Humanity Was Not Ready for the Internet

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Something has gone terribly wrong with the promises made for the Internet age.

According to its progenitors, the Internet would revolutionize communication. It was destined to interconnect the world. When it emerged in the late 90’s, nascent with its glittering butterfly wings, prognosticators from silicon valley and beyond foretold its myriad revolutions. Commerce. Education. Socialization. All would be remade by the juggernaut.

None less than Bill Gates promised that it would be “the town square for the global village of tomorrow.”

Its potential was manifold. Now, though, we live in the sloshing wake of those predictions.

And we have indeed, reaped a whirlwind of change.

Kara Alaimo at CNN is reporting today that the real lynchpin to Donald Trump’s surprising victory in the 2016 presidential election is primarily due to one huge, often-over-looked factor:

Twitter.

It seems the Orange-One-in-Chief had millions more following him on Twitter and Facebook and that his often lambasted Twitter feed was actually the centerpiece of what Alaimo’s source Mike Berland describes as “a continuous Trump rally that happen[ed] on Twitter at all hours.”

If you weren’t part of the fiesta, you might be forgiven for being unaware of its existence. It might have only manifested in the stray repugnant post on your own social media. A picture of guns promising reprisal if Clinton won. A “Trump that Bitch” picture where it didn’t belong. Aberrations, you probably thought as you turned up your nose, but no.

It was a movement and it happened all in 1’s and 0’s out of your sight range.

That is because you, too, are probably living in your own bubble. Increasingly, social media is allowing us to insulate ourselves and we are at greater and greater risk of what psychologists call confirmation bias–a type of cognitive dissonance whereby every new piece of information is filtered through whatever we already believe. Couple this with the effect of surrounding ourselves with similar opinions–which might as well be a check box on our Facebook settings–and we are all likely to find ourselves in an echo chamber, continuously hearing voices like our own telling us how right, right, right we are.

I recently tried to exit my own bubble and see what was happening out there in Trumpland. I spent a few hours and several thousand words trying to engage with “the other side.” When I wasn’t being berated or called a “pussy,” I managed to find a few people willing to talk about the election and their choices.

What I heard, though, were more sound bytes from the echo chamber.

Clinton’s criminality was taken for granted in these circles. A fact. The lack of evidence of any actual criminal culpability dismissed because of her presumed influence.

In one interesting exchange, when I asked what issues were important to one Trump voter, she argued that she supported Trump because he would rebuild our military. I pressed on what needed to be “rebuilt” in the most powerful fighting force ever known to man and ended up getting the let’s-agree-to-disagree tour of the exit.

Other issues where I might see a dire problem–climate change looms large–were handily dismissed as frauds.

In a recent series of videos on CNN, Van Jones was told that if Clinton was elected it very well might mean a “civil war” because that was how desperate people had become.

Much has been written about how we are living in a divided America, where each half of the country occupies its own alternate reality. It’s tempting for me to point out that the Trumpified universe seems divorced from the facts. Our military is unchallengeable and its professionalism second-to-none (and thank God for it with reckless Russians constantly trying to provoke us). Our economy has made the strongest recovery in the developed world. Objectively, things are looking up.

So what is so wrong that would prompt so much desperation?

A lot of commentators are fixated by the racial dimensions of this election, by the sense that Trump’s victory is the product of a resurgent white nativism.

But whence the resurgence? Why now? How did the same country that elected Barack Obama turn so quickly to Donald Trump? What force could possibly account for such a rapid transformation?

But we know the answer, don’t we. There’s only one force in the twenty-first century that moves this fast. Its speed, its capacity for transformation, is exactly what was promised. It was a selling point.

We aren’t in Trump’s America. We’re in Twitter’s world.

This is the empire the Internet built. A kingdom of instability.

Tenuous. Fleeting. Ephemeral.

And utterly fracking irrational.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is having to answer a lot of questions right now about “fake news,” the totally invented stories that whiz around social media perpetuating myths even as they reinforce the beliefs of those inside their respective bubbles. Talking heads wonder if buying Snopes and incorporating it into the Facebook machine might make the difference–might turn the tide back and make the Internet the democracy engine we were promised.

But the genie is out of the bottle, I suspect.

The web was promised to us as an open platform. So it is. Not long ago we saw how social media’s success during the Arab Spring was quickly darkened by ISIS’s command of Twitter and other sharing sites where promotional videos were tailored to the ambitions of would-be Jihadies–a whole other kind of bubble, I suppose.

