Friday, 31 March 2017

Society sucks because prisons do the work of parents. Yes, that's a bad thing.

If you want to learn why you think whatever it is you think, strip away the existing context and force it into a new one and see what happens.

The point of this blog is to think about power. I can take or leave French philosopher Michel Foucault's conclusions, but the intellectual tools he used are worth holding onto. The tyranny of the "symbol system" forces our hand to draw symbols rather than what we see. The problem isn't that you can't express yourself well, the problem, as in drawing, is that we don't perceive well. We rely on symbols, and they make us feel knowledgeable.

Those symbols guarantee we simultaneously misunderstand reality while affording those with a will to power some interesting opportunities. Stepping outside semiotics then, or at least knowing the tyranny exists, is a good lesson. Thanks for the tip, you bald Frenchy.

I

The postmodernists don't like God. Wow, big news, hold the damn press. But God isn't the problem, the problem is weak humans need external validation. Which means if you take God away something else must replace it. Giving up on the bearded dude in the sky is easy squeezy. Becoming the kind of person who doesn't need semiotics just to eat a bag of peanuts is hard. You think M. Foucault could walk up a set of stairs without believing in the Omnipotent Other?

On the one hand, we live in a society which values free choice and personal responsibility, but we are told that it is safe to value those things only because people expect a certain amount of absence of choice and freedom from responsibility.  You assume you would not be allowed to make a truly dangerous choice, hence why the French thinker trusts the next step without a second thought: he believes in a power above and outside him, in this case, council officials. But a power nonetheless.

M. Foucault's work on the prison is instructive here. He argued that the mechanics of prisons are designed not so much to lock away criminals as to train them into docility. Prisons aren't houses of confinement, they're departments of correction. Kinda like parenting.

In fact, Theodore Dalrymple once wrote that good parenting was enforcing specific meal times. The point wasn't to feed the child, the little tykes will find the hidden snacks eventually. The point is that parenting's core role is to make a good citizen. Forcing a child to sit down three times a day to eat, even if they aren't hungry, teaches them to control their impulses and follow a social norm. Only savages eat snacks. In the same way, the function of a prison is the timetables, not the cage. Discipline occurs in the supervised inspections, the monitored mealtimes, the work shifts, even the "yard time" overseen by armed guards and psychologists.

The purpose of prison surveillance is to transmit to inmates that they are subject to constant, omnipresent oversight. It is not meant to deter prisoners from thoughts of escape, but to compel them to regard themselves as subject to correction. M. Foucault called this "biopolitics," a power over a person's body and mind by a state institution. Although the prison was invented in the 18th century, the goal isn't anything new at all. It nests within the nature of reality. And you can no more destroy reality than throw a ball beyond the edge of the universe.

II

The 18th century was a time when the utility of the traditional God idea was already falling into disuse. The constant surveillance was supposed to be the effect of Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon, but the actual architecture was never built.

It was a hollow ring of donut-shaped cells surrounding a cylindric central tower. Each cell in the ring had windows on the outside and inside through which light exposed the interior, making the inmate visible to guards observing from the central tower. But the cellmates couldn’t see through the central tower's windows, so had to assume the guards were looking at all times.

Mr Bentham knew ceaseless surveillance limits a person, creating a set of right and left-hand boundaries and a spectrum along within which they can act. Those boundaries would exist anyway, but the nature of the reality -- the infinite -- is so tempting and the freedom it allows so overwhelming that people will act as though the boundaries don’t exist unless they are subjected to surveillance of some kind.

After all, what makes society possible is that although I am completely free to drive at 200kmph, I voluntarily give up some of this freedom to crawl along at 50kmph in order to live with others. There are no rules, there is only slave speak, but following rules is my decision alone. No matter how I cut it, there is a reality beyond me that doesn't care about my choice.

The infinite implies two things: there are correct actions and it must be separate from the rules of society, otherwise, it wouldn't be infinite. My contention is that God is simply an unsophisticated shorthand to describe that which is real and outside any human action of change. One does not believe in God because "otherwise, how would you know what's right and wrong." One believes in the infinite so that it may make itself apparent for harmonisation in order to live a life with the least amount of unnecessary suffering.

This is not about morals. It is about coupling the finer points of that which is true (science) with how to live (myths). Science paints for us the boundaries of what is beyond human action to change. Those boundaries are not constricting, they are freeing: acceptance of the infinite creates limitation (freedom to act) and to accept or reject the responsibility commensurate with those boundaries gives us meaning. This is the lesson underneath the idea of making sacrifices: if you don't harmonise yourself with the unbendable infinite, you will be destroyed.

People always say they don't know what to do with their lives, and I think it's because they're too free. Infinite freedom is proportional to infinite terror. All that liberalism and unshackling from traditional constraints didn't make people happier. "No more oppression! No more control!" Really? You want that? You're so sure infinite choices will make you more likely to make the right choice? Have you been to Subway?

III

The message of the Yin and Yang symbol is to remind us that a healthy life is lived with a balance of order and chaos, according to psychologist Jordan Peterson. Too much of one makes Jack a dull boy. Pieces of your life must be pushing into the unknown, while other pieces must be grounded in the known. Discipline helps to foster a desire for this balance by teaching a child how to act.

I think the magic really starts when parental discipline is coupled with the concept of the infinite. That's when society is born. The infinite is above a parents' rules, giving the adult justification for discipline while deflecting any innocent scepticism away from the fallible parent towards "that which cannot be disproven." It's a very useful tool. But it's a two-way street. The parent must constantly test his understanding of reality and social norms to ensure he is harmonising the two correctly.

Because one thing I struggle with is: if there's a proper way of being which is beyond human action, and one must harmonise with it, then is there any room for the evolution of social norms as technology and science advances? What is the mechanism for testing that one is, indeed, weighing the constraints of the infinite with the persistent human ability to dilute the effects of those constraints?

I still haven't figured this out, but I do have some guesses.

IV

The Soviet Union is a good place to start. In pretending they didn't need to believe in the reality of infinite, the Ruskies nevertheless found they couldn't alter core human dynamics. They tried calling men, women and all people "comrade" or "soviet" and thereby eliminate tribalism and group solidarity. Lysenko's agriculture was the regime's failed attempt to alter the reality of the world, causing the deaths of millions in Ukraine.

Utopian dreamers still want to bend the world to their will because that means they'd be equivalent to God and so avoid death. That's always been the utopian goal, which is why ideology is synonymous with religion. Their human fears mean they both want to transcend death. My big-picture takeaway is that communism and American progressivism (and even fascism) match an ethical template historically derived from a highly successful sect of Christianity which believes humans are essentially good (ie, they do not believe in original sin). This is the forest. And I refuse to play the get-lost-in-the-trees game. They all quack, they all waddle, they’re all ducks to me.

For example, one term for the “human essence” is inner light, a concept specific to the Quakers, but absolutely typical of the English Dissenter zeitgeist. The hallmark of this tradition is the worship of the soul. So, in the past men argued about whether animals had “souls,” today they argue about whether animals have “rights.” Plus ca change. The human spiritual instinct can imprint on any concept that is fundamentally mysterious. It does not have to be a bearded dude sitting in the clouds. It can be a purely philosophical mystery, such as today’s "humanity," Plotinus’ "One," Buddhist "enlightenment," etc, etc. All it needs is some kind of unsolvable problem or unanswerable question.

The larger point is that we are supposed to accept mainstream thought on "humanity" as the pinnacle of reason and science, rather than parsing it as a received tradition in the Christian power structure. Missing this connection discards what I think is the most parsimonious explanation of how people came to hold these strange beliefs in the first place, which are so divergent from reality. The key is to question if all legitimate authorities could be wrong, and a fringe gang of discredited, eccentric monsters could be correct. The analogy of freethinking in previous centuries, when combined with the hypothesis of unbroken but mutated Christian continuity, shows why this is important, I feel.

