Thursday, December 24, 2015

Annals of Religious Fundamentalism (American version)

Insufficient energy has been dedicated to discussions of fundamentalist belief and action by the Islamic State, ISIS/ISIL, the Sunni and Wahabi sections of Islam and related religious zealots. It is worth remembering that religious fundamentalism is a very big tent. In fact, it is global, color blind and open to all. Once the tent is entered, then it is highly sectarian, as believers split into hard shell insiders, for  whom belief is clear, safe and secure.

Too little is discussed of religious fundamentalism and how it operates.

There are complexities that function at the individual level:
 - weak mindedness resulting from an absence of education, especially the qualities associated with critical thinking and social science's analytical skills, or the empathetic qualities that flow from Humanities and Liberal Arts instruction
- downward pressures at a domestic and social level - family ideals and related social structures, authoritarian processes and power relations
- societal forces best understood through sociology and critique - such as hopelessness, shame and despair through underemployment and unemployment, immiseration and poverty.

Fundamentalism takes these and other forces and redirects the energies into self-denying success.

Into this complex of energies, inevitably, are key religious texts (The Bible, Quran) that offer solutions to personal challenges in the context of totalizing lifestyles. In a perfect equation, the personal is fully embraced within literal claims made in those texts. Self and context merge in the otherness of the solution, brought by a suffering (super) human and his agents. The forces are difficult to resist when attached to the myths of redemption in an afterlife.  

These forces contribute to religious fundamentalism all over the world. And there are people more than happy to lay claim to the keys to the kingdom of the supreme being or g/God, if willing souls will sublimate themselves to belief in the text and the main messenger.

A critical analysis informed by a commitment to human dignity, equality, shared ownership of production and resources across society, has to look at every expression of religious fundamentalism in order to recognize its ubiquity and the a-front it is to civil society. This includes western types, of which there are too many.

In fact, the US has a troubling history of its own religious fundamentalism. There is a significant absence of public discussion about this field in mainstream US media, probably because it is considered private and no one's business but your own.

Here is an item from my local newspaper the Newton, Massachusetts Tab, December 23, 2015. Thankfully, most US society has moved far beyond this approach:

The Puritans who founded Massachusetts refused to celebrate Christmas because the Bible does not give a date for the birth of Christ, and a winter solstice holiday came from pagan traditions. Furthermore, they thought British celebrations of the holiday encouraged gluttony and excessive drinking. The Massachusetts Bay Colony actually outlawed Christmas celebrations in 1659, punishing anyone caught feasting or taking a day off work with a fine of five shillings. This law was repealed in 1681. 
These days, Christmas trees, lights and alcohol, fun and merriment are part of the celebrations . yet for millions of people around the world, religious fundamentalism offers little joy.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Virtual War is official - US Department of Defense will confront ISIS across all available media = Total War.

"The Secretary of Defense should develop creative and agile concepts, technologies, and strategies across all available media to most effectively reach target audiences, to counter and degrade the ability of adversaries and potential adversaries to persuade, inspire, and recruit inside areas of hostilities or in other areas in direct support of the objectives of commanders."

 Major news, somewhat belated. The hot war against ISIS has been joined by the virtual one with this public announcement, courtesy of the Federation of American Scientists. 

A close read of the document makes it clear that this move to the virtual war front was held off because of the checks and balances in place in Congress and the Constitution. The default has been Public Diplomacy. That moment has passed. The US at least, is now in unchartered waters, as the entire defense edifice (the material and the virtual) is engaged in the effort to defeat ISIS.  

This is Total War - there is no other way to describe this escalation.

The US Department of Defense (DOD) is moving to all out warfare against ISIS, with an agreement and permission to use "all available media."  

The change in circumstances will bring all of the above (courtesy of an anonymous artist at 4chan) to the table, then add those aspects of the Internet about which the public is as yet ignorant.

Combing all aspects of Social Media with Internet and Media generally, makes for a chilling prospect. What will be the impact on social life, on domestic life, on the media and communication landscape? 

As Rhode Island Representative James Langevin noted in a Cyber Operations hearing in Congress in March: 
The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review stated that, and I quote, "The importance of cyberspace to the American way of life and to the Nation’s security makes cyberspace an attractive target for those seeking to challenge our security and economic order." 

The question is: Will Total War in the sense in which I have defined it above, lead to changes in the democratic structures of society? Has Congress given away countervailing power to the DOD? What will become of the media with DOD so embedded in it? 

As David Silver and Alice Marwick asked in their article "Internet Studies in Times of Terror" (Critical Cybercultural Studies, 2006): "What can we do about it?" 

They respond by encouraging academics to generate active strategies to understand, criticize and resist the militarization of social life.  Is it too late? 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Double power of communication on the Internet: a new theory for terror journalism

At this point it’s our ingrained habit to rush with dizzying speed into hyper-political overdrive and treat any shocking new development as fresh fodder for an old argument. 
 Frank Bruni in the New York Times (14 November), writing about the Paris shootings on Friday, November 13. His Op-Ed was titled "The Exploitation of Paris." The point was to draw attention to the self-serving  nature of Twitter commentators whose reactive approach to news leaves little if anything for broader discourse. I am not interested in exploring these right wing nuts here.

I am concerned to identity the speed with which the Internet makes it possible for the irrational to double the irrationality of acts of terror. The double power of communication technology exploits the immediacy of the news and media in general to report, followed immediately by opinion. Both are defined by the irrational, leaving the global public unsure of what if anything is real, then questions of how to make sense of anything. Then a deepening sense of hopelessness.

Into this vacuum comes what Bruni refers to as "hyper-political  overdrive." And it is precisely this intensified environment that creates the hothouse for actions that trouble media critics.

Commentary should be possible, then welcomed, as an anti-dote to the endless flows of unmanageable news.

