25, 2014
Crisis: Internet, Brutalized, Corporations, Hitler, Wall Street Presidency
  "They who can give up essential 
   liberty to obtain a little temporary
   safety, deserve neither liberty
   nor safety."
   -- Benjamin Franklin [1]
   "All governments lie and nothing
   they say should be believed.
   -- I.F. Stone
   "Power tends to corrupt, and   
   absolute power corrupts
   absolutely. Great men are        
   almost always bad men."
   -- Lord Acton

Prev- crisis -Next

How the web lost its way – and its founding principles
2. How the Brutalized Become Brutal
3. Corporations Spy on Nonprofits with Impunity
4. Martin Amis on Hitler and the nature of evil
5. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone

About ME/CFS


This is a Nederlog of Monday, August 25. It is a crisis log.

This is again a full crisis log with five items, all of which are interesting to me.
1. How the web lost its way – and its founding principles   

The first item is an article by Stuart Jeffries on The Guardian:

Actually, this is not a good article and it doesn't answer its title. I have three quotes for you, that about sum it up.

First, about the beginning of the internet. This is about Tim Berners-Lee in 1990 (when I had a computer for slightly more than three years, and was one of the few - and I got internet in 1996, although this was slow and expensive then):
This sort of thing was what he hoped would be made possible after the birth of the world wide web at Cern in Geneva in December 1990. "It consisted of one web site and one browser, which happened to be on the same computer," he recalls. The simple setup demonstrated a profound concept: that any person could share information with anyone else, anywhere. In this spirit, the web spread quickly from the grassroots up.
Actually, that is still mostly true: "that any person could share information with anyone else, anywhere". There are some qualifications - "anyone" needs a computer and some freedom, and to get in touch with "anyone" you need an internet address - but the idea generally holds.

Second, nearly 25 years on, here is the result in Stuart Jefferies' words:

The world wide web has increasingly facilitated the global spread of misogyny, the hate crime of revenge porn, corporate and state surveillance, bullying, racism, the life-ruining, time-wasting, Sisyphean digital servitude of deleting spam, the existentially crushing spadework of fatuous finessing of those lies, one's Facebook profiles. It has spread from the grassroots up, from Berners-Lee's desktop to the world, has been coterminous with lots of other intolerable things.
That is one way of viewing it, but it is not my way, and I also don't think it is a fair sum-up. Here are some of my reasons.

First, I have never been starry-eyed about the gifts and motives of ordinary people, nor about the gifts and motives of ordinary capitalist companies and CEOs. Both are - by my standards - mostly ignorant and mostly driven by egoism, and that also was the case before internet.

Second, although ordinary people and ordinary capitalist companies are the most normal and frequent, they are not all there is, and indeed the internet as it was conceived was not conceived by or for
ordinary people and ordinary capitalist companies. (But I grant they have mostly taken it over, from the early 2000s onwards: it was profitable.)

Third, Jeffries only sums up negative things, and does so in a thoroughly indiscrimate way, where he starts with misogyny and revenge porn; puts
corporate and state surveillance" third (?!); and ends with spam and internet lying.

He doesn't even mention (mostly) positive things: The availability of millions of books; the ease and speed of communicating with e-mail (apart from its being stolen); the very much broader information one has with fast internet (this really made a difference for me, in and since 2009, when I acquired it); and the availability of millions of films and videos.

I do not know why, except that Jeffries may have made many "choices" automatically: I do not have an iPad or a cell-phone; I do not have Facebook; I do not have a webcam and I do not do Skype; I do not have an Xbox and I do not have Netflix - and mostly those were my conscious choices, and indeed I do not miss them at all, and in fact I am glad for not having them, and I also will never have them.

Fourth, the main reasons why Facebook and iPad could take over internet are the relative stupidity of most of their users: Html seems too difficult for ordinary people, and that is why they do not make their own sites but get one on Facebook (including censorship and spying); and iPad prepackages most of the things ordinary people want, and so doesn't make them think, which they anyway aren't very good at, I am sorry to say, and generally seem to want to avoid.

Fifth, I would say that what changed the web most is that it was made accessible to the ordinary and the stupid, and the ordinary and the stupid are the large majority, and want ordinary and stupid things, in the easiest possible ways, and without much thought or tinkering. And now they are getting them. (And no, I do not think that can be undone. But it is false to judge the internet only by the majority, that indeed doesn't program, doesn't even know html, and that just doesn't want to be bothered by what they regard as technical problems.)

