We have seen tremendous technological change in the past 30 years. With every year new possibilities emerge, new opportunities. The buzz words fly by faster than we can take hold of: AI, Quantum Computing, Machine Learning, the Metaverse, Robotics etc.. Things that seemed impossible yesterday now are within the realm of reality. So much of today was what was once only a twinkle in the eye of the latest science fiction movie or novel. Now the idea or creating human forms with Artificial Intelligence is within grasp. Our ability to do gene editing with tools like CRIPR and accelerate the development of cures for diseases like cancer are within reach. The Quantum realm is in play and companies race ahead looking for answers to algorithms that usually take decades to solve into minutes . The Metaverse is about creating human connections without having to physically connect. And yet with all these new breakthroughs come huge responsibilities. Can we control what we create? Are we disconnecting from what it means to be human? Some view the question as ridiculous, some view it as real. And yet the question must be asked – is humanity safe?
Throughout history change has caused human angst. A belief that new technology will displace jobs, displace a way of life. As we moved from an agrarian economy to an industrial economy the view was there would be great job displacement. As we learned many new jobs were created as people moved from the fields to industrial warehouses. In the process they were creating huge cities and the associated economies that came with it . Even as we moved from the industrial age to the information age jobs were being created but the skill sets required to fill those jobs had evolved. We required a more educated white collar work force Technology has evolved so very fast it is not surprising that human development has not kept pace, which is why the tech industry cannot fill the jobs they have, which makes the market extremely competitive for hiring talent.
We also viewed this change to job security and job displacement as immediate, but it is more like a slow drip. Today in America we have a homeless crisis. Go to any city New York, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles etc..You will see tents and litter strewn everywhere and anywhere. Like a plague slowly crossing the cities. We blame government, we blame people and in the intense crossfire of these arguments offer no solutions. Technology has played its role as well as good paying jobs were increasingly automated, reducing opportunity for many as we transitioned from a manufacturing economy to a service a economy. Those that had stopped their education at high school could not compete in the new knowledge economy. Jobs that came with good pay and benefits in the manufacturing world do not exist for the most part in the service economy. With the advent and advancement of robotics there will be disruption in the service economy and more displacement. To be clear tech played a part but we cannot lay everything at its feet, there is a lot more to this problem, but that would be another blog.
The difference this time around is human replication. We have grown accustomed to tech taking away manual labor. Discussion today around returning the manufacturing base from abroad to the US is usually met with skepticism, as most people realize those jobs have been replaced with robotics and the idea of shops floors filled with hundreds of happy line workers is pure fantasy and not within the realm of reality. Capitalism is not here for happiness it is here for profits (do not argue with me on this, argue with Milton Friedman). Thus the move to offshore and automate was met with great Wall Street enthusiasm, profits now, consequences not my problem. If Wall Street could profit on human suffering they would do it. They live a shallow existence.
The tech sector is hyper competitive. A continuous race against time and the competition. We like to say we have a moral compass, but when push comes to shove we lack perspective and ideals fall by the wayside. From a historical standpoint we only need to look back to the cold war and the development of the atom bomb. After the United States detonated two bombs in Japan we ended WWII and set the globe on the path to potential nuclear holocaust. The Soviet Union following the second world war immediately set put on a path to catch the United States, there could be no world where there was only one nuclear power. The lead scientist was nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov. who ultimately in 1949 succeeded in detonating a atom bomb. But as time went by he saw what he had created and became a leading member of the nuclear disarmament movement and would be placed under house arrest in the Soviet Union. The race for global supremacy was underway, frankly we are lucky to still be alive. That race continues but more and more it has moved to the private sector. Luckily the private sector is not building atom bombs, but in the explosive times we live in it often feels like we are sitting on one.
