Something is wrong on the internet

By James Bridle

Source: Medium

As someone who grew up on the internet, I credit it as one of the most important influences on who I am today. I had a computer with internet access in my bedroom from the age of 13. It gave me access to a lot of things which were totally inappropriate for a young teenager, but it was OK. The culture, politics, and interpersonal relationships which I consider to be central to my identity were shaped by the internet, in ways that I have always considered to be beneficial to me personally. I have always been a critical proponent of the internet and everything it has brought, and broadly considered it to be emancipatory and beneficial. I state this at the outset because thinking through the implications of the problem I am going to describe troubles my own assumptions and prejudices in significant ways.

One of the thus-far hypothetical questions I ask myself frequently is how I would feel about my own children having the same kind of access to the internet today. And I find the question increasingly difficult to answer. I understand that this is a natural evolution of attitudes which happens with age, and at some point this question might be a lot less hypothetical. I don’t want to be a hypocrite about it. I would want my kids to have the same opportunities to explore and grow and express themselves as I did. I would like them to have that choice. And this belief broadens into attitudes about the role of the internet in public life as whole.

I’ve also been aware for some time of the increasingly symbiotic relationship between younger children and YouTube. I see kids engrossed in screens all the time, in pushchairs and in restaurants, and there’s always a bit of a Luddite twinge there, but I am not a parent, and I’m not making parental judgments for or on anyone else. I’ve seen family members and friend’s children plugged into Peppa Pig and nursery rhyme videos, and it makes them happy and gives everyone a break, so OK.

But I don’t even have kids and right now I just want to burn the whole thing down.

Someone or something or some combination of people and things is using YouTube to systematically frighten, traumatise, and abuse children, automatically and at scale, and it forces me to question my own beliefs about the internet, at every level. Much of what I am going to describe next has been covered elsewhere, although none of the mainstream coverage I’ve seen has really grasped the implications of what seems to be occurring.

To begin: Kid’s YouTube is definitely and markedly weird. I’ve been aware of its weirdness for some time. Last year, there were a number of articles posted about the Surprise Egg craze. Surprise Eggs videos depict, often at excruciating length, the process of unwrapping Kinder and other egg toys. That’s it, but kids are captivated by them. There are thousands and thousands of these videos and thousands and thousands, if not millions, of children watching them.

From the article linked above:

The maker of my particular favorite videos is “Blu Toys Surprise Brinquedos & Juegos,” and since 2010 he seems to have accrued 3.7 million subscribers and just under 6 billion views for a kid-friendly channel entirely devoted to opening surprise eggs and unboxing toys. The video titles are a continuous pattern of obscure branded lines and tie-ins: “Surprise Play Doh Eggs Peppa Pig Stamper Cars Pocoyo Minecraft Smurfs Kinder Play Doh Sparkle Brilho,” “Cars Screamin’ Banshee Eats Lightning McQueen Disney Pixar,” “Disney Baby Pop Up Pals Easter Eggs SURPRISE.”

As I write this he has done a total of 4,426 videos and counting. With so many views — for comparison, Justin Bieber’s official channel has more than 10 billion views, while full-time YouTube celebrity PewDiePie has nearly 12 billion — it’s likely this man makes a living as a pair of gently murmuring hands that unwrap Kinder eggs. (Surprise-egg videos are all accompanied by pre-roll, and sometimes mid-video and ads.)

That should give you some idea of just how odd the world of kids online video is, and that list of video titles hints at the extraordinary range and complexity of this situation. We’ll get into the latter in a minute; for the moment know that it’s already very strange, if apparently pretty harmless, out there.

Another huge trope, especially the youngest children, is nursery rhyme videos.

Little Baby Bum, which made the above video, is the 7th most popular channel on YouTube. With just 515 videos, they have accrued 11.5 million subscribers and 13 billion views. Again, there are questions as to the accuracy of these numbers, which I’ll get into shortly, but the key point is that this is a huge, huge network and industry.

On-demand video is catnip to both parents and to children, and thus to content creators and advertisers. Small children are mesmerised by these videos, whether it’s familiar characters and songs, or simply bright colours and soothing sounds. The length of many of these videos — one common video tactic is to assemble many nursery rhyme or cartoon episodes into hour+ compilations —and the way that length is marketed as part of the video’s appeal, points to the amount of time some kids are spending with them.

YouTube broadcasters have thus developed a huge number of tactics to draw parents’ and childrens’ attention to their videos, and the advertising revenues that accompany them. The first of these tactics is simply to copy and pirate other content. A simple search for “Peppa Pig” on YouTube in my case yielded “About 10,400,000 results” and the front page is almost entirely from the verified “Peppa Pig Official Channel”, while one is from an unverified channel called Play Go Toys, which you really wouldn’t notice unless you were looking out for it:

Play Go Toys’ channel consists of (I guess?) pirated Peppa Pig and other cartoons, videos of toy unboxings (another kid magnet), and videos of, one supposes, the channel owner’s own children. I am not alleging anything bad about Play Go Toys; I am simply illustrating how the structure of YouTube facilitates the delamination of content and author, and how this impacts on our awareness and trust of its source.

As another blogger notes, one of the traditional roles of branded content is that it is a trusted source. Whether it’s Peppa Pig on children’s TV or a Disney movie, whatever one’s feelings about the industrial model of entertainment production, they are carefully produced and monitored so that kids are essentially safe watching them, and can be trusted as such. This no longer applies when brand and content are disassociated by the platform, and so known and trusted content provides a seamless gateway to unverified and potentially harmful content.

(Yes, this is the exact same process as the delamination of trusted news media on Facebook feeds and in Google results that is currently wreaking such havoc on our cognitive and political systems and I am not going to explicitly explore that relationship further here, but it is obviously deeply significant.)

A second way of increasing hits on videos is through keyword/hashtag association, which is a whole dark art unto itself. When some trend, such as Surprise Egg videos, reaches critical mass, content producers pile onto it, creating thousands and thousands more of these videos in every possible iteration. This is the origin of all the weird names in the list above: branded content and nursery rhyme titles and “surprise egg” all stuffed into the same word salad to capture search results, sidebar placement, and “up next” autoplay rankings.

Play Go Toys’ channel consists of (I guess?) pirated Peppa Pig and other cartoons, videos of toy unboxings (another kid magnet), and videos of, one supposes, the channel owner’s own children. I am not alleging anything bad about Play Go Toys; I am simply illustrating how the structure of YouTube facilitates the delamination of content and author, and how this impacts on our awareness and trust of its source.

As another blogger notes, one of the traditional roles of branded content is that it is a trusted source. Whether it’s Peppa Pig on children’s TV or a Disney movie, whatever one’s feelings about the industrial model of entertainment production, they are carefully produced and monitored so that kids are essentially safe watching them, and can be trusted as such. This no longer applies when brand and content are disassociated by the platform, and so known and trusted content provides a seamless gateway to unverified and potentially harmful content.

(Yes, this is the exact same process as the delamination of trusted news media on Facebook feeds and in Google results that is currently wreaking such havoc on our cognitive and political systems and I am not going to explicitly explore that relationship further here, but it is obviously deeply significant.)

A second way of increasing hits on videos is through keyword/hashtag association, which is a whole dark art unto itself. When some trend, such as Surprise Egg videos, reaches critical mass, content producers pile onto it, creating thousands and thousands more of these videos in every possible iteration. This is the origin of all the weird names in the list above: branded content and nursery rhyme titles and “surprise egg” all stuffed into the same word salad to capture search results, sidebar placement, and “up next” autoplay rankings.

