Posts tagged: Politics
As I’ve mentioned before, when things get quiet on Technoccult it’s usually because I’m struggling to keep up with my day-to-day work. And I have been lately, but I do feel like I’m back on top of things, at least for a moment.
Still, I don’t have a lot of media to share. Part of that is because I’ve been busy, and part of it is that I’ve been recoiling in disgust from both general news and tech news lately. I’ve been spending what little spare time I’ve had lately reading about ancient mythology and revisiting my interest in the history of that thing we call “magic.” Of course that’s escapism, but is there really anything wrong with that? (Neil Gaiman says no).
It seems like I’m not alone. Joshua Ellis writes: “everyone I know is brokenhearted.” This may have something to do with our particular social circles, but I’ve noticed this too.
Though it’s hard to say exactly how new a problem this is. After all, about 2,500 years ago, Prince Siddhartha got similarly fed up with the pain and suffering in the world and dropped out of life, became a Sramana monk and eventually founded Buddhism. He may never have existed, but there are a huge number of scriptures attributed to his teaching. Enough different ones, apparently, to justify genocide.
I refer of course to Jack Kornfield’s recent article on Burmese Buddhists attacks on the Muslim minority in their country. Kornfield doesn’t have much to say about the situation other than that it’s bad and that the Burmese don’t really understand the teachings of the Buddha, which sounds overly simplistic to me, but it’s still worth a read. (See also: Buddhism is not a democracy movement).
Other stuff I’ve read lately:
Scott Alexander on the backlash against trigger warnings:
But this is all tangential to what really bothered me, which is Pacific Standard’s The Problems With Trigger Warnings According To The Research.
You know, I love science as much as anyone, maybe more, but I have grown to dread the phrase “…according to the research”.
They say that “Confronting triggers, not avoiding them, is the best way to overcome PTSD”. They point out that “exposure therapy” is the best treatment for trauma survivors, including rape victims. And that this involves reliving the trauma and exposing yourself to traumatic stimuli, exactly what trigger warnings are intended to prevent. All this is true. But I feel like they are missing a very important point.
YOU DO NOT GIVE PSYCHOTHERAPY TO PEOPLE WITHOUT THEIR CONSENT.
Psychotherapists treat arachnophobia with exposure therapy, too. They expose people first to cute, little spiders behind a glass cage. Then bigger spiders. Then they take them out of the cage. Finally, in a carefully controlled environment with their very supportive therapist standing by, they make people experience their worst fear, like having a big tarantula crawl all over them. It usually works pretty well.
Finding an arachnophobic person, and throwing a bucket full of tarantulas at them while shouting “I’M HELPING! I’M HELPING!” works less well.
Sarah Kendzior writes:
Jenina dropped out of nursing school after her mother lost her job, because she needed the tuition money to pay bills. Her income from McDonald’s, where she started working as a high school senior, helps support her mother and younger sister. Patrick’s Chipotle income helps support his mother, a makeup artist who has struggled to find steady work since the recession. Krystal’s Taco Bell income helps support her son; her sister, who lives with her and works at Jack in the Box; and now, her newborn daughter.
Every worker I interview is supporting someone: an unemployed parent, a child, a sibling, a friend. Most of their friends and family members work in fast food or other service industries. Everyone is in their twenties or older. All but one is African-American.
They dream of different jobs. The women want to be nurses, the men want to work in the automotive or culinary industries. But no one can pay for training when they cannot save for day to day, much less for the future.
As a result, fast food workers are turning to activism: not out of ideological motives, but because overturning the economic system seems more feasible than purchasing the credentials for a new career.
Full Story: Medium: The Minimum Wage Worker Strikes Back
Kevin Drum writes:
The decline of union power is irreversible. Private-sector unions are all but dead, and public-sector unions are barely hanging on by their fingernails. That doesn’t mean liberals should give up on labor, or that labor should give up on organizing new industries. Of course they shouldn’t. It just means that as a broad-based force that provides a countervailing force against the power of the business community, labor’s day is over. Like it or not, liberals have to figure out something else to play that role.
