Archive for November, 2016

Individual vs Collective?

November 28, 2016

I am noticing that there seems to be a gentle stream of ‘retreatism’ in some modes of depth psychology. The idea seems to be that the ‘crowd’ is bad, that social life is somehow corrupting and, that faced with the world situation, and the Anthropocene in particular we have to move into our own, somehow special individuation.

To me this is a partial truth, and needs expansion. It may also be true that in specific times of life (when aging, or facing immanent death, or in the midst of illness), this may be the best thing for some of us to do. I just don’t think it is a good strategy for a general approach to deal with ecological crisis or political instability. That we recognise that humans affect the world, does not mean we can correct the effects by ‘going away’. All life forms affect the world. At the moment humans are perhaps affecting it disproportionately (this is what the idea of the Anthropocene recognizes), and we may not be able to afford retreat from that recognition.

This mode of retreat seems to be based a non-ecological mode of thinking, and in a situation of, shall we say, degrading relationships, it seems to imply that individuals are disconnected, self tending units, and could lead to further degradation.

At the biological level we are colonies, or interactive ‘systems’, of multiple creatures. Much of our body weight, when we subtract the water, contains ‘foreign’ DNA. Even our cells may depend on what were originally external organisms (mitochondria have their own DNA). We are not a single biological being: we are symbiotes.

At the psychological level, depth psychology appears to uncover that we have multiple psyches, and layers of psyche: ‘complexes’, personal unconsciousness, collective unconsciousness, archetypes, or whatever. If you are more into neurology for your evidence, then we have, at least, a hind brain, a mid brain and two hemispheres, all of which may function independently, and communicate with difficulty. Other researchers add neurological centres in the heart and the solar plexus. We are psychologically multiple interactive systems. We are not so much engaged in dialogues, but in ‘multi-logues’.

We are also social creatures. We think with borrowed, badly copied or modified thoughts. We feel with borrowed, emulated and modified feelings and desires. We think with others and in reaction to others. Without singular amounts of effort we cannot live alone, and when young we cannot live alone at all. We are interdependent with others as interactive systems. The boundaries are fuzzy, we blend into each other and are interpenetrated by each other. The same is true of our ecology, we modify it, it modifies us, and that is happening between billions of creatures simultaneously. It again is a set of interactive systems: that is the nature of being.

We are both collaborative and competitive, and are so at many levels, individually, group, nationally etc… Sometimes what we think is working-together is working-against-each-other.

Consequently, the individual and the collective do not seem to me to be separate, or even opposing, poles. Certainly, not in the sense that one is enlightened and that the other is ignorant. They work together, and against each other, always. We are always in multi-logues. The question is how to work together as productively as possible. What follows are some suggestions.

First point, which should contain no problems for depth psychologists, seems to me to recognise that we are massively unconscious. We do not perceive most of this working together or against each other; we cannot perceive all of it; we probably cannot understand all of it; and we cannot predict the consequences of it in detail – this is true of both our inner and outer lives (and these lives are not separate; the boundaries are continually fuzzy and porous).

Second point may be that given this unconsciousness, unpredictability and porous boundaries, full retreat is impossible – we are always in the systems whether we like it or not. What is needed is a set of day to day techniques to deal with events we are unconscious of. We may need to fully engage with our senses, fully engage with our symbolic capacities, fully engage with our ability to listen in the widest sense.

Third point. Because we cannot fully understand, we may need to suspend our sense that we do understand. We all think we understand. Often understanding involves blame, condemnation and scapegoating, which are processes which almost automatically stop our ability to listen and understand. (We may even condemn ‘thinking’, or ‘lack of spirituality’, or ‘spirituality’ itself, when humans automatically appear to think or have some spiritual orientation towards the cosmos.) That is one reason why these techniques are so popular; they fill the gaps, stop us being puzzled and preserve our egos and their understandings. So it could be useful if we recognise that whatever we think is right, could be wrong, no matter how right it seems.

Fourth point. Premature and enforced understanding, automatically produces unintended consequences. It is the order that produces the disorder it fears. It makes things worse. It stops us listening to the world, it stops correction by reality. It nearly always produces action and may sometimes be necessary.

Fifth point. We need to correct our understanding. We do this not just in retreat, although retreat is valuable – everything needs rest – but we do it in interaction with the world. It is only interaction that can give correction or show us the consequences of that understanding (if we look/listen).

