Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Fake news and mythology

What is the relationship between fake news and mythology?

Religious myths, conspiracy theories, and new gnosticisms.

                          First a definition, so we all start on the same page. A definition of fake news:

                          But what about myth? The term has acquired several, sometimes contradictory meanings. In the post-Enlightenment era (19th century and beyond), myth has come to mean a false - "primitive", "superstitious" or "pre-scientific" - description or narrative of the world. Traditionally though, stories that we today call myths - at least the Great Myths of religion - were taken as absolute truths in much the same way that a modern rationalist believes in the statement "two things plus two things gives four things".

               Myths in the traditional - religious - sense were critically  important parts of human psychic architecture. They situated the person in a universe full of sense, meaning and purpose. (In practice, the purposes of some of the hypothesized entities - spirits of the enemies one killed, nature spirits, offended divinities - could be quite malevolent.) The animistic universe of ancient hunter-gatherer peoples was a world full of life, purpose and intent. One placated angry gods, one offered sacrifices to obtain their favor in enterprises. We have forgotten how revolutionary the ancient Greek "philosophers of nature" were. Rather than seek the causes of events in the whims of gods and spirits, they sought to understand the unfolding phenomena and processes of the physical world in terms of material processes (which could be captured in the elegant intellectual forms of mathematics). 

 Pythagorean theorem: in a right triangle the length of longest side squared is equal to the sum of the squares of the lengths of the other two sides. Pythagoras flourished six centuries before Christ.

                One can draw several conclusions from an "evolutionary" perspective. The most obvious is that "Reason" - at least as the dominant mode of thinking - is a relative newcomer on the historical stage. Myth as a form of explanation of the world is vastly older! (In reality, it is an open question if Reason is the dominant mode of thought today.. We seem in some ways to have hit upon the worst of both worlds. We have, collectively, great powers for manipulating the physical world with technology but too often, alas, that manipulation is for idiotic or antihuman ends.)

                  In their highest manifestation, myths are "sacred stories" told to explain the world, why it is like it is, who "we" (the members of our tribe) are and what values we hold. Myths describe the Good Life (particularly the Good Life in a social context). Myths, as narrative, are an outgrowth - an extension and an elaboration - of the "primate politics" of our biological ancestors. They tell who did what to whom, what the outcome was and why that outcome is important to us living today. Myths are "hard-wired" into our human nervous systems: myths and stories are universal, wherever there are humans there is story telling and sacred narrative.

              But why are myths and narrative universal?  One can hazard, with some anthropological and psychological evidence supporting, that it is natural for humans to view the world through the lens of narrative. Because of hard-wired primate political thinking we naturally wonder who did what to whom and why. Our minds are simply hard-wired to think along narrative lines.

             From this perspective, the formal, mathematical abstractions of science are more recent evolutionary acquisitions. As such, "abstract thinking" lacks the compelling force of concrete narrative. Here we see one of the disadvantages that climate scientists and environmental activists have in dealing with the raw, more primitive, emotional narratives of GW "sceptics" and deniers. Quantum mechanical energy exchanges at the molecular levels are hard to grasp (abstract scientific thinking). Our primate political genes though, are programmed to identify and understand the following narrative-type: crooked university professors peddle the "climate change hoax" in order to make trillions of dollars on the carbon credit trading market. In other words, climate scientists are an enemy clique plotting to do "us" in dirty - this is pure primate politics!

A general listing of Authoritarian Personality traits (both leaders and followers)

authoritarian personality traits 

                In general, "classical" authoritarians see the world in black and white terms: "us" versus "them", "Good" versus "Evil". Their perceptions of social groups tends toward stereotypy: all wo/men (blacks, Jews, gays, Muslims..) share a common set of characters. The group one belongs to is more important than one's individuality. In addition, authoritarians demonize the excluded groups they hate: people belonging to out-groups are treated as subhuman, incarnate all evil, plot to enslave the world to their wicked ends.

