Soul Mates

Mariner has discovered a soul mate. He is an ex-computer person that has switched to social psychology and philosophy and now writes books about the abuses that we put upon ourselves in the name of modern communication technology. His name is Jaron Lanier. He has written a book: Ten arguments for Deleting Social Media Accounts Right Now. He has an interview on CSPAN that is enlightening[1]. Mariner must warn you that his sartorial splendor leaves much to be desired but his mind is clearly focused. No one that mariner has read has delved into the disruptive consequences of social media as Jaron has.

Jaron starts his presentation by reminding everyone of the science of behaviorism; he cites B.F. Skinner, the major personality of behaviorism. Stated as briefly as mariner can, behaviorism is a person’s response to feedback, that is, if it is rewarding, people tend to return and do it again; if it is negative, people tend not to do it again. Skinner proved in his experiments with animals that manipulating reward or negativity will modify behavior in a predictable way.

Jaron suggests that the Internet and the data manipulators using the Internet have created a negative loop in the communication cycle. This is because negative behavior is more reactive and, importantly, expands in the loop much faster than positive behavior. We can reference this phenomenon ourselves with the racist and Russian impact on the Internet. The negativity flows rapidly and expands until no one can tell the difference between truth and falsehood. Another example is Donald’s constant reference to fake news; the negativity spreads quickly, outrunning positive behavior that requires confirmation. The end result is no information can be trusted.

Jaron warns us that while only five or ten percent of the user group will adopt negative information that is enough to disrupt politics, society norms, and stable platforms for unity and ethical values. To wit: the 2016 Presidential campaign where Donald held forth with negative values thereby overwhelming informative dialogue offered by other candidates.

Listed briefly below are the ten arguments for deleting your social media account[2]. Exploring each one is a whole post. Mariner suggests the reader buy the book or watch the C-SPAN video.

1.You are losing your free will.

2.Quitting social media is the most finely targeted way to resist the insanity of our times.

3.Social media is making you into an a**hole.

4.Social media is undermining truth.

5.Social media is making what you say meaningless.

6.Social media is destroying your capacity for empathy.

7.Social media is making you unhappy.

8.Social media doesn’t want you to have economic dignity.

9.Social media is making politics impossible.

10.Social media hates your soul.

Ancient Mariner

 

[1] See: https://www.c-span.org/video/?447079-2/ten-arguments-deleting-social-media-accounts-now

[2] Courtesy of Christine Pennylegion at https://inthisordinarytime.wordpress.com/2018/07/02/jaron-laniers-ten-reasons/

Stop the Presses

Chicken Little visited mariner this morning; he was concerned about the following clip from Nate Silver’s newsletter (fivethirtyeight.com):

A public opinion poll conducted by Ipsos found that a plurality — 43 percent — of Republicans agreed that “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.” Twenty-three percent of Republicans agreed that “President Trump should close down mainstream news outlets, like CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times.” [Daily Beast]

The gap between conservatives and liberals is no longer a gap. It is a dangerous, sprawling chasm. One expects some defensive reflex from conservatives as a conservative cycle comes to an end but what bothers mariner is the lack of thought in our American discourse. Our opinions are founded entirely on stressed emotions.

Chicken Little sees a striking similarity to Egypt, Greece, Argentina, and even Israel/Palestine. These nations are in the midst of economic and cultural change; violence, death, massive property damage and the collapse of the relationship between the people and their government causes great travesty. Even more scary is the US makes sure as many people as possible are armed with weapons. Dare we think that any day now the electorate will use those firearms on each other?

Aside from physical harm, the ethos of the American Dream is disappearing among those who espouse it most. What happened to free press, free speech and the right of every citizen to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

Chicken Little dug out his single shot air rifle and loaded it just in case.

