot imagine a world 4.5 billion years old nor the gradual movement of continents across the face of the planet, however a 6000 year old world with fixed continents is easier to grasp by the simpleminded and therefore must be true.

Australia has its own share of lunatics who hold similar Imperialistic and religious views to varying degrees, from the Rinehart funded racist hack Andrew Bolt, to politicians such as the execrable Cory Bernardi and the anti-science Prime Monster Tony Abbott. It is fair to describe them as self serving, lazy, boastful, egocentric, xenophobic, tribal, fearful, mean spirited and simpleminded. Our most powerful tool to oppose such corrosive, indeed downright evil characters, is the weapon of ridicule. For any talented satirists out there, here is a suggested title for a series of political cartoons: The Madventures of Phoney Rabbit AKA Malice in Plunderland. Abbott is portrayed as a long eared, rodent-like creature (akin to his “conservative” predecessor, the lying rodent war criminal) whose only ideas about national policy are to abuse refugees (including children7) and to seek out money by digging holes in the ground.

We can now understand why such people reject (and are downright hostile toward) world views which:

  1. Reveal that their agendas are self serving with utter disregard for any people outside their circle of insular tribalism.
  2. Require they adopt a difficult path of hard work and sacrifice.
  3. Reveal that they are actually morally deficient or morally bankrupt.
  4. Reveal that they are not particularly special and are in fact inextricably related to that which they have regarded as inferior or repugnant or “separate”. For example, they regard the environment as “separate” from human beings and “separate” from economics, they believe the environment is an infinite resource and a limitless toilet that they can use and abuse forever. Hence they reject the views that we originate from, are part of and are dependent on the environment for our survival, labeling such views as “leftie/greenie” propaganda8.
  5. Reveal that the groups they have previously reviled, “the other”, are in fact just ordinary human beings not too different from themselves. Indeed “the other” may well be morally superior to them in many respects and certainly do not deserve to be exploited and killed.
  6. Require them, for ethical or other honourable reasons, to break away from their traditional social support group or tribe or nation, an emotionally gutwrenching act which they cannot contemplate.
  7. Reveal the reality of the situation is far worse than they ever imagined, with little or no hope for the future. This can lead to disruptive psychological and emotional distress and even despair (eg awareness of the guaranteed self-destruction of industrial civilisation and the possibility of human extinction as a result of climate devastation)
  8. Reveal that not only will there be no future paradise for them but their enemies will not get any particular “comeuppance”. Everyone is in the same boat.
  9. Are too complex for them to understand9

We can now also see why it is difficult if not impossible to pry people away from their religious and political beliefs and why logical argument using irrefutable evidence is generally ineffective. Nothing short of a monumentally traumatic upheaval (eg the arbitrary death of their own child, perhaps from an extreme weather event) which forces them to try to make sense of the situation and to confront their false beliefs, may possibly have any effect. Even despite such an event, many will still go to their graves persisting in their denial of reality, as their mindset is too firmly entrenched. They simply cannot give up the phoney edifice, the false image, that they have constructed of themselves, for themselves.

PART 2: OTHER FACTORS INFLUENCING BELIEFS (or proclaimed beliefs):

  1. The blame game: avoiding or laying blame:

a. Avoiding blame: You will recall the trial of Oscar Pistorius (the bilateral amputee athlete nicknamed “the blade runner”) in 2014 for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. According to neighbours the couple had a loud argument lasting more than an hour late at night, just prior to the shooting. Pistorius pleaded not guilty, his defence in court being that he believed her to be a burglar in the washroom, a burglar who had decided to linger about and partake in bodily ablutions (as desperate criminals are wont to do) before sauntering off with any booty. Quite rightly, the judges dismissed Pistorius’ absurd proclaimed “belief” for the contrived nonsense it was.

b. Laying blame:

To blame others in order to “make sense” of a devastating event (“something bad happened, it must be someone’s fault”) or assuage their own sense of guilt (eg their child being afflicted with autism), or to extort financial compensation. Two examples here:

      1. Blaming the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine for autism:

This scare was manufactured by the fraudster Andrew Wakefield in an anecdotal compilation of twelve cases published by the respected medical journal the Lancet in 199810. The concerns raised were taken seriously by the Medical community. In subsequent years, at least 120 studies were conducted in different countries involving huge numbers of children – the Danish cohort study alone, by Madsen et al, followed up more than half a million children. Multiple meta-analyses of the numerous independent studies were performed by different bodies (eg. the US CDC, UK MRC, NHS and Cochrane collaboration to name a few) and no convincing statistical association between MMR and autism could ever be demonstrated. It was conclusively found that the benefits of the MMR vaccine overwhelmingly exceeded any risks. Yes, the vaccine could have side effects, but catching the infections was many magnitudes worse (particularly in malnourished children in poor countries). Wakefield was investigated and was discovered to have committed scientific fraud for pecuniary gain and was deregistered by the General Medical Council of the UK in 2010. The Lancet itself eventually retracted Wakefield’s paper, denouncing it as a fraudulent submission. The mainstream media on the other hand had no interest in hard data. Sensationalism is what sells the tabloids. They chose scientifically illiterate journalists to continue perpetrating Wakefield’s fraud according to the time honoured tactic of Goebbels (if you repeat a lie often enough, people will come to believe it). As a result, there remains no shortage of people who still “believe” this fabricated lie and think that the medical establishment are involved in a conspiracy to cover up any MMR/autism link (if so, why did the Lancet publish it in the first place?). This has resulted in many children not being vaccinated over the years, loss of herd immunity and the eruption of various viral epidemics. Wakefield, the scurrilous mainstream media and their gullible readers have been responsible for the death and disability of many unvaccinated children. This is an ongoing issue, the most recent measles epidemic occurring among visitors to Disneyland in December 2014. This is but one example of the deceit perpetrated by antivaccination zealots who have mounted scare campaigns against other vaccines such as whooping cough. In 2012, more than 48,000 cases of whooping cough and 20 deaths were reported to the US Centers for Disease Control, the greatest number since 1955. Even though many of these antivaccination nutcases may be wealthy middle class Americans or Australians, their mentality is the same as that of the Islamic fundamentalists or the Taliban who killed polio vaccinators working in Nigeria or Pakistan 11. Hence the one great chance humanity had to eradicate another viral blight (other than smallpox) from the face of the Earth has now been lost due to stubborn and vicious human ignorance. Unfortunately it is the children who suffer the most, at the hands of those who claim to act in their best interests.

