News — At The Edge — 4/29

Two sets of articles and a video this week — political and extremist. Together, the picture painted is one where societies are tearing themselves apart and bracing for more dramatic upheaval.

Political issues start with a discussion about the decline of Western civilization, which is reinforced by a growing distrust of government and markets. (Later this week I’ll be posting a new article on this topic called, The Dangerous Quicksand of Our Past)

  • The Crisis of Western Civ
  • Why America has a trust problem

Next article raises the question of whether tech monopolies need to be broken up or become utilities. (Two of my articles speak to monopolies Capitalism and Post-Capitalism — The Whole Truth & Nothing But and Funny Thing about Money and Machines)

  • Is It Time to Break Up Google?

Extremist issues start with a video and article about the growth of militias and the increasing propensity toward violence. This is followed by discussion of how online companies like Facebook seem to have willful blindness about the toxic behaviors they are enabling.

  • Why armed militia groups are surging across the nation — video
  • Don’t Look Now, But Extremists’ Meme Armies Are Turning Into Militias
  • Climbing Out Of Facebook’s Reality Hole

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Political Issues —

The Crisis of Western Civ -

“Western civ narrative came with…[values] about the importance of reasoned discourse, the importance of property rights, the need for a public square…within which political argument could happen and…provided a set of common goals…[but] many people…lost faith in the [narrative]….

[Now] enemies of those Western values have emerged…[with] the rise of the illiberals, authoritarians who not only don’t believe in the democratic values of the Western civilization narrative, but don’t even pretend to believe in them, as former dictators did….[We’ve] entered the age of strong men…Putin, Erdogan, el-Sisi, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump….

More and more governments, including [Trump’s]…begin to look like premodern mafia states, run by family-based commercial clans. Meanwhile…party-based authoritarian regimes, like in China or Russia, are turning into premodern cults of personality… which are far more unstable and dangerous….

[Also] the collapse of the center [political parties]….Fringe parties rise …[as we] enter a world of chilling intolerance….[T]he share of young Americans who say it is absolutely important to live in a democratic country has dropped from 91 percent in the 1930s to 57 percent today.

While running for office, Donald Trump violated every norm of statesmanship built up over these many centuries, and it turned out many people didn’t notice or didn’t care….The faith in the West collapsed from within…[and] Western civ is assumed to be reactionary and oppressive…..[But] wait until you get a load of the world that comes after it.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/21/opinion/the-crisis-of-western-civ.html?ref=opinion

Why America has a trust problem -

“TRUST IN politicians in America is at an all-time low….[2016] only 9% of Americans reported confidence in Congress….Technology and globalization are commonly cited culprits…[but] a simpler explanation [is]…a reasonable perception that politicians are not working in the best interests of voters….

[T]he last time a majority of Americans suggested…Washington, DC could be trusted to do what is right was in 1972….By 2015, less than one in five Americans held that view…[suggesting] deep-seated, long-term factors might be at play…[and] isn’t just [government]…[trust] in markets is also down around the world….

The longest sustained decline…was from 1964 — when 77% of Americans thought the government could be trusted to do what is right — to 1980, when that had dropped to 27%. That is, after the spread of broadcast television but before the advent of cable news….

[But] Germany, for example, confidence in government actually increased over the past decade, from 25 to 44%….[Sweden] now 59% profess confidence ….

[T]he pathetically low level of confidence in American political institutions…probably reflects an accurate perception that politicians are not delivering on their promises. After all, institutions that appear serially incapable of setting a budget or paying debts without months of brinkmanship do not reek of competence and probity. And trying to shift the blame for their unpopularity elsewhere may simply increase Washington DC’s trust problem.”
http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2017/04/verify-then-trust

Is It Time to Break Up Google? -

“In just 10 years…five largest companies by market capitalization have all changed [to]…all tech [and]…each dominates its corner of the industry: Google…88 percent market…in search advertising, Facebook…77 percent of mobile social…[Amazon] 74 percent…e-book market…[so] all three are monopolies….

[We’re] back to the early 20th century…[issue] ‘in a democratic society…[find] large centers of private power is dangerous to the continuing vitality of a free people’…[like] conduct of the largest banks in the 2008 financial crisis or…[role] Facebook and Google play in the ‘fake news’….

