Don’t Call Me Stupid, Stupid


by Roxanne Tellier

Waking up on a Sunday morning to a world without Facebook. Oh my, it must have been at least an hour before it was back on line … such a long … lonely … hour …. Where were all of my … argumentative strangers?

leave britney aloneMeh. I’ve had a bunch of minor, irritating problems with my ‘puter over the last few weeks, so it was really nothing more than just another annoyance. But a quick Google check showed that millions of people, living all around the world, were missing their Facebook and social media fix. And they were NOT happy.

Facebook is as addictive as any drug. Don’t believe me? Try walking away.

facebook-is-a-hell-of-a-drugFunny, I’d been thinking recently about leaving Facebook. If you have an addictive personality AND are political, it’s not a healthy place. Sure, I love the animal videos, it is great to see how friends and family in far flung places are doing, and I enjoy being able to quickly get in touch with my ‘connected’ friends, but I don’t know if I can take much more of the 24/7 news stream of our current divisive, angry, confrontational times. It’s all too much.

 

brazil president rain forest

Lately, what passes for ‘information’ on Facebook is a steady stream of accounts of venomous actions being perpetrated on vulnerable people by people who should never have been given access to power. Trump’s American war on refugees is just a wisp of smoke and a few barbed wire rolls short of being as horrific as the Holocaust. Across North America, the battle to extract the last of the oil, destined to enrich a smaller and smaller group of people, threatens the extinction of wild life and sea life, and tramples on the rights of the indigenous. In Brazil, a rabid right vows to eliminate the rain forests of the Amazon, and to roust the last of their native peoples.

In Canada, the machinations of people WITHIN the Liberal party are even more vile than those of their political opponents. In the 2019 budget for Ontario, our premier mentions ‘beer’ and ‘alcohol’ 46 times, in his zeal to re-brand Ontario as a hard drinking, hard gambling, land of the never closed casinos. And in England, there’s a shocking deficiency of intellect being used in the negotiation of the wrong-headed Brexit.

I read today about a new procedural policy suggested by the Trump administration, proposing to monitor the social media accounts of veterans. If the veterans appear “too happy,” their disability pensions for PTSD will be reduced. Or if their photos or videos appear to show them enjoying physical activities, that might be grounds for cutting their disability benefits. In other words, the policy would create an environment in which first veterans, and then, possibly other groups that include disabled people, would need to self-censor what they share on social media with friends and family, lest the government decide to cut vital financial aid or medical care.

Facebook is really starting to dig a little too close to the horrors of a Black Mirror episode. Vulnerable people, those that are easily led, those than believe what they see and hear, indiscriminately, and spread disinformation to their friends, are enabling a world where ‘truth’ carries less weight than ‘opinion.’

Let me tell you about something that happened to me, just this week, because it rather shook my faith, or perhaps my assumption,  in the intelligence of people. In the aftermath of that horrific massacre in New Zealand, in which an Australian far right, home-grown terrorist murdered 50 people and injured dozens more, I received a private message from a fellow that I only knew from Facebook, but with whom I’d exchanged birthday and seasonal greetings for about six years. It contained a video of a Canadian (!) right wing, anti-immigrant, FOX styled ‘journalist,’ who was filming her interactions with the refugees and immigrants who live in the small neighbourhood of Lakemba, near Sydney, Australia.

Lauren Southern kicked outHis message exhorted me to ‘share this everywhere!!!!!!”

Henry is a Canadian who immigrated to Australia about 10 years ago. His wife is of European descent, and I believe she immigrated there shortly before Henry. Since their marriage, they’ve had a son, who is an all Australian boy in temper and manner. Henry and family, who are extremely Caucasian, have gleefully adopted most of what we would consider ‘Australianisms.’

Henry has worked very, very hard to make a place in Australian society for himself, and to support his family. Australia, at 7,692,024 km, is the world’s largest island, with a population of just 24.6 million…. much less than Canada’s population of 37 million. Yet Henry believes that allowing Muslims the same opportunity that he had, of immigrating to Australia for a better life, will lead to widespread Shariah Law and a lack of bacon in his MacDonald burgers. Henry is an entitled, hypocritical prick, and he is no longer my Facebook friend, because he is a stone cold racist, and I do not tolerate racists or racism.

trump I'm with racistsSadly, for many like Henry, a large part of the role that Facebook, Instagram, and other forms of social media play in their lives is the propagation and dissemination of racism. They are delighted to find the like-minded, tend to be tolerant and accepting of trolls and bots, and are willfully blind to any attempt to separate the truth from the lies. That’s most certainly NOT the average Facebook user, but it is a large, and extremely argumentative and vocal segment, thus, very easy to find.