      1. Blaming silicone breast implants for rheumatological or autoimmune diseases:

The assertion, over many years, that silicone breast implants caused rheumatological or autoimmune diseases, was conclusively disproven by several studies including those by the Mayo Clinic (NEJM 1994) and a Harvard Nurses study (NEJM 1995). No significant association could be found. Even though many lawsuits against implant manufacturers were subsequently dismissed, courts still sporadically found in favour of litigants despite the absence of scientific evidence eg in late 1998 the Nevada Supreme Court upheld a compensatory damage award of $41 million against Dow Chemical to Charlotte Mahlum for her multiple-sclerosis-like symptoms. In January 1999 a jury in a Washington Federal court awarded $10 million in compensatory damages against Bristol-Myers-Squibb to an attorney who claimed her implants caused scleroderma. Such verdicts show that the Law can indeed be an ass.

It is not our intention to defend any corporations or establishment organisations. It is our intention to promote the use of evidence, reason and fairness as the bases for belief and action, no matter what individuals or groups are in question. This should be equally applicable to our dealings with the “evil” corporations.

  1. The 6 P: The proposition of predisposition to a paradigm based on politics, personality or profession:

This is idea that people seek belief systems which happen to align with their political prejudices (eg right wing conservatives vs left wing, small “l” liberals), their innate personality (eg pessimist vs optimist) or their professional background (reflecting the ingrained mindset and experiences of the profession they were trained in). It is a highly prevalent idea popularised by the mainstream media, but has weak explanatory power and can be misused. It is such a large topic that it requires considerable elaboration in appendix 1 to this article.

PART 3: FACTORS WHICH GENERATE AND PROPAGATE BOGUS PARADIGMS

  1. Childhood indoctrination is probably the most powerful factor. Richard Dawkins himself alluded to the fact that children will uncritically accept the edicts of authority figures, which certainly has survival value when there is legitimate transfer of worthwhile practical knowledge from old to young. However, like many human traits, this process is open to abuse by those in power. Childhood indoctrination with nonsensical ideas can be particularly difficult to shake off and may require many decades of critical re-evaluation by the thinking individual before being shed, if at all. As the Jesuits famously claimed “give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man” 12. They had certainly figured out how to brainwash children.
  2. The “might equals right” paradigm, which is generally framed in this way: God is on my side. I have triumphed over my enemies. That proves God is on my side. Consider groups A to E, which each believe in “different” gods, however thay all adopt the exact same paradigm mentioned above. In battles between the groups, group A eventually triumphs and dominates groups B to E (one group or another is bound to win, eventually). Group A then claims in retrospect they have “proven” god A is the only true god and the other groups also end up subscribing to this view, seeing as how their own gods have abandoned them to defeat (never mind the fact that none of these gods ever existed in the first place). In reality any other group, eg group B, could well have triumphed (depending on all sorts of factors including military intelligence, superior technology, better organisation and most important, sheer luck eg weather which favoured them on the day of battle). Triumphant group B would then claim their god B is the only true one and the others would buy into it. Such a retrospective claim does not however prove the validity of any god nor the existence of any god. It is a post hoc pseudoproof with no basis in reality, however it is a powerful propaganda tool which can be used to persuade the unthinking masses.
  3. Extreme conviction. Strongly held beliefs may sometimes be defended to the death. However just because an individual is willing to die for their belief (eg Christian martyrs in pagan Rome) does not mean that their belief is true. It merely reflects an intractable delusion (which in some cases may be the result of temporal lobe dysfunction or schizophrenia, organic brain abnormalities which are completely impervious to logical persuasion). Matyrdom however tends to be a rather convincing act of commitment, which may therefore serve to recruit naive onlookers as new followers.

PART 4: DENIALISM VS SKEPTICISM, ANALYSING THE ANALYSTS

Global warming denialists insist they should be called skeptics and resent being called denialists. The fact is they are not skeptics and are unworthy of such a title. The only proper, correct and accurate term for them is denialists.

A skeptic is one who debunks nonsensical beliefs (ie. ideas not based on evidence and reason). A true skeptic will therefore debunk the idea that global warming is a hoax rather than promote it.

Even though the skeptic habitually debunks silly ideas, this does not mean the skeptic does not believe in anything. In fact, a true skeptic is also a rationalist, who accepts paradigms based on evidence and reason, while simultaneously allowing for the possibility that such science based paradigms may be need to be modified or even abandoned if better evidence and reason subsequently come to light.