Ancient Mariner

Climate Change – Too Slow to Worry About

Actually, the title is inaccurate in that it suggests there is nothing to worry about. On the other hand, just because it is too slow to cause concern as if it were a tornado approaching, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

The current Atlantic website and magazine has an article presenting the latest findings of scientists who have new tools and insights into climate change[1]. It turns out that in Earth’s history, about 60 million years ago when mammals began to emerge, the atmosphere held 400 ppm (parts per million) of CO2 – the same amount we have in the atmosphere today. The last time CO2 was at 400 ppm (as it is today) was 3 million years ago during the Pliocene epoch, when sea levels were perhaps 80 feet higher than today. Scientists predict the sea level will catch up to the effects of CO2 around the end of the century – which may or may not reach 80 feet[2]. Mariner suggests a homework assignment: using Google Earth, determine how many major cities around the world have an altitude less than 80 feet above our current sea level (The entire shoreline of Florida including the Keys qualifies).

There is more science and environmental change in store, like palm trees in Scandinavia, and an increase in methane from very large swamps covering thousands of square miles. Methane is the chemical that slowly accelerates sea level rise. Mean temperatures in places like the Mediterranean and St. Louis will hover around the 104° mark and have no winter.

This climate future largely is out of our hands. The damage has been done and the results will play out. Interestingly, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wants to hold CO2 to 1,000 ppm – only 600 ppm more than what we have today. What’s an 80 foot sea rise when it may be possible to wipe out mammalian existence in a few hundred years?

Mariner often hears a common retort: “Well, we won’t be around then.” This response, besides pretending to be an ostrich with its head in the sand, is part of the fact that climate change is so very slow. Yet, the end of the century is just 82 years away. One’s grandchild still may be around to endure the slow, slow inevitable impact on world economy, health and survivability near ocean waters.

Given the current US political position on climate change (fake science – no, undesired science), younger voters will have more than racism and greed to worry about at election time.

Ancient Mariner

 

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/08/earths-scorching-hot-history/566762/

[2] There are so many variables, from the planet’s point of view, that it is difficult to predict actual sea level rise. What worries scientists is current annual sea level rise is increasing algebraically; small amounts now but increasing dramatically over time.

Narcissism versus the North American Union

This past Sunday Fareed Zakaria opened the subject of the tiff between Mexico and ‘the wall’. Fareed also could have had a discussion with Canada on the same subject of US contraction and isolationism battled via trade negotiations. The situation with Donald’s recipe of self-aggrandizement, racism and kleptocracy is one that interferes with a marketing/cultural dream that has been around for a long, long time. The integration of Mexico, the US and Canada is one of two current international concepts that can compete with emerging China internationalism. The other concept is TPP which seems to be passing by unrequited. To keep the post short, mariner quotes Wikipedia:

The North American Union (NAU) is a theoretical economic and political continental union of Canada, Mexico, and the United States of America. The concept is loosely based on the European Union, occasionally including a common currency called the Amero or the North American Dollar. A union of the North American continent, sometimes extending to Central and South America, has been the subject of academic concepts for over a century, as well as becoming a common trope in science fiction. One reason for the difficulty in realizing the concept is that individual developments in each region have failed to prioritize a larger union.

That last sentence is blatantly true under Donald’s administration. NAFTA, given its minimal impact in the labor market (unions would disagree – a good example of failing to see the value of an international union), was a first step toward the NAU. The electorate has failed to grasp the enormity of uniting the economic power of the first, tenth and twelfth largest economies in the world. Today such a consortium represents a gross domestic product of $22,192,248 million million ($MM) compared to China’s $12,014,610 ($MM).

Today’s circumstances, where the US is slipping and China is getting its act together, provide a new urgency for pursuing NAU. With unusual certainty, thoughts about internationalism will not exist under the present narcissist kleptocracy.

Obviously there is comparison with the European Union (EU). However, the EU was formed to avoid failure of economies in member nations. Further, the EU made the mistake of not making the Euro its only currency. In the case of NAU, economic integration likely would be more universal. As China grows economically, their relation with other nations follows the EU model, allowing local currency and independent oversight of local economic policy. The NAU represents the idea of a combined economic policy that oversees all members’ policies and a single currency – a stronger economic model.