V

As an aside, I'm starting to think the purposeful denial of the infinite explains why the nature vs nurture debate has become so annoyingly central to the propaganda of the LGBTQ activists. If they can convince the rest of us it's possible to pick and choose at will something as fundamental and beyond the human action to change as one's sex or gender, then it follows axiomatically that it should be possible to change malleable human minds into whatever form the utopians desire. What we have is hundreds of thousands of people who believe their mode of being can be surfed like TV channels. What we don't have is any scientific data showing that this belief comports with the nature of the infinite.

VI

Anyway, back to bashing the parents (I jest).

Way before Christianity, early humans invented the twin power structure of God/parents to deal with the natural limitations of who we are and how to act. They knew the basics of those limitations such as women produce children, men are generally stronger than women, men like ideas while women like aesthetics, all humans can catch hypothermia, groups would rather live with homogenous groups, etc.

Science suggests men with long ring fingers soon figured out if you discuss these limitations cogently while organising them into rules, you can control people. Everyone else knew these concepts were true, they'd just never heard them spoken allowed and assumed the speaker had some phenomenal access to the infinite (God). In the first book of the Bible, Adam names the animals. Why? He didn't invent animals by organising them into names. Cows existed before Adam. No, it was because, without names, animals are part of chaos which is unavailable to the human will to power. Yet with names, chaos could be dragged into order so humans can act even in the presence of chaos. Very clever story.

Consider women in primitive societies. The burqa was (and still is) necessary due to the unconstrained male sex drive. Without discipline, men follow natural urges. Concealing clothing is the mechanism men put in place for the purpose of containing men, not women. Obviously, burqas oppress women, I'm not arguing with that. But oppressing women is not their primary purpose. The reason Islamic scholars still require women to cover up is simple: to protect them from being raped. That isn't a joke or a rationalisation.

Unless overwhelming social control, laws and cultural mores are enacted, men will pursue women for sex. Men in these places are largely uneducated if not totally illiterate, aggressive and incredibly hormonal. Of course, other men in power understand this lack of impulse control, but for a long time also lacked the resources for an obvious police presence. The one thing they can control, however, is female clothing. From their perspective, the danger isn’t that a women’s sexuality is so powerful it must be contained, the burqa is an acknowledgement that men at their basest are impulsive and violent.

From the outside, the burqa looks like a patriarchal oppression. But it's actually a good example of society harmonising with the infinite in proportion to the technological advancement of the time and space. Similar sartorial laws were still in play up until the 1930s in Meditteranean Europe because all societies know this aspect of male reality is true.

VII

So why are bikinis available today if males haven't really changed? That's a great question.

Here's my guess: a strong police authority dilutes the effects of the infinite (as contraceptives diluted the consequences of sex) and the "rule" demanding female concealment was loosened to reflect this technological advance.

But the advance doesn't alter the fundamental reality that males are dangerously impulsive at their basest. It's just that the strong central authority artificially drags the chaos of an unconstrained male hormonal drive into the order of a constrained social being. All this progress could be undone frighteningly quickly if the human institutions built to deal with the nature of reality fail.

So a society needs both an understanding of the infinite and the enforcement of its limitations. There are really only two choices. We could break down this complex structure and follow the dreams of "free" utopians. Or we could resign ourselves to the infinite, resurrect the purpose behind the institutions of God and parents to best mirror this world's technological advances. That would require a constant feedback loop to comport these social rules with the infinite and our technology.

The responsibility for this is on parents. Society depends on them making good decisions. Parenting doesn't come naturally like breathing. If you're worried about your girl's school grades, read the myths. We've been telling each other stories like this for thousands of years.

Myths don't tell you what is real. They tell you how to live. Narcissus was a massive douche, but Laius and Jocasta were horrible parents. Read the stories until your eyes bleed or the classics section in the library basement floods. Don't worry about making noise down there, you won't be disturbed, which is precisely why we're in this damn mess.

Don't want to be a good parent? How convenient. Schools and prisons are doing it for you anyway. Because we thought it was a good thing to get "freedom" from responsibility, the state stepped in to control the function of the God/parent institution. And if you'd read any of those classics you'll probably know what happens when a state takes responsibility for a critical social dynamic...

VIII

But these prisons are just a sterile recreation of the God/parent power relations. The prison is a crude and temporary answer for when a society hasn't resigned itself to the infinite, kicking the can further down the road avoiding ruin, for now.

The burqa isn't needed in New York, but you'd be silly to think that's because men are saints. Everyone has some definition of right and wrong, which is a consequence of their cultural upbringing. Morality is acquired in about the same way and about the same time as language. Both are restricted by anatomy, but neither can be derived from it. If you lock a baby in a closet and feed it through a slot, of course, it will grow up with neither. But describing the resulting creature as “human” is a stretch.

It's the role of the God/parent structure to pass on the cultural kernels of factual inferences and ethical judgments about the world at an early age so they can remain stable throughout life. Imprisonment coaxes prisoners to learn how to inspect, manage and correct themselves. Supervision means they eventually won't need supervisors and they become their own attendant and "docility" is just the modern word for "conscience." Discipline is the mother of society.

Dear parents, I think you know deep down that existential meaning is directly proportional to responsibility. What you might not know is that responsibility is a synonym for power. Someone's going to have it, you can't make power magically go away. You probably better think about that before it's too late.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The geopolitics of Nicky Hager

A new book claims the NZSAS killed civilians not as a side-effect of a 2010 mission in Afghanistan, but as the primary goal as revenge for the death of a New Zealand soldier.

Under any normal circumstance, this would be an opportunity to discuss the utility of special forces. But it looks like this book will be useful in other ways: just reverse everything the authors say to know the truth. Consider this passage from an interview:

"New Zealanders were told that their military was in Afghanistan to bring peace and reconstruction and that they treated the locals with empathy and respect. But when a New Zealander died in the attack on a New Zealand patrol, our military response was reckless: innocent people were killed and wounded, houses were blown up or burnt down..."

Indeed. Notice two things: 1) only protected nations accept a military's role is to "bring peace and reconstruction," 2) observe how the military becomes "bad" when it performs its traditional role.

This situation is a direct result of Washington’s re-education after 1945. One of the more fascinating facts of American politics today is that both progressives and conservatives hate their government. They just hate different parts of it, and love and cherish the others. In foreign policy, progressives hate the Pentagon, and love and cherish the State Department. Conservatives hate the State Department, and love and cherish the Pentagon.

In most countries outside the US, the educated elite is hooked on the State Department party line. The only country in the world with any meaningful right-wing political element is the US. This is not a coincidence. The message they are chanting is: less Pentagon. The Pentagon is State's hereditary bureaucratic enemy. It's the ancient war of soft power diplomats battling hard power soldiers for imperial supremacy.

But neither hates Washington as a whole. So they can never unite to destroy it, and the whole machine is stable. By separating voters into two competing but cooperating parties, the two-party system creates a survivable government. If you can find a way to stop being a progressive without becoming a conservative, you might even find a way to actually oppose the US government.

The thing about progressivism is how similar it is to Christianity. Any distinction between secularism, liberal mainline Protestant Christianity and progressivism is so minute as to be almost irrelevant. The three form a single culture and belief system. They ascribe credibility to the same Anglo-American institutions and support the same policies.

It’s like the difference between a Salafi and a Wahhabi. I’m sure a serious scholar of Islam can explain why the two terms are not synonymous. But to anyone without a particular interest in Islamic theology, they are basically the same thing.

