Monday, 30 January 2017

Shia LaBeouf is a Christian worshipping in front of a camera

I

I don't think you can watch this video, or any of the strange live stream "art," without a nagging feeling of deja vu.

The suspicion is expected, but search deeper. I think you know why you are uncomfortable. After all, you were told a long time ago how "secular" Western countries are, and how the great struggles of our history unshackled everything from malicious religion. But you have been deceived, my friend.

Years ago I marvelled how the people in 1095 could agree sending hundreds of thousands of troops into the Near East to liberate the Holy Land from the Muslim occupiers was a good idea. Or in the 13th-century when clerics decided to purge European society of heresy. Or when Catholic Spanish missionaries sanctioned (and used) firearms to "cleanse" entire people groups in South America in the 15th-century.

I wondered how the folks could believe in something so demonstrably nasty and genocidal, and slaughter with smiling faces. They too had mantras recited for hours to reframe the mind in line with the crazy world they'd created around them. Everything they did was good and sweet and true.

Those young chanting progressives are performing the oldest ritual. They are doing so in an age with the smartphone, penicillin and the recent history of landing on the freaking moon. That camera isn't in some Congo jungle village where the moon might scare the sun away forever. This is New York. That faded sharpie heart drawn on the girl's hand may as well be a crucifix. What gives?

II

Have you ever considered the possibility that Jesus was a Marxist? Well, I suppose with the historical order of things, we'd kind of have to reverse this, wouldn't we? We'd have to say not that Jesus was a Marxist, but that Marx was a Christian. Or more correctly, that Marxism was a sect of Christianity.

Immediately, two groups will be horrified by this proposition: Christians and Marxists. By my count, this is, oh, pretty much, everybody.

On the other hand, why should we accept the word of either Christians or Marxists about this? Is Christianity a form of Judaism? Is Islam a form of either? Most people now would say no. But how can Islam be non-Christian while Mormonism is Christian? I mean, if you define Rousseau, Marx and Hitler as Christian reformers, differing only in doctrinal absurdities from Luther and Calvin, you get a very different picture of recent history. And, of course, those chanters start to make sense.

Is there any effective difference between "mainline" Protestantism as practised today, and Marxism? Can anyone describe an act, for example, that an orthodox Marxist would consider unethical and the church would consider ethical? Or vice versa?

I'm careful not to compare violent Marxists with pacifist Christians. The kulaks were liquidated by Lenin, not Marx. There's a reason they call it Marxist-Leninism. And no reason to think that Marx's reaction to Leninism would have been any different from that of Emma Goldman or Rosa Luxemburg.

You can certainly find the roots of violence in Marx's writing. And in Jesus': "Not peace, but a sword..." As for today's rainbow-huggy-touchy-feely left, the violent strain might be dormant but only because it has total power. Try organising a true reactionary or right-leaning opposition and you'll see its fangs. Those kids will calmly chant "he will not divide us" as they slice your head from its neck.

It's a matter of historical fact that the progressive left is the direct, uncontested, lineal descendant of Henry Ward Beecher, Horace Greeley, Julia Ward Howe, etc, etc, etc. These were folks who made Hamas look like Peewee. The only reason they didn't have suicide belts is that 19th-century explosives were expensive and unreliable. Al Qaeda and Osama pretty much ripped off their whole routine from John Brown.

III

So is it really surprising to learn that Marx had a column in Greeley's newspaper? It strikes me as self-evident that both "secular humanism" (ie, Marxism-Rousseauism) and "fundamentalism" are impossible to explain except as sects of Christianity.

The landscape has changed over the years, but not too much. Christians formed churches and continue to support churches more in service to the communal relationship with God, not for their individual relationship. Plenty of people work out their individual relationship with God without the need of any church and that makes perfect sense.