Even censorship-obsessed China cannot maintain control over social media. There savvy Internetites use code words for well-known topics to avoid the censors. It’s a tactic white nationalists have adopted here in the U.S. This alt-web for white racists is a toxic stew so foul that poor Pepe the frog has been coopted as a hate symbol.

But I no longer blame the Internet Cassandras for their predictions for the Internet. It is as great as they say it is. The problem is not the technology–it’s the users.

We get the Internet we deserve, it seems, and frail, conflicted, irrational human kind simply was not ready for a free, open, democratizing information Smörgåsbord.

What becomes of it now, this grand experiment in lofty expectations? Personally, I fear for the interconnected world. I’m terrified, actually. With nativist push backs throughout Europe and now here in America, the global economy seems to have its metaphorical neck stretched across the chopping block. If the global paradigm of the post-Cold War world falls apart, how long can we stay in our bubbles?
One of the oldest fables about the Internet is that, because it was born as a DARPA project, the network is actually nuke-proof. As economic turmoil spills over into actual conflict, worsened by resource depletion and climate upheaval, we may all get to watch the world burn…and live tweet the apocalypse.
Too cynical? That’s probably just because everyone on my Facebook is super-depressed right now. It’ll all probably seem brighter if I just enjoy a few more of those Biden/Obama memes.

Listen, America, This Is How It Is…

Trump must lose.

That’s it. That’s all that matters in this election anymore.

Trump must lose.

Why? There are so many reasons, really. But let’s put aside his race baiting, his sexism, his documented corruption, his constant lying, his narcissism, his ties to Russia.

Trump must lose to keep any hope alive for American democracy.

Trump must lose because he is a textbook demagogue in the making.

He is actively undermining democracy by calling the whole process into question simply because he is down in the polls. He has suggested that libel laws should be tightened to keep the press from reporting on him. He does not believe in democracy. A man who does not believe in democracy must not be our president.

Trump must lose so that the politics of fear will lose.

Trumps must not only lose. He must lose BIG.

His defeat must be epic. Unprecedented. He must be crushed so that this brand of politics goes permanently into the ashbin of history.

I don’t care what your pet issue is. Democracy itself is more important.

Abortion? He doesn’t care. He was on the record as “pro-choice” for years and years until he decided he might want to run as a Republican. Honestly, look at this man’s track record with women and adultery. You telling me he hasn’t personally paid for a few abortions? Hasn’t pressured mistresses into getting them.

Forget it. Democracy itself is more important.

Immigration? It’s a strawman. Immigrants aren’t stealing your jobs. Net immigration from Mexico is now zero. Inequality, globalization, and corporate citizenship are stealing your jobs. Trump is the last man to fight for you on that front. His assault on immigrants is textbook demagoguery. Really, look it up in any textbook. Attack the outsider, the other, the scapegoat. That’s how it always starts.

Forget it. Democracy itself is more important.

ISIS? You may not have noticed, but we’re already kicking their asses. And we’re doing it without getting sucked into another Vietnam-esque miasma in Iraq. They’re not a threat to our way of life unless we abandon our way of life by surrendering to fear and hatred.

Democracy itself is more important than all of it, and that’s why Trump must lose.

I don’t care if you think Hillary is the most corrupt politician in Washington (she isn’t–millions of dollars in investigations and nothing’s stuck). She is not worse that Trump. Repeat after me: She is not worse than Trump. Even if you think she represents everything wrong with the system, she is still not worse than Trump. As evidence: All the historically Republican newspapers endorsing her. All the actual Republicans endorsing her.

Trump must lose and he must lose big. We must crush him at the polls.

Go vote. Go now. Go on November 8th. But go and vote against Trump.

America must denounce his cynical abuse of democracy to advance his own ego. America must reject the politics of fear in favor of some hope, hope that we can still make progress together, that our system is not so broken that the only option is to nuke it with an orange-coiffed buffoon.

No, America, Trump must lose.

 

So Maybe I Was Wrong…

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People, $#!% has just gotten real.

Like, really real.

So a few weeks ago I was arguing that a Trump presidency–while terrible, horrible, no good, very bad–would not be the end of the world.

Yeah, so, about that…

This week, evidence is strongly pointing to Russian involvement in the hack of the DNC e-mails. Now today, Hillary’s campaign has also been hacked. (By the way, a huge “screw you” to Julian Assange for turning WikiLeaks into a puppet of Russian oligarchy.)