The astounding effectiveness of the Scientific Method which has transformed our modern lives is undeniable proof that Objective Truth exists. All of our modern inventions, innovations and complex systems (eg computer software) originating from scientific discoveries, logic and rationality are predicated on the fact that Objective Truth exists, that outside our tiny little minds there is an external reality which operates on hard mathematical principles and a logical framework. Mathematics is the language of the universe. Only ivory tower philosophers13 and humanities graduates educated to the highest level of stupidity will attempt to deny the fact of Objective Truth14, even as they type out their drivel on their electronic computers.

Absolute Truth however is something we can never achieve. Even in the “hard” science of Physics, truth is highly contextual. For example, Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation, strictly speaking, are not absolutely “true” but are merely extremely accurate in the context of the medium scale (the magnitudes of mass, speed, acceleration etc familiar to our human scale). However Newtonian physics needs to be modified or abandoned in favour of Einstein’s theories of relativity in the situations of extreme mass, relative speeds or acceleration eg when making satellite GPS calculations or in the vicinity of a black hole. Furthermore Newtonian and gravitational considerations vanish at the level of subatomic particles where Quantum mechanics must be adopted. Each of these Physics paradigms, applied in the appropriate context, is objectively true (often to a mindbogglingly high level of mathematical precision), but in a different context the paradigm may have to be modified or even disregarded. None of those Physics paradigms represents Absolute Truth. Indeed, in Quantum mechanics, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle provides mathematical proof that Absolute Truth is absolutely unattainable.

All statements about truth are actually statements about probability, about what we deem to be correct beyond any reasonable doubt. This applies to the context of a rocket scientist who calculates the trajectory of a spacecraft and makes judgements about where it is and where it is headed, which, although highly accurate, are always prone to margins of error. It applies to the context of the climate scientists who collate data from multiple sources and make judgements about the current state of global warming and where we are headed, which are also prone to margins of error, but represent the most reliable information we can possibly achieve. The denialists who demand absolute precision about the present, absolute certainty about the future and “absolute truth” about everything are merely demonstrating that they are utterly ignorant as to how Science and reality work.

Skeptical thinking requires both intellectual flexibility and humility. Humility to admit error when the evidence indicates one is wrong and humility to be able to examine one’s own beliefs. Even the famous quip by Socrates that “the unexamined life is not worth living”, itself requires examination. What was the basis of Socrates’ belief ? Was it founded on some sort of empirical observation, population survey or cohort study? Or did it merely stem from intellectual arrogance: “I am a grey haired philosopher therefore my life is more worthwhile than yours” (reflecting belief functions 4 and 5)?

Using the Socratic method itself, we ourselves should ask Socrates: What is an unexamined life and what is an examined life? Is there a hard boundary between the two categories or a gradual fuzzy transition? At what level of fuzzy transition does a life suddenly become worthwhile? Is navel gazing the only criterion by which we should measure the value of a life?

Consider children with Down’s syndrome, who tend to be good natured, gentle, generous and loving. They have a great capacity to derive joy from simple everyday life and can also generate great joy for others, especially their parents. However they lack the ability to indulge in complicated philosphical musings. Does that mean their lives are not worth living?

Consider philosophers such as Otto Weininger or intellectuals such as Sylvia Plath, who deeply examined their own lives, wallowed in existential angst and eventually committed suicide, the ultimate declaration that their examined lives were not worth living.

We agree that those who can attain a deeper understanding of life, the universe and everything can also gain a higher level of appreciation regarding our existence. The intermittent “eureka” moments enjoyed from achieving profound comprehension of various aspects of Reality while muddling through this journey of life, certainly add greatly to the richness of our life.

Is it however better to be a contented cow, blissfully ignorant as you are being led along the ramp to the slaughterhouse; or a sentient being, fully aware and utterly terrified of your impending demise as you trundle towards the abbatoir? Perhaps it is best to strive to be a sentient being who can sieze control of your own destiny and escape from the abbatoir. This is what we advocate to our readers: get off this fatal path now, before it is too late. It is no longer possible to “save humanity” but you may be able to save yourselves, to survive at least a few decades beyond the general die-off, by establishing an offgrid permaculture community in a high latitude remote location.

PART 5: REASSESSING “CHICKEN AND EGG” ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT BELIEF

Neurophysiological studies have discovered this bizarre, counterintuitive finding: that the electrical trigger in the motor cortex to perform an action precedes the electrical activity in the frontal cortex indicative of our conscious awareness to perform that act. The neurological impulse to, say, pick up an object activates a split second before the awareness we have made such a decision surfaces. Our brain triggers the action first, then we make up reasons as to why we acted later.

Using that as an analogy, let us also consider this possibility: that we instinctively understand what behaviours are required to advance our self interests (at least in the short term), such as seizing the resources of other people. Only after we have commited ourselves to behave in a particular way do we then make up “beliefs” to justify our heinous actions, eg the Neoconartists proclaimed “belief” that Saddam had WMDs in Iraq, evidence be damned. Here is another example: I know my luxurious lifestyle depends on my profligate combustion of fossil fuels, which I therefore choose to continue unabated. Only after I have made that choice, do I then profess my belief that AGW must be a hoax, evidence be damned.

Hence rather than belief giving rise to behaviour (as is generally assumed), we assert that in many cases the decision to pursue a course of self serving behaviour is made first and only subsequently is a purported “belief” then fabricated. This would explain why so many purported beliefs are patently absurd and are unrelated to any real world evidence. Contrived “beliefs” tend to lack any logical consistency, apart from the finding that they benefit the “believer” and are used to justify their despicable behaviour.

CONCLUSION

Before attempting to analyse others, it is important we analyse ourselves. Are our beliefs based on reality and truth (as they should be), or are they contrived and based on or influenced by the self serving elements outlined in our essay?