                I mention the Authoritarian Personality here because it represents a particularly primitive (hence emotionally compelling and "natural") expression of primate politics that is activated in situations of threat and uncertainty. The paranoid narratives of Authoritarians flourish in critical periods of social transition such as the one we are living through today. "Fascistic" paranoid delusional narratives become prevalent - even dominant - myths at times of social breakdown and transformation.

                It is hard to describe how wacky the paranoid delusional worldview can become! To do justice, I can only copy verbatim from a "chemtrails, New World Order conspiracy" website. Hold on t'yer hats, folks, the wind she's goin' t'blow!

"Population "Control," New World Order Style
The Illuminati's idea of Population Control falls into two broad categories:
1. Limiting the size of human societies and monitoring/controlling the movement of individuals within that society, and

2. Intentionally reducing the bulk of the world's population through GENOCIDE via the introduction of orchestrated conflicts, intentionally inserted toxic substances into the air (chemtrails), environment (depleted uranium), water/food supply (GMOs), and bioengineered, weaponized disease organisms (AIDS, Ebola, Bird & Swine Flu, etc.) along with anti-fertility compounds introduced via vaccines and other means of external transmission.
In order to preserve the 'best' of humanity when the supposed 'self-destruction' of the earth takes place around the year 2,000, the JASON Society proposed that a vast network of underground cities be built in order to secure living quarters for the chosen Illuminati elite, high level cooperative politicians, and selected military elements. Underground cities are also co-habitated by extraterrestrial alien groups that the secret government has made treaties with for technology exchange and human-alien hybrid breeding programs. The idea of the earth 'self destructing' around the turn of the century due to overpopulation was perhaps an early cover story for the justification of the underground cities. In the 1950's and 60's, the American public was led to believe that the contiuance of government, in the event of worldwide nuclear war, was a logical reason for undeground facilities, but we now know that the entire Soviet/American cold war and MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) scenario was an orchestrated Illuminati deception to bleed both Russian and American citizens of their wealth in order to finance black budget operations, secret technology developments, underground city construction, genetic engineering projects, time & space travel research, and anti-gravity, flying saucer spacecraft development.
Based on 1989 information, it was claimed that there were at least 75 underground cities in existence below the soil of America interconnected by high speed, frictionless trains called Maglev trains (Magnetic Levitation). The former Atomic Energy Commission had also constructed  22 seperate underground cities for their own use...

....  recommendations for population "control". They included:

1. Birth control (birth prevention and abortion - 43.8 Million babies aborted yearly worldwide.)
2. Sterilization (today includes vaccines) and
3. The introduction of deadly microbes to reduce or otherwise slow the growth of the earth's population.

Bioengineered Diseases
AIDS, Ebola, Gulf War Illness (GWI), and many other "new" diseases were intentionally bioengineered in laboratories that are mostly found in the United States and include the Army's secretive facilities at Ft. Detrick Maryland (2.). Drs. Nancy and Garth Nicholson have done a great deal of  research and investigation into the cause and treatment of Gulf War Illness, since they and their daughter (who was a helicopter flight nurse in the 1991 Gulf War) ALL came down with GWI.  In 1996, the Nichols published a paper which states their deep suspicions that GWI is due to bioengineered pathogens and that a hidden population control agenda appears to be in place.
Some bioengineered pathogens were designed to target certain ethnic groups for elimination. These groups likely include blacks, hispanics, Black Africans, Native Americans, and homosexuals. The preferred Iluminati method to introduce disease is via vaccinations. Tthe HIV virus which causes AIDS was introduced and spread throughout the majority of black populations in Africa via the World Health Organization (WHO) during their mandatory smallpox vaccine campaigns of 1976-1980.

The pathogens which produced Gulf War Illness were introduced to a limited number of Gulf War troops via "special" vaccinations (not recorded on the troop's official vaccination records) for Anthrax and other supposed dangers posed by Saddam Hussein. It was a CIA test run to see how many Gulf troops would succumb to the disease and how quickly they might die off. The results have been somewhat disappointing for the CIA/Illuminati planners. They thought their new little bugs would wipe out a lot more people, a lot faster than it has.."

And so it goes, on and on and on..  Pretty wild, eh?


