Putin’s Playbook: Pull factions apart from center; exacerbate democratic crisis

While we wring our hands in the United States over whether or not such a strategy is even conceivable, the erstwhile President of Russia has been running this playbook out in the open in Ukraine and Eastern Europe for some time. With help from Propagandist-in-Chief Vladislav Surkov, Putin has leveraged the open secrets about the psychology of crowds we learned in the late 19th and early 20th century to stir up emotional antagonisms within the political spectrum — to predictable results.

It’s no accident that fascism is on the march in America. The conditions have been brewing for some time, predominantly since the Conservative movement began breaking away more militantly from democratic principles and towards authoritarian philosophy (elite rule by force: preferably invisible force via economic hegemony for the middle and upper classes, and violent force / the carceral state for The Undesirables) in the late 1970s and 1980s. All Putin had to do was make use of available prevailing conditions and tools — the rise of social media in the 2000s counterintuitively blew a gaping wide security hole in the American persuasion landscape that Cold War Soviet operatives of the 1960s would scarcely have believed.

Today, as in parts of Europe between the world wars, the U.S. has partisan gridlock within The Establishment sector of politics; this exacerbates the impatience with and contempt for the status quo (aka the Liberal world order) that in some sense naturally congeals at the far right and far left margins of the political spectrum as a simple consequence of the Normal Distribution (the Median Voter Theorem captures this tendency quite succinctly). Under such conditions, an influence campaign like the one Russia wielded against the United States during the 2016 election season was tasked merely with tilting the playing field a little further — a task that platforms like Facebook and Twitter were in some sense fundamentally engineered to accomplish, in exchange for ad revenue.

New World Order? Be careful what we wish for

“Both Italian and German fascists had done their best to make democracy work badly. But the deadlock of liberal constitutions was not something the fascists alone had brought about. ‘The collapse of the Liberal state,’ says Roberto Vivarelli, ‘occurred independently of fascism.’ At the time it was tempting to see the malfunction of democratic government after 1918 as a systemic crisis marking the historic terminus of liberalism. Since the revival of constitutional democracy since World War II, it has seemed more plausible to see it as a circumstantial crisis growing out of the strains of World War I, a sudden enlargement of democracy, and the Bolshevik Revolution. However we interpret the deadlock of democratic government, no fascist movement is likely to reach office without it.”

— Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism

100 years on, it feels like we’re back at the start.

On the dangers of attacking the media in a democratic republic

“The most dangerous ‘enemy of the people’ is presidential lying–always. Attacks on press by @realDonaldTrump more treacherous than Nixon’s”
Carl Bernstein, journalist who broke the Watergate scandal  


“These systematic attacks on the media accomplish two things. First, they fire up the base, which believe that traditional media do not represent their interests or concerns. Second, they provoke the media itself, which feeling threatened, adopts a more oppositional posture. This in turn further fuels the polarization on which the leaders depend and paves the way for the government to introduce legal restrictions.

The most dramatic example was in Venezuela, where elements in the media embarked on a campaign of open warfare, engaging in overtly partisan coverage intended to undermine Chávez’s rule. Some media owners were alleged to have conspired in a 2002 coup that briefly ousted the president. Once Chavez returned to power, he rallied his supporters behind a new law imposing broad restrictions on what the media could and could not cover under the guise of “ensuring the right to truthful information.” Across the hemisphere, other restrictive legal measures were adopted, including Ecuador’s notorious 2013 Communications Law, which criminalizes the failure to cover events of public interest, as defined by the government. In the first year, approximately 100 lawsuits were filed under the law, stifling critical reporting.”
Columbia Journalism Review


“Brian Stelter, in his Reliable Sources newsletter, rounds up elite-media Twitter reaction:

  • NPR’s Steve Inskeep: “A journalist is a citizen. Who informs other citizens, as free citizens need. Some are killed doing it …” NYT’s Maggie Haberman: “He is fighting very low approval ratings. Gonna be interesting to see how congressional Rs respond to this tweet”
  • Joe Scarborough: “Conservatives, feel free to speak up for the Constitution anytime the mood strikes. It is time”
  • NBC’s Chuck Todd: “I would hope that our leaders would never believe that any American desires to make another American an enemy. Let’s dial it back.”

At the same time, understand that this is partly a game to Trump. His confidants tell us he intentionally exploits the media’s inclination to take the bait and chase our tails.”
Axios


John McCain:
“… slammed President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media this week by noting dictators “get started by suppressing free press.”
It was a startling observation from a sitting member of Congress against the President of the United States, especially considering McCain is a member of Trump’s party.