As I said tech is a hyper competitive space where the fear of being left behind drives everyone in the industry. It fuels the day. If you make a mistake or are caught napping the results are disastrous. IBM was the king of tech until in a meeting with Microsoft discussing the licensing of MS-DOS for IBM PC’s, Bill Gates said, “We get to keep the software licensing rights?”. IBM said “ok” and the rest was history. Since that time the carnage the industry has left behind is legendary. The Lotus 123, WordPerfect, IBM OS/2, Real Networks, MySpace, a half dozed search vendors who never envisioned an economic model until Google destroyed them all, Microsoft Zune too little too late, the launch of the iPhone destroyed mobile phone providers overnight etc..The list is long and the cost to those who did not see is in the trillions. The industry cannot stop, it cannot pause, only delivering empty promises to “realize your potential”, for many that is a life of hopelessness. Because at the end of the day tech speaks to the highly educated, not the masses.
The race for the future is non-stop, governments can try and slow down, but given the snails pace they move at, by the time they decide the industry has moved on. We measure success by growth (simple view is growth = $$$). We are constantly pushing the envelope to find that new greenfield opportunity. Technology has expanded its footprint into all walks if life, into all industries, everyone looking to use for some level of advantage. Some things will provide great benefits to humanity like health care from cancer search to gene editing tools like CRISPR (though there will be moral consequences). Let’s just hope we do not put a huge cost to these breakthroughs .
Tech visionaries always see a glorious future. They are the Willy Wonka’s of our times, living a life of fantasy. They really are the last people we should trust. Many live life styles in the clouds not seeing what people in the gutter must suffer through. When you live life on the mountain top its easy to see the vast beauty of the world, but these are broad strokes that hide the gritty details and the cruel reality of what is on the ground. As we move ahead in this ever quickening environment more people will be displaced, as we move to AGI (Artificial General Intelligence), maybe even replaced. Once momentum reaches a certain velocity it becomes impossible to turn on the break, to slow down the train. It will seek more advancement, more profit, and more returns. The advancements we will see in the next 25yrs will be breathtaking, though the consequences of those changes may be damning.
It was 1987 and I was a young student studying abroad at the Danish International Studies (DIS) program in Copenhagen, I was just 20 years old and at this point had decided on a major, Business Administration, and not much else. Life was still an empty canvass. Things were much different in those days as personal computing was still very young and immature and there was no internet. We were a lot of naïve 20 yr old young adults who had not spent much time out of the confines and comfort of our home country. We were thrust into a foreign environment (a little less so for me as I had visited Denmark many times as I had family there). The excitement was that each day there was something new to learn, to experience. . As students we all relished in reading the International Herald Tribune and discussing political events in Europe. Mikhail Gorbachev was changing the Soviet Union with things like “glasnost” and “perestroika”. The leaders of the big three in the European Union (West Germany, France and the UK) were Kohl, Mitterand and Thatcher were each following different policies. Kohl was moving West Germany to the right, Mitterand was a Socialist (in time it would be in name only), and Thatcher was bringing the UK into the Milton Friedman school of economics. We discussed elections in Europe, we frankly, rarely talked about what was happening in the United States. It was exciting to learn about different democratic political systems. During my year in Denmark, there would be two national elections as the initial coalition elected when I arrived in August of 1987 could not hold and a new election was called for in June of 1988. There are other very high functioning democracies other than our own
At that time the Iron Curtain was still in full effect, the Cold War was still very real. As part of our time in Denmark we studied East-West relations. We had a Danish teacher names Lars Mittek Pederson who taught the course. He was an interrogator for the Danish military. He was 5’4″. Soviets beware. One thing you learned about communist states, unless it was a natural resource they did not have a lot to trade with the west. It made economic relations difficult and you had to be creative to make it work. Currency was obviously an issue as eastern currencies were not wroth much, so they had to do actual trading of goods. The cool thing we got to do as part of the program was in the fall we toured some of the Eastern Bloc countries. One group went to Poland and East Germany and the other group went to Czechoslovakia and Hungary. I was in the second group. So my plans were made to go to Prague and Budapest.