So here is the answer to our riddle. The New Zealand Defence Force follows State’s party line of being "peacekeepers" first and soldiers a distant, almost unobservable second. But one small pea still bothers: the last bastion of traditional military in the NZDF – the Special Air Service. These men kill people, regularly. And that’s not very diplomatic.

The NZSAS is part of the traditionalist social structure. And progressives hate traditions. Any tradition not invented by progressivism cannot be controlled by it and poses a threat to its power base. But the institution itself is useful: hence why women are in the military and the “Easter” is removed from the eggs. Yet progressives and traditionalists can't both control the same institutions.

Dear reader, did you think it would be different? Someone should ask Nicky Hager if his progressive ideology is the underdog or overdog and watch his brain CPU heat up and start to smoke.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Geopolitics, ‘diversity’ and the modern janissaries

In a world of globalised market states, internal dynamics will impact geopolitics in strange and dangerous ways. So what should we make of “diversity”? It appears the entire social structure of both Western Europe and the US revolves around this topic, and it is easy to see why: Everywhere that there is argument, there is an unresolved opportunity to rule.

Of course, we are all human. My perspective on the world is very different from most people. But I prefer to respect their experiences, rather than regard their culture as an inferior, ignorant version of mine regardless of whether they share my skin colour, language or passport. Issues which seem to concern progressives quite a bit.

It's pretty clear what's going on with this whole "diversity" experience, as far as I can tell. It is an attempt, so far successful, by one strand of the Anglo-American tradition to create a janissary class and eradicate the last remnants of its traditionalist competitors and achieve total domination. In order to understand “diversity,” we have to unpack the thinking of today’s elites.

First, the basics. "Diversity" and "multiculturalism" are simply the modern descendants of the Puritan tradition, which evolved into "Nonconformism" in Britain and "Unitarianism" or "Transcendentalism" in the US. This finally mutated into the Progressive political movement, which controlled the US and UK before WWII and conquered the world as a result of that war. This movement is now the culture of the global transnational elite.

But keep in mind, this movement now asking you to be "multicultural" and "diverse" is coming to you with blood dripping from its lips after ripping apart its enemies last century, and it's asking for a kiss.

The key to the riddle of "diversity" is that the traditions progressivism is destroying are all real, such as Christmas, whereas the ones it esteems are largely invented, such as Kwanzaa. Of course, I’m not saying diversity is a method of social control. Its goal is to heal “deep spiritual wounds” and to correct the evils of the past, such as segregation, lynching and inappropriate lawn ornaments.

If you wonder about "diversity," try this experiment at home:

1: go to your local shops. Buy four or five different flavours of ice cream.
2: Scoop large chunks of each flavour, chosen randomly, into the blender. Don’t turn the blender on.
3: observe
4: turn the blender on for 15 seconds.
5: ask yourself the following question. Were the contents of the blender more "diverse" before, or after, step 4?

Ice cream aside, one of the most notable real-world achievements of this philosophy of government was the destruction of Eastern Europe, which was once a vibrant patchwork of multicultural diversity. The doctrine introduced the same kind of violence into Mitteleuropa that it brought to Iraq in 2003.

It's easy to forget these days that "democracy" and "nationalism" are basically the same thing. At least, that’s how Woodrow Wilson understood it. How can you have democracy without nationalism? You can't. Anyone who wants to argue the Nazis were not a typical expression of democratic thug politics, sees a strange nuance of translation between "Demos" and "Volk."

In my opinion, upper class "professionals" are extremely classist and status-conscious. The best indicator of this class are those who use the word “we” when referring to “government.” Their egalitarianism is thoroughly bogus. But their non-racism and antiracism is genuine.

By the way, "class" (caste) isn’t about one’s tax bracket. It is about status, prestige and power. Nor does caste in the West depend on lineage. It mainly depends on where a person went to university.

Almost all the West's levers of power are controlled by progressive aristocrats, but they are outnumbered. This class is always looking for children of the underclass it can plausibly recruit and train as professionals. Case in point: “affirmative action.” This cements the alliance between the two classes, and directs attention away from its unnatural and essentially military nature.

Unfortunately, the phrase "my people" has two meanings in English. There is a whole other traditionalist culture in Western society which sees the world very differently from progressive elites and isn't suffering from some kind of rural mental retardation. It simply doesn’t have power.

The top rank of social status in the western world today is conferred by, and only by, intellectual competency and achievement, preferably involving some association with the arts, sciences or public policy. Wealth confers no rank, and wealth in the absence of personal achievement is downright embarrassing.

Ottoman janissaries
No one, for example, gains any status by being the son of a successful car dealer. Some people might think they have status by driving a fancy car or something, but that's actually because they have no status at all (in the broader societal sense). No amount of “bling” is enough to make an underprivileged pharmaceutical merchant welcome at cocktail parties, or to admit him to Oxford.

Of course, white people of the traditionalist persuasion are not saints. In the past their skin colour supplied them with privileges. And if you offered the privileges again, I'm sure they would take them. Similarly, if you offered the Hohenzollerns the crown of Prussia back, I'm sure they'd take it. But that's no reason to worry about the second coming of Kaiser Bill.

Instead, these days, as the US election just discovered and Europe is about to see (hopefully not too harshly) lower-caste white people are dangerously discriminated against, in favour of a rapidly-expanding class of minorities who will soon become the majority. These newcomers are being used transparently as a janissary caste by the ruling progressive elite.

The movement for diversity is a naked elite power play. And whether their skin is white, black, green or purple, nobody appreciates discriminatory treatment. The fact that lower caste white people in the US and Europe submit to this power play is a consequence of their present powerlessness. If that changes, a lot of things will change with it.

If that change occurs – an unlikely possibility but certainly not impossible – this discriminatory stick will be used against the elites. After all, the line between a "native" and a "nativist" is awful thin. If I were a progressive, I'd think pretty hard about how to get that ring off of my finger and throw it into Mt Doom. Because rings do tend to change hands.

I have no desire at all to see violence. I have zero cultural affinity with the kinds of people who might vote for Donald Trump. In fact, if they came to power – actual power, not this present parliamentarian farce – I would think really hard about finding a quiet hillside somewhere. So I raise my voice against progressive “diversity” only because their irresponsible and narcissistic policy leads us closer every day to exactly this violence.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Today I learned nothing

Isn’t it funny when women complain to the HR department or other authorities? Sure, they might have been groped but all it sounds like is: “oh no the patriarchy is oppressing me. Quick, help me patriarchy!”

My friend told me a story. Apparently her girlfriend was invited to a corporate box to watch some silly sports game but all she saw was a drunk manager grope one of her colleagues. Fuming, she left the box early and the next day complained to the human resources department. For some reason, the girlfriend feels powerful and pleased with herself. But I don’t see the achievement.

First, it’d be silly to blame the environment of the corporate box. People often say the way men “do business” is different to the way women do business. But I don’t think that’s true at all. It’s really all about having agency and initiative.

I’m generalising a bit here, yet the goal for many women in business is the relationship, rather than to use relationships as a lead up to a transaction. Men build relationships in order to get the transaction. But the mistake is to think of this as two ways of doing business. It’s actually just the right way and the wrong way. Transactions are the whole point of business. If you want to build a relationship, go out for coffee.

The whole point of wooing clients at a corporate box is to pick their pocket, but if you’d rather those events weren’t about ulterior motives, you can’t then complain when revenue falls. It’s not about feminine vs masculine business processes. It’s about doing business. That’s it. Business is always and everywhere about convincing others to give you their money. Business doesn’t have morals, ethics or a sex. It is a process, like science. Anyone can do it. The only answer is to comport yourself to this reality, not to warp it to your ideal.