We need a new theory for terror journalism. What defines it would be the pause button. In other words, divide the double power of Internet based communication by two and come up with slow coverage. Very slow coverage. (In some cases, silence would be better than anything, while we make sense of the event. I disagree with blogger Sam Kriss, who endorses a politics of tragedy with an immediacy that gives too much away to speed, thereby denying space for strategy.)

A new theory of journalism would push against the grain of the necessity of news as "new," as happening now. It would limit the politicization of events, while making politics actually possible.

The old arguments rely on prejudice and immediacy for their currency. Better arguments rely on knowledge that seek a better way.

The result would be to halt the speeding train of bad politics in its digital (Internet) form. Somewhat like slow food, it would produce progressive responses to challenges whose history will not be understood in the latest news flash.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Larry Lessig drops out: was he misguided?

News that Larry Lessig has given up his bid for the US Presidency because the Democratic Party would not give him a place in televised debates is somewhat disappointing, yet predictable.

Lessig - who I first met in 1997 when we were invited speakers  at a Government conference about the Internet in Grand Cayman Islands - offered a tribute to the cause of a democracy worth fighting for in his video announcement. His campaign looked like getting to 1% of electors to qualify. Then the Democratic Party changed the rules.

Citing his friend Aaron Schwartz - who suicided in January 2013, after an intense criminal proceeding was launched against him by the office of the Boston-based Federal Prosecutor, Carmen Ortiz - Lessig moved away from Internet research and activism towards Federal Government funding reform. Schwartz encouraged Lessig to make the move.

Lessig, in typically fine rhetorical form, offered this explanation in the video announcing his departure from his Presidential campaign. (This is not to implicitly denigrate the value of rhetoric - the art of persuasion - it is to draw attention to Lessig's capacity as a speaker).

We must find a way to get all of America to see now that we  can't solve any of the problems that this nation must address until we fix the crippled and corrupted institution of Congress first.

The question for me as an Internet researcher and media/communication scholar is: Could Lessig have achieved more by staying with Internet research and activism?

My answer is yes!

Moving established institutions like Congress is a massive task, too much to expect even from a Harvard Law Professor. At the risk of being considered unkind, "Harvard Law Professor people" unfortunately believe that they can bring undue individual influence to power.

For example, Barak Obama (a Harvard Law graduate) believed, as did his many of his followers, that he could influence Congress, the American public and others to improve US democracy. The institutions of state did not and will not move for him or anyone.

Communication moves people! The Internet is the key contemporary communication mechanism that offers a more effective mouse trap with which to catch the rats! (Sorry about the metaphor).

Larry knew this as did Aaron Schwartz. And yet they believed that a direct intervention to change campaign financing in the US Congress, would be possible through the ballot box. Sad to say, this was misguided. It reflects the narrowness of the Harvard world view. It also embodies technology geekiness, in the sense that technology geeks operate within a limited algorithmic world view.

A critical assessment of Aaron Schwartz's perspective would suggest a geekiness removed from an understanding of the institutional processes of power relations. Conversely, he believed in the power of the Internet, yet wrongly believed that encouraging Lessig to attack campaign finance funding would be the solution to the larger questions about US democracy. Meanwhile right in front of him were the tools to mobilize the change. Both men experienced a knowledge deficit, due to the geekiness quotient that blinded them to the centrality of media-communication.

And yet Lessig is on track to continue his important work in the name of his dear friend and in the name of the progressive cause that can define the Internet's communicative capacity. That gesture, that love from Larry to Aaron cannot be denied.  Indeed, it should be welcomed into the comity of discourse, as perhaps the most important aspect of this saga - the loyalty and affection of one person for another.

Progressive politics needs the Lessigs. Not because they are Harvard Law Professors, but because they are true to the dreamed objectives of progressive democracy in the US. As Lessig added in his announcement:

Like the Progressive Movement a century ago, it will be millions working together from every political stripe, who will win this democracy back.

Maybe, or maybe not. In the current conjuncture, it is unlikely that "every political stripe" will turn up in the Progressive camp. They will turn up, in, on and around the Internet, where new theories of political engagement are playing out.

For example, social movements are connecting with political movements, through Social Media of many types. The implications for what can happen will be influenced by a greater understanding of the political forces at work. Lessig has made a significant contribution to that understanding. What remains is to comprehend the complexity of the Internet-politics-funding nexus.

Thank you Larry!


Monday, September 7, 2015

Universals, ISIS, sex slavery - confrontation

An endless war? That is almost the only conclusion to be reached as the Islamic state consolidates itself across Syria and Iraq in this epoch's Caliphate. Meanwhile, the liberal west and its global allies react with bombings and pronouncements by politicians that something must be done to stop the realignment of interests against the western liberalism towards fundamentalist Islam.

Two clearly different world views are staring at each other, offering different perspectives on how society can be organized. These opposing models of society are liberal secularism and religious sectarianism. At it most stark, the contrast is between a world view that acknowledges all beliefs within uncertain, changing boundaries of tolerance, and a fundamentalist world view that tolerates few exceptions to literal interpretations of religious texts.

The tolerance that generally defines liberalism has been considered a universal value system since the Enlightenment. In recent human history, tolerance of differences in belief and action is the hegemonic value system, producing as it were, the State that licenses tolerance. This license is increasing, with, for example, legalized gay marriage in the US in 2015. The Civil Rights Act in the US of 1964 marked the move towards legal equality for all US citizens, in a move that overturned the illiberal idea of racist separation of the races.

And so it goes: incremental shifts in opening up the definition of tolerance. The slow movement toward the universality of tolerance impacts previously entrenched intolerance. The old models of regulation of human nature by any other name, have given way to de-regulation of the same previously regulated aspects of human nature.

It is a complex of contrasts that leads to war.

Openness can be seen in the Internet culture of an idealized non-regulated libertarian space, where the state and the system started from a position that said "Do whatever you want."