We flew out from the Kastrup airport just outside Copenhagen and had to stop in Budapest before proceeding to Prague. Landing in Budapest was an earie experience, it was dark and foggy outside with a few lights poking through the fog. In was out of a old fashioned Hollywood spy thriller where East meets West. I am sure Richard Burton starred in the film. Even though we were all on a plane, it all seemed very cold. We took off to Prague after spending an hour on the tarmac and landed safely in Czechoslovakia and were whisked away to our hotel on the main street in Prague. Prior to arriving in Prague we had all been given a few hundred Deutschmarks as we would need to exchange currency to the local Korana’s. The Hotel foreign exchange rates sucked but we had been told there was a thriving black market for western currency that offered much better rates. We checked into our Hotel and then hopped on the elevator with the bellhop (yes they actually had a bellhop). The bellhop was young, probably late twenties early thirties and since communism promised full employment we had a bellhop. Half way up to the fourth floor the bellhop stopped the elevator. The black market had arrived. I cannot remember the actual rate but it was significantly higher than the hotel rate. With the exception of one “follow” the rule person we happily exchanged our money. We were college student and understood money, as we did not have a lot.
The first night we ate at the hotel in a nice dining room and were served drinks in large Brandy sniffers. We indulged. It was our Danish guides who understood this would all need to be paid for. I do remember we had guest form the Czechoslovakian government, who spoke to us. Our group consisted of Americans and Canadiens, and one Australian. To lighten up the presentation the government rep asked if “Canada had become the 51st state yet?”. Joke did not go over so well with some members of our group. Following dinner we went out to explore the town. One thing about Prague which was cool was it was one of the few major European cities that was not bombed during the second World War, so it had a very old world feel to it. A first stop was the famous St Charles bridge, which was lined with statues. It was a chilly, foggy night as we walked across the bridge, which just added to the cold war feel of the city. Afterwards we wanted some nightlife and found a place open late. They had security at the door and he would not let us in, so we bribed him. Into the nightlife we went. It was a gay bar, which in hind site thinking about the eastern European attitudes towards homosexuality it was surprising we got in, but we paid in Western currency as every man has their price, especially in eastern Europe. We did not stay long and eventually called it a night.
The next day it was rise and shine and off to the tour bus . We had a lot of ground to cover. As it has been over 30 yrs my memories may be a bit rusty, so bare with me. Our DIS leader was a older business man named Preben Hoffmann, who routinely would fall asleep on the bus rides and wake up with dandruff all over his sports coats (we were all dressed in business attire for the excursion). A second DIS leader was Karin who worked in the DIS office, she was late twenties as far as I could tell. We also had a Czech tour guide, whose name I cannot remember. On this day we stopped at the Jewish cemetery in Prague. I think it was the one opp on the trip we had to see the travesty of WWII. Since Prague, was not bombed during WWII and thanks to communism, Prague had not evolved and certain locations were preserved, not out of reverence, there was juts no motivation to change anything. For lunch we went to a castle and ordered food which took an hour to get, service was not a strength so we chatted for a long time. We finally got our food and were ready to go, but for whatever reason some people needed to order dessert. About 2 1/2 hrs after we arrived we finally departed. We toured a dairy plant. The one image that impacted me was at the end of a production line a woman would wait for the milk case to arrive , which given the pace was about one every two minutes and then put the case on a pallet. In the meantime she stood and smoked cigarettes, she looked incredibly bored and if I were her I would smoke two packs of cigarettes every day, hoping it would speed up my death. But communism guaranteed full employment and there was a cost.
That evening we would go to the famous Estates Theater, which was not far from our hotel. We were to see a opera, the Passion Play, so a biblical event. We were put in one of the private boxes on the second level so we had a front row and were in a luxurious setting. I was somewhat familiar with the theater as it had been used as part of the Academy Award nominated film Amadeus, which I was a big fan of. We were actually set up in two rows, behind me was a fellow student Bill, who had come prepared with a walk man. As the curtains raised I could here a faint familiar sound behind me, it was the opening guitar riff for the B’52’s classic, Rock Lobster. I turned and Bill just smiled. I think Bill really enjoyed the show.