Finally, here is Stuart Jeffries' sum-up (and I would be quite amazed to learn that he knows how to program and write his own website in html):

(...) given the ruthless success of capitalism, a betting man wouldn't put his money on a guy like Berners-Lee, who isn't in this for money. When his invention went live in Geneva all those years ago, he didn't envisage his open web would become a system of semi-closed platforms that restrict access to their users. Nor did he envisage that his invention would facilitate surveillance on a scale beyond the imaginings of Orwell. At its inception the world wide web seemed to promise an escape from corporate and governmental powers, an egalitarian free-for-all. Now? It has increasingly become a sophisticated extension of them. The hopes once nurtured by the man who invented the web have been not so much abandoned as betrayed.
No, I don't think so.

I do think the internet has become much larger than Berner-Lee envisaged, and probably quite different, and indeed it also has been made common, cheap and rather sleazy, at least for a large part, but again these are, in my eyes, the inevitable effects of
ordinary people getting access, and of capitalist firms trying to make money, and indeed succeeding quite well.

What Jeffries seems to have missed completely is that the surveillance that now is going on, that is completely at variance with all laws on privacy, can be mostly stopped if either the internet is encrypted or the law were to be maintained by the governments which break in systematically in the interest of their spying on everyone (and indeed it is best stopped by doing both, though I do not see this happening easily).

2. How the Brutalized Become Brutal

The next item is an article by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:

Here is its second paragraph:
Our terror is delivered to the wretched of the earth with industrial weapons. It is, to us, invisible. We do not stand over the decapitated and eviscerated bodies left behind on city and village streets by our missiles, drones and fighter jets. We do not listen to the wails and shrieks of parents embracing the shattered bodies of their children. We do not see the survivors of air attacks bury their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. We are not conscious of the long night of collective humiliation, repression and powerlessness that characterizes existence in Israel’s occupied territories, Iraq and Afghanistan. We do not see the boiling anger that war and injustice turn into a caldron of hate over time. We are not aware of the very natural lust for revenge against those who carry out or symbolize this oppression. We see only the final pyrotechnics of terror, the shocking moment when the rage erupts into an inchoate fury and the murder of innocents. And, willfully ignorant, we do not understand our own complicity. We self-righteously condemn the killers as subhuman savages who deserve more of the violence that created them. This is a recipe for endless terror.
Yes, indeed - but thus it has been always, the last 5000 years of civilization, in which there were very many major wars and hundreds of millions needlessly and often cruelly killed.

Also, one difference between Chris Hedges and most men is that Hedges has been a war reporter for a long time: He certainly knows what he is writing about, but indeed most people do not.

This is from the start of the second page:
Christopher Browning in his book “Ordinary Men” tells of a German reserve police battalion that was recruited to carry out mass executions of Jews in World War II. Browning’s book echoed the findings of the psychologist Stanley Milgram, who concluded that “men are led to kill with little difficulty.” Browning, like Milgram, illustrates how easily we become killers. This is a painful truth. It is difficult to accept.
Yes, indeed - and you should read Browning and Milgram. Especially Browning makes it quite clear that ordinary human beings can be easily changed into mass murderers: the "ordinary men" he studied, who definitely were ordinary men for the most part, and were also not strongly committed Nazis, killed on average over 160 civilians, who had done them absolutely nothing. (Also, Browning makes it clear that the one person who protested doing this was let off without punish-
ment, though this may have been mostly accidental.)

Hedges article ends with a consideration of how this might stop:
To break this cycle we have to examine ourselves and halt the indiscriminant violence that sustains our occupations.
Unfortunately, that never happened, nowhere - and I mean on a massive scale, for it certainly happened with some individuals, but these were always in a minority and were usually not listened to.

3. Corporations Spy on Nonprofits with Impunity

The next item is an article by Ralph Nader (<- Wikipedia) on his site:

This starts as follows:

Here’s a dirty little secret you won’t see in the daily papers: corporations conduct espionage against US nonprofit organizations without fear of being brought to justice.

Yes, that means using a great array of spycraft and snoopery, including planned electronic surveillance, wiretapping, information warfare, infiltration, dumpster diving and so much more.

The evidence abounds.