“I hate the press,” the Arizona Republican sarcastically told NBC News’ Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press.” “I hate you especially. But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital.”

But he continued, “If you want to preserve — I’m very serious now — if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press,” McCain said in the interview. “And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.”


Evan McMullin:
“Authoritarians routinely attack checks on their power and sources… Donald Trump does exactly that.”
http://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2017/02/05/are-trumps-attacks-on-media-authoritarian.cnn

Working Hard vs. Hardly Working: An Illustrated Guide

Much has been said regarding the so-called laziness of the poor. Hands have been wrung, glasses have been drained, Davos hotel rooms have been trashed year after year in elite consternation over The Perennially Perplexing Plight of the Poor.

Meanwhile in the American political landscape, the answer is already clear:

THEY’RE NOT WORKING HARD ENOUGH!!!!

But perhaps there’s some confusion over what is meant by the term “hard work” — certainly it’s ambiguous, and no one takes a pause in the middle of a vigorous, breathy debate to define their terms, curiously. So, for the barely literate cretins out there who can barely manage to hold down a job much less participate in the ever-prosperous U.S. economy — a visual guide:

Working hard vs. hardly working: An Illustrated Guide to Hard Work

Working hard

(direct link: https://tpc.quip.com/00POAlXJ6I8Y)

British filmmaker Adam Curtis explains what’s going on

The creator of the also excellent Century of the Self film series released his latest film in October, 2016. Dubbed HyperNormalisation, it offers both a history lesson of the complicated relationship between the West, the Middle East, and Russia, as well as an unflinching look at the roles played by technology, surveillance, and the media on our modern condition of general confusion, destabilization, and surrealism.

What Ellen Pao and Obama have in common

Both are subject to an extra heaping of criticism, skepticism, and scorn because there is some culturally-validated argument to be made about how they are different from some perceived status quo.And in modern mercenary America, the mythology is “win at all costs” whether it’s politics, business, religion, education, or Returning That Thing You Broke even though it’s out of warranty because goddammit we’re entitled to All The Things!!!!Ergo:

  1. To gain or preserve power, you need to win
  2. It is acceptable — even laudable — to win by any means necessary (legal, ethical, loophole, grey area, “disrupting” or otherwise)
  3. To win you must be good and work hard, but plenty of winners take shortcuts, cheat, break rules/laws, harm others, and/or fraud their way to the top — so in order to stay on the field, you need to become open to those tactics whether you believe it’s right or not (see: Lance Armstrong). Meanwhile internally, you have built-in psychological mechanisms that enforce your justification and carve out a special view of yourself as being ultimately a good person (see: Jonathan Haidt) and even, more twistedly, a “good person who does bad things” (see: BTK serial killer) — whereas other people who do bad things are not simply constrained by their environments (as you are); they are just bad people.
  4. In the struggle for power, those who have (or want) it aggressively seek out any thread of weakness, real or perceived, in whatever individuals or outgroups appear to threaten their dominance.
  5. Difference from the norm is widely and cross-culturally perceived as weakness and carries a negative connotation socially.
  6. Anyone who suggests or espouses difference is subject to derision and confrontation, as a matter of course.
  7. Those who have “outward difference” characteristics — i.e. women, members of different races, religions — therefore tend to be the subject of derision and confrontation as a matter of course: because it leads the Normal to winning, and therefore preserving power.
  8. Any method of fomenting confrontation and contempt is acceptable in the noble pursuit of power, even including vociferously denying and decrying the unethical tactics used by other Normals championing for the same outcome (see: Gamergate).
  9. The age of Political Correctness took some tactics off the table, namely the overt invocation of gender or race (to a lesser extent, religion) to “name” the difference and call out the offending anti-Normal, immediately discrediting any perspective they put forth via ad hominem attack.
  10. …but the underlying game remains the same. Identify and publicly shame a perceived difference — they “kill the buzz” or they “aren’t aggressive enough” or conversely are “too pushy” or they don’t lean in enough or they don’t have the mind of a hacker. Whatever the red herring is, it’s often a derivative of a stereotype we apply to a marginalized class — but it’s trumped up and re-packaged, perhaps with some shoddy, easy to find pseudo-evidence in support — not terribly dissimilar from the way Wall Street made subprime mortgage loans appear like the bedrock of America’s financial future via complicated and inscrutable re-branding.

Stinks just as bad.