Department of Authority


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People may want to be prosocial but in an environment where others are not you lose out. There's no point in trying to make individuals more prosocial, you need to increase the prosociality of the entire neighborhood. David Sloan Wilson

How a Fraudulent Belief in “Balance” Pollutes Journalism

To maintain neutrality, journalists are loath to call out one side for lying. They also do not want to antagonize their sources, upon whom they are dependent. Instead, journalists prefer to report that one side is calling the other side liars and leave it at that. We report; you decide. The problem is that the liars can dismiss the criticism as being driven by their opponents and ignore it, so this becomes a liar’s paradise.

This obsession of professional journalism to play it strictly down the middle between the two legitimate parties, to avoid at all costs the charge of favoritism—the “cult of balance” as Paul Krugman (New York Times, 7/29/11) termed it—compromises the rigor and integrity of where political analysis would go if it simply followed the evidence “without fear or favor.” Krugman defined the cult of balance as “the insistence on portraying both parties as equally wrong and equally at fault on any issue, never mind the facts.” “If one party declared that the earth was flat,” Krugman stated jokingly, “the headlines would read ‘Views Differ on Shape of Planet.’”

Ari Melber (, 9/5/12) wrote, “For years, Americans’ political press has been stuck in a fact-free model of neutrality, often covering even the most obvious lies as ‘one side’ of a dispute.”

The grave damage of the cult of balance is that it allows dubious players to pollute the political culture and get away with it. After all, if the news media attack them, the media are accused of being partisan and unprofessional. From: The Rise of Establishment Reporting, by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, EXTRA!, 1 November 2013

The Growth of Unequal Societies

Since unequal societies are inherently unstable they inevitably foster migration, and therefore spread to overcome sustainable and more localized egalitarian societies.

[I]nequality did not spread from group to group because it is an inherently better system for survival, but because it creates demographic instability, which drives migration and conflict and leads to the cultural – or physical – extinction of egalitarian societies.

Egalitarian societies may have fostered selection on a group level for cooperation, altruism and low fertility (which leads to a more stable population), while inequality might exacerbate section on an individual level for high fertility, completion, aggression, social climbing and other selfish traits.
From: The Evolution of Inequality, by Deborah Rogers, New Scientist, p. 39, 28 July 2012.

Sports and Racism – A Tool Used to Rule

In Israel many football clubs are associated with political parties. There is a very close relation between the ideology of Likud and Begin and the Beitar football team. They see the Arabs as the enemy. So it reflects about a third of the Israeli public, that is very committed to expansion, settlements, see the Arabs as the enemies. It reflects that.

You know, in Beitar, their chants, it's not just the pogroms. They chant everytime their team scores a goal, "Death to the Arabs". That's what 20,000 people chant. Beitar for example has never ever had an Arab player. The Arabs are beginning to be more prominent in Israeli football teams. Not in Beitar Jerusalem. This pogrom is kind of an extension of this. It's all in the context of kids, for the most part its kids that have seen Israel moved into a neoliberal economy, more and more Thatcherite, and you have tremendous income disparity in Israel. Israel is now in the OECD, it has one of the highest income disparity I think, maybe the US excluded.

Kids have got no real future, that's part of the context too. Those kids come from the housing projects, very much like National Front in France or EDL in England, people that only have this racist emotional outlet for their frustrations, and football is great for that. It channels anger away from the government. That's why they sponsor football teams!
Jeff Halper, peace activist, May 2012

Sports play an important political and ideological role, both as a popular diversion from the deepening social antagonisms within the United States and as a means of promoting the militarism and violence that increasingly suffuse American culture. Patrick Martin, July 2012

1950s-Style Social Engineering through Short Films

13.02.07 Film Review: Atomic Age Classics Volume 2: Troubled Teens, color and black and white, DVD (2005). This disc features several short films from the 1950s and 1960s: the golden age of educational cinema. Widely considered to be lost relics, having been thrown into the trash by schools everywhere with the advent of video cassette technology, many of these short films have been rediscovered and transferred to DVD. These films were intended to educate kids and mold their behavior. They hold the distinction of being both entertaining and historically informative by revealing the dominant values and expectations at the time, and they reveal the methods used to convey these values and to manipulate the audience into conformity -- always with the most noble of intentions, of course. They run the gamut from totally lame time-wasters to surprisingly intelligent efforts at ameliorating common social problems, so here are a few reviews mixed with appropriately sardonic commentary:

You think this is real funny don't you? You're probably even laughing right now! In trademark style Sid Davis’ Name Unknown is intended to scare some sense into too-smart teen punks but ends up being an alarmist and not particularly credible little film since it plays up the worst case scenario and makes it look like an everyday event. Even in Southern California two teens in love parked outside a moonscape of oil wells do not typically get forced into the trunk of their car at gunpoint, even as Sid Davis tries to convince us in over-the-top fashion that those two were the lucky ones!

Getting Along With Parents actually does a well considered and realistic job of portraying mundane family life problems from the viewpoint of parents and teenagers, but we’re left wondering how much of an impact this kind of rational dialogue will actually have on emotionally-sensitive juveniles. Getting Along With Parents is especially gratifying, for some of us, when viewed with the thought that those pimply-faced mixed-up teens throwing tantrums because they can’t go to the dance or drive the car could well be our parents.

Smarmy, preachy, and full of unrealistic interactions Unto Thyself Be True  presents a religious message to parents and their troubled teens; teenagers that will lie through their teeth to police and parents alike just to get their oily mitts on a steering wheel. Parents beware!

Whiskey and kid side-kick in 'Any Boy, USA'Any Boy, USA portrays a pre-pubescent Midwestern hayseed that tires of the country and decides to set out for the big city. About five steps away from where skinny kid string bean starts out he meets ‘Old Mildew Whiskey’ personified by an oddly convincing character actor. The two proceed to stagger down the road together and through a series of stock-footage clips the film reveals its true intent: a bizarre anti-alcohol and pro-church message. Country boy with the corny hat finally makes it to the city and finds only ruined buildings and alcoholics littering the streets. Fortunately the boy wakes up from his nightmare, saved from the ravages of alcoholism – for now.

