Interaction Effects: Human and Digital

How do humans communicate, emote, interact, and bond (or not) in the “Age of Digital Devises,” and what’s next? What, if anything, will be required of us in our “digital freedom”?

Often, it seems, the dog trains the master as much as the master trains the dog. Who is in control? Whenever we become involved with another, be it a person, a pet or a tool, certain obligations ensue, even if unconsciously. We have purposes and seek their achievement, but the means often become the end. When does a tool become an addiction? And, who is the dealer? Is this drug not such a thrill anymore? Well, here, I have another more potent.

Remember the PDA? (That’s the Personal Digital Assistant, for you really young ones.) It came along after the cell phone. But back then, a cell phone was still pretty clunky and didn’t do much else but communicate with other phone users. Gradually, the cell phone got smarter and eventually it was able to do just about anything a laptop computer could do, except serve up a large image display. So, why not a tablet, a clumsy marriage of the two? But, oh, it’s new!

So, where are we going with all this? What has anyone actually thought through, except on the sales side? Does anyone actually want to control and integrate her/his entire “digital life”? And what of substance do you want so carefully articulated? Do you really want all things known to your personal “devices” fully synchronized on the corporate “cloud”? Do you know how much electricity those server farms use? To whom does that matter?

Why not throw in the HVAC system with the garage door, your soon to be delivered self-driving car, Netflix account, and washing machine, along with your wearables, smartphones, laptops, and remaining desktops? It’s all out there on Facebook anyway, right? So, flesh out your full submersion into the “internet of things,” and help complete the circle of surveillance and control. But just remember, it won’t be just you who is doing the surveilling.

Texting while driving, eating, studying, working, just about anything ….texting-while-eating

Attaching identity to one’s device(s)…

Smarting the phone…

Computing the World…

Sharing every imaginary importance and all the unbounded unimportances of daily life… and to what end?  “No sé lo que significa,” as we say south of that imaginary WALL of expanded exclusion. Will your devices build bridges to beggars with mobile apps?

They thought radio and TV would ‘corrupt our youth.’ Then came the credit card, the computer, the cell phone, laptop, tablet, smartphone, and all the new wearable devices. Oh, we must not forget the pager and Blackberry! All that digital freedom, and nowhere to go… What is left to do in the actual world? Certainly not find a good job.

The whole sequence of digital-devise development, all the innovations in communication technology – if not content – have massively expanded the quantity of communications. We pay the NSA to store and search that swelling trivialized human database. Searching for tidbits legitimizes surveilling us all. We routinely contribute to increasing the indeterminacy of meaning, while also expanding central control, which, of course, optimizes opportunity for tyranny.

A whole new universe of meaning is emerging out there as we enter the New Great Transformation of how humans must relate to the world and each other if our species is to survive. It is not so surprising that most of us have not yet noticed the urgency of the lives we have digitally forgone.

Is that a fork in the road just ahead, or is it a dead end? Look up from your screen; it’s going to be a wild ride.

PS: I wrote this on my iPhone.

Fake News: Chicken Little Meets the Canary in the Coal Mine

The surge of partisan vitriol over “fake news” during and after the 2016 U.S. presidential election raises some very serious though deeply misunderstood issues. What is news, what is information, what are facts, and what role does propaganda play in the “news cycle” in the various media? Is there a viable role for “fact checkers” in today’s fast-paced flow of pseudo-facts and contrived images on social media? After all, a skilled Photoshop user can create an image to match just about any fantasy. Moreover, what is happening to the communication of fact and opinion in the so-called political discourse in the U.S. today? To what extent can the average “consumer” of news actually distinguish fact from fantasy?

For a long time it has been painfully obvious, at least to some, that the quality and relevance of network news have gone steadily downhill since the “good old days” of Walter Cronkite. When Cronkite concluded his CBS evening news show in the 1960s and 70s with “…and that’s the way it is…” we believed him, more or less. We had no reason to suspect, in any case, that he was contriving stories or falsifying images, even if he left out difficult or sensitive details. Those were the days when television network-news divisions operated independently from commercial entertainment divisions and had their own budgets. In the 1950s and ‘60s, competitive pressures drove the networks, CBS, NBC, and ABC to seek news audiences based on gathering and presenting news, not on ratings driven by superficial yet attention grabbing entertainment.

Cable TV and the Internet were things of the future in the era of television network-news divisions that were more or less independent of commercial pressures. Foreign correspondents and field reporters covered the horrible details of the Vietnam War and the brutal facts of the civil rights movement on the ground. The networks’ entertainment divisions have since swallowed up television news operations, which must now muster ratings that satisfy sponsors. News budgets now reflect advertising revenue and entertainment values. News ratings reflect promoting as well as pandering to curiosity over celebrity antics and gossip about political candidates’ personal lives. Neither network nor cable news operations pursue important political or economic stories unless they are consistent with corporate interests. Trump built his initial momentum partly with free air time based as much on media voyeuristic interest as on his demagoguery.