Sixth point. While our ego (consciousness) tends to seek repetition and fixed understanding, we can remember that we have multiple and unconscious modes of understanding and wisdom which may see things differently; that may add to our conscious understanding, even if our ego resists. Bad feelings can tell us that we are thinking ‘badly’ or incorrectly. Dreams can give us symbolic representations of reality which include events that our consciousness may not want to admit. The same is true of art and story. A sense of unease can be informative (perhaps it is our heart thinking?). If we really hold to the understanding that things/events/people/ecologies are interconnected and boundaries are fuzzy, and that our orders may not always be good, then maybe we can perceive more ‘data’ to help improve our understanding. All of these messages and data need evaluation through interaction with reality, but they can potentially add to understanding. We all have ‘inner wisdom’, but it is not just found in retreat, it is also found in an attentive and open daily life.

Seventh point. Response to crisis should probably be an oscillatory process. We go ‘inside’ to our hidden wisdoms, we go ‘outside’ to the interacting or multi-loguing world, we go ‘inside’ again and come out, and so on. If we remain isolated or unthinking individuals then it is possible we will be worse than ignored, we will lose some of our internal power and meaning as it does not go into the world, we will become complicit in that loss. If the reader is familiar with depth psychology and its metaphors, then they will be aware that in alchemy, the practitioner does not simply engage in ‘spiritual’ or ‘inner’ work, they do that work in conjunction with work in the laboratory. They take their insights from the inner work into the lab, and the lab work into their inner lives. Sometimes the two progress simultaneously. In alchemy, there is no enforced separation between ‘mind’, ‘spirit’ and ‘body’, or between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ they are aspects of each other, and this may be a useful approach.

Clearly, then, I am not protesting against doing inner work, but saying that inner work is part of outer work, it is not separate. I am also not remotely against the idea of multi-logue, but admit it can be difficult and upsetting to our egos, and this can be good.

However, I am suggesting that when we recognise that oppression or destruction is likely to come, or is coming, then people may need to formally join together to protect themselves and protect others.

The more understanding we have gained from participation and challenge, then the less likely that this joining will be violent, condemnatory or exclusionary; the more likely we will be responding to reality rather than to our limited understandings of reality.

How to talk to President Trump about climate change.

November 27, 2016

A set of hypotheses. There is also the “don’t let him do anything approach” which has its logics…. however this is more based in the idea of talking to people….

1) Do not make climate change a challenge of the form “you cannot do this”. This is not about victory over others. If you do this, he will try to ‘win’ to prove you wrong. Thus if you say “coal is doomed”, or “coal cannot be rescued” he will be obliged to prove you wrong, and it is easy for him to do so.

Any industry can be saved for 4 or 5 years if you are prepared to throw enough tax payers’ money at it, and/or cripple the business opposition by regulations and taxes.

Corollary a:  do not say “renewables cannot be stopped” – yes they can – they could be declared illegal, or made impossible to establish.

Corollary b: Telling him the “science says” seems to set up a situation in which he knows best and will prove it.

Corollary c: it might be better to argue President Trump is running away from climate change, because tackling it is too difficult for him.

2) Not losing money is important – this is how human psychology works, loss seems bigger than gain. Perhaps if the Keystone pipeline is to be closed then investors (such as the president) should be compensated? It could be cheaper than spending endless amounts of money to prove coal is viable.

3) Without engaging in triumphalism, we could keep pointing out that there is lots of money to be made in investing in renewables all over the world.

On the other hand, climate change could result in massive economic losses if we don’t act. Talk to the insurance industry who are losing the continuity of events that allows them to issue insurance and profit.

We could even argue that government regulation of trade is bad, get rid of both fossil fuel subsidies and renewable subsidies.

4) Climate change and the extreme weather it brings, threatens the social order. Sure not much has happened (to wealthy people) so far, but the long term prospects are not good. Revolution, loss of position, loss of wealth, buildings could fall, costs of fixing damage etc. are all things to be dealt with.

5) Be prepared to yield. If the president ‘needs’ to loose windfarms near his golf courses, then it may not be helpful to set up a situation in which he tries to obliterate all wind farms in revenge.

6) Trump positions can change with remarkable rapidity. A few years ago, Vladimir Putin was almost universally agreed to be evil. A few flattering words about Mr Trump and he seems to have become the hero and darling of the alt.right (as you can soon see, if you look). Who would have guessed, that a State which has been an enemy of the US for over 100 years, could be rehabilitated so easily, even when it still appears to be threatening US interests?

Could the same happen with climate change? Could President Trump be flattered into action?

7) It may be useful to suggest that President Trump is smart enough to work out the realities, or not, of climate change if he talks to real climate scientists, and does not allow his advisors to prevent him from doing this.

8) Ultimately you may need to stand firm, fight and win, but going into such a posture at first may not be helpful, and may set up more polarisation, which will delay things as Trump supporters will be bound to try and prove themselves right.

9) Don’t expect the media to do anything for you, such as convey useful information and criticism. They didn’t during the campaign, they won’t now.

Anyway, just some suggestions.

