Saturday Matinee: Z

Review by Roger Ebert

Source: RogerEbert.com

There are some things that refuse to be covered over. It would be more convenient, yes, and easier for everyone if the official version were believed. But then the facts begin to trip over one another, and contradictions emerge, and an “accident” is revealed as a crime.

The film “Z” is about one of these things: about the assassination, six years ago, of a leader of the political opposition in Greece. It is also about all the rest of them. For Americans, it is about the My Lai massacre, the killing of Fred Hampton, the Bay of Pigs. It is no more about Greece than “The Battle of Algiers” was about Algeria. It is a film of our time. It is about how even moral victories are corrupted. It will make you weep and will make you angry. It will tear your guts out.

It is told simply, and it is based on fact. On May 22, 1963, Gregorios Lambrakis was fatally injured in a “traffic accident.” He was a deputy of the opposition party in Greece. The accident theory smelled, and the government appointed an investigator to look into the affair.

His tacit duty was to reaffirm the official version of the death, but his investigation convinced him that Lambrakis had, indeed, been assassinated by a clandestine right-wing organization. High-ranking army and police officials were implicated. The plot was unmasked in court and sentences were handed down — stiff sentences to the little guys (dupes, really) who had carried out the murder, and acquittal for the influential officials who had ordered it.

But the story was not over. When the Army junta staged its coup in 1967, the right-wing generals and the police chief were cleared of all charges and “rehabilitated.” Those responsible for unmasking the assassination now became political criminals.

These would seem to be completely political events, but the young director Costa-Gravas has told them in a style that is almost unbearably exciting. “Z” is at the same time a political cry of rage and a brilliant suspense thriller. It even ends in a chase: Not through the streets but through a maze of facts, alibis and official corruption.

Like Gillo Pontecorvo, who directed “Battle of Algiers,” Costa-Gravas maintains a point of view above the level of the events he photographs. His protagonist changes during the film as he leads us from an initial personal involvement to the indictment of an entire political system. At first, we are interested in Yves Montand, the wise and gentle political leader who is slain. Then our attention is directed to the widow (Irene Papas) and to the opposition leaders who will carry on (Charles Denner and Bernard Fresson).

And then, in the masterful last third of the film, we follow the stubborn investigator (Jean-Louis Trintignant) as he resists official pressure to conceal the scandal. He puts together his evidence almost reluctantly; he has no desire to bring down the government, but he must see justice done if he can. His sympathies are neutral, and a truly neutral judge is the most fearsome thing the Establishment can imagine. What good is justice if it can be dealt out to the state as well as to the people? (The implications here for Chicago’s conspiracy trial are obvious.)

The movie at first seems to end with triumph. The rotten core of the government is exposed. The military men and the police chief are indicted for murder, official misconduct, obstructing justice. One of the assassinated leader’s young followers races to bring the widow the good news. He finds her waiting by the seashore. He is triumphant; justice will be done; the government will fall. Irene Papas hears his news silently and then turns and looks out to sea. Her face reflects no triumph; only suffering and despair. What is really left for her to say?

Nothing, as we know now. The right wing won in the long run and controls Greece today. This film’s director, writer, composer and Miss Papas are all banned in Greece (“banned” — that terrible word we heard from Russia and South Africa, and now from Greece). Even the letter “Z” (which means “he is alive”) is banned in Greece.

When this film was shown at the San Francisco Film Festival, it was attacked in some quarters as being anti-American, but does it not tell the simple truth? We do support the Greek junta. We do recognize the government that murdered Lambrakis. We did permit the junta to prevent free elections in Greece. And in Vietnam, the candidate who placed second in the “free elections” we sponsored sits in a Saigon jail today. His name is also banned.

Watch the full film here: https://christiebooks.co.uk/anarchist_films/z-1969-costa-gavras/

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Posted in Art, CIA, culture, Film, History, Saturday Matinee, Video | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Erosion of the Middle Class — Why Americans Are Working Harder and Earning Less

By John Liberty

Source: The Mind Unleashed

“I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it.” — Howard Beale

Howard Beale, the main character in the 1976 film Network, became a part of cinematic history when he uttered the line “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore.” That one line expressed a growing rage among America’s shrinking middle class at a time when Americans were reeling from years of war, political scandals and economic downturn.

In the four decades that have followed, little has improved for the average American. We’re still ‘mad as hell’ and the middle class is being eroded right in front of our eyes. When adjusted for inflation, many Americans are working longer hours and earning less than they did in 1976. So, how have we gone from vibrant middle class to the working poor in a matter of decades?

Median Incomes Are Stagnant

Despite increases in the national income over the past fifty years, middle class families have experienced little income growth over the past few decades. According to U.S. Census datamiddle class incomes have grown by only 28 percent from 1979 – 2014. Meanwhile, a report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) shows that the top 20 percent of earners has seen their incomes rise by 95 percent over that same period of time.

Contributing to the stagnation of wages is a notable decrease in the workforce participation rate. According to the Brookings institute, “One reason for these declines in employment and labor force participation is that work is less rewarding. Wages for those at the bottom and middle of the skill and wage distribution have declined or stagnated.” Historical data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics backs up these findings, showing a steady decrease in workforce participation over the last two decades.

The Erosion of the Minimum Wage & America’s Purchasing Power

Anyone who has read a comment thread on the internet about minimum wage laws knows the debate is currently one of the most highly contentious political topics in America. In the halls of Congress, the debate has turned into a nearly decade long impasse. As a result, workers at the low end of the wage scale have watched the purchasing power of their wages decrease from $7.25 in 2009, to $6.19 in 2018 due to inflation. In 2018, you need to perform 47 hours of minimum wage work to achieve the same amount of purchasing power as 40 hours of work in 2009.

The inflation-adjusted minimum wage value has been in steady decline since 1968, when the $1.60 minimum wage was equal to $11.39 (in 2018 dollars). Since then, lawmakers have reduced minimum wage increases relative to the rate of inflation. As Christopher Ingraham reports:

“Recent research shows that the reason politicians — Democrats and Republicans alike — are dragging their feet on popular policies such as the minimum wage is that they pay a lot more attention to the needs and desires of deep-pocketed business groups than they do to regular voters. Those groups tend to oppose minimum wage increases for the simple reason that they eat into their profit margins.”

To be clear, the erosion of the purchasing power of everyday Americans is hardly a new phenomenon. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the purchasing power of the U.S. Dollar has plummeted by over 95 percent since 1913, the year the Federal Reserve was created. The Bureau’s Consumer Price Index indicates that prices in 2018 are 2,436.33% higher than prices in 1913 and that the dollar has experienced an average inflation rate of 3.13% per year during this period.