Enter social media and “reality television.” With the proliferation of digital technology, in both constructing images and purveying “information,” the rise of “fake news” probably was inevitable. CNN had broken into the news business as a hard-hitting 24/7 international cable-news source after the networks virtually abandoned their overseas bureaus and investigative reporting. Gradually it succumbed to the dominant model of mainstream media that Paul Krasner used to call “dis-info-tainment,” in his satirical underground magazine, The Realist. (See the The Realist archives at http://www.ep.tc/realist/index.html)

keith-olbermann

Keith Olbermann

MSNBC began as the cable-TV voice of political liberalism, or more accurately, the Democratic Party. However, it was, after all, a subsidiary of NBC, still one of the corporate media giants; its “liberalism” is strictly corporatist, just like that of Hillary and the DNC. MSNBC executives eventually drove out any reporter or commentator who tried to speak truth to power. A certain conservatism is evident in corporatized liberalism – corporate rather than cultural conservatism. The former LA sports reporter, Keith Olbermann, for while held sway on his popular news and political commentary show “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” on MSNBC. His rants were politically biting and quite entertaining for MSNBC’s largely well-educated audience; he did not dumb down his words. Management suspended him, allegedly for donated $2,400 each to three Democratic candidates for Congress, without management approval. Executives him two days later after a viewer petition with 250,000 signatures demanded it. By January 2011, he departed by mutual agreement.

mellisa-harris-perry

Melissa Harris-Perry

Then, on February 26, 2016, Melissa Harris-Perry, a vibrant and moderately progressive political science professor, who hosted a popular current events and political commentary show on MSNBC, announced her departure after they took her show from her without comment. “… I will not be used as a tool for [management’s] purposes … I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head,” she said in an email to her colleagues. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melissa_Harris-Perry) Corporate media allow very little deviation from their establishment viewpoint. Yes, ratings are important to corporate media executives, but their relations to the political elite are even more essential to their power.

cenk-uygur

Cenk Uygur

Ed Schultz, popular outspoken advocate for workers and unions also did not last at MSNBC. Then, following the rearrangement of the schedule after the Olbermann and Schultz departures, Cenk Uygur filled the prime time spot as anchor of “MSNBC Live,” but not for long. Formerly conservative Uygur’s strong voice in progressive news and commentary got him good ratings. He co-founded and now hosts a new network, The Young Turks (TYT), following his departure from MSNBC after management told him that important people in Washington did not like his tone and that “We’re not outsiders.” Now, MSNBC has picked FOX reject Greta Van Susteren over Joy-Ann Reid, MSNBC’s popular hard-hitting journalist who is widely respected for her interviewing skills and incisive commentary. So much for “the liberal media bias.”

joy-ann-reid

Joy Ann Reid

What’s all that about? Fake News, that is what. The current cross-accusations of “fake news” between Democrats and Republicans, with various intelligence agencies chiming in with highly irregular unverifiable announcements and leaks, over whether the Russians hacked Hillary’s emails or a disgruntled Democrat leaked them is the tip of the disinfotainment iceberg. Has anyone considered the possibility that both claims are true? Now, plausible claims surface that Russian agents have evidence of Trumpian philandering in Russia as well as other shocking information – but then, the shock of Trump has worn off, rendering any revelation, true or false, no longer shocking. Social media debates over the source of the Hillary emails exposure become absurd in this climate of unverified dis-information.

Most corporate mass media report the “party line” of the Republican-Democrat political elite as if it were a “fair and balanced” coverage of the political spectrum. Yet independent surveys show that the American public is far more progressive than either party apparatus. That is why the New York Times and Washington Post ignored Bernie Sanders until he got so popular they had to descend into slandering him. (It is also why the corporatist Democratic National Committee undercut his campaign.) Political reporting routinely distorts “news” and power, so that we are likely to hear just about anything we can imagine, or they want us to hear.

glenn-greenwaldGlen Greenwald, who with Laura Poitras, helped get Edward Snowden’s revelations of the NSA’s unconstitutional spying on Americans made public, started the online publication, The Intercept (https://theintercept.com/) in 2014, and edits it with Jeremy Scahill, Poitras, and Betsy Reed. The Intercept provides deep investigative reporting of government and corporate wrongdoing. Greenwald recently explained the convoluted manipulations of mainstream U.S. media, on Democracy Now!, America’s premier viewer-sponsored independent progressive news outlet. (https://www.democracynow.org/2017/1/5/glenn_greenwald_mainstream_us_media_is)

As a narcissistic sociopath with unpredictable political intensions ascents to the status of president-elect, the elite members of the “deep state” get nervous.[1] Fox News was the original butt of the puns, “Fixed News” and “Fake News” by its critics. Yet, as Julian Assange pointed out when interviewed by Shawn Hannity of Fox News, the political elite corrupts the mainstream media in the old “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” sense. We now face a situation in which the usual “managing” of news in the interests of the political class has become much more complicated. The usual political rivalries within the Washington establishment seem all jumbled up. In the new Trumplandia, we can hardly sort out the players or their interests. It seems they are all lying. But remember, political claims and the framing of “issues” are primarily means of maintaining or gaining position within the power structure. Yes, the political sky is falling, but “Chicken Little” may very well be the “Canary in the Coal Mine.”

