Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Tribal 


I now realize I am guilty. Guilty of the worst kind of tribalism. I thought I was so clever seeing patterns and associations between politics and culture and art and commerce but in truth if you are wandering in a forest you really only see trees. And if you're wandering in a Boreal forest you will only see certain kinds of trees and never even know what other kinds of trees there are. I guess it's Plato's classic Cave Analogy all over again - which is like the Bourne Analogy where it's the same plot but without the awesome car chase. I'm just one of those fools looking at my shadow on the cave wall not even knowing there is a world outside. If you read the same papers and writers as others in your tribe, you inevitably come to the same conclusions. This is also known as the filter bubble. You'd think by now there'd be an app called the Filter Bubble Burster™ or something. Yet when you see the same movies or listen to the same music as your tribe, then all is well in the world, or at least everyone in the same tribe can agree on what's wrong in the world. But everything isn't right is it?

One theme that arose over this past year was that Globalism was bad. Very bad. Globalism, the borderless world of trade and container shipping and the financial, political and social policies that enable it was the root cause, or consequence of almost all the ills of the modern world: unemployment, resource allocation, inequity, the wealth of the 1%, the stagnation of the 99%, immigration, xenophobia, racism, misogyny, the collapse of the Arab world, the unsustainable growth of cities, war, terrorism and on and on. It was this article in The Guardian, a source of independent media I enjoy (or thought I did), that made me think, “Does The Guardian sometimes sound a little too Lefty Conspiracy Theorist for its own good?” Then another article in the Globe & Mail, a source of queasy toadyism that I don’t enjoy, that made me wonder, “If a pro-business, pro-international trade, establishment paper thinks this, maybe it’s a thing?” Their point seemed pretty reasonable: the repercussions of Globalization has led people already suspicious of impersonal institutions that run our lives to really believe that they’ve been wronged by those powerful people who benefit the most from a free movement of goods, money and resources.

That has led to populist ideas that fear the Other, that reject pluralism, that want to protect what’s theirs, which manifests itself in protectionist tariffs that stifles trade, xenophobia that seeks to blame “foreigners”, and even a reassertion of “traditional values” that includes archaic definitions of manhood and womanhood. Take those ideas and fuel them with a righteous pride of nationhood and unselfconscious jingoistic rallying cries and your justified indignation is manipulated to become an unwelcoming, negative view of the world. That’s a world where CEOs justify making many times more than what their employees make, where unemployment is simply a result of inefficiencies, where education is reserved for those who can afford it, where systemic racism and violence against targeted groups is the downside to meritocracy. The CEO made his own luck, the murdered black man stopped for a missing tail light shouldn’t have over reacted to being shot.

It’s been a backward year. Do I believe in conspiracies? No. Have you ever tried to agree on a bar bill with friends? If you can’t make that work, how could you organize thousands of people to take part in the same secretive play book? Well, you can’t but the thing is you probably don’t have to. If you suggest ideas that work in favour of your tribe then those groups will sort of passively collude to work towards their goals. That’s how Globalism rose to become the most common approach to every problem. Those that benefit from it, saw no reason not to work towards it. Is that the NeoLiberalism The Guardian warns of, or just manipulative power brokers trying to exploit every opportunity (closer to what Naomi Klein describes in her book The Shock Doctrine). Likewise, did a secret cadre of Conservatives meet secretly to undermine the science of climate change? No. They met very openly to question something that might cost them money. They knew that casting doubt would stifle attempts to exploit opportunities like shale gas. Did the GOP embed journalists to foster mistrust of politicians in power? No. Rupert Murdoch created Fox News to bolster Conservatism in media which benefited Republican goals until it backfired and became its own kind of establishment which led to alt-right websites using the same spin of tactics to undermine Fox and other “mainstream media”.

What is so strange about the current political climate is that the fringe is so convinced that the arbiters of normal, middle of the road ideas or “mainstream” ones are the conspirators keeping everyone else down. What’s really amazing is how large the fringe has become. Can millions of people be considered a fringe? While you can joke that just because you’re paranoid, that doesn’t mean “they” aren’t watching you (e-mail hacks anyone?) you could just as equally point out the guy who complains all of his ex-room mates are crazy is in fact the crazy one.

How did this come about? How did we get here? It’s been said the first victim of war is the truth. Lies are the steam roller, the crowbar and the easiest weapon of mass destruction we’ve ever known. It seems more than anything, the real outcome of this election cycle has been our living in what the Economist refers to as a Post-Truth Age. How does Putin foment trouble in Crimea? Lies. How did Trump usurp the GOP establishment? Lies. Why have lying liars and the lies they tell won the day? Because it’s so damn easy. In some sense, lying has become the uncomplicated Occam’s razor. Lies are the sword that undoes the Gordian Knot. How can befuddling statistics and careful analysis be right when lies are so much more obvious? Why task ourselves with overthinking when our gut instincts are so straightforward, no matter how wrong they may be.

Will the truth set us free? Not when it’s easier to lie about it.

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