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All Along the Watchtower

All Along the Watchtower

‘There must be some way out of here’
Said the joker to the thief
‘There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief
Businessmen, they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line know what any of it is worth’

‘No reason to get excited’, the thief he kindly spoke
‘ There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late’

All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl 
All Along the Watchtower, by Bob Dylan (1967)

Quis custodiet Ipsos custodes?

But who will watch the watchmen?
Satires, by Juvenal (2nd Century)

We haven’t published an update on our Fiat News Index for a little while, but it is for a good reason. We are working on an improved version that does more to handle gradations, nuance and context in affective language. If the concept of fiat news is new to you, Ben’s original piece here offers the best explanation. In short, it is news which broadly cheapens the credibility of media by presenting opinion as fact. It debases information in the same way that a capricious sovereign might debase a currency. It tells you how to think.

But there is a certain type of fiat news which is the most pernicious, most in need of calling out where it rears its head. It seeks, like all fiat news, to present subjective judgments and opinions as fact.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Enemy Of The People

Enemy Of The People

There has never been a time when normal people did not know the media was biased and biased in a predictable direction. For every non-liberal in the media, there were at least ten liberals. The ratio was probably higher, but then, as now, some lefties liked to pretend they were independents or some third option. The media used to invest a lot of time denying they had a bias and an agenda, but the only people who believed them were on the Left, which had the odd effect of confirming they had a bias and an agenda.

The thing is though, the media seemed like it was biased in a predictable way. In the 1980’s, for example, the newspapers featured stories about the so-called homeless crisis on a weekly basis. That’s when we went from calling them bums to pretending their only problem was a lack of shelter. Once Clinton assumed power, the homeless stories disappeared. It was a running joke for a long time, because it was so obvious, but also because it was so predictable. Everyone got the joke, except Lefty.

As many have observed, the mask began to drop during the Clinton years when so many media members quit their jobs and went to work in the administration. It’s hard to maintain the illusion of independence when there is a revolving door between the media and left-wing political operations. That’s when CNN became known as the Clinton News Network, because they were so hilariously in the tank for them. Some tried to maintain the ruse, but any pretense of objectivity ended in the 1990’s.

Again, there was still a sense that it was just bias and that it was predictable and therefore you could adjust for it.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Curious Case of The Economist: How It Manipulates Its Readers with Slanted Comment on Russia

The Curious Case of The Economist: How It Manipulates Its Readers with Slanted Comment on Russia

The Curious Case of The Economist: How It Manipulates Its Readers with Slanted Comment on Russia

The Economist magazine is an admirable publication to which I have subscribed for over fifty years, with gaps now and then. While serving in Vietnam in 1970 its weekly arrival was a major event, as we were bereft of sensible reportage about that disastrous war, and I have always considered it to be balanced, extremely well-informed, and accurate. In its own modest words “What ties us together is the objectivity of our opinion, the originality of our insight and our advocacy of economic and political freedom around the world.”

Quite so. And so say all of us. Let’s hear it for a fearless journal that tells it like it is.

Until it doesn’t.

In the issue dated December 15, 2018 there is a strange anomaly in its description of life in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a shattered African state which the magazine’s writer(s) criticise objectively and with originality. And it’s the originality tangent that is intriguing.

The hard copy which I received in France has a half-page leader about Congo, headlined “The Kremlin-style charade in Kinshasa — Can anyone stop Joseph Kabila from doing a Putin?” which was an arresting summons that indicated objective cover concerning what one might expect to be a series of parallels and comparisons involving the leaders of Congo and Russia. On reading it, however, I wondered if perhaps the writer(s) had trended to originality that transcended objectivity, so went to the website where the headline was slightly different, employing the tried and faithful “-ology” tack-on and omitting Kabila’s name. It read “Kremlinology in Kinshasa: Can anyone stop Congo’s president from doing a Putin?”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

American Totalitarianism and the Culture of Fake News

American Totalitarianism and the Culture of Fake News

American Totalitarianism and the Culture of Fake News

American citizens have a problem telling the difference between facts and opinion. That’s the finding of a recent survey carried out by the respected Pew organization.

It was found that only a quarter of the people polled were able to correctly distinguish between a factual statement and an opinion claim. In other words, the majority of those Americans surveyed wrongly believed that information presented to them purporting as facts were indeed facts, when the information was actually merely a subjective claim or opinion.

For example, when an opinion statement like “democracy is the best form of government” was read to them, most of the respondents defined that as a fact. Only some 25 per cent of the more than 5,000 people surveyed by Pew could correctly differentiate between facts and subjective statements.

Moreover, as the Reuters report on the study, put it: “They tend to disagree with factual statements they incorrectly label as opinions, Pew said.”

