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?

 

 

Dreamers and Cassandras


“Yes: I am a dreamer – For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”Oscar Wilde

In mythology, Cassandra was a tragic figure, blessed with the power of prophecy, but cursed to have no one believe her words. There are echoes of this syndrome in modern literature, where Cassandra’s name is frequently invoked when prophecies and warnings are not believed.

pompeii-victimsHistory is littered with cases of warnings ignored. The victims of Mount Vesuvius‘ eruption in August  of AD 79 ignored all of the mountain’s tremors as the molten rock  increased within, and only marveled as all of the animals, including rats, fled the town. The wells and streams suddenly dried up, but the Pompeian’s brushed off that warning as being due to hot weather.

To mix my metaphors, that sounds a lot like Nero fiddling while the continent burns … or like a politician, one of the largest recipients of fossil fuel money in the US,  blithely and inaccurately, showing and telling how a snowball in winter disproves climate change.

Similarly, the Indian Ocean‘s tsunami and earthquake of 2004 was predicted, not just by ‘dreamers,’ but by the Pacific Ocean Tsunami Warning System. Even as one government official had his calls to action ignored, he found himself termed “crazy,” and he was banned from certain parts of Thailand, as he was believed to be a threat to tourism.  For seven years, the countries in the tsunami’s path were warned of the coming event. There was another clear warning of disaster when the sea in Indonesia receded several hundred meters after the earthquake, but few knew or believed a tsunami would follow.

tourists-escape-tsunami-2004

More than 230,000 people were killed, 500,000 were injured, and 1.7 million were left homeless.  But at least they got those tourist dollars.

maori-paintingAnd what of those whose ‘visions’ prompt such ridicule? If you’re not going to believe a Tsunami Warning System, you’re certainly not going to give credence to the Maoris, who believed that seeing a spirit canoe called waka wairua sailing over a lake near Mount Tarawera in New Zealand in 1886 was a sign of an impending disaster. Even several European tourists claimed to have seen the canoe, which legend said was used to transport the souls of the dead. There were physical signals as well, as the lake’s volume rose and fell rapidly, and the rocks released hot water.

But that’s just silly people believing in legends, right?  120 people died that June 10th, and several native Maori villages were completely destroyed.

While I am not advocating a belief in legend and mythology, I think it’s interesting to consider how humans deal with information they don’t like, or refuse to believe. There is a knee jerk denial, inevitably coupled with sarcastic laughter directed at those who are explaining what is about to happen. Public ridicule becomes the norm, with the object being to drive the truthsayer’s reputation into the ground, and to mute their words from society’s hearing.

That shortsightedness doesn’t prevent disasters from occurring … in fact, it’s more likely to hasten the disasters.

frozen-soviet-soldierBy June of 1941, Josef Stalin had received more than 100 warnings about Germany’s intention to attack. Germany, meanwhile, was assuring Russia that they were just massing troups at the Soviet border to ‘protect them against British bombing.” Oh, the lies we will believe in the name of keeping safe! The Soviet Intelligence communities had their warnings ignored., while the head of Soviet intelligence, who had also warned Stalin of Germany’s intention to invade, ended up shot.

775,000 German soldiers and at least 800,000 Soviet soldiers died  in Operation Barbarossa.

Prior to the Gulf War, the CIA and US military intelligence had warned the US government about the impending invasion of Kuwait. Those warnings were not only ignored, but led to the granting of a $1.2 billion loan to Saddam, just two days before the invasion. Indeed, the US was so contemptuous of the warnings that it took four days for maps of Kuwait and Iraq to be loaded onto their computers, post invasion.

25,000 Iraqi soldiers died, as did 248 UN troops, and 100,000 Iraqi civilians.  A million more Iraqi civilians died later, due to sanctions imposed against their country.

Is any of this starting to sound familiar? Perhaps you remember September 11th, 2001.

“… starting in the spring of 2001, the CIA repeatedly and urgently began to warn the White House that an attack was coming.

