For a short time in 2017-18, “The Handmaid’s Tale” mesmerized TV viewers. A 4th and final season is planned by Hulu in 2020. An interesting speculation in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is–what would happen if misogyny grew rather than diminished in society? Margaret Atwood suggests misogyny will create a dystopian future.
Atwood’s view of misogyny’s existence in the world is fulsome and complex. She implies misogyny is perpetuated and reinforced by both sexes. Both women and men ally themselves in repression of sexual equality.
Margaret Atwood creates a story about a conspiracy of women to repress equality by exclusively relegating women to propagation and covert management of humanity. Males are correctly accused and guilty of denying women’s equal rights, but Atwood illustrates both sexes are complicit in suppression and enforcement of sexual inequality.
Many men and women hide behind the veil of religion and secular authority to exploit unequal treatment of the sexes.
Atwood’s story implies men may rule the world but only under the influence and guidance of women. Males are sperm providers. Males possess rights to rule the world, but they delude themselves in thinking they are in control. The relationship between the sexes makes women not only the vessel of creation but the covert controller of society. Only the female form can create human life. In most western religions, only women were given knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden.
Love is not necessary and is a negative force in Atwood’s dystopian vision of the future.
Atwood implies men’s weakness is in their ignorance, desire for intimacy, failure to control nature, and a wish to see themselves as more than sperm bearers. The strength of women is in their knowledge of good and evil and how to use it to have some level of control over nature.
Neither sex can control nature, but knowledge gives women a sharper edge for splitting the difference between good and evil. What Atwood implies is that women’s superior knowledge of good and evil may lead to her described dystopian world.
The best antidote for a future unlike that shown in “The Handmaid’s Tale” is the Socratic importance of “knowing thyself”. All human beings are created equal. “Knowing thyself” is the beginning of wisdom. Neither men or women are superior beings.
Joseph M. Marshall is a native American Indian of the Lakota tribe. He argues that humanity must balance economic growth with nature to preserve cultural, particularly American Indian, identity. The foundation of the argument is his life in a Lakota family and a felt loss of cultural identity. His recollection is that his family’s life ambition is balancing the Lakota way of life with the natural world.
Marshall creates an argument based on a false dichotomy.
The world has never been a static place. One cannot dispute balancing change with nature is critical to survival of humans on earth. However cultural evolution is an integral part of that balance.
Marshall notes his family modified their culture to adjust from hunter/gatherer life to a farming life.
He decries the destruction of his native culture by non-native explorers who, without question, deceived, evicted, and murdered Indians for what foreign settlers believed was a new frontier to conquer and exploit.
But that is not the theme of Marshall’s book. His belief is that ethnic cultures should be retained by emphasizing balance of nature to maintain the environment in a fragile world.
What is disturbing about the emphasis on balance of nature is the discounting of science that saved many homos sapiens from disease, starvation, and death.
With discovery of the causes of disease, ways for cure, and methods for increasing food production, people’s lives and standards of living were improved.
Marshall recalls an idyllic history of his Lakota family that lived in the wilderness by adjusting their lives to the exigencies of nature. On a larger scale of life, rebalancing lives of humans with earth’s environment is a never-ending process. New scientific, political, and social discoveries require cultural adaptation.
Cultural evolution is a consequence of human nature and manufactured law. Human nature is formed at birth and evolves based on life experience that modifies the psychology of being, human desires, and behavioral traits. Manufactured law is a social construct based on either authoritarian, socialist, or democratic political ideals and institutions.
Knowledge gained through science offers the opportunity to rebalance the relationship between humanity and nature.
Cultural evolution is a part of that rebalancing. Cultures collide and reform. Cultures are compelled to adapt. Over the life of the universe, one presumes earthlings will have one culture, and other worlds will have their own distinctive cultures.
This is not to minimize the monumental loss of identity to the Lakota or any other culture.
The history of indigenous Indian cultural decimation in America is heart breaking in the same way that all human beings have not been treated as equals.
Marshall’s wish for cultural permanence is an unreasonable expectation. Human nature is a brutal and often unfair quality of being human. Adaptation by cultures follows Darwin’s path of evolution. The animal kingdom adapts to its changing environment, or its species dies.
“On the Run” is a picture of life in a low to no income inner-city neighborhood in America. Its focus comes from a white sociologist’s immersion in black families lives.
Alice Goffman chooses to live with a black family to create an intimate portrait of life as a black youth in a poor inner-city neighborhood.
What Goffman finds is that young black Americans are taught by older siblings to distrust and evade the police. Older siblings have experience with living in a neighborhood with few jobs, a lot of time, and limited legal economic opportunity. The way of making a living is to deal drugs, steal from the few neighbors that have anything, and run from anyone who can accuse or arrest a fugitive for breaking the law.