The Rich Get Richer

While the outlook may be grim for low-wage workers, this is fantastic news for large corporations. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Economics shows that corporate profits are approaching all-time highs. But it’s not just workers who are feeling the effect of growing income inequality. The contrast is also being felt on Main Street. An analysis of the S & P 500 and the Russell 1,000 & 2,000 indexes by Bloomberg revealed a growing gap between America’s largest employers and smaller businesses.

A report from the Institute for Policy Studies entitled Billionaire Bonanza: The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us echoed these findings when it revealed that America’s 20 wealthiest people — a group that could fit comfortably in one single Gulfstream G650 luxury jet –­ now own more wealth than the bottom half of the American population combined.

Although the Trump administration continues to tout stock market and labor force increases as signs of economic prosperity, numbers show that the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans own 84 percent of all stock. A study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute found that wage growth remains too weak to consider the economy at full employment and that stagnant wage growth has contributed to the growing level of income inequality in America. The study noted that while wages have recovered from the 2008 recession, the gap between those at the top and those at the middle and bottom has continued to increase since 2000. As the study’s author, Elise Gould writes:

“We’re looking at nominal wage growth that is still slower than you would expect in a full employment economy, slower than you would expect if you thought there were any sort of inflation pressures from wage growth.”

The Decimation of the American Dream

Comedian George Carlin once said, “The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it.” For millions of middle class Americans Carlin’s statement has proven eerily accurate. Stagnant wages and decreased purchasing power has put the prospects for middle class children in a tailspin as upward mobility trends have reportedly fallen by over 40 percent since 1950.

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Institute corroborates this claim. According to Pew, only 37 percent of Americans believe that today’s children will grow up to be better off financially than their parents. That means more Americans think that today’s children will be financially worse off than their parents than those who believe they will be better off.

The sentiments expressed by millions of middle class Americans appear to be wholly justified due to the fact that middle class families are becoming more fragile and dependent on two incomes. A report from the Council of Economic Advisors found the majority of the income gains made by the middle class from 1979 to 2013 were a result of increased participation in the workplace by women. The report also noted the fragility of two income families amidst a decline in marriage and a drastic rise in single parent homes in recent years.

As a result of the slow growth in wages, over half of Americans now receive more in Government transfer payments (Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, Social Security) than they pay in federal taxes. An analysis of all 50 states also found that in 42 states the cost of living is higher than the median income.

The rising cost of healthcare is also putting the pinch on the wallets of many Americans. As Jeffrey Pfeffer noted in his book Dying for a Paycheck, healthcare spending—per capita—has increased 29 fold over the past 40 years, outpacing the growth of the American economy.

While many Americans continue to look to the government to fix problems like wage stagnation, income inequality and rising healthcare costs, the sad truth is that we live in a time when 1 in 3 households has trouble paying energy bills and 40 percent of Americans face poverty in retirement at the exact same time the Federal Government has admitted that they lost $21 trillion. Not only did they lose $21 trillion (yes that’s TRILLION with a T), but the Department of Defense indicated in a press conference that they “never expected to pass” the audit to locate the missing taxpayer money.

John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton famously proclaimed in 1887:

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

Perhaps it’s time for the millions of Americans who are quietly ‘mad as hell’ to start expressing their rage at the corrupt institutions of power that are decimating their livelihoods rather than expecting those very same institutions to fix the problems they created.

 

Posted in Corporate Crime, culture, Dystopia, Economics, elites, Empire, Financial Crisis, Health, Housing Crisis, Inequality, Labor, Neoliberalism, Oligarchy, Recession, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, Sociology, State Crime, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

These McCarthyite Accusations Benefit No One And Harm Everyone

By Caitlin Johnstone

Source: CaitlinJohnstone.com

In response to the reprehensible NBC hit piece we discussed the other day in which Hawaii congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard was smeared as a darling of the Russian government, journalist Glenn Greenwald published an article documenting the astonishing amount of journalistic malpractice which went into the piece’s formation. In the article, Greenwald wrote the following:

“That’s because the playbook used by the axis of the Democratic Party, NBC, MSNBC, neocons, and the intelligence community has been, is, and will continue to be a very simple one: to smear any adversary of the establishment wing of the Democratic Party — whether on the left or the right — as a stooge or asset of the Kremlin.”

Displaying a remarkable lack of self-awareness, Democratic establishment pundit and professional Russiagater Caroline Orr responded to Gabbard’s share of this article on Twitter as follows:

“And here, Tulsi Gabbard cites a Kremlin propagandist to deny claims that Kremlin propagandists support her campaign.”

This demented McCarthyite mind virus was exemplified even more egregiously in a recent attack on comedian and progressive commentator Jimmy Dore, in which fellow comedian and former Daily Show producer Jena Friedman publicly accused him of being a Kremlin agent just for disagreeing with her. After Dore’s fan base reacted to this deranged smear as any sane person would expect them to, Friedman claimed that this was evidence of a coordinated campaign against her by Russian trolls and bots.

“I wouldn’t doubt it if Jimmy Dore was a Russian asset,” Friedman tweeted in response to Dore’s having criticized her crazed Louise Mensch-esque rantings. “Why else would he drag my name in the mud and misquote me when I said that Russian trolls are fueling the fire and radicalizing people online, which has been in Washington Post. It’s all so insidious. Be careful, friends.”

“The real tell of who the paid assets are is that they all seem to be so coordinated,” Friedman added. “Do you know which of the 999 Dem contenders you are voting for yet? I don’t but if RT and Jimmy Dore and everyone who seems sketchy are pushing for Tusli [sic] Gabbard, it’s hard not to question why?”

“If I question whether someone is on Putin’s payroll and then immediately receive 100+ tweets harassing me as a result, that only proves my point,” Friedman posted in response to the wave of responses her behavior elicited on Twitter, later adding, “There are progressive people fighting with me on here who I am sure are kind (ish) and also bots and assholes using their platforms to troll me in ways that feel oddly suspect. Sorry to question if some guy is paid by Putin but people actually are so why not just say no and move on?”

“I blocked Jimmy Dore because he’s a PizzaGate Putin propaganda valve,” Friedman also said. “Comedians, we need to do a better job at policing our own. Check out his stuff if you don’t believe me & be careful. There are dark forces at play trying to undermine us all & it feels like they‘re winning.”

Gosh. I’m old enough to remember when being a comedian had something to do with comedy.

