Category Archives: dystopian

Something messed up is happening somewhere, large our small, roughly pointing us toward one or more dystopian futures. Read this if you are in the mood to fix something you cannot accept.

Could collective cognition be manipulated?

After my last post I wondered if the term “collective cognition” is already in use, and a quick Google search shows me the answer is yes. The next question: could it be manipulated? Also yes. Here are a few “teaser” sites for further exploration. But I’m going to resist the temptation to follow my curiosity because I have a backlog of writing projects . . . including novel revisions.

Since at least 2001, corporate strategists have been studying the manipulation of collective cognition. For example, here is the abstract to an article by John Mezias in the journal Long Range Planning, “Changing Collective Cognition: A Process Model for Strategic Change.”

Firms face increasing pressures to modify their strategies and adjust to rapidly changing environmental threats and opportunities. Yet strategic reorientations are difficult to achieve, especially as most methods fail to recognize the cognitive aspects of change. While some methods such as facilitated workshops have become increasingly popular to help top management teams better facilitate strategic change, these have largely evolved on the basis of successful experience rather than on an understanding of cognitive processes. This paper seeks to fill this gap, by drawing both upon theoretical literature and experience with successful change facilitation practices from Europe and the US. Its focus is on the cognitive aspects of strategic orientation and provides a practical guide to those who use this process.

In other words, when corporate leadership wants to make a change to strategic organization, this article is recommending also changing collective thought processes.

Here’s an outline of topics covered:

  1.  Introduction
  2.  From theory to practice
  3.  From the individual to the collective
  4. Changing collective cognition
  5. Problems with recognizing a need for change
  6. Problems with mobilizing change forces
  7. Problems with overcoming change barriers
  8. Unlearning, learning and cognitive reorientation
  9. The facilitated Change Workshop
  10. Summary and conclusion

But why stop with changing collective cognition within a single corporation, when the world is full of potential customers and policymakers? That’s definitely happening within the field of education. Corporately funded think tanks are pushing messages, for instance, that public schools are failing, and encouraging people to become “change agents.”

And what do you know, the manipulation of social media is indeed being studied. This from “Mnemonic convergence in social networks: the emergent properties of cognition at a collective level” by Coman, Alin, et al, published 2016 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

 Here we report results on the formation of collective memories in laboratory-created communities. We manipulated conversational network structure in a series of real-time, computer-mediated interactions in fourteen 10-member communities. . . . The social-interactionist approach proposed herein points to optimal strategies for spreading information in social networks and provides a framework for measuring and forging collective memories in communities of individuals.

Apparently they built collective memories out of nothing? Well, if that capability is available, somebody’s going to use it.

And that’s quite enough dystopia for one day. I am an optimistic person, though, and I do believe there are utopian solutions that involve intentional, democratic, and compassionate attention to collective cognition.

 

-Kristin

(Picture is from Doctor Who: “The Lie of the Land,” featuring aliens who had the power to manipulate collective memory provided one person gave consent.)

doctor who lie of the land

From Doctor Who “The Lie of the Land”

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Poisoning the well of public debate

Following up on my previous post about talking points for the #MeToo backlash, I did a google search for the phrase “meet the women worried about metoo” and found two articles of interest, one rebutting talking points and another, earlier article, that was propagating them for somebody’s profit. Exploring these articles and the connections between them can lead us to insights about how propaganda happens in the twenty-first century and some potential solutions.

Poison and its rebuttal

Since it’s more pleasant reading, I’ll start with the rebuttal: “People Still Have No Idea What The #MeToo Movement Is Actually About” by Callie Byrnes, January 11th 2018.

It appeared on a site called thoughtcatalog.com, which I hadn’t heard on, so my first step was to wonder, “Okay, who’s funding this?” If I’m going to do true critical thinking I can’t simply criticize sources that challenge my own world view but must also suspect those that confirm them. To my pleasant surprise, their funding appears to come from the sale of products (such as books) rather than the pockets of the ultra-rich.