The sound depth is very limited and I had to use headphones to adequately hear many of the films and, not surprising considering the age, the video quality is poor on a few. Nevertheless, anyone fascinated by this time capsule into the 1950s, and social hygiene films in general, will enjoy this DVD despite the mostly minor sound and video limitations. For an excellent guide to these films and more read Ken Smith’s book Mental Hygiene, 1999. The history is frightening and fascinating while Ken's writing is hilarious.

Film Review: Atomic Age Classics Volume 1: Manners, Courtesy & Etiquette

02.22.07 In Everyday Courtesy (1948) Room 10 presents an exhibit on courtesy featuring rules for doing just about everything the courteous way, yes even rules for using the phone, lots of rules. Remember to answer the phone quickly because you don’t want to make the other person wait! Speak loudly and clearly in order to make the phone call more pleasant! Yes indeed, this film reveals the proper way to perform a multitude of mundane tasks, all explained in excruciatingly boring detail. Don’t know how to introduce another person? Constantly befuddled and thrown into a personal crisis not knowing which person in a group to introduce first? Well, watch and learn knuckleheads because these skills can affect the quality of your entire life -- if you believe the narrator. “Remember the order?!” he intones after describing the elaborate rules for introductions done in the 'proper' sequence.

Everyone looks very thin in this film, both the kids and the adults. Looking back fifty years in comparison to today and it’s easy to see the effect of the high-calorie diet on the American waistline. Meanwhile, the kids back in Europe were picking through the rubble of their homes destroyed by American B-29s, searching for scraps of food to eat but Room 10 back in the cheery US of A had plenty of time to learn allll about courtesy. And they all grew up to be the most courteous, unselfish, and well-balanced generation of Americans ever!

Exchanging Greetings and Introductions is dated 1960 but it looks more like 1950. Yes kids it’s yet another film devoted to educating you through rules, rules, and more rules on how to introduce everyone to everyone else. This film seems especially ridiculous considering how young the kids in the film look, they can’t be more than 3rd or 4th graders, and the number of rules and guidelines they're supposed to learn from watching it. Remember these rules: “Be Sincere”, “Speak Clearly”, “Identify Yourself”, “Start Conversation”, Introduce the “Ladies First”, introduce the oldest first “Respect Your Elders”, and “Other people will notice your skill”. “You will be admired if you master the simple skill of exchanging greetings and introductions. Practice different kinds of introductions at school, at home, and with your classmates.” Uh, teacher, teacher, shouldn’t we be learning math or history or how to use scissors or color in the lines? What a time waster.

Drink in the smug satisfaction that comes from delivering a proper introduction. The rest of your class will envy your skill!

Yeah right, more likely he'll get a severe beating on the playground during recess.

Enjoy it while you can buddy!

Drink in the smug satisfaction that comes from delivering a proper introduction! From: 'Exchanging Greetings and Introductions'

No that’s not Charlie Manson on the left, it’s supposed to be Jupiter, god of politeness in the film ‘By Jupiter’.By Jupiter (1946): After a hard day of being rude to everyone he meets and having it thrown right back at him, average Joe Poindexter finds himself on a commuter train contemplating the difficulties of his day. At one point on his way to work in the morning Poindexter recalls how he tried to buy a three cent newspaper using a five dollar bill but the vendor didn't have enough change!

Observing the pitiful ruminations of Poindexter the god Jupiter, complete with terrible costume and backstory, decides to see if he can convince the grumbling Poindexter down on Earth to be nice to people and thereby make his life less miserable; all of this on a bet from his nagging wife. During private conversation with Poindexter on the train Jupiter proposes the idea of being nice to others not just because it is ‘proper’ (Poindexter demolishes that view with his flippant remarks), but out of selfishness since by being nice to others they will be nicer in return. By Jupiter starts out stupid enough with Jupiter and his wife but by the end the film reveals a charm, intelligence, and useful message that makes it worth watching even 60 years after it was made. Maybe now we know where Ayn Rand got her inspiration.

Film Review: Atomic Age Classics Volume 3: A-Bombs, Fallout & Nuclear War

Stock test footage shown in 'Living With the Atom' - With Irwin A. Moon, Moody Science Institute,1957.17.03.07 Living With the Atom - With Irwin A. Moon, Moody Science Institute (1957). This one is like some kind of experiment in religion subverting science! The film starts out benign enough with some lessons in basic science focused on atomic energy. The speaker, Irwin A. Moon whoever that is, goes out of his way to credit the “creator” for all the wondrous scientific advances he’s described. The film then abruptly transitions into a series of nuclear weapons testing clips and when we return to the speaker in his library/studio we discover that our formerly cheerful character now has the frowny face of seriousness as he drops the real bomb: God! Duck and cover, incoming message! “In unleashing the power of the atom science has set before us a tremendous challenge and at the same time has brought to our attention the fact that the paramount issue is the rightness of our relationship with God, and every other issue, however important it may be, becomes secondary beside it.” A little online research reveals the plan behind this film. The Moody Science Institute was affiliated with the Moody Bible Institute; “[I]t was California pastor Irwin Moon who first developed the concept of using science to illustrate the Gospel.”

'Radioactive Fallout and Shelter', produced by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.Radioactive Fallout and Shelter, produced by the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, undated. This film, in gloriously garish off-balance color, features the standard guy-in-a-suit speaker who over-enunciates his words in an office/studio decorated with a fake-looking plant and two neatly framed photos of mushroom clouds from atomic bomb tests! The 1950s style four-frame-per-second animation is classic. One scene shows a dark cloud of radioactive fallout descending upon a bucolic scene of a farmhouse and silo! The title panel drawing shows a man’s shadow, presumably seared into the ground by an atomic flash as he foolishly attempted to run from the bomb blast instead of doing the ‘duck and cover’. Scenes like these would be ironic if they weren’t the honest product of American naiveté. But apart from the unintended comedy the film is mostly just an elaborate vehicle to demonstrate how to 'safely' wipe radioactive fallout off of food, presumably so the viewer can consume it while spending “up to two weeks” in a bomb shelter.

The film host emphasizes that you CAN survive and defeat nuclear fallout. Yeah, just like you CAN win the lottery, but you probably won’t. Authorities knew that an actual nuclear exchange focused on the population centers wouldn’t leave many survivors but they had to come up with some kind of program, even if it was mostly a hollow sham, in order to maintain the American public’s support and confidence in eventual war victory.