Tangentially, NAU would be large enough and politically influential enough to compete with what today is runaway corporatism. Corporations gain their advantage by playing in the cracks between the economies of different nations and cultures that are not easily unified financially.

Frankly, mariner’s opinion is that the US is so screwed and dysfunctional that attempts at managing its future remain a fantasy.

Ancient Mariner

Demographics in Real Terms

Much has been covered in the news about Donald’s base, Bernie’s socialists, mid-country white middle class separation from the US coasts, the Wisconsin flip, California’s succession, women’s vote, Dixie voting bloc, gun vote, pro-choice vote, millennial vote, and suburban vote. There are more issue groups.

Perhaps oddly, mariner does not measure the electorate by news media’s political groupings. Mariner long has been skeptical of the electorate’s ability to be so sophisticated as to know about issues in any meaningful way. Looking at the electorate from a social psychology point of view there are five types of voters:

֎The Advocate. One finds this class of voter in political action groups. They have strong conviction about their opinion and quickly become adversarial. Motivation is idealism; missing link is realism.

֎The Hoarder. Hoarders are voters who look solely to personal wellbeing, that is, investment value, financial security, status values, elitist interpretations of neighborhood, religion, and social behavior – a sort of ‘me first’ view of reality. Motivation is selfishness; missing link is compassion.

֎The Populist. Those who respond to the common cause, whatever that is. Their response is more a decision based on issue popularity and projection of ego rather than a considered opinion of the real ramifications of their cause. Motivation is tribal values; missing link is perspective.

֎The Ignorant. Those who live life as it comes with no overwhelming need beyond daily routines. One can identify the ignorant by what they believe is true. For example, it is common that they believe a party stands for an issue that actually is an issue of the opposing party. What guides their thinking, if they vote, is a neighbor, spouse, overheard conversations and other incidental sources available in daily routines. Motivation is lack of disruption; missing link is abstract thinking.

֎The Cynic. Those who do not participate in any issue whether government, religion, neighborhood safety, trash pickup or any other issue that requires comparative thought and responsibility; this includes voting. Motivation is protecting self-perception; missing link is interpersonal affiliation.

In truth, any democratic vote is not a vote of the entire demographic. The US ranks 31st in voter turnout among functioning democracies; the last vote, the one for Donald, was 54% of available voters. Further, as mariner suggests in his interpretation of voter motivation, a voter seldom votes based on rational reasons. The demographic across these five groups turns out to be behavioral rather than interpretive. The electorate, in summation, will vote for the person who appears to be a copy of themselves.

Ancient Mariner

Changing Signs

Back in the early 60’s, there was a British comedy show called Beyond the Fringe. Eventually it toured in Baltimore where mariner and his wife saw the show. It remains one of the best comedy experiences of our lives. The entire show is online at https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=beyond+the+fringe+1964&view=detail&mid=2391A28FEE931C54B1142391A28FEE931C54B114&FORM=VIRE

Mariner often recalls many of the short bits in the show. One of his favorites is changing road signs around to confuse German troops should they invade Great Britain (it is at 53 minutes on the video). Two men are standing beneath a sign with arrows showing the directions to three towns. The dialogue: “Let’s put Lyme Regis where Great Yarmouth was, Great Yarmouth where Ipswitch was and Ipswitch where Lyme Regis was. . . Here, how do we get home?”

Mariner does not expect the humor to carry after such an elaborate explanation but it speaks perfectly to today’s situation in US politics and culture. Some pieces of news that show we are changing signs:

NPR interviewed an individual in West Virginia of all places who said quite seriously and without malice that we should eliminate the Senate. (Mariner mentioned a few posts ago that the electorate may face conflict leading to a Constitutional convention)

The Republican Party ended Reaganomics by putting the US into the deepest debt in modern US history.

Donald is seeing to it that recent Democratic Party accomplishments (should mariner say recent Obama accomplishments?) are trashed whenever possible. Donald also has put the US at risk by denying climate change and disrupting international relations politically, militarily and economically. Further, the momentum that carries the US as a global leader is diminished by Donald’s immaturity and simplemindedness.