We contend that our exposition regarding the nature of human belief provides the best explanation as to why supposedly sane people without any known brain damage, such as members of the US Republican Tea Party or Australian “conservative” politicians (and those who voted them in), can subscribe to beliefs which are demonstrably false, irrational and ludicrous.

Never has the phrase “knowledge is power” been so starkly relevant, as when applied to the understanding of the psychological mechanisms which underpin human behaviour. Freud was the first to describe how the reptilian and infantile aspects of our brains tend to dominate over the rational and restrained “superego”. His nephew Edward Bernays applied this knowledge to devastating effect, with astoundingly successful US government and commercial propaganda campaigns which reaped vast wealth for himself.

If you are among the tiny fraction of the human population who are interested in these matters and have managed to read and understand this article up to this point, you will now also have acquired the knowledge by which you can gain power over others. You will now know how to manufacture an ideology which panders to the nine factors which promote adherence to false beliefs. You will grasp the means by which you can indoctrinate gormless people, who constitute the majority of the population, into your ideology. With a little charisma and marketing, you too can be the next L. Ron Hubbard or Sun Myung Moon, reaping vast wealth for yourself.

Or you can try to do some good in the world instead, by teaching others how to think critically, avoid false beliefs and resist bullshit.

Proximate Planetary Problems Caused by: Caused by: UNDERLYING CAUSES of Planetary Problems
– Mass extinctions due to– Ecosystem destruction due to– Global warming and – Pollution – Overharvesting of Nature’s Capital and – Fossil Fuel extraction and combustion – Overconsumption & excessive waste production by– Excessive numbers of homo stupidus – Bad human behaviour due to Dysfunctional thinking (eg delusional “infinite” economic growth on a finite planet) and Bogus beliefs (eg a God given sense of entitlement)

Medical principles specify that true cures for diseases can be only achieved by elimination of the underlying causes of those diseases. True cures for our planetary problems can only be achieved by elimination of the underlying causes of those problems, ie human beings who behave badly. By necessity, this will take the form of either complete human extinction, or the massive dieoff of humanity leaving only a tiny handful of survivors who are able to behave properly, who can exert a light ecofootprint without destroying the very life support systems which sustain us. Such remaining sapient humans can then pass on the qualities of eufunctional thinking and reality based beliefs to future generations. Failure to achieve sapience among surviving humans will inevitably lead to complete human extinction. The Planet will rid itself of parasitic human activities one way or another.

Attributions: Geoffrey Chia: inflammatory language, Rebecca Willis: quality control.

Footnotes:

  1. Functional MRI may change this, however such research is beyond the scope of this essay.
  2. Who tends to benefit from such a position? The fossil fuel industry. Who has funded the multibillion dollar disinformation campaign denying AGW? The fossil fuel industry.
  3. For a society to descend into madness, two elements must coexist together: a self-serving, deceitful ruling class and a gullible, compliant population. If one exists but not the other, then sanity may yet prevail. If lying psychopaths somehow seize power but a sensible population are wise to the absurdity of their propaganda, the psychopaths will be ejected in short order. If the population are naive and gullible but are governed by wise and benevolent leaders, then sane policy promoting social justice and peace can prevail, but may be tenuous. The naive population is always vulnerable to the false promises and charisma of duplicitous psychopaths, who may eventually sieze power. The best scenario is of course that of a sapient population who vote into power wise and benevolent leaders to govern them, but this population must not hesitate to depose and prosecute any leaders who engage in egregious acts of betrayal such as railroading the country into war on the basis of lies. The key to social stability therefore has to be the intensive education of the general population in critical thinking, to encourage them to be active politically and to hold their leaders to the highest standards of ethical behaviour. Unfortunately the so-called modern education system is only geared towards churning out clever idiots, useful cogs in the machinery of industrial society who lack the sense or the motivation to question or oppose obscenities such as the invasion of Iraq or the omnicidal agenda of the fossil fuel corporations. Among the clever idiots, I (GC) must include my own Medical Specialist colleagues, in whom I am deeply, deeply disappointed.

It is abundantly clear that the USA of today has tumbled well down into the abyss of insanity, with not much further to go till it implodes catastrophically. It appears that Australia will inevitably follow suit.

  1. http://guymcpherson.com/home/doomstea/public_html/guymcpherson.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/WISDOMSeekingTruth-by-Chia-for-NBL.pdf
  2. It has been quipped that the favourite response by a bureaucrat to any request is “NO”, because such a negative answer fulfils two functions: it gives him/her a sense of power over others and enables him/her to avoid doing any actual work.
  3. The Pentagon, in collaboration with major US universities, is in the process of militarising the social sciences, to formulate a systematic action plan which they will ruthlessly implement when civil society inevitably breaks down in the USA. They have titled this “The Minerva Initiative”. Their goal is to maintain, through force, the supply chains of fossil fuels and other critical resources as they become scarce, to preserve the creature comforts and security of the controlling establishment, at the expense of everyone else. Dr Nafeez Ahmed, erstwhile Guardian writer, calls it “a defence manifesto for the one percent”.
  4. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-14/malcolm-fraser-attacks-abbott-treatment-human-rights-commission/6098920
  5. Abbott’s latest manifestation of foot-in-mouth disease was seen in his condescending St. Patrick’s day speech to the Irish on 13/3/15 when he declared it was “the one day of the year when it’s good to be green” before waving his green tie at the camera.

http://www.9news.com.au/national/2015/03/13/12/45/pm-abbotts-patronising-st-patricks-day-message-slammed-by-irish-business-leaders The way this fossil fuel flunky parades his ignorant environmental vandalism as badge of pride continues to be truly nauseating and represents an ongoing malevolent threat to humanity.