It’s tragic that even as this government produced film goes to great lengths to explain to the American people how to minimize the damage from radioactive fallout, numerous above ground atomic tests were being conducted unannounced in Nevada, spreading massive quantities of real radioactive fallout downwind and across the country. Southern Utah was hit particularly hard, sending cancer rates skyrocketing. American’s were so busy being afraid of the communist Soviet Union that they never realized it was their own government that was actually endangering and killing them! The Soviet Union didn’t kill any American’s with nuclear weapons but the United States government did - all in the name of ‘national security’. This threat misdirection strategy should seem familiar; today's 'terrorism' is yesterday's Communism.

American soldiers drive through atomically-devastated Japan.The Atom Strikes! is an undated post-WWII military film made by the ‘War Department’ Army Signal Corps detailing the devastation wrought by the two atom bomb attacks on Japan. The film is full of surreal scenes like the footage of people walking around along the streets amidst total devastation as if it was just a typical business day in Hiroshima. The shadow of a vaporized pedestrian burned onto a bridge is unforgettable; a soldier outlines the mark with white chalk for added effect. Trucks loaded down with American soldiers drive slowly through the ruined cities liberated using the awesome power of America's atomic-powered war machine.

‘The Japanese attempt to rebuild using whatever materials they can find’, the narrator blandly drones as we see footage of Japanese peasants using scrap material to build shelters in the middle of rubble piles. Nagasaki experienced “nearly 42 and a half square miles of damage” exults the disembodied voice, highlighting the effort of the film to quantify the damage inflicted upon Japan by the two atom bombs.

On a lighter note, the stock footage used to depict the Japanese war industry features some comically small tanks, one Japanese soldier barely fits his lower body into the turret as they parade down main street;  I’ve seen lawn tractors that look more formidable!

The Atom Goes to Sea - A General Electric Excursion in Science (1954). This is a very fascinating short-film made by General Electric that details the construction and testing of the United States’ first atomic-powered submarines, the Nautilus and the Sea Wolf. According to the film footage a giant sealed steel sphere was constructed in New York state just to test the nuclear reactors inside it. 01.03.07

Film Review: Atomic Age Classics Volume 5: "C" Is for Communist

Herbert A. Philbrick in 'What is Communism?'What is Communism? (undated) presented by Herbert A. Philbrick a former undercover FBI agent, anti-Communist agitator, and film personality. Philbrick explains Communism in his own populist style and describes Communists using just a few descriptive terms like lying. How can Communists lie with a straight face? “Nothing is a lie if it helps the Communist party”. Dirty; Communists are blamed for fomenting race riots. Shrewd; Philbrick asks how many Americans would volunteer for the ‘Communist Army Division? But they will volunteer when it’s called the ‘Abraham Lincoln Brigade’ (a Spanish Civil war attachment). Godless, “to me, this is perhaps the most frightening word of all because it accounts for every other bad word that describes them.” In practice Communism is a belief system, clearly indicated by the previous statement, nothing is a lie if it helps the Communist party. It wasn’t God that was Communism’s competition it was the church institution and its authority structure, just as were civic leaders and intellectuals, competition that Communists murdered wherever possible.

In fairness many of these tricks were, and still are, used by non-Communists and governments too. The fear of Communism was exploited mercilessly by authorities to justify their own forms of oppression and a warped economic system that led to the imperial war machine the entire world is dealing with today. As a side note, the introductory  narration of this Jerry Fairbanks Production sounds like Orson Welles!Image of Communist oppression from Berlin

The Red Myth (undated) is a brief but informative and academically oriented history of communism from Marx to the USSR and WWII, featuring the words and ideas of key figures such as Trotsky, Lenin, Bukharin, Kamenev, and Stalin (actors in low-budget costumes). The internal strife within communism is a major factor that is largely ignored or forgotten today. The history of the COMINTERN is also described. Social Democrats (an increasingly popular ameliorative, as opposed to revolutionary, political party in Europe) are seen as counter-revolutionaries and attacked. The Polish guy that provides the academic content is tough to understand through his thick accent but he’d be hilarious as the voice of a cartoon character. It’s not clear what the ‘myth’ of the title refers to but perhaps that’s revealed in the second part of this short film (not included in the DVD).

'Yankee Go Home' – Communist Propaganda Channels from the USSRYankee Go Home – Communist Propaganda (undated). This film reviews Soviet propaganda films, broadcasts and related material as well as the elaborate process behind the production of it all with a focus on how it all pertains to the United States military. After viewing a clip from a Soviet propaganda film portraying American soldiers as drunks and idiots (the General can't figure out how to use a pair of binoculars) the co-presenter asks in drawl, “Mr. [George] V. Allen how can we compete with this Soviet Propaganda?” A better question would be, why bother? The propaganda was such poor quality it’s hard to see how it would convince anyone that’s ever met an American, even domestic Soviet audiences probably thought it was entertaining.

The unfortunately titled Crusade Report is a little piece of home-brewed propaganda from the U.S. of A. about the “freedom” bell made by “free” men and then put on a European “freedom” tour. Did you miss the message? Yes it’s freedom, we’ve got it all and they don’t have any! The shots of the German soldiers guarding the new U.S. funded radio broadcast stations (against communist saboteurs) are unintentionally funny. They look about half as formidable and professional as the average minimum-wage rent-a-cop guarding your local mall!

If you’re just in it for the laughs then you’ll probably want to skip this volume but for anyone interested the films are still fascinating historical vignettes.

The genius of the current political system is to render policy irrelevant, with advertising and the media concentrating not on "issues" but on "qualities" like the candidates' style, personality, and other irrelevancies. The political parties devolve into marketing systems for candidates. - Noam Chomsky

The War on Drugs as a Mechanism of Social Control

10.06.06 The question was asked of Noam Chomsky in a recent lecture, why does the War on Drugs continue even though it has continually failed to achieve its stated objective of eliminating drug abuse? Chomsky concluded that the War on Drugs is just a phony cover story for a form of social control. [1]

Yet if the War on Drugs (WOD) is a form of social control over the underclass of society, then why does it seems so arbitrary? Why is the use of one drug officially approved, like tobacco and alcohol, while another disapproved, like marijuana? Could the arbitrariness be intentional to create a test of obedience to the rules with an understanding that some kind of drug is an inevitable, even necessary, component of every society? All drugs can’t be banned but by choosing a few to ban a set of standards is established and by enforcing those rules a test is created.

