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Nederlog


 October
26, 2014
Crisis: Couch potatoes, Silencing, Capitalism, Apocalypse, Corporatocracy
  "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
Sections
Introduction

1.
Couch potatoes have killed the internet dream
2.
Silencing extreme views, even if they are those of
     internet trolls, is wrong

3. Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? (Parts 1, 2 and 3)
4. Apocalypse Now: Seriously, It Is Time for a Major Rethink
     About Liberal and Progressive Politics

5. The Global Corporatocracy is Just a Pen Stroke Away
     from Completion


About ME/CFS


Introduction:

This is a Nederlog of Sunday, October 26. It is a
crisis log.

It is Sunday today, and there are five items with five dotted links, in fact quite interesting: Item 1 is on who killed the internet dream: certainly not the many couch potatoes, I argue; item 2 is about a somewhat silly discussion of internet trolls; item 3 is a very interesting series of interviews with Sheldon Wolin (meanwhile 92) by Chris Hedges, with more to follow next week; item 4 is an interesting and on the whole good piece on liberal and progressive politics by the editor of AlterNet; and item 5 is an interesting piece by Don Quijones.

Because there was quite a lot that is good, I did not pay all the interest I would have paid to some entries, notably item 5. But I have done my best.

1. Couch potatoes have killed the internet dream

The first item is an article by John Naughton on The Guardian:

This starts with the following summary:
We had a glorious vision of a ‘sit-up’ medium dominated by user-generated content – until a lazy, entertainment-hungry public opted for old habits
Really now?! But OK - it depends on who you take "We" to be, but it certainly does not hold for me, although I have a computer since 1987 and a site since 1996. I will say something about both propositions quoted above, but first will quote some of Naughton's evidence, and the following is a good point, though it doesn't establish either of above points.

And I inform you that Naughton is quoting Dr Craig Labovitz here (and that you can find out in the above dotted link who that is):
“Whereas internet traffic was once broadly distributed across thousands of companies,” he told the subcommittee, “we found that by 2009 half of all internet traffic originated in less than 150 large content and content-distribution companies. By May of 2014, this number had dropped by a factor of five. Today, just 30 companies, including Netflix and Google, contribute on average more than one half of all internet traffic in the United States during prime-time hours.”
I did not know the numbers, but the development is - I think - rather normal under capitalism: A new technology starts with many companies, but these tend to be soon thinned out by the competition, and that is what happened in computing as well.

Naughton then says:
To those of us who were accustomed to thinking of the internet as a glorious, distributed, anarchic, many-to-many communication network in which anyone could become a global publisher, corporate gatekeepers had lost their power and peer-to-peer sharing was becoming the liberating norm, Labovitz’s brusque summary comes as a rude shock. Why? Because what he was really saying is that the internet is well on its way to being captured by giant corporations – just as the Columbia law professor Tim Wu speculated it might be in The Master Switch, his magisterial history of 20th-century communications technologies.
Well... I certainly never thought "of the internet as a glorious, distributed, anarchic, many-to-many communication network in which anyone could become a global publisher" - that was just too optimistic a view.

Naughton develops his view, which I will leave to you, and then comes with this:
What we failed to appreciate was the passivity of most of humanity and its inexhaustible appetite for consumption, entertainment and “infotainment”. The spread of high-speed broadband connections did not liberate human creativity but instead created Couch Potato 2.0, a creature that sees the internet mostly as zillion-channel TV.
Again I never was among Naughton's "we": I even never had a TV since 1970, precisely because I am not a couch potato. (But surely I was aware, from long before the internet, that most human beings differ.)

There is some sweetener:
Of course the internet of our (utopian) dreams hasn’t ceased to exist. It’s just that it’s becoming a minority sport. You can still create your own website, or start a blog, become a global publisher – and join the long tail of largely unnoticed content, while stuff from Netflix et al swamps the net.
But for Naughton this is true:
"Sad, isn’t it? We had our chance, and we blew it."
For me, it only means he was among the many naive. And to finally take up the two propositions I started with:

I never believed that "
We had a glorious vision of a ‘sit-up’ medium dominated by user-generated content": That was simply a self-flattering myth mostly spread by anonymous entities without any responsibility, many of whom may have been 16ish. And I still like the internet, but it was quite obvious from the very beginning that major corporations would try to take it over as well as they could, and that since they had big money they probably would succeed.