Byrne summarizes her main points here:

It’s as if people have taken the #MeToo movement and twisted it backwards and sideways and so many directions that it’s stopping them from focusing on what it really is: a movement against sexual harassment and assault. It’s not anti-men. It’s not anti-sex. It’s not Victorian or puritanic. It’s not meant to create victims on either side. It’s about stopping a problem we’ve always had but have always overlooked — and the only reason it seems like a “revolution” is because people are finally paying attention.

Nicely argued, and if I were debating #MeToo on social media, I’d do well to start with these points. But there’s another question: Why do we have to bother? Why can’t we just get on with our work rather than continually answering irrelevant questions?

I’d suggest the answer is right there in her quote, with a few tweaks (in bold and strikeout). It’s exactly as if somebody has taken #MeToo twisted it backwards and sideways and so many directions in order to focus attention away from it’s central message.

Then who is that somebody? Yesterday I pointed to the “Meet the women . . .” article, published in Spiked Online, December 19, 2017. That article was pushing the talking points anti-sex (“Real feminists don’t think sex is dirty”), Victorian victims (“Women as victims/fainting flowers”), Puritanic (“Witch hunt”), and victims on both sides (“innocent people destroyed”).

But that’s only one among many of well-funded think tank pieces, so today I’ll pick on an article published in The Federalist, “The #MeToo Movement Is DestroyingTrust Between Men And Women” by D.C. McAllister.

First, what is the Federalist and who funds it? It’s an online magazine with a tag line “Be lovers of freedom and anxious for the fray” (meaning: get involved in social media fights). It’s free and with limited advertising, which suggests funding from another source. Well, what does that mean? It’s operating under capitalism. There is a buyer, a seller, and a product. FDRLST Media is the seller, the buyer is unknown, and the product is manipulation of public opinion.

The product of this article is talking points, specifically Glittering Generalities, Destroying Trust, Demonizing Men or Masculinity, Naive Touch/ Innocent Kiss, Destroying the Rule of Law, Propagation of Fear, Totalitarianism, Policing of Sex and Love. Here are the examples:

  • Glittering Generalities (all of which are theoretically threatened): “Freedom and community flourish in a culture of trust,” “free, civil society,” “free society,” “we must have faith,” “free and happy,” “relationship freedom”
  • Destroying Trust: “breakdown of trust between the sexes,” “distrust is generated,” “environment of suspicion”
  • Demonizing Men or Masculinity: “cannot be labeled toxic, brutal, or evil,” “all men with their masculine sexuality intact are dangerous,” “become eunuchs,” “abandoning their natural sexuality”
  • Naive Touch/Innocent Kiss: “When anything from a naive touch during a photo shoot to an innocent attempt at a kiss is compared to rape”
  • Destroying the Rule of Law: “men never know when they will be presented at the court of injustice as a “sexual abuser”
  • Propagation of Fear: “when fear of the other sex becomes generalized, society simply can’t thrive,” “women assume a man’s sexuality is a threat,” “fear is generated on both sides,” “live in fear of a woman’s accusation”
  • Totalitarianism: “as was done in the past by certain totalitarian religions regarding feminine sexuality,” “political freedom breaks down,” “silenced through threats and intimidation,” “totalitarian regimes incite fear to maintain power,” “totalitarianism thrives on distrust,” “court of injustice”
  • Policing of Sex and Love: “harmless flirting is stifled,” “love is eradicated,” “sex being policed as a result of the sexual harassment with-hunt,” “in [1984], sex was severely regulated and loving relationships between men and women forbidden,” “robbing ourselves of mutual affection,” “one day we will wake up and feel the hollowness within, find that we’re alone”

These talking points are manipulating peoples’ basic values, deep insecurities, and genuine need for love. So they’re powerful and they get replicated. Like a cold virus. Replicated how much? Well, according to the traffic analysis website SimilarWeb, the Federalist gets five million visits every six months. So it’s replicated a lot.

