Category Archives: The atomization of us

Keiser Report: Turning us all into Greeks


A brilliant, concise explication of the forces of now at work globally to enrich themselves regardless of the cost to everyone and everything else emerges from the show’s latter half in a discussion between Max and University of Missouri–Kansas City economist-provocateur Michael Hudson, an esnl favorite.

We’ve focused intensively on Greece, because it epitomizes the operation of the forces unleashed by the neoliberal regime enabled by those who are profiting most.

Listen to the discussion, because it’s not been said better.

From RT:

Keiser Report: Working Class Debt Slaves

Program notes:

In this episode of the Keiser Report, Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert, discuss David Cameron as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) which causes the wealth of the nation to drop. They also discuss Continuous Payment Authorities as a metaphor for our financial systems continuously taking toll payments, whether via interest fees or inflation. Max also notes that David Cameron claims ‘profits’ is not a dirty word; and yet, to every major, successful corporation on Earth ‘profits’ is, indeed, a word to be avoided at all costs. In the second half, Max interviews Dr Michael Hudson of michael-hudson.com about the global economic policies turning the UK into Greece and the U.S. into Latvia and a world in which only the little companies make profits.

Our May Day video offering: Into The Fire


We spent our May Day morning watching a brilliant depiction of the police state in action, focusing on the control and ever-more-constrictive containment of public space as seen from the perspective of the contained, us.

From Press For Truth:

Press For Truth Presents Into The Fire World leaders and activists from around the world gathered for the G20 Summit. With over 19,000 police officers and security personnel on hand, the results lead to over 1100 arrests, martial law in downtown Toronto, and the most massive violation of civil liberties in Canadian history.

Directed by Dan Dicks

Produced by Steven Davies, Bryan Law and Dan Dicks

Music by Dan Dicks

Our takeaway: Through the focus on one particular event, the 26-27 June 2010 G20 summit in Toronto, the film provides a critical filter for screening many of the events domination the headlines these days.

While the focus is particular, the elements are general, and in widespread use across the globe.

Justification and enablement

In the wake of 9/11 legislation passed in the U.S., Britain, and other nations have given police unprecedented powers to invade and control physical, social, and personal space. In Canada, they chose to do it a different way: Through the unannounced revival of a dormant piece of state security law passed in 1939 when Canada went to war against the Nazis.

While the focus is on Toronto, the same conditions exist in the post-9/11 United States and many other countries. Through massive expansion of police surveillance powers, ranging from the video surveillance technology so thoroughly documented in the film to unprecedented access to our passions and pursuits through monitoring of the electronic ways we communicate both with others and ourselves, our public lives have be come the private viewing and listen of countless anonymous eyes and ears in drab government cubicles housed in windowless rooms.

The omnipresent voyeur

In one sequence, a member of the team is arrested, and thanks to the omnipresent police surveillance video, we are able to follow him into the makeshift prison, see him from above in his cage-like cell, and watch as he interrogated. Fittingly, this all happens in the Toronto Film Studio — converted into a temporary prison in advance of the G20 meeting

The strangely absent enforcers

Note in the section that begins at about 30 minutes the strange passivity of police when the Black Bloc folks began attacking stores and even police cars, in a spree that lasted well over an hour with no interference by police. At one point, the video captures a police commander yelling “Disengage” at his troops, ordering them to stop interfering with the folks who’re doing all the damage. Very, very odd, no? It’s as though police wanted the violence. As one protester yells, “This is just a photo op.”

And at about 46 minutes, there’s a fascinating sequence of men and women in street clothes — and some clad in the garb of the Black Bloc — and armed with the same collapsible batons as the uniformed officers, and occasionally using them to strike out at bystanders equipped with cameras]. They’re allowed through police lines, and even given back pats for uniformed folk. The only logical conclusion: They’re police provocateurs and spies.

Send in the cavalry

Only then comes the violence, complete with cavalry charge and the brutal treatment of a government tax officer in mufti, who is beaten, stripped on his artificial leg, and dragged prone over concrete, gashing his elbows — only to Continue reading

The atomizing Web: Our ‘filter bubble’ world


A very revealing talk by former MoveOn executive director Eli Pariser on the pervasive and pernicious filters installed by Internet corporations to shape your world.

