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What to Worry About and What Not to Worry About

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What if social media is hit with a wave of explosive, realistic-looking viral videos whose authenticity can’t be confirmed? It’s highly unlikely that the social networks, the news media or the political class will know how to respond to such a situation.

— Farhad Manjoo, “In 2018, Expect Chaos To Be the New Normal,” The New York Times, Jan. 4, 2008.

We can gauge the corrosive impact of the Democrats’ fixation on Russia by asking what they aren’t talking about when they talk about Russian hacking. . . It is not the Democratic Party that is leading the search for alternatives to the wreckage created by Republican policies.

— Jackson Lears, “What We Don’t Talk about When We Talk about Russian Hacking,” London Review of Books, 4 January 2018

[The rewards of convenience flow most directly to those who own the automated system (Jeff Bezos, for example, not the Amazon Prime member).

Sue Halpern, “How Robots and Algorithms Are Taking Over,” The New York Review of Books, April, 2015 

I was in grade school in Brooklyn, under my desk, two ID tags around my neck, eyes closed waiting for The Atomic Bomb to drop.

Years later, as I read my draft notice, more of the same kind of fear was to be summoned but this time a fear that free countries were falling like a line of dominoes as Communism, the Red Menace to free enterprise and personal freedom advanced. That advance did not decimate my Bensonhurst working class neighborhood but the “conflict” did.

When Secretary of State Powell confirmed at the UN that ominously described “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” (the old Atomic Bomb and worse) was in the hands of an evil man ready to use it, I didn’t duck under my desk or make travel arrangements to Canada but merely contemplated motive.

Now when someone asks me whether I think Kim Jong-un or President Donald J. Trump, the present moment’s posted lunatics, will launch what is always in my imaginary that old Atomic Bomb about to drop on my school desk, I look elsewhere, against a confidence man’s directions.

Keeping an image of our “very stable genius” waking up at 4AM and beginning a nuclear war is a top priority for the Resistance movement. It does not keep me up at 4AM or any other time. I have not allowed such marketed fears to distract me in a very long time. I look for the play of money and power beyond all reductions of worldly complexities to easy dualisms, especially ones cast into Biblical and Hollywood personalities.

A great hatch work of events and attitudes, a cataclysmic reorientation of ways of knowing and feeling, of living together as a social society have led us to Trump and Trump to us. A mountebank huckster so clearly self-deluded and not evolved beyond infantile instantaneous gratification. A ludicrous, embarrassing president but also an avatar of the entire American culture. You describe Trump, you describe us.

What is surprising is that we have not put a clown like this before in the White House, the kind of self-inflated, self-proclaimed Winner, a “hero of our time.” Bushwa was a more controlled, controllable clown who had an organized mafia behind him that destroyed worlds that shouldn’t have been destroyed, the sort of aggressive preemptive blitzkrieg a far more mercurial, arbitrary and capricious Trump would lose interest in.

We have fixated on Trump’s tweets and forgotten what Bushwa wrought (he’s busy painting portraits now) or the fact that we are shadowed by revenge plots we call terrorism because of the actions of his administration. “They” are out to get us in the same way Crazy Horse and Cochise were out to get us, that is, without cause, mindless, and evil.

I have as little time now to entertain such stupidities as I have to feel any variety of fear offered to me by war profiteers and drug companies, both offering us defenses against decline and death as they augment profits to shareholders.

I have stopped personalizing the deep registry and inheritance of our worldly situation, although we are daily urged to do so. There is a kind of foolishness to believing that conditions forged by struggles of power exercised by the personal ambitions of men and women can reduce to one villain, one hero, one story in which names are named and truth is told. But it is a foolishness that both our markets and our politics pursue.

The reduction of what Foucault called the discourse, practices and institutions of episteme, the field which makes certain ways of knowing possible at some time and in some place, to personalities is itself right out of the marketing tool box as well as a strategy politics has always adopted, most strongly in a post-truth, tweet breadth attentiveness climate. This sort of reduction of the complex and impersonal to the personal is populist successful, though it obscures conditions which make our immense divide between the majority populace and the economic elite possible.

We are at the very beginning of a new year and we are out to get Trump or we are out to get the people who are out to get Trump.