The last day was rather exciting, because as usual things were moving slowly. I cannot remember the issue but our Czech tour guide and Karin had to go to a government office (I think it may have been something to do with Karin’s visa). The line was slow and Karin was getting nowhere. The tour guide jumped in and tried to get the person behind the counter to hurry up, but apparently she did not like his tone and closed the blind on him (at this point we had a clear picture of teller behind an encased space where she had ability via blind to shut people out). This is where the story got a bit odd. The tour guide had a small knife and tried to slip the knife under blind and raise the blind up. The teller opened the blind to see tour guide holding a knife pointed towards her. The police were called and he was arrested. We never saw nor heard from him again.
As we rounded out are stay in Prague a few things struck me. In terms of consumer goods there was nothing that was remotely interesting. I also witnessed lines for food. In terms of consumer activity there was little. In terms of service anywhere there was no sense of urgency (even by European standards). Was there issues of secret police? Yes. One story was on our last day a few students went out with some locals who could speak English and have a beer (interestingly national beer was Budweizer – no direct relation to US Brand). As we were in a small pub our hosts would constantly look over their shoulders to see ho may be watching or listening. Czechoslovakia was know as one of the stricter communist satellites in the Eastern bloc, probably legacy of the Prague Spring of 1968. Thinking back on Prague it was a great experience in learning what freedom means.
From Prague we flew back to Budapest. We already felt as a group we were now more experienced in the dark arts of currency exchange in the Eastern bloc. Highlighted by the fact that I don’t remember the actual exchange, but it was apparent by then that the black market found you, you did not find it. We were greeted by a tour guide, who would be our host during our stay in Budapest. Our Danish leader Karin, who had been traveling with us seemed to play a more prominent role in Budapest as the liaison with the tour guide (I think his name was Peter – I will just go with it from here on out). Perhaps because Budapest was closer to Vienna and the west it had a more lively vibe than Prague, you felt that almost immediately. This of course is lively by communist standards. We upgraded from a slug to a snail.
As usual we woke up and got dressed for success and headed out on the tour bus to take in the sites of Budapest. We went to Karl Marx University, I am sure there were many in the Eastern Bloc. Our guest speaker came in dressed in what looked like a nice wester suit. He spoke impeccable English. It turns out he had studied at Harvard. I cannot remember the substance of the talk but it was impressive that his manor was much more western than many we had already had to listen to. I remember they had a Karl Marx statue, but in hind site it was humorous to have such a western looking presentation at a center of communist thought
From there our tour guide, Peter took us across the river to a castle in a bluff that overlooked Budapest. As Peter explained Budapest was two sides of the river. There was the “Buda” side and the “Pesta” side. I equated the “Pesta” side with having an insect problem. We were in a castle that over looked the city and the Danube river, it was really quite stunning
Another stop was the Heroes Square and The Millennium Monument, where we would get a big group photo in front of this magnificent monument. We were a group of young adults on the go. I don’t know if any of us had any idea what we would see when we got to Budapest (and Prague), it was just part of the program and we were along for the ride. One thing about Budapest that was significantly different than Prague was they had opened a little to the idea of free enterprise. They actually had a fast food burger joint, which we all tried. The Hungarians had done it, they had given new meaning to greasy food. That being said, no it was not McDonald’s, but it fulfilled a craving for fast food we all had.
A key memory for me was when we had some downtime and a fellow student, David Ricardi and I were having a deep conversation of our travels, walking along the Danube in front of some beautiful government buildings. It was frankly one of those things you could only do in Europe. It was one of those moments when you are young and you just appreciate the fact that you are somewhere having an experience. That you were actually living and enjoying a moment. Later on David and I would connect with other members of the group and go our for beers. Afterwards David and I were with our Danish guide Karin, walking back to the hotel. Near the hotel they had a little pizza kiosk (looked like an old Fotomat ) and David and I introduced Karin to the American late night tradition of eating pizza before we go to bed. I think Karin thought it was a bit weird, but she sure enjoyed the pizza.