Once the law is broken and a perp is caught, arrested, indicted, and convicted, Goffman explains “a record” makes running the only way to survive.
Goffman explains running, to many born in this environment, entails lying about your name, where you are going, who your family and friends are, and where you stay at night. The reason is that who you know, and where you sleep makes you vulnerable to the police or anyone searching for you. A good policeman will ask questions and take notes on everyone he/she talks to about someone they are looking for in the neighborhood.
Those who get caught for a crime are trapped in a circle of arrest, incarceration, bail, parole, non-payment of fines, re-arrest, more incarceration, more unpaid fines, and re-arrest.
This systematic recycling of arrest and release is maddening and disturbing to reader/listeners of Goffman’s book. On the one hand you have people committing crimes against other people and on the other you have law enforcement doing its duty to reduce crime.
This disturbing picture with “no exit” is accompanied by physical restraint, twisted arms, and face plants on pavement, bare floors, and carpet that reinforces fear and hate between police and the public.
Most Americans do not see this cycle of madness. Those within the madness see it only as a way of life. To political conservative and liberals, the answer is law enforcement, education, and job creation. To a low-income/no-income neighborhood boy or girl, law enforcement is a recycling dead end, and education, or legal employment are either not available or poorly provided.
All that is remaining in these neighborhoods seems to be personal relationships. Mother’s love their children, fathers are in jail or on probation, boys have guarded relationships with everyone and no one, girls are left to look after the next companion that offers escape from loneliness.
Goffman offers a dismal picture of life in big city poor neighborhoods that recycle themselves with little hope for those seeking a better life.
The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War-A Tragedy in Three Acts
By: Scott Anderson
Narrated by : Robertson Dean, Scott Anderson
Scott Anderson (Author)
“The Quiet Americans” is an investigative reporter’s view of the American spy service. It is written by a veteran war correspondent and son of a former foreign aid officer. The author, Scott Anderson, is raised in East Asia. He reviews America’s spy network during and after WWII.
The American independent spy agency is formed after WWII to provide intelligence on growing clandestine activities of the U.S.S.R. The author notes there were intelligence operations during WWII, but they were not independent. During the war, Intelligence services were defined and executed by the military. It is only after WWII that an independent branch is formed along the lines of British intelligence.
In Anderson’s opinion, President Harry Truman is an inept manager of the nascent American intelligence service.
There are several surprising facts and interpretations of history compiled by Anderson. Kennan is characterized as a great diplomatic analyst, but capable of lying to protect his reputation.
George Kennan is viewed as an influential diplomat in the creation of what becomes known as the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Dulles brothers solidify the role of the CIA in American clandestine operations in the world. Their modus vivendi for CIA operations prevails today. Their intent is to have an agreement allowing conflicting parties to coexist peacefully. However, Anderson shows their action belies their intent.
Dulles Brothers (John Foster on the right, Allen on the left.)
Parenthetically, as an example of Stalinist ideology, Anderson notes Adolph Hitler’s remains were not found in a burned bunker in which Hitler is alleged to have committed suicide. His burned remains were secreted by Joseph Stalin and placed in an archive in the U.S.S.R. Stalin’s motive for secrecy is unknown.
An independent spy agency is initially opposed by Truman, and perennially opposed by FBI Director Hoover.
J. Edgar Hoover–Director of the FBI from 1924 to 1972. (Died in May of 1972 at the age of 77)
Anderson notes Ambassador Kennan’s prescient analysis (the long memorandum) reflects the duplicitous nature of Joseph Stalin. Kennan recommends a surreptitious and aggressive American containment policy enacted through the practice of espionage. Kennan plays an important role in the formation of the American Intelligence service. The first director of this operation is a close friend of Kennan’s, a man named Frank Wisner.
“The Quiet Americans” Anderson profiles are Edmund Michael Burke, Frank Wisner, Peter Sichel, and Edward Lansdale. In their stories, Anderson reveals the beginnings of the CIA and a history of minor espionage successes and significant failures. In the back of a listener’s mind is the consequence of American espionage—their cost in human lives and dollars, and American truths about what measures are taken to presumably secure freedom and equality in other countries.
This is not a pretty picture. American efforts to change the world for the better through covert action is shown to be, at best, questionable, and at worst horribly misguided. As an American, it seems clear that most covert activity is meant to do good but the definition of good is distorted by human nature.
America’s role in Albania, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan raises the hopes of many but at a cost of too many lives and dollars. Hope of many of these country’s citizens becomes despair. How many lives and dollars could have been saved and repurposed for freedom and equality, rather than destruction of cultural difference. What Anderson makes clear is that national purpose (American or other) is distorted when it is undisclosed because human beings are seduced by self-interest, whether that interest is money, power, and/or prestige.
