Post Tagged with: "Politics"

Conspiracy theories: Why are we so fascinated?

Conspiracy theories: Why are we so fascinated?

Short Q&A in Christian Science Monitor with Jesse Walker, author of The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory and contributor to the libertarian magazine Reason:

Q: What do we need to have in place for a conspiracy theory to develop?

A: Conspiracy theories emerge where three things collide. The first is our natural tendency to find patterns and creative narratives, to try to turn all these stray signals we receive into some sort of coherent order. Second is a situation that we’re suspicious of and makes us fearful. And third is the fact that there are actual cases of people conspiring. There’s a reason why there’s a legal offense called conspiracy. It’s not like being afraid of some supernatural monster that people talk about but never shows up. [...]

Q: When conspiracies get mentioned, some people accuse the believers of being mentally ill. Is that a real issue among conspiracy believers?

A: When a story catches on with enough people, we’re not talking about mental illness. If believing in conspiracy theories is a sign of mental illness, it means 90 percent of Americans have been crazy since the beginning. We’re talking about folklore. Even if it says nothing that’s true, it says something true about the anxieties and experiences of those who believe and repeat the theory.

Full Story: Christian Science Monitor: Conspiracy theories: Why are we so fascinated?

August 31, 2013 0 comments
The Gentrification of the Left

The Gentrification of the Left

Mike Wayne and Deirdre O’Neill on the friction between the “middle class” and the “working class”:

The whole concept of the 99% against the 1% is a powerful way of both focusing attention on that tiny elite who own and control the major resources globally, and of repressing the class divisions within the 99%. The 99%, the slogan of the social movements dominated by the middle class, projects a unity of the majority which has yet to be built, and which cannot in fact be built unless we first acknowledge the real differences and divisions between the middle and working classes within the 99%.

The classic Marxist view that the working class is defined by the fact that it sells its labour power to the owners of the means of production is also problematic for similar reasons. Since Marx’s time there has been an enormous expansion of the professional middle class, especially in the public sector, who in terms of income and other cultural-educational benefits are differentiated from the working class. Typically many of these professional jobs involve some sort of controlling position over the working class which further problematises the notion that the middle class can be simply incorporated into the working class. True, a number of middle class professions, such as teaching have been subject to ‘proletarianisation’ and the middle class can be on the receiving end of employer demands just as the working class usually are. Globalised capitalism is likely to make these tendencies impact further on the middle class, pushing towards a de-differentiation between the working and middle class. Nevertheless the Marxist notion that virtually everyone bar senior managers and bosses are working class points forward to a political project that has to be constituted rather than assumed as an empirical fact in the here and now.

Full Story: New Left Project: The Gentrification of the Left

(via Paul Graham Raven)

August 27, 2013 3 comments
Pre-Emptive Counter-Revolution

Pre-Emptive Counter-Revolution

Charlie Stross on what’s going on in the world today:

The over-arching reason for the clamp-down on dissent, migration, and freedom of expression, and the concurrent emphasis on security in the developed world, constitutes the visible expression of a pre-emptive counter-revolution. [...]

I believe what we’re seeing is a move towards the global imposition of a police state in the developed world, leveraging the xenophobia that naturally emerges during insecure times, by a ruling elite who are themselves feeling threatened by a spectre. Controls on movement, freedom of association, and speech are all key tools in the classic police state’s arsenal. What’s new about this cycle is that the police state machinery is imposed locally, within national boundaries, but applies everywhere: the economic system it is intended to protect is transnational and unconstrained. Which is why even places that were largely exempt during the cold war are having a common police state agenda quietly imposed. There is to be no refuge, other than destabilized “failed states” where the conditions of life make a police state look utopian in comparison.

This system has emerged organically, from the bottom up, and is not the result of any conspiracy; it’s just individuals and groups moving to protect their shareholdings in the Martian invaders, by creating an environment that is safe for the hive intelligences to operate in.