The fact that Friedman believed her freakish McCarthyite slander was perfectly healthy, and that her suggestion that a fellow comedian she’d just accused of conducting psyops for a foreign government agency should just “say no and move on” and have that be the end of it, says so much about how pervasively cancerous political discourse has gotten over the last two years.

So let’s talk about that for a minute. Why exactly isn’t it perfectly healthy to accuse everyone who disagrees with you of conducting psyops for a foreign government agency? Why specifically shouldn’t it be standard procedure to level that accusation willy nilly and expect them to just “say no and move on” if it isn’t true? What is it about these McCarthyite accusations that is so destructive and toxic, anyway?

Well, for starters it completely kills political discourse. Absolutely murders it stone dead. If you’re having a political debate with someone, you can disagree very strongly with one another, even get hostile and uncivil at times, and still continue dialoguing and sharing ideas and information with each other. But as soon as one party suggests that the other party is only advancing the ideas and information they’re advancing because they’ve been covertly paid to do so by a foreign government agency, where can the conversation go from there? You’ve slammed the door shut on any further dialogue by preemptively rejecting anything the other party could possibly say, just because you got overwhelmed by the experience of someone having different opinions from your own.

Political discourse is happening all over the world all the time every single day, and far too often it’s cut off from ever getting anywhere because one side can’t resist regurgitating an obnoxious McCarthyite smear they’ve been trained to believe is normal by the Palmer Report and MSNBC.

But political discourse is not the only thing that’s harmed by these McCarthyite smears, which seem to be enjoying their biggest resurgence yet as the 2020 presidential race kicks off. The Trump administration is currently pursuing the arrest of Julian Assange, a move which if carried out will constitute a mortal wound for press freedoms around the world, and yet the self-described liberals who claim to support the free press and oppose the Trump administration aren’t saying a peep about it because Assange has been falsely smeared as a Kremlin agent so much it’s now taken as an established fact. Meanwhile political dissidents like Greenwald, Jill Stein, Ron Paul, Abby Martin, Max Blumenthal, Jimmy Dore and so very many others have had the influence of their voices wedged out from mainstream consciousness because so many people have been indoctrinated to reflexively reject their words with a nonsensical accusation of Kremlin fealty.

And that of course is the idea. The normalization of smearing any voice which differs from the orthodoxy of the unipolar world order in any way as a Russian agent has allowed dissenting narratives to be isolated away from the mainstream herd, where they are unable to influence a critical mass of individuals. They aren’t smearing Tulsi Gabbard as a Kremlin asset because they don’t want her to be president; the Democratic Party is still legally capable and structurally willing to rig its primaries to keep her out if need be. The real thing they fear is allowing her anti-interventionist ideas to take hold within the mainstream consciousness of a nation whose nonstop military interventionism is the glue that holds the empire together.

Even if you fully agree with all CIA/CNN talking points and think Joe Biden would be the best president ever, surely you can see that quashing dissent is a bad and undesirable thing? Surely you can see that allowing people free access to ideas and information is the absolutely indispensable foundation that anything resembling democracy must necessarily be built upon? Surely you can recognize that cutting off ideas and information that haven’t been authorized by the current political establishment by smearing dissident voices as agents of a foreign government is already a form of totalitarianism? Surely?

Meanwhile what benefit comes from accusing someone of being a Kremlin agent? How does that help anything? Even in the extremely unlikely event that you are interacting with someone online who does indeed secretly work for the Russian government, you are still perfectly capable of debating their ideas. Being a secret propagandist doesn’t give someone super powers. It doesn’t give them the ability to control your mind or turn you into a newt. There is no reason whatsoever why you can’t just debate their ideas as you would anyone else’s instead of slamming on the brakes of the conversation to take a pointless million-to-one gamble on a McCarthyite accusation which benefits nobody in any way.

Let’s stop allowing the mass psychosis of these paranoid cold war feeding frenzies to be the new normal, please. If we keep going this way it’s only going to get worse for everyone.

Posted in Authoritarianism, censorship, CIA, corporate news, culture, Deep State, Empire, Geopolitics, media, Media Literacy, news, propaganda, Psy-ops, Social Control, Social Engineering, society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Five Stages of Collapse, 2019 Update

By Dmitry Orlov

Source: Club Orlov

Collapse, at each stage, is a historical process that takes time to run its course as the system adapts to changing circumstances, compensates for its weaknesses and finds ways to continue functioning at some level. But what changes rather suddenly is faith or, to put it in more businesslike terms, sentiment. A large segment of the population or an entire political class within a country or the entire world can function based on a certain set of assumptions for much longer than the situation warrants but then over a very short period of time switch to a different set of assumptions. All that sustains the status quo beyond that point is institutional inertia. It imposes limits on how fast systems can change without collapsing entirely. Beyond that point, people will tolerate the older practices only until replacements for them can be found.

Stage 1: Financial collapse. Faith in “business as usual” is lost.

Internationally, the major change in sentiment in the world has to do with the role of the US dollar (and, to a lesser extent, the Euro and the Yen—the other two reserve currencies of the three-legged globalist central banker stool). The world is transitioning to the use of local currencies, currency swaps and commodities markets backed by gold. The catalyst for this change of sentiment was provided by the US administration itself which sawed through its own perch by its use of unilateral sanctions. By using its control over dollar-based transactions to block international transactions it doesn’t happen to like it forced other countries to start looking for alternatives. Now a growing list of countries sees throwing off the shackles of the US dollar as a strategic goal. Russia and China use the ruble and the yuan for their expanding trade; Iran sells oil to India for rupees. Saudi Arabia has started to accept the yuan for its oil.

This change has many knock-on effects. If the dollar is no longer needed to conduct international trade, other nations no longer have hold large quantities of it in reserve. Consequently, there is no longer a need to buy up large quantities of US Treasury notes. Therefore, it becomes unnecessary to run large trade surpluses with the US, essentially conducting trade at a loss. Further, the attractiveness of the US as an export market drops and the cost of imports to the US rises, thereby driving up cost inflation. A vicious spiral ensues in which the ability of the US government to borrow internationally to finance the gaping chasm of its various deficits becomes impaired. Sovereign default of the US government and national bankruptcy then follow.

The US may still look mighty, but its dire fiscal predicament coupled with its denial of the inevitability of bankruptcy, makes it into something of a Blanche DuBois from the Tennessee Williams play “A Streetcar Named Desire.” She was “always dependent on the kindness of strangers” but was tragically unable to tell the difference between kindness and desire. In this case, the desire is for national advantage and security, and to minimize risk by getting rid of an unreliable trading partner.