  1. Incomprehensible complexity by itself is not a reason to reject a paradigm. It all depends on whether the complex paradigm is based on evidence, reason and proof. I (GC) will be the first to admit I am too stupid to understand Einsteinian or Quantum Physics. I find them incomprehensibly complex. Nevertheless I trust and accept their conclusions, not because they have been advocated by professorial authority figures in white coats, but because they have been amply validated in the real world. Functioning electronics, laser devices and GPS systems to name just a few, are irrefutable proof of the truth of those paradigms. There is a vast difference between trust in Science, which is based on real world validation, and faith in Religion, which is based on gullilbility. On the other hand, many of the financial machinations of bankers and their cronies have deliberately been made incomprehensibly complex and opaque, not because they are based on real mathematical laws of the universe, but because they wish to obfuscate and hide the convoluted pathways by which they funnel vast amounts of money into their pockets. They are parasites on the productive endeavours of society. This explains why poor and middle class people, particularly in the USA, have been going backwards economically over the past few decades despite working longer and harder, but the top 0.1% have seen their bank balances skyrocket despite little or no effort on their part (unless one defines “effort” as creating new “financial innovations” such as subprime mortgage schemes camouflaged by collateralised debt obligations and credit default swaps).
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MMR_vaccine_controversy#cite_note
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poliomyelitis_eradication#Opposition_and_aid_worker_killings
  4. https://breakingspells.wordpress.com/2008/01/01/give-me-a-child-until-he-is-seven-and-i-will-give-you-the-man/
  5. I (GC) define an ivory tower philosopher as a scientifically illiterate pundit who attempts to explain life, the universe and everything by navel-gazing within the vacuum of ignorance. Advice to philosophers: unless you can achieve some level of scientific knowledge and literacy, your pontifications are utterly worthless and any similarity of your ideas to objective reality are purely coincidental. On the other hand, scientifically literate philosophers such as Clive Hamilton are of immense value to humanity. We sorely need their thoughts and advice, as is true for scientifically literate investigative journalists.
  6. The misrepresentation of “cogito er sum” by philosophers and the faulty logic of Pascal’s Wager compared with the good sense of the Precautionary Principle are outlined in appendix 2

Appendices 1 and 2 will be published in another post

She’s Back!

From the keyboard of James Howard Kunstler
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Hillerator-739076
Originally Published on Clusterfuck Nation April 13, 2015


And so, from the dormant volcano that is American politics, out comes Hillary, like Rodan the Flying Reptile pretending to be Granny Goose. Now that she is officially flapping around the electorate, the excitable mainstream press reports the initial caw-caw-cawing of her campaign: it will be “based on diversity, discipline and humbleness.” These are endearing qualities in any giant flying reptile, and reassuring to voters who might otherwise fear something a bit darker on the wing.

The Elmer Fudd in the piece at the moment, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, did get off a clever first shot at the flying behemoth when he cracked that “the presidency of the United States is not some crown to be passed between two families,” but it seems to have only provoked a deeper show of humility from the target. She’ll be starting a “listening campaign” to detect rustles of discontent as she banks over the cornfields of Iowa cawing platitudes across the sky, e.g. “Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times.”

Point of fact: no they haven’t. They are still strewn over the landscape with the economic equivalent of sucking chest wounds, but perhaps a few of them have noticed with vicarious satisfaction the astounding rise of the S & P stock index as they lie in a roadside ditch scanning the skies. It must give them some comfort as their lights go out. Just maybe, their children will also have the chance to become Goldman Sachs employees as history marches on. The flying reptile wants to be their champion! She wants to earn their votes — the old fashioned way, by purchasing as much TV air-time as possible to put across the illusion of sincerity. On such campaigns is the decline of empire propelled.

More to the point, what does the flight of Hillary say about party politics in this land? That a more corrupt and sclerotic dominion has hardly been glimpsed since the last Bourbons cavorted in the halls of Versailles? Hence, my view that America will witness a very peculiar spectacle leading up to and perhaps beyond the 2016 election: the disintegration of seeming normality against a background of mounting disorder and insurrection. Hillary will go on caw-cawing platitudes about togetherness, diversity, and recovery while the economy sinks to new extremes of unravelment, and the anger of a swindled people finally boils over.

Neither party shows even minimal competence for understanding the actual crises facing this land, and indeed the project of techno-industrial civilization itself. If the people don’t overthrow them, and grind their pretenses underfoot, then events surely will. In the trying months leading up to the presidential election of 2016, Americans will witness the death of their “energy independence” fantasy — actually a meme concocted by professional propagandists. The shale oil “miracle” will go up in a vapor of defaulting junk bonds. Violence will escalate through North Africa and the Middle East, threatening the world oil supply more generally. I would give a low-percentage chance of survival to King Salman of Saudi Arabia, and to the Saud part of Arabia more particularly as civil war among the rival clans breaks out there, with an overlay of Islamic State mischief seeding even greater chaos, and the very likely prospect of sabotage to the gigantic oil terminal at Ras Tanura on the Persian Gulf. In comparison, the fiasco of Benghazi will look like a mere Three Stooges episode.

If a third party were to arise in all this turmoil, it might not be savior brigade, either. In 1856 the Republicans welled up as the Whigs expired in sheer purposelessness and the Democrats romanced slavery. The nation had to endure the greatest convulsion in its lifetime to get to the other side of that. This time, I’m not at all sure we’ll get to the other side in one piece.