(Replicated . . . for free. I already said there’s a buyer, a seller, and a product. There’s also unpaid, volunteer labor. All those folks who read the magazine and recycle its talking points are doing it on their own time.)

So that’s why authors like Byrne end up having to rebut such manipulative talking points: because the points come at us so hard and so fast and in such great numbers. Like a swarm of angry hornets or a cloud of mosquitoes. Or spam in our email inboxes.

Even worse: they’re coming at us from our friends and family members. People we trust. Even people who are on our side of whichever issue.

Is there an antidote?

On an individual level, the solution is to turn off social media and walk away. I know a few people who have done that. But let’s be realistic: social media is here to stay. And we need a collective solution for the problem.

What would it look like? Let’s use spam as an analogy. In the early days of the Internet, a few enterprising people learned you could make money by emailing huge numbers of people. At first the emails came in a trickle, and people read them carefully and emailed back saying “I don’t want your emails!” Eventually somebody got annoyed enough to name them, spam, after a Monty Python song. Eventually people built tools to automate it.

I don’t know if people can build tools to automate propaganda detection (it’s all about the context, the motivation of the entity spreading the phrase, etcetera) and in any case that sounds like a hazardous experiment in deliberate centralized censorship.

But we could name it, catalog it, learn to recognize it, and develop a quick and easy response. I have some ideas, which are just for starters.

On naming it: I’ve been using the term “think tank talking point” or “propaganda” but neither really work for that short, seductive, manipulative nugget of language that causes so much trouble. Maybe there is a word and I just don’t know it? Is there a linguist in the house?

On cataloging it: Somehow, seeing all the points in one list robs them of their power and makes them easy to recognize in casual use.

On developing a quick and easy response: A good response doesn’t shoot the messenger. If my friend says, “Oh, sure I support #metoo, but I don’t support policing kisses,” I could call my friend all sorts of names, or I could cuss at the Federalist and either ignore the statement or ask my friend to kindly put it in their own words.

-Kristin
ouat3-20kansas

Talking points for the #MeToo backlash

We all know that political discussion on social media can be infuriating, hazardous, frustrating, a minefield, a hornet’s nest, et cetera. And we’re starting to understand how easily social media can be used to manipulate us. But here’s something we don’t know: people with money can pay to design talking points that get allies fighting among ourselves. When this happens invisibly, we have no defense. But we can learn.

Let’s start with a metaphor. A well designed talking point, or meme, is like a hand grenade. It’s thrown carelessly and it does more damage than anyone expected. Or it’s an unethical translator. A says one thing, B translates it for their own personal gain, and C loses trust in A. Or perhaps a virus. An idea that on the surface sounds so good, so exactly like the point you were going to make yourself, that you spread it everywhere. But it has a payload you weren’t expecting.

With that groundwork in place, let’s take a look at some talking points against the #metoo backlash as they appear in a site built by a P.R. firm to change the world by shaping discourse. I’m not going to link directly to their site but SourceWatch has a page for them here and the Wayback machine has generously provided a glimpse at their original intentions when they launched in 2000: “nothing less than the creation of a new language for political, social and cultural writing in the twenty-first century”.

(By the way, the page also makes mention of “fresh, non-consensual thinking.” That’s not what they meant to say, I’m sure, but I find it apt. If propaganda can shape our words, it also shapes our thinking. And when it does so invisibly, there is an element of consent that gets lost.)

Anyway, their article, “Meet the women worried about #MeToo”, gathers opinions from thirteen women on why the #metoo crowd is a bunch of weak victims who are gathered in a screaming mob to chop heads off innocent men. We could go through point by point and refute their arguments, or we could do something different for a change. We could catalog them. With no further ado:

Talking Points for the #Metoo backlash

(I found all these in that single article, by the way.)