There is, in fact, such a shocking lack of knowledge, wisdom, common sense and humility involved in the shriekings of the bigoted, xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, hoi polloi on social media that one can only sadly agree with British pundit, David Mitchell, who said of the willfully naif, that, “It would be a shame to trample on the fresh snow of your ignorance.”

Most of us are loathe to label the thinking of others as stupid or ignorant; it’s unkind, often misused, and certainly doesn’t lead to an equal sharing of information. However, years of austerity and tax cuts to education and health care, combined with poor diets, have actually begun to turn the clock backward on a common intelligence in first world countries. We are literally becoming dumber than our parents and grandparents.

When president John F. Kennedy decided in 1961 that America would put a man on the moon, it took them just eight years to figure out how. And that was in a time before email even existed. Humans excelled in the 20th century, achieving incredible breakthroughs in science and technology.

In Ontario, we’ve been trying to get a subway to the suburb of Scarborough for more than twenty years.

In previous decades, there was a steady climb in the average IQ scores in civilized countries, of about 3 IQ points per decade. This was called the Flynn effect — named after the work of New Zealand intelligence researcher James Flynn.

Yogi BearBut that increase topped out around 1975, with IQ’s steadily falling by an average of about seven points per generation since. The drop seems to be more about nurture than nature, and includes the impact of changes in how we teach math, science, and language.

“This establishes that the large changes in average cohort intelligence reflect environmental factors and not changing composition of parents, which in turn rules out several prominent hypotheses for retrograde Flynn effects.”

We WANT to believe that we, the citizens of strong, first world, nations are intelligent, thoughtful, free of ignorance, and that our country .. and Facebook … is filled with good people who reflect our own wholesome goodness and wisdom.

However in actual fact, we’re moving steadily, and very quickly, towards an Idiocracy. (This clip is from February 2016 – there has definitely been a further huge drop in our collective IQs in the last two years, from the drip, drip, drip of 24/7 mis and disinformation.)

 

So where to from here, folks?

 

 

American Monkey Court as Must See TV?


Who knew a Judiciary Committee could become Must See TV?

Is there any way the House Judiciary Committee attempting to publicly lynch FBI director Peter Strzok can take their act on the road? It’s not every day the world gets to see a complete institutional meltdown in Washington, DC.  goodlatte judiciary

The Committee were weighing in on Strzok, who was part of both the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, and the possibility of Russian interference in the Trump presidential campaign in 2016. Like any sane person, Strzok believed that Americans would see through Trump’s obvious flaws, and vote for Clinton.

Unlike anyone thinking straight, he shared some of his thoughts about both matters with his mistress, by texting them to her on his work phone. And there’s the rub.

While his sentiments were echoed by a goodly portion of the Republican party themselves during the campaign, (“Trump is a f**king idiot. What the hell happened to our country?”) the party line since Trump’s ascension to the throne has always been that these personal, and basically pillow talk texts between Strzok and his lover, were proof of a deep conspiracy within the FBI to stop Donald Trump from being elected president.

Apparently the need to keep this conspiracy a secret was so dire that the FBI then let Trump get elected to the presidency. Now THAT is sneaky!

Chair of the committee Bob Goodlatte and Jerrold Nadler battled it out over what questions could be answered. The bellowings of  ‘point of order!” “your point of order not taken, sir!”  bounced from side to side like the bouncing ball that once led moviegoers into a rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” and just when you thought they would come to blows, someone brought up how Steve Bannon had stonewalled the committee on Russian interference, and maybe he should be brought back and made to tell the truth. A very long and boring vote then took place, that lead us nicely into Rep Louis Gohmert leading a pearl-clutching chorus of ‘have you no SHAME, sir!” over Strzok’s pornographic texts to his mistress,  while Rep Bonnie Watson Coleman yelled at Gohmert, “You need your medication,” and then back into Trey Gowdy’s only apparent point – that Strzok had gone straight from disliking Trump to wanting him impeached before he’d actually gotten the presidential gig.

Strozk is an american heroStrzok acquitted himself extremely well, and was able to shoot a few truth grenades into the obviously partisan Monkey Court. “The proposition that [bias] is going on and that might occur anywhere in the FBI deeply corrodes what the FBI is in American society, the effectiveness of their mission, and it is deeply destructive.”