The real problem is there are people who want to get more money from the job and people who want the job to pay them more money. They are not the same person. And I’m going to risk the blowback to say the latter is generally female. But hold on there, buddy, this has nothing to do with sex or gender. Those are media-sanctified talking points. It’s about mindset.

Another girl I know quipped on International Women’s Day about the notoriously elusive “gender pay gap.” I mentioned how that’s not just illegal (women can’t be paid less than male counterparts for the same job) it’s also scientifically illiterate (she failed to correctly read the data). Her response was “well, I was only paid $35k when I started at [current job], whereas [colleague dude] was paid $40k.” To which I responded: “did you ask for more money?” And she said something about how her age and experience meant she couldn’t really be expected to do this.

Do you see? Where did she get this idea? Who told her that if she is X or Y, then her agency to take control of her life/salary is negated? Who cares where she heard this, why did she believe it? If her male colleague is being paid $5k extra, and she knew about it, why didn’t she demand the company pay her the equivalent? Was it “institutional sexism” or the “patriarchy”? Or is this all better explained by the entirety of her life being told time and again that “women don’t initiate dating,” “women should attract men,” etc? Don’t you think these messages are different to males told to “get” a girlfriend or “learn the game”? It’s not sexism, it’s a constant self-denial of your own freedom and agency to do something about the situation in which you find yourself.

I saw the same mindset with another girl I worked with. She thought our boss would just know how good she is with a camera, somehow, rather than going out of her way to temporarily work longer hours to take more photos, or spend her weekends taking photos or even create a 20-page document about how an in-house photographer would increase the bottom line.

When she asked what was going wrong, I said her mindset assumed passivity until someone else acted. She also wants to marry eventually but gets frustrated when she’s attracted to a guy but he doesn’t approach/initiate. GO AND TALK TO HIM!!! I wanted to yell. But I was talking to an empty chair.

Back to the corporate box. I’m not saying colleagues should grope each other. And if a woman feels uncomfortable, something should be done. But don’t negate even more of your agency by letting the “authorities” deal with it. She’d be better off taking control of her sexuality to ensure any male action is a reaction to something she consciously initiated.

In other words, she needs to realise that power requires understanding that not only do women control the sex, men are sexually weak. Unfortunately, she’s learned that women should be demure and refuse sexual advances or inappropriate groping. Where did she learn this? It wasn’t from men. Males want women more open sexually. This lesson can only have come from other women. But she should pause to ask whether those women (usually older, less attractive, afraid of losing their important/rich/strong male partners to younger females) really have her best interests at heart.

Here’s something to do next time you discuss sexual assault with a younger female: rather than concentrate on what that girl should do if she’s being groped, she should explain what to do when other girls are groped. This allows her to stop believing she is always acted upon and compels her to think about how she will act in a situation that really demands action. No more giggling awkwardly. No more staying quiet. No more suggesting that girls should “dress more conservatively.” She should bring the wrath of Minerva down on that man. She should phone every woman she knows and demand they come here right now with sticks and knives, or at least grab a deodorant can and a lighter and set the bastard on fire.

So what if men are in “their territory” at a corporate box and wanna get their grope hands out. What does territory mean here? It means we’re not talking about sexism, we’re talking about power. You can’t make power disappear, your only choice is to control how it flows and to whom it flows. Someone’s going to have it, don’t you think it should be you? If men have carved out a territory, then women should carve it back. And no, you can’t ask human resources to help. Grab the deodorant can, it’s time to realise how free you really are.

Sure, you might get punched and it’s pretty scary to stand up. But that's kind of the point. I grant you it's safer to giggle and let boys be boys. Do you want power or the trappings of power? I wasn't at this particular groping but I guess the corporate box is a “sexist” environment. My point is: so what? Why didn't the women stop it anyway? If it’s a “sexist” culture, wouldn’t that make the women want to stick together more? Why is the first decision to complain to the authorities about a gender pay-gap or groping? Where did she get this idea?!?

Friday, 10 March 2017

International Women's Day - a rebuttal

I think we’re doing a good job of creating equality now. How fast do you hope for things to change? Look at what’s happened for women since 1970. It’s changed so fast people can’t even keep up.

However, it’s not obvious this change has been particularly good for women. The case could be made that these changes were good for society, but the birth rate has plummeted. Maybe you don’t care about that because there are too many people on the planet already. The point is, it isn’t easy to figure out when something is working properly.

One thing is for sure, the countries which have extended rights to women most comprehensively are flourishing economically. And there does seem to be a causal relationship.

But women have paid a major price for this. The lives of those who occupy the middle class or lower have essentially fallen apart because marriage is now restricted to the rich. That’s also something to think about for those who think marriage is an oppressive patriarchal institution. Ok, then why are only the rich people getting married? Are they oppressing themselves? I don’t think so.

Women in the lower socioeconomic strata are suffering badly. They generally have terrible jobs in retail where there isn’t a steady schedule, the pay is terrible, they have kids to take care of and become easy targets for useless predatory males. This is perhaps 40% of the female population. Anyone reading this is probably part of the cognitive and economic elite, so these sorts of things don’t really touch you the same way they touch other people.

National polls also show women are unhappier than they were in the 1960s. I think that’s partly because freedom and happiness are not the same thing. They’re not even close. I see young women struggling all the time trying to figure out what to do with their lives. They have no idea how to have a career and a family. And there’s no answer to that, it’s a really difficult problem.

Consider the legal sector. It boasts a lot of extremely high-functioning young women. The message is that these women are being denied access to positions of power as a consequence of prejudice and oppression. This is ridiculous. Human dynamics aren’t caused by the same thing. You can’t take one principle and use it to figure out every problem.

Those law firms cannot keep women. Almost all of them leave. Why? Because these brilliant, conscientious, intelligent women were deadly in school, deadly in university, nailed law school, whipped through their articling and made partner by the time they were thirty. They were on a rocket to the top position. But what do they find when they get there? Eighty-hour work weeks.

That’s something to think about. People think those in power are sitting at home smoking cigars and telling their minions what to do. That’s a caricature. I know lots of people like that and they work all the time. From the second they wake up, to the second they go to sleep. They don’t just casually work in the way you go to the library to study for six hours but really only study for perhaps 30 minutes.

Some of these people are corrupt, sure, but the vast majority are self-made and they’re so efficient and smart you cannot believe it. They work eighty hours a week, and most of them happen to be men. Why is that? Because there is a small number of insane men who will do nothing but work, no matter where you put them. If you helicoptered them into the middle of a forest with an axe, all they would do is run around chopping down trees.

So the issue isn’t why aren’t there more women in positions of power, the issue is why are there any men insane enough to occupy those positions at all.

The relationship between money and wellbeing is simple. Once you have enough money to stave off misery (which is lower middle class in our society, maybe a little lower), extra money does not improve your life. The data is very clear on this. So why bother with it?

Well, that’s what the women in law firms think. Most of them by the time they reach thirty are married. Almost all are married to men who make as much money or more because women aim for men four to five years older and equal or higher in socioeconomic status. These women correctly conclude they don’t need more money to be happy.

But we get things backwards so often in psychology and sociology. You have no idea the amount of responsibility that comes with positions of power. Just imagine trying to run a billion dollar corporation. Those things are complicated. Enemies are trying to take you out all the time.

Apple and Samsung torture each other in the courts non-stop. Large corporations handle 200-300 lawsuits at once. And that’s nothing compared to staying on top of new technology, constantly interacting with large customers, travelling all the time to maintain relationships, regulating the politics inside the business, etc. Believe me, it’s no picnic.