To enter into a church, however, means that while a person does work out his salvation with fear and trembling on the individual level, churches distinguish themselves from more individual relationships with God because the relationship is understood as communal, as a practice within a body. Niebuhr's concept of corporate sin addresses this. So, I think, do the prayers of confession. The church has sinned as a body. What does this mean politically? Church bodies try to work this out all the time, invoking the Holy Spirit for guidance and clarity. It's work that never ends and is prone to error as well as goodness.

In the US, the Civil Rights marches and non-violent demonstrations sprang from church services, prayer meetings and Bible studies. Judeo-Christian convictions of justice and the Christian idea of the word becoming flesh and the worldly act of putting oneself in harm's way drove the movement. It showed how the church can rise to courage and life-endangering deeds in service to eradicating injustice.

I suspect also the Civil Rights movement compares to the work of churches over the last 30 years practising the social gospel and opposing war. Church workers are killed often in Africa. They work on literacy projects, irrigation, crop management and other practical projects, in the name of the church. These people don't seem like naive do-gooders to me. They risk themselves to serve others within the framework of the church in ways I've never had the courage to do.

There are plenty of good examples along these lines. But I hate the smugness. Moreover, when it comes to liturgical language, prayers of confession are worse that flat tires. Sparks are flying off the rims. The Judeo-Christian tradition has a long history of social action and one of the church's most prickly and tricky challenges is how and where to respond to injustice.

IV

Since Christianity has been a religion of power for the last 1700 years, it seems naive to assume the structure just up and disappeared sometime last century because humans figured out how to fly planes or look at galaxies or some other such reasoning.

The people standing in front of the live stream want "social justice." Just meditate on that phrase for a second, isn't it fascinating? Since the concept of justice is intrinsically a social one, if you take the phrase literally it is a pleonasm.

In practice, what "social justice" seems to mean is any action which seems right to the actor as a Christian, but violates the codes of "formal justice." In other words, it could be plausibly argued that a non-euphemistic synonym for "social justice" is actually "political violence."

If we look for example at the role the World Council of Churches played in bringing Robert Mugabe to power, we can see that this is not academic hair-splitting. In fact, versions of the "social justice" concept, which directly contradicted the 19th-century ideal of the Rechtstaat or rule of law ("formal justice"), were central to both Nazism and Communism, and hence responsible for deaths well into the nine figures.

Of course, there was not the slightest spark of murderousness in almost all of the missionaries who went to Sudan to help with irrigation, etc. But their connection between political violence and the urge to improve the world is by no means remote or abstract - as those chanters seem to understand.

V

Some people might say it's simply a bunch of bored, over-excited and impressionable rich kids carrying out the same-old "the poor people are stupid" routine. I think we are observing the same events in pretty much the same way.

The reason I prefer to look at this progressive movement, whatever you want to call it, as a religion rather than as a class issue, is that the class-conflict approach is overexposed, and any illustration of history dependent on it is quickly confused with a zillion other illustrations that are similar, but different.

Whereas defining contemporary progressivism (or Unitarianism, secularism, political correctness, humanism, educationalism, etc, etc...) as a religion in general, and as a branch of Christianity in specific, takes almost no effort at all. And it fits all the facts.

All you have to observe is that its major beliefs (egalitarianism, pacifism, communitarianism) are straight out of the Gospels. And that the only doctrinal trait separating it from other branches of Christianity is that it does not assert the divinity of Jesus or claim supernatural forces operate in human affairs. Echoes of these views can be found in Arian, Arminian, Pelagian and many other heresies over the years.

It is unclear why, just because it incorporates Newtonian and Darwinian science, this new synthesis should suddenly be treated as the only categorical exception in Western history. Now, we see why you feel so suspicious watching that video.

If you look at the red-state versus blue-state conflict in the US as a classic religious conflict between two Christian sects, (the Roundheads versus the Cavaliers, dating all the way back to England) I think a lot of otherwise puzzling phenomena such as camera chanting snap into focus...

Open letter to America

Dear America,

In your fantasy world, citizens will rise up. You want to oust Donald Trump but why? What will replace him? Why do you want to remove him? "Is it freedom of choice?" Here's a hint: That's never the answer.