A striking example of the weirdness is the Finger Family videos (harmless example embedded above). I have no idea where they came from or the origin of the children’s rhyme at the core of the trope, but there are at least 17 million versions of this currently on YouTube, and again they cover every possible genre, with billions and billions of aggregated views.

Once again, the view numbers of these videos must be taken under serious advisement. A huge number of these videos are essentially created by bots and viewed by bots, and even commented on by bots. That is a whole strange world in and of itself. But it shouldn’t obscure that there are also many actual children, plugged into iphones and tablets, watching these over and over again — in part accounting for the inflated view numbers — learning to type basic search terms into the browser, or simply mashing the sidebar to bring up another video.

What I find somewhat disturbing about the proliferation of even (relatively) normal kids videos is the impossibility of determining the degree of automation which is at work here; how to parse out the gap between human and machine. The example above, from a channel called Bounce Patrol Kids, with almost two million subscribers, show this effect in action. It posts professionally produced videos, with dedicated human actors, at the rate of about one per week. Once again, I am not alleging anything untoward about Bounce Patrol, which clearly follows in the footsteps of pre-digital kid sensations like their fellow Australians The Wiggles.

And yet, there is something weird about a group of people endlessly acting out the implications of a combination of algorithmically generated keywords: “Halloween Finger Family & more Halloween Songs for Children | Kids Halloween Songs Collection”, “Australian Animals Finger Family Song | Finger Family Nursery Rhymes”, “Farm Animals Finger Family and more Animals Songs | Finger Family Collection – Learn Animals Sounds”, “Safari Animals Finger Family Song | Elephant, Lion, Giraffe, Zebra & Hippo! Wild Animals for kids”, “Superheroes Finger Family and more Finger Family Songs! Superhero Finger Family Collection”, “Batman Finger Family Song — Superheroes and Villains! Batman, Joker, Riddler, Catwoman” and on and on and on. This is content production in the age of algorithmic discovery — even if you’re a human, you have to end up impersonating the machine.

Other channels do away with the human actors to create infinite reconfigurable versions of the same videos over and over again. What is occurring here is clearly automated. Stock animations, audio tracks, and lists of keywords being assembled in their thousands to produce an endless stream of videos. The above channel, Videogyan 3D Rhymes — Nursery Rhymes & Baby Songs, posts several videos a week, in increasingly byzantine combinations of keywords. They have almost five million subscribers — more than double Bounce Patrol — although once again it’s impossible to know who or what is actually racking up these millions and millions of views.

I’m trying not to turn this essay into an endless list of examples, but it’s important to grasp how vast this system is, and how indeterminate its actions, process, and audience. It’s also international: there are variations of Finger Family and Learn Colours videos for Tamil epics and Malaysian cartoons which are unlikely to pop up in any Anglophone search results. This very indeterminacy and reach is key to its existence, and its implications. Its dimensionality makes it difficult to grasp, or even to really think about.

We’ve encountered pretty clear examples of the disturbing outcomes of full automation before — some of which have been thankfully leavened with a dark kind of humour, others not so much. Much has been made of the algorithmic interbreeding of stock photo libraries and on-demand production of everything from tshirts to coffee mugs to infant onesies and cell phone covers. The above example, available until recently on Amazon, is one such case, and the story of how it came to occur is fascinating and weird but essentially comprehensible. Nobody set out to create phone cases with drugs and medical equipment on them, it was just a deeply weird mathematical/probabilistic outcome. The fact that it took a while to notice might ring some alarm bells however.

Likewise, the case of the “Keep Calm and Rape A Lot” tshirts (along with the “Keep Calm and Knife Her” and “Keep Calm and Hit Her” ones) is depressing and distressing but comprehensible. Nobody set out to create these shirts: they just paired an unchecked list of verbs and pronouns with an online image generator. It’s quite possible that none of these shirts ever physically existed, were ever purchased or worn, and thus that no harm was done. Once again though, the people creating this content failed to notice, and neither did the distributor. They literally had no idea what they were doing.

What I will argue, on the basis of these cases and of those I’m going to describe further, is that the scale and logic of the system is complicit in these outputs, and requires us to think through their implications.

(Also again: I’m not going to dig into the wider social implications of such processes outside the scope of what I am writing about here, but it’s clear that one can draw a clear line from examples such as these to pressing contemporary issues such as racial and gender bias in big data and machine intelligence-driven systems, which require urgent attention but in the same manner do not have anything resembling easy or even preferable solutions.)

Let’s look at just one video among the piles of kid videos, and try to parse out where it comes from. It’s important to stress that I didn’t set out to find this particular video: it appeared organically and highly ranked in a search for ‘finger family’ in an incognito browser window (i.e. it should not have been influenced by previous searches). This automation takes us to very, very strange places, and at this point the rabbithole is so deep that it’s impossible to know how such a thing came into being.

Once again, a content warning: this video is not inappropriate in any way, but it is decidedly off, and contains elements which might trouble anyone. It’s very mild on the scale of such things, but. I describe it below if you don’t want to watch it and head down that road. This warning will recur.

The above video is entitled Wrong Heads Disney Wrong Ears Wrong Legs Kids Learn Colors Finger Family 2017 Nursery Rhymes. The title alone confirms its automated provenance. I have no idea where the “Wrong Heads” trope originates, but I can imagine, as with the Finger Family Song, that somewhere there is a totally original and harmless version that made enough kids laugh that it started to climb the algorithmic rankings until it made it onto the word salad lists, combining with Learn Colors, Finger Family, and Nursery Rhymes, and all of these tropes — not merely as words but as images, processes, and actions — to be mixed into what we see here.

The video consists of a regular version of the Finger Family song played over an animation of character heads and bodies from Disney’s Aladdin swapping and intersecting. Again, this is weird but frankly no more than the Surprise Egg videos or anything else kids watch. I get how innocent it is. The offness creeps in with the appearance of a non-Aladdin character —Agnes, the little girl from Despicable Me. Agnes is the arbiter of the scene: when the heads don’t match up, she cries, when they do, she cheers.

The video’s creator, BABYFUN TV (screenshot above), has produced many similar videos. As many of the Wrong Heads videos as I could bear to watch all work in exactly the same way. The character Hope from Inside Out weeps through a Smurfs and Trolls head swap. It goes on and on. I get the game, but the constant overlaying and intermixing of different tropes starts to get inside you. BABYFUN TV only has 170 subscribers and very low view rates, but then there are thousands and thousands of channels like this. Numbers in the long tail aren’t significant in the abstract, but in their accumulation.

The question becomes: how did this come to be? The “Bad Baby” trope also present on BABYFUN TV features the same crying. While I find it disturbing, I can understand how it might provide some of the rhythm or cadence or relation to their own experience that actual babies are attracted to in this content, although it has been warped and stretched through algorithmic repetition and recombination in ways that I don’t think anyone actually wants to happen.

Toy Freaks is a hugely popular channel (68th on the platform) which features a father and his two daughters playing out — or in some cases perhaps originating — many of the tropes we’ve identified so far, including “Bad Baby”, above. As well as nursery rhymes and learning colours, Toy Freaks specialises in gross-out situations, as well as activities which many, many viewers feel border on abuse and exploitation, if not cross the line entirely, including videos of the children vomiting and in pain. Toy Freaks is a YouTube verified channel, whatever that means. (I think we know by now it means nothing useful.)

