Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Is the lure of authoritarianism what got Trump elected?

I'm feeling rattled by Facebook, no longer sure if there's any point in sharing serious things there. It was the Trump election that did me in - things just got too weird. But then I see a story like this and I want to share it with people, because it's so damn interesting, so what can I do? When I want to be able to find something that I think is important enough that I'll probably want to track it down later when it's all coming true, I post it here.

The March 2016 piece in Vox  posits the theory that the U.S. is experiencing a rise in authoritarianism among its citizens, and that a guy like Donald Trump was pretty much the dream candidate for a period in time when this authoritarian tendency happens to be in full bloom.

"Authoritarians are thought to express much deeper fears than the rest of the electorate, to seek the imposition of order where they perceive dangerous change, and to desire a strong leader who will defeat those fears with force,"notes the article. 

"They would thus seek a candidate who promised these things. And the extreme nature of authoritarians' fears, and of their desire to challenge threats with force, would lead them toward a candidate whose temperament was totally unlike anything we usually see in American politics — and whose policies went far beyond the acceptable norms. A candidate like Donald Trump."

As you'll see in the piece, the people trying to figure out how to measure degrees of authoritarianism went with parenting questions. I've got no clue whether that's a valid comparison, but at the very least it does sort respondents into categories of people who think one way or the other. They're quite profound questions when you get to thinking about how you might answer them yourself as a parent.

Read the piece and weep, I guess. Personally, I'd hoped human rights, mutual respect and informed decision-making would get a longer run at being important issues, but things are not looking good for that line of thinking. I'm still struggling to know what to do about any of this, other than to talk about it with literally every person I've come in contact with since Trump got elected. I'm desperate to find pieces that help me understand at least a little more about how this can be happening, and this Vox piece was one of them. 

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Information dumps as a tool to smother dissent

    This feels like an important piece. It's a New York Times commentary from Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science who writes for the Times on occasion.
    Her point is that massive information dumps like the ones WikiLeaks is known for, one of which is currently making life miserable for U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, only look like strikes for freedom. In fact, they are tools for smothering dissent, says Tufekci. 
    "This method is so common in Russia and the former Soviet states that it has a name: kompromat, releasing compromising material against political opponents," she writes.
    "Emails of dissidents are hacked, their houses bugged, the activities in their bedrooms videotaped, and the material made public to embarrass and intimidate people whose politics displeases the powerful. Kompromat does not have to go after every single dissident to work: If you know that getting near politics means that your personal privacy may be destroyed, you will understandably stay away."
     Tufecki also notes the vast amount of collateral damage that a massive information dump causes. It's not just Hillary Clinton who is suffering. "Demanding transparency from the powerful is not a right to see every single private email anyone in a position of power ever sent or received. WikiLeaks, for example, gleefully tweeted to its millions of followers that a Clinton Foundation employee had attempted suicide; news outlets repeated the report."
     So yes, we live in an age where information is "free" in unprecedented ways. But what information? Made public by who, and for what purpose? Say what you will about mainstream media, but they did used to pay attention to such things. The wild and woolly world of wide-open public journalism has no such ethical base.