Oct 31, 2016

Crisis: Irrationalism, Iraq War, Vote!, "Hate spin", Hillary Clinton
Sections                                                                     crisis index

American Irrationalism
2. We Must Tell the Truth About the Iraq War
4. Hate Propaganda Has Asymmetrical Power in an Open

5. Will Hillary Clinton Get America Back on Track?


This is a Nederlog of Monday, October 31, 2016.

A. This is a crisis log with 5 items and 5 dotted links: Item 1 is about an article by Chris Hedges about the - widespread - American irrationalism; item 2 is about the Iraq war; item 3 is about an article by a mathematician who tries to spur the Americans to vote (and he is right); item 4 is about "hate spin" and I found it both confusing, confused and bad; and item 5 is about an article by Robert Reich about Hillary Clinton (and he is a bit optimistic, I think).

-- Constant part, for the moment --

B. In case you visit my Dutch site: It was OK for two days now (!).

In any case, I am now (again) updating the opening of my site with the last day it was updated. (And I am very sorry if you have to click/reload several times to see the last update: It is not what I wish, nor how it was. [1]

C. In case you visit my Danish site: It now works again (!), but I do not know how long it will keep working.

I am very sorry, and none of it is due to me. I am simply doing the same things as I did for 20 or for 12 years, that also went well for 20 or for 12 years.

I will keep this introduction until I get three successive days (!!!) in which both providers work correctly. I have not seen that for many months now.


1.  American Irrationalism

The first item today is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig:
  • American Irrationalism

This starts as follows:

There is no shortage of signs of impending environmental catastrophe, including the melting of the polar ice caps and the rise of atmospheric carbon to above 400 parts per million. The earth’s sixth mass extinction is underway. It is not taking place because of planetary forces. Homo sapiens is orchestrating it. Americans are at the same time bankrupting ourselves by waging endless and unwinnable wars. We have allowed our elites to push more than half the U.S. population into poverty through deindustrialization. We do nothing to halt the waves of nihilistic violence by enraged citizens who carry out periodic mass shootings in schools, malls, movie theaters and other public places. The political and financial elites flaunt their greed and corruption. Donald Trump appears to pay no federal income taxes. Hillary and Bill Clinton use their foundation as a tool for legalized bribery. Our largest corporations have orchestrated a legal tax boycott. The judicial system is a subsidiary of the corporate state. Militarized police conduct public executions of unarmed people of color. Our infrastructure, including our schools, roads and bridges, along with our deindustrialized cities, are in ruins. Decay and rot—physical and moral—are pervasive.

Yes indeed. You might think the above is pessimistic. I agree, but that is not the point. The point is whether the above is mostly correct or not. And I think it is, possibly minus some points about style.

Also, I think Hedges starts with the most important point: The "impending environmental catastrophe". I concluded about 45 years ago, in 1971/2, mostly but not only on the basis of "The limits to growth" and books by Rachel Carson and Paul Ehrlich, at a time when there were between 3 billion and 4 billion living people, that there probably was no room for more than 1 billion people on earth, who could live there decently and well, and without destroying too much. But in the last 45 years, the human population has doubled to over 7 billion.

I think I was mostly correct 45 years ago. Indeed, there is this from Wikipedia on
"The limits to growth" (quoted minus a footnote):

In 2016 a report published by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Limits to Growth concluded that "there is unsettling evidence that society is still following the ‘standard run’ of the original study – in which overshoot leads to an eventual collapse of production and living standards". The report also highlights that some issues not well covered in the original 1972 report, such as climate change, present additional challenges for human development.

And of course I was not wholly correct 45 years ago. There have also been many ecological/environmental reports in the intervening 45 years. But I think the evidence is on the side of "The limits to growth" and I stick to that because I know it since it was published.

Next, here is part of an explanation:

We are blinded to our depressing reality by the avalanche of images disseminated by mass media. Political, intellectual and cultural discourse has been replaced with spectacle. Emotionalism and sensationalism are prized over truth. Highly paid pundits who parrot back the official narrative, corporate advertisers, inane talk shows, violent or sexually explicit entertainment and gossip-fueled news have contaminated cultural life. “Reality” television, as contrived as every other form of mass entertainment, has produced a “reality” presidential candidate.

Yes and no, though mostly yes:

First, I don't like the royal "We". I am not blinded and have not been blinded the last 45 years, at least, and indeed the same thing holds for other intelligent people. I know intelligent and knowledgeable people are in a minority - it seems of about 17%, according to Bill Maher - but this is about 1 in 6 in the USA, which means something like 50 million Americans.