[1] See Lofgren, Mike (2016). The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government. New York: Viking.

No is not Enough: Democracy At Risk

Shock and disbelieve spread across the world late on the night of November 8, 2016. American democracy had been Trumped. Subsequent prognostications by the usual pundits attributed the statistical-political surprise to any of a number of causes. Social media and cable TV have fully exemplified Wednesday-morning quarterbacking, so I need not rehash them here. More important, what does the dethroning of the Democratic Party Establishment actually mean?

trump_cnn_new-york_2016

Donald J. Trump, New York, 2016. Source: CNN

And, equally important, what does the election of a narcissistic, apparently sociopathic, surely unscrupulous businessman whose only value appears to be winning, who spouts racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, and megalomaniacal promises, and has zero experience in government, mean for the future of American Politics, culture, and even survival? So-called “liberals” were shocked. The Democratic Party National Committee had picked its establishment candidate, despite the surge of popular support for party outsider, Bernie Sanders. Therein lies the rub. The Washington establishment does not like outsiders, rich or poor, popular or not – they can disrupt long-established relations of convenience and profit.

Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump came at their populisms from opposite directions. They responded in very different ways to the deep pain and anger that had become widespread among the American people. The appeal of populist ideas emerged in different ways for the white working class and isolated poor communities of color. Ultimately, anger trumped both ideology and democracy. I am convinced that Bernie would have won against “The Donald.” He not only responded to white working class anger with the Washington establishment, but offered concrete programs to reestablish the needs of the American people, including excluded ethnic groups, as the primary driver of public policy. His New Deal liberalism has a life-long consistent track record.

As we all know, and Trump so skillfully exploited, the dominant political feelings among regular people have focused resentment against government corruption and indifference to the people. Most people resent the pandering to “special interests,” particularly corporate and Wall Street financial interests, to the detriment of society as a whole, and to them in particular. Despite the continued existence of party loyalists who have consistently voted their party tickets, many democrats and republicans resent that their party elites largely represent the interests of the powerful, not the people.

Both Sanders and Trump responded to that resentment. The democrats nominated an establishment politician beleaguered by continued attacks from the right. The Republicans chose a sleazy celebrity businessman with a track record of shady business dealings and little taste for toeing the Republican party line. Yet he played to the racist elements of populist resentment on the right, and ruthlessly exploited the fears and anger of diverse anti-establishment demographics while ignoring or insulting diverse ethnic and gender groups. Trump made his appeal as a political outsider.

Hillary Clinton did not. She could not. Her public policy support for women and children is well established. But so is her close association with financial and political elites, the establishment targets of so much public disaffection. On matters related to Wall Street she waffled. On matters of the Washington Establishment, well, she embodies it. Hillary attempted to shift from her corporatist party right-centrism to adopt half-hearted watered down versions of some of Bernie’s proposals. For example, she proposed “debt free” college education for some, not tuition free higher education for all. Too many people saw her efforts, accurately, as campaign strategy, not personal commitment. The DNC, having lost all semblance of traditional liberalism except for ritual use of its lexicon, ruthlessly undercut Bernie’s primary campaign.[1] So did the corporate mass media.

Not only did the corporate mass media supply Trump with hundreds of hours of free media exposure – in response to his celebrity and attention-getting skill. The media assumed his unelectability, while pandering to his sensationalism. To the establishment “journalists,” he just as well could have been a Kardashian. The same media power elite virtually blacked out any exposure of Bernie Sanders to the American people, many of whom had never even heard of him. In spite of that, Sanders progressive brand of populism caught on. He was tapping into the same pain and anger as Trump, but with a big difference: he proposed policies and had a plan.

The corporate “journalists” of the major media identify with the technocratic Ivy League elite of the Washington establishment. They identify with the centers of power in Washington, D.C. They simply branded Bernie Sanders as illegitimate because he opposes the existing power structure with which all candidates are supposed to align themselves. Bernie bashing became a dominant theme for the op-ed pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post.[2]

Donald Trump won the election because there was no other anti-establishment choice. Republican gerrymandering and the anti-democratic Electoral College helped, of course. So did FBI Director, Comey. People were willing to overlook Trump’s otherwise monumental flaws simply because he skillfully presented himself as outside the establishment that has failed ordinary Americans for decades. The rules of the establishment game certainly did not fail Trump; he exploited them ruthlessly, enabling him to avoid paying income taxes for almost two decades. The surge of rural white disaffected voters and the slack turnout of educated white women also made a difference. The failure of the pundits and statisticians to predict Trump’s victory resulted from the failure to factor in the pain and anger of large segments of the American population, as well as the sense of betrayal felt by many progressive democrats. That pain and anger led to a level of resentment that allowed many to accept the Trumping of Democracy rather than put up with more of the same.