How quickly or slowly this comes to pass is difficult to guess at and impossible to calculate. It is possible to think of the financial system in terms of a physical analogue, with masses of funds traveling at some velocity having a certain inertia (p = mv) and with forces acting on that mass to accelerate it along a different trajectory (F = ma). It is also possible to think of it in terms of hordes of stampeding animals who can change course abruptly when panicked. The recent abrupt moves in the financial markets, where trillions of dollars of notional, purely speculative value have been wiped out within weeks, are more in line with the latter model.

Stage 2: Commercial collapse. Faith that “the market shall provide” is lost.

Within the US there is really no other alternative than the market. There are a few rustic enclaves, mostly religious communities, that can feed themselves, but that’s a rarity. For everyone else there is no choice but to be a consumer. Consumers who are broke are called “bums,” but they are still consumers. To the extent that the US has a culture, it is a commercial culture in which the goodness of a person is based on the goodly sums of money in their possession. Such a culture can die by becoming irrelevant (when everyone is dead broke) but by then most of the carriers of this culture are likely to be dead too. Alternatively, it can be replaced by a more humane culture that isn’t entirely based on the cult of Mammon—perhaps, dare I think, through a return to a pre-Protestant, pre-Catholic Christian ethic that values people’s souls above objects of value?

Stage 3: Political collapse. Faith that “the government will take care of you” is lost.

All is very murky at the moment, but I would venture to guess that most people in the US are too distracted, too stressed and too preoccupied with their own vices and obsessions to pay much attention to the political realm. Of the ones they do pay attention, a fair number of them seem clued in to the fact that the US is not a democracy at all but an elites-only sandbox in which transnational corporate and oligarchic interests build and knock down each others’ sandcastles.

The extreme political polarization, where two virtually identical pro-capitalist, pro-war parties pretend to wage battle by virtue-signaling may be a symptom of the extremely decrepit state of the entire political arrangement: people are made to watch the billowing smoke and to listen to the deafening noise in the hopes that they won’t notice that the wheels are no longer turning.

The fact that what amounts to palace intrigue—the fracas between the White House, the two houses of Congress and a ghoulish grand inquisitor named Mueller—has taken center stage is uncannily reminiscent of various earlier political collapses, such as the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire or of the fall and the consequent beheading of Louis XVI. The fact that Trump, like the Ottoman worthies, stocks his harem with East European women, lends an eerie touch. That said, most people in the US seem blind to the nature of their overlords in a way that the French, with their Gilets Jaunes movement (just as an example) are definitely not.

Stage 4: Social collapse. Faith that “your people will take care of you” is lost.

I have been saying for some years now that within the US social collapse has largely run its course, although whether people actually believe that is an entire matter entirely. Defining “your people” is rather difficult. The symbols are still there—the flag, the Statue of Liberty and a predilection for iced drinks and heaping plates of greasy fried foods—but the melting pot seems to have suffered a meltdown and melted all the way to China. At present half the households within the US speak a language other than English at home, and a fair share of the rest speak dialects of English that are not mutually intelligible with the standard North American English dialect of broadcast television and university lecturers.

Throughout its history as a British colony and as a nation the US has been dominated by the Anglo ethnos. The designation “ethnos” is not an ethnic label. It is not strictly based on genealogy, language, culture, habitat, form of government or any other single factor or group of factors. These may all be important to one extent or another, but the viability of an ethnos is based solely on its cohesion and the mutual inclusivity and common purpose of its members. The Anglo ethnos reached its zenith in the wake of World War II, during which many social groups were intermixed in the military and their more intelligent members were allowed to become educated and to advance socially by the GI Bill.

Fantastic potential was unleashed when privilege—the curse of the Anglo ethnos since its inception—was temporarily replaced with merit and the more talented demobilized men, of whatever extraction, were given a chance at education and social advancement by the GI Bill. Speaking a new sort of American English based on the Ohio dialect as a Lingua Franca, these Yanks—male, racist, sexist and chauvinistic and, at least in their own minds, victorious—were ready to remake the entire world in their own image.

They proceeded to flood the entire world with oil (US oil production was in full flush then) and with machines that burned it. Such passionate acts of ethnogenesis are rare but not unusual: the Romans who conquered the entire Mediterranean basin, the barbarians who then sacked Rome, the Mongols who later conquered most of Eurasia and the Germans who for a very brief moment possessed an outsized Lebensraum are other examples.

And now it is time to ask: what remains of this proud conquering Anglo ethnos today? We hear shrill feminist cries about “toxic masculinity” and minorities of every stripe railing against “whitesplaining” and in response we hear a few whimpers but mostly silence. Those proud, conquering, virile Yanks who met and fraternized with the Red Army at the River Elbe on April 25, 1945—where are they? Haven’t they devolved into a sad little subethnos of effeminate, porn-addicted overgrown boys who shave their pubic hair and need written permission to have sex without fear of being charged with rape?

Will the Anglo ethnos persist as a relict, similar to how the English have managed to hold onto their royals (who are technically no longer even aristocrats since they now practice exogamy with commoners)? Or will it get wiped out in a wave of depression, mental illness and opiate abuse, its glorious history of rapine, plunder and genocide erased and the statues of its war heroes/criminals knocked down? Only time will tell.

Stage 5: Cultural collapse. Faith in “the goodness of humanity” is lost.

The term “culture” means many things to many people, but it is more productive to observe cultures than to argue about them. Cultures are expressed through people’s stereotypical behaviors that are readily observable in public. These are not the negative stereotypes often used to identify and reject outsiders but the positive stereotypes—cultural standards of behavior, really—that serve as requirements for social adequacy and inclusion. We can readily assess the viability of a culture by observing the stereotypical behaviors of its members.

• Do people exist as a single continuous, inclusive sovereign realm or as a set of exclusive, potentially warring enclaves segregated by income, ethnicity, education level, political affiliation and so on? Do you see a lot of walls, gates, checkpoints, security cameras and “no trespassing” signs? Is the law of the land enforced uniformly or are there good neighborhoods, bad neighborhoods and no-go zones where even the police fear to tread?

• Do random people thrown together in public spontaneously enter into conversation with each other and are comfortable with being crowded together, or are they aloof and fearful, and prefer to hide their face in the little glowing rectangle of their smartphone, jealously guarding their personal space and ready to regard any encroachment on it as an assault?

