Mid-century freedom: man ‘on parole’

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“Our modern industrial economy, based on impersonability, interchangability and speed, has worn away the old protective securities without creating new ones. It has failed to develop an organizational framework of its own within which self-realization on a large scale is possible. Freedom in industrial society, as a result, has a negative rather than positive connotation. It means a release from external restrains rather than a deep and abiding sense of self-control and purpose. Man is not free: he is out on parole.”

Arthur Schlesinger, The Vital Center, 1949

(Picture: Lost Youngstown)

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Weaponised narratives divide public, disrupt reasoned discussion

Online propaganda is not just about bots and trolls but about exploiting and manipulating the sense-seeking nature of the humans using the internet.

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Credit: Wikicommons

As Australia confronts the China interference issue, local academics have reported a wave of talk about racism and anti-China bias.

This sort of narrative not only divides the community, but makes intelligent discussion about the real-world issue difficult. It raises the question: is this accusation of racism and hostility a weaponised narrative, like those seen elsewhere in the world?

A weaponised narrative is a type of information attack that “undermines an opponent’s civilisation, identity, and will…by generating confusion, complexity, and political and social schisms [which] confounds response on the part of the defender,” according to the Weaponised Narrative Institute.

In this case, the constant talk of a supposed Australian hostility to China or Chinese people echoes talking points from sources linked to the Chinese Communist Party. While it may just reflect the views of the authoritarian party, information used in this way can be ginned up to damage a targeted nation.

Unlike simple “soft power” that all nations, including Australia, seek to build in order to influence other nations,  weaponised narrative is a form of coercive power, where ideas, fears, perceptions can be directed at a nation, or even a community within a nation.

While weaponised narratives have arguably existed as long as conflict has, the internet has created new possibilities to amplify and target the message. These narratives online have become all-too-common in recent years.

When high school students in the US rose in rebellion about lax gun laws, they were smeared as “crisis actors” by pro-gun advocates in the US. Even if the claim was not true, it sowed doubt in the public’s mind, shifting the story for long enough to slow its momentum in national affairs.

Likewise, after Britain blamed Russia for the nerve agent poisoning of ex-Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, a wave of narratives were unleashed that placed the blame back on Britain, in an effort to confuse the public and fracture the British public’s will to confront Russia.

As the internet matures, the ways of exploiting it to disseminate propaganda do, as well.

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Trump’s Nobel Peace Prize talk – the story the US media may be missing

A group of US Congress members, who clearly think little of the separation of powers, have called this month for Donald Trump to receive the Nobel Prize for the as-yet undisclosed peace deal with North Korea. (Letter linked here).

What strikes me is how little reporting in the US there has been asking why members of Congress have thrown their support behind a nomination that the Noble Prize committee says has been forged. It’s been forged not once, but twice. This was known in February.

The matter has been forwarded to police both in Oslo and the FBI. So it’s not even clear if Trump could be awarded the prize, as the basis for his consideration is fraudulent.

From a facts-on-the-ground news story, it’s fairly open and shut.

From the perspective of a massive non-issue to divide and distract the public online through social media, well, it’s possibly just getting started.

As the US media should have learned after 2016 and Hillary Clinton’s “illness”, it doesn’t even have to be true for it to occur on social media. We might very well be seeing the same thing with the Trump Nobel Prize talk. The masses want to believe but the facts don’t support the story.

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The New York Times story – meanwhile memes of an ill Clinton were blowing up on social in September 2016

The Republican backers of Trump in Congress have only added fuel to a fire that will burn brightly for the global public. In doing so, they signed their names to a movement that is based on a lie and forgery in the first place.

Why are the New York Times and the Washington Post not asking this question? Would the Wall Street Journal not ask these politicians what they were doing, giving oxygen to a forged nomination?

They all do good independent reporting. But I fear that in this time of information overload, some ginned up by the White House’s backers, the US media is forgetting that they can ask the questions and they can help set the agenda, too.

So a good question is: what prompted these Congress members to endorse what is a forgery under investigation by Norwegian police and the FBI?

The answer could very well be the poor judgement of the members of Congress. But even that would speak volumes about how these Congress members run their affairs – ignorant, or dismissive of the facts around a nomination that they have nevertheless endorsed.

Forgeries have also played a long role in Russian active measures (see post’s video), so that’s probably another reason for the US media to have a look – and to compare how this is unspooling online. In any case, there is, in my opinion, likely a story here being overlooked by American media.

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‘Science and technology have ushered [us] into a new cycle of civilization’

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Technology has disrupted our society, upended our economy and caused a crisis of faith in our politics. We are unprepared and don’t know where to turn. This is unprecedented. Or at least it feels unprecedented, until you look back at history. Read this extended quote from 1949:

Science and technology have ushered man into a new cycle of civilization, and the consequence has been a terrifying problem of adjustment. In two centuries science and technology have narrowed the seas, ravaged the forests and irrigated the deserts. They have leveled national frontiers, undermined self-sufficiencies and infinitely increased man’s power to build and to destroy. The velocity of life has entered into a new phase. With it has come the imperative need for a social structure to contain that velocity – a social structure within which the individual can achieve some measure of self-fulfillment.

This new social structure must succeed where the ancient jurisdictions of the family, the clan, the guild and the nation-state have failed…

A static and decentralized society, based on agriculture and handicraft, was a society dependent on personal ties and governed by a personal ethic. Industrialism shattered the ties and consequently the ethic. A new code arose to cope with the remote and statistical units of the modern economy, the gap between economic practice and personal mortality widened swiftly and alarmingly. …

The impersonality of the new economic system meant, in brief, that no one had to feel a direct responsibility for the obvious and terrible costs in human suffering. Doubtless there was a lurking sense of guilt; but the very mechanism of organization provided solace and remission. As organization became more elaborate and comprehensive, it became increasingly the instrumentality through which moral man could indulge his natural weakness for immoral deals…

The impersonality of the system, in other words, brought out, not the best, but the worst in the men who operated it. Industrialism, at the same time that it released vast new energies, imposed on the world a sinister new structure of relationships…

The quotes are from The Vital Center: The Politics of Freedom by Arthur M. Schlesinger, 1949.