If you think, “yeah, but they get a lot of money,” you’re not listening. What makes you think that’s such a good thing? Money frees people from all kinds of constraints, but the data on lottery winners is clear: they’re no happier a year later. If someone dumped a huge amount of money on you, what makes you think you wouldn’t unravel completely?

So these high-functioning women reach thirty and look around. They have made partner or are at the top of their profession. But they ask, what the hell am I doing this for? Why would anyone in their right mind want to be woken up at three in the morning on Sunday by an irate Japanese client demanding they work for the next five hours non-stop to fix this damn problem right now, or he will find someone else to pay $750 an hour to do the job?

Some will say that’s such a masculine form of value and if law firms adopted a more feminine value structure, the problem would disappear. This is nonsense. The reason you get up at three in the morning on Sunday is because if you don’t, there’s some starving associate who’s unbelievably ambitious in New York who will pick up the pieces in two-tenths of a second. It has nothing to do with masculine value structures.

I’m not complaining about women’s priorities. I’m not saying women are wrong. The more I see unhappy women at thirty-five or forty who are neither married nor have children, the more I understand that marriage and family are of primary importance. What the hell are you going to do from the age of forty until the time you’re eighty? Perhaps you’ll go run a company. Well, if you’re one in a thousand, that choice will satisfy. But you better make sure you’re that one in a thousand.

Of course this is a rigged game! In 1835, the average person lived on $1 a day in today’s money. Those people worked so hard that you can’t even imagine it and all their kids died. Women had a terrible time, but so did men. Life was incredibly hard before we got rich. And we are very rich, even those of you who think you’re poor. If you’re reading this, you’re in the top one-tenth of one percent by historical standards.

You could compare yourself to people richer than you and feel melancholic, but that’s pretty pathetic in my estimation. And it’s certainly historically uninformed.

There’s lots of reasons men are paid more than women that have nothing to do with prejudice. Men are much more likely to be killed in dangerous jobs and they do almost all the outside work. They work on oil rigs in northern Alberta at 40 degrees below freezing to emerge five years later with three fingers missing and all warped. Do you really want to wrestle pipe in the filthy, freezing tundra with a bunch of constantly hungover men?

So I agree, women have it tough. But women also live eight years longer than men. That’s not trivial.  Each sex has its own unfairness to deal with, but to think it’s all a consequence of the social structure is just plain wrong. Have you considered it might be nature itself? This seems to be completely invisible to those on the left side of the political spectrum. Of course you’re oppressed and your life is full of suffering! Obviously. Unjust social structures are only a small part of the problem.

But look where you’re sitting. It’s pretty warm in here. You’re so privileged that you have time to read an article on an expensive machine and not worry about being eaten by tigers. By historical standards, you should be out lifting rocks in a skeletal form standing about 160cm short with no teeth.

It seems like there’s no gratitude for what our society is capable of doing and has already done.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

North Korea: Show of force, or show of farce?

The US intelligence community assesses sometime over the next four years, North Korea will be able to arm an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear weapon. The first thing to know is that an assessment is what intelligence agencies produce when they don’t know something exactly.

Yet this week, the New York Times reports the Obama administration began in 2014 covert cyber-attacks against North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes. The decision was made based on an earlier secret assessment that the traditional continental US missile defence batteries in Alaska and California will only succeed about 44% of the time under ideal conditions.

If the North Koreans do manage to shoot off an ICBM or several, it won’t be in ideal conditions. So the US decided to unleash its cyber forces (put a pin in that, it’s important, but not for this week). The exposure of the cyber-attacks help make sense of why many of Pyongyang’s missiles fall into the sea, but it’s impossible to know if the cyber programme is to blame.

The North Koreans seem to be aware of all this as their launches are once again succeeding. Four missile tests were conducted this week, all of which landed in the Sea of Japan, watched closely by nearby US and South Korean exercising military forces. Donald Trump is only 50-odd days into his first term, and North Korea is already rattling the cages as expected.

China is uncomfortable by the actions of both Washington and Pyongyang, but not so uncomfortable that they will take action to make the North Koreans reconsider. And at this point, with such ideological intransigence in both Washington and Pyongyang, perhaps there isn’t anything that would cause either to reconsider.

US Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper said last year in open testimony how it is perfectly logical and almost inevitable that North Korea will get a nuclear capability. Pyongyang has closely watched what happens to independent-minded countries if they don’t have nuclear weapons. Case in point: Iraq and Libya. It wants nukes for rational reasons – from their perspective.

The missile problem is bound closely to the nuclear. Since Eisenhower’s time, the US has spent $US300 billion trying to figure out how to hit a bullet with a bullet – the anti-ballistic missile system. This is a tough physics problem and nobody has any cures. Cyber-attacks give the US an additional layer of defence to stop the threat at what the Pentagon calls “left of launch,” or before the launch occurs, by interfering with command and control.

Yet there’s no guarantee of success. If the defence fails, a larger military action carries its own dangers. In US military headquarters in downtown Seoul, commanders are never far from Kevlar armour and chemical protective gear because they are within range of thousands of artillery tubes, as are 14 million civilians.

This is a wicked problem, and if there was a diplomatic solution someone would have enacted it by now. From Washington’s perspective, the only option is to continue to slow it down and create enough space for changes within the country. From Pyongyang’s perspective it wants to be left alone to be a traditional monarchy. Nuclear weapons make this option far less digestible, but then again, the US wouldn’t give up its democratic mission if North Korea discarded its nukes tomorrow.

Keep in mind an awful lot of Pyongyang’s actions is crisis theatre. Its foreign policy looks like it’s been taken from a shampoo bottle: provoke, accept concessions, repeat. Except this time the country is led by a young leader and he’s provoking with more dangerous weapons than just artillery tubes. Add to the mix a new US administration and this looks like in an unpredictable situation.

The US makes discreet concessions because it wants the problem to go away to reduce the probability of war. And tactically, making concessions is probably the correct decision. But the overall strategic effect is to teach the North Koreans they can provoke without consequences.

Yet if North Korea were to genuinely provoke, not simply perform this theatre of missiles landing in the open ocean, a military response wouldn’t necessarily need to be proportional or confined to the location of the original provocation. If anything similar to the 2010 sinking of the corvette ROKS Cheonan re-occurs, the political situation in South Korea almost requires a wider military response.

It’s not clear if this would include the Americans, but Washington would need at least to meter Seoul’s response. Everyone understands this is dangerous and a North Korean response would become deeply unpredictable. But the “international community’s” actions have taught the regime it can provoke without danger. These are the results of not having the guts to deal with a problem early and failing to act like the imperial power the US actually is.

Monday, 6 March 2017

But if the medium is the message, shouldn't you NOT watch television news?

I never read the local news. Never. What's the point? I know there are murders, rapes and creeps nearby as a general concept, but I see no value in knowing the specific cases. And there's great harm in poisoning your mind. My world is not the world in the news, it's in the backyard and the local park. I don't voluntarily watch horror movies either so why would I read this news? At least I know The Exorcist is fake.

The local news isn't real in any important sense. My life doesn't match the lives of people depicted in the news at all. I don't behave the same way or do the same things. Sure, those people are close by, geographically-speaking, but that usually means very little.

There are parts of my city I've never been and will probably never travel to. Not because I avoid those places. I just never think about them. My life and whatever's happening in that suburb are mutually exclusive. It might as well be going on in Dunedin or Manilla, and it does. Whatever happens in those cities has the same effect on my life - none.