Government disclosure offers visibility to the public. Disclosure offers opportunity for public influence on government policy. America prides itself on being a government of, and by the people–through popularly elected representatives. Covert government action that is undisclosed to elected representatives gives no opportunity for citizens to influence government policy.
The idea of full disclosure discounts poor intelligence like that given about “weapons of mass destruction” that compelled America to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein. False disclosure by American intelligence misled both citizens and elected officials about what America should do in Iraq.
Dulles Brothers (John Foster on the right, Allen on the left.)
Anderson’s exposure of John Foster Dulles’s tenure as Secretary of State and his brother Allen, as the fifth CIA Director, exemplifies the worst characteristics of covert activities without oversight by elected representatives.
Anderson’s view is America’s opportunity to change the course of history after Stalin’s death is lost because of Dwight Eisenhower’s actions based on the Dulles brother’s political influence.
To Anderson, the course of the U.S.S.R. and American relationship may have been entirely different if the Dulles’s had not run Eisenhower down the wrong diplomatic road. It is impossible to judge what may have happened if a different course had been taken, but Anderson infers the Dulles’ Road led to years of lost opportunity. On the other hand, hindsight is always more perfect than foresight.
Though Burke, Wisner, Sichel, and Lansdale are great patriots, Anderson implies their patriotism and actions often failed to serve American ideals.
Burke’s extraordinary life led him to Italy, Albania, and Germany. He served his country by trying to save Albania from communism, and Germany from further encroachment by the U.S.S.R. At best, his success is limited to non-existent. Albania remained in the fold of communism and success in Germany is the split of Berlin from the eastern block at the expense of food deliveries by air and an agreed upon East and West Berlin.
Wisner kept the light on for covert operations of what became the CIA but failed to get the top job or temper the excesses of secret operations.
Sichel survives them all but appears to compromise a principle of not using bad actors who participated in the holocaust that murdered over 6,000,000 Jews and Nazi resistors.
And finally Wisner, who manages to gain the trust of Philippine and Vietnamese leaders, many of which America abandons by leaving them to fend for themselves.
Trapped, as all humans are, by the times in which they live, they were the instruments of many wasted lives. How many people must die because of undisclosed covert Intelligence operations?
Listening to “The Quiet Americans” makes one understand how important freedom of the press is to America.
Americans must lead by example, not by covert action. More recent episodes in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan show America continues to ignore history’s lessons.
Barbara Demick gives listeners a picture of Tibet with a darkness that rivals the narrative she creates for North Korea in “Nothing to Envy”.
“Eat the Buddha” is a reminder of China’s insistence on Tibet’s acceptance of Communist authority in the face of Buddhist and Tibetan ethnic and religious identity. Like the Uyghurs in mainland China, Tibetans practice a religion that conflicts with Communist atheism. Unlike Islamist Uyghurs, Buddhists eschew violence against oppressors.
Demick addresses self-immolation as an example of Tibetan protest which does not harm others but only one self. Well over 100 men and 28 women have set themselves aflame.
Demick bases “Eat the Buddha” on living seven years in Beijing, with personal visits to Tibet. She interviews Tibetans and Chinese, including the Dalia Lama who is exiled in India.
Demick interviews many who consider Buddhist teaching a positive and integral part of their lives and culture.
Demick’s history of the treatment of Tibetan citizens under Maoist communism reminds one of America’s treatment of Indian tribes in America. Mao tries to erase Tibet’s nomadic culture by murdering Tibetan leaders and excommunicating the Dali Llama. Mao’s object is to thwart the influence of Buddhist religious belief and indoctrinate Tibetan citizens into the ways of Communism.
Mao era attack of Buddhism during the Cultural Revolution.
Demick tells the story of Maoist cadre’s eviction and eventual murder of a regional Tibetan King and his wife during the cultural revolution. The daughter of the former King is one of Demick’s many interviews. The irony of this daughter’s experience with Chinese culture offers both positive and negative memories of her early life in Tibet. She adapts to Chinese doctrine but eventually becomes an assistant to the exiled Dali Lama in India. She cannot abandon her Tibetan cultural beliefs.
Tibetan demonstration in 2020.
Mao, and today’s Chinese leaders, believe any ethnic self-identification, other than Communist party doctrine, conflicts with the State.
Like America’s treatment of Indians, China’s leaders use carrots and sticks to integrate Tibetans into Communist doctrine and Chinese culture.
Rather than accepting culture difference, both America and China suppress their ethnic minorities. However, the suppression is qualitatively different. The significant difference is that China sees minority ethnicity and religion as a direct threat to Communist ideals. In contrast, American history implies ethnicity and religious difference are an evolutionary characteristic, bending toward freedom and equality. That does not make American history less violent, but it suggests hope for something better than China’s expectation of ethnic and religious absorption by Communism.