A. Destroying REAL feminism 

A1. Real feminists don’t think sex is dirty

A2. Women as victims / fainting flowers

A3. My generation kicked them in the balls

A4. Turning back the clock on sexual equality

A5. Watch your privilege!

B. Hysterical mob

B1. Mob violence

B2. Witch hunt

B3. Beheading

B4. Panic

B5. Mass hysteria

C. That’s not really assault

C1. Confusing real assault with failed advances

C2. Trivializes real sexual violence

C3. Phantom sexual harassment

C4. You can’t touch my elbow

D. Totalitarianism

D1. Censorship

D2. George Orwell

D3. Bullying women to conform

E. The legal system

E1. Presumed innocent / no due process

E2. Innocent people destroyed

E3. If it’s not against the law, it’s not assault

E4. All we need to do is fix the law

Examples

“we are throwing knee-touching into the same basket as rape” – C1, C4

“sex itself seems increasingly to be seen as dirty” – A1

“destroy almost any man by a single accusation” – E1

“in need of shielding” – A2

“celebrates conformity and demonises dissent” – D3

“it was supposed to be about empowering women” – A3

“this is a witch-hunt” – B2

“return women to delicate, Victorian damsels who reach for the smelling salts if they hear a lewd joke” – A1, A2

“accused of transgressions no reasonable person would define as a crime” – E3

“even decades later” – C3

“The heads keep rolling” – B3

“A charge of creepiness is a death sentence” – E2

“ensuring that the lives of innocent people are not destroyed” – E2

“every male as a potential predator and every female as a perpetual victim” – A2

“modern feminism all but ignores the plight of the most oppressed women around the world” – A5

“turning the clock back on hard-won sexual equality” – A4

“Raise qualms and watch the insults roll” – D1

“those of us who have spent years metaphorically kicking sex pests in the balls” – A3

“bullying climate” – D3

“phantom sexual-harassment epidemics” – C3

“fainting-couch nonsense” – A2

What’s Next?

The first step in countering think tank talking points is to find them in the first place. I found it enjoyable – with just a think tank article and a highlighter pen, I was able to take a pile of glowing propaganda and identify the core messages being pushed by the funders, thereby dismantling it until it turned into naked sludge of ugly insults. Fun.

But it would be much more fun as a shared exercise. You could do the same thing to any propaganda campaign, really. Or you could take it one step farther and identify which of the many propaganda techniques are being used. Or consider what’s deliberately left unsaid.

If we can develop a shared understanding of think-tank memes, we’ll be much better prepared to explore the important issues on our own terms.   Using our own words, finding our own thoughts. That’s consensual thinking at its finest.

– Kristin

witch hunter

 

 

 

 

Bye, bye, LiveJournal!

I love blogging. It’s like keeping a diary, but you self-edit so your posts are not so torturous to read later. And for those times you absolutely must splay your guts on the page, you can write a blog post and mark it “private.” It’s like having a secret pen pal.

I started blogging maybe around 2009? I quickly settled on LiveJournal, partly because other friends of mine were there too. Then Facebook came on the scene, and LiveJournal started doing pushy advertisements, so I switched to WordPress, leaving my old stuff on LiveJournal.

It’s not entirely the same. WordPress feels more professional and less personal, and with less of a sense of community. But it’s where I am.

Meanwhile, something happened with LiveJournal. It turns out it has been owned by a Russian company since 2007, and I neither knew nor cared. But after the 2016 presidential election, in which the Russian government explicitly meddled in the U.S. democracy, I care a damn lot. But more to the point, the servers are now living in Russia and subject to Russian espionage  (guess it wasn’t a secret pen pal after all), Russian law, and Russian censorship. This is happening in the context of human rights abuses in Chechnya relating to LGBT folks. (By the way, there is a call-out to folks to consider donating to an organization called All Out, for emergency evacuation of LGBT folks in Chechnya.  ) LiveJournal put out a new Terms of Service that everyone using LiveJournal had to agree to, and a bunch of people are leaving in droves and moving over to Dreamwidth.org.