As the Democratic Party ramps up for the coming elections, a platform plank advocates eliminating Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The Democratic Socialist Party (DSP) added 43,000 new members in 2018. It seems millennials aren’t afraid of the ‘S’ word.

Culturally, we are changing signs as well. Women in particular have pushed their agenda into public awareness for everything from abusive sexism to equal pay for every job. What lies ahead, especially with a different Supreme Court, are heated battles over Roe v Wade, voting suppression, gun laws, gerrymandering, privacy and security, single payer health care, and significant reworking of all Federal discretionary programs especially in education, Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security. Last but definitely not least is the role of religion(s) in a state-run culture.

Here, how do we get home?

Ancient Mariner

 

Crosswinds

While destructive winds are blown by the current administration, one notices alternative crosswinds rising in news outlets other than the circus news outlets. Here are a few examples:

Big businesses want lower taxes. Cities—and many of the people who live in them—want lower rates of homelessness. Lately, the compatibility of these two desires is being tested, as local governments across the U.S. float a new strategy to help the growing number of unsheltered people on their streets: Asking businesses to pay a greater share in funding aid. [Sarah Holder, citylab.com]

Solicitor Andre Davis, Baltimore, joined a growing movement of cities suing Big Oil over their contributions to climate change. It’s following in the footsteps of 12 other cities, including New York and San Francisco—but it’s naming significantly more companies and offenses in the case for climate reparations. [Atlantic]

The President’s ire with and dissing of US intelligence is for good personal reasons. The intelligence community has been watching Donald for many years because of his foreign associations and his foreign investment practices. Donald knows they know . . .

Speaking of intelligence services, the United States is the premier practitioner of cyber war and has been at it since the cold war. It is only in recent years that other nations are becoming good enough to hack US practices which they turn around and use on the US. This makes the nation vulnerable to actual cyber warfare – better than a bullet war in that not too many will die intentionally. However, knocking out banking systems, electricity, major manufacturing centers and water utilities is easy to do and has devastating effects; one doesn’t need 2,000 bombers and fighter planes to bomb a manufacturing center as we did against Germany in the Second World War.

In his new book, The Perfect Weapon, David Sanger points to ‘Operation Olympic Games’, where Sanger credits George W and Obama with overseeing the operation which used malicious code to blow up Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. The North Koreans could only suspect American cyber war was behind the excessive failure of their missile testing program. Despite Donald’s simplistic understanding of power, American cyber capability, still the stealthiest and most powerful in the world, can eliminate everything from a nation’s economy to Putin’s net worth. But cyber warfare, because it is easy and not physically destructive like bullet wars, is a one-up game: If nation A does this, then nation B will retaliate by raising the stakes. Not really a big deal to pull off. Cyber war is more like poker than it is like football.

A woman who worked in a restaurant a little more than a year ago has won a primary against a ten-term democratic Representative. She’s a firecracker! Keep track of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. [Politico.com]

Finally, for an entertaining (or frightful) view of the coming elections, do not watch circus news – watch fivethirtyeight.com or politico.com or read the Atlantic magazine or the New Yorker magazine or simply watch balanced news from PBS. All these sources are rational, factual and restore one’s faith in real news.

Ancient Mariner

 

 

The American Duty

November 2018 is no longer an abstract date in the future. It is on the horizon. It is within the range of calendar notes for personal schedules. Election Day is November 6, a Tuesday. Mark it down on your calendar, your email calendar, your kitchen refrigerator, get a tattoo. You must not miss November 6. Mariner is not promoting any party; this is a momentous moment in history and you have a right to be part of it.

You must be an advocate among family and friends. Do not ask what party or what philosophy – only that everyone votes. Fill your car with friends and stop at a junk food place afterwards. If ever the fate of the planet were at a crossroad, this is the moment. Whatever the United States decides to do will set in motion a new historical phase in the history of man.