 Was the death of God a liberation for humanity? Or did it simply blow the doors off hell, liberating all its inhabitants.. Above, a modern degenerate myth, the Aryan Master Race (a degraded form of the Chosen People)

             Which brings us to the central theme of this article: are such degraded forms of mythology related in some way to the "death of God" announced a century and a half ago by the Austrian philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche? (See note 1.) Nietzsche's view is contested from various perspectives but it is clear that he was, at the least, merely giving a name to a process of secularization in Western thought that goes back to the Renaissance. That secularization brought us the scientific and technical revolution, the modern concept of citizenry, democracy, the belief in human rights, feminism..The modern world of Progress. However a question remains unanswered for the unbiased observer. If Western thought is no longer guided by Christian theology, who gets to establish the new norms, the new values, the new definition of the Good Life, etc? 

               Religion and culture, claim some anthropologists are social mechanisms which regulate, control and direct human drives and behavior into socially acceptable channels. Religion and culture replace much of the instinctive (genetically programmed) behavior patterns observed in non-human animals. In culture and religion, the human has partially escaped the determinisms of instinct. To some degree, we humans are self-defining, self-determining, self-creating animals. We have, to some degree, escaped the strictures of Darwinian evolution and determine some of the conditions of our own future evolution.

               But what happens when "God" -the dominant cultural and religious system - "dies"-, bcomes inoperant, no longer credible to a growing (and eventually critical) number of people? Certainly, God's death means the end of certainty. It means an interregnum, a period of cultural, spiritual and political anarchy till a new "God" and a new "tables of the Law" rise and once again provide wo/men with meaning, sense, direction.

                In this perspective, the current spate of Conspiracy theories and fake news is the symptom - and the embodiment - of the current state of philosophical, moral and cultural anarchy. These degenerate myths constitute a "regression", in the Freudian sense, to an earlier state of behavioral adaptation. Such states imply that an ecosystem, a society, an organism is experiencing an "existential threat", a life or health threatening situation requiring some sort of creative response (note 2).

                An interesting synchronicity. Just as I was finishing this piece, I received a notice concerning the first article of John Michael Greer's new blog Ecosophia. It treats the same themes I have in pretty much the same way I have above. Such a convergence says something about the zeitgeist - The Spirit of the Age - we inhabit..



.. Nietzsche is concerned about.. relating.. that God is dead in the hearts and minds of his own generation of modern men - killed by an indifference that was itself directly related to a pronounced cultural shift away from faith and towards rationalism and science...

Nietzsche had been raised in an intensely devout and pietistic family atmosphere that he saw as having been unduly restrictive..

As an atheist who saw aspects of the influence of the traditions of christianity within which he grew up as having been regrettable Friedrich Nietzsche tended to welcome what he saw as The Death of God!

For Nietzsche a recognition that God is Dead to his own generation of men and women ought to come as a Joyous Wisdom allowing individuals to lead less guilt-ridden lives in a world that was no longer to be seen as being inherently sinful. He considered that earthly lives could become more joyful, meaningful and "healthy" when not lived within narrow limits set by faith-related concerns for the state of an individual's eternal soul.

Nietzsche seems to be suggesting that the acceptance that God is dead will also involve the ending of long-established standards of morality and of purpose.. the possible emergence of a nihilistic situation where people's lives are not.. constrained by faith-based considerations of morality or.. guided by any faith-related sense of purpose.

What are we now to do?

Given what he saw as the "unbelievability" of the "God-hypothesis" Nietzsche himself seemed to favour the creation of a new set of values "faithful to the earth." This view perhaps being associa[ted] with the possibility of the "Overman" or "Superman."

"I teach you the overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him? All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughingstock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the overman: a laughingstock or a painful embarrassment..."

Friedrich Nietzsche ~ Thus spoke Zarathustra"

"Regression: a defense mechanism leading to the temporary or long-term reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development rather than handling unacceptable impulses in a more [adaptive] way. The defense mechanism of regression, in psychoanalytic theory, occurs when an individual's personality reverts to an earlier stage of development, adopting more childish mannerisms. Psychiatrist Joel Gold suggests that careful use of "ARISE" (Adaptive Regression in the service of the Ego) can sometimes yield creative benefits. To the extent that one is handling thoughts and impulses less like an adult, ARISE involves play, appreciation and primitive pleasures, and imagination."