But NO is not enough. On numerous fronts, we are in for a very rough ride. We live in the most interesting, and dangerous, of times. The most disruptive of all trends, climate destabilization, will continue to amplify political, economic and social crises. The U.S. government is likely to ignore and deny it for four more years. That alone is enough to push us past the point of no return to climate stability, leading to further economic, social, and political chaos. Only a mass movement of global citizens can possibly make a difference now.

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[1] For an astute historical reading of the replacement of traditional liberalism with a hollow shell of rhetoric that now veils the Democratic Party’s obeisance to corporate interests to the detriment of society, see Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class (New York: Nation Books, 2010).

[2] For an insightful assessment of the power-elite favoring partisanship of the major media outlets and the cooptation of journalism itself, see Thomas Frank, “SWAT TEAM: The media’s extermination of Bernie Sanders—and real reform” Harpers Magazine (November 2016) pp. 26-35.

Republican Honor and Trump’s Tropes

Republican honor is on the line. The honor, such as it is, of a political party always depends on the character of the candidates it nominates. Donald Trump is an ASS. Everyone with the slightest sensibility knows that. Well, more accurately, he is a certifiable Narcissistic Sociopath, unfit for any pubic responsibility, no less that of the presidency.[1]

Trump.Huff.Post“According to DSM-5, individuals with NPD have most (at least five) or all of the symptoms listed below (generally without commensurate qualities or accomplishments).

1 Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment by others.

2 Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.

3 Self-perception of being unique, superior, and associated with high-status people and institutions.

4 Needing constant admiration from others.

5 Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others.

6 Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain.

7 Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs.

8 Intensely jealous of others and the belief that others are equally jealous of them.

9 Pompous and arrogant demeanor.”

(Nigel Barber “Does Trump have Narcissistic Personality Disorder?” Psychology Today, August 10, 2016)

Trump’s business practices have long demonstrated his complete lack of a moral center. As an investigative reporter, David Kay Johnson covered Trump for nearly thirty years and has documented his biographical trail of nefarious business practices.[2] By pandering to the worst bigoted impulses of the so-called “Republican base,” he skillfully captured the presidential nomination. Because of his dexterity at manipulating the fears and incipient hatreds of socially and economically displaced white Americans, some consider him the most skilled politician on the national scene today. That is a problem for the Republican Party.

Pseudo-patriotic Perversity

One of the key characteristics of a sociopath is complete lack of empathy for other human beings. At the Democratic National Convention, Mr. Khizr Khan righteously scolded Donald Trump’s racist tropes denigrating Khan’s warrior son, whose heroism sacrificed his own life in defense of his comrades in arms. Khan’s articulate speech was eloquent in its passion and pain, something of an order entirely beyond the grasp of the Billionaire Bimbo, whose only experience with the military was to avoid service.

Trump’s reaction, as expected, expressed not a scintilla of empathy for a hero’s sacrifice or his parents’ pain. He has no sense whatsoever of the deep sacrifices that our troops have made in the wars of choice prosecuted by the U.S.  Corporate State.  Trump’s reaction to Mr. Khan’s eloquent critique of the perverse Republican candidate’s insults was to attack Mrs. Ghazala Khan for her silence as she stood with her husband. He projected onto Mrs. Khan more of Trump’s Tropes of ethnic derision. Fortunately, Mrs. Khan later spoke strongly and shot back a statement that she had been too upset to speak at the Democratic convention. How dare he attempt to trivialize this gold-star mother’s pain with his ethnic slurs?

Wrong War, Right Heroes

While many would consider it old news by now, the disrespect Trump showed to America’s fallen warriors and their families remains somewhere on the far side of disgusting. It is entirely consistent with the numerous tropes of Trump’s tragic pandering to the lowest hateful impulses of American political culture. Despite my opposition to such wars of choice, the cavalier treatment of our troops outrages me, including the common disrespect shown troops who may be Muslim, gay, transgender, or whatever.

These are gallant victims of unnecessary wars. Regardless of the legitimacy of the wars, these heroes stood tall and performed as the warriors they were. Many died; others suffered severe trauma, both physical and mental. Trump’s self-indulgent juvenile whining is just beyond tolerance. His self-aggrandizing B.S. should offend every American, whatever her/his political position on anything.

One of my biggest worries is why such a narcissistic sociopath could possibly garner enough support from voters to become a candidate at all, no less mount a serious campaign in a general election for president. However, the machine of electoral politics knows no moral compass. At the same time, too many Americans respond to the hateful rhetoric of jingoistic xenophobia that is encouraged by the propaganda of the war profiteers. Where is the Republican honor in all this? AWOL ~ Absent With Out Leave.

I remember the days when I strongly protested the U.S. war on Viet Nam. Having already served in the military, I knew something about how the system works and how enlisted men, are treated and required to perform. The military must serve the purposes of the politicians, who, in all instances since World War II, have not had the guts to declare the wars they prosecute.