And second, while there is indeed a lot more of massive stupidity than of informed intelligence, that also is for a good part created by the media, one should keep in mind that the 1 in 6 are in a minority, but they also tend to be  much better educated than the many.

But third, I do agree the media are to a considerable extent responsible for the stupification of considerable parts of the American people.

Here is more of Chris Hedges' explanation:

There are hundreds of millions of Americans who know that something is terribly wrong. A light has gone out. They see this in their own suffering and hopelessness and the suffering and hopelessness of their neighbors. But they lack, because of the contamination of our political, cultural and intellectual discourse, the words and ideas to make sense of what is happening around them. They are bereft of a vision. Austerity, globalization, unfettered capitalism, an expansion of the extraction of fossil fuels, and war are not the prices to be paid for progress and the advance of civilization. They are part of the savage and deadly exploitation by corporate capitalism and imperialism. They serve a neoliberal ideology. The elites dare not speak this truth. It is toxic.
Yes and no, but mostly no:

Given the above (very rough) numbers - 1 in 6 of Americans is more or less intelligent and knows something about social and natural reality; 5 in 6 of Americans is not really intellligent or does not know much about social and natural reality - I tend to agree with Hedges' phrase "
hundreds of millions".

But I mostly disagree with Chris Hedges' diagnosis that "they lack" "
the words and ideas to make sense of what is happening around them", and I do so for two main reasons:

First, they do not themselves believe that
"they lack" "the words and ideas to make sense of what is happening around them": They mostly believe in the myths the media and their religious and political leaders tell them, and are often quite proud to repeat them.

And second, while I do believe that some of the "
hundreds of millions of Americans" really are too stupid and too ignorant to know and find out what really happened to them, I'd say that a considerable part of these "hundreds of millions of Americans" have IQs over 100 (that is: they are natively more intelligent than the average), and are perfectly capable of reading alternative news, working their computers to find answers, and thinking more or less rationally - but they don't, in considerable part, simply because they find it more convenient to be lazy, they think it nice (and safe) to be conformist, and they are much rather stupid, ignorant, proud followers of baloney than that they are actively trying to oppose their own ignorance.

I blame them, at least if their IQs are 100 or higher. They should have been responsible more or less rational people; they could have been from the point of view of their native intelligence; but many are not rational nor responsible, simply because they like conformism, they like hating people who are visibly different from them, and they lap up the prejudices and hate that their leaders
serve to them as if they are too stupid and too ignorant to care and know better. In fact, many of them are lazy conformists who refuse to think while they can.

Here is the last bit that I'll quote from this article:
Because of this mass indoctrination, we have become infected by what Daniel Boorstin in “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America” calls “social narcissism.” The bottomless narcissism of Trump and the Clintons caters to this social narcissism. They reflect back to us our desperate longing for, as well as celebration of, entertainment, celebrity, wealth, power and self-aggrandizement. It is not only advertising and public relations, as Boorstin pointed out, that carry out the incessant manufacturing of illusions that feed social narcissism. Journalists, book publishers, politicians, athletes, entertainers, positive psychologists, self-help gurus, the Christian right and talk show hosts all feed the mania for illusion. They all chant the insane mantra that reality is never an impediment to what we desire.

Hm. First, grandiose narcissism, which is a psychopathology Donald Trump has (and I am a psychologist) is a form of insanity. But I do not think Hillary Clinton is insane that way, and I think it is not fair to suggest she is or may be.

Indeed, while I do not like Clinton at all, my strong advice is to vote for Clinton, not because she will be any good as president, but because she is not mad while Trump is (I am sorry, but I am a psychologist and that is what I think).

And second, while I agree that (i) there is an enormous and to my mind rather crazy "celebration of entertainment, celebrity, wealth, power and self-aggrandizement" [2], and while I agree that (ii) this craziness is brought about in part by many "[j]ournalists, book publishers, politicians, athletes, entertainers, positive psychologists, self-help gurus, the Christian right and talk show hosts", and indeed I also agree that (iii) most of these "chant the insane mantra that reality is never an impediment to what we desire", the lesson I draw from this is different from the one Chris Hedges draws:

I am sorry, but I blame those whose IQs are 100 or higher: They have the capacities to doubt, to think rationally, to test evidence, and not to embrace
the evident bullshit they are being offered by all kinds of entertainers, but many of them don't and simply choose to go with their emotions as if they are animals or apes.

And since they are not, and are capable of some rational thought and some reasonable actions, I do blame them, for they are the receivers of evident bullshit who treat lies and nonsense as if it is true and important, while they are perfectly capable of seeing through it, but simply are too lazy or too emotional.