Corporate society and the Toynbee Cycle

November 24, 2016

[this is an elaboration of some of my comments on the previous article on the Age of the Anthropocene blog]

When I was arguing that Trump may well seek to ‘over-rule’ apparent economic realities and help produce climate disaster, I was guided by a theory which I call the ‘Toynbee Cycle’ after the historian Arnold Toynbee. The basic proposition is that Civilisations or societies, if they are to succeed and survive, adapt to their environment which includes ecology and other societies. Societies always face challenges which the society either overcomes, adapts to, or fails.

A failure can be a learning experience and produce better adaptation later on. This learning often involves a change in the people in power and/or the ideologies they embrace.

However, sometimes these challenges arise out of the very factors that have helped to generate the societies success.

A common example could be an extreme military proficiency that has expanded until the point where the costs, financial and social, of maintaining that success and dominance depletes the society of resources and the capacity to respond to challenges; in particular the capacity to respond to new non-military kinds of challenges. Similarly, problems arise when a group of people has been able to commandeer the cosmologies, economics, technologies etc. of a society and they restrict membership and do not allow newcomers. Such a group is likely to resist innovation and change, even if it kills them, because they have no competence or experience in such. Letting in new classes/groups of people, provided they appear talented or qualified is always a good strategy to get new ideas. Restricting entry to kin and existing group members is usually harmful. [for those who like this kind of thing, this latter point comes from Pareto’s cycle of elites]

Toynbee’s oft repeated point is that previously successful societies, do not fail so much as commit suicide. This suicide is usually promoted by the dominant groups not wanting to risk loss of dominance, or not being able to see the world in terms other than those of the tools (conceptual and technological) they use.

In my terms, the order the rulers seek creates the very disorder they fear. Reality does not work the way they want it to, or they demand that it does.

The standard ways of dealing with challenges, which seem likely to ensure social collapse, are:

To try and impose the required order more rigorously.
To pretend that the signs of disorder are illusionary.
To pretend to be solving the problem, usually with a knowing wink.
To attack those who might be trying to solve the problems.
To stir up a distraction and get people’s attention focused elsewhere, or
To locate a scapegoat to blame for the problems and argue everything will be well when that scapegoat is purged.

We largely seem to have a corporately dominated society; its cosmologies, forms of organisation and economic power seem to be embraced everywhere. It has relatively tight control, and factions of our current society, which support that order, appear to be dedicated to all of the techniques named above:

The economy is not working – so let us have more ‘free markets’, more power to the corporate sector, more wealth for the wealthy. Trump has promised to encourage more fossil fuels as they have worked in the past, and are (incidentally)generated by wealthy people and organisations.

People pretend that the climate change generated by society’s economy and success is not a problem, is not happening, is some kind of conspiracy, or is beyond human remediation.

Many government seem to want to embrace a ‘solution’ to climate change which supports coal burning. Not just new mines, but ‘clean coal’ and fracking for cheap ‘clean’ gas despite the leaks.

Groups attack and smear scientists, greens and anti-coal protestors who recognise some of the problems.

Official media, tends to distract us by focusing on the lives of celebrities, on murders, imaginary worlds and so on.

Groups can actively blame refugees, illegal immigrants, and ‘liberals/greenies’ for everything.

All of these are attempts to keep the disordering order functional, and remove challenges to it, and challenges to the behaviour of its supporters from consideration

This kind of situation encourages what I call the ‘mess of information’, because the dominant cultural trend is an attempt to avoid reality. The mess of information supports bad politics which reinforces the problems. I may write about that mess later., but this is long enough for today…

Economics, Reality and Renewable Energy

November 22, 2016

I keep reading things like: “In a showdown between political ideology and economic reality … you want to be betting on economic reality,” or other statements implying that capitalism and business will save us.

That makes it seem that people do think that pro-corporate organisations like the Republicans in the US, really do believe in ‘small government’ and ‘free markets’, rather than in using those words as slogans to support action in favour of established corporate power. Republicans have already changed ‘economic reality’ to reflect their position and probably will keep doing so. This is not about respecting reality, rationality or getting the best results for ‘working people’.

The new US government can, for example, encourage companies who provide grid power to charge more for connecting to places/homes with renewable power to prevent ‘freeloading’ on profits. They can tax renewable usage, or put import tariffs on essential materials or parts for renewables. They can decide renewables are dangerous to workers, hazardous to public health (wind farm syndrome, why not a solar power syndrome?), or bad for ‘baseload’, and slap difficult regulations on them. They can put taxes on the use of land for renewables. They can use infrastructure development to subsidise coal mines, fracking and gas leaks. They can use the same monies to build, or sudsidise, new coal power stations as vital to the economy. They can pretend that they already have clean coal, or give billions to research clean coal without checking that money gets spent on research (other than market research). They can remove all anti-pollution enforcement as that hinders the economy. They can decide that protestors against these moves, are more vulnerable to jail, or police beatings, or face increased and bankrupting fines; or they can legislate that protestors are terrorists. They can decide that protest should not occur on private property as that is trespassing, and that all space is private property. I’m sure they are more ingenious than me, so they can find even more reasons to hinder and halt renewables and their supporters.