• Do people remain good-natured and tolerant toward each other even when hard-pressed or do they hide behind a façade of tense, superficial politeness and fly into a rage at the slightest provocation? Is conversation soft in tone, gracious and respectful or is it loud, shrill, rude and polluted with foul language? Do people dress well out of respect for each other, or to show off, or are they all just déclassé slobs—even the ones with money?

• Observe how their children behave: are they fearful of strangers and trapped in a tiny world of their own or are they open to the world and ready to treat any stranger as a surrogate brother or sister, aunt or uncle, grandmother or grandfather without requiring any special introduction? Do the adults studiously ignore each others’ children or do they spontaneously act as a single family?

• If there is a wreck on the road, do they spontaneously rush to each others’ rescue and pull people out before the wreck explodes, or do they, in the immortal words of Frank Zappa, “get on the phone and call up some flakes” who “rush on over and wreck it some more”?

• If there is a flood or a fire, do the neighbors take in the people who are rendered homeless, or do they allow them to wait for the authorities to show up and bus them to some makeshift government shelter?

It is possible to quote statistics or to provide anecdotal evidence to assess the state and the viability of a culture, but your own eyes and other senses can provide all the evidence you need to make that determination for yourself and to decide how much faith to put in “the goodness of humanity” that is evident in the people around you.

Posted in Authoritarianism, conditioning, culture, Dystopia, Economics, elites, Financial Crisis, Geopolitics, History, Recession, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, Sociology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Two for Tuesday

Alice Bag

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

Prices, plutocrats, and corporate concentration

Would less corporate concentration – and a weaker corporate capacity to raise prices – mean less inequality?

By Sam Pizzigati

Source: Nation of Change

Andrew Leigh, a member of the Australian parliament, has a side gig. He just happens to be a working economist. Other lawmakers may spend their spare hours making cold calls for campaign cash. Leigh spends his doing research – on why our modern economies are leaving their populations ever more unequal.

Leigh’s latest research is making some global waves. Working with a team of Australian, Canadian, and American analysts, he’s been studying how much the prices corporate monopolies charge impact inequality.

The conventional wisdom has a simple answer: not much. Yes, the reasoning goes, prices do go up when a few large corporations start to dominate an economic sector. But those same higher prices translate into higher returns for corporate shareholders.

Thanks to 401(k)s and the like, the argument continues, the ranks of these corporate shareholders include millions of average families. So we end up with a wash. As consumers, families pay more in prices. As shareholders, they pocket higher dividends.

But this nonchalance about the impact of monopolies, Andrew Leigh and his colleagues counter, obscures “the relative distribution of consumption and corporate equity ownership.” Average families do hold some shares of stock, but not many. In the United States, for instance, the most affluent 20 percent of households own 13 times more stock than the bottom 60 percent.

These bottom 60 percent households, as a result, get precious little return from the few shares of stock they do hold, not nearly enough to offset the higher prices they pay on corporate monopoly products.

“On net, that means it’s nearly impossible for the typical U.S. family to make up for higher prices via the performance of their stock portfolio,” notes a Washington Post analysis of the Leigh team research. “When prices rise, low- and middle-class families pay. Wealthy families profit.”

By how much do these affluents profit? Leigh and his colleagues have done the math. The higher prices – and profits – that corporate concentration has generated have shifted 3 percent of national income out of the pockets of poor and middle-class families into the wallets of the affluent.

The larger our corporations become, in other words, the more unequal our societies become.

Now corporations don’t grow larger in the same way as people grow larger. Corporations have no adolescent growth spurts. They don’t mature. They have no real personhood. Corporations only become larger when the executives who run them make them larger, most typically by wheeling and dealing their way through ever grander mergers and acquisitions.

This wheeling and dealing takes up a huge chunk of modern corporate executive time and energy. Why do execs devote so much of their time and energy to getting bigger? Getting bigger pays – for execs.

Indeed, firm size determines how much executives make more than any other factor, as research has shown repeatedly over the years. Executives don’t have to “perform” – make their enterprises more efficient and effective – to make bigger bucks. They just to need to make their enterprises bigger.

Executives, in short, have a powerful incentive to grow their companies, and that powerful incentive, as the latest research from Andrew Leigh and his colleagues shows, isn’t just making these executives richer. It’s leaving our societies much more unequal.

So what can we do to ease the damage? Tougher antitrust enforcement could certainly slow our rates of corporate concentration. But the legislative activities of Andrew Leigh in Australia suggest another promising approach as well.

Leigh serves as a “shadow” minister for the Australian parliament’s Labor Party opposition. This past fall, he announced that his party, if elected to power, will require all major corporations to publicly disclose the ratio between their CEO and worker pay.

A similar disclosure mandate went into effect in the United States last year. As of January 1, 2019, the UK now has a pay-ratio disclosure mandate in effect as well.

Forcing Australian corporations to reveal their CEO-worker pay ratios, Leigh notes, would encourage these corporations “to think about how they are serving all their workers, and society as a whole.” But a growing number of progressives in the United States and the U.K. believe that pay ratios can do more than just “encourage” corporations to better serve their societies.

These progressives are pushing for consequences on CEO-pay ratios, proposing legislation that would deny government contracts and subsidies to corporations with wide gaps between their CEO and worker pay. They’re also calling for higher tax rates on companies with wider CEO-worker pay ratios, and one American city, Oregon’s Portland, already has such an “inequality tax” in effect.

More moves in this direction could significantly reduce the incentive for the executive wheeling and dealing that’s concentrating corporate power in fewer and fewer corporate hands. That wheeling and dealing – in nations with consequences on pay ratios in effect – would no longer guarantee grand windfalls to our corporate executive class.

Less wheeling and dealing, in turn, would mean less corporate concentration – and a weaker corporate capacity to raise prices. And that would mean, as the new Leigh gang’s research so clearly shows, less inequality.

Posted in Corporate Crime, corporate news, culture, Economics, elites, Financial Crisis, Inequality, Labor, Law, Neoliberalism, Oligarchy, Social Control, Social Engineering, society, Sociology, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Nonviolent Strategy to Defeat the US Coup Attempt in Venezuela

By Robert J. Burrowes

To the People of Venezuela

Yet again, the United States elite has decided to attempt to impose its will on the people of another nation, in this case, and not for the first time either, your country Venezuela.

On 23 January 2019, following careful secret planning in the preceding weeks and a late night telephone call the previous day from US Vice President Mike Pence – see ‘Pence Pledged U.S. Backing Before Venezuela Opposition Leader’s Move’ and ‘Venezuela – Trump’s Coup Plan Has Big Flaws’ – the US initiated a coup against your President, Nicolás Maduro, and his Government, whom you democratically re-elected to represent you on 20 May 2018. See ‘The Case for the Legitimacy of Maduro’s Second Term’.