The other side insists on preserving regulations within its explicitly codified system of belief . This is the fundamentalist insistence on controlling every minutes of life. It gives and it takes in highly orchestrated public acts - from public beheadings and burnings to crucifixions. These acts are intended to discipline the population who see them enacted in the village square. These same acts are recorded and circulated on the unregulated Internet to make is clear that there are rules and regulations that must be obeyed. These horrifying acts for most people are public expressions of explicit codes. The world watches the embodiment of a system of codes.

(In contrast, the Nazis did not allow people to watch the enactment of their ideological killings of minorities, Jews, the disabled and Leftists because they knew it was against the western code of civilization. There were exceptions. Costa Gavras's 2002 film Amen makes a case for the counterpoint to liberalism by a Jesuit priest and a Waffen-SS officer).  

These days, the dominant view is that two contrasting world views cannot inhabit the same space.

On one hand, tolerance for what is considered neo-liberalism is a field of openness primarily for certain State and corporate interests. The organizing logic of neo-liberalism was described by the US Philosopher Wendy Brown nearly a decade ago and she continues to show how liberalism in its "neo" formation, continues to offer apparent licence to enjoy social lifestyles, while reducing options for emancipation, as it was once imagined in liberalism.

The shifting landscape of the universalism of liberalism was noted by French philosopher Michel Foucault:  "My thesis is this: The universality of our knowledge has been acquired at the cost of exclusions, bans, denials, rejections at the price of a kind of cruelty with regard to reality."

Is the conflict between western liberalism and ISIS the result of a perversion of this idea: that liberalism pushed some behavior into private spaces, never allowing them. It is difficult to imagine how a universal becomes a universal if it disallows some actions, except through the hand of State regulation.

ISIS and sex slavery

The big recent story about ISIS has been the official sanction of Sex slavery in the ISIS Caliphate. It is enshrined in a closed system of non-liberal reason.

The story came to light in the New York Times August 13, 2015 article, "Theology of Rape" by Rukmini Callimachi. This comprehensive article was premised on the universality of liberalism's concept of tolerance for the dignity of women not to be treated as objects for sexual pleasure.

The important point about the article is the description of the religious codes that allow the Caliphate's sex trade to occur. Within the Caliphate, the theocratic legal system insists that specific rights can be claimed. Reading the article, one can see that the Caliphate marks the end of the west's insistence on its universals. The hegemony of western universals is over.

There are two reasons why the Caliphate will continue: religion and the Internet.

Religion: The ideological texture of ISIS appears to be increasingly informed by legal structures formed around a theocratic State system. As Callimachi's New York Times article noted, the rationality driving the Caliphate is formally constructed in Sunni Islamic theology. There is almost none of the informality of liberalism, which is where liberalism's tolerance comes from: do no harm.

Internet: The structure of Caliphate life in the areas it controls across Syria and Iraq are consolidating. The west can see that  from the way ISIS tells the world what they are doing. The publicness of the Internet works in combination with religion, horrifying the liberal world view, even as the Caliphate announces itself.

The only solution to the explicit images of theocracy in action is war from the west. But the west will find that it cannot win.

As Patrick Coburn, the most highly regarded journalist reporting on ISIS noted in The Independent  on 30 August, 2015, ISIS says: "You may hate what you are seeing, but there is nothing you can do to stop it."

Entire intellectual maps need to be redrawn along with the Middle East's geographical Broken Borders. The national borders imposed on the Middle East in the nineteenth century by European colonialists are evaporating. The Caliphate is putting an end to them and in so doing has put an end to established ideas of liberalism.

The combination of religion with the Internet - theocracy with communication - allows another set of universals to move into focus. This could mean endless war, or it could mean two coexistent world views.

One caveat: the rise of ISIS and the Caliphate is undoubtedly a major site of disinformation and misinformation. The following headline caught my eye:
Turkey Pays Former CIA Director and Lobbyists to Misrepresent Attacks on Kurds and ISIS

Information warfare is intense, with the west and ISIS using the same digital mechanisms to tell their story on the Internet. In this space it is likely that no one is telling the truth.

Then there are the people writing the laws in the Caliphate, where every step is regulated truth...  



Wednesday, July 29, 2015

ISIS consolidating as a networked ideological organization

Public commentary about ISIS has persisted in discussing its "horror," to quote Francis Ford Coppola's film about Vietnam, Apocalypse Now, quoting Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899).  All the horror has come to the public through the Internet, whose televisual excess is a study in itself.

To add to the sense of horror, there has been a wave of incomprehensibility. It has gradually yet quickly over the past six months, given way to acceptance that a military campaign by the forces of liberalism can only succeed with a massive invasive effort, or something...  "Something" being a way of getting the conventions of explanatory analysis back to the depiction of chaos of Coppola's Vietnam.

The only certainty about ISIS is that it exists and is likely to continue to exist. My theory is that the Internet will guarantee this survival outcome because this particular jihad is a networked ideological organization.

In contrast, the forces arrayed against it are also networked, yet in a mirror image metaphor of the Internet, distributed in such a way that there is no single pathway of comprehension to the singularity of the networked ideological organization that is ISIS. More importantly, unlike ISIS, the opposition organization is chaotic and consequently feckless, conflicted by divergent interests.

In Uprising, I argued that "ideological grooming" was was way of understanding how the Internet "creates" jihadists. The networked ideological organization driving ISIS has a singular focus which reinforces its success. This is, the "singular focus" is a key characteristic of the fundamentalism that makes ISIS a success.

ISIS jihadists are constructed in ways that have recently been referred to as "persuasion profiling" by Maurit Kaptein.