 


James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.

Is the Shale Bubble Collapse the Collapse of Climate Denial?

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on March 30, 2013

The Western press has been engaged in a major PR campaign destined to convince the public that Climate Change does not exist or it is not human-made. Perhaps this campaign could end soon, together with the collapse of the shale oil and gas bubble in the US 

Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner

The collapse of the shale bubble: does it bring also the collapse of climate denial?

So, we have now a presidential candidate in the US who explicitly denies the human role in climate change (and compares himself to Galileo for doing that!). He is not alone, a majority in the US senate seem to take the same position. Also, the public in the US, by far and large, seem to be less inclined to see climate change as a serious problem than the public in every major country in the world (image below from Ecowatch.
.

Are Americans more stupid than the rest of the world? Probably not; on the contrary, the US has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, just as it has the best universities, the largest number of scientists, the largest number of Nobel prizes, and more. But then, why do Americans deny so strongly the human role in climate change? The favored explanation that can be read on the web is that it is due to cultural factors and, in particular, to a diffuse “anti-intellectualism” in the American culture.

That might be, but an entity such as “anti-intellectualism” is hard to define and one could argue for it being present in many other countries. I think we should look for something else. One element that we may examine is that the disbelief in the human role in climate change has a starting date: look at this image (from Gallup)

You see the remarkable dip in the belief in anthropogenic climate change that occurred approximately between 2007 and 2010. So, what happened that caused such an effect? Likely, one important factor was the 2009 “climategate” story, the diffusion of stolen e-mails exchanged among climate scientists. We may also see another, smaller, drop in 2013-2014 that might be related to the meme of “climate change has stopped” that started to be diffused in late 2012. But neither story, alone, is enough to justify such a major effect. Both had to be promoted and diffused in the media to have an impact. The real cause of the changing public perception is how both stories were managed as part of an anti-science public relations (PR) campaign. 

But, then, why is it anti-science PR so much more important in the US than it is in the rest of the world? Here I think that we can find an interesting correlation with some economic factors. The PR storm that attacked climate science goes in parallel with the development of the America shale oil and shale gas industry which grew to become a major component of the US hydrocarbon production in little more than ten years.

Bubbles grow on belief, and belief is the result of successful PR campaigns. It was PR that, for a while, managed to generate powerful memes such as the US “energy independence” or “a century of abundance” of shale gas. The main pitch for the shale industry came with the period of fastest growing production; approximately starting in 2005. As the industry grew, the public perception of the climate problem went down.

It is well known that PR works best when it is question of demonizing an adversary and it is no surprise that it was used in this way by the fossil industry. One target was their main competitor: renewable energy. But much more damaging to the shale bubble was climate science and the concept of “unburnable carbon.” If ever this idea were to take hold of the law making process, then, it would have been the end of the legend of “a century of abundance”. Hence, climate science and climate scientists were a legitimate target of the PR campaign by the fossil industry.

The toxic legacy of this anti-science campaign has left a deep impression on the American public. The “anti-intellectualism” that some people claim to be a cause of the skepticism of the public about the climate problem may actually be an effect of this campaign.

Now, with the collapse of the oil market, it is likely that we’ll see the bursting of the shale bubble. Prices may recover, at least in part, but never again the industry will be able to regain the past momentum and to speak of “centuries of abundance” to come. So, in parallel, are we going to see the end of the anti-science PR campaign? Will climate science denial collapse together with the shale industry? Maybe not right away; the effects of these campaigns are often long lasting. But, at least, from now on, they’ll have less and less money to use to spread lies around (*).

* Unless some other lie can be found

Putin Eats Babies

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on March 12, 2015

propaganda

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Lies, damned lies, and psyops

Google Ngram’s results for “propaganda”. The term seems to have been most popular in a period that went from the 1940 to the 1970s, gradually losing interest in the following years. Of course, however, propaganda didn’t disappear – it just went undercover.

I distinctly remember one day when I was – maybe – twelve; when my father saw me reading something that was lavishly illustrated with red flags and with hammers and sickles. He looked at that, very worried, then he relaxed. “Oh…, ” he said, “that’s fine: it is our propaganda.” At that time, in the 1960s, my father was active in politics and the house was full of pamphlets of the Christian Democratic party.

What I was reading was one of those pamphlets, full of vivid images of the deformed faces of Soviet communists crushing women and children under their booted feet. Those papers have disappeared from the house long ago, but examples of that old propaganda are easy to find on the Internet. You can see one on the right; it is an image that goes back to 1944, but the style and the message are the same of the time when the cold war was in full swing. Note how the caption says “Dad, save me!” echoing the well known slogan that “communists eat children”.

Of course, also the other side, that of the communists, was using the same kind of naive propaganda methods and neither side seemed to think there was something wrong with that. My father, for instance, found natural and legitimate that his political side would openly engage in propaganda. It was “our” propaganda, fighting for us in the political struggle, just as “our” artillery was fighting for us in war. In a war, nobody would claim that the guns on their side were shooting flowers at the enemy.

It was only in later times that propaganda changed its face. The term never disappeared from usage, but it slowly fell out of fashion, at least in the sense that it became politically incorrect to say that one’s faction was using propaganda. It was only something used by “them,” not by us. “Our” side would never debase itself by using propaganda.