If they can ignore the reality of climate change, they can skew the economy towards fossil fuels.

In terms of Ken Mcleod’s ‘fourfold’ the mythos of capitalist economics is misleading at best, and this produces misleading understanding and action and a restricted psyche.

Not only does our economics depend on the idea of individuals primarily competing with each other, it tends to make profit the only good, and usually the profit of those who are already profiting. It therefore tends to generate a plutocracy and a ‘selfish personality’ repressing human cooperativeness, or long term interest. It pretends that economic activity is not tied in with State activity and control of the State; however, in reality economics is always a political as well as a business struggle. Hence the likely possibility of Republicans acting against renewable energy, which largely involves newer companies, to support those who have already invested in their party and who already hold power in the State.

The ideology of the free market is not interested in recognizing power differentials in the market, or everyone’s survival and cannot be, because that would be to recognize that the ideology does not work in the way it claims to work – which is not to say that reasonably free markets cannot be useful, but that they get corrupted, and that they are not the only good.

If you want renewables you may need to organize, and think about new more constructive  myths and economics.

Disorder is expected

November 20, 2016

Disorder is expected. We all ‘know’ this but it rarely seems that we factor it into our lives, or into the life of the planet – we expect order and smooth transition. We even pretend that our messes are ordered, and condemn the messes of others.

What we label as ‘disorder’ arises because of the complexity and unpredictability which is embedded in the interactive processes of the cosmos. Biology increases the complexity effects. We might say “the more something is alive, the more unpredictable its behaviour will be”.

This again we know, but we still act as if we expect people and events will be predictable.

I would suggest that in the West this arises because of propositions which appear theological, but can be held in a slightly different form by atheists as well:

1) As there is one God, there is only one fixed order, and that is right and good.

2) If God only makes order, then the devil and disobedient or ignorant humans, make the chaos we observe.

Neither of these propositions seems correct. If there is a God, then that God appears to make complexity (complex systems), and that complexity ensures unpredictability in detail. If so, then God is not a dictator, enables free will, almost guarantees that events will escape human control, and welcomes surprise (within limits).

The idea that God makes order and the devil makes chaos reinforces the false dichotomy between order and chaos, and the idea that what we perceive as order is good and what we perceive as chaos is bad. It also implies that if you think you know what the correct order, or correct good, is, then you are entitled to impose that order and goodness upon reality. It ignores the probability that your orders may have unintended consequences because complex reality escapes your understanding and control, when that is normal.

In this view, the normal disorders of the natural world, or the disorderly results of well intentioned actions, are evidence of ungodly threat and hostility to virtue, rather than something which must be taken into account. People in this mindset frequently seem to argue that as the order they want is good, then if their actions do not produce the results they want there must a conspiracy against them, and the order must be imposed with even more thoroughness and the conspirators suppressed or scapegoated.

To exaggerate slightly, for such people, the only safe nature seems to be one that is concreted over, dead, or heavily polluted, marked by fences and neat rows, as that is nature with human order imposed as rigorously as possible.

The contrary view implies that human knowledge is limited and that we cannot live in complete control or complete certainty; unintended consequences and disruptions are normal. This means our actions have to be experimental; that is we perform them and see what happens and then adjust. We have to attend to reality.

In the old view failure is punishment or the active work of evil beings, in the newer view, failure and correcting that failure – as best as we can – is how we learn.

Leaving Earth

November 20, 2016

Stephen Hawking has said we are destroying earth and need to leave. This is a real recognition of the Anthropocene. However:

1) It will cost a huge amount to find an inhabitable planet and get there and set up a colony. This is money which could be spent fixing the problems we have here – such as winding back coal burning and other forms of pollution, developing an asteroid defense programme, or getting rid of nuclear weapons.

2) We will probably never be able to transport a couple of billion people off this planet – so the process of leaving involves deciding who will survive, and enforcing that decision. Which elite will survive? Probably the elite that have stuffed the planet in the first place. Who will be left to die? Probably you.

3) As the saying has it: “Wherever you go, there you are”. If we don’t fix up our social systems, the tendency to favour the powerful who are benefitting from the emissions which cause climate change, alter our tendency to say it is everyone else’s fault, or that there is no problem in what is comfortable to us, then some humans will simply all die off in some distant place.