Then again, this is a good article by Chris Hedges, and indeed some readers may like his approach more than mine: Recommended.

2. We Must Tell the Truth About the Iraq War

The second item is by Jodie Evans on AlterNet:

  • We Must Tell the Truth About the Iraq War

This starts as follows:
The Chilcot Report, a damning 12-volume, 2.6-million-word inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq War, did not get much attention on either side of the pond upon its July release. The probe was overlooked at a time that the Iraq War was still raging even though everyone thought it was over, and the millennials I talked to had little idea of the lies or the costs. This summer and fall, it became increasingly clear that the tumultuous U.S. election cycle will not propel anyone with a peace platform to the presidency. I decided I needed to do something that will be useful in the face of even more wars after the election madness is over. So we launched a People’s Tribunal on the Iraq War as a tool to bring the anti-war movement together and build what is needed for 2017.
This seems a good idea. Here are a few facts:

According to a report released last year by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), Physicians for Global Survival and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the U.S. invasion and occupation killed at least one million Iraqi people. That would be more [than] 10 million people in the United States if we compared it in terms of percentage of the population. Imagine the effect of 10 million people dying.

There are over 100,000 casualties on the side of the U.S. and the coalition of the willing, with a small percentage of those dead. The rest are living with permanent physical and psychological wounds, some so bad that U.S. military veterans are committing suicide at a rate of 20 a day. In 2012, suicides surpassed war as a the leading cause of death in the U.S. military.
I say. I did not know the facts stated in the second paragraph, and indeed I am also rather amazed that "suicides surpassed war as a the leading cause of death in the U.S. military".

Then there is this on the financial cost, here stated only for the USA:
Since 2001, U.S. wars have cost taxpayers nearly $5 trillion, according to a new report from Brown University’s Watson Institute. But few can understand what that number actually means. Nor does this amount count the cost to people in Iraq or other members of the coalition of the willing.
Five trillion dollars = five million times a million dollars - but yes, the number is gigantic (and could have been used inside the USA to do all manner of things - infrastructure, education, to take two examples - that have been very necessary the last 15 years, and still are not done).

Here is the last bit I'll quote:

On day one, December first, we will focus on the lies that fed the drive to war. On day two, we will hear more than 50 people testify to innumerable costs of U.S. war in Iraq, which in fact goes back at least 25 years. 

Yes, there is a staggering cost to U.S. taxpayers—but also the cost to the planet and the militarization of our cities and police departments. We will hear from the mother of a young black man who was killed the last week of high school by a cop who was a veteran of the Iraq War suffering from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. We will hear from soldiers who were raped by fellow soldiers. Rabbis and priests will discuss the cost to our morality.  We will hear about the costs of the U.S. use of depleted uranium to Iraqis and the children of American soldiers who served there.
The event will be live streamed on The Real News, with testimony delivered in person, by live stream or by video.
This is a good idea and a recommended article.

3. Vote!

The third item is by Peter Woit on Not Even Wrong:
  • Vote!

This starts as follows:

Normally I avoid politics here, but these are not normal times. What follows is a request to my US readers, followed by some general remarks about the disturbing state of US democracy. Sorry, but if you want to discuss any of this, it will have to be elsewhere (internet comment sections are part of the problem…).

This is here mostly because I do look at some 33 (planned) sites every day to get the articles I review in Nederlog. Nearly all these sites are "political" in the sense that they tend to be magazines that mostly write about politics, but there are a few exceptions, and Peter Woit's site is one of them.

My reason to follow him (more or less) is that I like mathematics and physics, and I also like to keep somewhat informed (but Woit is a real mathematician, and I am not). [3]

Anyway - this is one of the few times "Not Even Wrong" produces an entry in Nederlog. Here is one bit (there is more in the original):

To those not planning on voting for Donald Trump:

  • If you’re planning on voting for Hillary Clinton: please be sure to get out and vote, by early voting if available in your state or on Election day. This is extremely important, with the election likely decided by who cares enough to turn out and vote.
  • If you’re planning on not voting: please rethink this. One can in many elections make a reasonable case that the differences between the candidates aren’t great, so, why bother? If there ever were a US election where that was not true, this is it.

And here is another bit (suppressed to the minimum: again there is more in the original):

To those planning on voting for Donald Trump:

Please don’t.

And this is part of Woit's explanation for why he does this:

How did we end up here?

Whatever happens, I think the huge question facing US democracy is that of how, in an election contest between a competent, honest centrist candidate and an unqualified con artist, we’ve ended up with the majority of the electorate convinced that the first of these is the one with serious ethical problems. American politics has become a reality TV show, with the plot line all about convincing people that a contestant is unethical and dislikable, and so should be voted off the island.