The role of the airman, marine, soldier, or sailor can be easy or hard, boring or terrifying. But it is always subordinate to the formal commands and personal whims of one’s commanders and their political ambitions. This I was able to observe without ever having seen combat. War fighters often know little of the geo-politics of warfare; their loyalty and performance has more to do with commitments to their brothers in arms. In that, they excel.

Psychopathology of Pretenders to Authority

In the opposition to the Viet Nam war, too many protesters projected their anger upon the troops. Draftees and recruits were victims of the military adventurism of the politicians of both parties, who formulated the terrible policies that killed so many. Elites in this world prosecute wars; the troop are usually victims as well as directed killers. Elites always find plenty of scapegoats onto whom to project all the evil they create. Without a scintilla of military experience, Donald Trump is a master of denial and projection in his war against everyone.

The misogynist megalomaniacal charlatan, who pretends to be prepared to take on the mantle of Commander in Chief (!), better fits the cloak of Traitor (need I mention his affinity for Putin?). His only defense would be mental illness – the insanity he daily displays – but that would be terribly difficult for a narcissist sociopath to admit. He has no legitimate standing in either business (where he is a cheat), politics (a fraud), economics (multiple bankruptcy as business model), or patriotism (a pure demagogue). Anyone who thinks otherwise is just watching too much of the Fox ideologues who trash anyone who actually thinks of issues rather than jerk their knees in response to the xenophobic demonizations so fully infused into Trump’s Tropes.

Party loyalty is a difficult matter. Real conservatives find themselves in a difficult position, put there by the Republican Party failure to manage its own nomination process. (The Democratic Party managed their nomination process by making it anti-democratic to protect the party elite from a popular candidate.) Trump’s demagoguery pandered to the resentments of the Tea-Party base of the Republican Party, a shrewd tactic to capture the nomination. The party elite could muster no viable response. The corporate interests, who support both Republican and Democratic politicians who toe the corporate line, just did not know what to do with the unpredictable neo-fascist.

Real conservatives will have nothing to do with this perverse pretender to political authority. Honorable Republicans, whatever we may think of their position on issues, have refused to participate in the fiasco that may yet result in the end of the Republican Party.

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[1] Just check the Psychology Today website for some professional diagnoses. Psychologists are normally reticent about making comments on the mental conditions of public figures. However, in the case of Trump, some seem willing to make an exception. Diagnoses from afar may be problematic, but in this case the symptoms are as public as the person.

[2] David Kay Johnson, The Making of Donald Trump (Brooklyn, New York: Melville House Books, 2016).

Global Warming, Climate Change, Climate Disruption, Climate Crisis, or Catastrophic Climate Destabilization: What Shall We Call It and Why?

What’s in a word? Or phrase? Well, a lot sometimes. In the case of anthropogenic alteration of the complex ecological and climate systems, it all started with “global warming.” It was a simple and accurate term. The emissions of primarily carbon dioxide by the steady increases in burning of fossil fuels throughout the industrial era have warmed the atmosphere. “Greenhouse gases” have caused the retention of heat; it is that simple. But the earth systems and the effects of warming on them are extremely complex. No word or phrase, it seems, is adequate to convey the full complexity of the problem or point to a clear path to a solution.

Denial

The “climate deniers” early on attacked the concept of global warming, claiming various forms of “evidence” to the contrary. Many such claims were absurdly irrelevant. Nevertheless, “Global warming” was an easy target. It was so general that specific instances of unusually cold weather in particular places were argued to refute the idea. For the uninformed, that made sense, although the obvious variability of weather from year to year and place to place meant that the claim didn’t pass logical muster. But demagoguery is not bounded by logic. As long as one didn’t get into the specifics of how the planet is warming and the variability of conditions the added heat produced, then the concept was an easy propaganda target.

Then environmentalists and the media shifted to using “climate change” as the generic term to refer to the complex changes that are disrupting previously relatively stable weather patterns around the globe. The new term had two contradictory effects. First, it was even more general, failing to indicate anything in particular, especially temperature change. It was probably meant by some to disarm critics (deniers) by not mentioning warming and thereby avoiding non-heating contrary specifics. I think it was also meant to be “not so alarmist.” Such watering down of an idea is akin to the big failure of the big environmental groups when they wasted decades of environmental action by trying to “work within the system” by aligning themselves with big polluters and achieving small symbolic changes in exchange for big donations. They were effectively co-opted.

Disruption

I began using the term “climate disruption” in conversations and in working with various environmental groups locally a few years ago. I remember once an official of the Sierra Club asked me where I got that term. I simply said that I thought it more accurate and pointed to the nature of the problem. He reported that the Sierra Club had recently begun using that term for much the same reason. I also have used the term “climate crisis” because it conveys the urgency of the rapidly growing risks of not taking major actions to counter the disruptive effects of global warming such as extreme floods, heat waves, and droughts.

The idea of climate destabilization is very close to climate disruption in meaning and effect. But it conveys another important element in our consciousness of the problem (or the lack thereof). We humans (especially in the U.S.) seem to have very short historical memories. We have had many decades of essentially very stable climatic conditions, punctuated by the occasional 100-year storm, hurricane, or tsunami. We have come to expect stability. Not only that, but we have come to depend on stable climates for our vastly expanded industrial agriculture as well as diverse other industrial activities. Climate destabilization is changing all that.