We all know that the Donald has a man-crush on Putin for being such a strong man, but there is now mounting evidence that he is actually committed to pro-Russia positions should the skies bleed red and the dead rise again to reclaim the earth–er, I mean, “should he be elected.”

Not only has Trump insinuated that his commitment to NATO would not be absolute and that he would try to instill some kind of “pay to play” policy for how committed to our allies’ defense we would be, but his campaign also made one important objection to the Republican party platform.

And I do mean “one.” As in, this is the only thing that his campaign objected to.

They refused to let the Republican party commit itself to the defense of Ukraine.

You see the picture connecting these dots creates?

Not only is Trump intent on becoming an American demagogue, he apparently wants to align our nation with its traditional rival and allow Russia to assert a stronger sphere of influence.

Is this what the party of Reagan wants? Is this the world order they want to establish?

Russia restored to its imperial glory in the shadow of a waning America bent on isolationism?

Now, I’m a strong critic of American imperialism, but I’d still rather see a world dominated by American power than by Putin’s increasingly repressive oligarchy.

So, American conservatives? What will you do now? Vote against another American century?

Trump’s joke the other day may not have actually been treason, but the position he is taking on the future of Europe sure is.

#BlackLivesMatter and #WeStandWithDallas

I saw Snoop Dogg on TV the other day, marching for unity and dialogue in the face of all this terrible violence.

So, yeah, Snoop Dogg gets it.

Snoop Dogg.

Hell, the other day my family watched Zootopia (Don’t ask why, because I don’t know; I’d thought my days of being subjected to slick animated features were behind me.) and that flick gets it, too.

That movie’s theme is all about divisiveness only serving the interests of authoritarianism.

A frickin’ Disney movie.

It’s not that hard to get, really.

But America doesn’t seem to be able to collectively wrap its brain around this mess.

And yeah, I know it’s not as simple as marching in L.A. and having rappers talk to police chiefs. It’s sure not as simple as cartoon bunnies uniting with cartoon foxes to save the day.

It’s a maelstrom of identity politics, the historical trajectory of racism, the evolutionary psychology of toxic masculinity and gun fetishism all swirling together like the wake of some Lovecraftian monstrosity.

I do get that. I do.

But it’s also simpler.

It’s as simple as this:

The injustices done by some police officers do not justify the horrible, murderous violence being directed at officers in general and the violence directed at those officers does not invalidate or negate the merits of the protestors’ purpose in speaking out against injustice.

Look, white privilege and institutional racism are real. You only have to look at the facts. Black men and people of color are more likely to be stopped, more likely to be arrested, more likely to be charged, more likely to be indicted, more likely to be convicted, more likely to be given harsh sentences–and yes, more likely to be shot while unarmed–than whites.

You can control for whatever variables you want and that fact will still be there.

And you know what, I’m willing to entertain the idea that not every cop who has shot an unarmed civilian was a monster, was evil.

Some of these guys were probably scared. Some of them made a terrible decision, and it probably haunts them.

The solution is not demonizing all cops. And if anyone carrying a banner for Black Lives Matter has done that (and we know some have) then they shouldn’t.

That’s all. They shouldn’t do that. Don’t demonize them either. (We can demonize Micah Johnson. Knock yourself out.)

But again, let’s be clear: the problem with police brutality and unjustified police shootings is not a problem of a few decent cops making mistakes, it is not a case of a few bad apples that just need to be rooted out, and it certainly is not a story of people just doing their jobs.

It is a systemic problem and we as a society need to address it.

Backlashers want to shift the attention to the violence directed against cops.

You know what? I think we, as a nation, can maybe pay attention to two different problems at once.

And that’s what these are (despite what my local police chief thinks): two different problems.

If you want to talk about the actions of Micah Johnson and others who have attacked police officers, then we need to talk about guns again.

Yes, guns.

Because–did you know this–there’ve been studies that show that men are more aggressive and belligerent after just handling a gun.

So the whole “guns don’t kill people, people do” has got to go. Anyone with any sense–and access to international comparisons–can tell you that’s patently bullshit, but now it’s been scientifically rebutted, too.

Gun lovers in this country don’t want to face this reality, but we need to be grown ups now and admit that guns change behavior. So let’s be mature and follow the 2nd amendment, the one that calls for a “well-regulated” population of the great big “militia” that is America.