4) If we plan to leave, then our destruction of the earth will accelerate, because if it is going to get destroyed anyway, what is the point in leaving it intact? This will increase the emergency, and probably decrease the chance of making it into space successfully. It will probably mean even more people die earlier than they would have.

Australia and Climate Change

November 12, 2016

It is frequently argued that Australia’s CO2 emissions are tiny, and that there is no point in the Australian federal government acting. This is especially the case if the US, under President Trump pretends there is no problem, as their emissions are huge.

Unfortunately the Australian Government is already acting.

By not attempting to ameliorate climate change it is showing that it does not care about climate change, and that it will not object to other bigger polluters continuing to pollute. So it helps make CO2 production normal and produces more climate change.

By encouraging coal mining in Australia our governments (of all persuasions) clearly demonstrate that they care more for the profit of some companies, than they care about the land, people’s health or maintaining a climate balance. By taking this choice, they ally with the commercial and political forces which produce climate change. Saying that stopping mining might cost us money and jobs is irrelevant – virtue can be difficult, and there appear to be more jobs in renewables anyway.

By encouraging Australia to continue to have one of the highest CO2 emissions per head in the world, they are implying that a prosperous life style depends upon destroying climate stability and that destroying that stability should be encouraged.

They are also encouraging short term visions over long term visions, and short term profit over long term expense, which is probably not good for anyone in general.

By being half hearted or indifferent to climate change they provide an exemplar and excuse for other’s behaviour (‘If wealthy countries in the West can’t be bothered, then why should we?’). If they acted to cut emissions and support renewables (or support thorium research, if you prefer) then they would be providing an exemplar of behaviour which also might influence other governments and corporate behaviour.

So let us be clear the government is acting. Just not the way we might think is sensible.

As for things like ocean fertilization or carbon capture and storage, they are likely to help prolong our use of fossil fuels. They are also likely to have weird and unintended effects. They may not even work other than in theory, or only work for a short time. We may need to deploy such methods, but the proper research will take longer than we might have to prevent climate turmoil (transformation is unlikely to be linear or smooth) and we have to move to 100% renewables or non-fossil fuels eventually. Why not start now, and help everyone achieve this, as well as make money for our scientists and companies out of the IP?

The American Crisis

November 12, 2016

Let us be clear. America is in the crisis it is in today because since the Reagan years the Republican Party has systematically stripped away power from ordinary people and given it to big business. They have done this by pretending that the corporately controlled ‘free market’ always delivers the best results, and that anything which impinges upon big businesses’s liberty to do what it wants is evil.

In the course of this operation they have had to pretend that reality is not real. Hence the attacks on science, and any kind of non pro-corporate knowledge. Hence the pretense that many established businesses are not destroying the world we live in. They have attempted to distract people from the growing realisation that the ‘free market’ system is not delivering its promises, by encouraging hatred of fellow Americans though ‘race pride’ or by curtailing the liberties of ‘minorities’ to act openly. They use anti-abortion and ant-gay rhetoric to win over evangelicals to the worship of Mammon and the destruction of God’s creation. They have systematically opposed any attempts by Democrats to lessen the effects of business dominance, until the Democrats gave up or joined in.

This devotion to corporate power, and ‘free markets’ is why the corporate sector gets so much subsidy, why you pay proportionately more tax than big businesses, why so many jobs went overseas, why illegal immigrants work for crap wages, why inner cities are desolate wastelands, why corporations got bailed out after the financial crisis and what tens of thousands of Americans lost their homes through shonky contracts and pro-business laws.

This is the reality.

Will Trump break with the Republican fantasy? Probably not, as he has benefitted from it.

However, people can remember the origin of the problem and work towards ending the cause.

Trump and the Magic of Information

November 12, 2016

President Trump’s victory will have massive consequences in the Anthropocene age, and I’ve been suffering a lot of criticism, and dismissal, from friends over the last year or so for predicting a Trump victory. Now it’s all over, I guess it’s time to explain the logic of the prediction. My basic point is that to understand Trump’s victory, you have to understand how information and knowledge works in contemporary Information Society.

Most of the theory is argued at greater length in Disorder and the Disinformation Society: The social dynamics of information, networks and software. Routledge 2015.

1) The first point is simple. Information is primarily about power and persuasion. It is about shaping the world another person perceives and getting them to see themselves in a particular way, so as to act in a particular way. Information is not primarily about truth, but about magic. Repeated items, from respected sources, become taken as truth and create perceived reality.

2) There is too much information to uncover it all. Consequently people filter information by general knowledge (other already accepted information) and by group identity and belonging processes. In the Information Age good information is often drowned by easy to process information that meets the requirements of group identity.

3) When Trump got involved the election was never going to be about accuracy, but about magic and his puissance, or his status as a ‘man of power’.