Destabilization

However, the crisis of climate change, aside from the many complexities that no single phrase can capture, has become so acute that none of these terms seems adequate. I have read some authors who refer to catastrophic changes that are beginning to appear around the planet. One important example is Christian Parenti’s book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. Parenti talks of the “catastrophic convergence of poverty, violence, and climate change.” He reviews examples of the growing chaos that results from the convergence of these factors that is well underway in places like Northwest Kenya, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, as well as the slums and deserts of Brazil and Mexico. The point to be remembered, of course, is that these catastrophic effects of climate disruption will not be limited to the more geographically vulnerable regions where they began. As the disruptions intensify, their effects will encompass the entire planet. The only chance we have, Parenti points out, is to entirely transform the energy economy to heal capitalism’s “metabolic rift” with nature.

Catastrophy or Creativity

Paul Cienfuegos, a regional leader in the Community Rights movement, prefers to call the problem, “catastrophic climate destabilization.” That describes our likely prospects. We must recognize the catastrophic consequences of climate destabilization and their inevitable spread, as Parenti describes. Then we might be able to muster the collective will to launch the massive social reorganization necessary to at least have a chance to exclude ourselves from the “sixth mass extinction.” Cienfuegos advocates “local governance,” achieved by municipalities and other local entities. The strategy is to pass ordinances to stop environmentally destructive actions ordinarily condoned by regulatory agencies that are largely controlled by corporate polluters.

Rapid growth of national and international movements to divest from fossil-fuel related corporations, protect indigenous environments, and reassert native and local sovereignty will be essential. The weakest links in the chain of actions necessary to avoid full-on catastrophic climate destabilization are corporations and governments. Powerful social movements must force them to change. Otherwise, prevarication and avoidance of action by national governments and international corporate and financial powers will lead to humans joining the sixth mass extinction.

The Politics of Disinfotainment: Anything But Real Issues

The 1960s and 1970s were the peak years for a small magazine called “The Realist,” published and edited by Paul Krassner. It was filled with hilariously funny satire on the absurdities of American politics, economics, and culture. Along with Krassner, contributors included the likes of Lenny Bruce, Ken Kesey, Woody Allen, and Mort Sahl, among other respected writers. Cutting-edge comedy was merged with the most caustic of satirical social criticism. The one thing that stuck with me more than anything else Krassner wrote was his construction of the neologism, “disinfotainment.” That term always comes to mind, of course, when I think of contemporary politics. “Distract, misinform, and entertain the people, so we won’t have to talk about the real issues that matter to them and are a threat to us,” think the politicians who serve the plutocrats. Oh, so here we go again, now for the 2016 electoral season…

Candidates or Issues, Policy or Entertainment

If we are going to talk about actual ISSUES, we might have to deal with Bernie Sanders’ candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. Most of the issues Bernie raises are those he has fought for over the decades he has been in politics. To the dismay of the Corporate-Democrat politicians and the party’s national committee, Bernie’s issues poll exceptionally well with the majority of the American people. Break up the Big Banks. Make the corporations pay their fair share of taxes on their income, including on the revenue they hide overseas. Establish free university tuition in all state institutions. Expand social security instead of pretending it is in trouble and has to be reduced. Move from Obama Care to real universal health care. Vote down those international trade agreements that give up national sovereignty over labor, health, and environmental protections. Etc.

But the corporate media, being the disinformation ministry of the corporatocracy, does not want to directly deal with these issues. It is so easy to promote disinformation through entertainment – disinfotainment. So, they mock Bernie Sanders and characterize him as “out of the mainstream,” and as unable to win the nomination or the election, and therefore irrelevant. Never mind that Bernie’s issues pole so well with the majority of Americans. Instead, the media focus on Hillary, her Bengazi and email troubles – trumped up by the Republican Right as they are – and take seriously her vague and ambiguous “policy” statements that dance around the issues about which Bernie talks so directly.

But, of course, for the corporate media politics is supposed to be all about personalities and the “horse race” between “mainstream” (corporate approved) candidates. For the corporate mass media, something or someone is “politically impossible” if he/she/it reaches outside the corporate-approved idea box. For the network and cable news and Sunday talk shows, the focus is whether The Donald’s trash-talk is as trashy as his hair, whether the billionaire is an “outsider,” and who might be able to challenge his captivation of some disgruntled Americans. I almost gagged when I watched Chuck Todd pander to Trump on his private jet, as he asked Trump about his draconian Walled-America Hispanic-exodus racist immigration “policy.” If we want to know something about a candidate’s actual policy plans –what s/he might actually do – we may have to step back, put our thinking caps on and also demand answers to real policy questions. If the people make it clear enough that someone who really does talk about the critical issues of our time IS RELEVANT, how will that play out in the “mainstream” corporate media’s political coverage?

