Monday, October 1, 2012

Dictatorship of the Infotariat

Editor's note: The writer understands the irony of writing this, and of your reading some but not all of it, thanks to the technology he is ranting about. Oh, and you can follow him on Twitter, like or share the post and enjoy listening to him read it by clicking just below to the left thanks to all these marvelous machines as well.

"Not here/Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.
 - T.S. Eliot Burnt Norton

While 2011 saw a lot of action predominantly driven by a questioning of authority which manifested itself in self-immolation driven revolution, regime alteration facilitated by NATO-aided assassination, behind the scene Troika machinations and we are the 99% occupations, 2012 has been about regime legitimization through media manipulation of minimization and demonization, draconian legislation, leadership transitions and elections, and of course panis et circenses lobotomization. Somehow this all goes down while we have more access than ever before to all the information in the world and therein lies the paradox - we have never known less while thinking that we know more. Look around you, zombies have made the jump from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the big screen to the small screen to real life, as the hordes sit, walk, study, eat, play, sleep and even shower with their eyes glued to a glowing screen under the control of spin doctors instead of witch doctors. This is the infotariat, much like Marx's proletariat in that they make up the bulk of humanity; however, somewhat unlike Marx's prophesied majority as their distinguishing feature is not that they are the working class but the mis/dis/uninformed class.

"Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. Corresponding to this is also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat." - Karl Marx

If Marx were alive today he wouldn't recognize the need for revolution. After all, he lived in the time of Oliver Twist and we live in a wired wonderland where our every desire is within the reach of our fingertips. We have access to more information than ever but no more time as we've surrendered our natural rhythms to the immediacy of our networks, always needing more information, a faster connection, a newer gadget. We've become info-addicts in a world where satisfying our craving for the dopamine rush of our information seeking behaviour is as accessible as that of a cocaine fiend's at a Pablo Escobar dinner party or a diabetic fat kid in a candy store. In all three cases we become sensitized to the craving cycle of the particular reward and thus obsessively driven to seek the rush, even as the hit itself packs progressively less punch and as our dopamine system does not have satiety built into it, leads us to irrational wants, excessive desires we’d be better off without. How else do you explain all those downcast faces basked in an eerie glow as they walk in front of buses, the car, truck and train drivers texting or checking their fantasy football scores, interlocutors cutting off a conversation mid-sentence to answer their modern day vibrators, the one in five people who reach for their phone as a 21st century replacement for the post-coital cigarette, or the tap, tap, tap sounds of two-thumbed texting emanating from students playing with something between their legs instead of the expected fap, fap, fap of one-handed clapping?

Welcome to the world mass-produced for the pleasure of the infotariat and the gain of the plutocrats. Whereas Marx foresaw that the proletariat would be an increasingly centralized and organized force thanks to the conditions created by capitalism, the infotariat are becoming increasingly fragmented and contradictory thanks to the lethal combination of the information anti-idyll and the present economic model, financial corporatism. Our Twitooglebook universe is an amazing machine, churning out information to constantly bombard our senses with facts, stats, stories and pictures of cute kittens from which we can pick and choose. Choice is a great thing, until it's not, as we invariably fall victim to confirmation bias, favoring information that confirms our previous beliefs in our struggle to reconcile competing viewpoints.

What is more, activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region behind the forehead that is responsible for decision making and control of emotions, increases with the intensity of the information bombardment until it reaches a breaking point and falls off as if a circuit breaker has been tripped. We start making bad choices and stupid mistakes causing frustration and anxiety to soar; "With too much information, people’s decisions make less and less sense." The time we spend online can also lead to depression, or not, and anyone who has spent time on comment threads knows our online anonymity can lead to toxic disinhibition which encourages aggressiveness and anger. Additionally, instead of remem­ber­ing the infor­ma­tion itself, we just remem­ber where to find it, easing the burden on our brains but lowering our innovative potential as we subconsciously choose to conform our opinion to the first couple of hits on Google. This danger is exacerbated by the machine itself as our anything but evil search engine learns to predict our preferences and feeds us a narrower and narrower set of results to better fit our preexisting worldview.