It was soon time to leave and fly back to Copenhagen, and back to school. We had an extra week and some students went on a tour to the Soviet Union. I would hop a train and go to north to Aalborg and spend the week with family. I would read Pricilla Pressley’s book “Elvis and Me” in Danish (kinda proud of that). By Monday, a week later, talking about our adventures abroad. I just remember our teacher Lars Mittek Pederson saying in class, “I did not want to tell you this before you left, but those eastern airlines go down all the time, it is ridiculous”. Good to know and glad he waited to tell us.
Looking back now over 35 yrs ago, a lot has changed, obviously. Just 2 years later the Berlin Wall would fall and Germany would start the process of re-unification. In 1991 the Soviet Union would collapse creating a group of new nation states (Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia etc…). In 1992 Czechoslovakia would dissolve and become the Czech Republic and Slovakia. NATO and the European Union would begin their expansion eastward Russia would try capitalism and fail. They would not start to gain some stability until the arrival of a good old fashioned Russian dictator named Vladimir Putin. The US would struggle, in its own way, as it is hard to adjust after having so many years of a defined enemy. We seem now to have come full circle with the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. We may be entering a much more violet time as the world seems to be moving toward a bipolar power structure after having so many years of just American power. This is being driven more by China than Russia, but that is another topic for another blog post. Eastern Europe is far more free now than when I visited, though there are distressing signs in place like Hungary and Poland. Belarus is very locked down as is Russia. Are we going back to communism, short answer no (a lot of people mistake tax policy for communism). Karl Marx had a huge influence on the 20th century but his philosophies were born unto what was happening in the 19th century. He died in 1878.
Traveling in Eastern Europe gave me a lot of wonderful incites, which obviously had a positive influence on my outlook of the world. It provided me the opportunity to see what was the dying days of the communist system. The daily struggle people lived behind the Iron Curtain. A certain dreary view of the world, knowing there is a lot happening in the west they just are not allowed to participate. It is one thing to read about these things, it is completely different to have the opportunity to experience it. I drew from a fading an aging and fading memory so hopefully you enjoyed this trip down memory lane.
We live in a time of division in the United States, it is not that we simply disagree with one another, we genuinely do not like one another. The entire point of the 2016 election was not to unite but to divide. To pit one party versus the other. This was the brainchild of Trump strategist Steve Bannon and like it or not, it was successful. For quite some time now the political status quo has been under fire and to a degree I get it. How many politicians over the last 30 years have gone to small to midsize middle American cities and said we are bringing jobs back to America, both Democrats and Republicans, and 4 years later that audience is still waiting. In the meantime small town American cities begin to crumble, into a opioid laden haze. The young leave to the big cities if they can, others stay and wallow away into despair. Regardless of political the promise we can all see the impact of automation on manufacturing and know there will be far fewer jobs upon their return. The American public is smarter than it sometimes is given credit for.
We seem to see a new extreme each week. Governor Ron Desantis, a shrewd politician, has seized the Trump mantel of late and is looking to divide us more along party lines, with the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill. While Governor Gregg Abbot of Texas wants fellow citizens to be informants for his anti-abortion agenda (for all the rhetoric of democrats being socialist this is right out of the East German playbook). These are moves that target a specific base, an angry base. It is popular in certain circles and abhorred in others, these moves are wedge issue. Designed to raise the American blood pressure to a boiling point, We are in a time where democracy is in peril in the United States, if democracy dies the US Constitution is dead. Many would disagree with that last quote and argue we need to return to the constitution, but I would say we never left it. We continue to adhere by the constitution and follow the guidance as laid out to America. The US Constitution is 7 article’s and the Bill of Rights is 27 Amendment’s (actually 25 as 18 & 21 cancel each other out). It is not long so please read.