You want to take to the streets because it’s what you see others doing. Even worse, the idea for revolution is not even your idea. The trick was to get you to think you figured it out on your own. Revolution is an old form of action, completely co-opted by those you wish to rise up against.

It’s how they got to their positions all those years ago, and you think it will be the mechanism for their removal? Did any protestor stop to wonder “hey, why did they let us all gather here?” None of this will make sense until you understand you are less of a threat because you are allowed to believe your anger makes you a good person and theirs does not.

Power doesn't care about your motivations, so long as you act in the required direction.

No matter how many Americans take to the streets, each one will defend their action as a right or freedom. But it is an illusion. Whenever you see the word ‘protest’ you should instead see "100% in the service of the existing social structure." The path is wide precisely because the system wants people to limit their social action to voting.

Angry America, you are wrong in the only way that matters: pro status quo. You think removing Mr Trump will cathartically usher in a paradise of … what, exactly? It is not Mr Trump who strangles you, it is the quiet, insidious democratic system that allowed him to get in.

II

Your political action is the oxygen keeping this system not just alive but brutally kicking and clawing. Attention is its food – love and hate are its currency.

The real threat to the system, the one which will eventually result in the abolition of anonymity, is the deepest fear of all Americans. It is so deep that it shaped the US Constitution: a tyranny of the majority.

Democracy isn’t a safety valve, it is the problem.

Perhaps the nastiest bit of democratic disinformation is the association of democracy with social harmony. The conflict between political factions is a form of ritualised warfare any way you slice it, and it doesn't take much to degenerate into actual combat. The American founders tried to design a factionless, semi-democratic republic and the real miracle of American democracy is that it has produced only one major civil war.

Keeping this ritual conflict within the boundary of democratic politics, and preventing any slip into actual combat has been a central concern of intellectuals for the last 200 years. Obviously, they haven't always succeeded, which makes the concern all the more intense today.

Democracy, like all conventions of limited warfare, is fragile. It's hard to establish and easy to destroy. In 2017, the principal check on actual violence – the 85-year-old informational dominance of "responsible" broadcast and newspaper journalism – is dying.

It is being replaced by Glenn Greenwald and Richard Spencer. And their followers, if not them personally, seem to have enough pure, 24-carat hate stored up for 10 or 15 really juicy civil wars.

III

Four years ago you hated someone else. The question is not how you all learned to get over the prejudice, rather what purpose did it serve in the first place, why was it the preferred expression of hate at that time? People are given an ideology without even knowing it.

In our broken brains, the primordial reflex is to complain about the contents of the system, not to assert the insignificance of its control over us. Like any critiques of advertising, the failure of government criticism is it assumes it has the authority to set the standards. We let it have power over us in exchange for the right to brag that we know it’s not legitimate.

It is far more incisive to ask: What is it about me that desires protest? What is the precise origin of the want? Your desires are illogical, they can't actually coexist. You want good government and democracy when the inevitable end point of democracy will be socialism of the crowd – an ochlocracy. A complete lack of order for anyone not cosily living in gated mansions.

Hating the president is all part of the plan because you dare not attack the system that promises everything, therefore something else must be blamed. Well, sometimes structural imbalances go your way, sometimes they don’t: Better figure out who makes the scales.

The oppression you feel is actually impotence. The source is not top down but bottom up. It is personal abdication. By blaming the hierarchy you discard the freedom to ignore this hierarchy.

You've given up existential power not because They oppress you but to avoid the realisation that every event, every tiny occurrence in your life, is the result of a decision you made alone. This responsibility, this freedom, is too terrifying to process, so it is repressed. And you let them tell you some Other is to blame.

Saying, "I had no choice" is itself a choice. Your choices may be stupid, yet they're still choices. This realisation is frightening. This is why you’ll do anything to hide from the insight – even if it means the destruction of everything.