While persuasion profiling has the glowing aura of capitalist confidence about it - how to sell more stuff to consumers - the unfortunate insight to accept is that the same communication technology that makes it possible to sell consumerism through profiling to weak minded consumers everywhere, is selling jihadist ideas over the Internet as well. This convergence of "ideological grooming" sees the Internet providing the machinery of communication for anything - consumerism or jihad. This is a critically essential perspective. It also makes one uncomfortable, because it is not possible to merely point the finger at jihadists and their singularity, when westernized consumers are using the same Internet-based communication tools to achieve their personal singular goals.

Important research from Sherry Turkle at the MIT initiative on technology and self reported in her 2012 book Alone Together, offers concrete support for the ideological grooming of young people who are "always on." It is from within this global community of young people that jihadists are being recruited for fight for ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Few if any researchers are making this connection because it is distressing to accept: the global Internet goes both ways! (It could be the Internet's AC/DC effect).

In this situation, different, new, alternative or contradictory ideas are excluded in an endless feedback loop of ideological reinforcement. Ideas are conveyed over the Internet through the unmediated power of visual stimuli on the monitor. (There is a lot of useful research to be conducted on youth and Internet influence in decision making.)

Increasingly, psychological aspects of human behavior are being used to attract attention to sites - and keep users on line. While this is not the place to engage in that discussion, the value propositions of Google, Facebook and most other Internet behemoths are founded on reconstituting the human eye-ball as the essential access point for action. It is entirely appropriate to recognize this contradictory characteristic of the Internet: that the intensification of visual stimuli through higher quality pixelation generates ideological encasement.

"Persuasion" is hardly needed in this context. Once the science of keeping the eye engaged is perfected, the story has a beginning and an end, a start and a finish that is determined once the eye is fully engaged. (I have written about technological determinism before on this blog. My argument about ISIS is an extension of the case for technological determinism.)

That many liberal critics do not want to accept the closed or encased nature of the Internet's ideological construction is a serious limitation.The enthusiasm for the pleasures / potential of the Internet has produced its counter, a refusal to shut down that pleasure. Alternatively, there is a naive belief in the capacity of communication to offer a public, even revolutionary good that reproduces emancipation in a liberal utopia.

 I am thinking here of Andrew Feenberg, who is not so much a liberal as a Marxist theoretician (and a very good one). The closing criticism by William Rehg of Feenberg's book Between Reason and Experience makes the point:

Feenberg's oeuvre reveals an enduring confidence that local exercises of agency and resistance, aided by participatory forms of administration, can gather enough momentum to redirect technology and society in surprising ways. Although there may be wisdom in that confidence, it assumes we have not all been thoroughly seduced -- or imprisoned -- by the profitable comforts of consumption.

Frankly, we are at the point where the redirection of technology and society has indeed been redirected in "surprising ways," as the Internet and ISIS connection makes clear: talk about local exercises of agency! For ISIS, Feenberg's hoped for ambitions of localized activism are inverted, within a negative view of his aspirations.

IS has used the Internet for its own purposes - organizing its business, its campaigns and management and religious, economic and social programs. The model for this combination of political media is considered Leni Riefenstahl's documentary film from 1932 Triumph of the Will. As Nazi propaganda, it worked as a feel-good tool to convey to the masses the message of the new Germany under Hitler. Seen in terms of Walter Benjamin's definition of proletarianization, in "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," it took an otherwise uplifting art form - cinema - and used it as propaganda to speak to the lowest  - the immature and irrational - instincts of the proletariat.

On 7 October 2014, The Guardian published a story by Steve Rose, "The ISIS propaganda war:a high tech media jihad," which took this line of argument. Nearly a year later there is less public discussion of this matter and more recognition that ISIS is here to stay. Certainly it is well researched, as  indicated in Ben Taub's article "Journey to Jihad" in The New Yorker  June 1, 2015.  

Furthermore, the "So-called Islamic state" was referred to as "IS" in July 2015 (short for Islamic State) by National Public Radio in the US. This implicit change in reference was presumably not welcomed. The earlier nomenclature of the "So-called Islamic State" has reappeared. To speak of "IS" is to give it legitimacy.

Nevertheless, on July 21 2015, The New York Times called it. The connection between the Internet and the state is clear from the article. A close read indicates - as has been the case for some time - that the IS does not rule by terror alone. In fact it rules by the Internet.

In Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate, Abdel Bari Atwan argues for the centrality of all things digital. As the preferred apparatus by which the ISIS message is offered, the Internet carries the media of video atrocities and speeches, recruitment appeals and politics. As a working example of a networked ideological organization, this application of all things digital cannot be dismissed. As Malise Ruthven wrote in reviewing Atwan's book in the July issue of the New York Review of Books: "... ISIS terror is a systematically applied policy that follows the ideas put forward in jihadist literature, notably in an on-line tract, The management of Savagery, by the al-Qaeda ideologue Abu Bakr Naji." (emphasis added)

To counter the consolidation of ISIS and thus the public view that the US and its allies cannot control the entire geo-political world, another point is gaining ground in some quarters. This is the head in the sand and "protect the homeland approach:" as long as citizens in the US / NATO don't experience ISIS directly, then let it go. Why the ISIS threat is totally overblown by John Mueller makes this point, as a kind of colonial reaction to going to war: as long as the war is over there it can stay there.

There is great difficulty in making sense of the rise of ISIS. Jacques, a reader commentating on the above New York Times story made the point very well:

 The question the West needs to ask is, if not ISIS, who? Who will promise more sustainable stability in the future? How could ISIS ever be defeated? Already it's a minuscule army - less than 100,000 - controlling an area with a population of almost 9 million. The regions sunnis would prefer ISIS to the Iranian based militias who fight in the name of Iraq these days (a gift of the Blair-Bush-Cheney junta). (21 July)

In the August edition of the New York Review of Books an anonymous analyst suggested that "It is not clear whether our culture can ever develop sufficient knowledge, rigor, imagination or humility to grasp the phenomenon of ISIS."