We started down this path of division under President Ronald Reagan when he killed the Fairness Doctrine. The Fairness Doctrine stemmed from a 1949 policy meant to cover the radio industry. As a condition for a federal license, station owners were required to “afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views on issues of public importance.” In short you had to give both sides of an argument an equal voice. In killing the doctrine he created far right media personalities like Rush Limbaugh. Over the next 40 years the radio was littered with hatred of government. Indoctrinating the country with false narratives. Any enlargement of government was immediately labeled “Socialism”. Infringement on our rights. Confusing the US with Stalinist Russia (between 20 million and 40 million Soviet citizens died during Stalin’s reign), is an odd and ill informed view of history. Rush Limbaugh taught his followers to hate government and if people did not buy in, to hate them to. Which is why Rush Limbaugh was known as the Prince of Hate (I actually crowned him that, but he would be proud of it). If we all hate our government what do we have that is left? When do we storm the capital building in the name of patriotism….wait that already happened, led by a new George Washington in a Buffalo outfit.
The left is not innocent in this debate, they have drifted away from their roots with the US working class, the labor unions. They have in many ways become “too educated” and are rightly viewed as elitist. It really started in the Clinton administration, when democrats were viewed as not in step with the Republicans on the economy and started to take what was then a more progressive view. They would start rolling back laws like the Glass-Steagall act in 1999, disastrous consequences came later. In the meantime more than the GOP they would talk passively to their “previous” base of labor, offering promises built on dreams. They drifted away and labor needed a new leader and found it in Donald Trump. What labor really wants is protection from the free market capitalists, who disown them as soon as a better “business” opportunity is provided, like off shoring of jobs. To ease their pain here is some opioids. Big ideas led to empty promises . What was wanted was a steady income with benefits so people could live life comfortably. Something capitalism is not in step with. Capitalism lied to America but we have already bought in so it is too late.
We talk of the liberal media as if the huge conservative media is innocent. Watching the cable networks there is plenty of hatred to spread, whether you want Rachel Maddow or Tucker Carlson there is plenty of things to make you angry before you go to bed, to cause your blood to boil and send your mind racing, which ultimately results in lost sleep (something I value more as I get older). The issue is not the liberal media or the conservative media, it is media in general. What annoys me though is there is a lot of great journalism happening right now. There are people asking hard questions, doing in depth research, hitting the road and spending large amounts of time away from there home to get to the truth. For many that truth can be hard to hear
Capitalism is not what it is cracked up to be and is as much a cause for American pain as it is prosperity. It was Milton Friedman who said, “The only social responsibility a corporation has is to maximize profits”. Maximizing profits come down to three little statements: Balance Sheet, Cash Flow Statement and Income Statement. We have gone on the war path to eliminate anything that slows the free flow of capital. Creating financial tools to allow a select few to prosper. Hedge funds are all the rage for making a new class of billionaires. Ask then how many jobs they created you are likely to get a blank stare High Frequency trading is another business that frankly should be banned, but instead it made billionaire’s who we are taught to idolize and seek advice from. What advise can they give, “you want to get rich kid, game and cheat the system”. Don’t worry if you get busted you will only get a couple years in a country club and when you get out your money will be waiting.
There have been several excellent books on how we got to this point in American History, Evan Osnos book “Wildland: The Making of American Fury” and Arlie Russell Hochschild’s book “Stranger in a Strange Land” come to mind. One thing is consistent is it took decades to get here and there were many reasons that impacted both black and white America. Simple was the increasing view of the corporate bottom line being all powerful and that the stock market represented American health. If GDP was good the country was good. GDP is actually a poor measure, its a reflection of how much a country produces in goods and services, the easiest way to increase the number is to increase the population. Which is why economists are often concerned about Japan’s GDP, but that is silly as Japan’s population is aging and shrinking. We are in a society where the speed of transaction to the speed of consumer satisfaction has increased to breakneck speeds, but in doing so it is leaving vast swaths of America behind. Government programs that could help have been stripped away. Every tax cut is programs taken away and trickle down economics is really struck down economics as people struggle to stand and live again. Hidden behind it all is a culture of wealth that says your lives were never worth much, frankly they are not worth saving. Here are some opioids to lessen your pain.