Believing that Special Prosecutor Robert S. Mueller will detach Trump from the cultural/political/social body like a cancer from a human body is a signature, excising approach we U.S. Americans take regarding everything from stately oaks that stand in the way and South American socialist leaders to economic Losers who stand in the way of gentrifying re-modeling plans. It is, however, also a defense against facing the fact that our mutually lauded economics has destroyed any sense of the general Welfare or the public good.

In that loathsome state, some call plutocracy, we breed monsters. Some see no link in the lives of the professionalized, gentrified, invested, degreed, meritocratic winners to such monsters. And for others, a brute force rises aimed at shattering this blindness, this smug contentment, a brute force that has been hopefully slouching toward these many as a liberator for too long and has now, in the orangey aura of Donald J. Trump, arrived.

Anticipating that “concrete evidence” connecting Putin and Trump will be convincing in a “post-truth” world,” a world in which personal opinion cannot be overturned, is both foolish and a distraction from what should be worrying us. Surely, we know by now that our new sort of “concrete evidence” can turn up anywhere. Investigations into the Clinton foundation, both in regard to suspicions of Hillary’s donation/access style as Secretary of State and the revelations Donna Brazile (Hacks, 2017) makes regarding Hillary’s purchase of the Democratic National Committee and its subsequent efforts to undermine the campaign of Bernie Sanders, can beat the Mueller outcome to the court of public opinion.

So, we need this January 2018 to remove Trump with his finger on the nuclear button off our New Year things to do priority list because what needed to be done wasn’t done in countless instances from past to present. We need to remove Mueller from the rescue list because it’s either never going to happen, or if it does happen, it won’t escape a “fake news” charge, or it will be beaten to the punch by equally convincing/unconvincing “concrete evidence” against Hillary.

Or, what seems to be shaping very quickly, only a small echelon of those personally offended by Trump’s vulgarity will remain steadfast in the face of possible Trump’s victories, not unlikely, on comprehensive immigration reform and infrastructure rehabilitation. Whether Trump can claim his tenure pushed the Dow Jones to record heights or brought ISIS down, these occurrences cannot be enlisted against him. Neither can the passing of a tax reform whose real effects will surely not be felt until after the 2018 Congressional elections and perhaps not until after a 2020 Presidential election.

Depending upon where you live, either you cringe at the name “Trump” or the name “Hillary,” the former wanting to put Trump in an asylum, the latter wanting to put Hillary in jail.  But that whole moshpit of hate may evaporate as quickly as the last all consuming last viral hashtag on Tweeter.

There’s a perennial flavor that has nothing to do with Trump or North Korea or Putin to what we need to be worried about.

We have shaped our social contract to reward investment in the capitalist axiomatic pursuit of ever increasing profits regardless of the toll it takes on the lives of workers, the environment and our health.

When the Dow-Jones hit record highs before the 2009 Great Recession there had been no profiting beyond that of dividend recipients. Wages remained flat; nothing trickled down but the refuse and collateral damage of a luxury class leading luxury lives. Nothing much happened to wages after Reagan’s launch of this trickle down idea, although you could say wage earners and their wages were still in the ring in their battle with capital, legs rubbery and swinging wildly but still in the ring.

The next forty years put capital profits outside labor’s hold as they increasingly globalized and financialized in ways cybertech now made available. This is all good if you’re the king, or more appropriate to our times, a dividend recipient. It’s all good for those who own the goods and pay no FICA tax in 2017 above $128, 400 and whose corporate tax rates will now go down from 35% to 21% and the highest tax levied from 39.6% to 37%. Payroll taxes have not abated while labor’s share of income decreases and capital’s share increase. Re-attaching labor to ridiculous scams of a “gig” and “share economy,” of “independent contractors,” of “free agent” work, does nothing more than kick insecurity and anxiety levels to the max.

Enter Big Pharma with its weirdly named soma tablets to keep everyone un-depressed. “Take a holiday from reality whenever you like, and come back without so much as a headache or a mythology.”

The opiod epidemic is not an anomalous cultural event. We headed for it. It is where we wound up. We could make it as difficult for Big Pharma to push opiods as LSD, cocaine and crack if dividend recipients were not as reluctant to see those opiod stocks fall as they are to see fossil fuel stocks fall. Instead of worrying about Trump’s tweets, we could for the New Year get rid of our health/drug industry stock. Trade them in for worker owned alternative energy stock.

Whether Big Pharma or Big Data will avert the tsunami of populist anger when serfdom really settles into the populist mindset is a matter that some political party should be addressing. I mean a party other than the Dividend Recipient Party, which crosses Democrat and Republican lines.