The national television news is equally pointless. Individuals have no control over world events and vanishingly small ways of impacting them, so the event's influence on our lives is negligible. Thirty minutes of reading a major newspaper would be better than three hours of television. It won't have all the salacious video, but maybe you don't need to see those pictures. And really, you're better off spending thirty minutes reading material directly important and of immediate use to you.

If it interferes with your life, eliminate it. Focus on things that actually matter to you.

Because once you stop consuming television, two things happen. First, you have absolutely no frame of reference for what people who do watch television talk about or the way they talk about it. Second, your life pretty much reverts to focusing on your local geographic environment (neighbourhood, town, etc.) and the people in your life who may be geographically distant.

The best framework for modern culture is to distinguish geographic distance from psychological distance. Psychological distance explains how we're familiar with things that feel physically closer than things that are geographically closer but unfamiliar or unsettling. It explains the disparities in the feelings of proximity we have with others in online communities compared with the proximity with people a short distance away but culturally distinct.

So a meetup with online friends in another city will probably seem closer (less of a journey), than the yearly trip to the next suburb (much closer, geographically) to visit relatives.

You might say this is all stupid and supports ignorance or that we should watch news critically.

But I cannot disagree with this sentiment more. Television news is mind poison. Of course, everything should be considered critically, but there is nothing redeeming about television news at all. And a litany of things wrong, dysfunctional and dangerous about it. There is no reason to watch. You should read online, read blogs, watch online documentaries and all sorts of other things. I see no reason whatsoever to watch CNN or BBC.

The notion that you can watch television news critically while immunising yourself from it is laughable. Do you really think people can parse, deconstruct, analyse and interpret the flood of out-of-context images, narrative, biases, assumptions, graphics and edits of a 90-second news story, and do so while a subsequent 90-second deluge plays after it? I'm a journalist, and I can barely keep up.

Even if you could maintain an impenetrable critical posture, your view of the world of ideas is limited by what you see and what you critique. You may hate CNN, but if that's what you watch and rail against, you'll invariably assume CNN represents some portion of the political spectrum of the country. When in fact, it may represent no one at all. You aren't getting the worldview of the people who agree with only some of CNN's positions, but not others.

In any case, the argument for television news is not that it covers stories in-depth, because that would be preposterous. It's that news provides video coverage of events, particularly live coverage. But why is this good? Tell my why watching a car chase or a boat hijacked by pirates live is somehow better than watching it on YouTube later? Then tell me why it's important for me to watch it at all. Just because we want to see something exciting or titillating doesn't mean we should see it, and probably argues that we shouldn't.

Television news was created for an age when the box was the only source of video, so there was some justification for editing and packaging it in a manageable form because there was no other way to deliver it. But today, we don't need BBC to package an event when YouTube offers multiple video angles shot by many different people. Television news isn't a live experience, it's the live experience the networks want you to have.

Cellphone networks are capable of supporting on-demand real-time video calls. Certain apps allow people to push those real-time feeds from their phones onto YouTube to a million people - for free. When a "live event" happens, like the next 9-11, who really thinks people will want to have some idiot re-contexting the live experience for us? They'll simply connect to an open video feed of a cell camera on the ground.

The truth is, most people watch television news because they think other people are watching it, and they want a common, shared model of the world, whether they agree with parts of that model or not. But in my opinion, it would be better if people didn't have a homogenised a priori model and instead formed a shared model based on the outcome of arguments from their own individual viewpoints and opinions. Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Sunday, 5 March 2017

The real threat of online anonymity isn't Russian hacking - part two


VI

These little interstices are shrinking in the world of the real at an alarming rate. Even Donald Trump’s space to talk freely on that bus a decade ago was invaded, not only by the prying eyes of the media but by the magic of the online world to which so many people now escape to create their own spaces.

Our society is organised in the interests of stability, one that survives into the future, which in turn necessarily and perhaps unfairly is biased in favour of the status quo (social progress is always “sticky”). The status quo suppresses everyone: men, women and children because individual stability is not as important as the stability of society. The internet offers a relaxation of the status quo, it’s what makes the online space so important.

To the extent society represses a natural instinct in one context, it provides an outlet for it in some other context. Foucault called these “heterotopias,” places society includes within itself where it is acceptable to break rules. The concept is quite profound.

But Dr Friedman fails to account for heterotopias in today’s society. Bathhouses, strip joints, brothels and pornography are some types of heterotopias, but they’re also the more quotidian and conventional heterotopias such as locker rooms, “man-caves,” a bus or sports bars. They serve as a release from the otherwise stifling restrictions on natural sexual and other instincts.

The whole appeal of the social internet was in its liberation. Not only could you be your true self, you could be anyone you wanted. This was possible because it was extremely difficult to tie a virtual identity to your real life one (more about that later).

For anything you do online, there is someone in your life who wishes you didn't. Second, the "I've got nothing to hide" response is the stupidest thing written about this subject. Everyone has something to hide. Pushing back the boundaries of freedom requires people on the other side of that boundary pulling as you push. The struggle for freedom is impossible without this dynamic, and they will be the one's putting their lives at risk. Every woman campaigning for votes, every environmentalist up a tree, every gay couple living under the spectre of sodomy laws, every pothead calling for legalisation is a criminal in the eyes of the law. In order to change the laws, justice demands they be protected from enforcement of unjust laws. And that requires privacy.

The fact that your credit and medical histories are available to the highest bidder is not a justification to open up the rest of my life. It should be held up as an anomaly that demands correction back to the norm.

VII

The force in Dr Friedman’s position looks like it’s coming from a position of safety and ethics. And I’ve seen plenty of other articles questioning anonymity following the Russian hacking allegations. But for most people, his message about “protecting the public space” isn't enough to get an @ mention. No one really cares about public spaces, just look at the rubbish lying in a mosaic around the street bin. "But that's the cleaner's job." You know you're a terrible person, right?

And yet it's worth asking why the dangers of online anonymity being written about. It just so happens that Dr Friedman's message coincides with what the media, social networks and governments also want, so now we have three major vectors summing to form a major crisis. Sure, anonymity allows bullying (HA! Come on, no one cares about your feelings), but what really matters is that it causes people to not want to be online, especially women. That's a big problem because women do most of the clicking and get most of the clicks.

The easy criticism to make is that if people are scared to go online, then all the investment dollars in e-commerce are wasted. To the corporations, if anonymous hacking is a barrier to increasing consumption, then anonymity has gotta go. It's the "moral" thing to do. But if you think about it, the issue isn’t whether we should get rid of online anonymity since this will never happen. No matter how many politicians want to ban anonymity, there will always be a cyber-pirate who can invent a workaround. And only one of them knows what a kernel is.

And really, the NSA (and Twitter) knows there’s no power in removing anonymity. The spooks love it when people say they have an “unbreakable” encryption. Just keep believing that, precious. The real power is in letting people think they have anonymity while secretly retaining the keys to the social network kingdom.

So we can see how the actual trick performed by articles about online privacy is to get you, dear reader, to consume the core message: that anonymity is a bad so you won’t use it. After all, what kind of person uses anonymity? Criminals and vodka-swilling tundra munchers, that's who. And you’re not a criminal, are you?

This propaganda will work because it has to. Everything you’ve ever been told to want depends on the propaganda working. And the less Aspergers a person is, the more she will hate writing anonymously. There it is again, the hideous consumerist machine hanging just outside your vision. Dr Friedman’s article uses respectable ethics about a legitimate geopolitical problem to unwittingly convince you to willingly feed the online beast all your personal information -- for free. The system has won.

Please try to understand. No one is trying to stop cyber-criminals. There’s no point. They don’t use Amazon and no one wants to look at them. The whole game is to get you - not the Russian hackers, not the anonymous trolls, but the consumers - to voluntarily give up their privacy by turning themselves into quantifiable packets of ever-more comprehensive targetable data points. After all, what good are you if you can't make someone else money?