"[T]his discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality." - Plato; Phaedrus

Information technology was supposed to open up a world of unlimited knowledge but instead it has trapped us in a cage and turned us into sheep, sheeple, cattle, mouth-breathers, zombies, what have you. Yet, hasn't it always been this way? After all, Plato wasn't quoting Socrates' thoughts on the internet but that oldest of information technologies, writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, "cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful." And because they would be able to "receive a quantity of information without proper instruction," they would "be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant." They would be "filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom." Sounds familiar, don't it?

This is the main argument of the Ever-Waser: there has always been distractions and gullible people who  think they're smart because they picked up a nugget of knowledge while picking them out of their nose. And of course they're right; we survived Gutenberg's moveable type bible builder despite warnings such as "We have reason to fear that the multitude of books which grows every day in a prodigious fashion will make the following centuries fall into a state as barbarous as that of the centuries that followed the fall of the Roman Empire", Marconi's War of the Worlds hysteria maker "The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value, who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?" and Baird's couch potato producer (the printing press, radio and TV) as well as newspapers, H(B)ollywood and the mass media that built up around all of it. All were at one point going to turn our brains to mush and be the end of civilization. The fact that at any moment in modernity something like this is going on, and that a new way of organizing data and connecting users is always thrilling to some and chilling to others is what makes this a modern moment, as it ever was.

"Technology is a gift of God. After the gift of life, it is perhaps the greatest of God's gifts. It is the mother of civilizations, of arts, and of sciences." - Freeman Dyson

The Never-Better is most likely an Apple fanboy whose relationship with a corporation can only be compared to religion, refers to his phone as smart and thinks we're on the brink of a new utopia, where information will be free and democratic and news will be made from the bottom up. Not only does more information empower us but technology has also allowed us to clear out our musty bookcases and photo albums and freed up creative space in our white and grey matter by transferring our knowledge and memories to the circuitry of our hard drives and the cloud. A single click now accomplishes what once required days in a research library. Facebook and Twitter made the Arab Spring possible, Wikipedia is the greatest collaborative knowledge project ever and our devices have made us more productive than ever. Just as Gutenberg's printing press helped usher in the Scientific Revolution, thanks to modern information technology the Singularity is near.

Wait. Sure, the printing press produced the Reformation, which brought on the Scientific Revolution, which ushered in the Enlightenment but one of the biggest ideas it propelled was Luther’s newly invented absolutist anti-Semitism. And what immediately followed the Reformation wasn’t the Enlightenment, a new era of openness and freely disseminated knowledge but actually, the Counter-Reformation, which used the same means to spread ideas about what dickheads the reformers were, and unleashed a hundred years of religious warfare. More than two centuries later, Voltaire was still writing in a book about the horrors of those other books that urged burning men alive in auto-da-fé. If this somehow feels familiar, it should (if not, think of the present western war on Islam or the flip side, jihad against the west, or the persecution of those who set the information free, such as Pirate Bay and the war on whistleblowers like Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Wikileaks), and if it gives you pause, then maybe you, like me, have been fitted for your tinfoil hat and are part of the final group, the Better-Nevers.

Ever since Ned Ludd led his followers in a violent protest against the machines being introduced to replace them, the pejorative term Luddite has usually been used to describe us Better-Nevers. In 1812 they sought to smash the power looms that were transforming the hand of the workers into mere appendages of the machine in an age when the speed of life was dictated by the pace of the steam engine. In 2012, the speed of life is dictated by the ever increasing speed of information transfer facilitated by the descendents of the Turing machine. The Luddites were hunted down and hanged for the heresy of hindering the progress they saw robbing the value of their labor; the Better-Nevers are simply ridiculed for warning of the inherent risks in a world where the production and ownership of knowledge is the main source of value. The proletariat fought against the power of capital to displace their labor whereas the infotariat welcome their overlords, exhalting those who camp out to be the first to put themselves in an information box while vilifying those who do the same to call into question a system which assigns human rights to soulless, profit-driven corporations.