And yeah, let’s talk about toxic masculinity, while we’re at it, because–sadly–one of our biggest problems here seems to be the Y chromosome.

So there’s so much going on here–so much to talk about, so much to grapple with.

But the way forward is still really simple.

Because we can come together or we can come apart.

We’ve got two political models on the landscape right now. They’re not running against each other, but they are running against each other.

You can either embrace the politics of Trump–the politics of divisiveness, fear, anger, nativism–or you can embrace the politics of Obama–of inclusiveness, optimism, discourse, compromise.

And, by the way, if you don’t think that the above is what Obama stands for then you’re probably only being influenced by what he represents to you and not what he actually chooses to represent. What I’m saying is: if you can’t look at the facts of who the current president is and what he has tried to do while in office–that he is not the racist, socialist, closet Jihadist-sympathizer, or whatever that some people say he is–then you are probably part of the problem. And that’s okay. I’m not demonizing you, I swear. But it’s time to get with the program.

We call it America.

And it’s aspiration.

Not aspiration for closed doors and high walls. It’s aspiration for something better.

Not “us vs. them.”

No.

“E pluribus unum.”

We’re grappling with America’s oldest contradiction at the heart of all this. We’ve come a long way. But not far enough. We just had a fuck-all of a set-back.

But when horrors like the last week and a half occur, we have to keep inching forward.

Because the alternative is intolerable.

Has the World Gone Crazy?

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See, I take a hiatus from warning the world about its ills and you see what happens? You see?

I took a very deliberate break from writing about the state of things out there in the real world because I didn’t want to be yet another voice in the endless chorus of complaints that is the echo chamber of the politiweb.

And now, my negligence has brought us to the brink of a disaster of unimaginable scope: the Trumpocalypse. (Okay, so I may not be solely responsible.)

Now, I don’t want to give in to the temptation to perpetuate the run-away polarization in our political discourse, but I do think we need to all be clear on two things:

  1. Donald Trump is demonstrably a human being with many detestable traits. He has sexually appraised his daughters, one while still an infant. He has been misogynistic when dealing with women who question him. He demonstrates a woefully inadequate understanding of the role of government in the economy. He is a shameless self-promoter with no humility. He has a laughably frail ego and probably clinically qualifies as a chronic narcissist. Politically, his vision of the presidency has all the hallmarks of pure demagoguery. Let’s not forget his flagrant and casual racism. Oh, and he’s incurably dishonest to boot. This man, if elected president would be a national embarrassment.
  2. This is not the end of the world.

After all, the economy has rebounded. ISIS is on the ropes. The world has signed a historic global warming accord. Things aren’t as bad as they seem. We do have real problems–like inequality and corruption–that it sure would be nice to have a real leader to start to deal with. Now, for me, Sanders would have been my pick. He’s been on the right side of history on issue after issue after issue for decades, whereas Clinton has always felt free to let her views evolve based on the marketplace of ideas to be on whatever seemed to be the “right” side to get elected; and Trump, well Trump has been on the wrong side of bankruptcies and failed online steak distribution schemes.

I know, I know, I know. I see the same memes and Facebook posts equating the choice between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to choosing between Ramsey Bolton and Joffrey Borrathean on Game of Thrones (They both really, really suck for the uninitiated). I, too, see that the right’s irrational hatred of Clinton is fueling a false dichotomy where a seasoned statesman and politician with decades of experience (and never-proven accusations) is somehow as bad as the court jester described above. (Hell, that’s an argument not even the Koch brothers can stomach.)

Yes, it does terrify me that Trump might continue his improbable rise from punchline to political relevance and somehow defeat Clinton in the general election. (It’s not too late, you know; the Democrats could just nominate Sanders, who polls much, much better than the often besmirched Clinton.)

But the Republic will survive this.

Trump could do a lot of damage, it’s true. Mostly, though, I think that damage would be to our national reputation. But other countries have elected embarrassing leaders as well, and thankfully our system is insulated against the sort of whole sale destruction an unbridled demagogue can do (for an object lesson in that phenomenon, look to Venezuela).

We’ve had rogue presidents before. One such jack-ass is only now being scrubbed from our $20 bill. We’ve given in to paranoia and fear before. We’ve turned from our best natures and betrayed the vision of what America can be.

We have failed to be the nation we want to be more often than we have succeeded.

And yet, the experiment carries on. Ever forward. Ever onward.