Besides, I believe that "
a lazy, entertainment-hungry public opted for old habits" lays the blame entirely in the wrong place. It is true that most people are pretty stupid (and also true that almost none of them like to hear or read this), but it is not true that the stupid half of the world's population is responsible for the abuse that the rich corporations submit them to, indeed often without them even recognizing it.

If you want to lay the blame, you have to blame the big corporations: They profit from it; they play the capitalist system for profit; they know what they are doing, and indeed they may well be identifiable persons - but even there the blame must be shared with capitalism, that makes it almost inevitable that the most profitable will survive and the rest will die.

It definitely is not "the couch potato" who did it: it is the capitalists and capitalism.

2. Silencing extreme views, even if they are those of internet trolls, is wrong 

The next item is an article by Nick Cohen on The Guardian:

Again I will start with quoting the summary under the title:

Internet trolls are among the worst specimens the human race can offer. But they are not a reason to nod through another restriction on personal freedom

This time I agree with half: I dislike internet trolls, who seem to me mostly undereducated sadists - I am a psychologist - who seek revenge for being failures and can do so anonymously, but I do not think they are "among the worst specimens the human race can offer". That is just a wild exaggeration, that completely eclipses  the differences between writing about something and doing it. But I agree that "another restriction on personal freedom" is evil.

Also, it's a bit difficult to quote the article, among other things because it reminds me of my days as a student leader in the University of Amsterdam, circa 35 years ago, and well before the arrival of the internet.

But OK, here is the quote:

Eleanor Brayne-Whyatt of the Edinburgh Feminist Society has a point when she says that universities will show they do not tolerate “rape apologism and victim blaming” if they order the SWP to leave.

Even if you want to differ, you may find the task of contradicting her beyond you. We have reached a state where arguing that a speaker has the right to free speech is the same as agreeing with his or her arguments. If you say that racist or sexist views should not be banned, you are a racist or rape apologist yourself. Your opponents then go further and accuse you of ignoring the “offence” and “pain” of the victims of racism and sexism have suffered and turn you into an abuser as well.

With remarkable speed this double bind knots itself around its targets. Defend a repellent man’s right to speak and you become that repellent man and his victims, real or imagined, become your victims too. Small wonder so many keep quiet when they should speak up.

To start with, the "SWP" is the Socialist Workers Party, which is a small British Trotskyist group, that exists for quite a while now (in a sense, since 1950). I do not think they are very relevant, so I just give this clarification.

Also, I will skip the feminism. I very probably disagree with them, but I am also tired of 20-something fanatics of all sexes, who hardly know a thing about politics, psychology or philosophy, and so I will not even attempt to state my position on feminism, except by saying that feminism-in-the-universities is, in my extensive experience, best described as a careerist movement that uses politics, much rather than as a political movement that also shows careerism: it's about getting personal tenure, in the end.

What I am especially concerned with is the second paragraph, and in particular because that state was reached in Dutch universities in the 1970ies:

We have reached a state where arguing that a speaker has the right to free speech is the same as agreeing with his or her arguments. If you say that racist or sexist views should not be banned, you are a racist or rape apologist yourself. Your opponents then go further and accuse you of ignoring the “offence” and “pain” of the victims of racism and sexism have suffered and turn you into an abuser as well.

I agree the Dutch universities - which had been handed to the students in 1971, and were in their hands till 1995, which led to yearly elections in which everyone who worked in the university, professor, student and doorman, had each 1 vote - were quite special, but the above situation had been reached there in the 1970ies, when I arrived there from Norway, as the oldest son of two prominent communists, and the son and grandson of two heroes of the Dutch resistance against Nazism, who had given up communism in 1970:

I have been called very many times "a fascist", "a terrorist" (because of my verbal abilities), "a fascist male pig" and many other similar terms of endearment, all because I was a proponent of real science and an opponent of politics-served-as-science, which is what most students mostly did get, from 1971-1995 (!!), and which very few deplored, because it made degree-taking extremely easy.

Anyway... enough about this: I know the situation very well from my own experience, but the basic problem is that there is extremely little one can do about it, for in the end it is all a matter of rational intelligence, and that is something very few really have - I am very sorry to say, but that is the fact.

3. Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? (Parts 1, 2 and 3) 

The next item is an article by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:
This is in fact the text and the video of a six-part interview that Chris Hedges
did with professor (emeritus) Sheldon Wolin (<- Wikipedia). These are the first three parts of the interview, that I found quite interesting. (But I do have a theoretical mind, is also true.)

This is my attempt at making some sort of excerpt, that follows, although I think you should read all of this yourself.