The Cult of Personality and the Avoidance of Issues

It’s time to get over the cult of personality in American politics. Look what happened with Obama’s perpetuation of Bush’s perpetual war. Sure, the racist congress kept the Black President from doing some moderately ‘liberal’ things, by denying his legitimacy in office and just saying no to everything. But Obama did perpetuate the neo-con model of world domination and the Wall Street model of plutocracy. FOLLOW THE MONEY!!! That’s where it is taking Hillary too.

No, Bernie is not our savior. But at least he has been consistently a fighter for the rights of citizens rather than the privileges of the corporations and their wealthy elites. Nor can he make the change we need, alone. If the Senate and House are not turned around, he probably could not get much more done in the public interest than Obama has, but at least he will have tried. Ultimately, it is not about any of these political “personalities,” it is about the issues that nobody but Bernie among the “candidates” of either party has consistently faced. It is indeed a ramshackle world we live in. Without breaking the corporate monopoly on politics in the form of the Repugnicrat two-part party monolith, change we can benefit from will not happen. But change we cannot live with will happen. That change will be climate chaos making economic and social chaos inevitable as it becomes impossible for large numbers of people around the world to survive where they now live, here as well as elsewhere. Mother Nature does not negotiate with special interests.

New Reality and Urgent Necessity

At minimum, Bernie is providing a great service. His candidacy embodies a wake-up call for the people to recognize that the “lesser evil” will neither get us a fair society or a livable planet. Politics as usual — and Hillary is just that as agent for her super-rich backers — has become the road to ruin. Special-interest politics will never lead to taking the steps necessary to avoid climate chaos and societal collapse. Even someone like Bernie Sanders being elected president would not assure climate security. Massive international cooperation of a kind hard to imagine in today’s political climate is necessary, but unlikely. The U.S. must be not only a key player in such a worldwide effort; it must be a primary contributor of technology and implementation resources for massive climate action.

Nobody can say for sure who “cannot” win the presidential nomination, though the pundits pretend to; Bernie Sanders can, and he might or might not. Grave and urgent planetary and national circumstances constitute a new reality not recognized by business-as-usual establishment politics. But if Bernie does win the nomination, the rockier road will be the Repugnicrats’ attempts to destroy him with the kinds of disinfotainment they are so good at. It is not about the personalities, it’s about survival. The American people are already beginning to recognize that fact well before the two wings of the political elite are willing to acknowledge it.

Good Cop, Bad Cop: You Can’t Train a Psychopath to be Compassionate, But You Can Destroy a Good Man’s Compassion

The continuing surge of news stories about highly questionable police killings of unarmed civilians, is shocking enough on its own account. The victims are mostly young black or brown men but also women and even children. It is important to keep in mind that this pattern of police violence did not start with the advent of smart-phone video or police body or dashboard cameras. A new awareness of a problem is sometimes confused with the idea that it is a new problem. Understanding that police violence is a long-standing problem is made that much more disturbing by the plethora of video evidence streaming across social media on a daily basis.

New media do not create new problems, except for problems of unprecedented exposure or changed patterns of communication. They just facilitate greater awareness of problems we had been less aware of. The line between legitimate police enforcement of the law and illegitimate police use of power has always been blurred. But now, that blurry line is getting exposed in ways never before contemplated.

I have watched countless videos of violent and near violent police-citizen encounters on social media over the past year or two. The most common element that comes through is a widespread emotional distancing of police from citizen – a distinct lack of empathy. Also, an apparent need to intimidate citizens expresses an effort to demonstrate absolute authority and control by officers. A near universal police disdain for persons of color detained on the street or in their vehicles, is routinely displayed. One of the most remarkable factors is what appears to be the unawareness by police of the impact that video exposure of their behavior may have.

Professional Pathology

As in any profession, you have good cops and you have bad cops. The good ones were good before they became cops. The bad ones may have started out bad, but others only became bad after years of disenchantment with humanity along with being socialized by their senior peers. What many critics of police do not understand is the impact over time that the experiences of being a peace officer can have on a person of good will. Years of exposure to the absurdity and depravity of some human behavior can taint an officer’s outlook on life.

That officer may increasingly come to see every citizen through the lens of all the perverse situations he may have experienced in his career. In the course of time and action, compassion is lost and cynicism is gained. The process is reinforced by interaction with fellow officers with similar experiences and some who were psychopaths from the start.[1] This is very similar to the experience of the war-fighter of an invading force who is confronted daily with situations where he has no basis for distinguishing the enemy from the civilian population and quickly learns to treat everyone as the enemy. For the police officer, of course, the experience is not nearly as intense or concentrated in time.

It is common sociological knowledge that in every profession a certain “in-group” mentality develops from the specialized work and common experience of the members of the profession. We have certainly seen this phenomenon in the medical profession, among lawyers, and even restaurateurs. The consequences for each profession are different, some much more dangerous than others. If we don’t like the patronizing attitude of a restaurant owner, or a poorly prepared meal, we simply don’t go back next time. Not so in our relations with the police officer.