As late night comedian Stephen Colbert put it, “it was like ‘A Few Good Men,’ but with even fewer good men.”

Not THAT is Must See TV.

Meanwhile, at the NATO Summit in Brussels, Trump lay on the floor and tantrumed.  One pundit remarked that it was, “the usual Trump; a stream of incoherent sentences. The allies looked the other way as when the old uncle gets nuts.”

And then, as usual, he held a press conference where he declared that the problem he had created had just been solved … by him.

trump emperor no clothes russian secretsIt was a moment when the world watched the Emperor parade before the planet without a stitch of clothing.

During Trump’s official visit to England, an inflammatory radio interview he had given kicking sand in Theresa May’s face before driving a knife into her back was released as he and his entourage were dining in state, at her estate.

As The Guardian reported, ” Donald Trump hailed Boris Johnson as a future prime minister, accused the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, of doing “a bad job” on terrorism and said there had been too much immigration in Europe in an incendiary interview that raised questions about the decision to invite him to Britain.

A day before the US president was due to have bilateral talks with Theresa May, Trump used an interview with the Rupert Murdoch owned Sun, to endorse her principal Tory rival just days after he resigned from the cdabinet in protest at her Brexit policy.

Trump described Johnson as “a very talented guy” for whom he had “a lot of respect”. He claimed he was not trying to pit Johnson against his host, but added: “I am just saying I think he would be a great prime minister. I think he’s got what it takes.”

Awkward!

Predictably, once he had to defend his trash talk in May’s face, he backtracked on every word, calling it ‘fake news.’  Pity the whole thing is audio taped, and we can judge his words for ourselves.

While the baby Trump blimp sails over London’s streets, he and his entourage prepare to take the Trump Too Outrageous! Tour on to Scotland, before what is sure to be a sickeningly ingratiating secret meeting with Russia’s Putin.

Let’s just hope he doesn’t give away any of the ‘good’ American states, as he puppy dog wriggles in the joy of grovelling at his Master’s feet.

 

The End of History?


I wrote this column just days after the election, but was so dispirited that I never published it on Frustrated Boomers. Two weeks into the Trump presidency, it bears repeating.

This morning, Neil Postman‘s son, Andrew, wrote something along the same lines. It is worth reading.

quote: “Our public discourse has become so trivialized, it’s astounding that we still cling to the word “debates” for what our presidential candidates do onstage when facing each other. Really? Who can be shocked by the rise of a reality TV star, a man given to loud, inflammatory statements, many of which are spectacularly untrue but virtually all of which make for what used to be called “good television”?

Who can be appalled when the coin of the realm in public discourse is not experience, thoughtfulness or diplomacy but the ability to amuse – no matter how maddening or revolting the amusement?

…. For all the ways one can define fascism (and there are many), one essential trait is its allegiance to no idea of right but its own: it is, in short, ideological narcissism. It creates a myth that is irrefutable (much in the way that an image’s “truth” cannot be disproved), in perpetuity, because of its authoritarian, unrestrained nature.

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/feb/02/amusing-ourselves-to-death-neil-postman-trump-orwell-huxley?CMP=share_btn_fb

And here is my column, originally published on November 27th, on Bob Segarini‘s wonderful site, “Don’t Believe A Word I Say.”

.***********.

When we’re confused by where we are, it’s important to look at where we’ve been.

Confusion, uncertainty, masked as fear, pride, or hubris, reigns in all of us in these last days of 2016. What a year! I’m tempted to ride out the last bit hiding under my bed with my cats.

I don’t think Trump could have been elected in any other year but 2016. Not only has it been a year where we’ve lost so many of those whom we respected and loved, but a year where the horrific has become commonplace, whats-aleppowhere democracy is shoved aside as unfriendly to business,  where opinion (literally) trumped logic,  and the slaughter of millions of innocents barely raises an eyebrow.

“What is Aleppo?”  Gary Johnson asked “What is Aleppo,” while seeking the office of President of the United States. America … you have much to answer for.

We have to understand that we would never have come to this moment in history without a lot of groundwork being laid. George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, amongst others, foretold days like these; it’s been in the works for quite some time. huxley-vs-orwellPerhaps Huxley, in Brave New World, understood our impressionability more than Orwell did in 1984 … it’s not that we are being denied books or access to information, it’s that we prefer entertainment to knowledge.

From the foreword to Neil Postman‘s Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1986, Penguin edition:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distraction.” In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.”