Still, as a tool of social control the War on Drugs is pretty pathetic. What’s the point, just to test an individual's law-abiding qualities? Perhaps this is looking at the issue from the wrong perspective. The more I think about it the more the War on Drugs seems like an antiquated war on dissent. It has Nixon administration written all over it. Indeed, could it be that high-level political leaders, outraged and disgusted at the growing youth rebellion movement, determined that about the only way they could legally squelch politically-conscious youthful dissent, since freedom of speech and public expression is Constitutionally protected, was to catch them on some other angle? Since drug use was an integral part of this 1960s era youth-rebellion identity, it only seems logical that at some point this common element would be exploited considering the antipathy it generated amongst the political establishment.

So when were some of these infamous drugs first criminalized? Different drugs have been criminalized at different times, usually in response to some sort of public outrage combined with opportunistic politicians. Marijuana, for instance, was criminalized way back in 1937. “In 1937, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act which criminalized the drug. From 1951 to 1956 stricter sentencing laws set mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offenses. In the 1950s the beatniks appropriated the use of marijuana from the black hepsters and the drug moved into middle-class white America in the 1960s.” [2] The criminalization of LSD, an almost stereotypical drug of the 1960s youth rebellion, is more recent. “In 1966 the Grunsky Bill was passed by Congress, which prohibited the possession, manufacturing, sale and importation of LSD.” [2] Also of note, from this brief historical description we can see that the laws have been progressively tightened over time, usually in conjunction with greater and more widespread use; but which action actually causes the other?

More to the point, the primary law that matters here is the ‘Controlled Substances Act’ of 1970. "The Controlled Substances Act (CSA), Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, is the legal foundation of the government's fight against the abuse of drugs and other substances. This law is a consolidation of numerous laws regulating the manufacture and distribution of narcotics, stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, anabolic steroids, and chemicals used in the illicit production of controlled substances.” [3] So who was President in 1970? You guessed it, Richard Nixon. My instincts were correct.

After the CSA was enacted the system of drug laws developed into another bureaucracy and assumed a life of its own. Subsequent administrations, particularly Reagan and Bush, used the WOD to build a popular platform in the Republican Party, to financially and politically benefit their cronies through federal funding of prison construction and staffing, and as a tool for achieving certain foreign policy objectives.

Many alternatives to the current WOD system can be imagined and implemented; it's foolish to continue the current self-defeating and socially dysfunctional system. Instead of a punitive WOD that puts anyone with a small quantity of illegal drugs into prison for years, why not turn that idle time locked up into community service? Instead of a WOD we could have a new Works Progress Administration (WPA) that was popular and successful at building infrastructure in the United States during the Great Depression of the 1930s. But brilliant thinking like that would require an intentional negation of the diseased belief in financial profit for private gain at the expense of public welfare that has infected all levels of national government.

Changing the punitive drug laws is another path that needs to be investigated. In the spring of 2006 President Vincente Fox of Mexico, nearing the end of his term in office, nearly implemented a surprisingly smart and socially progressive improvement to the legal system that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of currently illegal drugs to free up the over-taxed criminal justice system. [4] However, once the Bush administration got word of this plan they went ballistic and immediately put massive pressure upon Mexico to back off and reject the new drug laws; Fox predictably crumbled and the bill was never approved.

This kind of concern at the topmost echelons of political power in the United States is not an accidental or random product. Clearly, the establishment is gaining something significant and desirable from the continuation of current punitive drug laws and enforcement, commonly referred to as the War on Drugs.

1. Distorted Morality: America's War on Terror?, by Noam Chomsky, DVD, 2002.

2. A Social History of America’s Most Popular Drugs, PBS/Frontline, 1995-2006.

3. Controlled Substances Act, US Drug Enforcement Agency, undated.

4. US asks Mexico to reconsider 'stupid' drug law, by David Fickling and agencies, The Guardian, May 4, 2006.


 The Smokescreen of Media Bias

21.08.05 Determining whether the mass media has a liberal or conservative bias is a common issue of public discussion. Yet the debate to decide who's really giving out the facts and who's just spinning the news to serve a partisan political agenda merely serves to obscure more critical matters. Really, to have multiple competing biases in the mass media isn’t the primary problem, and in fact given the sad state of affairs now it's practically an ideal!

As long as newspapers, radio, and television news have been around certain news outlets have been known to favor one side over the other. In the United States, for instance, it used to be that every major city had two newspapers, one with a Republican bias and one with a Democratic Party bias. Then as audiences and revenue sources changed, along with a loosening of regulations, the business environment became more competitive and newspapers began to merge. Now, most cities have just one major newspaper, and sometimes it retains a certain political bias, but more often than not it strives to be as completely inoffensive and middle-of-the-road as possible in order to upset as few readers and maintain as much advertising sponsorship as they can get. Consequently the former industry that served to inform the public on current events and issues of public debate has been reduced to nothing more than a profit-driven money-making machine that seeks to enhance shareholder gains without regard to much of anything else.

It used to be that newspapers, and even TV news sources, were eager to investigate wrongdoing, to uncover and explain issues of public concern, but anymore this industry is afraid to investigate because of where it might lead and the people it might implicate. The few reporters that actually try to do their job either get fired for being ‘loose cannons’ or quit in disgust as their reports are continually watered down and negated by management. Because of business competition, entertainment is used as a substitute for news and information. So, the former divisions of news and entertainment have merged to such an extent that it’s practically impossible to discern the difference anymore. Turn on any local TV station in the country and you’ll quickly realize that the nightly news is driven at least as much by sensationalistic entertainment as it is by reporting current events to inform an audience.

The fact that the public is being fed a steady diet of trivia, one-sided propaganda and sound bite, instead of facts and objective context, is not nearly as serious a problem as the fact that alternatives to this drivel are so totally lacking from mass media outlets! When cities had two alternative newspapers the news may have been biased but at least the public had a choice in the mass-market and there was an incentive to form and publicly express a dissenting opinion. Now, contradiction, argument and dissent are labeled ‘extremism’ and quickly locked out of the public forum. The spectrum of dialogue and potential solutions is being truncated to such a very narrow range of inoffensive and inconsequential topics that in most cases no practical solutions to contemporary problems can be found in the range of officially sanctioned public debate. Concern over real or perceived media bias is essentially irrelevant when critical facts and information are not even reaching the realm of public awareness due to the sandbox of discussion deemed safe and acceptable by risk-averse business management and influential authorities.