Here’s a blog post with more info (especially see the comments): New LiveJournal Terms of Service.

So, goodbye LiveJournal. I made a backup on Dreamwidth (under an alias so I can splash fanfiction and whatnot on the page without worrying about the mess) and then I deleted my account. I am copying over some of my more interesting posts to this blog, as time permits, and back-dating them.

emma peel moved her blog

Teaching anti-fascism to kids

All my life I’ve heard “Never forget!” when it comes to the Holocaust. But clearly, something has gone awry. Maybe the meme was too weak. Maybe we needed “Pass it on to the children!” instead. Because there’s a big difference between remembering as an individual and keeping the memory alive in a culture that spans generations.

As a child I read The Diary of Anne Frank, and The Chocolate War, and I watched Fiddler on the Roof and The Sound of Music. These had a big impact on me. But what are my children reading and watching? My assumption was that since I knew the material, my children would know it too. Of course that’s false.

So I was searching for something unrelated (anti-fascism in Europe) and randomly came across a post too awesome not to share. It’s about a workshop done by a multi-ethnic youth arts and education organization in Bosnia. The facilitator reported back on what they did and for which age group, and it sounds like they had a blast!

“Anti-Fascism Day 2016”

And here’s an adorable graphic that had been up on Indymedia Scotland but was made as part of a poster for an anti-fascist meeting in Athens. Modern-day Athena?

girl-smashing-nazi-symbol

– Kristin

More concerning than Tromp

Suppose for a moment that our president-elect is not the main threat to our freedom but a buffoon whose primary purpose is to be so outrageous as to distract everyone from worse things happening. And suppose for a moment that everything U.S. citizens have taken for granted is no longer a certainty. As someone who reads dystopic science fiction and has paid attention to happenings in Latin American countries, and as someone with children who will inherit tomorrow, I think about these things.

It’s easy to get frightened here, but let’s not. Let’s start with the assumption that the worst we could imagine is preventable. In this case, the first step is to predict it. If you’re somebody who hasn’t paid a lot of attention to what’s happened in other countries, now’s the time. So, here’s a link to an interview with author Isabel Allende explaining what happened the day of the military coup in Chile, when democracy was suddenly abolished.  And here’s a link to some excerpts from the novel Horizontalism by Marina Sitrin, which talks about the day that Argentina froze bank accounts and used the money to pay off an IMF loan, leaving people without their savings for months. Anyway, those were my starting points for understanding the world around me a little better.

Right now it’s clear that the New Deal and civil rights legislation, both hard-won in the twentieth century, are under attack by our current Congress. And people are already worried that loss of the Affordable Care Act will cost lives, and asking whether Medicare and Social Security might be next.

What other damage could Congress do? I can think of a lot of things — defund the EPA, repeal worker protections, and more.

But what aren’t we thinking about? How about a substantial revision to the Constitution, dramatically limiting the federal government’s ability to raise taxes and pass laws?

That’s impossible, right? No. According to the article “Corporate America is Inching Even Closer to a Constitutional Convention” on the web site In These Times, apparently, the U.S. close to having something that hasn’t taken place in the entire history of our country: a constitutional convention.

According to Article V of the U.S. Constitution, the states can convene a constitutional convention without the federal government’s go-ahead if two-thirds (34) of them pass a resolution in favor. Right-wing organizations—and their billionaire funders—have been working feverishly for decades to get state legislatures to call for such a convention, with the explicit aim of limiting the powers of the federal government.

According to the Constitution, such a convention would only have the power to propose amendments, which would then be ratified only upon approval by three fourths of the states.

What’s concerning here is that model legislation has been written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and if you don’t know what that is, now’s the time to find out! I like to think of them as a fourth branch of our government–the corporate branch. Unelected, secret, unaccountable. And there has been a dry run of a constitutional convention using ALEC’s model legislation.