As with Bounce Patrol Kids, however you feel about the content of these videos, it feels impossible to know where the automation starts and ends, who is coming up with the ideas and who is roleplaying them. In turn, the amplification of tropes in popular, human-led channels such as Toy Freaks leads to them being endlessly repeated across the network in increasingly outlandish and distorted recombinations.

There’s a second level of what I’m characterising as human-led videos which are much more disturbing than the mostly distasteful activities of Toy Freaks and their kin. Here is a relatively mild, but still upsetting example:

A step beyond the simply pirated Peppa Pig videos mentioned previously are the knock-offs. These too seem to teem with violence. In the official Peppa Pig videos, Peppa does indeed go to the dentist, and the episode in which she does so seems to be popular — although, confusingly, what appears to be the real episode is only available on an unofficial channel. In the official timeline, Peppa is appropriately reassured by a kindly dentist. In the version above, she is basically tortured, before turning into a series of Iron Man robots and performing the Learn Colours dance. A search for “peppa pig dentist” returns the above video on the front page, and it only gets worse from here.

Disturbing Peppa Pig videos, which tend towards extreme violence and fear, with Peppa eating her father or drinking bleach, are, it turns out very widespread. They make up an entire YouTube subculture. Many are obviously parodies, or even satires of themselves, in the pretty common style of the internet’s outrageous, deliberately offensive kind. All the 4chan tropes are there, the trolls are out, we know this.

In the example above, the agency is less clear: the video starts with a trollish Peppa parody, but later syncs into the kind of automated repetition of tropes we’ve seen already. I don’t know which camp it belongs to. Maybe it’s just trolls. I kind of hope it is. But I don’t think so. Trolls don’t cover the intersection of human actors and more automated examples further down the line. They’re at play here, but they’re not the whole story.

I suppose it’s naive not to see the deliberate versions of this coming, but many are so close to the original, and so unsignposted — like the dentist example — that many, many kids are watching them. I understand that most of them are not trying to mess kids up, not really, even though they are.

I’m trying to understand why, as plainly and simply troubling as it is, this is not a simple matter of “won’t somebody think of the children” hand-wringing. Obviously this content is inappropriate, obviously there are bad actors out there, obviously some of these videos should be removed. Obviously too this raises questions of fair use, appropriation, free speech and so on. But reports which simply understand the problem through this lens fail to fully grasp the mechanisms being deployed, and thus are incapable of thinking its implications in totality, and responding accordingly.

The New York Times, headlining their article on a subset of this issue “On YouTube Kids, Startling Videos Slip Past Filters”, highlights the use of knock-off characters and nursery rhymes in disturbing content, and frames it as a problem of moderation and legislation. YouTube Kids, an official app which claims to be kid-safe but is quite obviously not, is the problem identified, because it wrongly engenders trust in users. An article in the British tabloid The Sun, “Kids left traumatised after sick YouTube clips showing Peppa Pig characters with knives and guns appear on app for children” takes the same line, with an added dose of right-wing technophobia and self-righteousness. But both stories take at face value YouTube’s assertions that these results are incredibly rare and quickly removed: assertions utterly refuted by the proliferation of the stories themselves, and the growing number of social media posts, largely by concerned parents, from which they arise.

But as with Toy Freaks, what is concerning to me about the Peppa videos is how the obvious parodies and even the shadier knock-offs interact with the legions of algorithmic content producers until it is completely impossible to know what is going on. (“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”)

Here’s what is basically a version of Toy Freaks produced in Asia (screenshot above). Here’s one from Russia. I don’t really want to use the term “human-led” any more about these videos, although they contain all the same tropes and actual people acting them out. I no longer have any idea what’s going on here and I really don’t want to and I’m starting to think that that is kind of the point. That’s part of why I’m starting to think about the deliberateness of this all. There is a lot of effort going into making these. More than spam revenue can generate — can it? Who’s writing these scripts, editing these videos? Once again, I want to stress: this is still really mild, even funny stuff compared to a lot of what is out there.

Here are a few things which are disturbing me:

The first is the level of horror and violence on display. Some of the times it’s troll-y gross-out stuff; most of the time it seems deeper, and more unconscious than that. The internet has a way of amplifying and enabling many of our latent desires; in fact, it’s what it seems to do best. I spend a lot of time arguing for this tendency, with regards to human sexual freedom, individual identity, and other issues. Here, and overwhelmingly it sometimes feels, that tendency is itself a violent and destructive one.

The second is the levels of exploitation, not of children because they are children but of children because they are powerless. Automated reward systems like YouTube algorithms necessitate exploitation in the same way that capitalism necessitates exploitation, and if you’re someone who bristles at the second half of that equation then maybe this should be what convinces you of its truth. Exploitation is encoded into the systems we are building, making it harder to see, harder to think and explain, harder to counter and defend against. Not in a future of AI overlords and robots in the factories, but right here, now, on your screen, in your living room and in your pocket.

Many of these latest examples confound any attempt to argue that nobody is actually watching these videos, that these are all bots. There are humans in the loop here, even if only on the production side, and I’m pretty worried about them too.

I’ve written enough, too much, but I feel like I actually need to justify all this raving about violence and abuse and automated systems with an example that sums it up. Maybe after everything I’ve said you won’t think it’s so bad. I don’t know what to think any more.

This video, BURIED ALIVE Outdoor Playground Finger Family Song Nursery Rhymes Animation Education Learning Video, contains all of the elements we’ve covered above, and takes them to another level. Familiar characters, nursery tropes, keyword salad, full automation, violence, and the very stuff of kids’ worst dreams. And of course there are vast, vast numbers of these videos. Channel after channel after channel of similar content, churned out at the rate of hundreds of new videos every week. Industrialised nightmare production.

For the final time: There is more violent and more sexual content like this available. I’m not going to link to it. I don’t believe in traumatising other people, but it’s necessary to keep stressing it, and not dismiss the psychological effect on children of things which aren’t overtly disturbing to adults, just incredibly dark and weird.

A friend who works in digital video described to me what it would take to make something like this: a small studio of people (half a dozen, maybe more) making high volumes of low quality content to reap ad revenue by tripping certain requirements of the system (length in particular seems to be a factor). According to my friend, online kids’ content is one of the few alternative ways of making money from 3D animation because the aesthetic standards are lower and independent production can profit through scale. It uses existing and easily available content (such as character models and motion-capture libraries) and it can be repeated and revised endlessly and mostly meaninglessly because the algorithms don’t discriminate — and neither do the kids.

These videos, wherever they are made, however they come to be made, and whatever their conscious intention (i.e. to accumulate ad revenue) are feeding upon a system which was consciously intended to show videos to children for profit. The unconsciously-generated, emergent outcomes of that are all over the place.

To expose children to this content is abuse. We’re not talking about the debatable but undoubtedly real effects of film or videogame violence on teenagers, or the effects of pornography or extreme images on young minds, which were alluded to in my opening description of my own teenage internet use. Those are important debates, but they’re not what is being discussed here. What we’re talking about is very young children, effectively from birth, being deliberately targeted with content which will traumatise and disturb them, via networks which are extremely vulnerable to exactly this form of abuse. It’s not about trolls, but about a kind of violence inherent in the combination of digital systems and capitalist incentives. It’s down to that level of the metal.