VIII

But I really want to focus on that word “you.” The great narrative of the online world has gradually morphed from: “I am interacting with others online” to “I am online interacting with others.” Can you see the subtle shift? It represents both a colossal change in how the internet works and your destruction. 

Back in the days of DARPA, the point of the internet's invention was to push information efficiently across nodes, all of which the scientist knew, to people half a continent away, all of whom the scientist trusted. It was a tool, and it still is a tool, but that’s not how the rest of the money-generating public are supposed to think about it.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, your very soul depends on knowing, not “understanding,” actually knowing that "you" are not online. Only your physical actions inputted into a keyboard or a mouse represented as bits and bytes are online. "You" stay offline at all times.

This is the centre of the argument of anonymity and privacy. We think it’s important to “find a balance” between plugged and unplugged life, a phrase you’ll often hear all over the “plugged” world. The game is to get you to debate the conclusions about where that “balance” should be. But starting here forces us to accept the form of the argument: that there should be a balance, rather than an on/off switch. We aren't offered the choice to assert that our online self is meaningless (which it is). When people say they “need to unplug” the assumption, the form of the argument, is that the default is plugged.

The lesson convinces us our online actions constitute actions in the real. This is nonsense. But it is necessary if the formation of a new power structure being built by companies and "social networks" is going to operate as the new Panopticon. If it works, there will be no need for State-sanctioned cameras anymore. 

Anyone with a Twitter or Youtube account coupled with a smartphone can capture the smallest of traffic infringements or racist remarks and absolutely destroy another person's social life. Paris doesn't need to spend money on street cameras, the millions of personal, front-facing lenses walking down the street will do just fine. Don't even get me started on Google-Glass.

The Stasi would have an orgasm from the amount of information we voluntarily place on Facebook. Part of the impetus for the NSA to ride the wave of internet traffic in the late 1990s and "capture it all," rather than selecting certain products, was they saw the era as the golden age of signals intelligence. The longer they secretly held a huge bucket on one end of the fibre-optic cables, and the more people were goaded into using the internet for all communications, the better it was for them. Corporations think the same thing, albeit in reverse.

IX


And from an online business perspective, if "you" are not really represented online after all, why would we be compelled to return multiple times a day to update our social network profile? Normal adults don't get much pleasure from creating pretend personalities, they left that in the toy box when they discovered beer. So it takes a lot of effort to convince someone to mirror online who they are in the real world. And I do not claim to know how this is done.

But each time you use social networks, your online self becomes a bit more real. Little by little, the online "you" not only broadcasts a completely chosen identity of your most perfect, idealised self, it quite literally becomes your constituted reality. Who wouldn't want this? Who wouldn't want the ability to infinitely alter their identity? Social networks are the natural end-point of a culture marinating in the ideology (not pathology) of narcissism. The ideology depends on others seeing you in exactly the way you wish to be seen. This exhausting activity accounts for, oh, about 90% of our waking life. And it makes us extremely consumable.

The narcissist is the main character in their own movie. Not necessarily the most beautiful, or the strongest, but the main character. You can yell and scream that they're too fat, too old, too stupid or anything else all day and it won't make a difference. He'll only return the insult or yell back and won't register it as an insult. He's still the main character in his movie. It was a drama at first, but now it's an action film. All that matters is he is still the main character.

Social networks might look benign but I think they'll only end in madness and horror because the real threat isn't anonymity or bullying -- it's the narcissistic injury. A narcissistic injury occurs when the narcissist is confronted with the reality that they aren't the main character in their movie, just one of 6 billion other, peripheral characters.

As an example, it's far more enlightening to think of honour killings as the rageful reaction of a narcissistic injury. The worst thing for a narcissist is that his Muslim daughter secretly cavorts with a Christian boy but never tells him. And neither does she act any differently so he can't tell what's going on. If she can do all that, it means she exists independently of him and he isn't the main character. She has her own movie and he's not even in the supporting cast. That injury is the worst fate that can happen to a narcissist. And if that happens to you, don't come home. 

X

The internet is not a "global commons." The internet is simply a tool to communicate with other humans and conduct voluntary transactions. The point of anonymity online is to dig a moat between your real self and a pretend identity which you'll use to interact with other pretend identities. If you let the narrative that your online and real selves are identical be true, then you can be sold as a product. You must defend against this.

The more our real selves are represented online as the most accurate representation of our identity (the default is plugged), the more we are subject to a new environment of power. And it changes not just life, but death as well. What does it mean to be dead? Doctors say death is the cessation of electronic activity in the brain. But that's not what I asked. I want to know what it means to be dead.

The closest I've ever come to understanding the meaning of death is trapped in the idea: "they say you die twice: first, when your heart stops beating, and second when someone says your name for the last time." In this reading, death is when an individual is no longer registered by other people.

Consider how a missing person is thought. In every important function of social life, they lack insurance, a passport, wants, needs, loves, a job, bills, a political opinion and even a library card. But they aren't necessarily dead, they just aren't registered as alive. The same can be said of a hermit. The moment the five sense can't detect your presence, you "might as well be dead."

Our online selves are being encouraged to represent who we are, and Dr Friedman demands a removal of anonymity to facilitate this transference. Add to this the constant development of new ways to digitally capture our human actions and couple them with an online personality creating an ever-more complex online character, and you can see how gradually our online selves become the prime "body" representing "you." 

But what happens when a person does something bad in this new online world? What happens if the punishment is to exile their online "self" and turn off all their online access? It will be as if that person is dead, because no one else will register the person's existence

If you know anything about humans, you'll see the problem. Narcissistic rage is one response, but it's worse than even this. The fear of death is so fundamental that we will do anything to avoid it. In fact, most people so despise being alone (which is why confinement is an effective punishment), they will prefer death over isolation. We even create stories about how we'll live forever in heaven if only we believe in this book, rather than that book. 

I would say the invention of hell is really another defence against the terror of death. After all, no matter how frightening being forever prodded with a red hot poker by smiling devils might be for a homo sapien, at least it isn't oblivion

Anonymity is the best defence you have against creating a world in which unplugging becomes an existential question.

XI

Finally, I must say a few things about how this connects with power. If anonymity is removed and our identities are transferred and represented online, then social networking corporations and other, yet-to-be-invented internet companies will possess a lever of power unlike any that has existed in history. They will own the ability to "kill" anyone they choose, at any time, for any reason.

The answer to Dr Friedman's problem of anonymity and privacy is simple. When faced with a situation in which there is more noise than signal, the correct move is to increase the signal, not to cut out the noise. If you're worried about "fake news" or Russian hacking, then it's up to you to develop real news and real content. If you're worried about troll behaviour, it's up to you to write useful sentences on forums. If you're worried about "hate speech," then start uploading constructive speech. 

Solzhenitsyn had it exactly:

So in our timidity, let each of us make a choice: Whether consciously, to remain a servant of falsehood--of course, it is not out of inclination, but to feed one's family, that one raises his children in the spirit of lies--or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect both by one's children and contemporaries.
And from that day onward he:
  • Will not henceforth write, sign, or print in any way a single phrase which in his opinion distorts the truth.
  • Will utter such a phrase neither in private conversation not in the presence of many people, neither on his own behalf not at the prompting of someone else, either in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, not in a theatrical role.
  • Will not depict, foster or broadcast a single idea which he can only see is false or a distortion of the truth whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science, or music.
  • Will not cite out of context, either orally or written, a single quotation so as to please someone, to feather his own nest, to achieve success in his work, if he does not share completely the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue.
  • Will not allow himself to be compelled to attend demonstrations or meetings if they are contrary to his desire or will, will neither take into hand not raise into the air a poster or slogan which he does not completely accept.
  • Will not raise his hand to vote for a proposal with which he does not sincerely sympathise, will vote neither openly nor secretly for a person whom he considers unworthy or of doubtful abilities.
  • Will not allow himself to be dragged to a meeting where there can be expected a forced or distorted discussion of a question. Will immediately talk out of a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film showing if he hears a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda.
  • Will not subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed. Of course we have not listed all of the possible and necessary deviations from falsehood. But a person who purifies himself will easily distinguish other instances with his purified outlook.