When the mass media outlets all say the same thing, that’s when we need to get very concerned!

The conformity factor compelling the news and entertainment industry has gone so far as to convince a majority of the public that any person, idea or concept that falls outside the exceptionally narrow range of mainstream acceptability should be immediately rejected in totality; discussion of anything labeled ‘extreme’ (often under the code-word "liberal") is disallowed. Media managers, commentators, and consequently the public as well, are exceptionally concerned with how ‘extreme’ an opinion is in order to eject it from the realm of debate, when they should really be concerned with the actual effectiveness of the solution to the given problem. If you have an illness or an injury that will lead to your death in short order if left untreated then you don’t argue with the doctor about how ‘extreme’ the cure is, you worry about whether it will work or not!

Another deleterious repercussion from the excessively narrow range of debate is the issue of public disenfranchisement. People that feel like their views and ideas are being ignored will refuse to participate in the process, creating social discontent, loss of trust, antagonism, and serious long-term problems such as violence and rebellion. Regardless of whether it's a government agency or a private company, any institution that has a mission to serve a general audience has a responsibility to be as inclusive and receptive to input and suggestion as is reasonably possible.

If the public desires a functional and democratic form of government representation then they must have free, fair and open access to all of the information critically necessary for the formation of opinion, judgment and action within that democratic process. These sources of information can be unbiased, they can be biased, and they can be up down left or right. As long as a wide diversity of choices are equally accessible then the necessary level of popular inclusion in critical discussion and decision can occur. Functional solution seeking is a process that requires open, inclusive, and unencumbered debate; without it we lose the capacity to adapt and improve ourselves.

So, considering that a democratic form of society cannot function properly without the free-flow of information, and considering that the private sector, as previously indicated, is woefully inadequate for this task, it seems only logical that the public sector must step in to rescue democracy, community and open debate. The United States already has a federally funded worldwide news agency called the Voice of America (VOA). If foreign audiences appreciate VOA, why shouldn’t domestic audiences as well? Or what about a program for subsidized community news? Why not have free (subsidized) classes on journalism standards, the process of news collection and reporting, or how to identify and understand propaganda techniques? Even unsubsidized individuals can make a positive impact. I’ve tried to do my small part at the Daily Irritant news headline page. Given the widely dispersed, worldwide audience it’s not practical to run headlines that are overly localized so I tend to focus on issues of broad impact. But there’s no reason this concept, or something more advanced, cannot be employed elsewhere.

Media bias is, like most of the issues allowed to circulate in the public consciousness, merely a calculated diversion. The elite, meaning the very wealthy few that possess disproportionate influence upon the political and corporate decision-making structure, find it much safer for the public to remain fixated upon trivia and misleading problems rather than consequential substance that could potentially lead to unrest and >gasp< a redistribution of wealth, power and influence.

The closer the consequences are to the original action the better off we will all be. This is because people are better able to judge what action to make next when the subsequent reaction they experience is simple and unambiguous.

The Global War on Terrorism as an effort towards Worldwide Unity

01.01.05 There is a possibility that Cheney and the rest of the Neo-cons concocted the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) knowing full well the futility and superficial absurdity of it all, but with the real intention of manufacturing a singular and perpetual enemy to rally a divided country together. Both the defense industry and the Pentagon planners themselves have often rued the good old days of simple black and white, 'us versus them' mentality characteristic of the Cold War. The invasion of Iraq is supposed to be a part of this GWOT, yet through it all nothing seems to be changing to America’s advantage.

GWOT as unification is a hypothesis that must be considered for the sake of completeness, and after all, worldwide unification under the influence of the United States’ authority is the basic premise of the Neo-Cons unilateralism. It seems ridiculous now given the actual outcome of the invasion of Iraq but for an ‘elite’ full of their own hubris, and who are very poor students of history, this may have made enough sense at the time to have been a genuine motivation.

Worldwide unification focused on the United States has already happened with the first Moon landing in 1969. However the unification only lasted as long as the telecast before the world went back to what it knows best – fighting. The 9-11 attacks were a similar unification moment that lasted about as long. The point is that this method of manipulating the world through powerful symbolic acts and emotions, like fear and awe, really doesn’t work because it can’t last. No matter how many times it's tried or who tries it the Wizard of Oz ‘magician behind the mask’ method to control the populace through smoke, mirrors and lies, always ends up with the same inglorious ending.

Transparency in conduct is very important otherwise rumors, conspiracies and an unstable environment of suspicion spreads like an infection. Substantive change requires long-term focus and consistent effort to alter the fundamental underlying patterns and motivations that create events to begin with.  

Anarchy and Rule of Law: The Iraq Example

12.03 Events in Iraq have been an intriguing demonstration of anarchy in action, or at least what happens during a mass-breakdown in civil rule. Looting, violence, vigilante justice, and general disorder characterize the moment. But before we soundly condemn the lawlessness, let's think about why the Iraqi people are doing this, or indeed why any group of people would act in this way.

First of all, the Saddam regime was an authoritarian one and, not unlike a pressure-cooker pot, it kept things together but only through force, intimidation and state controlled violence. Saddam's power structure kept a lid on much of the ethnic and religious divisions and basically held a very divided country together. This is the basic definition of a modern state, and the greater the internal divisions the greater the need for centralized, oppressive authority to keep it together. However, such systems do have advantages in that they can redistribute collective resources in directions which would not happen on their own in a more natural, disordered social system. A state can build museums, provide health care and public parks, but it can also build secret-police torture chambers and drag young men off to fight in foolish wars.

In the spring of 2003 the United States military machine, along with trusty sidekick England, proceeded to force Saddam from power using their collective, and admittedly formidable, war-machine. This objective succeeded, however its success was never in doubt anyway. The Iraqi people, once free of Saddam's despotic rule, faced an unusual situation, they no longer had anyone telling them what to do or threatening them with prison, torture or death if they didn't obey the law. Simultaneously, their personal needs for food, water and other domestic concerns remained static regardless of who wins the war, or indeed anything else. These two forces of collective and individual desires are in constant conflict everywhere, but after April 9th 2003, with the state out of the picture, the Iraqi public no longer had any significant force compelling them to mitigate their quest for sating personal needs - no artificial law, no police force, etc. The obvious result - wholesale theft and violence, was only barely minimized by personal discipline (if any) be it religiously oriented (fear of a 'higher authority'!) or otherwise, while greatly magnified by the years of repression and built up anger from Saddam's regime.