Full Story: Charlie Stross: Who ordered *that*?

August 2, 2013 3 comments
How the British Elite Are Trained to Think

How the British Elite Are Trained to Think

Here’s an essay question from a scholarship application to Eton, an elite boarding school in the UK:

Eton College exam question

Laurie Pennie weighs in:

questions like this – topics for debate designed to reward pupils for defending the morally indefensible in the name of maintaining “order” – crop up throughout the British elite education system, from prep schools to public schools like Eton to public speaking competitions right up to debating societies like the Oxford and Cambridge Unions, which are modelled on parliament for a reason.

This is how you’re meant to argue when you’re eventually in charge. You’re trained for it, and part of that training is regularly being presented with morally indefensible positions to defend anyway or risk losing whatever competition you’re engaged with. I have seen perfectly decent young men get carried away defending genocide and torture because that’s the only way to win. Those who are unable to do so are taught that they have no business having political opinions. The people assumed to be the future elite are not rewarded for getting the answer which is most correct, most compassionate or humane or even sensible – they’re rewarded for smashing the opposition. And that’s how you get politicians who will argue anything they’re told to, enact any policy they’re told to no matter how many how many people will get hurt, just so that their team can win.

Moreover, this isn’t just a standard homework question. It appears on a scholarship entrance exam, a test designed to be sat by young men seeking to join the ranks of the rich and powerful by virtue of merit and smarts rather than family money.

Full Story: New Statesmen: The Eton Scholarship Question: this is how the British elite are trained to think

Meanwhile, Tim Maly poses some alternate questions.

May 26, 2013 2 comments
The Psychology of Scapegoating

The Psychology of Scapegoating

Eric Horowitz on a recent study on scapegoating:

Rothschild and his team were interested in examining how the potential culpability of one’s own group influenced moral outrage and blame for a third-party. They began their experiment by giving participants a survey that led participants to categorize themselves as middle class rather than working class or upper class. Participants then read an article about the struggles of working-class Americans, but in the in-group condition the article blamed the middle class for the struggles, in the out-group condition the article blamed the upper class, and in the unknown condition the article stated that economists don’t know the cause of working-class struggles. Participants then read another article about the status of illegal immigrants. In the viable scapegoat condition the article described the rising fortunes of illegal immigrants, while in the non-viable scapegoat condition the articles describe how illegal immigrants were also struggling to find work.

As expected, when illegal immigrants were viable scapegoats, participants were more likely to blame them for the struggles of the working-class when the cause of those struggles was unknown or attributed to their own group, the middle-class.

Full Story: Peer Reviewed By My Neurons: We’re All Just Looking For a Patsy

May 21, 2013 2 comments
Mocking Hipsters In The Service Of Capital

Mocking Hipsters In The Service Of Capital

Anthony Galluzzo writes:

Even as the New York Times and its ilk now use hipster-bashing to delegitimize the new political awareness among the same un- and underemployed twenty- and thirty-somethings — previously taken to task for their avoidance of politics — the same bashers employ this all-purpose dummy to ventriloquize their own refined and slightly ridiculous consumption habits.

And while Rupert Murdoch’s reactionary gazetteers at least acknowledge the ongoing, and (in the case of 13 Thames Street) partly political character of the evictions in which they delight, the enlightened New York Times will always opt for the “fucking hipster” show — the 21st century bourgeois liberal’s preferred flavor of minstrelsy — over any ‘hard times’ depiction of downward mobility among artists, anarchists and other riffraff.

That, after all, could depress today’s gentrifiers or tomorrow’s property values.

Full Story: Jacobin: Mocking hipsters in the service of capital

May 12, 2013 0 comments
Are Homophobes Really Just Repressed Homosexuals?

Are Homophobes Really Just Repressed Homosexuals?