IV

If you really want to be a moral agent in such a terrible environment, you have to convince everyone around you to agree not to fight each other, knowing full well the soldiers will come. This is the point of the manoeuvre, to expose the evil of the system. It’s the only anti-system choice available.

The great novel of the last century was, I think, Tolkien’s. His masterstroke was to never admit that what any fool can tell is an allegory was anything of the sort. The ring is not the hydrogen bomb or anything like it. It’s just what it says it is. It is power. Tolkien’s lesson is simply Lord Acton’s, and his genius was to wrap it in a book people will be reading for the next 500 years.

The right thing to do with power is not to use it but to destroy it. If one-thousandth of the talented and energetic people I see marching or “working for social change” realised this, the human race would have some tiny chance at an actual, lasting peace.

But no. Nobody wants to be Frodo. Everyone wants to be Boromir.

Original and perceptive thinkers seem unable to escape this trap. The really daring and public-spirited move for an intellectual is to embrace irresponsibility, to accept the lesson of Boromir, and to admit politics is actually the problem.

Every society in human history that has succumbed to government by intellectuals has lived to regret it. Yours will be no different. Ask yourself: Why should anyone who isn’t an intellectual care about “political participation?” What matters to people is only that a government’s law is simple, fair and fairly applied.

V

So forget your protests. You must refuse to interact with democracy’s power structures. The rule is absolute renunciation of official power. This is not black, unthinkable madness. Passivism (not pacifism) is the only free action available to anyone trapped inside an invisible cage.

The logic is simple: Political power is not a human right. You must refuse to participate in any activity in which the goal is to influence, coerce or resist the government, either directly or indirectly. All "sides" must do this. Your goal, America, is to starve the system of oxygen to allow a better, more suitable, order-based structure to bloom.

The entire ritualised combat of democracy exists to create a level playing field for factions of contending philosophers. The history of ideas since 1789 is an endless record of mass murder in the name of the people. The relative peace of the last 85 years has been achieved only at the price of creating a university system which is an established church in all but name and which suppresses any thought it finds even remotely disturbing.

Of course, this is only a hypothesis. It's just a thought, man. You can think it for a while, then say "Nah," and go back to accepting democracy as the best of all government models. It won't hurt you at all.

But the truth is Mr Trump's replacement will not be someone worse, it will be someone who tells you they are better and the democratic system avoids any significant limbs being carved off.

And if a street hustler challenges you to a game of three-card monte, don’t bother playing, just hand him the money. Not because you're going to lose but because you owe him for the insight: He selected you.

Whatever he saw in you everyone sees, from the blonde at the bar to your elderly father you've dismissed as out of touch. The only person who doesn't see it is you, which is why you fall for it all the time. Even mirrors fail you.

Dear America, the hustler of democracy selected you.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Cyber defence needs a rethink

The insider threat is generally top of mind for cyber defenders, but it's not often discussed the correct way. Insiders can be malicious and devious, but they also include people with weak passwords or those who download insecure apps.

In my mind, the real focus for businesses should be to encourage trust and social connection at work. That way employees will more likely feel partially responsible and protective of a workplace and won’t be so prone to making obvious mistakes or lashing out when they leave.

At a higher level, business as a concept must be encouraged. All this talk of the “1%” and “globalism,” as if these are bad things, is exacerbating the tendency for otherwise normal people to do malicious things. They either think it’s OK to attack business or that it’s somehow acceptable if businesses get attacked. This won’t help cyber defence.

Since hackers/attackers aren't going to beat their swords into ploughshares anytime soon, the cyber effort is better spent on building up grassroots defenders by building a more supportive society. Of course it's not the corporate world’s responsibility, but if they don’t do it, who will?

No one listens to the government anymore and intellectuals all seem bent on destroying this culture from the inside. Parents don't seem to know how to make society-conscious children anymore, probably because they too were never told how to live well. And all our role models seem to follow the intellectual's narrative about the corruption and brokenness of the business world.