For example, six years ago, based on extensive documentary evidence, James Ridgeway reported in Mother Jones on a major corporate espionage scheme by Dow Chemical focused on Greenpeace and other environmental and food activists.

Greenpeace was running a potent campaign against Dow’s use of chlorine to manufacture paper and plastics. Dow grew worried and eventually desperate.

You'll have to check out Nader's site for the details, but they are convincing. Here is the result:

Using this information, Greenpeace filed a lawsuit against Dow Chemical, Dow’s PR firms Ketchum and Dezenhall Resources, and others, alleging trespass on Greenpeace’s property, invasion of privacy by intrusion, and theft of confidential documents.

Yesterday, the D.C. Court of Appeals dismissed Greenpeace’s lawsuit. In her decision, Judge Anna Blackburne-Rigsby notes that “However Greenpeace’s factual allegations may be regarded,” its “legal arguments cannot prevail as a matter of law” because “the common law torts alleged by Greenpeace are simply ill-suited as potential remedies.”

I do not know whether the judge was blackmailed or corrupted, but certainly she judged as if she is in the pocket of big business, which is where most of the U.S. law is supposed to be anyway, according to its critics.

Note this seems especially true of U.S. law: the evidence from Europe is a bit better, in the sense that some of the legal cases that were about spying have been settled, against the spies. In the U.S. that rarely happens, and indeed the cases usually do not even reach the courts.

Nader also quotes this:

Spooky Business found that “Many of the world’s largest corporations and their trade associations – including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Walmart, Monsanto, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Burger King, McDonald’s, Shell, BP, BAE, Sasol, Brown & Williamson and E.ON – have been linked to espionage or planned espionage against nonprofit organizations, activists and whistleblowers.”

For they can do the spying; they have big money; and - this is crucial - neither the U.S. government nor the U.S. legislature does anything to prevent them, and indeed they dismiss nearly all cases "on technical grounds" (mostly bullshit, but dismissed they are).

Here is Nader:

Here’s why you should care.

This is a serious matter of civil liberties.

The citizen’s right to privacy and free speech should not be violated by personal spying merely because a citizen disagrees with the actions or ideas of a giant multinational corporation.

Our democracy can’t function properly if corporations may spy and snoop on nonprofits with impunity. This espionage is a despicable means of degrading the effectiveness of nonprofit watchdogs and activists. Many of the espionage tactics employed appear illegal and are certainly immoral.

Powerful corporations spy on each other as well, sometimes with the help of former NSA and FBI employees.

I agree - but the only way to stop this, given that the American legislature for the most part seems corrupt or is secretly blackmailed, is by enforcing encryption, it would seem to me (and Edward Snowden).

4. Martin Amis on Hitler and the nature of evil

The next item is an article by Martin Ames, extracted from his latest book about Hitler:

I have not read his book, but I have read reviews, that generally were not praising. Also, I have read rather a lot about WW II, in part because my father and grandfather were imprisoned in German concentration camps in 1941, which my grandfather did not survive, and because my mother also was in the resistance (which few Dutchmen were, which is one reason over 1% of the Dutch population at the time was murdered "for being of the wrong race").

Martin Amis says he does not understand Hitler, which probably is true, altough he writes:

In moods and mentalities, it seems, Volk and Führer partook of the same troubled Danubian brew. On the one hand, the people, with their peculiar “despair of politics” (as Hugh Trevor-Roper has put it), their eager fatalism, their wallowing in petulance and perversity, what Haffner calls their “resentful dimness” and their “heated readiness to hate”, their refusal of moderation and, in adversity, of all consolation, their ethos of zero-sum (of all or nothing, of Sein oder Nichtsein), and their embrace of the irrational and hysterical. And on the other hand the leader, who indulged these tendencies on the stage of global politics.

Incidentally, "Sein oder Nichtsein" = "being or not being".

And I must say that I find this incomprehension of Hitler, his policies and the very many he misled, a bit odd, especially in view of the facts that human history is full of mass murders, that were only limited by techniques, from the Greeks, who exterminated the males of cities they defeated, and sold women and children as slaves, by way of Atilla the Hun, the murders of the Protestants in France, the Thirty Years War, the thousands of years of human slavery, to the mass murder of the Jews by Hitler.