This, I think, is my point: The system is complicit in the abuse.

And right now, right here, YouTube and Google are complicit in that system. The architecture they have built to extract the maximum revenue from online video is being hacked by persons unknown to abuse children, perhaps not even deliberately, but at a massive scale. I believe they have an absolute responsibility to deal with this, just as they have a responsibility to deal with the radicalisation of (mostly) young (mostly) men via extremist videos — of any political persuasion. They have so far showed absolutely no inclination to do this, which is in itself despicable. However, a huge part of my troubled response to this issue is that I have no idea how they can respond without shutting down the service itself, and most systems which resemble it. We have built a world which operates at scale, where human oversight is simply impossible, and no manner of inhuman oversight will counter most of the examples I’ve used in this essay. The asides I’ve kept in parentheses throughout, if expanded upon, would allow one with minimal effort to rewrite everything I’ve said, with very little effort, to be not about child abuse, but about white nationalism, about violent religious ideologies, about fake news, about climate denialism, about 9/11 conspiracies.

This is a deeply dark time, in which the structures we have built to sustain ourselves are being used against us — all of us — in systematic and automated ways. It is hard to keep faith with the network when it produces horrors such as these. While it is tempting to dismiss the wilder examples as trolling, of which a significant number certainly are, that fails to account for the sheer volume of content weighted in a particularly grotesque direction. It presents many and complexly entangled dangers, including that, just as with the increasing focus on alleged Russian interference in social media, such events will be used as justification for increased control over the internet, increasing censorship, and so on. This is not what many of us want.

I’m going to stop here, saying only this:

What concerns me is not just the violence being done to children here, although that concerns me deeply. What concerns me is that this is just one aspect of a kind of infrastructural violence being done to all of us, all of the time, and we’re still struggling to find a way to even talk about it, to describe its mechanisms and its actions and its effects. As I said at the beginning of this essay: this is being done by people and by things and by a combination of things and people. Responsibility for its outcomes is impossible to assign but the damage is very, very real indeed.

 

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Don’t Just Give Thanks. Pay It Forward One Act of Kindness at a Time

By John W. Whitehead

Source: The Rutherford Institute

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”—John F. Kennedy

It’s been a hard, heart-wrenching, stomach-churning kind of year filled with violence and ill will.

It’s been a year of hotheads and blowhards and killing sprees and bloodshed and takedowns.

It’s been a year in which tyranny took a step forward and freedom got knocked down a few notches.

It’s been a year with an abundance of bad news and a shortage of good news.

It’s been a year of too much hate and too little kindness.

Now we find ourselves approaching that time of year when, as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln proclaimed, we’re supposed to give thanks as a nation and as individuals for our safety and our freedoms.

It’s not an easy undertaking.

How do you give thanks for freedoms that are constantly being eroded? How do you express gratitude for one’s safety when the perils posed by the American police state grow more treacherous by the day? How do you come together as a nation in thanksgiving when the powers-that-be continue to polarize and divide us into warring factions?

It’s not going to happen overnight. Or with one turkey dinner. Or with one day of thanksgiving.

Thinking good thoughts, being grateful, counting your blessings and adopting a glass-half-full mindset are fine and good, but don’t stop there.

This world requires doers, men and women (and children) who will put those good thoughts into action.

It says a lot (and nothing good) about the state of our world and the meanness that seems to have taken center stage that we now have a day (World Kindness Day) devoted to making the world more collectively human in thoughts and actions. The idea for the day started after a college president in Japan was mugged in a public place and nobody helped him.

Unfortunately, you hear about these kinds of incidents too often.

A 15-year-old girl was gang raped in a schoolyard during a homecoming dance. As many as 20 people witnessed the assault over the course of two and a half hours. No one intervened to stop it.

A 28-year-old woman was stabbed, raped and murdered outside her apartment early in the morning. Thirty-eight bystanders witnessed the attack and failed to intervene. The woman, Kitty Genovese, died from her wounds at the locked doorway to her apartment building.

A 58-year-old man waded into chest-deep water in the San Francisco Bay in an apparent suicide attempt. For an hour, Raymond Zack stood in the shallow water while 75 onlookers watched. Police and firefighters were called in but failed to intervene, citing budget cuts, a lack of training in water rescue, fear for their safety and a lack of proper equipment. The man eventually passed out and later died of hypothermia. Eventually, an onlooker volunteered to bring the body back to the beach.

A homeless man intervened to save a woman from a knife-wielding attacker. He saved the woman but was stabbed repeatedly in the process. As The Guardian reports, “For more than an hour he lay dying in a pool of his own blood as dozens walked by. Some paused to stare, others leaned in close. One even shook his body and then left, while someone else recorded a video of the entire proceeding.”

This is how evil prevails: when good men and women do nothing.

By doing nothing, the onlookers become as guilty as the perpetrator.

“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity,” declared Albert Einstein.

It works the same whether you’re talking about kids watching bullies torment a fellow student on a playground, bystanders watching someone dying on a sidewalk, or citizens remaining silent in the face of government atrocities.

There’s a term for this phenomenon where people stand by, watch and do nothing—even when there is no risk to their safety—while some horrific act takes place (someone is mugged or raped or bullied or left to die): it’s called the bystander effect.

Psychological researchers John Darley and Bibb Latane mounted a series of experiments to discover why people respond with apathy or indifference instead of intervening.

Their findings speak volumes about the state of our nation and why “we the people” continue to suffer such blatant abuses by the police state.

According to Darley and Latane, there are two critical factors that contribute to this moral lassitude.

First, there’s the problem of pluralistic ignorance in which individuals in a group look to others to determine how to respond. As Melissa Burkley explains in Psychology Today, “Pluralistic ignorance describes a situation where a majority of group members privately believe one thing, but assume (incorrectly) that most others believe the opposite.”

Second, there’s the problem of “diffusion of responsibility,” which is compounded by pluralistic ignorance. Basically, this means that the more people who witness a catastrophic event, the less likely any one person will do anything because each thinks someone else will take responsibility. In other words, no one acts to intervene or help because each person is waiting for someone else to do so.

Now the temptation is to label the bystanders as terrible people, monsters even.

Yet as Mahzarin Banaji, professor of psychology at Harvard University points out, “These are not monsters. These are us. This is all of us. This is not about a few monsters. This is about everybody. It says something very difficult to us. It says that perhaps had we been standing there, we ourselves, if we were not better educated about this particular effect and what it does to us, we may fall prey to it ourselves.”

Historically, this bystander syndrome in which people remain silent and disengaged—mere onlookers—in the face of abject horrors and injustice has resulted in whole populations being conditioned to tolerate unspoken cruelty toward their fellow human beings: the crucifixion and slaughter of innocents by the Romans, the torture of the Inquisition, the atrocities of the Nazis, the butchery of the Fascists, the bloodshed by the Communists, and the cold-blooded war machines run by the military industrial complex.

So what can you do about this bystander effect?

Be a hero, suggests psychologist Philip Zimbardo.

Each of us has an inner hero we can draw upon in an emergency,” Zimbardo concluded. “If you think there is even a possibility that someone needs help, act on it. You may save a life. You are the modern version of the Good Samaritan that makes the world a better place for all of us.”