In part, the term “propaganda” was replaced by more neutral terms, such as “consensus building” and “public relations.” In large part, however, in the West, propaganda went undercover; fully exploiting Baudelaire’s observation that “the finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.” It became refined, unobtrusive, subtle. And it was incredibly successful in convincing Westerners that it didn’t exist – maybe for a while it even disappeared for real! Perhaps it wasn’t needed any more during the period of Fukuyama’s “End of History,” when everybody got genuinely convinced that the collapse of the “evil empire”, the Soviet Union, had shown the superiority of economic liberism At that time, everyone knew that we just needed to sit down and relax to enjoy the goods that free markets would bring to us. There was no need any more to be told over and over that our enemies were dangerous, baby-eating monsters.

But, in recent times, something has changed. Propaganda is back with a vengeance. Here is just an example:

You see? No matter how you see the recent crisis in Ukraine, you have to admit that, in terms of propaganda, we are back to the methods of the 1950s and the 1960s, just a bit more sophisticated in graphical terms, but still based on the same simple theme: our enemies are baby-killing evil monsters. It is an accusation that has been fashionable and effective from the times when the Romans accused their Cartaginese enemies to sacrifice children to their god, Baal. Note how, in the image, they have managed to put the image of a child close to the title, “Putin’s killed my son,” even though they are completely unrelated stories (that shows, incidentally, the contempt they feel for their readers.)


We are not yet arrived to accusing Vladimir Putin of eating babies, but – as things stand – we may not be far away from that. Look at the image, here, titledBloodymir;” where Putin is shown with blood on his mouth, as if he had just finished his breakfast of child meat. And these are just a few examples of the new wave of propaganda that is invading the Western media. It is amazing how these simple tricks worked in the 1950s and 1960s and still seem to work today. And it seems that they are being used to take us straight to a new war. A lot of people, indeed, seem to be reasoning today just in the same way people reasoned in the 1950s: it is “our” propaganda, hence it must be good.

We can see propaganda as one of the several failed technologies of the 20th century, just like nuclear powered cars and weekend trips to the Moon for the whole family. Propaganda never promised to take us to the Moon, but, at the beginning it, was touted as a way to build informed consensus in a democratic society. That was the theme, at least, of Edward Bernays’ 1928 book, titled “Propaganda,” where he stated that that propaganda is not just good, but essential for democracy: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society.

Evidently, something went wrong with these ideas. In its commercial version, propaganda became an instrument to convince us to buy things we don’t need, while, as a political tool, it turned itself into the evil form we call today “psyops,” the deliberate dissemination of lies to cast an enemy in a bad light. It is a form of black magic; powerful but extremely limited and often backfiring. Psyops can only create enemies, not friends. In the end, the effect is the opposite of what it was supposed to do in Bernay’s times: by casting an external or internal opponent as “evil”, consensus is destroyed, not created.

Nevertheless, Bernays had a good point: we need consensus. Of course, we don’t need the forced uniformity that can be achieved by a dictatorship, but, without consensus on some basic points, it would not be possible to keep a democratic society going. The rule of the law, the need of due process, people’s basic rights, are all part of this consensus. And there never was a moment as today in which we are so badly in need of consensus on such vital subjects as climate change and resource depletion which threaten the very existence of human civilization. But we are not achieving a significant consensus on these critical issues; what passes for “debate,” today, is a sterile clash of absolutes were psyops have been used with great effect to destroy the credibility of a whole generation of climate scientists.

So, we are stuck: we need to manage a planet, but we don’t know how to do it. Will we ever be able to find an agreement on something important that doesn’t involve hating or bombing someone? Maybe there are ways, but we haven’t found them, yet.

_________________________________________________________

(*) Maybe you are curious to know what was the effect of a massive exposure to right-wing propaganda on a teenager (me) in the 1960s. Well, it is a long story, but I can tell you that too many and too blatant lies can badly backfire. The story of my very wavering juvenile political positions is not so interesting, but I can say that one of the reasons that led me to become a scientist was to search for an unbiased truth, somewhere, perhaps the result of the overexposure to propaganda I experienced in my youth. Over the years, I found that even science is not without biases, but, at least, in scientific debates we don’t accuse our colleagues of eating babies. 

Financial collapse leads to war

From the keyboard of Dmitry Orlov
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BurningRubles

Published at Club Orlov on March 3, 2015

 

Scanning the headlines in the western mainstream press, and then peering behind the one-way mirror to compare that to the actual goings-on, one can’t but get the impression that America’s propagandists, and all those who follow in their wake, are struggling with all their might to concoct rationales for military action of one sort or another, be it supplying weapons to the largely defunct Ukrainian military, or staging parades of US military hardware and troops in the almost completely Russian town of Narva, in Estonia, a few hundred meters away from the Russian border, or putting US “advisers” in harm’s way in parts of Iraq mostly controlled by Islamic militants.

The strenuous efforts to whip up Cold War-like hysteria in the face of an otherwise preoccupied and essentially passive Russia seems out of all proportion to the actual military threat Russia poses. (Yes, volunteers and ammo do filter into Ukraine across the Russian border, but that’s about it.) Further south, the efforts to topple the government of Syria by aiding and arming Islamist radicals seem to be backfiring nicely. But that’s the pattern, isn’t it? What US military involvement in recent memory hasn’t resulted in a fiasco? Maybe failure is not just an option, but more of a requirement?

Let’s review. Afghanistan, after the longest military campaign in US history, is being handed back to the Taliban. Iraq no longer exists as a sovereign nation, but has fractured into three pieces, one of them controlled by radical Islamists. Egypt has been democratically reformed into a military dictatorship. Libya is a defunct state in the middle of a civil war. The Ukraine will soon be in a similar state; it has been reduced to pauper status in record time—less than a year. A recent government overthrow has caused Yemen to stop being US-friendly. Closer to home, things are going so well in the US-dominated Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that they have produced a flood of refugees, all trying to get into the US in the hopes of finding any sort of sanctuary.