Besides, there is another question, that I do not know Amis addresses, which is this. I am quite willing to grant that Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels, for example, were insane, in some sense - although I do not quite know precisely in which sense, though it certainly seems to be rather insane - to me, though perhaps less so to prominent GOP politicians - to want to exterminate millions on the grounds of their being racially inferior (which anyway you take it is a crazy notion).

But that is not the question, which is much rather: Why did so many millions of ordinary Germans follow Hitler, Himmler and Goebbels, and indeed did their murderings for them, often quite enthusiastically also? Were they also insane?

I think not, and a good part of the explanation are that the preceding WW I; the gross unfairness of the Versailles Treaty, ably but unsuccessfully attacked by Keynes; and the consequent more than ten years of deep misery and suffering for most Germans, go rather a long way towards explaining why the Germans did elect Hitler. The rest is also quite painful, but can again be explained, in part at least, by totalitarianism (which forces many to do things they would not do if only they themselves or their immediare superiors were to decide).

So for me - a child of one of the few Dutch families that did actively resist Nazism, and indeed were heavily punished for doing so - it seems less difficult to explain than it is for Martin Amis, but indeed I also never believed that most men were good, or noble, or rational, or intelligent, whereas I do believe that men who are not good, not noble, not rational and not intelligent, which is what the majority are, can be made to believe crazy things quite easily, and also act on them. (This holds for both religion and politics.)

Next, Amis quotes Primo Levi (<-Wikipedia)

Perhaps one cannot, what is more one must not, understand what happened, because to understand is almost to justify. Let me explain: ‘understanding’ a proposal or human behaviour means to ‘contain’ it, contain its author, put oneself in his place, identify with him. Now, no normal human being will ever be able to identify with Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Eichmann, and endless others. This dismays us, and at the same time gives us a sense of relief, because perhaps it is desirable that their words (and also, unfortunately, their deeds) cannot be comprehensible to us. They are non-human words and deeds, really counter-human ... [T]here is no rationality in the Nazi hatred; it is a hate that is not in us; it is outside man ...

No. First, to understand does not mean, also not "almost", "to justify". I understand many things I strongly disagree with. Also, understanding someone or something does not involve putting oneself in his place, and certainly not "identify"ing with him. Second, we do not need to understand "Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Eichmann" etc.: We need to understand why their crazy ideas were adopted by millions of others, who for the most part were ordinary men and women, and were acted out by them.

And totalitarianism, poverty, exploitation, ignorance and lack of intelligence go quite far, I'd say, as indeed they explain many other atrocities - if not fully, then at least quite well.

5. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency

The last item is an article by Thomas Frank, who interviewed Cornel West (<- Wikipedia):

This is West's answer to the first question:

No, the thing is he posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a drone presidency, a national security presidency. The torturers go free. The Wall Street executives go free. The war crimes in the Middle East, especially now in Gaza, the war criminals go free. And yet, you know, he acted as if he was both a progressive and as if he was concerned about the issues of serious injustice and inequality and it turned out that he’s just another neoliberal centrist with a smile and with a nice rhetorical flair. And that’s a very sad moment in the history of the nation because we are—we’re an empire in decline. Our culture is in increasing decay. Our school systems are in deep trouble. Our political system is dysfunctional. Our leaders are more and more bought off with legalized bribery and normalized corruption in Congress and too much of our civil life. You would think that we needed somebody—a Lincoln-like figure who could revive some democratic spirit and democratic possibility.

I think that is about right. There is a lot more in the article, though I should say that I did not know - my bad - that West is a philosopher, and I disagree with him on Christianity and socialism (and some other things).

[1] Here it is necessary to insist, with Aristotle, that the governors do not rule, or at least, should not rule: The laws rule, and the government, if good, is part of its executive power. Here I quote Aristotle from my More on stupidity, the rule of law, and Glenn Greenwald:
It is more proper that law should govern than any one of the citizens: upon the same principle, if it is advantageous to place the supreme power in some particular persons, they should be appointed to be only guardians, and the servants of the laws.
(And I note the whole file I quote from is quite pertinent.)

About ME/CFS (that I prefer to call M.E.: The "/CFS" is added to facilitate search machines) which is a disease I have since 1.1.1979:
1. Anthony Komaroff

Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS(pdf)

3. Hillary Johnson

The Why  (currently not available)

4. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2003)
5. Consensus (many M.D.s) Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf - version 2011)
6. Eleanor Stein

Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)

7. William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
8. Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)

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