As we atomise and cloister deep within ourselves with social networks and smartphones, the cyber threat landscape will get worse if employees and citizens aren’t encouraged to help out.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

BuzzFeed and the changing of the guard

BuzzFeed News is trying to defend its actions of releasing an unverified dossier on US President Donald Trump’s shenanigans in Russia. Did I mention no one could verify the contents? Facts never bothered journalists in the past, so why should they stop them now? And to quote the legendary White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer: “sometimes we can disagree with the facts.”

Anyway, here’s what “quality” “news media” BuzzFeed News decided to use as reasoning:

"“First, the documents were in wide circulation among top intelligence and elected officials and news organizations. They were being fought over — and acted on — at the highest levels of power. But the rest of the country was getting only the occasional glimpse of those battles, never the source documents themselves. 
“The only party to this whole affair that didn’t know about it, it seems, was the public,” as the newspaper editor Seth Lipsky wrote in The Wall Street Journal."

Which boils down to: Hey, everyone was talking about it, and it makes sense I’d tell you too.

But I don’t really care if Mr Trump did hire prostitutes to micturate on a forgotten former President’s hotel bed. The question at the bottom, the query that is breaking everyone’s faith in traditional media, is: who gave BuzzFeed the power to decide what information the public should be exposed to?

Notice how no one is asking that question of Facebook and Twitter. People seem to already assume news delivered through those social mediums is “more true” because of the use of algorithms. Far more “true” anyway than messages coming from old-time journalism. But why? What is it that old-time journalism lacks and social network’s own? What changed?

It’s that sneaky word “algorithm” at fault. I don’t mean the word is particularly malicious or duplicitous. It simply refers to a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer, according to Wikipedia. In Facebook’s case, algorithms are all over the place, running everything from logins to your friend’s pictures. Pretty benign, really.

The problem is what happens inside our heads when we hear “algorithm.” It’s like a password for a little drawbridge, that once lowered allows a bunch of information to enter unmolested. “Algorithm” works on your lizard brain in the same way as the phrase “science says.” It draws from the pathways and semiotics of authority, trained into all of us since birth. When we hear “science says,” we assume veracity immediately. It wasn’t that the thing was correct and then science discovered it, rather science discovered it and then it became correct.

(I’m not saying science is bullshit. Some of it surely is, but lots of it isn’t. I’m only pointing out how the semiotics of power works. Foucault, Derrida, Barthes and many other postmodernists thought words were merely tools of power relations. But those people also treated power as a god.)

That word “algorithm” now performs a special task in this information age. It ensures citizens do not ask: Who gave Facebook the specific power to decide what information the public should be exposed to? Such a shield is important because people lose faith in truth systems. A few hundred years ago we asked about priests, and then power flowed to journalists. Now we’re asking it about journalists and power is flowing…somewhere else.

Don’t get me wrong. Journalists also have their version of the “algorithm” sign. They like to say a story is “analysis” or “investigative.” It convinces an audience what they are about to read is unbiased and certainly not subjective. Most people believe this, absorbing the semiotics as sunlight soaks through skin. “Of course analysis is objective, it exposes what’s really going on!” But if that's true, why is every newspaper analysis of peripheral things such as legal matters, business or culture different? And why are all the important analysis about government, military, taxes, etc all suspiciously identical?

Priests also had their own “algorithm”: received revelation, conclave or a magical curtain in the temple. But the idea that people once believed in this obvious untruth seems preposterous today.

The final piece of the puzzle is that Facebook’s algorithm bamboozles us as it nests into the magic of computers. And computers may as well be magic to most people. Hell, most science may as well be magic. We’re told computers separate fact from fiction, circumventing toxic fallible human minds and biases. People hear about algorithms in Facebook news feeds and migrate their faith away from old-time journalism.

Hence the most important result: nothing changes. Heidegger did this too. He “got over God" in the way you "get over" a former lover. We disbelieve in media in the same way. Both you and Heidegger now search for structures that make the same worldview possible. Social networks, "everything is connected" is a vivid metaphor for globalism. And you thought that project would never work? At the very last step of a carefully managed outcome, we can bask in the freedom of our pretend choice.