I mostly agree (though I wouldn't call Hillary Clinton "honest" - but then she is a lot more honest than Donald Trump is).

As I would put it: The choice is between a competent centrist candidate (from whom I expect very little that I consider good) and an utterly incompetent very much lying, quite insane and mostly neofascist candidate - so yes: I think Woit is quite right writing about it.

And this is a recommended article.

4. Hate Propaganda Has Asymmetrical Power in an Open Society

The fourth item today is by Cherian George on AlterNet and originally on The Conversation:

  • Hate Propaganda Has Asymmetrical Power in an Open Society
This starts as follows:

When George Orwell contemplated trends toward tyranny in 1984, he saw a world where truths were violently obliterated to leave Big Brother’s lies unchallenged. This negation of knowledge and erasure of human experience, he mused, was:

… more terrifying than mere torture or death.

But something curious has happened in the post-totalitarian world, which even Orwell’s penetrating gaze did not foresee.

Today, demagogues don’t actually need to silence or censor their opponents. It turns out their followers are quite happy to succumb to wilful blindness, believing what they want to believe even as contradictory evidence stares them in the face.

Ahem. I have three remarks: "1984" should have been quoted (or written in italics) [4]; we do not live in a "post-totalitarian world"; and Orwell was quite capable of foreseeing "wilful blindness" (as "1984" indeed illustrates).

Then there is this:

One result of this is open societies remain surprisingly susceptible to misinformation that instigates intimidation, discrimination and violence against vulnerable groups. Untruths doled out in hate campaigns find ready buyers even in a free marketplace of ideas.

The unholy appeal of outright lies has been on stunning display in Donald Trump’s rise as the Republican candidate for the US presidency. Independent fact-checking organisation PolitiFact has found 71% of his statements to be mostly false, false or in the “pants-on-fire” category.

This phenomenon is not new. More than a decade has passed since satirist Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness”, referring to stuff that some people lap up because it feels right – even though it definitely isn’t.

I am sorry, but the first paragraph is not grammatical English. Besides, I do not think there has been any era in which "[u]ntruths doled out in hate campaigns" have not found "ready buyers". (And what "a free marketplace of ideas" is, I don't know.)

And as to the third paragraph: Thirty-eight (38) years have passed since the University of Amsterdam was officially opened with the slogan

"Everyone knows that truth does not exist"

since when we have had some 25 years of postmodernism that insisted on the same, and that also was widely popular in philosophy, psychology, sociology, literature studies, and more.

But Cherian George, who teaches journalism in Hong Kong, does not seem to know about any of this.

Then there is this:

This tendency toward self-delusion might be largely harmless but for the fact the untruths being circulated often vilify other communities. And the invective is not confined to idle gossip, but converted into blueprints for action: remove them; ban their places of worship; censor their viewpoints; restrict their practices; kill them.

Often this emerges as straightforward hate speech or misinformation that incites hostility, discrimination or violence against a group. Or it is expressed as righteous indignation, accusing the targeted community of behaving in a manner that causes outrage.

These twin tactics – the giving and taking of offence – meld into a potent political strategy that I call “hate spin”.
I am sorry but I regard a "tendency toward self-delusion" as harmful. You may not care for the self-deluded, but somebody who is self-deluded tends to be dangerous both for himself or herself and for others: If you believe what is false and act on it, you are very likely to create problems.

And I find the rest mostly exaggerated, while it seems to lead up to another propaganda term, this time of Cherian George (?): "hate spin". I'm sorry, I don't like it.

This article ends as follows:

Hate spin is more prevalent and dangerous in countries with less freedom of expression, not least because such countries usually have less regard for the equal rights of vulnerable minorities.

Instead, we should begin by recognising that a free marketplace of ideas, while necessary, is not sufficient. Truth’s victory over hate propaganda is neither automatic nor preordained. It requires a commitment to equal rights and norms of tolerance that is at least as determined as the uncompromising hate of demagogues and fascists.

Again paragraph one might be English, but even if it is, it is very badly written.

And in the second paragraph we have again that strange "
free marketplace of ideas" (what do ideas need "a marketplace" for? what kind of "market"? why "free" if it is a "market"?); we are told this "free marketplace of ideas" is "necessary" but "not sufficient", but we are not told for what; and the last part again is very vague, and does not seem to see or recognize or know that "equal rights" and "norms of tolerance" are part of the laws of the United States. And "demagoguery" or "fascism" - so far, at least - are not.

So no: This article seems mostly nonsense to me. (And I must say Cherian George writes very badly, for an associate professor of journalism.)