Google's autonomous car seems pretty cool but it shouldn't if you're a truck or taxi driver, machine language translation a convenience unless your a translator and algorithms can already out-write most journalists. Ever more powerful algorithms are part of an arms race on Wall Street rendering human investors irrelevant and manufacturing risk while siphoning money and talent that growth-producing sectors of the economy need. Replacing armies with robots may save a couple of lives in the short term but look at how Watson outwitted his human opponents at Jeopardy, think about the trajectory of Moore's Law (PDF) and remember the dystopian future shown to us in Terminator. Robots will also be diagnosing your diseases, dispensing your medicine and handling your lawsuits. A single click may now accomplish what once required days in a research library but while print took over the once-human task of knowing, cyberspace is assuming the task of both knowing where to get what we seek and providing the content; librarian and author. Constant distraction has made it more likely to miscalculate, both risks and rewards, as 98% of us see a decline in productivity as we multi-task and temporarily lose an average of 10 points of IQ while thinking our devices do the opposite.

In the past our assessment of the risk of being blown up by a terrorist, or of getting swine flu, or a child being snatched by a pedophile on the way to school, was calculated from the steady input of information received mainly from our small local group, those we spoke to or heard from. What the Internet does, and what mass communication does more generally is to sample those inputs from the seven billion people on Earth. But our brains still consider that the inputs arose from my local community, because that is the environment its assessment circuits were built for. Millions of years of evolution created our orientation, but in the last 500 we've been given a new map and the last 100 an ever increasing speed to calculate where we're heading. Our brain assumes a smaller denominator than we need with the result that the answer to the question of how likely something is to happen is too big. So, when we hear every day of children being abducted our brain gives me the wrong answer to the question of risk: it has divided a big number (the children snatched all over the world) by a small number (the tribe). This 'Madeleine McCann' effect can also be seen in (most of) our irrational fear of terrorism as well.

Our risk/reward assessments face a problem of both scale and agency. Our brains are biased by the wiring that evolved over millions of years of evolution that kept our ancestors alive when the dangers were predators not pollutants and now must make calculations in a world of seven billion strangers instead of 30-50 kinfolk. On the flip side we are inundated with stories of staggering wealth, celebrities famous for being, well, famous and superhuman sporting achievement to such an extent that we not only celebrate their achievements but subconsciously come to believe we are part of the success or can attain it ourselves. Whitewashing by corporate sponsors at the Olympics absolves Coke and McDonald's of brainwashing us and imprinting their logos on the pleasure center of children's brains and making us all fat, heck, even Atos, the company charged with knocking disabled people off the benefit roles that made it possible for may to compete can sponsor the paralympics to make everything okay. When figuring the odds of being blown up by terrorists or winning the next MegaMillions Jackpot lottery we overestimate while we underestimate the chances of dying from heart disease or dying in a car accident on the way to Dairy Queen. The media, politicians and corporations are continuously vying for our attention while seeking to take advantage of our biases in order to drum up ratings (or clicks or views), votes and profit.

"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government" - Thomas Jefferson

Same as it ever was the Ever-Waser would claim while the Never-Better would prove life's better by crowdsourcing a survey on Twitooglebook. And they'd be right up until of course they were wrong. Can anyone remember a time when the Middle East wasn't in turmoil? Has there ever been a year in which we haven't helped push some tin pot dictator onto his sword? When haven't the rich and powerful been pulling the strings despite the protests of a few marionettes? The world is a better place without Sadam Hussein and Moamar Ghadaffi. Occupy Wall Street focused attention on the growing gap between the rich and poor and bankster immunity from paying for the crime of crashing the economy. We are free to choose who to vote for on election day, Robama or Obom(b)ney. Both views, however, miss the point. It's convincing enough people to call the different groups freedom fighters or terrorists, job creators or plutocrats, activists or moochers; government benefits entitlements or aid if for people, subsidies or corporate hand outs for corporations; death taxes or estate taxes, death panels or advanced care planning consultations, that makes all the difference. Emma Goldman may have died in 1940 but they've yet to make voting illegal so we know it still doesn't change anything. Choosing between evil and slightly less evil isn't a choice as the winner is still evil. Our new media world hasn't set the information free; if anything it has helped speed its consolidation, with the pipes being owned by the content providers, robbing us of our imagination in much the same way as we are being stripped of our civil rights.