Zimbardo is the psychologist who carried out the Stanford Prison Experiment which studied the impact of perceived power and authority on middleclass students who were assigned to act as prisoners and prison guards. The experiment revealed that power does indeed corrupt (the appointed guards became increasingly abusive), and those who were relegated to being prisoners acted increasingly “submissive and depersonalized, taking the abuse and saying little in protest.”

What is the antidote to group think and the bystander effect?

Be an individual. Listen to your inner voice. Take responsibility.

“If you find yourself in an ambiguous situation, resist the urge to look to others and go with your gut instinct,” says Burkley. “If you think there is even a possibility that someone is in need, act on it. At worst, you will embarrass yourself for a few minutes, but at best, you will save a life.”

“Even if people recognize that they are witnessing a crime, they may still fail to intervene if they do not take personal responsibility for helping the victim,” writes Burkley. “The problem is that the more bystanders there are, the less responsible each individual feels.”

In other words, recognize injustice. Don’t turn away from suffering.

Refuse to remain silent. Take a stand. Speak up. Speak out.

This is what Zimbardo refers to as “the power of one.” All it takes is one person breaking away from the fold to change the dynamics of a situation. “Once any one helps, then in seconds others will join in because a new social norm emerges: Do Something Helpful.”

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation,” stated Holocaust Elie Wiesel in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1986. “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

Unfortunately, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, too many Americans have opted to remain silent when it really matters while instead taking a stand over politics rather than human suffering.

That needs to change.

I don’t believe we’re inherently monsters. We just need to be more conscientious and engaged and helpful.

The Good Samaritans of this world don’t always get recognized, but they’re doing their part to push back against the darkness.

For instance, earlier this year in Florida, a family of six—four adults and two young boys—were swept out to sea by a powerful rip current in Panama City Beach. There was no lifeguard on duty. The police were standing by, waiting for a rescue boat. And the few people who had tried to help ended up stranded, as well.

Those on shore grouped together and formed a human chain. What started with five volunteers grew to 15, then 80 people, some of whom couldn’t swim.

One by one, they linked hands and stretched as far as their chain would go. The strongest of the volunteers swam out beyond the chain and began passing the stranded victims of the rip current down the chain.

One by one, they rescued those in trouble and pulled each other in.

There’s a moral here for what needs to happen in this country if we only can band together and prevail against the riptides that threaten to overwhelm us.

Here’s what I suggest.

Instead of just giving thanks this holiday season with words that are too soon forgotten, why not put your gratitude into action with deeds that spread a little kindness, lighten someone’s burden, and brighten some dark corner?

I’m not just talking about volunteering at a soup kitchen or making a donation to a charity that does good work, although those are fine things, too.

What I’m suggesting is something that everyone can do no matter how tight our budgets or how crowded our schedules.

Pay your blessings forward.

Engage in acts of kindness. Smile more. Fight less.

Focus on the things that unite instead of that which divides. Be a hero, whether or not anyone ever notices.

Do your part to push back against the meanness of our culture with conscious compassion and humanity. Moods are contagious, the good and the bad. They can be passed from person to person. So can the actions associated with those moods, the good and the bad.

Even holding the door for someone or giving up your seat on a crowded train are acts of benevolence that, magnified by other such acts, can spark a movement.

Imagine a world in which we all lived in peace.

John Lennon tried to imagine such a world in which there was nothing to kill or die for, no greed or hunger. He was a beautiful dreamer whose life ended with an assassin’s bullet on December 8, 1980.

Still, that doesn’t mean the dream has to die, too.

There’s something to be said for working to make that dream a reality. As Lennon reminded his listeners, “War is over, if you want it.”

The choice is ours, if we want it.

Posted in Activism, culture, Philosophy, Psychology, society, Sociology, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why are Police in the USA so Terrified?

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

Robert J. Burrowes

In a recent incident in the United States, yet another unarmed man was shot dead by police after opening his front door in response to their knock. The police were going to serve an arrest warrant on a domestic violence suspect – the man’s neighbour – but went to the wrong address. See ‘Police kill innocent man while serving warrant at wrong address’.

For those who follow news in the United States, the routine killing of innocent civilians by the police has become a national crisis despite concerted attempts by political and legal authorities and the corporate media to obscure what is happening. See ‘Killed by Police’ and ‘The Counted: People killed by police in the US’.

So far this year, US police have killed 1,044 people. In contrast, from 1990 to 2016, police in England and Wales killed just 62 people. See ‘Fatal police shootings’.

Of course, these murders by the police are just the tip of the iceberg of police violence as police continue to demonstrate that the freedoms ‘guaranteed’ by the Fourth Amendment have been eviscerated. See ‘What Country Is This? Forced Blood Draws, Cavity Searches and Colonoscopies’.

So why are the police so violent? you might ask. Well, several scholars have offered answers to this question and you can read a little about what they say in these articles reviewing recent books on the subject. See ‘The Fraternal Order of Police Must Go’ and ‘Our Ever-Deadlier Police State’.

While there is much in these works with which I agree – such as the racism in US policing and the corruption of the legal system which is used to violently manage oppressed peoples in the name of ‘justice’ while leaving the individuals, banks and corporations on Wall Street unaccountable for their endless, ongoing and grotesque crimes against society, the economy and the environment – I would like to pose a deeper question: Why are police in the USA so terrified? This is the important question because only people who are terrified resort to violence, even in the context of policing. Let me explain why this is the case and how it has occurred in the police context in the USA.

Violence does not arise ‘out of nowhere’. And, sadly, its origin can be traced to what is euphemistically called the ‘socialization’ of children but which is more accurately labeled ‘terrorization’. You might think that this sounds extreme but if you spend some time considering the phenomenal violence – ‘visible’, ‘invisible’ and ‘utterly invisible’ – that we adults inflict on children during the ordinary course of the day – see Why Violence? and Fearless Psychology and Fearful Psychology: Principles and Practice – while deluding ourselves that we are preparing them to become just, decent and powerful citizens, then you might be willing to reconsider your concept of what it means to nurture children. Tragically, we are so far from any meaningful understanding of this notion, that it is not even possible to generate a widespread social discussion about how we might go about it.

So, having terrorized children into submission so that they unthinkingly and passively accept their preordained role in life – to act as a cog in a giant and destructive enterprise which they are terrorized into not questioning and over which they have no control – each of them takes their place in the global ‘economy’ wherever they can find a set of tasks that feels least painful. The idea of seeking their true path in order to search out their own unique destiny never even occurs to most of them and so they lead ‘shadow lives’ endlessly suppressing their awareness of the life that might have been.

Some of these individuals end up as recruits at a police training facility, where they are further terrorized into believing an elite-sponsored ideology that precludes genuine appreciation of the diversity of people in the community they will later police (that is, terrorize) in the name of ‘law and order’. After all, elite social control is more readily maintained when people, including the police, live in fear.

Police training further terrorizes the individuals involved and militarizes policing by encouraging recruits ‘to adopt a “warrior” mentality and think of the people they are supposed to serve as enemies’; the equipment they use, such as battering rams, flashbang grenades and Armoured Personnel Carriers, evoke a sense of war. See ‘War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing’.

But it doesn’t end with terrorization during childhood and then police training. Police practice functions within a long-standing cultural framework which has both wider social dimensions and narrower, localized ones. And this cultural framework has been changing, more quickly in recent years too. Unfortunately, more than ever before, this framework is increasingly driven by fear and older, delusional social expectations that police are there to maintain public safety or defend the community from criminal violence have given way to militarized assumptions, language and procedures that regard virtually everyone (and certainly indigenous people and people of color) as both dangerous and guilty until proven otherwise and treat the family home and car as targets to be ‘neutralized’ with military-style tactics and weapons. And this trend has been accelerated under Donald Trump. See ‘Trump to lift military gear ban for local police’.