The same analyst indicated the presence of Twitter as part of the ISIS success strategy:
 In ISIS: The State of Terror, Stern and Berger provide a fascinating analysis of the movement’s use of video and social media. They have tracked individual Twitter accounts, showing how users kept changing their Twitter handles, piggybacked on the World Cup by inserting images of beheadings into the soccer chat, and created new apps and automated bots to boost their numbers. Stern and Berger show that at least 45,000 pro-movement accounts were online in late 2014, and describe how their users attempted to circumvent Twitter administrators by changing their profile pictures from the movement’s flags to kittens. But this simply raises the more fundamental question of why the movement’s ideology and actions—however slickly produced and communicated—have had popular appeal in the first place.
As a networked ideological organization, IS could prove to be the ultimate case study in what western liberalism will see as the horror of Internet smartness.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The News and ISIS

Writing in 1980, the Cambridge University-based Welsh Cultural Studies scholar Raymond Williams made the following comment: 

Let us face it then: the news has been very bad lately. But it is very difficult to be sure how much of this badness has been in the events themselves, and how much in their intense and relentless interpretation by the authorities: a one-sided polemic ..." Williams on News

It was, Williams suggested, a style of news which he could not remember being at such a "pitch since the late Forties." 

He was writing about the era of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, both of whom, in the early days of their international preening, worked to assert UK (The Malvinas/Falklands War) and US dominance around the world (Afghanistan, USSR, Nicaragua). 

Watching media reports of ISIS and the consolidation of the Caliphate across the Syria-Iraq border, the news here too has been "very bad." The urgency of all the reporting has been an inside out litany of puzzlement. 

The news was once open to the following quizzical analysis, suggested Williams:

The fact that certain events have undoubtedly occurred – have happened to people, have been observed, have been reliably reported, have been tested from the evidence of participants and witnesses – has been used to conceal or to override the equally evident fact that as they move from events to news they are being narrated, and that certain long-standing problems of narration – the identity of the narrator, his authority, his point of view, his assumed relationship to his readers or hearers, his possible wider purposes in selecting and narrating these events in this way – come inevitably into question. Williams 
 (Sensitivity to gender bias - his this and his that -  was not yet part of the system of discussion in 1980).
The news in mid-2015  is less "a one-sided polemic" open to questions about the man who was presenting it to the public. Now, it is a multi-leveled series of unstable modal points, data even, whose provenance is perfectly known, down to the millimeter, thanks to Global Positioning Systems!  

The polemic has been replaced by chaotic disbelief in urgent precision. For every news authority, there is an alternative, including the enemy itself. Television news increasingly switches sometimes interchangeably, between ISIS-provided live action footage and Iraqi, Syrian government footage, .

Questions about how to make sense of what ISIS has achieved swirl across time-zones, evacuated then filled with ideological interests that offer less a narration, as Williams suggested, and more a pastiche, a dada-esque patchwork of networked information. The single point around which this story forms is that of the end of historical imperial interests in Iraq and Syria. The Broken Borders  plans which I have written about before, are a key motivation for ISIS and the Caliphate. The colonial borders have been broken, as the borders of Iraq and Syria are patrolled by members of ISIS: this is now an "old" story, (new borders - 2014) yet relevant to the way the official news presents the situation: resolvable with more violence. 

The polemic of the single narrative has been extended with the singular narrative of violence. It is a narrative rooted in the military-industrial complex, and in its singularity it remains a vestige of the single imperial narrative. 

Here is Williams again on this "old" form narrative news.
 But the whole problem is the selection of one interpretation as newsWilliams  
The news now happens in the networked environment. News watchers flick between channels, making up their own minds even as the official versions insist on the singularity of the violence narrative, dominated, sad to say, by a US appetite for violence. 

Williams argued in favor of the change in this singular approach in 1980! He saw networked communication as a positive response to the singularity. New communications offered an enlargement of opinions which reflected the social conditions which many people experienced, but which remained unreported:
One notable opportunity for such enlargement now exists in the new communications technology, especially in the conmmon-carrier (sic) and interactive versions of teletext. Williams
Yes, the news remains very bad lately. It is also creating new opportunities for the public to understand the chaos of many voices. Is it possible that out of the new spaces of networked news, better social relations will emerge? 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Resistance to Murdoch and News Corporation

Organized resistance is challenging the taken-for-granted interference in political campaigns by Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation and News International.

The above image indicates how News International and Murdoch is seeking to influence the outcome of the UK election in 2015. It shows the Tory leader, David Cameron, in Mr Murdoch's pocket.  It is part of a long narrative that involves Murdoch in UK politics.

This resistance is welcomed by all democrats who respect the ideal of public discourse in a media environment free of the individual interests of media owners.

On the other hand, media interests run by the state in the interests of national development, security and sovereignty deserve support ... It is a difficult discussion in many countries where state broadcasters have been politicized by limiting interests, like News International working in cooperation with conservative political parties. (Australia is a case in point, with major cut backs to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2014. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has been similarly reduced to a shadow if its former critical, progressive self.)

Having progressive media is a difficult ideal, except in the Internet space. Public media, broadcasting in particular, must not be forgotten, or left to wither, driven by hand-outs and fund raisers. This is the National Public Radio model in the USA these days.

Resistance to Murdoch and vested interests is welcome. There are other emergent issues in media as well - presses that reflect labor and minority concerns. It is a complex environment that is changing, as the photo indicates.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Napoleoni on the Caliphate - new national boundaries

 At a recent event in Seattle, Loretta Napoleoni spoke about her understanding of ISIS/ISIL and the emergence of the Caliphate. The redesign of state borders took place in 2014 with the announcement on June 14 2014, of The Caliphate. Announcement

Her recorded comments were broadcast in Sounds of Dissent, WZBC, 90.3, Boston College Radio, March 28, 2015.