Remember that power never thinks of you as an individual. Power never thinks of you at all. With old-time journalism and social networks, you are seeing a shift in power being repackaged as a commercial battle.

Like Marshall McLuhan once screamed, there's a war going on out there, and it isn't between liberals and conservatives or atheists and believers. It's between us and them, where them is defined as everyone who is not us and us is defined as me. You lose.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Cleaning up the US election

Most people (a) have no idea what the US Presidency is, (b) have no idea what the election means, or (c) both.

My readers probably don’t believe the US President is “the leader of the free world” or even the CEO of the executive branch, who can just call up federal agencies and tell them what to do – as if he was FDR, or Stalin, or something.

The President is primarily an actor. His or her job is to read lines written by others. Only occasionally are they forced to improvise in debates. Elections still do matter, because public opinion matters. They are a unique way to measure public opinion as it concentrates and tries to think with its tiny, walnut-sized brain.

An election sends a message to every bureaucrat in Washington. Electing Hillary Clinton would mean: full steam ahead to the left. Electing Mr Trump means: be careful, the hicks in the sticks are starting to smell something – turn the heat down on the frog.

With Mr Trump’s appointment the progressive movement will be a little bit dispirited, and thus a little less tenacious in sniffing out and destroying its enemies. (For strategic reasons, I preferred Mrs Clinton because I want the heat turned up on the frog. But there’s also tactical reasons for wanting it turned down for the moment.)

A President is almost entirely ceremonial and cannot be described as managerial. The US President is sometimes called upon to decide disputes between competing members of his staff. That’s a bit more functional than, say, the Queen of England which is more advanced in its progressive loss of authority.

The primary question settled in an election is which party will control the organ of Washington called “the White House.” It’s true, the White House sometimes has a fair amount of military authority. In general, however, it is pretty much vestigial. If the White House disappeared tonight, Washington could go on with business as usual forever.

All this is so because the civil service must not be contaminated by politics. And in any serious conflict with a domestic government agency, the White House will lose. Public policy is business as usual. Politics is just PR drivel coming from the White House.

In Democratic administrations, the White House is friendly with every agency except the Pentagon, while the relationship with the latter is adversarial. In Republican administrations, it is the reverse. Mr Trump can block or frustrate agency initiatives. But he is never, ever in a position to make an agency do something it doesn’t want.

Elections also change public opinion. Or, to put it a different way, they are good indicators of future public opinion. The winners are happy, and grow stronger in their faith. While the losers feel on the losing side of history and waver.

So 51-49 or 49-51 is still an enormous difference. It decides whether the “centre” should, or should not, shift to the left. Or more precisely, how far it should shift to the left this year, because leftward is its general direction.

The basic error of democracy is to treat public opinion not just as sacred, but as always a cause and never an effect. Since the political system has an enormous power to change public opinion, we are looking at a feedback loop. If you think about the specific policy opinions held in 1916, you realise how far this feedback loop can drift.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

How to think about the Israel-Palestine problem

New Zealand likes to “punch above its weight,” but MFAT’s last-ditch effort to make its mark on the UN Security Council embarrassingly showed the ministry doesn’t understand the Israel-Palestine problem.

The UN Security Council voted on December 23 in favour of a resolution calling for Israel to cease building settlements in the Palestinian Territories. Egypt originally introduced the measure but withdrew it December 22 under pressure from the then US President-elect Donald Trump and Israeli leadership.

Israeli warplanes over Tel-Aviv
New Zealand and three co-sponsors Malaysia, Venezuela and Senegal then requested a vote. Consistent with the policies of President Barack Obama the US abstained, provoking condemnation from Mr Trump who had called for a veto. To pass, the resolution needed nine votes and needed to avoid veto by the US, France, Russia, China or the UK. It received 14 votes.