Thursday, June 8, 2017

B ook Review: Corey Robin, The Reactionary Mind

Corey Robin: The Reactionary Mind, Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, Oxford University Press, 2011, 248 pages, chapter notes, index.

".. an inspired move, characteristic of all great counterrevolutionary theories, in which the people become actors without roles, an audience that believes it is onstage. (emphasis added)

"'A free act is only that which proceeds from the free election of the rational will'. And 'where there is no consideration nor use of reason, there is no liberty at all.' Being free entails acting in accordance with reason or, in political terms, living under laws as opposed to arbitrary power." 

             Prof Robin's approach to Conservatism and socio-political Reaction (he does not distinguish the two) is iconoclastic. He rejects the idea that the core of Conservatism is a desire to hold onto the good things of the past - "Tradition" - and, instead, sees a power dialectic at work:

“Though it is often claimed that the left stands for equality while the right stands for freedom, this notion misstates the actual disagreement between right and left. Historically, the conservative has favored liberty for the higher orders and constraint for the lower orders. What the conservative sees and dislikes in equality, in other words, is not a threat to freedom but its extension. For in that extension, he sees a loss of his own freedom.” In Robin’s understanding, conservatives aren’t traditionalists who seek to maintain the status quo, but counterrevolutionaries: “People on the left often fail to realize this, but conservatism really does speak to and for people who have lost something. It may be a landed estate or the privileges of white skin, the unquestioned authority of a husband or the untrammeled rights of a factory owner. The loss may be as material as money or as ethereal as a sense of standing.”
            While I might harbor some doubts as to the identification of conservatives and reactionaries (note 1), Robin's portrait of the conservative / reactionary co-incides pretty well with my own observations of true reactionaries. Traditional definitions of Conservatism tend toward the bucolic, toward the idealization of the "pastoral" and (supposedly) simpler - and better - life of the past. Conservatives are said, and themselves often claim, to respect Tradition. 

            However, reactionaries I have met - and most of the conservatives I know are reactionaries - , schoolmates, neighbors and family members, don't fit these traditional depictions. My reactionaries tend to be mavericks, wild cards, innovators, iconoclasts (or, at least, see themselves as such). On one point in particular I concur with prof Robin, reactionaries seek power and, specifically, power over others (as opposed to power wielded to empower, liberate or heal others).

                          Can you identify these two famous reactionaries?

              Today, and since at least the end of World War II, the forces of political Reaction are in ascendancy in the West. This is true despite some tactical, battlefield victories like second (or third) wave feminism, the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s (U.S.A.), the decolonization of third world countries, the founding of the United Nations, the overthrow of apartheid in South Africa and the fall of Communism. However, if one looks closely, one sees that these (apparent) victories for Reason and the empowerment of minorities and the oppressed are, at best, partial, incomplete or truncated revolutions. Thus, racism is still very much alive and well, despite attempts over the last five decades to render it politically incorrect and to empower its victims. Witness the recent shootings of young black men in the U.S.A. and Canada, the oppression of the Roma in central and eastern Europe, the general rise of anti-immigrant sentiment, and growing religious intolerance and fanaticism. Liberal and progressive forces may still be able to win battles, but the forces of reaction seem to be winning the war (note 2).

             The cultural signs of the rise of Reaction are everywhere, if one takes the time to look.

"In 1998 readers responding to a Modern Library poll identified [reactionary Ayn Rand's] Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead as the two greatest novels in English in the twentieth century.." Page 76
".. the conservative position stems from a genuine conviction that a world thus emancipated will be ugly, brutish, base and dull. It will lack the excellence of a world where the better man commands the worse. When [conservative theoretician Edmund] Burke adds,.. , that the "great Object" of the [French] Revolution is 'to root out that thing called an Aristocrat or Nobleman and Gentleman', he is not simply referring to the power of the nobility; he is also referring to the distinction that power brings to the world. If the power goes, the distinction goes with it. This vision of the connection between excellence and rule is what brings together in post-war America that unlikely alliance of the libertarian, with his vision of the employer's untrammeled power in the workplace; the traditionalist, with his vision of the father's rule at home; and the statist [fascist], with his vision of a heroic leader pressing his hand upon the face of the earth. Each in his own way subscribes to this typical statement, from the nineteenth century, of the conservative creed: 'To obey a real superior.. is one of the most important of all virtues - a virtue absolutely essential to the attainment of anything great and lasting.'"