Use Google to search for information? Facebook to keep up with friends? Twitter to check out what's happening? Read the newspaper (the bits of dead tree or bits and bytes kind) while eating breakfast? Listen to the radio in the car? Maybe you even still watch TV to unwind on the couch after a long day at work. If so, hope you're enjoying your stay in your own personal information bubble. Sure, they're all amazing platforms but just as night follows day, every ying has its yang and Anakin Skywalker grew up to be Darth Vader, they all have their dark side. Thanks to the loss of informational commons resultant from the amazing range of choice we have today, we are likely more closed-minded, less intellectually adventurous, and more vulnerable to propaganda and manipulation than ever before.

Even if you're not logged into your Gmail account, in addition to serving as the copyright police, Google personalizes your search results according to 57 (and growing) different signals. Based on your previous choices from past searches, Google provides you with results to 'better' serve your preferences. Your Facebook wall offers you a mere slice of your friends' activity based on who you've messaged, clicked or poked in the past while Twitter allows you to pick and choose whose voices to hear. Our choice of newspapers or internet portals may seem arbitrary, but I'm willing to wager someone reading the Wall Street Journal, listening to Rush Limbaugh and watching Fox News is more like Ayn Rand while the Karl Marx's will be logged into, listening to NPR and watching MSNBC. The result is epistemic closure, a reality in which the only trustworthy sources of information are those of your team, on a grander scale than ever before, resulting in opposing sides practically speaking different languages leaving compromise an impossibility.

This helps explain why many of the world's problems seem to be stuck in a perpetual loop from war to finance to the environment. Those Muslims are crazy, getting so carried away just because of a movie! Cue the nonstop coverage of demonstrations, Newsweek 'Muslim Rage' cover and incessant whining question of 'Why do they hate us?'. Rarely are we given the space for the time and reflection needed to get to the root of the problem, instead, we attack. Heck, forget the western powers fault in drawing arbitrary lines on the map, support of totalitarian toadies from Shahs named Pahlevi to religious wackos called Wahabi, and financial/military/moral support for Israel. Just since launching the war on terror, the US and its allies have attacked and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq to take out regimes they had one time supported; bombed Libya; killed thousands in drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia; imposed devastating sanctions; backed Israel's occupation and dispossession of the Palestinians to the hilt; carried out large-scale torture, kidnapping and internment without trial; maintained multiple bases to protect client dictatorships throughout the region; and now threaten Iran with another act of illegal war. The blowback from creating Noriegas, Bin Ladens and Husseins is all the harder to detect thanks to the backfire effect.

"Never was such a cleverness used in the design of making us all stupid." - Voltaire

The paradox of choice helps turn the best of all possible worlds in which the ability to pick and choose from a multitude of options can drive social change into the illusion of choice. Sure, it's nice to know that if you're searching for a new coffee maker you'll get results from your location but it's disconcerting to learn that if you're trying to find information on an election, environmental catastrophe or a holiday that the deeper-pocketed candidate will ensure a search of his/her opponent is littered with negative stories, that BP paid to be the first result for "oil spill" or that companies can purchase keywords containing competitor's names. Yes, in most cases we can turn the customization off or choose to read or listen to an alternative viewpoint but the fact is most of us are lazy and we love being fed the sugar we crave no matter how bad we know it is for us. Sadly, the truth doesn't always win out, a fact known by advertisers and politicians and borne out by scientific investigations. Much like an underpowered antibiotic, facts can actually make misinformation stronger. As people are loath to admit their wrong, "this backfire effect is a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance".

So we're left in a world where rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we choose to accept, causing us to twist facts so they better fit into our preconceived notions. As we uncritically accept bad information that reinforces our beliefs, it increases our confidence that we are right and makes us less likely to listen to any new information. Those more confident they are right are not only more likely to be wrong but less likely to change their minds when presented with the facts, which explains why political campaigns are no longer concerned with facts or fact checking but only staying on message. As long as the lies conform with someone's worldview, they will not only accept but also defend them. The perfect example comes from the buildup to the war in Iraq which saw the media drum the idea of WMD (weapons of mass destruction) into the public's consciousness (using weapons of mass distraction).

