“Anger and fear is what gets people to the polls […] The Democrats don’t matter. The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”
Steve Bannon to Michael Lewis
“[The Russian government] interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”
Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election
[To those “who cry about Russian meddling in elections”] “Things are much more serious: we meddle with your brains, we change your conscience – and you have no clue what to do about it”.
Putin’s advisor Vladislav Surkov
In the wake of EU elections, you may well look at images from earlier in the year of Britain’s resurgent fascists protesting outside a Greggs bakers in Manchester’s Mosley Street (it’s all about the branding), yelling pro-Brexit statements, and reasonably question how it is that more than half of the UK’s population manage to navigate road crossings on foot, or eat with a knife and fork without lacerating an artery, let alone garner almost a third of the vote.
It’s thoughtful of this incarnation of the far Right to wear hi-viz bibs. They would probably be no help at all, were there a breach of health and safety. Yet they constitute a health hazard in their own right. Probably better to be able to see them heading your way so that you can more easily avoid them. There’s a real and ever-present danger of them walking through plate glass windows, doors and into bus shelters, or challenging oncoming buses and low-flying aircraft to fist fights. Con artists call their victims “pigeons” with good reason. These are people who struggle with the concept that their reflection on shiny surfaces isn’t some Remoaning cuck, trying to kick something off.
The political crisis afflicting the USA and UK – and to a lesser degree, France – is not only one of dark money and foreign influencing through social media, but is also of the mass-enboldening of idiots.
The outgoing Prime Minister scrapes mould off jam but Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman says the Dear Leader’s “love of both making and consuming jam is well known […] And as such, personally he never gets to the need for scraping and chucking.” Ho, ho. The NHS stock-piling body bags for a No Deal Brexit. What a lark. Diabetes sufferers may die through shortages of basic drugs but at least Marina Hyde can use this as the basis for some devastating put down of Tory leadership aspirants, in one of her era-defining Guardian columns.
Peter Cook warned that Britain may, one day, sink giggling into the sea, tickled to death by its own iconoclastic drollery. What he failed to foresee was how many people would be standing on the shoreline, watching, cheering and punching the air as grown-ups in a first world country, who deliberately made themselves poorer and less free, get their much-deserved comeuppance. It’s enough to make you pray for a measles epidemic.
The former 3rd most important cabinet Minister, Boris Johnson, said not long ago on the BBC, of the prospect of the pound losing a fifth of its value in the eventuality of a No Deal Brexit: “The pound will go where it will.” Shame about your pension and savings, grandma, but at least Boris may still get the top job.
The understandable desire of rational adults, hoping to make sense of the mania of irrationality that has taken over the politics of two wealthy democracies, is to look for evidence of the links between bad actors who have instigated it. Follow the money, expose the people who stood to gain from illegality, the bad guys will be punished, and all will be well, right? We’re Star Fleet, after all, and Star Fleet always wins by taking the moderate path and obeying the rules! (Or most of them, at any rate.)
The thing is, there can be clear evidence that Russian Bots operated by the Mueller-subpoenaed IRA are boosting Jacob Rees-Mogg MP’s signal. Facebook can (finally) ban far Right hate preachers. YouTube can announces that it will no longer ‘recommend’ conspiracy videos. But the damage is already done, in that the idiots are now emboldened. Trolling, doxing, hot takes, pile-ons and a culture of persistent harassment of perceived rivals are now part of the political and cultural mainstream. An effort as vast as that which made this “normal” will be required to make it abnormal again.
Previous posts discussed the history of “mind wars” and how all of this came to be. “What,” as Lenin is unlikely to have asked of the current dispensation, “is to be done?” Dispelling the fog of bullshit that has flooded the space where news and facts should be, requires more than exposing and taking down bad actors. As well as deliberately engineered bullshit, there’s also the organically occurring kind, which the Kremlin and others have harvested skillfully.
“I do seem attracted to trash, as if the clue–the clue–lies there. I’m always ferreting out elliptical points, odd angles. What I write doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. There is fun and religion and psychotic horror strewn about like a bunch of hats,” as Phil Dick, a prophet of this age as well as several previous ones, once said.
If you connect a lot of people’s minds together somehow, there’s always a risk that hivemind can become progressively sick, damaged and dis-eased. Rather than following the dark money through the dark web, the focus of this article is organic, exploitable bs, the refugium seedbank of idiocy. Still-fertile kernels of primal fear and loathing, strewn around the collective psyche haphazardly through our digital connections to one another. These spawning points of wrong information can be exploited through the progressive application of soft power and various forms of “under the radar” influence, turning apparently small social divisions into chasms. Isolating the warped seeds of stupidity requires a re-alignment of culture, away from belligerence, confrontation, shame and call-outs, to one that’s less easy for the corrupt and malign to exploit.
Japan since WWII has become a culture where any form of aggression and confrontation in public is socially discouraged and frowned upon. This isn’t the result of widespread Buddhist piety. In Japan under military rule, it was not uncommon for soldiers to administer on-the-spot martial law – often this meant beheading – for minor malfeasance, such as standing in the wrong breadline. While Brexit and Trump can’t in any way be compared with Imperial Japan’s crimes – the occupation of China, human experimentation in Manchuria and Korea – the psychological process to undo the damage that’s been done in their aftermath may have to be as extensive and soul-searching as Japan’s was after the War.
As is so often the case, Science Fiction and SF fandom – notoriously terrible at predicting the future – offer numerous prescient anecdotes and examples of the ways in which culture and economics can be gamed by grifters and crooks, seeking to influence the timid and the bellicose through subtle misdirection and confirmation bias. These stories have a wider value beyond SF fandom because they’re about more than what happens when bad actors get away with bad stuff. They tell us about how whole communities and cultures can appear to “go mad”, and about what is then to be done.
Perhaps one of the most pervasive pieces of confirmation bias is a SF trope itself, the belief in extraterrestrial – possibly extra-dimensional – life, and claims about the visitation to Earth by alien spacecraft and their pilots. That which you call… UFOs!