Demick suggests Tibet is currently in the carrot stage of influence by the Chinese government. Having personally traveled to Tibet in 2019, much of what Demick describes about the modernization of Lhasa, the capitol of Tibet, is obvious.
The restoration of the Potala Palace by the Chinese government is astonishingly beautiful. It is the burial place of past Dalai Lamas. Though it is no longer a practicing Buddhist temple, it is a tacit acknowledgement by China of Tibetan culture.
The last chapters of Demick’s book acknowledge her extensive research. She notes Tibetans are better off now than they were during the Mao years. However, she explains Tibetans do not have the same economic opportunity as the ethnic Chinese. It is important to be Chinese and even more important to be a member of the Communist party. (Our guide in a trip to China and Tibet reinforces the value of being enrolled in the Communist party. Though he abjures the tragedy of Tiananmen Square, he has a slender hope to join the Communist Party because of the opportunity if would afford him and his family.)
Demick infers Tibetans face the same discrimination as American minorities (these pics are not of Tibetans but American Asians attacked by non-Asian Americans in 2021), and presumably the same discrimination felt by many women in the world.
In Demick’s interviews of the Dalai Lama, she finds he is optimistic about Tibet’s future and survival as a Buddhist haven. The Dalai Lama continues to negotiate with China’s leaders with hope of a return to Tibet. (He was exiled in the 1950s by Mao’s government. That exile remains in place.) His successor is to be chosen by the Gaden Phodrang Trust, an India-based group set up by the current Dalai Lama. However, the Chinese government says it will approve the Dalai Lama’s successor. The Buddhist belief is that the Dalai Lama must be a reincarnation of former Dali Lamas.
GADEN PHODRANG FOUNDATION OF THE DALAI LAMA
Demick writes of a Padme Dalai Lama in Tibet with a marginal explanation of their importance in Buddhism. The Padme Dalai Lama plays an important role in selecting the next Dalai Lama. The Padme Dalai Lama is second in the hierarchy of primary Dalai Lamas. A Padme Dalai Lama is identified (chosen) by a current Dalai Lama. The 14th Dalai Lama chose a 6 year old boy but he was taken by the Chinese government after his selection. Demick explains the Chinese government chose to select the next Tibetan Padme Dalai Lama despite the 14th Dalai Lama’s choice. No one with certainty knows of the Padme Dalai’s fate. Some suggest he is now a college graduate living an anonymous life. Theoretically, today there are two living Padme Dalai Lamas.
Today’s Dalai Lama is Tenzin Gyatso. He is the 14th Dalai Lama. As of this writing, he is 86 years old.
Pictures of the 14th Dalai Lama are forbidden in China. Demick notes that a travel book in her carry on luggage is confiscated by a Chinese Airport inspector as she returns to the United States in 2o20. The confiscation is because the travel book had a picture of the Buddhist leader.
Demick draws an interesting picture of Tibet. It reveals both the truth and weakness of one historian’s view of China and Tibet. It is founded on the truth of what a number of Tibetans remember of the Mao’ years and the current relationship of China and Tibet. As is true of all books of history, China’s and Tibet’s past is not perfectly clear and the future, at best, becomes a cloudy past.
The Inevitable (Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future)
By: Kevin Kelly
Narrated by George Newbern
Kevin Kelly (Author, co-founding executive of Wired magazine).
Kevin Kelly’s book is a Libertarian’s guide to minimalist government. Kelly paints a clear picture of today’s internet of things and the direction in which it seems to be heading. If sharing replaces ownership, American Democracy must change or die.
Kelly implies the evolution of technology will make all but defense of country the sole purpose of government. This is a Libertarian dream. What Kelly glosses over is the disinformation system of a sharing economy that misleads the public and foments anarchy.
Kelly argues block chain technology decentralizes the last bastion of government oversight by producing value (bit coin) based on an algorithm. Kelly infers there is no need for a Federal Reserve, or a bureaucracy to assure value of exchange, if currency is based on a mathematical formula.
Without the oversight of government, which includes bureaucratic regulations, a sharing economy diminishes the role of checks and balances. Kelly correctly outlines what is happening in this technological world, but his extrapolation is frightening.
In Kelly’s vision of a sharing economy, democracy is at risk of anarchy like that seen on January 6, 2021.
The public puts its head in the sand if they ignore Kelly’s view of the 12 technological forces in play today.
He describes flowing, screening, accessing, sharing, filtering, remixing, tracking, and questioning as the twelve technological forces that make the public codependent. His observations reflect the “now” that presages a future.