Social Engineering a Solution

So it's fairly clear why people follow most laws - fear of discipline from authority. But if people only follow laws because of fear of authority then what does that really say about the law itself? If the only laws that can be employed are ones that are built on fear and intimidation than the authority employing them is doomed anyway, the only variable is the time frame. The Saddam regime certainly fills this category nicely.

The traditional state's authority is built upon fear and the public sacrifices individual freedom for the security and stability provided by the state. This is largely because the people in the state have no choice but to join. A voluntary state is a more radical experiment and in theory relies upon the desire of its constituents to voluntarily cooperate with the rules because of the collective rewards promised to them in return - Rousseau's Social Contract concept. The ideal state would be a voluntary association, but in practice such situations just don't occur for numerous reasons such as the fact powerful states are quick to quash the competition, people are generally unable to move where they want, and so on. Any law in which people don't wish to obey is one which is flawed to some degree. Any regime which uses these sort of laws to maintain order is unsustainable. The only sustainable laws are those which cannot be abrogated (like gravity) and those which people follow automatically because everyone sees a need and benefit to cooperation. Further, if an authority desires to have a sustainable rule and they cannot come up with a law that meets these requirements then the necessity of the law itself needs to be questioned.

So, if the law is not one in which most people see a need to follow it then something is breaking, and it's probably not the public, but rather the rulemaking authority which is failing.

It's also worth mentioning that certain cases arise where even with every player following the rules, chaos and undesirable situations still result. Think of 'rush-hour' commuter traffic on the highway - all the individual decision-makers are law-abiding in the sense they are in a legal place at a legal time but the end-result is a system failure, in this case because too many made the same decision for a path at the same time. So clearly, simply mandating a law does not solve a problem anymore than insisting the sky is green change its true color from blue.

The only thing left is to craft an authority structure based on rules that people want to follow, and in order to want to follow them people have to be able to follow them. In the case of post-Saddam Iraq even if the public had desired to be law abiding they would have been forced to break the laws anyway, for without employment, income and food what choice did one have besides looting? A law abiding Iraqi would be a very hungry, probably dead one. People have to be able to follow the rules.

Three factors must be met in order for a law to be sustainable.

  • People have to want to follow the law because they see it is in their best interest.

  • They must have to the capacity and ability to obey the law.

  • Their personal well-being has to be directly impinged by a failure to follow the law.

The goal is to craft a situation where all of this occurs automatically and instantly without the need for an authority to discipline anyone or even get involved at all, indeed a situation where authority is unnecessary for the occurrence of a harmonious outcome.

A substantive answer remains elusive but suffice to say that information is a key element, it is the limitation of forming such a system and the solution to collective authority. Cheating has to be absolutely minimized with the assumption that anytime someone CAN cheat they WILL, in other words close the loopholes, remove the ability to cheat. If everyone is watching everyone else they will not misbehave because of the instant judgment of their peers. Conversely they may pick up bad habits if they see 'everyone else' doing it. But if people know what others are doing they can react in positive and negative ways. Positive ways mean they can, say, drive on a road that's not congested. But the point is that this is why a 'Social Contract' is doomed because not only are people dishonest at times but also at times incapable of making a lawful decision, as in the case of the hungry Iraqis, if you are hungry and you have no food then stealing may be the only option. Further, this is why information is critical; if everyone realizes that someone is hungry they can both understand their actions and help them out.

Competition or Cooperation?

07.11.02 I've been thinking about the differences between rural and urban and how if you hold the geography constant and allow time to change, so many places progress, quite rapidly in fact, from rural to the urban status. But simply defining the two regions is not as simple as it might sound, although as far as most of us are concerned we know the difference when we see it. More technical delineation's are often problematic, especially in the interstitial zones where rural blends into suburban and then into urban. These distinctions are usually based upon population density. But it occurred to me that another more useful gradient, likely related to the density itself, is that of competition.

And I mean competition on all levels, be it social, economic and even political. Rural regions are generally slower, more relaxed atmospheres because the pressures to compete and to 'win' are much more muted as compared to the frenetic pace of city life where everything is in extreme competition. The stores all try to look as new and modern as possible while offering (or purporting to offer) the most professional and customer-friendly service. Conversely, rural regional commerce is often less modern looking, slower and lower priced, indeed in some case the customer takes whatever they can get because the options are so limited.

But this competition extends to every other facet of life too. The politicking and elections are always more charged and divisive in cities, more money is spent on the elections, the campaigns are more slickly operated and the decisions affect a greater number of people with larger financial stakes involved, generally speaking. On a social level city people are immensely more competitive when it comes to appearance and displays of wealth. This has multiple reasons, and I'm sure you can think of several, but the primary point is that rural and urban have noticeable behavioral distinctions between the two.

It's not diversity but density that generates most social friction.

Further this competitiveness follows an increasing, linear path in direct relation to the size and total wealth of the city; compare St. Louis to New York City for instance. I would contend that this social, economic, and political competitiveness has no apparent limit and that the denizens of a future, theoretical city of 20, 35 or 50 million would be that much more ruthless in their everyday behavior towards other citizens, i.e. competitors.

And the more competitive those things become the greater the wealth disparity because of the simple fact that more competition means fewer (but bigger) winners and more losers, economically speaking at least, because money is a very finite resource.

Competition does serve a purpose; it promotes change and improvement, but only up to a point. Studies (and anybody with two eyeballs and a few brain cells to observe it themselves) have shown that men compete even when no purpose is apparent, even to the point where it becomes a self-defeating endeavor! Women are no less competitive just in different ways and with a built in social moderator that mutes it to some extent. Incidentally I think this helps to explain certain sex-based sociological issues such as the fact that most CEOs and high-ranking political positions are filled by men. It's because of that social moderator which means that it's less acceptable behavior for women to crush toes and stab backs just to get ahead in a corporate or political setting, to compete even beyond the bounds of reason and at the cost of social relations, but I digress.