5. Will Hillary Clinton Get America Back on Track?

The fifth item today is by Robert Reich on his site:
  • Will Hillary Clinton Get America Back on Track?

This starts as follows:

The parallels are striking. In the last decades of the nineteenth century – the so-called “Gilded Age”— America experienced inequality on a scale it had never before seen, combining wild opulence and searing poverty.

American industry consolidated into a few giant monopolies, or trusts, headed by “robber barons” who wielded enough power to drive out competitors. A few Wall Street titans like J.P. Morgan controlled the nation’s finances.

These men used their huge wealth to rig the system. Their lackeys literally deposited stacks of money on the desks of pliant legislators, prompting the great jurist Louis Brandeis to tell America it a choice: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.“

We face a similar choice today.
Yes, I agree with this, though I should also point out that there are quite a few relevant differences, and three important ones are (1) during the Gilded Age (<- Wikipedia) most of the non-rich knew what had made and kept them non-rich: The rich and their system of exploitation, which they did in good part because (2) there was a great and variegated free press that catered to very many somewhat or very different points of view, and also (3) there were strong trade unions.

Neither is the case now: Many of the non-rich do not blame the rich these days; the days of a variegated and free press are over; and I think now only 7% of all Americans are members of a trade union.

Here is some more by Reich about the Gilded Age:

Then, America chose democracy. President Theodore Roosevelt, railing against the “malefactors of great wealth,” broke up the trusts. And he pushed Congress to end the most blatant forms of corruption.  

His fifth cousin, FDR, went further – enacting social insurance for the elderly, the unemployed, and the disabled; a minimum wage and forty-hour workweek; the right to unionize; compensation for workers injured on the job; and strict limits on Wall Street.

In other words, between 1870 and 1900, American capitalism got off track. Between 1901 and 1937 (the effective end of the New Deal), America put capitalism back on track.

Yes, though I should add that FDR also became president immediately after a huge economical crisis and that he prided himself, a bit later, on being the man who saved capitalism.

Here again is some more:

Inequality is now nearly at the same level it was in the late nineteenth century. Half of all families are poorer today than they were a decade-and-a-half ago, the pay of CEOs and Wall Street bankers is in the stratosphere, and child poverty is on the rise.

Meanwhile, American industry is once again consolidating – this time into oligopolies dominated by three or four major players. You can see it in pharmaceuticals, high tech, airlines, food, Internet service, communications, health insurance, and finance.

Yes, though I should add that while inequality may be "nearly at the same level it was in the late nineteenth century", poverty is not: The poor were a lot poorer from 1870 till 1940 than they are now. I do not say it is pleasant to be poor now (and I am poor and ill since 1.i.1979) but most of the present-day poor have it a bit better than the poor 100 years ago.

Then again, Reich is right on the rest. Here is the last bit I'll quote from this article:

History has proven the early generation of reformers correct. While other nations opted for communism or fascism, Americans chose to make capitalism work for the many rather than the few.  

If Donald Trump is elected next week, all bets are off. 

But if Hillary Clinton assumes the presidency, could she become another Teddy or Franklin D. Roosevelt? 

You may think her too much of an establishment figure, too close to the moneyed interests, too cautious. But no one expected dramatic reform when each of the Roosevelts took the reins. They were wealthy patricians, in many respects establishment figures. Yet each rose to the occasion.

Perhaps she will, too. The timing is right, and the need is surely as great as it was over a century ago.

I agree "all bets are off" if Trump gets to be president. And my own guess on Hillary Clinton is that she will not be another Roosevelt. She will be less bad ("better") than Trump, which is why Americans should vote for her, but she also is much too close to the rich, and especially the bankers, to do as the Roosevelts did.

But one may hope, of course.

[1] Alas, this is precisely as I said it does, and it goes on for months now. I do not know who does it, and I refuse to call the liars of "xs4all" (really: the KPN), simply because these have been lying to me from 2002-2009, and I do not trust anything they say I cannot control myself: They have treated me for seven years as a liar because "you complain about things other people do not complain about" (which is the perfect excuse never to do anything whatsoever for anyone).

[2] I think myself that these celebrations are fairly to very crazy, but I have to admit that they also strike me as "typically American", and that I have seen them (in various forms, also) since the 1960ies.

[3] Also one reason for me to pick Woit is that I agree with him on string theory (<- Wikipedia) (about which he knows much more than I do).

[4] I think the original title was "Nineteen Eigthy-Four" but Orwell himself also called it "1984" (in letters, at least). And yes, booktitles should be quoted or stated in italics. 

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