The terror in Kelly’s observation is that human nature is not going to change in a sharing economy where nothing is owned but only shared. Humans will game the system either by raiding the block chain vault or manipulating code to enrich their lives at the expense of others.
Without a degree of centralized oversight (government), anarchy replaces equal rights and rule of law.
Any realization of codependence is anathema to the tradition of America. Human beings do not interpret the truth of facts in the same way. Each has their own view of the world and their place in it.
There will always be climate deniers, tree huggers, gun lovers and gun haters.
Kelly acknowledges there is need for some oversight of a sharing economy but implies the inclusion of everyone’s expression or belief will result in balanced self-governance and companionable A.I. for societal improvement. One may have a difference of opinion based on the events of January 6, 2021. That event’s aftermath will offer further clues to American Democracy’s future.
Decentralization of culture by the internet of things and A.I. dependence may be as “…Inevitable” as Kelly suggests. The question today has to do with what can be done to allay its negative consequences.
Thomas Sowell (Author, Economist, Political Pundit)
Thomas Sowell offers a scholarly and cogent history of discrimination, and slavery, but like all who report facts of the past, Sowell’s book narrows the complete story.
Jason L. Riley (American commentator and author, member of The Wall Street Journal editorial board.)
In May 29th’s WSJ Weekend, Sowell is praised by Jason Riley who recently wrote a Sowell biography. The 3/4 page editorial does not comment on Sowell’s “Black Rednecks and White Liberals”.
Thomas Sowell seems to have agreed to a book title to create sales; not promote an insightful analysis of discrimination. He fails to convince one of an inheritable “Redneck/Liberal” meme that permeates the American South to perpetuate human discrimination.
Sowell’s argument is a Redneck culture and White Liberals explain the plight of Black Americans. It is a false theory because of his selective collection and use of facts. Unequal treatment and opportunity are based on difference, a much broader human label than redneck, liberal, or conservative.
The color of one’s skin is such an obvious difference; it magnifies discrimination.
This is not to say, as Sowell notes, that history shows Blacks did not victimize their own people. It is that color of one’s skin entails a host of false assumptions about people of color, particularly by those in positions of power.
Sowell is certainly correct about culture as an identifiable difference that causes discrimination, but skin color magnifies difference, particularly when those in power are white. Putting aside that disagreement, Sowell’s book is a first-rate history of what has happened to minorities who are different from those in power.
“Rednecks” and “White Liberals” are only a minority in political twitter. Any human being might be classified as “Redneck” or “White Liberal”. There is no categorization that fully describes “Redneck” or “White Liberal” in Thomas Sowell’s book.
One might agree with Sowell that both Blacks and whites can be “Rednecks” but there is no “Redneck” culture. There are rich who live in fine houses. There are poor who are homeless. There are unemployed looking for work. There are unemployed not looking for work. There are able-bodied and disabled; some of which work, some not. Any of them can be “Rednecks”, “Liberals”, or “Conservatives”. Many came from Europe, England, South American, Africa, and Asia to settle in America. There cultures, and indigenous Indians evolved in America from what they were in the countries in which they were born. The circumstances of America changed them. What did not change is human nature’s habit of discrimination based on difference.
Sowell suggests that “Redneck” culture originated in parts of England. He characterizes the culture as uneducated, mean-spirited, and violent. In the dictionary the definition of “Redneck” is defined as “a working-class white person, especially a politically reactionary one from a rural area”.
Sowell suggests poor education, meanness, and violence are inherited by the American south’s settlement by English immigrants. This is a distortion of the South’s history, England’s lower economic class, and the south’s environment.
Many abolitionist thinkers and doers in the world came from the American South. Some were white. Robert Carter III, the grandson of a Virginia land baron manumitted 500 slaves in the 1700s, Robert Purvis born in Charleston, South Carolina helped found the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833, the Grimke sisters deplored slavery in the south and limitations on the rights of women, Francis White founded the Nashoba Commune in Tennessee that was formed to prepare slaves for emancipation, John Brown led the insurrection at Harpers Ferry Virginia because he believed “moral suasion is hopeless” in abolishing slavery.
Some were black. Martin Delany, born in Virginia, insisted on Negroes controlling their destiny, James Bradley from Kentucky, who was a transported slave from Africa. He purchased his freedom and became an anti-slavery advocate in the Arkansas Territory.
Sowell is on firmer ground when writing about the middlemen merchant class. The middleman and woman are between producer and consumer that rise from an industrialized and now technocratic society. This middleman is the manufacturing and distributing class. These middlemen and women are workers, and intermediaries who package, deliver, and sell product. They are a cohort that includes “Rednecks”, “Liberals”, and “Conservatives”.
Middlemen and women are not the superrich, but they grow into cultural groups that wield power. They create different cultures that clash with each other because they can be identified as different.