By organizing, recognizing and supporting as ‘interim president’ the US puppet trained for the purpose over the past decade – see ‘The Making of Juan Guaidó: How the US Regime Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader’ – the United States government has simply brought into clearer focus and now precipitated its long-standing plan to seize control of Venezuela’s huge oil, gas, gold, water and other natural resources, with the oil and gas conveniently close to Texan refineries. In relation to gold, for example, see ‘Bank of England refused to return $1.2bn in gold to Venezuela – reports’ and then ‘Bank Of England Urged To Hand Over Venezuela’s Gold To Guaidó’.

Of course, this coup is perfectly consistent with US foreign policy for the past two centuries, the essential focus of which has been to secure control over key geostrategic areas of the world and to steal the resources of foreign nations. For a list of only the ‘most notable U.S. interventions’ in Central/South America over that period, see ‘Before Venezuela: The long history of U.S. intervention in Latin America’. But you can also read a more complete list of US interventions overseas (only since 1945) in William Blum’s ‘Overthrowing other people’s governments: The Master List’.

Needless to say, this latest attempt at ‘regime change’ is in clear violation of international law on so many counts it is difficult to document them concisely. First, the ongoing US intervention over an extended period has always been a violation of international law, including Chapter IV, Article 19 of the Charter of the Organization of American States. Second, sanctions are illegal under so many treaties it is sickening. See ‘Practice Relating to Rule 103. Collective Punishments’. And third, the coup is a violation of Venezuela’s constitution. See ‘The Failure of Guaido’s Constitutional Claim to the Presidency of Venezuela’.

Unfortunately, international law (like domestic law) is simply used as another means to inflict violence on those outside the elite circle and, as casual observation of the record demonstrates, is routinely ignored by elites in the US and elsewhere when their geopolitical, economic and/or other interests ‘require’ it.

As usual, there is no remotely reasonable pretext for this coup, despite the usual alphabet of sycophantic US allies such as Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Israel…. – see, for example, ‘Australia recognises Juan Guaidó as Venezuela president’ and ‘Emmanuel Macron, Pedro Sanchez, Angela Merkel and Theresa May Have No Right to Issue an Ultimatum to Venezuela’ – as well as the elite-controlled corporate media, lying that there is such pretext. Mind you, given the flagging domestic support for many of these political leaders in light of their obvious incompetence in dealing with issues of critical import to their own constituencies – is this where we mention words like ‘Brexit’ and ‘Yellow Vests’, for example? – it is little wonder that the distraction offered by events elsewhere is also used to provide some relief from the glare focused on their own ineptitude.

Of course, Luis Almagro, the submissive head of the Organization of American States (OAS), recognized Guaidó in violation of both the OAS Charter and a majority vote of that organization – see ‘Message of the OAS Secretary General on Venezuela’ and ‘Caricom to Almagro: “You Don’t Speak For The Entire OAS”’ – and the cowardly European Union (EU), also kneeling in the face of US pressure to ignore international law, simply add to the picture of a global system devoid of moral compass and the rule of law, let alone courage.

It is true, as most of you are well aware, that Venezuela has been experiencing dire economic circumstances but, as most of you also know, these circumstances have been caused by ‘outside intervention, internal sabotage and the decline in oil prices’, particularly including the deepening economic sanctions imposed by the United States in recent years. For solid accounts of what has taken place in Venezuela in recent times, particularly the external factors causing these dire economic circumstances, see the report on behalf of the United Nations Human Rights Council written by Alfred de Zayas ‘Report of the Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order on his mission to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and Ecuador’ which identified the crisis the US ‘economic warfare’ was precipitating – see ‘Former UN Rapporteur: US Sanctions Against Venezuela Causing Economic and Humanitarian Crisis’ – as well as the research reported in ‘Opposition Protests In Venezuela Rooted In Falsehoods’, ‘Trump’s Sanctions Make Economic Recovery in Venezuela Nearly Impossible’, ‘US Regime Change in Venezuela: The Documented Evidence’ and ‘Venezuela: What Activists Need To Know About The US-Led Coup’.

But lest some people think this US coup is only about resources, geopolitical control is also vital. As noted by Garikai Chengu: ‘America seeks control of Venezuela because it sits atop the strategic intersection of the Caribbean, South and Central American worlds. Control of the nation, has always been a remarkably effective way to project power into these three regions and beyond.’ See ‘Sanctions of Mass Destruction: America’s War on Venezuela’.

Of course, even though the outstanding problems in Venezuela have been primarily caused by the ongoing illegal US inteference, the eminently reasonable government of your country remains willing to engage in dialogue to resolve these problems. See, for example, ‘Venezuela leader Nicolas Maduro seeks talks with Obama’ and ‘Maduro Reaffirms Willingness For Dialogue’. However, this willingness for dialogue does not interest the US elite or its sycophantic western and local (both within Central/South America and within Venezuela) allies who, as noted above, are intent on usurping control from the people of Venezuela and stealing your resources.

In any case, and most importantly, for those of us paying attention to the truth, rather than the garbage reported in the elite-controlled corporate media – see, for example, ‘Can Venezuela Have a Peaceful Transition?’ but outlined more fully in ‘“Resistance” Media Side With Trump to Promote Coup in Venezuela’ – we are well aware of what you all think about this. Because, according to recent polling, you are heavily against US and other outside intervention in any form. See 86% of Venezuelans Oppose Military Intervention, 81% Are Against U.S. Sanctions, Local Polling Shows’.

Fortunately, of course, you have many solidarity allies including countries such as Russia, China, Cuba and Turkey who acknowledge your right to live with the government you elected and do not wish to steal your resources. Moreover, at an ‘emergency’ meeting of the UN Security Council on 26 January 2019, called by the United States to seek authorization for interference in Venezuela, the Council was divided as China, Equatorial Guinea, Russia and South Africa opposed the move, with Côte d’Ivoire and Indonesia abstaining. See ‘UN political chief calls for dialogue to ease tensions in Venezuela; Security Council divided over path to end crisis’.

And there is a vast number of people, including prominent public intellectuals, former diplomats and ordinary people who are solidly on your side as you defend yourselves from the latest bout of western imperialism. For example, Professor Noam Chomsky and other prominent individuals have publicly declared their support – see ‘Open Letter by Over 70 Scholars and Experts Condemns US-Backed Coup Attempt in Venezuela’ – and former UK ambassador Craig Murray has argued that ‘The Coup in Venezuela Must Be Resisted’.