4) Both candidates have a long term media history, which shapes the general knowledge people have to filter (or ‘frame’) information about them.

Clinton has been smeared for over 30 years by the mainstream media. Unfounded accusations have been reported and discussed repeatedly. The Republicans have spent millions trying to convict her of anything, and in both making the accusations public and a repeated (and therefore ‘verified’) part of public discourse. She is their number one villain, and the media has played along – in general giving small coverage to her victories, or any of her achievements. You have to be a fanatical Hilary fan to know anything good about her. Everyone else ‘knows’ she is suspicious, and criminal. At certain levels, the lack of criminal convictions proves that she is a form of superpowered evil, who escapes repeatedly (like Batman’s Joker or Poison Ivy). She is a strong evil woman; she is a witch.

Trump on the other hand has a long-time mainstream media coverage depicting him as a powerful, successful all-American businessman. His very name is promoted as an icon of luxury and success. He can sometimes seem a bit of a buffoon, but that humanises him and makes him a regular guy. In the US, business is generally conceived of as good, with successful business people almost always portrayed as having massive special and inherent talents which set them apart and make them a success – even the ruthless ones are ‘colourful’. In this filtering Trump become superhuman. A veritable god. Everyone who knows a little about Trump will know he is a great success, a triumph of the American Dream. You have to work much harder if you want to uncover the trail of failures, dark deals and privilege – this is usually hidden in the boring business pages, where some form of accuracy actually counts.

At a mythic level, or the level of ‘general knowledge’, the campaign was being fought between a crook and a hero or, if you prefer, an evil woman and an exemplary man.

5) As said previously, information is also filtered by group identity. Information is political and forms selves.

In Information Society people tend to form ‘information groups’, which are based upon their identities and general knowledge. The purpose of the information group is to filter and gather information together; this reinforces group cohesion, and group and personal identity. It is a necessary artefact of information society with huge consequences.

The group can, and often does, ‘protect’ people from the information possessed by other groups – it helps shield members and provide arguments to show how evil the outgroups are; to block flow and attempts at communication. These groups may overlap, but they tend to fall into exclusive categories.

The strategy of getting people worked up about how evil the outgroups are, and not letting them hear the views of real outsiders, is a good marketing strategy and is employed by some media outlets to keep and capture their audiences (profit reinforces lack of accuracy). It makes disloyalty hard. It reinforces group identity, and keeps people fixated on hearing what they want to hear to make sense of the world. Again, it keeps people ‘engaged’ and inhibits them from questioning the reality of what they read.

6) This occurs for both left and right groups. However, the right is much better at manipulating it – and this is the source of their magic.

They rigorously police speech, and make sure people are on target and repeating talking points. It is amazing how quickly the same meme will be everywhere on the right, giving it the appearance of inevitability and truth. They are not frightened of encouraging rage, because that keeps people engaged and unlikely to actually converse with outsiders. They drive out outsiders.

Repetition and reinforcement creates perceived reality. Eventually everyone just knows Clinton is a criminal and should be jailed, even if they are not sure what for, or reiterate that she was responsible for things that she has been cleared of or was never involved in. Her innocence in any one particular disconnected case does not prove she was innocent of all the charges (there are so many). General knowledge becomes personal knowledge.

The Republican party also could run memes in their groups to see which were likely to take off, and they did nothing to correct memes they knew where untrue if that brought them party loyalty, anger against Democrats and votes. They manipulated the system successfully, at the cost of not having policies based on reality – but fantasy has a greater pull (as it often does with sex, for example). The Democrats seemed constrained by an ideal of truth, and ideal of politeness (although this was the rudest election I’ve seen from the left- the relatively closed information group was having an effect, and groups are polarizing or defining themselves by opposition.)

People on the Democrat side, don’t find it easy to be as isolate. They generally, have to have to be involved with at least mildly right wing media, as the corporate sector controls the media, and pays for the media through advertising. It does not have such a ‘closed box effect’  in the same way; it gives light right views, seeks balance etc. This media emitts plenty of pro-corporate right wing material – it seems ‘left’ because, in comparison with the mainstream right media, it’s not completely without a moderate perspective. However, this has also meant that the left have tended to accept the comfortable idea that neoliberalism was ok in principle, and that fighting it was problematic or extreme. The Right, in its more isolated media, managed to both promote corporate dominance and denounce its consequences.

7) Information groups tend to manufacture scapegoats to help form unity

These scapegoats can be blamed for all the ills of the world, and attacked/sacrificed, while keeping group members pure and unified. Scapegoats are often said to be from information outgroups.

On the right you have a range of choices to suit your placing; blacks, latinos, migrants, commies, liberals, godless liberals, wicked liberal business people, educated liberals, liberal women, femininazis, Hillary Clinton, or the interfering State.