The latter tendency suggests that Americans are easily misled by false information, and perhaps more disturbingly, that they are closed-minded towards information that challenges their prejudices.

This commentary is not meant to unduly denigrate American citizens. It would be interesting to see what the results would be from a similar survey conducted in Europe, Russia or China.

Regardless of not having such a comparison, however, the Pew study indicates that there is a significant cognitive problem among US people in being able to assess facts from opinions. Given that opinions can be easily manipulated, misconstrued or mendacious that in turn points to a problem of American society being vulnerable to so-called fake news.

US President Donald Trump has almost singlehandedly coined the phrase “fake news” when he rails against news media which are adverse to his personality and his Republican party politics.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why do we need to think and act more systemically?

Why do we need to think and act more systemically?

The power and majesty of nature in all its aspects is lost on one who contemplates it merely in the detail of its parts and not as a whole.

— Pliny the Elder

An increasing number of people are beginning to understand that the world we participate in is too complex, magnificent and changeable for any single perspective to do justice to its diversity and complexity. There is more to life than a ‘theory of everything’ that reduces the awe-inspiring diversity, creativity and beauty surrounding us to a series of abstract mathematical equations.

We live in networks of relationships defined by qualities that make life worth living. Most qualities escape quantification and mathematical abstraction. We need to acknowledge and value multiple perspectives and find ways to integrate their different contributions into a framework of thinking that can inform wise action.

In order to achieve a collaborative way of acknowledging, integrating and evaluating multiple perspectives, we need to move beyond dualistic either-or logic which suggests that, if two perspectives seem to contradict each other, one of them must categorically be wrong in order for the other perspective to be right. Yet, at a time when our cultural belief in the ability of science and technology to fix all our problems is beginning to wane, we also need ways to evaluate and compare different perspectives.

Science might not offer us the ‘objective’ picture of reality we were taught in school, but it remains a powerful method of inter-subjective consensus-making and constitutes a fairly reliable basis upon which to act — more so, say, than the opinion, intuition or spontaneous insight of a single individual — in most but certainly not all cases. We should neither exclusively favour inter-subjective ‘rational’ reasoning nor only rely on individual insight and intuition, but let ourselves be informed by both, as and when appropriate.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The world in 2018 – Part Four

The world in 2018 – Part Four

In the modern world, our perceptions of reality are largely shaped by economic and financial considerations, and our policy conversations are largely built around intellectual categories and evaluative criteria that pertain to the economics discipline. Yet a long-term view shows that ‘The world in 2018’ is in a significantly different place than what economists typically claim, and than what many of us want to believe.

We human beings build our perception of our personal and collective reality on a number of objective and subjective factors, which vary significantly between individuals and societies, as well as across time and space. However, for a majority of people in the modern world this perception tends to be mostly based on economic and financial considerations: the way we, individually and collectively, at any given moment in time, perceive our material and financial situation and prospects, and our material and financial well-being (absolute and relative), typically dominates our overall perception of our personal and collective trajectory and situation. It also influences the way we think about the other elements that contribute to shaping our worldview: when our perception of our material and financial conditions and perspectives is positive, it tends to foster our individual and collective confidence and security, which influences our views on other aspects of our lives and on our ability to address the challenges we face; when this perception gets more negative, on the other hand, it tends to make us insecure about our ability to deal with issues in other aspects of our individual and collective lives, and can in some cases hamper our ability to address them successfully.

The central role of economic and financial conditions in shaping our perception of reality has long been understood by policy makers the world over, who constantly try to influence the way these conditions are viewed and represented in society. It has also, of course, led them to seek advice from economists to find ways of improving material and financial well-being in their jurisdictions. With the development of economic science over the last century, economists have gained increasing sway over policy-making in industrialised as well as industrialising nations, and economics has become – by far – the most politically influential social science. This influence has only grown in recent decades as the modern economic system was becoming more complex and economic growth was becoming more difficult to achieve. Since the 1980s, economists have largely influenced the design of public policies in many Western countries, pushing in particular ‘neoliberal’ reforms that have increased reliance on market mechanisms and fostered the deregulation of financial markets, the privatisation of parts of the public sector, the liberalisation of trade and the quest for ever-growing economic ‘efficiency’ through faster and faster ways of producing and consuming more and more goods and services.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Academic Freedom Re-examined

This is a ‘reprint’ of a letter-to-the-editor I wrote as a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario and was published in the McMaster Courier, June 20, 1989. I print it here just to share some thoughts and wonder if we were to substitute the notion of a ‘free press’ or ‘journalism’ for ‘academic freedom’ or ‘research’, we might have some ideas about how we might view the contemporary issue of ‘fake news’ vs. ‘real news’…


Academic Freedom Re-examined

I would like to comment on Dr. King’s recent discussion on academic freedom (Courier, May 24). It appears that King’s notion of academic freedom are closely linked to specific beliefs about the scientific method and how research proceeds in the scientific community. Implicit in King’s entire argument is the idea that scientific research is an ‘objective’ enterprise. It would appear that this objectivity can only be maintained by ensuring that external pressures do not interfere with research. These beliefs are displayed in the passage by Gilmour which King uses to argue that, because academics are disinterested and display integrity, they should be granted time, money, and a freedom which allows them to perform research unfettered by social and political pressures.