They are different because of their religion, their wealth, their profession, their use of language, their ethnicity, or their skin color. It is those differences that create an opportunity to act against, or in support of those in power. It is difference, not exclusively one thing but anything that sets a minority apart from the majority.
Sowell enlightens listeners with information about the history of slavery, the details of difference among populations in countries where Jews, Armenians, Africans, Pakistanis, Indians, and many more ethnic groups were tortured, enslaved, raped, and murdered.
Today, it is Blacks in America, Uighurs in China, castes in India, Armenians in Eastern Europe, Christians in Turkey, Palestinians in Israel, Chechens in Russia, and so on, and so on. Not because they were “Redneck”, “Liberal”, or “Conservative” but because they were different, clannish, and semi-independent.
“Suppression of equal opportunity” is another name for slavery. What is galling about Sowell’s selection of facts is the idea that slavery has always existed in the world. That is true but how does that justify today’s slavery by another name.
Sowell goes on to suggest “Brown vs. Board of Education” ruined high achieving schools for Black Americans by destroying neighborhood schools.
Some would argue America’s public school system is simply getting what it pays for.
Without contesting Sowell’s research on Black schools that deteriorated because of the “Brown” decision, he chooses to ignore what improvement there may have been for Black students that went to public schools that were largely white.
Good teachers are underpaid and often leave teaching because they can find better paying jobs in other professions. America’s public school system is becoming more of a child care system than a teaching institution.
Integration is meant to ameliorate inequality. Sowell’s research is more a criticism of the quality of public schools than the goal of ameliorating inequality
A conclusion one draws from Sowell’s history is the human need of tolerance for difference. Not everyone wants the same thing out of life. Not everyone lives life in the same way. The Wall Street Journal editorializes on October 10, 2020 that tolerance is the bane of the 21st century. It argues that tolerance allows equal rights for gays, lesbians, and transsexuals’ as though they are something less than human beings. This is conservatism at its worst. Lack of tolerance is the sine non quo of slavery and discrimination.
Shoshana Zuboff (American author, former Harvard Professor of Business Administration).
Shoshana Zuboff analyzes the evolution of power wielded and enabled by Google, Amazon, Microsoft and other media giant’s that invade personal privacy.
In the October 17-18, 2020 WSJ, the headline is Mark Zuckerberg is “Washington’s New Power Broker”. Reporters Deepa Seetharaman and Emily Glazer note that “…Mark Zuckerberg now takes an active role in the platform’s policy decisions–and checks in regularly with officials like Jared Kushner”.
Zuboff’s scholarly examination of American internet mavens concludes “…Surveillance Capitalism” will lead to Orwell’s “1984” or B.F. Skinner’s “Beyond Freedom and Dignity”.
Orwell notes in “1984” that invasion of privacy is a way of conditioning human beings to believe in “truths” manufactured by whoever leads. In contrast, B.F. Skinner’s “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” argues behavioral observation and reward is a tool for making people live morally “good” and peaceful lives.
The words “truths” and “good” are in quotes because they are determined by what Zuboff calls “the big other”. “The big other” is a knowledge leviathan that knows everything about everyone.
In Orwell’s world, humans will be managed by a totalitarian government. The government monitors all private and public actions of its citizens. These governments have a set of propagandized “truths” that demand and compel obedience. Orwell’s world relies on knowledge of every detail of its citizen’s life. When a citizen’s actions do not conform to government rules, they are psychologically bombarded, and re-programmed to believe.
In Skinner’s world, individual citizens will act as they think they want, as though they have free will. However, operant conditioners (“the big other”) will reward citizens for fulfilling desires of respective employers, vendors, and governments which are holders of private information. These operant conditioners will use personal and private data to offer rewards for “good” behavior. (Zuboff calls these holders of private information “the big other”.)
Orwell and Skinner offer views of a future where privacy no longer exists. Orwell’s view is obviously dystopian. Skinner’s view is utopian, hiding in the skin of dystopia. Zuboff explains how either future is conceivable in “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism”. Her conclusion finds both futures reprehensible and possibly inevitable.
“The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” exposes America and the world to the greatest economic and social change since the industrial revolution. In “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism” every human action is catalogued, distributed, and utilized by entities interested in influencing human’ thought and action.
“The big other” is enabled by media giants to seduce the public into buying technical products that are connected to the world wide web. Products, like Nest, Google Search, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Quick Books, etc. record everything humans do and see, with extraordinary insight into what they think. That data base becomes a tool for modifying behavior without conscious knowledge of its users.
Is the government’s suit against Google important? Shoshanna Zuboff implies it is monumentally important.
In Skinner’s view, freedom and dignity are a fiction. To Skinner, only behavior is currency for future peace and prosperity. That behavior can be conditioned by “the big other” in Skinner’s world.