Looking at this broad landscape of failure, there are two ways to interpret it. One is that the US officialdom is the most incompetent one imaginable, and can’t ever get anything right. But another is that they do not succeed for a distinctly different reason: they don’t succeed because results don’t matter. You see, if failure were a problem, then there would be some sort of pressure coming from somewhere or other within the establishment, and that pressure to succeed might sporadically give rise to improved performance, leading to at least a few instances of success. But if in fact failure is no problem at all, and if instead there was some sort of pressure to fail, then we would see exactly what we do see.

In fact, a point can be made that it is the limited scope of failure that is the problem. This would explain the recent saber-rattling in the direction of Russia, accusing it of imperial ambitions (Russia is not interested in territorial gains), demonizing Vladimir Putin (who is effective and popular) and behaving provocatively along Russia’s various borders (leaving Russia vaguely insulted but generally unconcerned). It can be argued that all the previous victims of US foreign policy—Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, even the Ukraine—are too small to produce failure writ large enough to satisfy America’s appetite for failure. Russia, on the other hand, especially when incentivized by thinking that it is standing up to some sort of new, American-style fascism, has the ability to deliver to the US a foreign policy failure that will dwarf all the previous ones.

Analysts have proposed a variety of explanations for America’s hyperactive, oversized militarism. Here are the top three:

1. The US government has been captured by the military-industrial complex, which demands to be financed lavishly. Rationales are created artificially to achieve that result. But there does seem to be some sort of pressure to actually make weapons and field armies, because wouldn’t it be far more cost-effective to achieve full-spectrum failure simply by stealing all the money and skip building the weapons systems altogether? So something else must be going on.

2. The US military posture is designed to insure America’s full spectrum dominance over the entire planet. But “full-spectrum dominance” sounds a little bit like “success,” whereas what we see is full-spectrum failure. Again, this story doesn’t fit the facts.

3. The US acts militarily to defend the status of the US dollar as the global reserve currency. But the US dollar is slowly but surely losing its attractiveness as a reserve currency, as witnessed by China and Russia acting as swiftly as they can to unload their US dollar reserves, and to stockpile gold instead. Numerous other nations have entered into arrangements with each other to stop using the US dollar in international trade. The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t take a huge military to flush one’s national currency down the toilet, so, once again, something else must be going on.

There are many other explanations on offer as well, but none of them explain the fact that the goal of all this militarism seems to be to achieve failure.

Perhaps a simpler explanation would suffice? How about this one:

The US has surrendered its sovereignty to a clique of financial oligarchs. Having nobody at all to answer to, this American (and to some extent international) oligarchy has been ruining the financial condition of the country, running up staggering levels of debt, destroying savings and retirements, debasing the currency and so on. The inevitable end-game is that the Federal Reserve (along with the central banks of other “developed economies”) will end up buying up all the sovereign debt issuance with money they print for that purpose, and in the end this inevitably leads to hyperinflation and national bankruptcy. A very special set of conditions has prevented these two events from taking place thus far, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t, because that’s what always happens, sooner or later.

Now, let’s suppose a financial oligarchy has seized control of the country, and, since it can’t control its own appetites, is running it into the ground. Then it would make sense for it to have some sort of back-up plan for when the whole financial house of cards falls apart. Ideally, this plan would effectively put down any chance of revolt of the downtrodden masses, and allow the oligarchy to maintain security and hold onto its wealth. Peacetime is fine for as long as it can placate the populace with bread and circuses, but when a financial calamity causes the economy to crater and bread and circuses turn scarce, a handy fallback is war.

Any rationale for war will do, be it terrorists foreign and domestic, Big Bad Russia, or hallucinated space aliens. Military success is unimportant, because failure is even better than success for maintaining order because it makes it possible to force through various emergency security measures. Various training runs, such as the military occupation of Boston following the staged bombings at the Boston Marathon, have already taken place. The surveillance infrastructure and the partially privatized prison-industrial complex are already in place for locking up the undesirables. A really huge failure would provide the best rationale for putting the economy on a war footing, imposing martial law, suppressing dissent, outlawing “extremist” political activity and so on.

And so perhaps that is what we should expect. Financial collapse is already baked in, and it’s only a matter of time before it happens, and precipitates commercial collapse when global supply chains stop functioning. Political collapse will be resisted, and the way it will be resisted is by starting as many wars as possible, to produce a vast backdrop of failure to serve as a rationale for all sorts of “emergency measures,” all of which will have just one aim: to suppress rebellion and to keep the oligarchy in power. Outside the US, it will look like Americans blowing things up: countries, things, innocent bystanders, even themselves (because, you know, apparently that works too). From the outside looking into America’s hall of one-way mirrors, it will look like a country gone mad; but then it already looks that way. And inside the hall of one-way mirrors it will look like valiant defenders of liberty battling implacable foes around the world. Most people will remain docile and just wave their little flags.

But I would venture to guess that at some point failure will translate into meta-failure: America will fail even at failing. I hope that there is something we can do to help this meta-failure of failure happen sooner rather than later.

 


Dmitry Orlov is a Russian-American engineer and a writer on subjects related to “potential economic, ecological and political decline and collapse in the United States,” something he has called “permanent crisis”. He  has written The Five Stages of Collapse and Reinventing Collapse, continues to write regularly on his “Club Orlov” blog and at EnergyBulletin.Net.

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