In a 2005 experiment, participants were given mock news stories, each of which contained a provably false, though nonetheless widespread, claim made by a political figure: that there were WMDs found in Iraq (there weren’t), that the Bush tax cuts increased government revenues (revenues actually fell), and that the Bush administration imposed a total ban on stem cell research (only certain federal funding was restricted). A clear, direct correction was inserted after each piece of misinformation, and then the study participants were measured to see if the correction took. For the most part, it didn’t. The participants who self-identified as conservative believed the misinformation on WMD and taxes even more strongly after being given the correction. With the first two issues, the more strongly the participant cared about the topic, a factor known as salience, the stronger the backfire. The effect was slightly different on self-identified liberals: When they read corrected stories about stem cells, the corrections didn’t backfire, but the readers did still ignore the inconvenient fact that the Bush administration’s restrictions weren’t total.

Like a science experiment gone awry, the Internet has created an electronic petri dish to culture conspiracy theories, gathering geographically diffuse crazies to feed off each others fears and beliefs. These range from the harmless, even oddly comforting old-school tales of aliens in our midst and fake moon landings to the somewhat disconcerting the Bilderbergs/Masons/Illuminati/Jews are controlling the world, chem trails and 9/11 Truthers to the downright terrifying groups who don't vaccinate their children thanks to the belief it causes autism thus exposing the rest of us to an epidemic and the hate groups who seem to believe any evil is possible if your not straight, white and Christian. We shouldn't be surprised by any asininity in a world where 46% of the most powerful nation's population believe in creationism, and one in five can't find their own country on a map, don't know who their nation declared independence from, think Dubya was a great president, believe witches are real, and the sun revolves around the Earth. Before the release of Obama's long form birth certificate, 30% of Republicans believed he was born in the US. Immediately after the release, that figure increased to 47% but the fact effect wore off and in fact slightly backfired, in nine months  only 27% believed it.

"The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt" - Bertrand RussellMarriage and Morals

How is it that nearly everyone thinks they're a better than average driver? The same way that only 2% of high school seniors believe that their leadership skills are below average, that 25% of people believe they are in the top 1% in their ability to get along with others and that 94% of professors report doing above-average work. We're all from Lake Wobegon where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. Not only are these positive illusions ridiculous, they can be deadly as people engage in risky behaviors believing that they are at lower risk than peers for heart attacks, cancer, and even food-related illnesses like salmonella. We are also prone to thinking that the world is more regular and predictable than it really is because our memory automatically and continuously maintains a story about what is going on, and because the rules of memory tend to make that story as coherent as possible and to suppress alternatives: when a compelling impression of a particular event clashes with our beliefs, the belief commonly prevails. And this goes for you, too. The confidence you will experience in your future judgments will not be diminished by what you just read, even if you believe every word.

Seeing as a vaccine against zombieism has yet to be developed, education would seem to be the best immunization we have. We're not gonna get into how our modern devices are encouraging lazy habits and atrocious grammar and spelling or possibly even rewiring our brain, fundamentally changing how we read, write and learn. However, it is in this area every bit as much as militarism that Obama and the Democratic party prove that there really is no electoral choice. The recent Chicago teachers' strike was a battle between teachers and Chicago mayor and former Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel not over pay but corporate-style school reform. Obama's Race to the Top program rewards school districts based on how many teachers they fire and replace with temps, how many teachers are subjected to evaluation on test scores and how many public schools are replaced with charters. The result being teachers teaching to a test to keep their job and schools forced to hire consultants from the very same people who wrote the rules - Surprise! Billionaire plutocrats.

