Thursday, October 31, 2013

Conspiracies. Modern media requires modern methods...

It seems like more and more of my daily news feed on social networks is taken up by conspiracy laden posts. Given the current economic and political climate, I suppose I can understand the appeal.

A post about government taking "big brother" too far....or a post about some evil corporation tainting our existence...such things feed into the sense many of us have that things aren't "right". And there are PLENTY of things that aren't right. Some of them glaringly obvious, but only if you take the time to investigate claims.


We live in a time that is in many ways quite disturbing, but equally fascinating. We have a media environment largely dominated by corporate news outlets. But we also have more people engaged in communication and the dissemination of knowledge than ever before.

We have horrendously vertically aligned communities online where you can easily surround yourself with people who will either agree with you....or perhaps more insidiously convince you to agree with them.

The most vicarious of nonsense story can easily go viral, and be believed en-masse by many thousands, and yet be sitting in the same web browser one could use a tiny bit of effort to easily debunk.

People confuse authority truth and knowledge to their detriment. In order to navigate the modern stream of information one must embrace a few basic tenets to survive and grow.


I made this first tip big because it is vitally IMPORTANT. Case in point, I consider myself a relatively liberal person when it comes to social philosophy and leaning towards libertarian ideals when it comes to fiscal and constitutional matters. So when I see something posted by the largest Libertarian group on Facebook I'm probably going to check it out. What I'm not going to do, even if I self-identify as a person with Libertarian ideals, is take anything they post at their word. I tend to try to fact check things, especially if the claims made are extraordinary ones.

And I don't do this because I mistrust the intentions of others, so it isn't some cynical ploy. I do it to fight against my own confirmation biases...and reveal those of others.

Most importantly, it is shockingly easy to do if you have at least a few firing neurons. It's not hard...AT ALL!

In today's particular example, a couple of minutes worth of digging showed a post by a Facebook group with half a million followers was made up nonsense written originally by a certifiable wacko. Groups large and small can make mistakes true, but large ones influence large groups of people.....perhaps into believing things that aren't remotely true.

This is bad....and insidious...

2). Do your own investigative reporting. 

We have an interesting dynamic at play in modern least for the lazy. And I don't mean this as a slight either. We've all for generations expected our news and media outlets to at least present the news in a reasonably balanced fashion, but this isn't really the case anymore.

  • Fox News. Hates anything about democrats or the government.....unless its the military of course.
  • MSNBC. Hates anything about republicans....skeptical of the government....unless its entitlements of course.
  • CNN. Tries to dumb down the news too far, almost to the point it's not even news anymore.
  • Linear articles that narrowly align with a given worldview or ideology (one that may or may not actually track with reality).
It goes down hill from here....

What doesn't go downhill however is the absolute plethora of real information online. But there is so much of it that simple and parochial ideas of knowledge and truth aren't going to just fall into your lap like you've (probably falsely) believed they should....because you thought they always had.

Those days (if they ever truly existed) are over. 

There is a benefit to this process as well. You discover so many of the "gloom and doom" stories you tend to have hammered into your face daily on social media are complete bullshit. It doesn't mean everything is 100% peachy....but you can at least comfort yourself with the fact that "conspiracy" isn't required to explain all the bad things that seem to happen. 

Plain old human nature, shortsightedness, insularity, and a hefty dose of ego and greed usually suffice. Those sorts of things are solvable whether there are real conspiracies or not, so it makes the whole idea of focusing on conspiracy stand out as the true waste of time that it is.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Partisan Dysfunction - Why Are We Here?

Even if you're not the sort that pays much attention to politics (given the nature of politics in recent years this would perhaps be understandable) you'd have to have been living under a rock to have missed our most recent debacle of dysfunction.

House Republicans recently held the entire nation hostage over their dislike for the Affordable Care Act, more aptly known as "ObamaCare". Having failed to defeat it via democratic means, having failed to defeat it via the Supreme Court, they decided to try defeating it through tyranny. And though the effort failed miserably, it is certainly not cause for celebration.

Regardless of where you personally stand on the ACA, or our current President for that matter, the fact that such an event occurred shines an unflattering light on the systemic problems in our electoral process.

There are many who would agree with me that this country desperately needs campaign finance reform. And the problem isn't voters, rather it's the process that vets those who we are even allowed to vote for. In the last election cycle less than 150,000 individuals comprised over 90% of *ALL* campaign monies spent by all sides of the political process, whether they be Democrat, Republican, or Independant. Just on the presidential election alone this was over $2 Billion Dollars. And though it is true that the Obama Campaign did a better job at grassroots money raising, when combined with all spending by dems and republicans that 90% still stands.

We have in essence ceded our democracy to the wealthy and elite, because *THEY* get to decide who gets to run for office, because it is primarily from them that the money flows. And *THIS FACT* is what has driven our entire countries slide towards.....Conservatism. Clearly conservative extremism, such as witnessed a few weeks ago would have been impossible 40 years ago.

So how did the extreme right gain so much power? It is because we don't really have a progressive left anymore. Granted, Nancy Pelosi is a nut (as are many of her ilk), but she's not a progressive lefty by any stretch of the imagination, despite Republicans attempts to paint her into that corner. Rather, our entire politics has shifted, drastically in my view, to the right regardless of party.

How did this happen?

Much of this begins in the late 1960's and the changes that occurred in the Democratic leadership during that time frame. While perhaps it is an oversimplification, it can be said that it culminated with George McGovern's utter dismissal of Labor. And though the influence of Labor was beginning to decline (and in some senses rightly so, due to abject Labor Union corruption) McGovern's move with the Democratic Party is really what began the long slide towards dismantling the Democratic Party's liberal base of power.

Now, elections still need to be held and candidates still have to raise money to run for office. So after the collapse of labor, the dems still had their hands out, like any good politicians would. And who came in to fill the void? The wealthy and elite, i.e. the ones who already controlled much of Republican finance.

This became evident to me during the Reagan Administration, when we began this wholesale experiment in Trickle Down economic theory. Prior to Reagan, much of our countries economic politics revolved around Keynesian theory, a fact we generally owe to the Roosevelt Administration which led to many decades of skyrocketing growth in both GDP and middle class incomes and standard of living. And yes, during this era the wealthy were taxed at progressive rates far far higher than they are today.

What fails to bubble to the surface for the wealthy who were still wealthy in this that they were still far wealthier than the average American in spite of this fact.

It doesn't take a genius to see that 30 years worth of conservative economic ideology has destroyed the middle class, at least so long as you either pay attention to the numbers or happen to be an average non-wealthy American. So why don't things change? Why can't we right this ship? Why?

It's primarily because of my earlier statements. The 150,000 elites that run our electoral process aren't suffering. They've done well. In some cases obscenely well. Obscene because their gains in wealth and power came with a real cost, that being the well being of an entire country.