By triggering fear and using military-style tactics and weapons, however, the very essence of the relationship between police and civilians is more rapidly, completely and detrimentally transformed in accord with elite interests. It equates law-enforcement with counter-terrorism and community safety with social control.

Fundamentally, of course, this plays its part in ensuring minimal effective resistance to the broader elite agenda to secure militarized control of the world’s populations and resources for elite benefit.

This transformation in the relationship between police and civilians has been accelerated by training US police in the use of military tactics that the Israeli military employs against the occupied Palestinians. See ‘Israel trains US law-enforcement in counter-terrorism’.

But consider the implications of this.

As Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University, has noted in discussing this phenomenon: US police are learning paramilitary and counterinsurgency tactics from the Israeli military, border patrol and intelligence services, which enforce military law.

‘If American police and sheriffs consider they’re in occupation of neighborhoods like Ferguson and East Harlem, this training is extremely appropriate – they’re learning how to suppress a people, deny their rights and use force to hold down a subject population’. See ‘US Police Get Antiterror Training In Israel’.

Moreover, the most tangible evidence that the militarized training is having an impact on US policing is that both Israel and the US are using identical equipment against demonstrators, according to a 2013 report by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem and photographs of such equipment taken at three demonstrations in the USA. ‘Tear gas grenades, “triple chaser” gas canisters and stun grenades made by the American companies Combined Systems Inc. and Defense Technology Corp. were used in all three U.S. incidents, as well as by Israeli security forces and military units.’ See ‘US Police Get Antiterror Training In Israel’.

Given the sheer terror that drives Israeli military policy towards occupied and militarily undefended Palestine, it is little wonder that this fear is transmitted as part of any training of US police. All knowledge and technology is embedded with emotion, and fear is utterly pervasive in any military activity. Especially when it is directed in pursuit of unjust ends.

So what can we do?

If you are interested in working to reduce police fear and violence, you will get plenty of ideas in the document ‘A Toolkit for Promoting Justice In Policing’ which is summarized here: ‘15 Things Your City Can Do Right Now to End Police Brutality’.

If you want to organize a nonviolent action while reducing police fear to minimize the risk of police violence, there is a comprehensive list of guidelines here: ‘Nonviolent Action: Minimizing the Risk of Violent Repression’.

If you want to work towards ending the underlying fear that drives police (and other) violence, consider making ‘My Promise to Children’. In essence, if you want powerful individuals who are capable of resisting elite social control, including that implemented through police violence, then don’t expect children terrorized into obedience by parents, teachers and religious figures to later magically have this power.

And if you are inclined to resist violence in other contexts, consider participating in The Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth, signing the online pledge of The Peoples Charter to Create a Nonviolent World and/or using the strategic framework explained in Nonviolent Campaign Strategy for your peace, environmental or social justice campaign.

Why are the police so terrified? Essentially because they were terrorized as children and then terrorized during police training to violently defend elite interests against the rest of us. Elite control depends on us being too terrified to defend ourselves against their violence.

If humans are to survive this elite-driven onslaught, we need people courageous enough to resist police violence and other elite-driven violence strategically. Can we count on you?

 

Biodata: Robert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of Why Violence? His email address is flametree@riseup.net and his website is here.


Robert J. Burrowes
P.O. Box 68
Daylesford
Victoria 3460
Australia
Email: flametree@riseup.net

Websites:
Nonviolence Charter
Flame Tree Project to Save Life on Earth
‘Why Violence?’
Nonviolent Campaign Strategy
Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy
Anita: Songs of Nonviolence
Robert Burrowes
Global Nonviolence Network

 

Posted in Authoritarianism, conditioning, elites, Militarization, Philosophy, police state, Psychology, Racism, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, Sociology, State Crime | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two for Tuesday

Sus Bully and Tom Misch

Posted in Art, culture, Music Video, Two for Tuesday, Video | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s time to call the housing crisis what it really is: the largest transfer of wealth in living memory

By Laurie Macfarlane

Source: OpenDemocracy.net

One of the basic claims of capitalism is that people are rewarded in line with their effort and productivity. Another is that the economy is not a zero sum game. The beauty of a capitalist economy, we are told, is that people who work hard can get rich without making others poorer.

But how does this stack up in modern Britain, the birthplace of capitalism and many of its early theorists? Last week, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released new data tracking how wealth has evolved over time. On paper, the UK has indeed become much wealthier in recent decades. Net wealth has more than tripled since 1995, increasing by over £7 trillion. This is equivalent to an average increase of nearly £100,000 per person. Impressive stuff. But where has all this wealth come from, and who has it benefitted?

Just over £5 trillion, or three quarters of the total increase, is accounted for by increase in the value of dwellings – another name for the UK housing stock. The Office for National Statistics explains that this is “largely due to increases in house prices rather than a change in the volume of dwellings.” This alone is not particularly surprising. We are forever told about the importance of ‘getting a foot on the property ladder’. The housing market has long been viewed as a perennial source of wealth.

But the price of a property is made up of two distinct components: the price of the building itself, and the price of the land that the structure is built upon. This year the ONS has separated out these two components for the first time, and the results are quite astounding.

In just two decades the market value of land has quadrupled, increasing recorded wealth by over £4 trillion. The driving force behind rising house prices — and the UK’s growing wealth — has been rapidly escalating land prices.

For those who own property, this has provided enormous benefits. According to the Resolution Foundation, homeowners born in the 1940s and 1950s gained an unearned windfall of £80,000 between 1993 and 2014 alone. In the early 2000s, house price growth was so great that 17% of working-age adults earned more from their house than from their job.

Last week The Times reported that during the past three months alone, baby boomers converted £850 million of housing wealth into cash using equity release products – the highest number since records began. A third used the money to buy cars, while more than a quarter used it to fund holidays. Others are choosing to buy more property: the Chartered Institute of Housing has described how the buy-to-let market is being fuelled by older households using their housing wealth to buy more property, renting it out to those who are unable to get a foot on the property ladder. And it is here that we find the dark side of the housing boom.

As house prices have continued to increase and the gap between house prices and earnings has grown larger, the cost of homeownership has become increasingly prohibitive. Whereas in the mid-1990s low and middle income households could afford a first time buyer deposit after saving for around 3 years, today it takes the same households 20 years to save for a deposit. Many have increasingly found themselves with little choice but to rent privately. For those stuck in the private rental market, the proportion of income spent on housing costs has risen from around 10% in 1980 to 36% today. Unlike homeowners, there is no asset wealth to draw on to fund new cars or holidays.

In Britain, we have yet to confront the truth about the trillions of pounds of wealth amassed through the housing market in recent decades: this wealth has come straight out of the pockets of those who don’t own property.

When the value of a house goes up, the total productive capacity of the economy is unchanged because nothing new has been produced: it merely constitutes an increase in the value of the land underneath. We have known since the days of Adam Smith and David Ricardo that land is not a source of wealth but of economic rent — a means of extracting wealth from others. Or as Joseph Stiglitz puts it “getting a larger share of the pie rather than increasing the size of the pie”. The truth is that much of the wealth accumulated in recent decades has been gained at the expense of those who will see more of their incomes eaten up by higher rents and larger mortgage payments. This wealth hasn’t been ‘created’ – it has been stolen from future generations.