Pro-democrat information groups tend to scapegoat the uneducated, or the really wealthy. In the US, few really believe that wealth is bad, so that position has little appeal, and the first simply proves the right’s point about educated elites. The left has no effective scapegoats to blame or sacrifice, so their groups are less tight, less bonded, less passionate and less integrated.

8) The faults of exemplars appear small
If a person is defined as exemplary of an ingroup, then their faults tend to be ignored or diminished in respect for their apparent virtues. Indeed faults may be seen as ‘things-everyone-does’ even if you don’t know anyone as bad as the exemplar. By becoming presidential candidate Trump, with his supposed business ability, was able to become an exemplar of the ingroup, and his faults excused – even if most Republican men and women would be horrified to meet an ordinary person who contemplated grabbing their daughters, or who appeared unable to tell the truth or make a consistent story. If a person becomes an exemplar of an outgroup (as Clinton did for Republicans, and Trump does for Democrats) then their faults become exaggerated and obscure their virtues – having anything openly to do with them shows massive disloyalty.
Clinton could never get herself defined as an exemplary Democrat, because of the mainstream media’s promoted general knowledge about her, and because many Democrats wanted a more obviously radical candidate – as said previously, you had to work to find Clinton’s positive record. This helped make her faults more visible to everyone, and lowered enthusiasm for her amongst nominal supporters, and this feeds into point 13 below.

9) Falsehood is expected

People in information groups are also not frightened of making up fiction, which sounds plausible. If caught out, the groups will either ignore the failure, reiterate their falsehood more strongly, forget it for a while and repeat it later, accuse the revealer of unspeakable crimes, or say that everyone lies and the outgroup members are much worse. Once issued, a pleasing falsehood can separate from its refutation and easily be reaccepted.

People play the game that they know information is likely false. Everyone can say they are suspicious and smart, while accepting ingroup crap. This move effectively reinforces the idea that their opponents lie constantly, but they are clever and can see through this, as well as see through the few lies in their group. This keeps people loyal and on topic.

That Donald Trump made unreliable statements, was secondary to him making pleasing statements for his followers. He was also vague enough for his lies to be justified or ignored, should they ever become a problem. It also appears likely that because his followers did not expect him to tell the truth, they could select out the statements which were pleasing to them as being true and dismiss displeasing ones as strategic lies. Given Trump’s insistence on success, and the media’s promotion of his success, this made Trump an almost blank canvas for fantasies of success however that appeared to his audiences.

Being wrong involves a loss of status in this information world. So not admitting being wrong or failure is a mark of strength – of puissance if you like

10) The right pulls together. The left factionalises

The right have been pulling together for years. There should be nothing in common between libertarians and Christian fundamentalists, but they get on to keep power. The Christians have been taught to accept capitalism as part of Christianity. White supremacists can also get on with libertarians and non-racist Christians for the sake of power. There has been an effort to promote solidarity (often through scapegoating marked outgroup members), which is missing on the left.

Because Trump was centred in right wing media, the general informational and identity group pull would be for those who felt Republican to move towards cementing their loyalty towards the Republican party. Very few Republicans who had anything to lose really disowned Trump, when it came down to it; they joined in with their own side. Despite his lack of religion, Evangelicals supported him because the Republican party is their sole power base, he was not the evil witch and was a man who held the right opinion on abortion. No other issue was allowed to matter. They have a long history on this as well.

Followers of Bernie Sanders appear not to have done the same (I suspect Republican provocateurs stirred up dissension between Clinton and Sanders supporters; certainly there was a lot of rather peculiar fighting going on). Many people on the left could not bring themselves to say “I don’t like Clinton but Trump is so bad I have to vote for her”. Whereas, on the right, “I don’t like Trump but I won’t let Clinton get in”, seems to have been common.

11) Trump’s communication style fits in with this basic paradigm of communication

Trump stays on topic: “Make America Great Again”, “I’m a success. I can solve these problems”, “Things are bad and I’ll fix it”, but he is rarely specific. People can agree with him or think that what he says is good, but he produces few splits amongst his audience over matters of detail. He does not say what a “Great America” involves, which could cause disputes. He does not say how he will solve problems. He repeats himself frequently, as with “Crooked Hillary”, where he makes the unfounded charge part of her name, part of her identity. This reinforces the ‘general knowledge’ people have, and creates the ‘crookedness’. Similarly dwelling on “success”, as an undefined category when attached to himself, appeals to all audiences who want to absorb their own success from him. He makes himself a ‘man of power’. People talk of his ‘genius,’ – another suitably vague term loaded with meaning.