By May of 2001, says Cofer Black, then chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, “it was very evident that we were going to be struck, we were gonna be struck hard and lots of Americans were going to die.” “There were real plots being manifested,” Cofer’s former boss, George Tenet, told me.

….  And there was one more chilling warning to come. At the end of July, Tenet and his deputies gathered in the director’s conference room at CIA headquarters. “We were just thinking about all of this and trying to figure out how this attack might occur,” he recalls. “And I’ll never forget this until the day I die. Rich Blee looked at everybody and said, ‘They’re coming here.’ And the silence that followed was deafening. You could feel the oxygen come out of the room. ‘They’re coming here.’” ”     (http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/11/cia-directors-documentary-911-bush-213353)

Insolence, a belief in one’s own superiority, and a lack of imagination always work against those who doubt naysayers and whistleblowers. Consider the case of Bob Ebeling, an engineer who worked for the company that produced the rocket boosters on the Challenger space shuttle.

christa-mcauliffePrior to the January 28, 1986 launch, Mr. Eberling had warned that the extremely cold weather would prevent the O-rings from sealing properly and would cause an explosion. But a delay was nixed by executives under pressure to get the shuttle into space, and he was told it was ‘not his burden to bear.’

And so millions of viewers, on the ground and on televisions around the world, watched as the shuttle exploded, 73 seconds after takeoff , killing seven astronauts, including Christa McAuliffe, a teacher who had won her seat on a NASA educational program.

After World War I, the German economy was a mess. Inflation, massive unemployment, and a crushing debt imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, requiring them to pay the equivalent of 100,000 tons of gold as restitution, led the Nazi party into power. One of Hitler‘s main propaganda points was that Germany would refuse to pay anything ever again. It would be “Germany First.”

trump_it_cant_happen_hereEconomist John Maynard Keynes said that the Treaty was dead on arrival. Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, a French army commander, warned that the treaty was not the end of the war but rather a suspension of it, and that Germany would be much more formidable in a new war, invading France and staging attacks into England from there.

They were right, but ignored. And despite those tinfoil hatted lunatics who deny the Holocaust, by the end,  almost 50 million people were dead.

The list of tragedies that could have been prevented by heeding the warnings, either of dreamers or Cassandras, or by the use of simple common sense,  or by listening to those  who could sense what was coming based on their own knowledge and experience, is very long, and filled with millions of casualties.

Americans were given ample warning of what would happen if they allowed themselves to elect a president whose sole intention was of ransacking the treasury for his own personal gain, a man who demanded total control of an entire country and delighted in a chance to remake it in his own image .. a place of carnage and destruction that he could survey from his gilded palaces.

trump-power-grabTheir own constitution offered all the information they needed to prevent his rise to power. Their vaunted ‘checks and balances’ produced nothing more than a last line of defence – the Electoral College – that folded like a cheap suit. Now that the fox is in the hen house, it’s going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to get him out, and will likely produce millions more victims to add to that very long list of innocents,  murdered through the elected officials’ casual ignorance, or a  stubborn belief in their own infallibility brought about by a controversial electoral win.

Like the victims of Pompeii, or the tourists that ran forward into the retreated waters of the Indian Ocean to catch stranded fish, we seem to be waiting, mindlessly, to see what will happen next, as the ante keeps getting raised. Like them, we will be buried under what we refused to see coming.

We were warned, by dreamers and Cassandras, but didn’t listen.

“A basic weapon of regime changers, as fascists realized nearly a century ago, is to destroy the concept of truth. Democracy requires the rule of law, the rule of law depends upon trust, and trust depends upon citizens’ acceptance of factuality. The president and his aides actively seek to destroy Americans’ sense of reality. Not only does the White House spread “alternative facts,” but Kellyanne Conway openly proclaims this as right and good. Post-factuality is pre-fascism.”   (http://time.com/4690676/donald-trump-tyranny/)