House prices are now on average nearly eight times that of incomes, more than double the figure of 20 years ago. It’s unlikely that house prices will be able to outpace incomes at the same rate for the next 20 years. The past few decades have spawned a one-off transfer of wealth that is unlikely to be repeated. While the main beneficiaries of this have been the older generations, eventually this will be passed on to the next generation via inheritance or transfer. Already the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ has become the ninth biggest mortgage lender. The ultimate result is not just a growing intergenerational divide, but an entrenched class divide between those who own property (or have a claim to it), and those who do not.

Misleading accounting and irresponsible economics have provided cover for this heist. The government’s national accounts record house price growth as new wealth, ignoring the cost it imposes on others in society – particularly young people and those yet to be born. Economists still hail house price inflation as a sign of economic strength.

The result is a world which is rather different to that described in economics textbooks. Most of today’s ‘wealth’ isn’t the result of entrepreneurialism and hard work – it has been accumulated by being idle and unproductive. Far from the positive sum game capitalism is supposed to be, we have a system where most wealth is gained at the expense of others. As John Stuart Mill wrote back in 1848:

“If some of us grow rich in our sleep, where do we think this wealth is coming from?  It doesn’t materialise out of thin air. It doesn’t come without costing someone, another human being. It comes from the fruits of others’ labours, which they don’t receive.”

Britain’s housing crisis is complicated mess. Fixing it requires a long-term plan and a bold new approach to policy. But in the meantime let’s start calling it what it really is: the largest transfer of wealth in living memory.

Posted in culture, Economics, elites, Financial Crisis, Housing Crisis, Inequality, Neoliberalism, Recession, Social Control, society, Sociology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I’ve Been Banned From Facebook For Sharing An Article About False Flags

By Caitlin Johnstone

Source: OpEdNews.com

My personal Facebook account, which has the maximum 5,000 friends and an additional 5,000+ followers, has been blocked from posting for three days. My page hasn’t been blocked yet, but we’ll see; I shared the article there, too.

The reason given for this ban by the little pop-up boxes when I logged on just now was that a couple months ago I had shared an article about admitted false flag operations perpetrated by governments around the world. I don’t know what happened that made Facebook’s system decide to crack down on me now all of a sudden, but I do know I’ve been a bit naughtier than usual in my last couple of articles.

The article I got the banhammer for sharing is titled For Those Who Don’t ‘Believe’ In ‘Conspiracies’ Here Are 58 Admitted False Flag Attacks. According to the site’s ticker it has 50,667 shares as of this writing. It’s laden with hyperlinks for further reading, and lists only instances of false flag operations that insiders are on the record as having admitted to themselves. It’s a good compilation of important information. People should be allowed to share it.

The notifications say I can be permanently banned if I continue posting that sort of material. I’ve had that account since 2007.

So. Who wants to see my Barbra Streisand impression?

(Image by Caitlin Johnstone)

(Image by Caitlin Johnstone)

In a corporatist system of government, corporate censorship is state censorship. When there’s no meaningful space between corporate power and government power, it doesn’t make much difference whether the guy silencing your dissent is Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Sessions. America most definitely has such a system.

If they’re going to get us locked down and propagandized into their vapid brain boxes, this will be how they’ll do it. Not by government censorship, but by corporate censorship. Government can’t make an overt attempt to stop a dissenting voice from speaking, but the corporations who own the venue of their speech can.

In a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, plutocrat-sponsored senators spoke with top legal and security officials for Facebook, Twitter and Google in a very disturbing way about the need to silence dissenting voices.

Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii demanded that the companies adopt a “mission statement” declaring their commitment “to prevent the fomenting of discord.”

A former FBI agent Clint Watts kicked it up even further, saying, “Civil wars don’t start with gunshots, they start with words. America’s war with itself has already begun. We all must act now on the social media battlefield to quell information rebellions that can quickly lead to violent confrontations and easily transform us into the Divided States of America.”

“Stopping the false information artillery barrage landing on social media users comes only when those outlets distributing bogus stories are silenced”—“-silence the guns and the barrage will end,” he added.

This was on the Senate floor. Officials were speaking about the need to censor social media to prevent people from sharing dissenting ideas on the Senate floor.

World Socialist Web Site said of the hearing,

That such a statement could be made in a congressional hearing, entirely without objection, is an expression of the terminal decay of American democracy. There is no faction of the ruling class that maintains any commitment to basic democratic rights.

None of the Democrats in the committee raised any of the constitutional issues involved in asking massive technology companies to censor political speech on the Internet. Only one Republican raised concerns over censorship, but only to allege that Google had a liberal bias.

Former FBI agent says tech companies must “silence” sources of “rebellion”
US Congressional hearing: By Andre Damon 1 November 2017 Top legal and security officials for Facebook, Twitter and” www.wsws.org

I’ll admit right now that this really scares me. Ever the optimist, I’ve been reassuring my readers that the corporatocracy would never risk taking off the black hole sun mask of corporate cheerfulness and move into regular, overt totalitarianism. I’ve contended that they must remain covert in order to keep successfully manufacture consent.

But, here we are. Through a studious application of psy-ops they have their censorship and they have their consent. Remember, in the book “Fahrenheit 451” the public wasn’t unhappy about the book burnings. They cheered them on, and that’s what we have now. The herd is mindlessly clapping their approval at censorship and even volunteering to report naughty behavior like good little hall monitors for the oligarchy. I’m sure that even some of my close friends and family will silently approve of my banning and will meet my distress with the pursed lips of a church lady secretly pleased at my comeuppance.

I tried joining Gab when I saw this coming, but it’s really alt-righty there and the energy there is just gross. Finding a new social media outlet might not even matter anyway, since these creeps just target any place people gather in large numbers.

I don’t know. I always freak out a bit when the eye of corporate censorship focuses on me. I’ve recently been told by a number of people that they’ve been banned for sharing my articles, and now it’s hitting me.

I’m babbling. This is weird. I just really, really don’t want humanity to become what these people are trying to turn it into, you know? Help me make some noise about this stuff, please. Manipulators can’t do their job when there’s a big spotlight pointed at them.

______

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Posted in Activism, Authoritarianism, censorship, civil liberties, Conspiracy, corporate news, culture, Dystopia, freedom of speech, internet freedom, media, Media Literacy, news, police state, propaganda, Psy-ops, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, Sociology, surveillance state | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

What Science Isn’t

The Cult of Lay-Positivism

By Equanimous Rex

Source: Modern Mythology

Science. Does the word bring images of space ships and high-tech equipment doing miraculous things? Wonder drugs and new solutions to old problems? Good, because this article isn’t a declaration that science is evil, or dead. Keep that shining gaze on the things that amaze you, and buckle up.

Never before has it been so easy as in the modern era to find something to fill a person’s God-Hole with. What’s a God-Hole, you ask? Well, put simply its a metaphor for the part of our psyche where religious surety and faithful fanaticism would have been reserved for Yahweh and his earthly cohorts, as was the case with generations and generations of many of our ancestors. These days you can’t walk three steps without crushing some cult or dealing with apologists for yet another embryonic subculture, and one of the most wide-spread and pervasive modern cults is that of the materialistpositivists.