               We are now left with a plausible - but yet to be empirically tested - mechanism to explain the rise of Reaction today, particularly in its populist forms: Donald Trump, Marie Le Pen in France, Putin's appeals to Russian chauvinism, the anti-drug war of Duterte in the Philippines, the Brexit campaign in the UK. 

populism: definition Encyclopedia Britannica 

               In Western democracies, the populace is taught that the people is king. Some, of course, are "superior" to (more gifted than) their fellows; these are the "natural rulers" lauded by novelist and reactionary theoretician Ayn Rand. The problem is that today the average citizen (the "King" of democratic societies) feels himself threatened from all quarters: climate change, environmental degradation, the loss or risk of loss of employment as blue collar jobs are off-shored to third world sweatshops, incomprehensible and incredibly violent international terrorist movements capable of striking our homeland, uppity minorities and "deviants" who refuse to accept their status as inferiors.. The general sentiment today is one of loss of control or power, a generalized attack on status (climate change threatens to destroy everyone's status!) Since many of these threats are "tentacular" - hard to comprehend and omnipresent - , deep, but poorly focused, fear is generated. Now fear is perhaps the greatest incitement to violence (the classic "fight or flight response"). To provide temporary relief from chronic invasive fear, scapegoats are sought. Attacking the scapegoat provides temporary stress reduction but, since it does not affect the root cause of fear, its effects soon wear off and, like the junkie, another "fix" is soon needed. 

              It is interesting to note how contemporary populist leaders lash out against vulnerable - and expendable - groups: immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, drug addicts, gays, transgendered,.. and how they promise to deliver the harrowed populace from their enemies, real or imagined. All of which coincides with prof Robin's definition of Reaction as a response to a sense of impending loss.

              Since our social, political and economic institutions seem helpless either to address - or even  to adequately define the challenges we collectively face - , Reaction must surely grow till a social explosion (war, revolution) occurs. We are in the early stages of that detonation today..

             Perhaps because I am a congenital optimist (who sees the glass as half-full as opposed to half-empty), I don't see The Reactionary Mind as a doom and gloom book. My take away is a positive message. Prof Robin argues that a language of displacement and falsification is employed by reactionaries. Rather than frame political struggle in terms of power and powerlessness, reactionaries falsely frame struggle in terms of security. Thus Hitler tried to protect the Aryan race from the nefarious Jew. Trump wants to protect Americans from criminal Mexican illegals. The Reactionary Mind teaches us to look past the verbal smoke and mirrors of security-speak to the real issue of empowerment. 

                                  interview with Prof Corey Robin


1- I have encountered "red Tories" who describe themselves as fiscal conservatives and social progressives. One red Tory mother held up American president John F. Kennedy and his civil rights project as an exemplar for her children to emulate. When speaking of red Tories and moderate conservatives (on a case by case basis), we may indeed be justified in adhering to traditional definitions of Conservatism (such as the valorisation of Tradition, Hierarchy and Authority). In the case of the red Tory, one's rank in the social order is determined by earned merit, not inherited status or Machiavellian thuggery. I would therefore nuance my appreciation of Robin's thesis by making a pragmatic distinction between more moderate conservatives and reactionary power trippers.

2- Reaction will probably win the war for a number of reasons, the most salient being  a growing perception (often unavowed) that the world is going to hell. Climate change, for example, threatens disruption of major regional agricultural systems in the near future which will trigger regional conflicts and (most likely) intensified global terrorism. ISIS terrorism in Europe is probably only a foretaste of the globalized terror to come. Those who have - the peoples of the West in particular - (consciously or not) are afraid of losing what they have and becoming have-nots.