First, here is Wolin's explanation of his term "inverted totalitarianism":
Well, I mean by it that in the inverted idea, it's the idea that democracy has been, in effect, turned upside down. It's supposed to be a government by the people and for the people and all the rest of the sort of rhetoric we're used to, but it's become now so patently an organized form of government dominated by groups which are only vaguely, if at all, responsible or even responsive to popular needs and popular demands. But at the same time, it retains a kind of pattern of democracy, because we still have elections, they're still relatively free in any conventional sense. We have a relatively free media. But what's missing from it is a kind of crucial continuous opposition which has a coherent position, and is not just saying, no, no, no but has got an alternative, and above all has got an ongoing critique of what's wrong and what needs to be remedied.

Well, certainly one is the--in classic totalitarianism the fundamental principle is the leadership principle and the notion that the masses exist not as citizenry but as a means of support which can be rallied and mustered almost at will by the dominant powers. That's the classical one. And the contemporary one is one in which the rule by the people is enshrined as a sort of popular message about what we are, but which in fact is not really true to the facts of political life in this day and age.
Next, here is Wolin on capitalism:
Capitalism is destructive because it has to eliminate the kind of custom /ˈmɔːreɪz/, political values, even institutions that present any kind of credible threat to the autonomy of the economy. And it's that--that's where the battle lies. Capitalism wants an autonomous economy. They want a political order subservient to the needs of the economy.
As I have repeatedly said in Nederlog, I think there are two kinds of capitalism, namely regulated and unregulated capitalism, and I am a somewhat cynical supporter of regulated capitalism, because the alternative seems to be totalitarianism of the right or the left, and I am definitely against that.

Then again, my support for regulated capitalism is limited by a certain cynicism:
I think that mankind-as-is is not capable of instituting a real non-totalitarian socialism, which needs an average intelligence that is considerably higher than
the present average intelligence, and possibly also a growth in real - rather than merely pretended - moral attitudes. (Hazlitt: "I believe in the theoretical benevolence of men, but in their practical malignity.")

But I agree with Wolin on the following:
(...) capitalism has its virtues, but it has to be carefully, carefully watched, observed, and often controlled.
That is, unregulated capitalism is little better than fascism, if it is different. Regulated capitalism may work quite well - if indeed it is honestly and honorably regulated, as it is not at all these days.

We arrive at Part II. Here is a quite interesting question about when inverted totalitarianism started:
HEDGES: We'd spoken earlier about what you term inverted totalitarianism. When did that process begin? Would we signal the beginning of that process with those reactionary forces in the 1930s? Is that when it started?

WOLIN: I think in the broad view it would start back then.
I don't know, though I myself would date it as starting in the early seventies, with Lewis Powell Jr.'s secret letter that aimed at restructuring capitalism.

As to the genesis of inverted totalitarianism:

HEDGES: (...) And yet you argue, inverted totalitarianism, certainly a species of totalitarianism, can often be the product of a strong democracy.

WOLIN: It can, in the sense that that strong democracy can do what its name implies. In the pursuit of popular ends, it develops inevitably powerful institutions to promote those ends. And very often they lend themselves to being taken over and utilized, that--for example, that popular means of communication and news information and so on can become very easily propaganda means for corporate capitalism, which understands that if you gain control of newspapers, radio, television, that you're in a position to really shape the political atmosphere.
Yes, and this is what has happened since the early 1970ies. As to democracy:
HEDGES: You write in Democracy Incorporated that you don't believe we have any authentic democratic institutions left.

WOLIN: I don't. That may be a bit of an overstatement, but I think--in terms of effective democratic institutions, I don't think we do.
I agree: I do not know of any institition (in Holland) that would speak for me or defend my interests, and indeed none did for 36 years of my illness.

As to the science of politics, as done in American universities:

HEDGES: It's hard to see you in most politics departments at American universities today. It was probably a lonely position even when you--.

WOLIN: Oh, yeah, because most American--most political science departments have become in effect social science departments and much more addicted to seeking out quantitative projects that lend themselves to apparent scientific certainty and are less attuned--in fact, I think, even, I would say, apprehensive--about appearing to be supportive of popular causes. It's just not in the grain anymore.
Quite so - and indeed the same thing happened in sociology, psychology and philosophy: Everybody who is deviant in any way is moved out of the university,
and those who remain are conformists who pretend they do "science", which they understand as doing "quantitative research" in the way Diederik Stapel did it, except that they may be a little more honest. In either case, it is no longer real
science, but is pseudoscience.