This has concerned us for some time, since for journalists, the idea is to examine a wide range of sources so that we can filter out relevant details for whatever we’re writing about.

But, as Pariser notes, the very tools we use are pre-filtering the results we see, giving us a distorted view of the world, skewed to our own biases and denying us an accurate portrait of the ocean of information in which we are immersed.

So the next time you Google, be aware that the results you see aren’t the same ones seen by the person next door or at the desk next to yours. [UPDATE: And for yet another pernicious  Google tweak, see here.]

We are, Pariser reveals, being isolated, each of us, into “a web of one.”

One key factor he doesn’t explore is the deeper motive behind all those atomizing algorithms: The almighty dollar.

The goal of the corporation has always been to identify consumers and tailor pitches designed precisely to exploit their interests, fears, and deepest desires. By constantly monitoring our search of information, we are providing precise profiles, the richest, ripest demographics ever handed over to corporate corporate hucksters.

The very tool we saw as an instrument of liberation has been transformed into the most seductive and subversive tool ever created for our own exploitation.

H/T to War in Context.

The new working class: Welcome to the Precariat


It’s the latest neologism in economic theory, a combination of precarious and proletariat, defining the desideratum of the new model disaster capitalism in which employees are transformed into spare parts, to be used as needed, then discarded.

In this video from The Guardian, journalists John Harris and John Domokos look at Britain’s growing precariat, interviewing workers who are confronting a world where workers no longer enjoy steady jobs and benefits. One of those interviewed is  economist Guy Standing, professor of social and economic security at the University of Bath, author of the soon-to-be-published The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class.

The precariat has long existed at the margins of the economy in the pieceworkers, temps, and flextimers who scrambled for fleeting employment. But now it’s growing, as jobs once given to full-time employees are instead parsed out to contracting firms, which slice off a hefty portion of worker pay, and as jobs are reduced to temporary “just in time” positions and workers are hired for brief spans as “independent contractors.”

No wonder, then, that the Republican governors are going after unions. It’s so much more profitable for their corporate masters, who find it so much easier to control an atomized working class more concerned about simply finding jobs than fighting for an equitable share of the wealth and public goods created by their labor.

And the precariat is a growing phenomenon in all industrialized nations, even in Japan, as the forces of global finance and disaster capital return with a vengeance on the nations which spawned them.

As Anton Steinpilz writes at Generation Bubble:

As globalization grew apace, even the very character of class antagonism changed, evolving  in such a manner that the terms emerging from struggles past were weighed against the present situation and found wanting. Thus the proletariat, lumpen or otherwise, found themselves recast as the “precariat,” a neologism coined to cover all of those over whom the new neoliberal regime runs rough-shod. A quick survey of the battered and bruised shows that the victims are just about everyone, from white-collared cognitive laborers dispatched to Bangalore to train their replacements, to house cleaners and field hands fleeing savage destitution in their native lands only to find themselves exploitable nonentities and objects of popular resentment.

H/T to Sociological Images.

Stray thought of the day: Misallocating blame


Specifically, we’re talking about very brief public service ad we just caught on the tube, in which Michelle Obama said our kids are too fat because they don’t get enough exercise and therefore should eat well and get their booties busy.

Not mentioned were the reasons kid are heavy and inert, the very medium of which she appeared, the digital screen [from tube to Tweets].

Nor did she mentioned that one of the reasons kids eat poorly is that their parents have been working longer hours and come home so exhausted that fast food’s the default option — the stuff so relentlessly promoted via the same medium on which Me. Obama appeared.

That’s it. Just a stray thought on a Wednesday night.

Steve Wozniak: First, kill all the techies. . .


Call it technoimperialism. In the space of this writer’s lifetime, we’ve gone from a world where computers were rare, huge, and expensive to one in which every aspect of daily life has been captured by cheap microprocessors.

We depend on them for the time [unless you still use a wind-up watch], for communication, transportation. . .in short, it’s getting very hard to find a single aspect of daily life not governed in some way by the processing cycles of a CPU.

Even more troubling, the lifespan of our gadgets grows shorter by the minute, and driven by endless media messages, we’re lured into a frenzied consumerism, eager to grab up the Next Great Thing, be it the latest cell phone, a gaming machine, or the latest personal music device.