From Ted Haggard to Larry Craig, some of the most vocal anti-gay crusaders have turned out to be some of the biggest hypocrites. Some researchers have finally decided to put it to the test: are homophobes really just repressed homosexuals? Skeptikai writes:

The researchers looked at six studies from the US and Germany involving 784 university students. The participants rated themselves from gay to straight on a 10-point scale. Then they took an implicit sexual orientation test via computer, where participants are shown images and words associated with heterosexuality or homosexuality (such as “gay”) and asked to sort them into the appropriate category as fast as possible. Their reaction times were measured.

But before each word came up, the word “me” and “other” was flashed on the screen for 35 milliseconds – just enough time to subliminally perceive the word without being aware of it. The hypothesis was that when “me” precedes words that reflect their sexual orientation, those images will be sorted quicker. This is how researchers also try to determine things like implicit racist beliefs in individuals.

Over 20% of self-described highly straight people indicated some level of same-sex attraction – by which I mean they were faster at sorting “me” with pictures and words associated with homosexual than with heterosexuality. I have my own reservations about these kinds of studies – because I hesitate to call someone gay or racist by simple matching and reaction-time methodologies. However, it’s extremely difficult to measure something like this, and the next part of the study regarding this 20%+ group is fascinating.

Full Story: Skeptikai: Are Vocal Homophobes Really Just Homosexuals in the Closet?

April 30, 2013 0 comments
Full Transcript Of Secret Meeting Between Wikileaks’ Julian Assange And Google Chairman Eric Schmidt

Full Transcript Of Secret Meeting Between Wikileaks’ Julian Assange And Google Chairman Eric Schmidt

Audio and transcript of a meeting between Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, from June 23, 2011.

Assange on why some countries censor speech more than others:

So you can have a lot of political change in the United States. But will it really change that much? Will it change the amount of money in someone’s bank account? Will it change contracts? Will it void contracts that already exist? And contracts on contracts, and contracts on contracts on contracts? Not really. So I say that free speech in many places – in many Western places – is free not as a result of liberal circumstances in the West but rather as a result of such intense fiscalization that it doesn’t matter what you say. ie. the dominant elite doesn’t have to be scared of what people think, because a change in political view is not going to change whether they own their company or not. It is not going to change whether they own a piece of land or not. But China is still a political society. Although it is radically heading towards a fiscalized society. And other societies, like Egypt was, are still heavily politicized. And so their rulers really do need to be concerned about what people think, and so they spend a portion of efforts on controlling freedom of speech.

About what gets censored first:

JA: Even the censors in China of the Public Security Bureau, people who work there. Why do they censor stuff and what do they censor first? I’ll tell you what they censor first? They censor first the thing that someone in the Politburo might see. That’s what they censor first. They are not actually concerned about darknets.

JC: Sorry, about?

JA: They are not concerned about darknets. Because their bosses can’t see what is on the darknet, and so they can’t be blamed for not censoring it. We had this fantastic case here in the UK, we had a whole bunch of classified documents from the UK military, and published a bunch. And then later on we did a sort of preemptive FOI which we do occasionally on various governments when we can. So we did it on the UK ministry of defense, just to see whether they were doing some investigation, sort of a source protection to understand what is going on. So we got back… first they pretended they were missing documents and we appealed and we got back a bunch of documents. And so it showed that someone in there had spotted that there was a bunch of UK military documents on our website. About their surveillance programme. Another two thousand page document about how to stop things leaking, and that the number one threat to the UK ministry was investigative journalists. So that had gone into some counterintelligence da da da da, and they had like, oh my good, it has hundreds of thousands of pages, and it is about all sorts of companies and it just keeps going, and it’s endless, it’s endless! Exclamation marks, you know, five exclamation marks. And that was like, okay, that is the discovery phase, now the what is to be done phase. What is to be done? BT has the contracts for the MoD. They told BT to censor us from them. So everyone in the UK MoD could no longer read what was on WikiLeaks. Problem solved!