My wife and sister in-law were sitting in the sun at the Last Frontier Saloon in Fall City, WA basking in the sunlight much like a cat does lazing about in so many peoples windows. In a prime state of relaxation. They are chatty pair and when they saw a man wearing a “Sturgis” T-Shirt, where they both have been they turned it into a opportunity to have a conversation. At first cordial, it took a U-Turn as the man used it as a political platform. His hatred of our state governor, money being wasted on meth addicts, to be frank not anything that is not being espoused these days. There certainly is a group who despise Washington State Governor Jay Inslee , but in 2020 he easily won the election over Trump candidate Lauren Culp (56% – 43%). Is this different than any other time in US history? Perhaps. The final nail on the man’s coffin or enlightenment is he is moving to Idaho, where he can now be free. Freedom is a fickle things these days, not defined by the constitution but by whomever at that moment may be interpreting it, to suit their ends.
Recently I watched a documentary about ” The American Redoubt” by an English news crew. It was exploring a right wing group of people many who had moved to Idaho seeking a life more in line with their values, very Christian in their beliefs. They have broadened there geography to include Montana, Wyoming and the eastern parts of Oregon and Washington. You always have to be careful with film, because they may film a group of people close up and crowded, giving you the impression it is a mass movement, only to discover it was 50 people. The American Redoubt is adept at playing the blame game as you can read at their online news site, the Redoubt News, which is scary given the amount of misinformation, not to mention individuals with questionable backgrounds (Matt Shea). There are lot of people moving to Idaho and not surprisingly they are white, middle aged and pissed. Looking for answers, looking for peace but look into their heart you will only find anger.
Conspiracy theories have become prevalent in America. Used as a means for action, regardless it seems of how far out they may be. It has gotten to the point there are so many to keep track of, we had Pizza Gate, QAnon, Stop the Steal, seems like dozens of COVID conspiracies etc..and the funny thing is I am a fool if I do not believe at least one of them. In some ways we are like Russia in the way we are manipulated by these ideas. In Russia, where homosexuality is not condoned the common refrain is save the children from pedophiles, turning the whole debate on its head and make all gays pedophiles and use their children as propaganda against them. Next thing you know in the states we have QAnon and Pizza Gate. Apparently we have a bigger pedophile problem. We as a society seem to revel in being in “the know”. The government is lying to us, like we are in an episode of the “X-Files”. Throughout history mankind has been susceptible to conspiracy theories especially when you make the target audience the victim. Rush Limbaugh is beaming down from heaven with his approval of the ridiculous, the absurd, the conspiracy. The victim card worked for Hitler and seemingly in can work anywhere, where a segment of the population is desperate enough for an answer that does not involve themselves.
There is a part of America that is afraid. They see a country they thought they knew drifting away. What once was “Hotdog’s, Baseball and Apple Pie”, is shrinking away. In the digital age things are moving faster than many can comprehend. Not just socially but economically. Change has always been a big part of the American experience, but now we see that change more in racial divides. When you throw up data that says by 2050 white people will not be the majority the United States, many people become terrified, which is why it did not take but a simple shove to revive white nationalism in the United States. It would be easy to dismiss these groups as racists and therefor not active or welcome participants in democratic process, but that would be a poor choice. They are growing and no one is giving them reason to turn away. They have a solution, but if you did deeper into the view. it will involve a great amount of bloodshed, that cost never has a positive outcome.
Going back to Idaho I hear of a lot of people saying I am going to move to Idaho as it is more in line with my values, rather than fight for their beliefs at home they choose the easy route and move to a place viewed as safe. It strikes me if we continue this path we will move away from red states vs blue states to deep red states vs deep blue states, the difference being you are no longer welcome when crossing from deep blue to deep red. We live in an era, as NY Times Columnist David Brooks defined it, of explosive distrust: It is not that we view opposing views as wrong, we view them as illegitimate. When all this happens you have taken away a fundamental tenant of American democracy: Freedom.
In the age of new media it seems we are all given a voice. We can share our opinions, our fears, our dreams and just put it out in the ether, hoping that someone will listen. Hoping that someone will validate our beliefs. Give us a sense of purpose. Give us meaning. In many ways this sounds very vain and it is (as i write I think of the hypocrisy of what I am saying). But when you look at society and how we choose to consume information, this makes for some frightening scenarios. There are those who get large amount of followers and begin touting ideas and opinions, some of which they know very little about. They cause controversy and raise doubts about our society and our government. They position themselves sometimes as all knowing and the truly frightening thing is people listen, worse yet they believe.