Higher education? Forget about it. Unless your rich or willing to take on a debt burden to weigh you down for life, most can no longer afford it and if they do, instead of choosing to use their education to build things, the best and brightest of tomorrow choose to blow thing up, financially at least, by heading to Wall Street. That's the way the market works and why a university education has simply become an indoctrination program that removes critical thinking and installs efficient market propaganda in its place. In contrast to the hoopla surrounding the impact of using new technology as an educational tool, well, let's just say the results are mixed. Just as plopping a baby in front of a TV screen, with or without 'educational' videos, impairs their development, children's internet habits are robbing them of the skills needed to thrive. Deep thinking, the ability to differentiate fact from fiction, creativity, self-regulation (not corporate self-regulation), empathy and self-reflection aren't learned in front of any screen, they are learned through face-to-face communication, hands-on exploration of the world, opportunities for silence and time to dream.

It all adds up to make it easier to manipulate the infotariat, inevitably by the plutocracy in order to maintain the status quo. The secret of their success isn't much of a secret: boatloads of cash plus a public that wants things to stay the same. Climate change? Anyone who believes it might be a green Trojan horse with a bellyful of red Marxist socioeconomic doctrine is easily convinced it is by a few hacked emails strategically released before a climate conference. Evidence, shmevidence. In 2007, 71% of Americans believed that the continued burning of fossil fuels would cause the climate to change. By 2009 the figure had dropped to 51%. In June 2011 the number of Americans who agreed was down to 44%. Whereas 70-75% of Democrats believe, as few as 20% of Republicans accept the science in some regions. Income inequality? Again, half a century of anti-communist propaganda is more than enough to outweigh the evidence that historic inequality was a main driver of the financial crisis, is literally killing people or that the American Dream has become nothing more than a myth. Yet we're only presented with two sides of the debate: stay the course or make matters worse. Try to imagine an alternative and well, this is how you might be portrayed:

If you're still reading this piece you were most likely able to spot the propaganda in the clip above as it pretty much hits all seven techniques. The rightwingnut, however, will nod knowingly that the violence against a group of protesters is completely justified in order to protect his/her freedoms. Meanwhile, free speech has been shrunk to fit into free speech zones; the cost of incarcerating more people (now more than were in Stalin's gulags!) than any other country combined with crisis induced austerity is forcing states to privatize prisons in exchange for guaranteed occupancy rates; US federal agencies lodged at least 1.3 million requests last year to cell-phone carriers for subscribers' personal information, including for text messages, and caller locations; the land of the free's Press Freedom ranking fell 27 places (thanks largely to the suppression of Occupy reporting) to 47th (somewhere between Botswana and Moldova); and the leader of the free world took advantage of our champagne induced blissfulness to sign the NDAA into law, giving him power to detain anyone (including Americans), anywhere, anytime without any rights or any time limits. Similarly to the rightwingnut's defense of his beliefs, the Obamanot libtart will unthinkingly defend his president's right to take away his/her rights.

Fed with a steady diet of their type of 'news' it's easy to imagine how someone could come to believe that teachers caused the financial crisis, Afghani women and children deserve to die, and that soon enough the rapture will save the chosen few, no matter how many times it's promised. In an environment in which 60% of us distrust the media and even more have lost faith in democracy itself as only 8% think their elected officials are doing a good job, it's little wonder that most simply retreat into the world of cute kitten memes and naked British royals in France and Las Vegas while letting technocrats and corporations become their rulers as reconciling belief with reality becomes more and more challenging. Even when something good is done, from announcing the closing Guantanamo Bay to attempting to reign in the worst excesses of Wall Street to agreeing to do something about climate change, we're paying so little attention that we don't even notice the pledges being ignored, walked back or abandoned altogether.

It's more comforting to be lulled into a false sense of security by Orwellian terms like collateral damage, surgical 'signature' strikes, quantitative easing and expansionary fiscal contraction than to confront the fact that whereas a democratic society puts a premium on equality, a pseudo-capitalist (corporatist) economy does just the opposite. John Steinbeck pointed out many years ago that "the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires" while the rich find it much more comforting to believe they attained their wealth on their own than credit the education, inheritance, family networks, contacts and introductions, educated workforce's labor, infrastructure and security that helped them get where they are. Electing a corporate brand to office doesn't bring about hope or change when it can just ignore the past and dispense platitudes about needing to look forward. Refusing to prosecute past war crimes just makes them more acceptable and easier to become a war criminal yourself, or maybe some kind of space alien named Kang.