Here is some more:
HEDGES: Well, in fact, to engage in real participatory democracy or political activity is to put yourself in a more precarious position vis-à-vis your work, your status within the society.

WOLIN: There's no question about it. And that's true of, I think, virtually every activity. It's now certainly frowned upon in academic work, and certainly in public education it's frowned on.
On the roles of rhetoric in totalitarian societies, whether inverted or direct:
HEDGES: Well, in all totalitarian societies there's a vast disconnect between rhetoric and reality, which, of course, would characterize inverted totalitarianism as a species of totalitarianism.

WOLIN: Well, I guess that's true. I think I'd probably qualify that, because I'd qualify it in the sense that when you look at Naziism and fascism, they were pretty upfront about a lot of things--leadership principle, racist principles--and they made no secret that they wanted to dominate the world, so that I think there was a certain kind of aggressive openness in those regimes that I think isn't true of our contemporary situation.
Yes, though it seems likely openness will increase as the power of the corporations increases.

Anyway - I found this quite interesting, and expect that next week the other three videos and texts will be released.

4. Apocalypse Now: Seriously, It Is Time for a Major Rethink About Liberal and Progressive Politics      

The next item is an article by Don Hazen on AlterNet:

This starts as follows (and is a long article):

As the Editor of AlterNet for 20 years, I have read and seen the entire range of horrendous and growing problems we face as a society and globe virtually every day. It is not just climate change, or ISIL, or Ferguson, or poverty and homelessness, or more misogynistic murdering of women, or the Democrats about to lose the Senate as Obama gets more unpopular. It is much, much more. Every day. It passes by before my eyes. At AlterNet, there are no issue silos—there is just the open faucet of depressing political information coming and going every hour of every day (with the occasional story of success and inspiration). 

So I am sorry to share my deep-seated opinion, which should jibe with anyone who is paying attention. After decades of engagement in progressive politics and media, it is very clear to me: we progressives, liberals, common sense people, are losing badly to the conservative business state, the tyranny of massively expanding tech companies, theocratic right-wing forces and pervasive militarism, home and abroad. By virtually every measure, things are getting worse. And are trending much, much worse in ways we can easily measure, like inequality, climate, militarization of police forces, etc., and in ways that are more psychological and emotional.

Yes indeed: the conservatives have the big money, and they have won, at least for now and for the foreseeable future - though that may change any day with the next crisis (which will not be pleasant in any case).

Next, there is this in explanation:

The relentless push for the conservative anti-government business agenda, that has created most of reality described above, has been underway for more than 40 years, since the age of Reagan. The infamous and ubiquitous Koch Brothers, and dozens of very conservative, super rich allies, joined the right-wing corporate band wagon post Reagan, when their Libertarian electoral efforts fell flat. They then used their massive money, infrastructure and energy to turn the existing propaganda, political and business lobbying machine into a juggernaut.

So now the corporate, business-state power nexus, which includes the political arms that have a range of conservative political entities—from fundamentalist religious groups to the Tea Party—has it all. There are large numbers of organizers, highly visible gatherings of the faithful, and a powerful media and online presence—complemented too often by an eagerly compliant corporate media which repeats reactionary and business state talking points like stenographers (as often even does progressive media). There are thousands of paid conservative talking heads on all the news shows, lavishly funded think tanks, and of course the omnipresent Fox which hugely dominates cable news and influences public attitudes more than any other media.
Yes, indeed - and it has taken them 30 years from 1970, and a false attribution of winning the presidential elections to Bush Jr., followed by 9/11 (which I now think was more likely a false flag operation than not - but no: I have no proof), to get  this far, but they have succeeded for the most part.

This is one major consequence:

At this point, it is a basic tenet of American politics that corporate power rules the roost. Nothing significant that will become law in America if corporate power, profits, global competitive advantage, military might, national security and privatization are in any significant way threatened.
Yes, indeed - and "national security" includes - grossly illegal - spying on all Americans, and on most other human beings.

This is another major consequence:

There is massive lobbying budgets (analyst James Thurber estimated that the actual number of working lobbyists in Washington was close to 100,000 and the industry brings in $9 billion annually) and corruption on many levels. There is often what seems like police-state repression and the criminalization of poverty, homelessness, drug use, and of immigrants, people of color, and often those who venture to protest and express their constitutional rights. Things may feel relatively fine for many educated white folks living on the coasts and in cities and university towns, but this will not last. Sooner or later the rising tides of massive inequality and increased repression will affect most of us.
Yes, that seems likely. And as to justice:
Sorry to say, but the "arc of history" is not bending toward justice—and hasn't for the last 50 years, since shortly after Martin Luther King, Jr., who preached it, was assassinated.
Indeed. There simply are no "arcs of history" in this sense.