He, and his audience by proxy, engage in magical evocation. He makes his audience passionate, angry, involved, entranced. He attacks the scapegoats he borrows from their information groups. He is the strong man who will protect his audience from the nightmares he evokes. He motivates anyone prepared to respond to his key trigger words. He creates his temporary reality, and carries an audience to their reality in which he becomes central.

Clinton goes on and on, believing in truth, planning and inclusion. Consequently, people in her audience argue about little things with her. They may get the impression they disagree with her a lot, she seems to have no sense of who to blame, or of who her ingroup is, so they don’t know what they are fighting against. So while you can’t altogether trust her, Trump says “a lot that makes sense”.

12) Fictional Demographics generated by information groups

Pro-Democrat people frequently told me that nobody could vote for Trump because he was clearly a manipulative braggart who knew nothing, despite similar facts not stopping people from voting for Bush Jr. twice. However, they could say this because they were in their own information world in which this was impossible. Not in reality. People would say women would not vote for Trump, but pictures from his rallies were full of women. People said that educated people would not vote for Trump, when a few minutes on facebook in right wing groups would have shown them otherwise. Trump’s potential demographic was always bigger than Democrats seemed to suspect, because the people they knew who were not going to vote for Trump anyway, were not going to vote for Trump.

13) Non compulsory voting

If people generally disliked Clinton, for no particular reason, they would not feel compelled to vote for her. However, Trump voters were passionate. They would go out and vote, and organise others to vote. There might be a whole body of people who had never voted who would vote for Trump. This discovery of previous non-voters was incredibly unlikely for Clinton, because of the general knowledge about her. That Clinton had a machine, simply reinforces the idea that she was compelling people to vote, not allowing spontaneity. Without voter enthusiasm, and with the general doubt about Clinton, she risked being lost beneath passion of Trump’s magic.

14) Surveys were undecided

Pro-Democrats would repeatedly point to surveys. However they nearly always forgot to report that sometimes these surveys showed 25% undecided. Unless one candidate is more than 25% ahead of the other, such a survey tells you nothing. If surveys two months out from the election still have huge numbers of undecided voters then that should worry people, but it didn’t – they took their reinforcement from their information group, not the data. People decided not to accept the uncertainty, or work with it, but to resolve that the uncertainty did not matter.

15) Surveys are not accurate anyhow

Old Anthropological issue. Particularly, if people think you are official, they will tell you what they think you want to hear. In general they will not tell you the truth if there is much of a chance they will be blamed or ridiculed for it.

When Clinton had been portrayed as the face of the system, then the likelihood people would lie or misdirect about their intentions towards her is huge. There was a large possibility that most of the undecided people had already decided to vote Trump, or were inclining that way.

16) Conclusion

Trump was a master of informational magic. He may not understand how it works, but it uses it to persuade and involve people, to shape their view of the world, through vague impressive terms, without giving them handholds to criticise him. The effectiveness of this technique is is reinforced by the dynamics of information in Information Society.

Information is primarily about making groups, reinforcing views of the world and persuading people to act. It is only about ‘truth’ or accuracy in specific, and often hard to maintain, circumstances. Eventually, false information will cause upset and unintended consequences, but that may well be less important to those using it, than its socially more pleasing and empowering aspects.

Ecology and Disorder

November 12, 2016
  1. When a complex system such as an ecology, or an economy (and both are linked) is disrupted, so that it begins to move outside of an equilibrium, the results are unpredictable.
  2. The behavior of the system is fundamentally uncertain, and cannot be dealt with by ideas of risk, which suggest numeric and often constant probabilities for events. In these kinds of disrupted systems both events and probabilities are unknown.
  3. We can, however, assume trends. Weather events will almost certainly become more uncertain and more extreme. The anthropologist Hans Baer, has suggested using the term ‘Climate Turmoil’ rather than ‘climate change’ for the simple reason that it is more accurate of what we can expect. Climate change suggests a smooth linear change, not the tumultuous, disorderly change which is likely, and which we need to prepare for and lessen.
  4. Unfortunately, it would appear that socially, we are resistant to accepting fundamental uncertainty. We try and trap reality in our visions of order, and that leads to further chaos. Businesses and governments like to pretend that they can predict the future, so that they can keep their power relations intact and their success coming. Scientists sometimes do the same when they predict that particular places will have particular weather patterns in 20 years.
  5. But unfortunately it is what we have been doing to produce what we have defined as ‘success’ that seems to have caused the problem. Burning coal, for example, has been one factor responsible for the success and dominance of Western civilization and its modes of organisation. It now threatens that civilization’s success. In reality, burning coal threatens nearly everyone on the planet.
  6. We need to radically accept disorder and uncertainty as part of life, and act as if fundamental change is both happening and is being produced by what has produced success in the past. That way we can try something new, and hope to conserve some of what we have.