Our obligation, of course, is to fight, and fight, and fight some more.

We have to speak out against distractions about who uses which bathroom and remind people that the real problems with our country (which remains the world’s sole super-power and, barring gross mismanagement, will likely continue in that position) are the political corruption of wealth and ever-expanding inequality.

Bernie Sanders’s victory this week is reassurance on that front. Though it doesn’t look like he will steal the nomination away from Hillary and the plutocrats who back her over him, he has nevertheless fought his way to reassurances that the issues he’s campaigned on will be represented prominently in the DNC’s platform.

I’ve said all along that Sanders would make Clinton move to the left. If she is defeated in November, it won’t be because of her politics, but her reputation. And should that come to pass, it’s a safe bet that the Democrats will be well positioned to sweep back into power after four years of Trump’s idiocy.

The demographics speak for themselves. The GOP is imploding. Their base is old and white (according to polls, Trump’s biggest edge is his thirty point advantage over Clinton with with white males) and the future of America is not. The Democrats will be in power, if not in November, then soon.

When they are, we’ll all be glad that Sanders has reframed their agenda to face the real issues so that the republic can soldier on, seeking ever after the better angels of our natures, ever after a more perfect union.

 

Emergence/Resurgence

We don’t know the things they say
about us
in cold, windy whispers
Councils on Olympus
Conspirators in the barren skies
Plotting our doom
Scribbling out fates in the stars
like preteen girls with unlined diary pages
and flimsy tin locks

 

In Praise of The Expanse

I just can’t say enough good things about this TV show…or the books it’s based on.

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Now, I don’t usually read for fun. I read. I read a lot. But I’m usually reading stuff that makes me feel superior and justifies my general snootiness toward others. Yeah, I’m a book snob.

But somehow, somewhere, sometime, I started reading Leviathan Wakes. It was a quick, light read and I enjoyed it as a diversion that didn’t make feel guilty the way certain other pass times do.

Then, I picked up the sequel.

Then the next book. And the next.

By the time I devoured the most recent novel a few months back, I was thoroughly in love with the world of The Expanse and was fascinated when I heard a TV show based on the series was coming to SyFy–which hasn’t had much in the way of a decent science fiction show since Battlestar Galactica, or maybe since it changed its name to, well, “SyFy.”

But they’ve righted that ship, that’s for sure.

I’m hardly the only one singing its praises as a Game of Thrones in space, but frankly, I think it has some advantages over the program that last year would have easily won my medal for “Best Show on TV.” Over at iO9, their spoilery review of the season credits the show runners with not one, but two “miracles.”

I won’t delve into those assertions in order to keep my equally glowing remarks spoiler-free. I will say that I’m intrigued as a fan of the books by the direction they’re heading, having shirked the Game of Thrones model of one book/one season. (This ten episode season has covered about 75% of the first novel, leaving some intriguing reworkings ahead in the forthcoming second season to plug the gaps and keep the intrigue rolling.)

The adaptation is about as good as one could have hoped for, although the books are a little more Firefly than you’d guess from the show, and the cast is stellar (even if the excellent Dominique Tipper should really be undergoing some Lord of the Rings style digital wizardry to match her character’s 2-meter stature in the book).

Game of Thrones has been (quite rightly) criticized for the way the show has or has not coped with the underlying misogyny of author George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world.  Innocuous scenes in the novels were rewritten for the show to sexually objectify and often degrade women in a world that was already not cutting them much slack.

The Expanse, though, is taking an altogether different tack, crafting the “strong” female characters now obligatory in any science fiction narrative (it’s still sad we have to note that they’re “strong” in this way when all we really mean is that they’re well written) against a character landscape that is thoroughly diverse. Yes, according to The Expanse, humanity’s future is pretty brown and nobody seems to give a damn.

Instead, what divides us in the future is political. Belters (those people living in low-gravity out beyond Mars’s orbit) are an oppressed underclass at the whim of the powerful forces of Mars, a purposeful authoritarian state, and Earth, a reservoir of entitled welfare queens.

It’s a backstory that sets up convenient and flexible proxies for the voices in our own political spectrum and lets the events in the story resonate beyond just the sci-fi mystery hinted at in the show’s first sequence.

As the show’s archetypal rag tag crew presses forward into the expanse, they’re running afoul of powerful forces and big questions about the control of information, the ethics of violence and power, and the morality of defending a status quo with so many have-nots.

It’s great stuff. Go watch it.