On a broader scale, humanity used to compete against nature, that is the base level, the survival level but now we competed against each other. We no longer have a common enemy in outside, external forces that forced often disparate groups to work together to survive. Competition, once a powerful cohesive force, has been turned into an equally powerful disassociate force that sets one person against the other in a pitiless struggle for the prize within a zero-sum game. The important psychological concept of friends and enemies is nowhere near as clear as it once was. At the extreme end of urbanized social competition everyone becomes a potential (or real) enemy, with obvious deleterious consequences for the important sense of community and social cohesion needed to hold everything together.

And this brings me to another point. In contemporary discussions on the topic the concept of community has been elevated to almost a mythical ideal, it's what we all want in our town and neighborhood, it's the perfection and harmony so desperately sought in troubled times of disorder and fear. But truly, competition, or at least the hyper-competition of the urban setting, is anathema to community; if community is a glue then competition is an acid! This is a critical realization that every planner and social engineer alike must consider.

Filtering Facts

16.08.02 Public opinion is not immutable, it's plastic. Research has consistently shown that it's not what questions you ask, but rather how the options are phrased that matters. So you only need to extract and display the opinion you want the public to know about to mold public opinion. Thus a poll can generate any result desired merely by crafting the questions in the proper manner. This could explain why the results of polls are constantly being trumpeted in the mass media but the actual questions asked are very rarely printed as well. Quick example:

A) Should America remove Saddam Hussein from power?
B) Or wait for him to develop chemical, nuclear and biological weapons?

Version two:

A) Should America risk attacking and invading Iraq?
B) Or should America promote stability in the middle east?

Senator Sam Snot III picks up the Sunday paper and reads out loud (with a southern drawl), 'Well look here, says a full 85% of Americans surveyed agree we should attack Iraq. I'm not going to buck that wave of popular sentiment, I'm supporting whatever jingoistic machinations the President dreams up!" And off to war we all go.

Polls are remarkably influential forces in contemporary representative democracy, as demonstrated by the last example or read a newspaper, newsmagazine or watch a televisions news program to see other examples. Noam Chomsky once wrote with such issues in mind:

Pick the topic you like: the Middle East, international terrorism, Central America, whatever it is — the picture of the world that's presented to the public has only the remotest relation to reality. The truth of the matter is buried under edifices after edifices of lies upon lies.

Another classic media trick is to interview 10 'experts,' and let's say nine all adamantly agree that such and such a policy is doomed to spectacular failure but the tenth 'expert' says it's the greatest thing since sliced bread, and that's the editorial slant your news agency wants to play. So you never show the other nine interviews and only air the tenth one -- viola! The public's none the wiser and their views on this new policy are more sympathetic than before. No one is lying, the news editors can always claim with a believable smile that they're speaking the voice of the people, but news editing is just like voting in a dictatorship, Stalin said it best, "Those who cast the votes decide nothing; those who count the votes decide everything."

Why Civilizations Self-Destruct

25.05.02 This issue has been debated repeatedly by intellects of high and low stature and with nearly as many conclusions. Since many are well thought out and appear plausible that it's likely the actual reason is a composite of multiple causes. Now, that being the case I have another hue to add to the rainbow, and if accurate poses some profound questions for the state and future of our present civilization.

As a nihilist and a thinker, it appears that anomie is the preeminent issue of the day. But anomie is really just the product of a collective realization that established beliefs are less than the legend, and that traditional solutions are no longer functional or acceptable for contemporary problems. It's as the gifted thinker Gustave Le Bon wrote, "The precise moment at which a great belief is doomed is easily recognizable; it is the moment when its value begins to be called into question." When a majority starts to question the things they aren't supposed to question, that's when things start to fall apart.

How a civilization reaches this point is largely a product of technological development and the fluidity of communications. Since our present era has unparalleled capabilities in both fields it's not surprising that anomie and social decay are omnipresent. The most ossified and conservative civilizations last the longest while the open, dynamic ones fall the soonest. Although the first takes longer to build and the second one is a quicker ascent to greatness.

Descent Into Solipsism

At the present our civilization is on the reverse slope and heading downwards. I'm not attaching a value judgment to this situation because every time and place has equal opportunities for productive and destructive outcome. So, look at where we are now, where we have been historically and ask yourself, what's next and what's the common element of it all? Ultimately, discarding the whole nebulae of metaphysics, philosophy and ideology in favor of pragmatic psychology we're left with the unavoidable conclusion that the only true reference point that every human can agree upon is the concept of 'me first'.

Issues of altruism and heroism have been debated before as superficial exceptions to the rule, but upon closer inspection many if not all of those events are actually beneficial to the self more than the group. So I think it's safe to conclude that simplistic self-interest is the basal guiding principle of human action. It's a subjective position yes but cumulatively it takes on an objective quality. If everyone is the same in their self-interest then this quality takes on a universal significance and it can be approached objectively.

Wonders of Capitalism

If self interest is universal than it's predictable and if it's predictable it can be exploited. For an example of this I present the history of capitalist finance. Researchers have decades of comparison between competing economic models, most notably Capitalism and Communism. The mitigating factors are admittedly significant but all in all I think it's fair to say that Capitalism has proved more popular than Communism because it rewards self-interest. I don't expect too much criticism if I confidently assert that Capitalism is a system defined by selfishness.

The problems arise when selfishness is given a value judgment and the dominant morality defines it as 'wrong' and therefore in desperate need of some corrective action. Enter the panoply of 'solutions' from Fascism to Communism and every shade in between. But looking at this objectively, as everyone should, it's quite apparent that by categorizing normal human behavior as incorrect, and then trying to turn it around, is doomed not just to a mundane failure but to implode in a spectacular collapse!

This is a universal rule. Every effort, be it in theological or ideological clothing, to "correct" human action contrary to natural behavior, has no strategic tenability - it will not last. The Catholic Church tells its priests "you can't have sex" and what happens? The most tenable and long lasting solutions are constructed upon the solid foundations of basal human behavior. This is Like BF Skinner meets Machiavelli.

But if everyone is just out to please themselves, you can't build a civilization, or indeed any larger social structure, be it a health care system or national defense or a community newspaper. Capitalism is an example of how even selfish but noble Libertarian freedom inexorably leads to abuse and dictatorship in some form or another - money, power or both. Fortunately, a loophole exists and that's the fact that perceptions are just as, if not more, powerful than reality in the public's mind. In order to build a system that makes as many people happy as possible, while providing all the necessary social benefits that nobody wishes to pay for, one must create a public perception that what they're doing is in their own best interest but while simultaneously providing for the collective.