It’s not being a conspiracy theorist to understand that there are market forces, globally, that need certain conditions to occur, in order to sustain capitalism, and that those forces will do whatever is necessary to create and sustain those conditions. However capitalism, of necessity, must eventually eat itself, since it is based on continual growth.

Before we move into the next era, post capitalism, we have to deal with the mess that capitalism has made, not just to the planet, but to our thinking. We have to understand that we have been willing lambs to the slaughter of intelligence and sober thought, distracted by shiny things that hold our limited attention for seconds before our constant craving for the next sensation propels us on to the next shiny thing.

north-korea-bomb“The world’s nuclear clock  sits at one second to midnight .. but first, a word from our sponsor.”    

We have to come to grips with a constant rage that bubbles beneath the surface of our collective consciousness, a rage that has no real focus, but seizes on whatever temporarily irritates or annoys us, that compels an acting out far beyond what the situation warrants.

We have to accept that we have been lied to, in the name of business, as our resources have been seized and ruined for future generations, as species become extinct due to their habitats being stolen from them. Human greed and human need have made the chances of your great-grandchildren ever seeing a real live elephant, slim.

politicians-before-and-afterAnd, in what I consider truly tragic, we still have to somehow find a sense of trust in those we elect to lead us into this uncertain future, and I don’t know if we can suspend that much disbelief any more.  There comes a point at which we simply can’t deny that each successive political  ‘saviour’ is just a new mask on an old face of treachery, bought and paid for by market forces.

Billions of our hard earned tax dollars have been frittered away on projects benefiting commerce, not the people. In Ontario alone, before privatization of Hydro One,  it was run by one president, one vice-president, one department head, and so on. The president’s annual salary was around $420,000. Today, in Ontario ‘s Hydro (between the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), Hydro One and the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) (all three Public Sector Agencies)), the president reportedly earns around $4million annually, and there are 11,879 employees who make more than $100,000/year. These top earners draw combined annual earnings of over 1.6 billion dollars. 626 in management positions are making more than $200,000/year…

… while many Ontarions are having to decide whether they can afford heating or eating this winter, because they can’t come up with the money for both.

And yet, this week we’ve heard that our Prime Minister has been making the rounds, intent on privatizing yet more of the country’s assets, despite economical and historical data proving that privatization of assets can add a minimum of a third of the costs to taxpayers, when internal positions are outsourced.

Canadians on a government pension of $12 to $14K a year can only pretend for so long that the enormous government wages and pensions of civil servants and politicians make any sort of logical or humane sense.

well-dressed-lobstersDespite no recent Prime Minister having been elected with a clear majority or mandate, sweeping changes that will affect Canadians for generations have been put into place over the last few decades, with barely a whimper.  Or, if a whimper was murmured, it was simply ignored. At best, we changed lobsters and continued the dance.

And we can only look on from afar and pray for American’s who are, like it or not, about to have their historical clock turned back to the ‘good ol’ days’ of segregation, back alley abortions, internment camps, and increasing civil unrest.

Many think we’re at a pivotal moment in time, although  the events of 2016 may pale in light of other ‘really terrible years,’ like 1347-50, when the Black Death took a third of Europe’s population;  1492, when the indigenous people of America invited the wrong people to dinner;  Ireland’s Potato Famine of 1845; or  Europe in 1943, when the Holocaust deaths were at their height. Certainly, Syrians will name 2016th as their country’s nadir.

franz-ferdinand-1914From History Today, ” If I was forced to name the worst year, it would probably be 1914. In July of that year, a European order that had brought peace, prosperity and extraordinary artistic and scientific progress, began to unravel. The vast conflict that followed led directly to the Russian Revolution, Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, the atomic bomb, the Cold War and the mess that is the modern Middle East. Only in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, did we enter a relatively stable period – the ‘End of History’ – before it came crashing down on September 11th, 2001. ”

So – we’ve been here before. However I don’t think there’s precedent for this year of Syria and Iraq; unparalleled devastation creating a flood of refugees fleeing for their lives; Europe’s epidemic of terrorism, Brexit,  the Zika outbreak, horrific civil unrest in Turkey, growing racial tension in the United States; famine in northern Nigeria,  American peaceful protests being met with aggressive military engagement; and possibly worst of all, the unholy alliance of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin … these are this year’s trials. homeless-world-cup-2016

What comes after the “End of History?” Whatever happens next, it is certainly a time when the decisions and actions we – as a people – take now, will determine where we go from here, and will define not just North America’s future, but the entire planet’s.