MFAT probably thinks it acted honestly, but it isn’t thinking clearly. Israel and Palestine are fighting over the same thing – real estate. But they do not fight alone. A clue is in the above paragraphs: which country is mentioned more than any other? Elie Kedourie’s 1970 collection of essays called The Chatham House Version explains what’s going on, as does Naseer Aruri’s Dishonest Broker.

One more clue: The UN is best understood as a tool for Washington in the age-old battle between generals and diplomats. This struggle occurs in every country, but in 2017, Washington also happens to be the centre of a vast global empire. In the US, the State Department and the Pentagon wrestle for control over the swamp’s bureaucracy, and therefore the planet. International affairs can’t be understood outside that framework.

Washington's factions are tied like pretzels to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Arlington supports Israel with its strong, but weakening Zionist lobby, while Foggy Bottom’s hordes of humanitarian progressives raucously support the Palestine cause.

Washington delivers billions of dollars in military hardware and goods to both sides every year. If that’s not support, what is? But without this support, Palestinians and Israelis would have to settle their dispute bilaterally. Israel possesses its own arms industry, while Palestine does not. Yet for 30 years every clash seems to result in Israeli concessions. This is curious. The strong generally are not overridden by the weak.

So on the one hand Washington appears to support Israel, but clearly Israel's military would be stronger if the US disappeared. Which means Washington opposes Israel at the same time by sending aid to Palestinians. Something fishy is going on.

Under classical international law, Israel as a sovereign nation state actually has full rights to defend itself however it sees fit, for instance by destroying every rocket launcher in Gaza and rounding up recalcitrant Palestinians who refuse to stop fighting. With the military hardware available to Israel and the stone-age tactics of the Palestinians, it could do this in a matter of months. But we do not live in that world anymore.

The reality is the US artificially constrains Israel – being as it is the controller of the UN and other international institutions – by forcibly removing the rights of that sovereign nation to conduct respectable warfare. It has transferred those rights onto itself, its UN tool and the "international community" – by which I mean to only Washington, which acts as judge, arbitrator, enforcer and governor in one neat package.

Since Washington is always honest (of course) it alone chooses when countries are "violating the rights of humanity." Washington is always right on these matters. And when Israel wishes to recover some land, it is violating the rights of humanity, whereas when Palestinians do the same they are defending them. The former fears Washington, and rightly so. The latter is helping it support democracy. Only the muddy waters of the Potomac separate them.

At bottom, Palestinian belligerency is simply irredentism – a special case of revanchism. This is a particularly wicked action. No one speaks of the conflict along those lines, but it is true. US support doesn’t just keep the Israel-Palestine conflict burning, Washington’s sponsorship of Palestinian irridentism informs them that fighting – as opposed to either accommodating to Jewish immigration, or leaving the region altogether – is the correct option, and may actually succeed.

And so it becomes clear why MFAT’s dream of bringing peace to the region could never work. The Israel-Palestine conflict is a profession, providing employment for thousands of Americans – and the entire population of Gaza and the West Bank. By "employment" I mean parading daily with green Hamas flags and AK-47s in exchange for bags of UN wheat.

Wilsonian US foreign policy, superseding every pre-WWI classical international norm, is today considered more humanitarian than letting Israel and Palestine govern their own affairs. Has this policy been good for Palestinians? With an estimated 78,000 killed since 1920, it's hard to see how.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