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" or perhaps "When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?" - John Maynard Keynes

Facts themselves have a half-life that varies depending on the field of knowledge (smoking has gone from doctor-recommended to deadly, Earth was demoted from the centre of the universe to just another planet, how many glasses of water are we supposed to drink a day anyway?) while information on the net decays even quicker, disappearing completely or archived by providers who charge for access within a few years. When combined with the exaltation of experts (larks), tittering of think tanks (magpies) and troop of trolls (like baboons, get it?) paid to sow doubt by massaging the numbers, skewing the stats, parroting talking points or to just flat out come up with believable lies, it's easy to feel unsettled by the seeming randomness of it all. Yet, I can't help but get the feeling it's not all that random. Perpetual war isn't killing old, rich white guys and is pretty good for defense contractors' bottom lines; financial crises have a nasty habit of hitting the poor and helping the rich; privatization, another product of crisis as governments scrounge for cash, was not a Thatcher patent but originates from the German word Reprivatisierung and was first used in English in 1936 in reference to Nazi economic policy; melting the Arctic will be a bonanza for Shell, BP and Exxon, who don't care if positive feedback will kill us all; Angry Birds doesn't just seem addictive, it was designed to be that way, not to entertain.

When Apple claims "The iPad is a magical window where nothing comes between you and what you love.” when trying to sell you the third incarnation of their tablet, they know they're pushing the same cognitive buttons as that religion with the old guy holding commandments etched on the orginal tablets. Just as those followers have created a bubble of ignorance to inhabit in order to maintain their delusion of a promised paradise so too has the cult of technology. Maybe all those Foxconn employees who build the new idols being exposed to n-hexane poisoning, committing suicide and rioting due to working conditions will someday obtain martyr status: how else could you build a phone for $200 to sell for $650 (without contract)? The most successful corporation of all time has also been taking notes on how to limit our creativity in the name of progress by suing to stifle competition despite the words of the messiah (I wonder if he could cure the blindness his products seem to cause?). Despite both of their creation myths, Christianity was born of Judaism while Apple fell from the tree of Xerox, this is how innovation and progress work, everything is a remix.

We got a peek at the plan on a much grander scale last year and paradoxically at the solution as well when the US tried to push through the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) to protect Hollywood and punish anyone who "enables, or facilitates" copyright infringement and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) aimed at websites who would "harm" US copyright holders. Public protest led to them both being returned to the drawing board and also seemed to mobilize Europeans to protest the Mothership, the 2011 Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, already signed by the United States, Canada, Mexico, the entirety of the European Union, Japan, New Zealand, Morocco, South Korea, and Singapore. Public protests put the brakes on ratification and on July 4th, 2012, the European Parliament rejected the agreement as "[t]he intended benefits of this international agreement are far outweighed by the potential threats to civil liberties". This success offers a tiny glimpse at the potential the 30 billion watts of electricity needed to power these intertubes offers. The machine never rests though as secretive, opaque negotiations towards implementing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive proposed free-trade zone spanning the Pacific Ocean and all four hemispheres, move forward aiming to empower corporations to the detriment of workers, the environment, and sovereignty throughout the region. 90% of that 30 billion watts is wasted, sitting idle as backup, we have to stop wasting so much of ours sharing pictures of cute cats.

But living in Zombieland means that all too often the same people who cause problems and crises are put in charge of 'fixing' them. Decisions about our future are slowly being taken over by unelected technocrats as they are making choices that no elected official could survive. Italy had a Goldman Sachs executive installed as its leader while Greece suffered the same indignity temporarily before being given the chance to vote a couple of times until they got it 'right'. Spain elected a clown to keep the electoral blame ping pong game going but not his promises. Not only do the Tony Blairs of the world get to retire from office to the speaking circuit, they also get to become peace envoys in regions where they helped start wars in order to mingle with rich emirs and sign private consultation contracts. Their underlings get to enjoy the same revolving door ride, from K-Street to Wall Street to Capitol Hill and back again, helping make investing in lobbyists more profitable than stocks, bond, gold or real estate, paying a 22,000% return. It's pretty profitable for the riders as well.