Among doctors and lawyers the concepts of “patient management” and “client management” suggest an attitude where the “professional” believes his special knowledge makes him superior to the person for whom he is supposed to render his professional services. The reluctance of some doctors to fully explain the details of a medical condition or procedure may have as much to do with retaining authority as with maximizing billable hours. This is reinforced by the patronizing attitude that assumes that the patient is not smart enough to understand the arcane knowledge of the physician. Such attitudes and practices are often amplified by communication with colleagues within the profession. Some “group-think” can even rise to the level of social contagion in any profession. Social contagion in police work can easily lead to violence.

Self Selection in the Psychopathology of “Enforcement”

As shown in police body and dashboard cameras or bystander smart phone videos, the behavior of citizens subjected to police violence most often posed no threat to the officer. Well, certainly no physical threat. The sure-fire way to stimulate police aggression or even violence upon yourself is to challenge an officer’s sense of his own authority. In most cases that escalated to violence, the traffic stop was typically for something trivial. In many cases, any indicator of a lack of total subservience of the civilian to the officer is absolutely not tolerated. It becomes the basis for an escalated aggressiveness by the officer(s) followed by unjustified violence and too often, death. Even subsequent submissiveness or subservience is often not enough to satisfy the officer’s threatened sense of power, and he may just keep beating the victim until another officer pulls him off. What gives?

A student in an undergraduate sociology class I taught maybe twenty years ago reported in a classroom discussion, an observation I will never forget. I’ve mentioned this in other posts related to police. This young Black potential officer noted that in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Academy most of the cadets who he knew from high school, “loved to beat people up.” Even at my advanced age, I too remember the guys in high school who looked for easy targets for their violence. Most of them expressed an interest in either the military or police as career choices. The process by which violence-prone individuals are self-selected into police work remains almost entirely ignored in the recruitment of candidates for law enforcement. It is even common for recruiters to seek out the most aggressive of candidates. The administration of law enforcement across this nation, instead of rooting them out, protects violent officers from discipline, dismissal, or prosecution. A police officer, of course, must be prepared for violence, but he need not prefer it. Too many do.

That brings me to the topic of the psychopathic personality. While some disagreement exists as to the exact components of this condition, certain elements, when present, are extremely dangerous to have in a police officer. One is a total lack of empathy with other human beings, combined with a learned capacity to feign empathy. Another is the pleasure the psychopath gains by inflicting pain on others – it’s a matter of exerting total control over another living being. Serial killers are psychopaths; they exert absolute control by torturing and killing their victims without remorse. I see a similarity here with the behavior of the cop who escalates his aggression at the slightest hint of “insubordination” in the civilian he has detained, continues well beyond any modicum of reason, and sees nothing wrong in his behavior.

High Standards and Critical Functions

Some experts who have used Robert Hare’s checklist [2] to score politicians and chief executive officers of corporations for psychopathic traits have concluded that a disproportionate number of persons in authority are in fact psychopaths. The argument goes that some of the traits of the psychopath are quite useful in climbing the ladder of power in an organization, and in establishing and keeping control. Psychopaths are fixated on their own power and seek to expand it, unrestrained by any moral principles. That results in a higher proportion of psychopaths in such positions than in the general population. In a somewhat different way, police officers are in positions of authority, less so within their own organization than over an entire population. They are allotted great power and great discretion in exercising it. Since police officers carry weapons as “tools of the trade,” and psychopaths enjoy hurting people, maybe we should carefully screen candidates for police academies to eliminate psychopaths. I fear just the opposite has been happening for a long time. Unfortunately, too many rookies who start out as problem-solving peace officers, gradually lose much of their compassion and take on psychopathic behaviors.

In the company of skilled psychopaths and under conditions of high stress and occasional mortal danger, it is not so difficult for an initially good man or woman to become cynical, ruthless, and uncaring. A compassionate rookie cop can become a practicing psychopath even though he was not so in terms of his original personality. Much of such a transition to “bad cop” is perceived as a survival adaptation to terrible conditions. But in a police department, such collective behavior results from a contagion of violence. How else can we explain blatant cold-blooded murder committed with full knowledge of the fact that it is being videotaped? Many idealistic youth were trained to kill in Iraq or Afghanistan and came back quite disturbed by their experience. Those who easily took to killing were probably closer to the psychopath end of the scale. As with the high-school bully, neither should end up as police officers.
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[1] Typically, “psychopath” and “sociopath” are used to describe the same general personality disorder, a pathology characterized primarily by a ruthless desire to exert absolute control over, and inflict pain on living beings, a lack of empathy or compassion, little if any sense of right and wrong, and a learned skill in masking these traits. Psychopathy is sometimes linked with narcissism and Machiavellianism, and several other traits. See Wikipedia for Robert Hare’s diagnostic Psychopathy Checklist.
[2] An amusing, if disturbing, account of the struggle to understand psychopathy and the industry that has grown up around it, is told by Jon Ronson, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry. London: Penguin Books, 2011.