This whole notion of integrity and disinterest within the scientific community, however, needs to be critically examined. An ‘objectivist’ belief, such as that presented by King, holds that scientific knowledge is improving and growing constantly through a type of piecemeal process which builds upon previous research. Ultimately, the ‘truth’ is approached by an accumulation of data and ignorance is left behind, a remnant of insufficient data. This view of science supports an empirical theory of knowledge which presumes a complete detachment between the scientist and object of research. Researchers are subsequently thought to observe ‘facts’ quite independently of their consciousness. This, in turn, implies that some type of an objective reality exists and that humans can accurately determine what it is through rigorous, non-subjective procedures of science.

More recently, however, some researchers are beginning to realize that science is a socially-embedded activity in which research is pervasively influenced by the sociocultural milieu within which it operates. Various psychological and sociocultural factors serve to guide scientific research in predetermined directions. This belief debases the stereotypical view of science as a purely objective enterprise. In fact, some researchers have taken a more radical stand and argued that truth itself is just what a particular scientific community passes at a particular time; that facts are created and we make them fit into our predetermined categories; and that truth is merely the truth of those in power. Alternatively, it can be argued that the facts are real enough but in the interpretation that necessarily follows empirical observations, hard ‘facts’ are tainted by external pressures. These pressures are believed to influence research and its conclusions, even to the point of ‘cheating’. Because of such pervasive pressures within the scientific community, self-policing by academics is not an adequate solution.

The ideas that ‘hard’ facts exist and that science progresses by a patient collection and sifting of these objective facts are perpetual myths propagated by scientists. Researchers must keep in mind that their ideas and fundamental assumptions have been directed by external forces, both in and out of the scientific community. Pure objectivity, as supported by logical empiricists, does not exist. Humans live in a complex world of intersubjectivity. Since research is a subjective and interpretive enterprise, interpretations will inevitably be pluralistic in nature and there is no monopoly on truth. A diversity of interpretations is, therefore, both inevitable and necessary. However, this should not be construed as academic anarchy. Scholars should attempt to understand their own subjective biases and how their sociocultural milieu influences their work. It is only by doing this that they may become more sensitive to the restrictions that are imposed upon their interpretations. Perhaps this endeavour would result in a useful balance between the outdated view of science as objective and the radical notion of a total lack of truth.

This alternative view of the scientific enterprise has profound implications for academic freedom. King’s argument would appear to be based upon the idea that science is totally objective. But if this is not a valid assumption, as I have tried to argue, then notions of academic freedom must be reassessed. Outdated arguments which insist that science will lose its objectivity and usefulness if external pressures are introduced are no longer compelling. Scientific research has always contained such pressures. It is now time for researchers to confront such influences head on. Hiding behind the concept of academic freedom is not going to aid scientific research or make it any less subjective.

Steve Bull
Department of Anthropology

Why Mainstream Science is a Religion

Why Mainstream Science is a Religion

science-is-a-religion

Mainstream science — despite all its claims of objectivity, and despite the fact it attempts to lay claim to the truth — is itself a religion. 

Science places itself on a pedestal and assures everyone it has dispassionately arrived at its conclusions. Meanwhile, however, it is full of assumptions, denials and limitations, and makes the serious mistake of presenting its theories as facts.

Materialism, the driving force behind mainstream science, has been shown again and again to lack the capacity to explain the world around us, especially in relation to idealism or other theories that account for the energetic nature of reality. However, the errors and assumptions of mainstream science are gladly seized upon by technocrats, who are eager to use science and technology to further their own ambitions of control. The planned New World Order has a massive technocratic aspect, and includes forcing the vaccineGMO, surveillance, geoengineeringcarbon-driven global warmingSMART and microchipping agendas onto an unsuspecting public.

Yet, despite this, we remain collectively bedazzled by materialism, a religion that has induced a certain faith in us. And up until recently, it has still been difficult for society at large to accept the fact that the unseen energetic realms of our reality are actually more powerful and more primal than the material realms we can see and touch … but that is starting to change.

Back to Ancient Athens – Materialism vs. Idealism

This is certainly not the first time we have struggled with the debate of whether the world can best be described by the philosophy of materialism; the ancient Greek philosophers and scientists thought long and hard about the issue.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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