Ancient Mariner

 

Cultural Gerrymandering

Before we get to mariner’s post, read the following statements:

From the Washington Post

By 2040, eight states will be home to nearly half (49.5 percent) of the country’s entire population. An implication of that bit of trivia: 30 percent of the American population will control 68 percent of the American Senate. “The House and the Senate will be weighted to two largely different Americas.”

Twitter From Norman Ornstein   @NormOrnstein

I want to repeat a statistic I use in every talk: by 2040 or so, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states. Meaning 30 percent will choose 70 senators. And the 30% will be older, whiter, more rural, more male than the 70 percent. Unsettling to say the least

Twitter from Paul Waldman @paulwaldman1

In the age of minority rule, a Supreme Court justice appointed by a president who got fewer votes is confirmed by a party in the Senate that got fewer votes, to validate policies opposed by most Americans.

– – – –

And we thought immigration was the largest political issue . . .

The imbalance of the two houses of Congress reminds mariner of the British system where the public elects the House of Commons but one must be appointed to the House of Lords. While the House of Lords does not carry nearly as much clout as the US Senate, it can slow down legislation by sending it back to the lower House.

If the United States is to remain a democracy in spirit, it may be that we face a whopping battle to rewrite the Constitution. Like the Second Amendment authorizing the right to bear arms for a good reason back in 1791, each state was granted two representatives as a demonstration by the Founding Fathers that the voice of state governments would have a direct role in the Federal government. Senators were appointed by state legislators until 1910.

At the moment, the issue of demographics may seem a fantasy game but, in fact, Paul Waldman is correct when he says the Federal Government is about to appoint a Supreme Court Justice while representing a minority of the general population – and 2040 is still 22 years away.

Regular readers know mariner is chary about social stratification whether they are super rich, giant corporations, doctrinaire religions, or undemocratic governments. A theme running through many nations’ cultures at the moment is decidedly not empathetic; populations are sensitive to financial insecurity. Nationalism, including the US and Europe, is a growing response that easily could prevail given the observations of the contributors about imbalanced voting. In other words, the 30% mentioned above may just leave things as they are: a minority ruling class.

This is the largest issue mariner has thought about recently. Fixing demographic imbalance will require a power-shaking war either by reconfiguring Congress or playing voting games with fractions to level the playing field. It is a conflagration that will include the super rich and the super powerful in our society; let’s hope it includes the common electorate as well.

Mariner hereby turns this issue over to his readers so they have something to ponder until 2040.

Ancient Mariner

 

A New Stratum

The planet Earth has many layers of rock that have accumulated over eons of time. Each new layer sits atop an older layer. One layer is called a stratum. We who live on the surface are not aware of the many strata that hold our land masses together. We simply know what we see at the surface and form expectations about the surface environment. Ideas have strata, too. Over human history many layers of ideas have formed and together support our expectations in this present time.

A stratum lies beneath and supports our expectations about fairness, our expectations about equality, and our expectations about justice. We expect American society to have a set of scruples and we expect, without explicit definition, everyone to live by these scruples. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution plus the Bill of Rights promote scruples and guarantee a system of jurisprudence that assures a set of scruples. The stratum that lies beneath our sense of fairness, equality, justice and cultural scruples has a name: meritocracy. In the current meritocracy, all citizens have the opportunity to be recognized and advanced in proportion to their abilities and accomplishments. But meritocracy is subject to reinterpretation.

Words like freedom, liberty, pursuit of happiness, be all you can be, anyone can be President – all are expressions supported by meritocracy. When we look back to the thirties and forties, when the Great Depression, World War II and the years that followed established the current definition of meritocracy, we realize that a new stratum is forming; a new layer that will support a different set of expectations about the scruples of our society. Aware that a new definition is forming raises serious questions. How will existing scruples, fairness, etc., be reinterpreted? Will a new meritocracy support the ‘opportunity to be recognized and advanced in proportion to their abilities and accomplishments’? Importantly, “What will happen to me?”