Napoleoni is the author or Terror Incorporated: Tracing the dollars behind the terror networks and The Islamic Pheonix: Islamic State and the Redrawing of the Middle East (2014) among others. Bio

She is an enlivened speaker as a Ted talk indicates: Napoleoni Talk

Her understanding of the Caliphate can be taken at face value if only because the counter argument in circulation amount to denials of the obvious. Any attempt to make the counter argument is flawed by the fact that the Caliphate exists and functions.

Here is Napoleoni on the Caliphate:
None of them (the US President and other world leaders) use that word "Caliphate" because they don't want to admit we are not dealing with an armed organization, we are dealing with a state. The use of ISIL, ISIS is actually to prevent admitting that they have been able to create a nation. So they actually have succeeded in nation building. 
Against this, the dominant media representations of the Caliphate have been of an unhinged group of Internet-recruited terrorists posting horrific videos of violence and murder as part of a direct challenge to western values of civility, decency and liberal sensibility (meaning tolerance for other religions and The Other more generally).

It is in the land claim redefining borders, that the real challenge is playing out, Here Balkanization has taken place - new borders and a self managed state exists and functions outside of the protocols of Enlightenment systems of justice and individual autonomy.  In fact, the collision of values is to be found in the western orientation to individual realization of the self and state sponsored access to knowledge, versus the Caliphate's religious demand for collective agreement of a specific reading and interpretation of the Koran. The individualistic versus collectivist reading of civilization is clearly becoming defined.

The Internet enhances the presence of the Caliphate, allowing it to organize its business, as well as promote recruitment of fighters, wives and supporters, plus expand militant action. Perhaps more important, are the deep historical roots that connect the Khilafat in Pakistan and India, (and potentially Afghanistan and the region generally) to the Caliphate of ISIS / ISIL. This is a powerful history that draws on past injustices to the religious-ethnic nexus. example and Ghandi's interest

The arrangement of borders is taking place marking the realization of long-held dreams for theocratic states. The Internet reinforces the claims, drawing in believers like moths to the flame. Napoleoni is right to make the point that the moment world leaders start referring to the Caliphate, the new state is acknowledged and with it a long held dream...    

Friday, March 27, 2015

Is the US really an advanced country?

"US businesses do not need to give workers any days off whatsoever – for vacation or sick days – under federal law." does liberal democracy = no holidays
As a naturalized citizen, it is sometimes difficult to keep the faith of my citizenship when stories like this emerge. Not having holidays for a native-born Australian like me seems an impossibility. 
Australia, "Land of the long weekend," has, like most countries in Western Europe, been defined by social democracy. The national political economy is historically different, defined by wonderful successes, where the language of business is not the default... although that, sadly, is changing. The default has been a series of compromises between labor and management, where the Labor parties have insisted that the workforce deserves a break.
Not surprisingly, this Guardian article caught my eye.
The US is also the only developed country that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity or parental leave to its citizens. Three states have local policies.
In 2014, 77% of Americans working for privately owned companies got paid vacation days, typically between 10 to 14 days a year. And 74% of full-time workers and 24% of part-time workers in the private sector were offered paid sick leave, according to the US Department of Labor.
 “Today, we are the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers. Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave – 43 million,” Barack Obama said during his State of the Union address in January.

Within the political economy of social versus liberal democracy comes the role of the corporation in US society. 

The Guardian report stated that Microsoft is insisting that its US suppliers give their employees holidays. The privatization of labor operates in this way, where private interests set their own rules, exploit labor however it likes and refuse to engage in humane treatment of workers, until government or a major corporation makes a determination for humane treatment. 

It is tempting to congratulate Microsoft. But the shift here, as in much of the discussion in the technology sector, is of a domain that has been seeking emancipation from public policy. In many contexts the IT sector has actively sought to operate outside of, even refuse a role for government. This is the anti-statist, de-regulationist, all-regulation-is-bad school of political economy, run by people who misread Adam Smith and never intend to get to Marx. This recent article from Der Spiegal lays out the situation: the Germans don't buy it.  Der Spiegal - IT trends 

The operationalization of the libertarian perspective works well within the dominant liberal democratic paradigm. Not being awarded holidays, sick days, humane working conditions, takes society back beyond liberalism to a state barely above feudalism, as workers are considered chattels, owned and used, then thrown out as the emperors of technology decide their fate. 

  • Australians, stand up for the dignity of labor - more long weekends! 
  • Alternatively, is it time to say? "Put away that computer and the feudal values it represents."    
  • Other critics will surely ask, Is the US really an advanced society?   

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Reverse history: Distributed ISIS as the global jihad?

Do we have to watch the world get turned upside down by counter-revolutionary religious fervor?

It appears that we have little if any say in it. The fundamentalist religious action of ISIS is there for anyone to see on Internet videos: beheadings, torture, celebratory convoys, martyrs, the works. The media richness of the shift backwards in human history is almost beyond belief.

What is stunning is the way the clock that applied to European, then western and human civilization through the agency of the Enlightenment has been stopped. Then wound back. The reversal of history is achieving a perverse universality through ISIS. The universality of liberalism and its ideals was the revolution that emanated from France. Now the universality of non-liberalism exists as an alternative.

ISIS began as a local Islamic uprising against imperially-imposed national borders. The revolt is rapidly moving to a new phase, stretching itself and its influence largely through media memes, to anyone with an axe to grind and the pathology to apply the axe.

That amounts to a lot of people with an interest in sharia law, the Caliphate and Apocalyptic Islamic theology, as Graeme Wood helpfully documented in "What ISIS really wants," in The Atlantic, February, 2015. What ISIS really wants The other side of this coin is becoming clear - as the Caliphate consolidates in parts of the Middle East, a number of interest groups express support in other geographical areas of the planet.