What Trump's tweets tell us about the media

US President Donald Trump's use of social networks will permanently control the media news cycle. If you think this is a bad thing, consider how many walls you've metaphorically punched after discovering journalists omitting or misreporting facts. So imagine if you too had access to information the instant it gets released to the public. Even then, few people would read boring primary sources, of course. But you'd be more informed, right? Well ... It used to be that journalists were told to arrive at press conferences at a certain time to hear a certain message or some journalists would be invited to meet with officials while other journalists are excluded. None of this is extraordinary or nefarious, it's just the way things are. What made old-time journalists special is the specific power to choose what to release and what not to release because of their first access. My contention is that Mr Trump's tweets are denying this power by allowing any official to speak directly to the consumer. This poses a problem because today's modern society depends on the centralised control of public information. The democratic state has succeeded in fully coordinating its public opinion, generally through a cradle-to-grave information system in which the perspectives of official and quasi-official educators and journalists are synchronised. Since educators and journalists train the next generation of educators and journalists, it's not too hard to see how this perpetuates. This control is rapidly evaporating with phenomena such as home schooling, Blogger, YouTube, Twitter, etc. I suspect we're witnessing the beginning of a post-journalistic reality. Not to be confused with "fake news." Perhaps this is a good thing for society, but it will be terrible for traditional media and disastrous for democratic government (not altogether a bad thing). Every time I read some piece of "investigative journalism," I have one question which is never answered: why is this story being told? How did it happen? How did these events come to the attention of the author? For some reason, this is never in the text. But, if it were included, the consumer would know why the media is so powerful. Almost every story you see is either a rewritten press release (a practice even Woman's Day finds degrading) or a product of selective disclosure. The practice of officials talking off the record – or even downright leaking – to journalists is widespread and uncontrolled, despite the fact that it is generally illegal. But of course, journalists are not the "public," exactly, so almost no government official is prosecuted even if they are caught. The result is a complicated power relationship between journalists and the civil servants who are their sources and contacts. Each is using the other. The journalist wants a story, the civil servant wants a story that contains certain information told in a certain way. The public will learn what's put in front of them. It's really not that hard. This unwritten relationship is accepted without question. Journalists have a job to do. Their job is to create the illusion that government actions are important and to extend an artificial gap between the public and its leaders. Not just anyone can talk to a president or prime minister, that takes a journalist. Traditional media is a deniable tool of government, part of the extended civil service. What's the message? In the West, it's the importance of democracy. In Iran, it's the legitimacy of theocracy. In North Korea, the media reinforces a bizarre amalgam of Communism and monarchy, etc etc. Every country needs an official portal for releasing its system's sanctified message. So, when traditional media complains about dying, what you're actually seeing is a government department being restructured. It won't disappear, though, because the media is far too powerful a tool of statecraft to let fade away. The critical point is that government still needs to disseminate information to maintain its legitimacy in the minds of the public – to achieve the psychological capture. In the past to keep bad thoughts from spreading, unofficial or otherwise uncoordinated information organs were weeded out and destroyed. Only a decade ago, the legal environment was such that direct, person-to-person transmission of bad thoughts was socially and professionally imprudent at best, actionable at worst. And then Twitter came along and now everyone's free to spread bad thoughts at 186,000 mi/sec. If you're a lawyer, good luck prosecuting everyone. In a post-journalistic world, education becomes a purely parental responsibility. Young people will learn whatever their parents choose to teach them or have them exposed to. Official involvement in this process in the form of subsidies is preposterous. Likewise, journalism becomes a purely private function, a reality which Mr Trump is clearly used to. When the state discloses information, it does so by releasing all information to all people at the same time. There are no press conferences, leaks, unofficial sources, off-the-record conversations, etc, etc. Modern government will have no need for even quasi-official information organs. It's not a question of if this will happen, but what will we do now that it has happened? Losing your faith in official journalism is an extremely large mental step, in the category of giving up a religion. It creates an enormous set of questions which you thought were answered, and now suddenly are questions again. And it's very easy to get those questions wrong. To paraphrase G K Chesterton, when people stop believing in the newspaper, they don't believe in nothing, they believe in anything.


**One final point. The media is a tool of the state, and this is even more true if that media is "alternative." Just because you don't see it anymore, doesn't mean its gone. Every blogger and twitter account reinforces the power of the state because they add another step between the government message and final consumer. They do not "increase transparency," they actually extend the fuzziness because now the discredited media appears not to have anything to do with it. But the messaging will still be the same: democracy is good, voting is good, taxes should be paid (or lowered), crime is bad, law and order are good, etc etc.