Drum doesn’t have any suggestions as to what that might be.
Two thoughts on this:
1) We need to disentangle the idea of labor from the idea of labor unions. Saying “unions are dead” shouldn’t mean the same thing as saying “labor is dead.”
2) One possible path forward is through professional organizations, as opposed to unions. The National Domestic Workers Alliance has had some traction in this regard. The difference between a labor union and a professional organization may seem semantic at first blush, but there is a difference. Unions engage in both lobbying and collective bargaining in the work place. Professional organizations skip the collective bargaining, and stick with advocating policy. It can be easier, and more anonymous, to join a professional group. In the near future that could be an advantage.
TechCrunch: You wrote this book before the Edward Snowden NSA revelations, but you’ve said that the Snowden revelations weren’t that surprising given the leaks that had come before. Did you have the NSA in mind when you wrote the book?
Suarez: Well, it’s funny that I showed them in the book as sort of hapless victims in a way of the BTC. There was something appealing of course about seeing the NSA being tapped and helpless, trying to figure out how to resist a technologically superior foe. I thought that that was an interesting way to look at things. It’s not just the NSA, but any unseen and unaccountable concentration of power that I’m trying to portray in this story. And right now that might be the NSA, but over time it might change. And I wouldn’t really put a specific nationality on it. It’s a story about progress and an effort to try to retain advantage.
So, yes, it was partly about the NSA but then it’s also partly about the broader issues — the broader issues of control and transparency.
TechCrunch: It feels like the power imbalance isn’t just a political power imbalance but it’s also the lack of understanding and awareness on the part of the public as to how these things work.
Suarez: And possibly interest. It’s been mildly infuriating to me to speak with even friends and people I know who shrug and say “Well, you’re not doing anything wrong, why should you worry about surveillance?” And of course you and I would probably say well, actually, it’s not just people doing things wrong. For example somebody running for Congress 20 years from now I think is going to have a very detailed record to have to defend. “Why were you standing next to this person every day for five years and this person later turned out to be a criminal?”
I think that is why these revelations were powerful. I don’t think that many technology or IT people were surprised by this, but I think it became much more personal with Snowden. Now, it’s dying down again but I think there will be more revelations that hopefully wake people up. We can’t just be passive. Being a citizen in a democracy really does require some interest.
From Yasha Levine at Pando:
Remember Justine Tunney? The OWS-anarchist-turned-cultist-Google-employee who bashed my reporting on Google’s for-profit surveillance? Well, today she hit the big time.
Over the last few days, Tunney has been causing a Twitter outrage tsunami after she took full control of the main Occupy Wall Street (OWS) Twitter account, claimed to be the founder of OWS and then proceeded to tweet out stream of ridiculous anarcho-corporatist garbage. She railed against welfare, described the government as “just another corporation,” argued poverty was not a political problem but “an engineering problem” and told politicians to “get out of the way.” She also debunked what she thought was a misconception: people thought OWS activists were protesting against concentrated corporate power, and that, she claims, is simply not true.
Chase Madar wrote a good piece on the transformation of the U.S. into a police state. Many of the examples will be familiar to Technoccult readers, but it’s a useful and scary overview none the less:
f all you’ve got is a hammer, then everything starts to look like a nail. And if police and prosecutors are your only tool, sooner or later everything and everyone will be treated as criminal. This is increasingly the American way of life, a path that involves “solving” social problems (and even some non-problems) by throwing cops at them, with generally disastrous results. Wall-to-wall criminal law encroaches ever more on everyday life as police power is applied in ways that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago.