You might not be familiar with the names but you’re definitely familiar with the faces, the words, the general attitudes of the MP’s. They tend to identify themselves by their atheism though their atheism is the least descriptive part of their belief system. Erroneously, MP’s have been in the spotlight for so long that nowadays people assume that if you are an atheist, you must fall in line and along trends of attitudes of this group, despite the fact that an atheist could be a Buddhist, LaVeyan Satanist, religious naturalist, believe in the supernatural, ghosts, psychic powers, or what have you, (since none of these things are theoi, or gods). MP’s on the other hand are intrinsically opposed to the study of or contemplation of seemingly paranormal or preternatural phenomena.

Likewise they have taken hold of the term “skeptic” and have become its face in mainstream discourse. These days all you have to do to be thought of as a skeptic is to, firstly, tell everyone quite loudly that you are one, and secondly, start engaging in specified, surgical doubt of only the belief systems and ideologies you are already antagonistic towards, while neglecting to perform the same upon anything you tacitly presume to be true. Engage in rampant polemics against your opponents and frequently craft apologetics for your own beliefs, use your inquisitiveness and doubt like a blade with which to carve out the proverbial flesh of those whom you despise ideologically. This is far from philosophical skepticism as it was originally intended, but as long as you tell people often enough you are a skeptic, you must be one.

The combination of a certain brand of materialism (philosophical monism, in which they deem all things that exist are material) and positivism (belief that everything that exists can be verified scientifically and anything that can’t be verified scientifically doesn’t exist) forms a unique cocktail, an anti-belief based upon a sense of superiority against all other beliefs. “You have beliefs. We have facts.” It is a potentially useful worldview, which many people use as a metric with which to quantify worthiness, but use is only the same as truth to the strictest of pragmatists.

Most proponents of MP eschew philosophy as navel-gazing aphorisms and platitudes, seeing the field as the decrepit grandfather of science. Given that they are mostly unaware of philosophy — due to their aversion — they don’t usually know that their beliefs fall squarely under philosophy, and they don’t usually seem to know that there are still to this day debates about the validity of their philosophical presuppositions.

Again, being critical of the philosophies of positivism and materialism is not being anti-science, though such a claim is inevitable should you question the sacrosanct nature of anything tangentially related to science or adjacent to science. Karl Popper — the guy who came up with the concept of falsifiability  — was a major opponent to positivism, for example. They’d probably say he was anti-science as well, though that is entirely inaccurate.

This isn’t a condemnation of (most) scientists. I’ve had the pleasure to meet a few over the years and I’ve always found them quite humble in terms of facing the mysterious of the universe. They were the least likely to make outrageous claims or swerve outside of their proverbial lanes. The problem lies mostly with what I’ve come to think of as “positivist laity”.

The “lay-person” is a concept found generally from religion, and refers to someone who is not a part of the clergy, who are not ordained or educated on the ‘inner mysteries’ of the religious order. They are deferential to the priests and clerics and put great faith in them but do not themselves have the same information, education or knowledge.

The materialist-positivist laity seems to consist of people who have no formal or informal education dealing with the scientific method(s) or in the fields of science. They often come from a Post-Christian background (at least in the United States) and are angry that they believed the literalism their parents or geographical region shoved down their throats. They end up seeing a few debunking videos, or those in which someone who is self-identified with atheism points out the inconsistencies of the Christian cosmological mythos. They start to notice that the explanations and descriptions of the world that scientists and science educators give are more functional, and are trusted to be provable, even though the concept of ‘proof’ is mathematical, not scientific.

Either way, for whatever reason, they come to replace Yahweh and his priests for their conception of Science and it’s own educated, inner-circle experts. Once again, not a critique of science nor atheism. Not even really a critique of materialist-positivism. We must focus on the issue at hand. Large swathes of lay-positivists are turning the concept of science into a cargo-cult religion, using it to fill in their empty God-Hole and clutching to their conception of a cohesive and explanatory world-story.

It was the jobs of priests for thousands upon thousands of years to give the simple folk a world-story, without such as story anxieties rise and existential doubt creeps in. The crafting and dissemination of a world-story has since been split up from between priests to spread into other areas and specialists such as philosophers, academics and of course, scientists.

Science isn’t a religion. Science isn’t a good many things. For example, science isn’t technology, which would probably shock quite a few lay-positivists. Humanity used and invented technology since as far back as we can find evidence for humans at all. We created aqueducts, agricultural technology, wartime technology, shipbuilding and navigational technology, calendars and time keeping technology, architectural technology, psychological techniques and so on and so forth, well before science was a twinkle in the eye of natural philosophy. People with no education on science or without any formal training to this day still invent new technology. So, next time someone points to a piece of technology and tries to conflate it with science, keep this in mind. One cannot simply anachronistically and retroactively claim for ‘science’ everything which works or is useful, though this does not prevent some from attempting such a thing.

Science is also not ethics. Nor can science tell you what to do with the information you glean from the universe via science. I’m sure people will disagree, but I’m also sure most of them are not scientists and/or do not have a clear understanding of the scientific method(s). Not every moment of clear-thinking and rationality is science, not every free-thought is evidence of science in the works. By trying to make it appear as though everything which makes sense and works is science, lay-positivists have before-the-fact designated everything that is not science as nonsensical and nonexistent.

Intuition and introspection are cast aside by positivism because they are not scientific, and I agree wholeheartedly that intuition can be flawed, rife with bias and misconceptions. But it’s a ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’ scenario. Don’t forget that most of us get up every day and manage to navigate this world without using the slightest bit of the scientific method. For instance, we’ve got inductive, deductive and abductive reasoning, none of which are isolated to scientific methods. You’ve got examples of people thought to be great scientists in bygone eras who never used an ounce of empiricism to figure out their great contributions. (Galileo, for example, used rational but non-empirical means to infer a heliocentric model).

Science isn’t a cult, a religion, or anything of the sort. But lay-positivism stands to become just that. People seeking to fill a God-Hole, to give their life a sense of meaning and to provide a cohesive world-story so that they do not feel they exist in a state of uncertainty and chaos. Nietzsche, Freud, Feuerbach, and many others have recognized this fact: the need for Gods is not so easily replaced as the Gods themselves are. If scientific findings are used with an ideological agenda to offer fragile humanity a security blanket against the cold, unpredictable unknown, misrepresented and misunderstood by those who have never even bothered to Google “scientific method” who are merely disenfranchised with their old Church, it very well stands that the word “science” will be appropriated akin to the terms “skepticism” and “atheism” to refer to specified, pigeon-holed belief systems, made sacred and subject to no criticism.

“Meet the old laity, same as the new laity.”

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Saturday Matinee: Soldier/Demon With a Glass Hand

“Soldier” and “Demon With a Glass Hand” (both 1964) are two classic Outer Limits episodes with screenplays by science fiction author Harlan Ellison. Both take place in the shared universe of the Earth-Kyba War, a backdrop Ellison also used for a series of stories compiled in the graphic novel anthology “Night and the Enemy” as well as the short story “The Human Operators” which became an episode of the New Outer Limits. Soldier is notable for being the screenplay for which Ellison filed a lawsuit against producers of The Terminator for plagiarism. Demon With a Glass Hand features an excellent performance from Robert Culp as a man who carries the burden of being the last chance for humanity’s survival. Most of the episode’s action takes place in the Bradbury Building (most famous for the final scenes in Blade Runner) which adds to its creepy atmosphere.

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