Throughout history media changes. The consequences of these changes is well laid out through history, starting with the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg around 1440 up until now with the digital onslaught of the internet. Without the printing press many scientists would have been denied, “The Dialog” by Galileo which scientifically proved Copernicus’ theory that the earth revolved around the sun (the catholic church was none too happy with this). It would provide us access to great literature. It gave us newspapers and the concept of journalism, but even then it was perverted for nefarious purposes. The Dreyfus affair in France and the yellow journalism of the Spanish American War. As we moved into radio and film, what first was new and cool soon became the tool of propaganda and one of the best to use it was Nazi Germany, who used to to great effect in turning German suffering toward hatred of the Jews, it would be 6 million lives later that we would learn the true horror of what had been done. Progress has consequences when used for ill intent.
The internet has followed the arc of radio and TV. At first it was very cool and exciting allowing us to link across the globe, whenever and wherever. But as time has moved forward we now enter a new phase where people begin to magnify and promote extreme views, what is slightly different is how it is controlled. Where the Nazi Party of the past or today’s Chinese communist party, they were governments that control the flow of information to promote a narrow world view point, in the free market everyone and anyone has a opportunity to share their views, but its the intersection of the public and private that create the current climate of confusion. Governments with desires of power love to manipulate their citizens, but with the web we now have the opportunity to manipulate other peoples citizens, this clearly came to light in the US Presidential election of 2016 where Russia became very adept at using social media to misguide US Citizens.
Another area of concern is the rise of outlandish conspiracy theories. They seem to come out of nowhere and then create a huge following on the web. We have QANON, Pizzagate, Stop the Steal, and a whole host of others that gain momentum in popular culture, long on rhetoric, but short on substance. We create figures with massive influence like Alex Jones and Joe Rogan. To the point they are so large and influential no one dares challenge their credentials, but there are those who want to tap into that influence. Donald Trump wanted Alex Jones listeners for his 2016 and 2020 campaigns. This is a man who falsely claimed that the Sandy Hook school massacre, which left 20 children ages 6-7 dead and 6 educators dead, was actually staged by actors. A man who lusts for influence and power knows no limits to his cruelty. Yet as a society we continue to give him a platform. The free market reigns supreme, despite its inherent cruelty.
It’s an interesting time in US history where we know the key to our children’s success is STEM, yet we hate science when it threatens our way of life. No matter what the consequences. We seek to create a world based on a past that never existed and a future that never will be. We regulate our children’s lives with schedules that never allow themselves to be bored (there is value in boredom). Soccer mom is a mom who is overworked (by definition mothers are overworked). In light of all this our children are subject to the same indulgences, the same threats. About 20yrs ago cyber-bullying was not a thing, but is certainly is now. It also means children are subject to the threat and manipulation of foreign actors. Not easy being a parent in modern times.
We live an a very emotional world, where we live life almost by moments, we live a double life thanks to social media. Sometimes creating a virtual world where we share happy photos and happy moments, perhaps to shutter the darkness that lays beneath us. It is something that criminals and foreign governments have learned to prey on. To utilize that sensitive emotional state and turn citizens against one another. The US seems particularly vulnerable to this threat. In a society built on economic consumption and instant gratification our emotions run extremely high and we find ourselves being manipulated in new, creative and fundamentally evil ways. Turning on our citizens and our nation. A recent CBS News Poll has 54% of Americans believing the biggest threat to the US In internal, granted it is one poll but whether it was 40% or 70%, it is something to ponder and wonder out loud, “How did we get here”? The Platform we participate in are a means of social escape and are subject to social manipulation. America is a envied nation, still many dream of coming to our shores and living the American dream, but with success comes nations who loathe us, either out of envy or could be religiously driven or super powers battling for influence. However if this wedge in America continues to be driven deeper, the American dream may be nearing its end.