As in Goethe's Faust, printing unlimited amounts of paper money seems to work great for awhile but it always leads to bankruptcy and that's just the path that's been chosen for us, courtesy of the Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan, the Bank of England, the European Central Bank (unlimited and sterilized!) and more. Psychopaths (or worse) should be locked away as they did in Iceland so they can't harm the public. Instead, the complication of keeping a quadrillion dollar ponzi scheme cooking means we need the Robert Rubins of the world, those who concocted it, despite their conflicts of interest to gamble with our pensions, homes and our ability to afford to put gas in our cars and food on our plates. War criminals become counterterrorism advisers with the power to decide who lives or dies from secret kill lists compiled by the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Because it's Obama and not Dubya, it's somehow okay to use drones to remotely kill innocent people in a far away country your not at war with and adopt the terrorist double-tap technique of targeting rescuers and funerals. You wanna talk about blowback, how do you feel about Iranian drones? We keep pumping water we'll need to survive into the ground with poison to extract gas to burn to heat the planet and melt the ice which will allow us to get at more gas thanks to a vice president inserting the Haliburton loophole for both their profit. Sucking all of both nature's and the classes' wealth from the bottom up.

Most of the infotariat should now also be called the precariat as they live a precarious existence, lacking predictability or security which affects their material and psychological welfare. Once upon a time, they lived in the periphery of society but no more; in the US, this now covers over 2/3 of the population. More than 46 million Americans rely on food stamps just to have enough to eat; unsurprisingly, a couple of million more don't have access to medical help short of visiting an emergency room, just one of the reasons America has the most expensive health care system in the world which delivers worse results than most advanced nations . Household that made less than $40,000 last year spent more than they earned while those in the lowest quintile who on average earned $10,074 in after tax income, spent on average more than double that, $22,001 as 87% of their income was needed to simply put a roof over their head. When you have so little you become even more afraid to lose even that little you have, so you become afraid to stick your head out. Europe may be faring worse as the troika has usurped national sovereignty: Portugal, the erstwhile poster child of the austerity program, is proving it doesn't work when implemented, Greece is proving it doesn't work when avoided as violent demonstrations have become a mainstay of 'look what could happen to you' debt fear mongering, while in Spain the same cycle of austerity and unemployment has led to an alarming rise in the numbers relying on dumpster diving to meet their dietary requirements, the pharmacies literally running out of medicine and the country on the verge of breaking up.

Perhaps one day enough zombies will lift their heads from the screen to turn the rapidly rising tide of technocracy and corpocracy. It best happen sooner than later as we seem to be spinning around the death spiral ever faster as we approach the eye of the vortex, the inevitable result of a society built around the concept of exponential growth on a finite planet; we have an economy that steals from the future, sells it to the present and calls it GDP. We forget what we could have learned before we've had a chance to learn the lesson as we flit from one screen to the next, at home, work, school, in the park, the mall, the car and bed. Then again, maybe it's always been this way, maybe that's why history always repeats itself. E. M. Forster wrote "The Machine Stops" in 1909, in which he warned of the terrible consequences of a similar assault on our memory by what Czeslaw Milosz described as a "fantastic proliferation of mass media" calling it a "process that defies definition, characterized by a refusal to remember" in his 1980 Nobel prize acceptance speech; inconvenient facts simply disappeared down the memory hole in Orwell's "1984"; Huxley's blond native, John, hangs himself instead of dealing with the madness of modernity in "Brave New World". I'm betting on more of a "Super Sad True Love Story" dystopia mixed with the reality of Monsanto controlling our food supply: Zombies eating each other with their eyes glued to their äppärät screens as the most powerful man in the world, the head of the Chinese central bank, visits New York in the midst of a disastrous American military adventure too far.

I shall set my face toward the infernal regions,
I shall raise up the dead, and they will eat the living,
I will make the dead outnumber the living! 

 - The Epic of Gilgamesh (perhaps the oldest written story we have, coincidence?)

And the LORD will send a plague on all the nations that fought against Jerusalem. Their people will become like walking corpses, their flesh rotting away. Their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. 
 - Zechariah 14:12 (yeah, the bible, the old testament, the torah baby!)