Meritocracy is very malleable. Meritocracy is the flour in baked goods of every type, flavor and texture. The analogy of flour is apropos even to the event of having to rise; just because meritocracy is proclaimed, as in the Declaration of Independence, doesn’t mean it exists. Unlike baked goods, there is no given recipe – spices and additives are endless and often do not bake well.

In a final colorful analogy, meritocracy is like a toy top spinning on the floor. Spinning is wobbly and unstable in its direction but the fact that it seems to defy imbalance and stay spinning provides a good feeling and provides a sensation of success. This analogy is apropos of any ideal. Ideals by their very nature are unachievable; once fallen, ideals must be rewound and thrown again – and again. Each new definition of meritocracy is a new stratum in history; meritocracy is the flour of society; meritocracy, in the end, never will be permanent.

– – – –

What follows are general waypoints in the emergence, practice and transition of meritocracy.

What do Caligula, Henry VIII, Harold Hardrada, Napoleon, Hitler, Yeltsin, Erdogan, and Donald have in common?

Each of them, more by the power of their personality disorders than anything else, are the final blow that brought an end to an old stratum; government and culture were weak; mores, scruples and social expectations were in disarray. External status quo, that is, the world in general had changed but old internal assumptions held on until international conflict occurred and provoked the rise of new sources of power through overthrow of government, populism, or in some cases, war.

What do rice, wheat, corn, barley, and potatoes have in common?

The first significant shift in meritocracy was when early man discovered farming. Each of these crops in their own circumstances around the world created a totally new social order. Any significant change in economy or how economy works will trigger a new stratum – a new definition of human rights. The same can be said for inventions, communication, chemical advances and, especially until the entire world was mapped, exploration. Expectations about economic fairness, opportunity and confidence are life-changing in any regard and dissatisfaction quickly will challenge current perceptions of meritocracy.

What do Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, Moses and Muhammad have in common?

Obviously, each is the spiritual center of a major religion. Philosophical and theological contributions by each established codes of behavior and expectations which influenced all aspects of culture – even economics. Each religion straddles many strata and is an active force in changing the definition of meritocracy. Today, the impact of global economy, instant global information, and worldwide instant communication has brought various religions into conflict because global standardization does not mix well with the idiosyncrasies of different religious principles. This conflict in itself suggests a new definition of meritocracy is emerging.

Transition from one definition of human rights to another is messy and must pass through a hodgepodge of events and probabilities. No one can actually predict turns of events if one is living in the midst of stratum change. Below are some contemporary existential phenomena.

֎ Remember when . . . name any subject. If things are different today than they were a decade or two ago, meritocracy is undergoing redefinition.

֎ The economy is out of balance to the point that citizens are not sharing in the profits (remember the Luddites?). As alluded to earlier, nothing jumpstarts a new stratum like economic dissatisfaction.

֎ Populism emerges as a potent political force. The 2016 election was clear evidence that government was not meeting meritocracy’s expectations.

֎ New technology modifies cultural values and behavior. This began to accelerate when an individual could buy one’s own computer; then amplified by cellular phones and now aggravated by smartphones and social media to the point that normal interpersonal behavior is a matter of electronic potential instead of human potential. Need a spouse? Find them on the Internet; who wants to bother with socializing and honing one’s interpersonal skills?

֎ Those in power show signs of abuse when dealing with due process. We in the US certainly suffer this but virtually the whole of South America suffers big time.

֎ Allegiance to a common value disintegrates into partisan bickering; the big issue today is the one Russia is manipulating; Americans are not united in their expectations; the stratum of meritocracy is unstable.

֎ Compound all this by our knowledge that another significant change lies just a few years down the calendar: artificial intelligence. We have no idea what that will do to our human rights, our definition of meritocracy, our new stratum.

The point of all this is that we are living lives of unusual stress because our expectations about our role in society, our sense of fairness, our sense of protection, our sense of justice – all are without a stable foundation. Meritocracy, the foundation concept that provides order for these issues, is shifting.

One last analogy: we are sailing in stormy seas. We must take control of the helm to assure that what we still think is fair, equal and just will guide our course.

Ancient Mariner