No, it will not be the same for everybody at first. Some, at first, will lose their jobs. For young people who want to live with truth, this will, in the beginning, complicate their young lives very much, because the required recitations are stuffed with lies, and it is necessary to make a choice. 
But there are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest. On any given day any one of us will be confronted with at least one of the above-mentioned choices even in the most secure of the technical sciences. Either truth or falsehood: Toward spiritual independence or toward spiritual servitude.


Those who want to remove anonymity might feel that, in order to achieve a greater good, it is necessary to commit a lesser evil. But they are being lied to, by themselves. The good they seek can not realised. The evil will swallow them up, as evil always does. And, if we look them in the face, if we read their words, scan their arguments and experience them directly, we sense the presence of evil.

The real threat of online anonymity isn't Russian hacking - part one

I

Do you understand the infrastructure that is necessary to cause people to disavow something they know with total clarity, just to keep the money flowing? That’s the privacy debate.

The history of the internet since the rise of Google has been less about using the new technology to effect change in society than it has been about replicating the social control structures that exist offline.

For authorities, online anonymity is most displeasing. The Russians might have hacked the Democratic National Convention and released various emails, or it might have been a person pretending to be a Russian. No one can know, and that lack of knowing directly manifests as a lack of power. People in power hate it when they aren’t in control.

And for many people, plugging in gives them some privacy, a micro-break from shared reality, under the rhetorical cover of "connecting with others." Anonymity allows them to think and do things that in the real world are unavailable.

But in a recent essay by George Friedman, publisher of Geopolitical Futures, former founder of Stratfor (and someone I have a lot of time for), we can see how propaganda doesn't try to get you to believe something, but to do something.

II

First, a bit of background: In 2013, 5 million Stratfor emails and documents were released by hackers associated with the Anonymous cyber-activist group. I know, because I received some interesting goodies from them as an apology. Whenever he's asked about who reads his material, Dr Friedman often says he’s a “nobody” and nowhere near power in Washington. Yet some of Stratfor’s major clients were shown to be US government agencies and influential corporates.

The documents show his writings are being read by important people, and while it’s impossible to tell if they influence policy, I think it’s safe to say they reflect the thoughts of Washington. So when he took a shot at the Russia hacking debacle, I had to pay attention:

"The first principle has to be to make masks illegal on the internet. Many countries and US states have laws against wearing masks in public. In the US, many of these laws were passed to stop the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan, knowing that only anonymity and a large crowd made its members brave. But other countries passed similar laws on the reasonable assumption that someone hiding his face is up to no good. In the end, it came down to this: If you want to be in public, you must show your face. You have a right to privacy in your home and on your property. You don’t have a right to privacy when you choose to go into public spaces."

Notice his subtle shift from “privacy exists in the home” which no one would have an issue with, to “online is the public space.” Don’t think I didn’t see it. His position really, truly is that online anonymity is a bad thing, unless it's used responsibly, then it's a good thing. Using a weird, atemporal logic he asserts that if people can use anonymity online, therefore the online space is public. But his thinking is backwards.

Listen, I know there’s a big push for safety online. And while that’s a legitimate concern, one should pause to ask why, when people have been invading online privacy since the days of Frogger, the moment the Russians get involved suddenly banning online anonymity is a moral stance so that you can be safe. No one else finds this suspicious?

But before you rush to download as many anti-viruses as possible, you should contemplate the difference between what should be done about online anonymity and why it appears something should be done.

III

If his article was in Time, I wouldn’t worry because the demographic of Time readers aren’t going to be CEOs of anything, as evidenced by the fact they read Time. But important people read Dr Friedman. He goes on:

“Anonymity has another effect. On the village commons, everyone knows who you are and you are held responsible for what you say. On the global commons, you cannot be held responsible for what you say, because your identity is masked. The internet was created to function that way, less on purpose than by technical default. The consequence is that the most powerful human emotions, shame and the desire to be well thought of, don’t restrain what you say.”

Dr Friedman’s argument is nothing new, and it hasn’t aged well. It was the same with online pornography. Any movement to monitor, limit or restrict internet pornography should be seen as an attack on internet anonymity generally, and specifically an attack on the ability of a person to hide what they look at and what they publish.

This is an important point because a significant percentage, if not an outright majority, of porn on the web is amateur – regular people posting videos of themselves as they do on YouTube. Internet porn is a two-way street. And besides, if nearly everyone looks at online porn, then what does it mean if one person does? It means nothing.

IV

The same argument was also deployed for France’s 2010 decision to ban the Islamic face veil. Paris’ rationale was to protect women from being forced to cover their faces and to uphold France’s secular values. The controversy made strange bedfellows of former political enemies.

But the real story was never about women’s rights, minority rights, anti-terrorism or French culture. It was a story about the Panopticon and the French government’s desire to set up thousands of new security cameras in Paris.

Paris now has 2.8 cameras for every 10,000 citizens (compared to one camera for every 11 people in London). The burqa ban was about making those cameras worthwhile. But there is a critical contradiction between security cameras watching people on the street, and a person’s desire to cover their face.

The point of security cameras and abolishing anonymity is not about constantly watching the public. It’s about making the public constantly think it may be watched. It introduces the power of the State into the minds of people on the street, to make them internalise the State’s voice. In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault wrote:

“Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action…power should be visible and unverifiable. Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so…The Panopticon is a machine for dissociating the see/being seen dyad: in the peripheric ring, one is totally seen, without ever seeing; in the central tower, one sees everything without ever being seen.”

Security cameras do not merely see, they also project power back onto you. When you think you are being watched, the presence of the watcher is felt locally and its power over you is felt acutely. They eliminate the interstitial spaces and moments where authority is believed to be absent.

The real threat of anonymity is invisibility. Not only is the veiled person invisible to the camera, but the power projected by a surveillance camera is rendered invisible to the person veiled.

V

If someone were planning a crime, the existence of a camera would in no way deter. It would simply alter the manner in which the crime is committed, the person choosing to conduct the crime indoors, in a restroom, or in a parked car rather than on a street corner. People still rob banks and convenience stores even though everyone knows those places have cameras.

Furthermore, if a person plans to commit a crime in public they will probably choose to wear a mask because of the cameras. In other words, the ban on anonymity fails if its motivation is to deter crime. A criminal was already planning to break a much more serious law anyway.

I don’t personally feel oppressed by the visible power of the State, but what if someone does feel oppressed? Do we simply label them paranoid and ignore their opinion? Or would we ignore the person’s opinion because it contradicts ours, and then scramble to find a label to apply to them so the threatening opinion can be safely marginalised?

If I want to walk around the streets in a hockey mask, I should be able to. But Dr Friedman’s point about the internet being a “public space” runs orthogonal to this desire for exposure:

“The promise that the internet would create a democratic commons where all can be heard and the media loses the right to censor has been achieved. Censors and accountability no longer exist. Twitter is the place where malicious people with time on their hands can tell lies.”

But consider that if you’re being punished for wearing a particular type of clothing or saying certain things, it isn’t really a “public” space at all.