This doesn't necessitate trickery, especially as that's a dangerous position for authority figures over a period of time. The point is that even if it's a zero-sum game in a quantifiable sense, it doesn't have to be in human perceptions. In other words, an effective compromise here is one where both parties believe they've ripped off the other! Sort of like a garage sale. This is achieved using the concept of expectations. Start by recognizing that cultural expectations are the field boundaries for Social Engineering.

... and they will bleed with a grin

21.09.01 War is easily the most powerful tool a corrupt leadership can manipulate to its advantage. Just over 10 years after the Gulf War against Iraq comes another war in the same world region, started by the son of the previous warmonger, featuring yet another singular enemy to fix in the public mind. And although the pretext is more vivid and motivational, few are the wiser due to ignorance of history and a lack of critical analysis. A wise man named Niccolo Machiavelli once stated,

But men are so simple, and governed so absolutely by their present needs, that he who wishes to deceive will never fail in finding willing dupes.

Bush senior, the former CIA chief, needed something to deflect from a crumbling domestic economy and he found it with an easily duped Saddam Hussein, tricked into sacking Kuwait. American spy satellites spotted his forces massing north of that small state, Saddam sent out diplomatic queries to Washington who unambiguously replied that it was an internal matter. In other words the White House gave their old ally Iraq a green light for annexing Kuwait, Iraqi territory taken from them by the British empire. The rest is history.

Vladimir Putin learned the lesson. In desperate need of reelection a convenient event happened. Russian apartment buildings were bombed and the finger pointed squarely at Chechen terrorists. Putin was soundly reelected while drowned out voices expressed concern and skepticism over what looked like an FSB (internal Russian police) operation, or at minimum police entrapment. Power players willing to take a risk can reap remarkable rewards, they know the more dastardly the outrage the less likely the public will disbelieve the cover story. It's much more palatable to believe that the already thoroughly unpopular Chechens could kill innocent Russians than their own secret police especially when the never-critical analysis of the TV repeats the party line. Social engineering a war has rarely proved difficult.

In time of conflict men listen not to the voice of sanity, they listen to the voice of aggression. Yet another convenience of war, or rather the blindness of nationalism. The immediate situation is so thoroughly charged by hatred and emotion that few care about the details contradicting the official lies. As Winston Churchill said, "The first casualty of war is the truth." He of all people should know.

Isn't it convenient how every terrorist deed done or attempted everywhere and anytime is suddenly the fault of Osama bin Laden? This despite any evidence provided, or even reasonably implied by American government. Unresolved evidence that the hijacking terrorists were both educated and drank alcohol, as well as a track record of much less than honesty by the same official source. Remember the fabricated Tonkin Gulf incident for getting into Vietnam? More recently the White House lied about Serbian atrocities and vilified the same ally they signed peace accords with. The U$ government lied about the evidence supporting cruise missile strikes against the El Shifa Sudanese pill factory and mud huts in Afghanistan. Further, when pressed by independent studies and property damage lawsuits they obstructed justice by refusing to provide crucial details behind the alleged chemical sample from the pharmaceutical plant bombed in Sudan. But like all things requiring detailed explanations the nightly news had no interest in touching this one.

Even when some details leak out, effusive political personalities can easily elude the damage because their sparkle and soothing oratory provide enormous freedom for spin and lies without arousing popular anger. The splendor of reputation protects from the outrage of the people at egregious conduct, cruelty and abuse. "Against one who is greatly esteemed conspiracy is difficult," Machiavelli, but remember that esteem means popular perceptions and the populace judges by what they're told and what they see and hear. They perceive appearances, not substance. Indeed it's human nature to believe what one wants to believe, the men will die on the battlefield with a smile on their faces knowing they suffered and bled for their nation, likely avenging an outrage produced directly or otherwise by the folly of their leaders.

We've already seen how easy it is to start a conflict and get a populace more than motivated enough to bleed with a grin. We've also seen that a risk taking leader walks away with more than a cautious one, and here greater causalities are the best means of solidifying the justice of the conflict. Stalin's meat-grinder tactics on the western front barely defeated the Wehrmacht but a body count of over 20 million was guaranteed license to rule. How could anyone dare question the necessity and validity of the 'Great Patriotic War' that cost every Russian a relative? The more dead the easier it became to forget that Stalin signed a peace treaty with the hated German enemy, shook hands and smiled with Hitler like best of friends, and provided the German military machine with desperately needed oil.

This tired history has been played out for centuries because the culture has remained the same, a culture that promotes the ascent of extreme masculinity within positions of power, along with the concomitant consequences characterized by the irrational glorification of mass-murder and national chauvinism. And how many women mass murderers can you name? Who's clogging the recruiter's offices and the gun stores, who's yelling the loudest for blood, who's pushing hardest for war? Who's the President shouting 'war' and 'crusade' and 'justice'? The rules will not change as long as these conditions are met, as long as the culture and the morality forming it remain.

In the crowd of competing interests now we know whose voices are heard because they shout the loudest. And the less intelligent the average person within the nation, the more impulsive, rash and the more driven by needs of immediacy, the simpler control by subterfuge becomes. Yet this is not a strategically tenable solution, merely one of expediency, because mobs have a nasty tendency of running amok and carrying things to dangerous extremes making the leader look weak if he doesn't follow along even beyond the range of preference and into the bounds of self-destruction. A mob and a despot, or a decentralized regime and an intelligent public, may work. But a weak or decentralized authority coupled with the vociferous forces of the mob is nothing short of a recipe for disaster. I should not need to enlighten the reader as to which element in this formula is simpler to change in order to minimize disaster; unfortunately it is not the element you or I wish to see altered. The answer is clear, shape up and smarten up or forever curse the consequences.

The Social Engineering creed: Never take by force what one can gain through guile.

< Read more at Social Engineering Page II >

Part of the art of being an innovative theorist is to discern what are temporary difficulties born of the simple prototype model one is creating and what are fatal diseases endemic to any theory of the sort being proposed.
- John D. Barrow


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Updated: November, 2013
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