On mainstream media:

Well, the way it is right now is there is very… first we must understand that the way it is right now is very bad. Friend of mine Greg Mitchell wrote a book about the mainstream media, So Wrong For So Long. And that’s basically it. That yes we have these heroic moments with Watergate and Bernstein and so on, but, come on, actually, it’s never been very good it’s always been very bad. And these fine journalists are an exception to the rule. And especially when you are involved in something yourself and you know every facet of it and you look to see what is reported by it in the mainstream press, and you can see naked lies after naked lies. You know that the journalist knows it’s a lie, it is not a simple mistake, and then simple mistakes, and then people repeating lies, and so on, that actually the condition of the mainstream press nowadays is so appalling I don’t think it can be reformed. I don’t think that is possible. I think it has to be eliminated, and replaced with something that is better.

See also: Julian Assange plans to develop new crypto system

April 27, 2013 0 comments
Poverty On The Rise In Silicon Valley

Poverty On The Rise In Silicon Valley

sacremento-tent-city

A rising tide does not lift all boats:

The Silicon Valley is adding jobs faster than it has in more than a decade as the tech industry roars back. Stocks are soaring and fortunes are once again on the rise.

But a bleaker record is also being set this year: Food stamp participation just hit a 10-year high, homelessness rose 20 percent in two years, and the average income for Hispanics, who make up one in four Silicon Valley residents, fell to a new low of about $19,000 a year— capping a steady 14 percent drop over the past five years, according to the annual Silicon Valley Index released by Joint Venture Silicon Valley, representing businesses, and the philanthropic Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Simply put, while the ultra-rich are getting even richer, record numbers of Silicon Valley residents are slipping into poverty.

Full Story: Huffington Post: Silicon Valley Poverty Is Often Ignored By The Tech Hub’s Elite

Meanwhile: Biggest Risk Factor for Depression: Low Income

Photo: a Sacramento tent city, by ThinkingStiff

March 11, 2013 0 comments
Critique of The Invisibles

Critique of The Invisibles

Philip Sandifer wrote a sharp critique of The Invisibles. Here’s a bit about the role of chaos magic in the book and how it, although as he notes it has been around since the 70s, rose to prominence in the 90s:

Chaos magic is magic for libertarians. It sprung up, unsurprisingly, in the late nineties because it was a flavor particularly suitable for the techno-libertarians who disproportionately dominated the early Internet. And it was, in hindsight, a complete and utter bust. It’s just another flavor of the Heinlein-style science fiction that animated Babylon 5 and space opera in general. It amounts to Robert Heinlein in fetish gear, which is mostly just redundant.

Full Story: TARDIS Eruditorum: Pop Between Realities, Home in Time for Tea 52 (The Invisibles)

I’m not sure if he’s referring to chaos magic or The Invisibles as “Robert Heinlein in fetish gear,” but either one seems appropriate. It hits on one of the paradox’s of Morrison’s work, which is that on the one hand he dismisses the idea of individuality as silly Western Thoughts, but simultaneously spouts individualist and libertarian rhetoric.

He adds in the comments:

I thought about dealing with Lord Fanny. But that involves getting into Grant Morrison’s frankly shameful engagement with transgender issues, and that’s really far afield. And just makes me angry. [...]

It’s not even that Fanny herself is bad. It’s that she fits into a larger and virulently transphobic context on Morrison’s part in which he casually deploys offensive slurs and appropriates trans experiences. It’s really astonishingly vile, and gets at the almost sociopathic narcissism that I find so infuriating about him. I think it’s very rare that Morrison manages an ounce of humanity in his work.

Sandifer wrote more on what was good and bad about The Invisibles in his piece on Lawrence Miles’ Dead Romance. He also wrote about Grant Morrison’s Doctor Who comics, which also touches on the rivalry between Morrison and Alan Moore.

All of this is part of Sandifer’s massive ongoing critique of Doctor Who, which he promises to follow in a few years with an in-depth look at the Morrison/Moore.

See also: Invisible Sexuality: Lord Fanny and the Gender Question

February 3, 2013 8 comments