Could it be that these companies…have become natural monopolies by supplying…a service, at a price lower than what would be offered by two competing firms? And if so, is it time to regulate them like public utilities?…[Need] to decide fairly soon whether Google, Facebook and Amazon are the kinds of natural monopolies that need to be regulated, or…[pretend] unfettered monoliths don’t inflict damage on our privacy and democracy.

It is impossible to deny [they’ve]…stymied innovation on a broad scale [as]…point of access to all media for the majority of Americans. While profits at Google, Facebook and Amazon have soared, revenues in media businesses like newspaper publishing or the music business…since 2001, fallen by 70 percent…[losing] over half their employees….

Billions of dollars have been reallocated from creators of content to owners of monopoly platforms. All content creators dependent on advertising must negotiate with Google or Facebook as aggregator…. There are a few obvious regulations to start with.

  1. Monopoly is made by acquisition…[and] these companies should not be allowed to acquire other major firms….
  2. [T]o regulate…as a public utility, requiring it to license out patents, for a nominal fee, for its search algorithms, advertising exchanges and other key innovations….
  3. [T]o remove the ‘safe harbor’ clause…which allows companies…to free ride on the content produced by others….40,000 Islamic State videos…. Facebook, Google and Twitter claim that policing their networks would be too onerous. But that’s preposterous: They already police their networks for pornography, and quite well.
  • Removing the safe harbor provision would also force social networks to pay for the content posted on their sites….One million downloads of a song on iTunes would yield… about $900,000. One million streams of that same song…about $900….

[W]e may have to wait four years, at which time the monopolies will be so dominant that the only remedy will be to break them up….Woodrow Wilson…said in 1913, ‘If monopoly persists, monopoly will always sit at the helm of the government.’ We ignore his words at our peril.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/22/opinion/sunday/is-it-time-to-break-up-google.html?ref=opinion

Extremist Issues —

Why armed militia groups are surging across the nation (10 min.)

In the Oklahoma City bombing…Timothy McVeigh…sympathized with armed right-wing militia groups…But armed militias have long been active on the fringes of American society and continue to rise today.

Don’t Look Now, But Extremists’ Meme Armies Are Turning Into Militias -

“[Far Right protested] punched an antifascist protestor [or antifa]…(that believes in stopping far-right extremism at any cost, including violence and doxxing.)….As political discourse in the US has become more polarized and contentious…images of actual violence that political extremists spread and celebrate…resembles military propaganda…..

[So] sharing a meme has become…about defining your in-group ….Far-right memes…[celebrate] violence…. Antifa memes tend toward honoring the punch rather than the puncher…the act of resistance, rather than the agent of it….‘When used by far right ‘patriot’ groups, these memes…flatten American politics to a good-versus-evil binary; their subjects are the righteous and honorable ….

[T]his militarism is no surprise…[with] ex-military or ex-law enforcement… the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters…[seeing] the government as threats to American freedom’…..[It’s] the contemporary version of neo-Nazis’ strategy in the ’80s, when they would pick fights on talk shows…..’The problem isn’t that these memes are out there…it’s that the internet is getting used to them.”
https://www.wired.com/2017/04/meme-army-now-militia/

Climbing Out Of Facebook’s Reality Hole -

“[A] sense of existential dread…[in] California — that the world we built has perhaps gone badly awry…[with] proliferation of fake news and filter bubbles across the platforms meant to connect us have instead divided us into tribes…[and] harnessed to broadcast murders, rapes, suicides, and even torture….

[T]he zeitgeist is one of melancholy, frustration, and even regret — except for Mark Zuckerberg….[Facebook] doesn’t distort reality…[but] often seems to lack the ability to recognize it….You have to build for the reality we live in, not the one we hope to create….

Todays news was largely about the company’s push into AR….[Yet] it certain that people will also use these same tools to attack and abuse and harass and lie….[I]t would be reassuring to know that Facebook is…planning for humans to be humans in all their brutish ways….Instead Facebook went into the reality hole….

The digital world is not flesh or blood, but it can have a tremendous effect on things that are….Facebook can’t stop…murder or mayhem…[but] can acknowledge that these things will happen, and it can do a far better job of planning for them. It can make it harder to use its platforms to harass others, or to spread disinformation, or to glorify acts of violence.”
https://www.buzzfeed.com/mathonan/climbing-out-of-facebooks-reality-hole?utm_term=.ffxrG0Yal#.paY4W3OL7

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Doc Huston
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