Cybertech and its rush to AI and robotics is just beginning to be witnessed as a trifle bit darker than the cybertech geniuses proclaimed. Perhaps young geniuses can code the unleashed power of social media into a kind of submission to the finite conditions of the non-cyberspace world. But then again that non-cyberspace world, the world that had the wooden desk I went under in grade school to avoid the A Bomb does not code. Algorithms don’t mean shite in Nature.

Mr. Zuckerberg, full of coding erudition, proposes a universal basic income so that “everyone has a cushion to try new ideas,” most likely new Apps. Leisure in the view of another coding genius, Mr. Page, is what everyone from Socrates to Karl Marx announced was what we were all heading toward, a clear example as to the drastic limitations of a coding erudition that now rules our discourse. It is inevitable that AI and robotics take away from human hands and minds as many jobs as it can. There is great profit in that to those who own the machines, whether private or stock ownership. There is, we are told, great progress in moving from work to leisure, although how that leisure is to be supported without work is not an issue apparently when The Inevitable is happening.

Everything now connected with hi-tech/cybertech/Smartphone tech and so on is tied to inevitability in our cultural imaginary. We need to ditch that meme of inevitability for the New Year and accept the fact that we ourselves construct the worlding that in turn constructs us.

The 2016 presidential election showed us that we are more likely to have our thinking affected by the tweets of the anonymous, an unknowable mix of a creed obsessed, the just plain obsessed, assorted trolls and “crushers,” than by the few who believe an opinion is not a critical interpretation. Instead of worrying about Trump, I would worry about four year olds and their screen time and what they are going to become. Get Chromebook and other digital technology that puts a student “interacting” with a screen and not other students and the teacher out of public education. It is a kind of tyranny to lock young minds into an instrumentation that confines those minds software of information delivery they are not yet able to resist or question. The shaping frame of education should remain social in the widest real world context and not roboticized to accord with those who hold that a robotic future is an inevitable step in human evolution.

However, it seems clear to me that public education, which is dedicated to a societal education, an education within and among other students, in a classroom dialogue with peers and not screen is as scheduled for extinction and robotic replacement, as is work. The notion that more and faster information delivered at your personal command nurtures both knowledge beyond what you will and ways of knowing beyond your personal preferences is itself a notion only those enclosed within the limitations and redundancies of their own minds could ever entertain seriously.

Stop worrying about what Trump will do and worry about education. Take your kids out of any school that teaches coding and not reading comprehension and expository writing. Resist the narrowing of curriculum to STEM study, studies that feed a need for every increasing profits extracted from new technologies. Let the corporations in need of STEM minds pay for that education. Right now a techno-capitalism is invading public schools with freebies the way street corner drug dealers do and they are close to shaping public education as they wish. I ignore charter and for-profit schooling because they are no more than the education variant of replacing Medicare and Social Security with profit making enterprises. If you think wearing some academy uniform to school means better education, then buy him or her uniform but send them to a public school.

What we also hold as inevitable is the destruction of our own planet and a consequent space voyage to new frontiers. We imagine that it is inevitable that technology will rescue the planet without stock dividends being affected but rather increased. Perhaps sustained by a universal basic income as a cushion to support new ideas someone will find an algorithm that will allow us to continue trashing the planet, keep the stock market rolling to new heights, and not witness the human engineered corruption of our own planet.

I reckon that only those already at the half century have no fear of how uninhabitable for humans the planet will become in another fifty years. And yet decisions regarding that dystopic future are now in their hands, rather like allowing the one who will not pick up the check to do all the ordering.

The answer here is simple: elect more young people to office, people more likely to be around to experience what their legislation creates.  It may be that older people worry about leaving a hellishly hot planet to their children and grandchildren, rather like not wanting to leave a huge national debt to them. However, we note that the new tax bill increases the national debt by $1.4 trillion and that leaders at Exxon-Mobil waged a campaign to deny climate change. It seems to me then that not worrying about a future one will not personally ever inhabit is the real, operative rule in the game of Winner/Loser that we play.

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Joseph Natoli has published books and articles, on and off line, on literature and literary theory, philosophy, postmodernity, politics, education, psychology, cultural studies, popular culture, including film, TV, music, sports, and food and farming. His most recent book is Travels of a New Gulliver.

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