That warrants close scrutiny. In a Tromp era, with more and more people angry at the federal government, efforts to limit it will be popular among both the right and the left. But here’s the rub: curtailing federal rights can make states more tyrannical. As the article points out:

But ALEC doesn’t just fight for states’ rights over the federal government. It fights for states’ rights over everything else, including local governments. After focusing on state legislatures for decades, they now hold decisive control in states across the country, which they have used to stalemate state budgets, and push an avalanche of “state preemption” laws to entrench state control over local towns, villages, cities and counties.

It’s also worth noting that the recent federal election, which put in place a conservative president, Congress, and governors were affected by voter suppression, including voter ID laws proposed by ALEC. The issue of voter suppression, detailed in an article in The Nation, is one of the most under-reported stories about the recent election, but also one of the scariest.

What else aren’t we thinking about?

How about the bizarre goings-on within the U.S. intelligence community–the CIA, the FBI, and whatever Homeland Security is doing? Hacking, Russian blackmail, and who knows what else. It’s like there’s some turf war going on with unknown stakes. Yesterday Anonymous came forward with a threat to release damaging material on our president-elect — after having made but not followed through on a similar threat before the election. That’s surprising enough on its own, but an even bigger surprise to me is that when I checked the news, the top hit announcing this threat was not for any traditional media but rather rt dot com.

Anybody know what that is? Leftists have been forwarding lots of articles from it. Really, anything damaging to the president-elect appears legit to us. We’ve gotten lazy.

But remember: the enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend.

That website, which jumped to the very top of my news feed, is Russia Today — the Russian state-owned media. Why did it jump to the top? Is it because it’s that popular, or because my news feed has been personalized? It’s concerning either way. Because whoever can manipulate the news can manipulate the nation. And to what end? What does Putin want? Would destabilizing the U.S. help him achieve his goals?

Our representative government is a big stinking mess right now. People have lost faith in it, for good reason, and with every new Tromp scandal our faith grows weaker.

But there are no other democratic proposals out there on the table. Our constitution and our system of elected officials is, at the moment, the best thing we have. Let’s not throw them out the window.

To make a long story short, what’s more concerning than Tromp? The possible loss of our democratic institutions. That’s what. Let’s keep a sharp eye and all our wits about us in the days and weeks to come. Watch the news, but also watch behind the news.

Onward.

– Kristin King

Neo-fascism trounced in sci fi, 2016

Last year I posted an essay about neo-fascist goings-on in the science fiction community. To make a long story short, a racist, misogynist troll who calls himself “Voice of God” and owns a publishing house in Finland used Gamergate tactics to hijack the ballot for science fiction’s prestigious Hugo Awards.

At the time, I was shocked and alarmed by the blatant neo-fascist rhetoric used by the troll and the normalization that had taken place in the science fiction community. (He had run for president of Science Fiction Writers of America even after using an outrageous racial slur against N.K. Jemisin, and a stunning ten percent of people had voted for him.)

In hindsight, I see that the racist far right has made inroads everywhere. Because about a fourth of the U.S. electorate voted in someone who is looking to be an actual fascist.

But here’s the good news: the science fiction community organized and the science fiction community won. Whatever else happened in 2016 that sucked, a bright spot is that he was roundly defeated. You can read more about that in the IO9 blog article “Hugo Awards Celebrate Women in Sci-Fi, Send Rabid Puppies to Doghouse” by Beth Elderkin.

Science fiction represents the dreams of our community. And dreams are powerful. If science fiction fans can come together to defeat neo-fascism with their own community, then everyday people in the U.S. can defeat white supremacy, actual fascism, and all the rest of that garbage.

We can win.

I’ll finish up by a quote from N.K. Jemisin:

. . . all this anger and discussion reflects a struggle for the soul of the organization, which is in turn reflective of a greater struggle for the soul of the genre, and that overall struggle taking place globally. . . .

Diverse voices are here to stay.

Spaceship_Kawaii