As to president Obama (whose supposed enormous talents for playing 3D chess I haven't seen mentioned for a year or two):

Dan Froomkin, writing at the Intercept, insists that in terms of the building of an excessive national security state, "in a lot of ways, we’re worse off today than we were under George W. Bush.There will be no snapping back to a pre-Bush-era respect for basic human dignity and civil rights. Thanks to Obama, it’s going to be a hard, long fight. In some cases, Obama has set even darker precedents than his predecessor. Massively invasive bulk surveillance of Americans and others has been expanded, not constrained. This president secretly condemns people to death without any checks or balances, and shrugs as his errant drones massacre innocent civilians. Whistleblowers and journalists who expose national security wrongdoing face unprecedented criminal prosecution."
Quite so. For which reasons there is the following paradox:
So it is quite bad. Yet, year in and year out, we in the progressive universe write essentially the same books and articles (though the story does get worse), advocate for the same policies, go after the same grants, meet with each other at the same think tanks, and conferences, because that is what we have always done.
Well...yes, they do the same, but no, this will not change: Few people change much after they're 25 or 30, although they may gain considerable depth in learning, and they also may drop and acquire habits.

Then there is this:

Some months ago, I wrote an article: " The 4 Plagues: Getting a Handle on the Coming Apocalypse," in which I provided an analysis that there are four especially powerful and pernicious overarching economic and political mechanisms operating in our country that are fundamentally responsible for the situation we are in: They are privatization, financialization, militarization and criminalization, which together are producing a steadily creeping authoritarianism—a new authoritarianism—to fit our times.
I agree these are four plagues, and they are important. And I think this is a good article, though I must say I do not expect much from the following exhortation:
So yes, is time to take a hard look at why and how we have failed. And we need to rethink pretty much everything, along the way(...)
Indeed, I disagree with this for two rather fundamental reasons.

First, it will not work "
to rethink pretty much everything": Politics is mostly a matter of faith rather than rational thought, and few are intelligent enough to even get a grasp of the thinkers who in fact made their own kind of politics, let alone "rethink pretty much everything".

Second, it also is not necessary: Most of the ideas and values that are required to understand the factual situation have been found and stated - the problem is basically that so very few take the trouble to learn and understand them: Who really read Machiavelli, Hobbes, Marx, Weber, Mosca etc. and is active in politics? (I never met anyone, not in 64 years, who had read these five thinkers - and there are many more: Aristotle, De Tocqueville, Mill, Burckhardt etc. etc.)

But OK - overall, this is a good article, though I do not believe in "a major rethink", certainly not by people who have not even read the classics. And I also do not believe it is necessary: the ideas are there, but too few are interested in them.


5. The Global Corporatocracy is Just a Pen Stroke Away from Completion

The next item is an article by Don Quijones on Raging Bull-Shit:
This starts as follows:
Quietly, subtly, almost imperceptibly, the rules governing global trade and financial markets are changing. It is not happening by accident, but by wilful design. Despite the enormous impact it will have on all our lives, the public is not being consulted on any aspects of the process. Most people are not even aware it is happening.

The main driver of this change are the bilateral and multilateral trade and investment treaties being negotiated in complete secrecy and behind closed doors between corporate lobbyists, free trade activists and our own elected “representatives” (a term I use in the loosest possible sense, especially given the context). The ultimate goal of these treaties is to reconfigure the legal apparatus and superstructures that govern national, regional and global trade and business – for the primary, if not exclusive, benefit of the world’s largest multinational corporations.

This is a very good essay that you should read all of. I do not have the space and time available right now to comment more on it. It ends as follows:
At any moment, a few quiet strokes of a pen behind the tightly closed doors of a luxury conference room could usher in a new age of corporate domination. With it will come a new kind of dystopia, bearing an uncanny likeness to the inverted totalitarianism foreseen by Sheldon Wolin.
For whom see item 3.
---------------------------------
Notes
[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)

2. Malcolm Hooper THE MENTAL HEALTH MOVEMENT:  
PERSECUTION OF PATIENTS?
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)
9.
Maarten Maartensz
Resources about ME/CFS
(more resources, by many)



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