Anyway, given your existing and ongoing resistance to the coup in defense of your elected government, I would like to offer another avenue of support for you to consider. My support, if you like, to plan and implement a comprehensive nonviolent strategy to defeat the coup.

So what is required?

I have explained in detail how to formulate and implement a strategy for defeating coup attempts such as this in the book The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense: A Gandhian Approach.

However, I have also outlined the essential points of this strategy on the website Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy. The pages of this website provide clear guidance on how to easily plan and then implement the twelve components of this strategy.

If you like, you can see a diagrammatic representation of this strategy by looking at the Nonviolent Strategy Wheel.

And on the Strategic Aims page you can see the basic list of 23 strategic goals necessary to defeat a coup of the type you are resisting at the moment. These strategic goals can easily be adopted, modified and/or added to if necessary, in accordance with your precise circumstances as you decide.

If you want to read a straightforward account of how to plan and conduct a nonviolent tactic so that it has strategic impact, you can do so here: ‘Nonviolent Action: Why and How it Works’.

This will require awareness of the difference between ‘The Political Objective and Strategic Goal of Nonviolent Actions’.

And, to ensure that your courage is most powerfully utilized, you are welcome to consider the 20 points designed to ensure that you are ‘Minimizing the Risk of Violent Repression’ whenever you take nonviolent action where repression is a risk. The information is useful for both neutralizing violent provocateurs but also in the event that sections of the police or army defect to support the US puppet Guaidó in the days or weeks ahead, as often happens in contexts such as these.

In essence, your ongoing resistance to the coup is essential if you are to defeat the coupmakers and defend your elected government. But the chances of success are vastly enhanced if your struggle, and that of your solidarity allies around the world, is focused for maximum strategic impact and designed to spread the cost of doing so.

Remember, it is you who will decide the fate of Venezuela. Not the US elite and not even your President and government.

Of course, whether or not you decide to consider and/or adopt my proposed strategy, you have my solidarity.

 

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?’
Feelings First
Nonviolent Campaign Strategy
Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy
Anita: Songs of Nonviolence
Robert Burrowes
Global Nonviolence Network

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Jacques Ellul: A Prophet for Our Tech-Saturated Times

Read his works to understand how we’ve been caught in technology’s nightmarish hold.

By Andrew Nikiforuk

Source: The Tyee

By now you have probably read about the so-called “tech backlash.”

Facebook and other social media have undermined what’s left of the illusion of democracy, while smartphones damage young brains and erode the nature of discourse in the family.

Meanwhile computers and other gadgets have diminished our attention spans along with our ever-failing connection to reality.

The Foundation for Responsible Robotics recently created a small stir by asking if “sexual intimacy with robots could lead to greater social isolation.”

What could possibly go wrong?

The average teenager now works about two hours of every day — for free — providing Facebook and other social media companies with all the data they need to engineer young people’s behaviour for bigger Internet profits.

Without shame, technical wonks now talk of building artificial scientists to resolve climate change, poverty and, yes, even fake news.

The media backlash against Silicon Valley and its peevish moguls, however, typically ends with nothing more radical than an earnest call for regulation or a break-up of Internet monopolies such as Facebook and Google.

The problem, however, is much graver, and it is telling that most of the backlash stories invariably omit any mention of technology’s greatest critic, Jacques Ellul.

The ascent of technology

Ellul, the Karl Marx of the 20th century, predicted the chaotic tyranny many of us now pretend is the good and determined life in technological society.

He wrote of technique, about which he meant more than just technology, machines and digital gadgets but rather “the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency” in the economic, social and political affairs of civilization.

For Ellul, technique, an ensemble of machine-based means, included administrative systems, medical tools, propaganda (just another communication technique) and genetic engineering.

The list is endless because technique, or what most of us would just call technology, has become the artificial blood of modern civilization.

“Technique has taken substance,” wrote Ellul, and “it has become a reality in itself. It is no longer merely a means and an intermediary. It is an object in itself, an independent reality with which we must reckon.”

Just as Marx deftly outlined how capitalism threw up new social classes, political institutions and economic powers in the 19th century, Ellul charted the ascent of technology and its impact on politics, society and economics in the 20th.

My copy of Ellul’s The Technological Society has yellowed with age, but it remains one of the most important books I own. Why?

Because it explains the nightmarish hold technology has on every aspect of life, and also remains a guide to the perplexing determinism that technology imposes on life.

Until the 18th century, technical progress occurred slowly and with restraint. But with the Industrial Revolution it morphed into something overwhelming due in part to population, cheap energy sources and capitalism itself.

Since then it has engulfed Western civilization and become the globe’s greatest colonizing force.

“Technique encompasses the totality of present-day society,” wrote Ellul. “Man is caught like a fly in a bottle. His attempts at culture, freedom, and creative endeavour have become mere entries in technique’s filing cabinet.”

Ellul, a brilliant historian, wrote like a physician caught in the middle of a plague or physicist exposed to radioactivity. He parsed the dynamics of technology with a cold lucidity.

Yet you’ve probably never heard of the French legal scholar and sociologist despite all the recent media about the corrosive influence of Silicon Valley.

His relative obscurity has many roots. He didn’t hail from Paris, but rural Bordeaux. He didn’t come from French blue blood; he was a “meteque.”

He didn’t travel much, criticized politics of every stripe and was a radical Christian.

But in 1954, just a year before American scientists started working on artificial intelligence, Ellul wrote his monumental book, The Technological Society.

The dense and discursive work lays out in 500 pages how technique became for civilization what British colonialism was for parts of 19th-century Africa: a force of total domination.

In the book Ellul explains in bold and uncompromising terms how the logic of technological innovation conquered every aspect of human culture.

Ellul didn’t regard technology as inherently evil; he just recognized that it was a self-augmenting force that engineered the world on its terms.

Machines, whether mechanical or digital, aren’t interested in truth, beauty or justice. Their goal is to make the world a more efficient place for more machines.

Their proliferation combined with our growing dependence on their services inevitably led to an erosion of human freedom and unintended consequences in every sphere of life.

Ellul was one of the first to note that you couldn’t distinguish between bad and good effects of technology. There were just effects and all technologies were disruptive.

In other words, it doesn’t matter if a drone is delivering a bomb or book or merely spying on the neighbourhood, because technique operates outside of human morality: “Technique tolerates no judgment from without and accepts no limitations.”

Facebook’s mantra “move fast and break things” epitomizes the technological mindset.