Distributed revolt has a model in play (in the Caliphate) plus a network of activist agents. Or to put is another way, many thousands of ISIS supporters now have agency in areas remote from Syria, Iraq and Turkey.  
The news that Nigeria's Boko Haram has recognized ISIS consolidates a bad week or two. Islamist militants with ISIS orientations have been appearing in Pakistan, Afghanistan and, well, everywhere.  Boko Haram goes global This is in addition to recruits attempting to move to Syria then into the Caliphate, prompted by ISIS evangelists on the Internet. Indeed, as the travel associated with the recruits is madeillegal and halted, the connections and activism is translated to localized activity. Through on-line sites, they can plan remote dedication.

(The model here is closing down a heroin distribution site - it pops up on the other side of town).

The question is where to go to find solutions to the emergence of this movement?

What is the value in arming fighters and placing them in designated war zones? ISIS has become a distributed struggle. It is virtual and material.

In the 1990's there there was an "end of history" movement, prompted by Francis Fukuyama's book of the same name. Is it time to rethink the idea that global forward momentum is over and with it assumed history? There is plenty to think about here, even years after the original claims by Fukuyama: end of history

Somewhere, the pieces will need to be brought together in a new global governance theory that acknowledges that the ways of "being enlightened" are no longer a universal ideal. What then?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Block and filter Internet information in India - How culture and speech rights collide

The Internet was pretty much invented by the American belief in free speech. As an unregulated communication technology, it has been promoted as a vehicle in which anything can be uttered. The libertarian impulse driving this approach has been codified in US Constitutional Rights, most commonly the First Amendment of The Bill of Rights:

.Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. Rights and related documents
The claims therein are barely contestable for Americans. The free flow of information on the Internet seems to approach the realization of this "code." In the US, entire enterprises are built around the free exercise of speech.

What happens when those same rights move off-shore? If the US Constitution applies strictly to US citizens on US soil, What happens when US citizens and their enterprises promote speech rights outside the United States? Such an act would surely qualify as improper, because the US Constitution is not the same as the European Union's, or India's or China's.. any other nation.

To make the story more complex, what happens when US speech rights are embodied in the Internet? As a global phenomena, does this amount to the imposition US speech values on all Internet users? In such an instance, is the Internet a means of extending US Constitutional ideals everywhere?  

There are increasing instances where US speech rights operating within US Internet firms are merely taken up in the system regardless of their suitability for other cultures. Informational Free Speech is assumed as a global good.

There are several areas for discussion: Constitutional Law, International Law, Jurisprudence - the theory of law itself and its application, United States Government ideals, Culture, Internet Studies, Media Studies, History, Theology and Heritage. The list can be extended of course. It illustrates the importance of interdisciplinary research.

Imagine the surprise Speech Rights advocates and libertarian political activists had when the Indian Supreme Court ordered three major US Internet firms to stop carrying information. The information was culturally specific and sensitive to India.

It is information that gives Indian parents details about the gender of a fetus. Acting on that information has meant aborting a female fetus in favor of keeping a male one.

Here is the report.    

Foreign Policy South Asia Daily, January 29.
The Indian Supreme Court ordered companies including Google Inc., Yahoo! Inc., and Microsoft Corp. not to advertise sex determination tests that reveal a child's sex, according to news reports on Wednesday (BBCLivemint).

The interim court order came after the central government said the three search engines have "relevant technology and deep-domain knowledge and expertise to block/filter the words/phrases/expressions and sponsored links" (NDTV).

The Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994, prohibits advertisements related to prenatal determination of sex due to the widespread practice of aborting female fetuses in India.

According to the 2011 census, there has been a decline in the number of girls under the age of seven. Activists claim that as many as eight million female fetuses in India may have been aborted in the last decade.

-- Neeli Shah
The agreement among Indian legislators is that female abortions, should be stopped, by stopping information about it in that country. US Internet firms are thereby drawn into this cultural collusion.

A great research project would be to list all the informational exceptions to Internet Free Speech such as this one, by nations outside the US. what speech is not allowed that collides with US ideals. The list in the US is extensive as well...

Monday, January 12, 2015

Making sense of Charlie Hebdo in the Networked age - the media exceptionalism vortex

"Making sense?" What a ridiculous and unworthy claim!

Who can make sense of the attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the murder of 10 of its journalist-cartoonists plus two police officers, as well as four shoppers in a Vicennes Kosher supermarket, and in a separate incident, a police officer: 17 in all.

So far, the events in Paris, like the events in Sydney in December last year, have been accorded high level importance as exceptions to everyday life. Each event was accorded detailed coverage as the most important event on hand - until the next one. The media makes is possible to magnify outrageous acts as exceptional, generating  an equal and opposite sense of exceptionalism in more media coverage. As long as the media can be there - through the combined convenience of modern travel (the journalists are on the spot) and the immediacy of communication networks - the events are seen as exceptional, and thus worthy of coverage.

For students of media this can be considered the media exceptionalism vortex. In this domain, a mediated act provokes another in order to match the first. However, because the first "event" happens in an unplanned and spontaneous way, the explanation takes much longer than the event. The media takes on the role of instantaneous historian: responding to the the event by filling in a landscape that keeps changing.

While the reporting continues, claims and counterclaims emerge about the intentions of the perpetrators, the impact of the event and a long term view or perspective.  These four categories need to be immediately serviced with speculative claims, evidence, and theory. Contemporary news media is constructed around a sequence of event-intent-impact-perspective. Truth and justice is not the principle goal of this reporting. The goal is images and personages whose contributions heighten these four pillars of contemporary mediation.

Anyone can set up a television or Internet site to report on the four. In fact millions have - web pages, social media, You Tube,Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Ali Baba ...

Why are there so many outlets for news and analysis? How do they flourish in the crowded marketplace of ideas, amidst the media clutter?

The answer can be found in the fragmentary yet maximized claims each outlet and individual offers. Every one claims to be an exception and to be exceptional.