In one sense, Skinner’s recognition of positive reinforcement’s value to society is exemplified by moguls like Henry Ford. Ford’s recognition of the value of raising wages for his workers (an operant conditioning reward) increases production and lowers product price.
Zuboff systematically builds her argument with the history of industrialization and the dramatic change it brought to society. Ford grew his fortune by positive reinforcement of worker’s higher wages and the public’s consumption of a lower cost product that revolutionized travel.
The credibility and threat of Zuboff’s argument is reinforced by George Bush’s accelerated invasion of privacy after 9/11, and Barack Obama’s use of technology from Google’s Eric Schmidt (Google’s CEO, at the time) in his run for election.
One might also argue the rise of Donald Trump is a harbinger of the threat of “…Surveillance Capitalism”. Evidence suggests Trump’s election campaign drew on Russian surveillance of Hillary Clinton and political research from Cambridge Analytica to win election.
Cambridge Analytica provided detailed information on voters who agreed with the anti-science convictions of Donald Trump. They voted, and Trump won the election.
(As noted in Wikipedia.org–Analytica is a visual software package developed by Lumina Decision Systems for creating, analyzing and communicating quantitative decision models.)
Zuboff argues the principle of positive reinforcement takes a giant leap forward with the technology of “Capitalist Surveillance. Henry Ford’s personal insight is replaced by “the big other”. Potentially, every capitalist or government entity now has access to the details of everyone’s lives.
In a capitalist country, there is no singular controller but a multitude of public and private entities that manipulate human life like Skinner’s pigeons in a cage.
In a communist or fascist country personal surveillance easily slips into Orwell’s “1984”. Zuboff offers the example of the social categorization of Chinese residents by President Xi’s government. Assigning a number to a Chinese citizen capsulizes their support or opposition to communism. That number influences every aspect of that citizen’s success or failure in China.
Zuboff warns that tools for predicting future behavior are in the hands of “the big other”. Zuboff speaks from her personal experience with Skinner. Skinner was one of Zuboff’s professors during her college days. She infers today’s surveillance economies bend toward totalitarianism borne by behavioral reinforcement.
A fundamental question is: Do we have free will? Or as Skinner and Alex Pentland suggest are we just vessels for behavioral modification?
The other side of “Surveillance Capitalism” is the benefit offered to the general public by data compilation. There is a leveling of cost for consumer items because of pricing and consumer criticism gathered and distributed to the general public when buying a product or service. There is a value in being able to arrive at a destination on time without worrying about getting lost in the country or city. There is the ability to control utility use, and guard one’s house by using tech products like Google’s Nest. There is the potential of producing more product at cheaper price because of “Surveillance Capitalism”. The idea is similar to the way Ford grew his automobile company by rewarding employee behavior and producing lower priced product.
The question remains—what price are humans willing to pay for convenience?
The industrial revolution just as the technological revolution changed society. It seems fair to say the American standard of living has increased as a result of industrialization. Is there reason to believe the same may be true with a technological revolution that makes life easier but less private?
Zuboff questions the trade off but so did the Luddites when they destroyed machines that replaced craftsman. One cannot take Zuboff’s scholarly study lightly, but the genies of the tech revolution are out of the bottle.
If there is a such thing as free will, there seems no harm or foul. However, manipulating human behavior belies Google’s founder’s unofficial slogan of “Don’t be evil”. (Interestingly, in April or May of 2018, Google abandoned the slogan.)
Ta-Nehisi Paul Coates (American author & journalist, winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction with–BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME).
This is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ first book of fiction. What makes “The Water Dancer” a fiction is its hero’s mystic ability. He is a water dancer.
Coates’ story is a history that stains American conscience. It is about the tragic sequel of slavery. Slavery is introduced to America in the British colony of Virginia in the 17th century.
Though Virginia tobacco plantations were first created in the 17th century, Coates story is undoubtedly set in the early 19th when plantations were in decline. In 19th century Virginia, soil is depleted by poor farming practices and mismanagement. White property owners turned to sale of their slaves to pay their debts. The ugliness of slavery is compounded by the breakup of black families and friends that shared a common history. Though that history is blooded with servitude and violence, Coates illustrates how slaves created close-knit communities. They were close; in-spite of their sorrowful condition.
Just as soil depletion reduced plantation owner’s income, they increased sale of slaves to sustain their standard of living. Though black slaves had always been treated as property, the crash of the tobacco industry accelerated their sale.
(Thomas Jefferson is a prime example of an American slavery apologist who sold slaves to reduce debt.)
Sons, daughters, husbands, and wives were sold to other white slave holders. Many families were broken apart; some sent to other States after being sold; others escaped to the North.