By now, the militarization of the police has advanced to the point where “the War on Crime” and “the War on Drugs” are no longer metaphors but bland understatements. There is the proliferation of heavily armed SWAT teams, even in small towns; the use of shock-and-awe tactics to bust small-time bookies; the no-knock raids to recover trace amounts of drugs that often result in the killing of family dogs, if not family members; and in communities where drug treatment programs once were key, the waging of a drug version of counterinsurgency war. (All of this is ably reported on journalist Radley Balko’s blog and in his book, The Rise of the Warrior Cop.) But American over-policing involves far more than the widely reported up-armoring of your local precinct. It’s also the way police power has entered the DNA of social policy, turning just about every sphere of American life into a police matter. […]
It will surprise no one that Americans are not all treated equally by the police. Law enforcement picks on kids more than adults, the queer more than straight, Muslims more than Methodists—Muslims a lot more than Methodists—antiwar activists more than the apolitical. Above all, our punitive state targets the poor more than the wealthy and Blacks and Latinos more than white people.
He didn’t really go into another scary element: the way that more and more people are expected to act as de-facto law enforcement. Financial services is one example. PayPal had to invested heavily in tools to detect money laundering and other illegal uses of its services. Competitors who couldn’t afford to do the same, or acted too slowly, were shut down by the feds.
And then there’s Alfred Anaya, a man who built secret compartments into cars, who was convicted of criminal conspiracy for not reporting that he had seen TK in cash in one of his client’s vehicles. Anaya never saw illegal drugs in the car, just cash. Prosecutors argued that he should have done something about it.
It’s of course reasonable to ask banks or other financial services company not to knowingly participate in illegal activity. But how much due dilligence is required? Just how far should Anaya have gone?
Imagine this being taken further: You’re arrested because your neighbors were caught selling drugs and you didn’t report them, even though you didn’t know for sure they were selling drugs. Your cousin commits murder and your whole family is convicted for not reporting that he seemed mentally unstable. Police cameras capture the license plates of not people who ran a red light, but everyone who may have witnessed the infraction, and send everyone tickets.
Todd Miller writes:
The police always put the checkpoint at the entrance to the mobile home park where María and Manuel live. A road barely two lanes wide leads through the park with its approximately sixty gray, white, and beige mobile homes tightly concentrated in a two-block area. Just in case, María and Manuel check to make sure the shiny black police cars and orange cones aren’t there. They decide to risk it and go to church.
Even though they are in South Carolina, María says the placement of the checkpoint makes it feel as if the U.S.-Mexico border were right at her doorstep. That’s saying something. María, though originally from the Mexican state of Michoacán, grew up in Naco, Mexico, right on the border. Although police checkpoints are often used throughout the state of South Carolina to find people driving under the influence, they are also there to make sure a driver’s residency status is in order.
“They put it in the entrance of the trailer park,” María tells me. “You have to go through the checkpoint.” There isn’t any other way to get in or out. The authorities at this particular checkpoint have already busted Manuel three times, each time for driving without a proper driver’s license. And this checkpoint has caused serious havoc for María’s neighbors, family, and co-workers, many of them non-citizens who have come into the area to work in the booming construction industry around the island of Hilton Head. Many are carpenters, landscapers, and construction workers who now live in the small town of Ridgeland. They are the people who have sculpted and landscaped gigantic gated communities built around golf courses and fake waterfalls. These modern subdivisions are now filled with mainly affluent white retirees, the majority from the Northeast and Midwest. Some places, like the ten-thousand-person town of Sun City, didn’t even exist fifteen years ago.
My latest column for TechCrunch looks at one of the weirdest political subcultures on the web:
Many of us yearn for a return to one golden age or another. But there’s a community of bloggers taking the idea to an extreme: they want to turn the dial way back to the days before the French Revolution.
Neoreactionaries believe that while technology and capitalism have advanced humanity over the past couple centuries, democracy has actually done more harm than good. They propose a return to old-fashioned gender roles, social order and monarchy.
You may have seen them crop-up on tech hangouts like Hacker News and Less Wrong, having cryptic conversations about “Moldbug” and “the Cathedral.” And though neoreactionaries aren’t exactly rampant in the tech industry, PayPal founder Peter Thiel has voiced similar ideas, and Pax Dickinson, the former CTO of Business Insider, says he’s been influenced by neoreactionary thought. It may be a small, minority world view, but it’s one that I think shines some light on the psyche of contemporary tech culture.
Previously: Nick Land – An Experiment in Inhumanism