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?