Some were caught by slavers. Coates writes–runaway slaves were sometimes caught and thrown into makeshift prisons and sold back into slavery. In Coates’ story, prison is a hole in the ground for its hero. Hiram (Hi) is not sold back into slavery but tested for a critical role in the underground.
To compound the humiliation of being caught, Coates writes of slaves who betrayed their own race. Their purpose was to maintain some level of freedom from harsh conditions on the plantation.
Black women were subject to the whims of their owners. Women could be raped by their owners without repercussion, or sold to the Fancy industry, i.e. brothels.
Coates reveals the depth and breadth of what Philip Roth called a human stain, i.e., broadly known as discrimination. Slavery may have been abolished in 1865 but its institutionalization lives on in the 21st century. It is a stain that resists removal.
Murder of a black jogger , Ahmaud Arbery, on February 23, 2020 in Brunswick, Georgia. A white father and son are charged with murder on May 7th, 2020.
Coates’ story reveals much about America, the abolitionist movement, the growth of the underground, and the human toll of slavery. Coates suggests some wealthy white southerners participated in the underground to salve their conscience. They were heroes but they hid behind the degradation being felt every day by black Americans subject to an economic system based on slavery.
Coates shows how southern white abolitionists were important to the growth of the underground. Their role grew out of a first-hand view of human beings being treated as property.
Elizabeth Van Lew (1818-1900, Richmond, VA Abolitionist.)
Coates fills many gaps in the history of slavery by seeing it through the eyes of extraordinary slaves.
Harriet Tubman (American abolitionist who rescued an estimated 70 enslaved people. Unknown date of birth; Died in 1913.)
Families were torn apart, men and women were degraded by their enslavement, husbands had to cope with plantation owner abuse of their wives, blacks victimized their own people, and mothers suffered from guilt for the life their children had to live. These are irremovable stains on the American conscience; for both Black and White Americans–each are stained in their own way.
Antisocial Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians, and the Hijacking of the American Conversation
By: Andrew Marantz
Narrated by Andrew Marantz
Andrew Marantz (American author, staff writer for The New Yorker magazine)
Marantz researches social media trolls in his book “Antisocial”.
For those who are not familiar with the meaning of #media Trolls, they are people who use the internet to create, no matter what, discord by writing or saying something false and misleading.
Of course, what is said in the media does not have to be true. The difference is, the measure of success on the internet is an increase in the number of clicks one receives and the number of follower’s gob smacked by the messenger. It has zero to do with truth.
The internet lists 8 of the greatest internet trolls of all time. Their media names, like QAnon, are irrelevant but their duped followers are legion. All hide behind the rubric of a free press.
What makes internet trolls a societal cancer is their distortion of truth. Internet trolls are a societal cancer. Some trolls believe “buyer beware”. To a troll, the truth of speech is the responsibility of the individual. Separating the truth from a lie becomes an uninformed public’s responsibility.
A troll feels no compunction for lying, misleading, or stretching the truth. A committed troll argues that everyone should have the choice to believe or not believe.
With the Communications Decency Act passed by Congress in 1996, Section 230 protects free expression on the internet. The consequence of that Act is under advisement by Congress because it protects malicious purveyors of lies from prosecution. As noted by columnist Christopher Mims, it is a problem with no clear solution.
Trolls argue truth is fungible because of inherent bias in the messenger. At best, trolls view their role is to mitigate corporate and government brain washing; at worst, they create a forum for massing hate and discrimination.
Say anything is the terrifying thing about social media. The irony of America’s free speech is its only defense is free speech.
Marantz interviews numerous trolls that believe all media communication is good, or at least useful communication. Marantz explains trolls argue media has historically distorted the truth.
Marantz notes the fallacy of the Troll’s argument is in the release of white supremacist and hate-filled speech that aims at changing the norms of society.
Trolls say the unsayable for wealth and notoriety; not for the betterment of humanity, or the search for truth.
White supremacy becomes a flag around which a small minority of society can join to become a political force.
The risk to the American electorate from media trolls is that they create a disillusioned and apathetic public that doesn’t know who or what to believe.
In the book “1984” Orwell showed how media control is dangerous. Marantz shows how no control is equally dangerous; particularly in the internet era.
Marantz makes listeners realize how dangerous internet trolls are to America, and any nation trying to improve the quality of life for their citizens.
Twenty first century American democracy seems particularly at risk. Americans believe in the critical importance of freedom, but American freedom has always been qualified by rule of law in “doing no harm” to others.
The infancy of the internet needs regulation. The government must fight the hijacking of the American electorate by internet trolls. The internet is driven more by popularity and money than morality and truth.
Marantz convinces a listener that American freedom of speech is not a license for anarchy.