But some former Facebook executives such as Chamath Palihapitiya belatedly realized they have engineered a force beyond their control. (“The short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works,” Palihapitiya has said.)

That, argued Ellul, is what technology does. It disrupts and then disrupts again with unforeseen consequences, requiring more techniques to solve the problems created by latest innovations.

As Ellul noted back in 1954, “History shows that every technical application from its beginnings presents certain unforeseeable secondary effects which are more disastrous than the lack of the technique would have been.”

Ellul also defined the key characteristics of technology.

For starters, the world of technique imposes a rational and mechanical order on all things. It embraces artificiality and seeks to replace all natural systems with engineered ones.

In a technological society a dam performs better than a running river, a car takes the place of the pedestrians — and may even kill them — and a fish farm offers more “efficiencies” than a natural wild salmon migration.

There is more. Technique automatically reduces actions to the “one best way.” Technical progress is also self-augmenting: it is irreversible and builds with a geometric progression.

(Just count the number of gadgets telling you what to do or where to go or even what music to play.)

Technology is indivisible and universal because everywhere it goes it shows the same deterministic face with the same consequences. And it is autonomous.

By autonomous, Ellul meant that technology had become a determining force that “elicits and conditions social, political and economic change.”

The role of propaganda

The French critic was the first to note that technologies build upon each other and therefore centralize power and control.

New techniques for teaching, selling things or organizing political parties also required propaganda.

Here again Ellul saw the future.

He argued that propaganda had to become as natural as breathing air in a technological society, because it was essential that people adapt to the disruptions of a technological society.

“The passions it provokes — which exist in everybody — are amplified. The suppression of the critical faculty — man’s growing incapacity to distinguish truth from falsehood, the individual from the collectivity, action from talk, reality from statistics, and so on — is one of the most evident results of the technical power of propaganda.”

Faking the news may have been a common practice on Soviet radio during Ellul’s day, but it is now a global phenomenon leading us towards what Ellul called “a sham universe.”

We now know that algorithms control every aspect of digital life and have subjected almost aspect of human behaviour to greater control by techniques whether employed by the state or the marketplace.

But in 1954 Ellul saw the beast emerging in infant form.

Technology, he wrote, can’t put up with human values and “must necessarily don mathematical vestments. Everything in human life that does not lend itself to mathematical treatment must be excluded… Who is too blind to not see that a profound mutation is being advocated here.”

He, too, warned about the promise of leisure provided by the mechanization and automatization of work.

“Instead of being a vacuum representing a break with society,” our leisure time will be “literally stuffed with technical mechanisms of compensation and integration.”

Good citizens today now leave their screens at work only to be guided by robots in their cars that tell them the most efficient route to drive home.

At home another battery of screens awaits to deliver entertainments and distractions, including apps that might deliver a pizza to the door.

Stalin and Mao would be impressed — or perhaps disappointed — that so much social control could be exercised with such sophistication and so little bloodletting.

Ellul wasn’t just worried about the impact of a single gadget such as the television or the phone but “the phenomenon of technical convergence.”

He feared the impact of systems or complexes of techniques on human society and warned the result could only be “an operational totalitarianism.”

“Convergence,” he wrote, “is a completely spontaneous phenomenon, representing a normal stage in the evolution of technique.”

Social media, a web of behavioural and psychological systems, is just the latest example of convergence.

Here psychological techniques, surveillance techniques and propaganda have all merged to give the Russians and many other groups a golden opportunity to intervene in the political lives of 126 million North Americans.

Social media has achieved something novel, according to former Facebook engineer Sam Lessin.

For the first time ever a political candidate or party can “effectively talk to each individual voter privately in their own home and tell them exactly what they want to hear… in a way that can’t be tracked or audited.”

In China the authorities have gone one step further. Using the Internet the government can now track the movements of every citizen and rank their political trustworthiness based on their history of purchases and associations. It is, of course, a fantastic “counterterrorism” tool.

The Silicon Valley moguls and the digerati promised something less totalitarian. They swore that social media would help citizens fight bad governments and would connect all of us.

Facebook, vowed the pathologically adolescent Mark Zuckerberg, would help the Internet become “a force for peace in the world.”

But technology obeys its own rules and prefers “the psychology of tyranny.”

The digerati also promised that digital technologies would usher in a new era of decentralization and undo what mechanical technologies have already done: centralize everything into big companies, big boxes and big government.

Technology assuredly fragments human communities, but in the world of technique centralization remains the norm.

“The idea of effecting decentralization while maintaining technical progress is purely utopian,” wrote Ellul.

Towards ‘hypernormalization’

It is worth noting that the word “normal” didn’t come into currency until the 1940s along with technological society.

In many respects global society resembles the Soviet Union just prior to its collapse when “hypernormalization” ruled the day.

A recent documentary defined what hypernormalization did for Russia: it “became a society where everyone knew that what their leaders said was not real, because they could see with their own eyes that the economy was falling apart. But everybody had to play along and pretend that it was real because no one could imagine any alternative.”

In many respects technology has hypernormalized a technological society in which citizens exercise less and less control over their lives every day and can’t imagine anything different.

Throughout his life Ellul maintained that he was “neither by nature, nor doctrinally, a pessimist, nor have I pessimistic prejudices. I am concerned only with knowing whether things are so or not.”

He called a spade a spade, and did not sugarcoat his observations.

If you are growing more anxious about our hypernormalized existence and are wondering why you own a phone that tracks your every movement, then read The Technological Society.

Ellul believed that the first act of freedom a citizen can exercise is to recognize the necessity of understanding technique and its colonizing powers.

Resistance, which is never futile, can only begin by becoming aware and bearing witness to the totalitarian nature of technological society.

Ellul believed that Christians had a special duty to condemn the worship of technology, which has become society’s new religion.

To Ellul, resistance meant teaching people how to be conscious amphibians, with one foot in traditional human societies, and to purposefully choose which technologies to bring into their communities.

Only citizens who remain connected to traditional human societies can see, hear and understand the disquiet of the smartphone blitzkrieg or the Internet circus.

Children raised by screens and vaccinated only by technology will not have the capacity to resist, let alone understand, this world any more than someone born in space could appreciate what it means to walk in a forest.

Ellul warned that if each of us abdicates our human responsibilities and leads a trivial existence in a technological society, then we will betray freedom.

And what is freedom but the ability to overcome and transcend the dictates of necessity?

In 1954, Ellul appealed to all sleepers to awake.

Read him. He remains the most revolutionary, prophetic and dangerous voice of this or any century.

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