In other words, the key proposition driving every media report and comment is its claim to be exceptional. Only exceptional events are covered, and as Noam Chomsky pointed out, these are the events considered by the media to belong to the Righteous, to us, not to them, which are horrendous. Chomsky

To start with, the "event" must be exceptional to gain the attention of the media, after which every piece of analysis offered fits into claims of exceptionality. The intent-impact-perspective create a framework for sustaining the exceptionalism. Nothing can be banal, everyday or ordinary.  Reporting must be exceptional, while every report associated with the original event has a hint of the virtue of us as watchers.

Several aspects of the events in Paris illustrate this analysis.

Charlie Hebdo itself has been exceptionalized. Its foolhardy bravery in publishing secular cartoons and caricatures was necessary in a liberal society - but it was also stupid. After raising the ire of Muslims and no doubt true believers of many other faiths that it pilloried with parody, it crossed the threshold. As an anonymous poster on b/chan wrote: "Charlie Hebdo was an extremely racist publication that punched down at the oppressed Muslim minorities of Europe." boards Anon

In more elaborate terms, here is a perspective from Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine: 
Similarly, the media has refused to even consider what it would mean to a French Muslim, living among Muslims who are economically marginalized and portrayed as nothing but terrorists, their religious garb banned in public, their religion demeaned, to encounter a humor magazine that ridiculed the one thing that gives them some sense of community and higher purpose, namely Mohammed and the religion he founded. Lerner criticism
Were Charlie Hebdo's editors ignorant of the way their images transcended the libertarian malcontents drawing cartoons and publishing in an office in Paris? Were they unthinking of the way those images circulated around the world in the virtual space? Did they care about the implications of their actions? Did the editor, Stephane Charbonnier recognize that in being added to an el-Qaida in Yemen hit list in 2012, and not changing his behavior he was provoking a reaction? Presumably yes. Slate report
"Our job is not to defend freedom of speech but without it we're dead. We can't live in a country without freedom of speech. I prefer to die than to live like a rat," Charbonnier told ABC News. ABC News
Foolhardy indeed.

Lenin referred to "infantile disorder" in the ultra-left? Is it possible to see the libertarianism that is available to social entrepreneurs like the Charlie Hebdo journalists as similarly infantile? "We can do whatever we like!" goes the mantra. We are exceptional in seeking to overthrow the tyranny that controls society through religion. This exceptionalism proved to be ill-advised.

The exceptionalism of Charlie Hebdo was realized when Charbonnier and his colleagues were gunned down. They became the event. All of a sudden the intent-impact-perspective became central to the coverage, as every journalist and writer attempted to be exceptional in their coverage.    

No wonder it is impossible to make sense of the Charlier Hebdo assassinations and related Parisian events. There are so many claims to exceptionalism that there is no way to process those claims as the media begs us to accept that their coverage of the event mirrors that exceptionality. Talk about cognitive dissonance. Comprehension becomes a fuzz of unethical recognition - there is no virtue in any of this exceptionalism.

Spending more time trying to understand the events makes it necessary to immerse oneself in the media.  As they offer analysis in the  intent-impact-perspective stakes, comprehension diminishes. What does it all mean? In the first instance it means remaining in the media exceptionalism vortex, which provides its own limited meaning about itself.

We enter the realm of the meaning deficit, which grows in inverse proportion to the news coverage and the activities of publicists. The Public Relations and Marketing people who are a large part of the media business, work diligently to attract audiences to their programs. They make a living insisting on the exceptionalism of the coverage their media outlet offers.

This cycle of exceptionalism proves itself to itself, while reducing comprehension of the event in an absurd cycle of decreasing knowledge. This is in contrast to Immanuel Kant's Imperative, where knowledge has a structure that originates in experience. Contemporary media offers less experience in an ever-widening circle of exceptionalism - seeing events as spectacular, the viewer is folded into the exception, into action that happens on the screen, of which they are a meaningless part, even while told their participant-observation is worthwhile. This is an extension of Guy DeBord's Society of the Spectacle thesis. Debord saw society as a series of images, overpowering collective interests to produce alienation. This alienation is accentuated in the Internet age, although the technology industry tells us to believe that more networking is good for us. What we get instead is  exceptionalism without activist content as the vortex folds our consciousness into its limits.

(MacKenzie Wark has published a welcome dual volume study on Debord, which should herald more attention to the spectacle associated with media coverage of terror WarkWark 2.)  

The million-plus person march on Sunday January 11, 2015, in Paris  consisted primarily of middle class white folk, indicated by detailed and lengthy watching of CNN and Al Jazeera television coverage. All were worthy protagonists advocating by their presence a commitment to the idea of free speech. What they were really doing was participating in the exceptionalism offered by the media reproduction of themselves.

I was reminded of the anti-Iraq war marches in 2003. In London, more than a million people protesting the US move against Saddam Hussein.(Beautifully rendered by Ian McEwan in his novel Saturday McEwan) All around the world people were recoreded expressing their anger and frustration at the "weapons of mass destruction" claims George W Bush had made as the premise for the invasion of Iraq. The media reported these exceptional events, and nothing happened.

Last weekend in Paris, the PR was superb. The line up of international leadership pretty good.

French Primer Minister Fran├žois Hollande got in first, claiming: '“Paris is the capital of the world today,” ...  'as world leaders linked arms to begin the march in Paris.' An exceptional day, with exceptional coverage.

It was difficult not to be disturbed by the publicity-insistence of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, generating his own exceptionalism. According to The Times of Israel, "Netanyahu was initially situated in a second row of leaders, but shimmied his way into the front row." Bibby can't help himself Ever the exceptionalist, Netanyahu managed to make himself the center of attention. Then he gave a sermon on the wrongs of fundamentalism, violence and injustice. When you are exceptional, all you can see is the media, you cannot see hypocrisy.

An exceptional day with a concatenation of media forces at work. And what was achieved? The global system of media reproduced itself in the media exceptionalism vortex.