At the same time, we’re tolerating an unprecedented invasion of what in our young days were seen as utterly private spaces, and by right free of government intrusion absent a court order. Cookies invade our computers, cell phone GPUs track our every move, and surveillance cameras lurk everywhere, cyberstalkers all, allowing both corporations and government to atomize our every move, want, and subversive thought.

And you know it’s getting bad when one of the gurus of the computer age offers some worried musings, even though they’re mostly about the reliability of all the fast-paced techno-innovation.

Here’s a legendary Apple Computer co-founder sharing his concerns with CNN’s Mark Milian:

The world has mostly caught on to Steve Wozniak’s vision of having a computer in every home. But this digital lifestyle can sometimes turn rotten, he said last week.

Wozniak paused to criticize the stranglehold technology has on our lives.

“We’re dependent on it,” he said at the museum, which holds one of the world’s largest collections of vintage computers and sits about six blocks from Google’s headquarters. “And eventually, we are going to have it doing every task we can in the world, so we can sit back and relax.”

>snip<

“All of a sudden, we’ve lost a lot of control,” he said. “We can’t turn off our internet; we can’t turn off our smartphones; we can’t turn off our computers.”

“You used to ask a smart person a question. Now, who do you ask? It starts with g-o, and it’s not God,” he quipped.

Earlier that day, Wozniak said the biggest obstacle with the growing prevalence of technology is that our personal devices are unreliable.

“Little things that work one day; they don’t work the next day,” he said enthusiastically, waving his hands. “I think it’s much harder today than ever before to basically know that something you have … is going to work tomorrow.”

Reciting an all-too-common living-room frustration, Wozniak told a story about the countless hours he spent trying to troubleshoot his media player, called Slingbox.

“There is no solution,” Wozniak said of tech troubles. “Everything has a computer in it nowadays; everything with a computer is going to fail. The solution is: kill the people who invented these things,” he said with a smile.

The Atomization of Us: The New Cyberia


From Shaun Mullen, a perceptive journalist who blogs at Kiko’s House comes a very insightful post that concerns a topic of deep interest here at esnl.  And be sure to note the illustration; it’s a thousand-words’-worth

Mullen’s concern is very real, and there’s plenty of evidence emerging from the neurosciences to give us pause for thought, itself almost An act of rebellion in an era where all communication has been digitized and virtualized.

We live at a time when human connections, the basis of a truly meaningful existence, are attenuated, exploited for profit by a corporate monster which thinks nothing about destroying communities and replacing embodied relationships with attenuated and commodified simulacra.

So enjoy the read. He’s perceptive, concise, and a fine stylist to boot. And by all means pay a visit to Kiko’s House.

The New Cyberia: In Which Brains Are Rewired One Text Message At A Time

As I write this, the brains of the people around us who are addicted to text messaging — and there are millions of them — are slowly but inextricably being rewired. Their ability to focus on the task before them, whether something as mundane as preparing breakfast or something as serious as driving on a busy highway at 65 miles an hour — is compromised by their compulsion to text.

This New Cyberia is on view whenever classes change at the university where I work. From my midday perch on the front steps of the main library, I can look out at the campus green and perhaps five hundred students at a glance, at least half of whom are texting.

Two years ago, the number would have been perhaps 10 percent, a year ago perhaps 20 percent, but so quickly has the addiction to texting grown that these students apparently no longer think that being prepared for their next class or a meeting with a faculty adviser is necessary as they traverse the green. It’s “Did Buffy get back to me?” “Will Fred be at the fraternity rush?” “Did Mom get my text message about dropping Dad off my Guccis?”

What are we to expect from a generation that is going out into the world wedded to their smart phones, and Face Book, Twitter and email accounts?

For openers, a kind of “communication” that is deeply impersonal in a world already growing increasingly so, one in which dates are made and relationships ended with keystrokes and not face to face. For another, faux scholarship based not on using primary resources, but through Googling and YouTubing. For yet another, a world view based less on personal experience and interpersonal communication than the trill of a cell phone text message prompt.

While neurologists are just beginning to understand how the brains of up and coming generations are being altered, the Rubicon was long ago crossed that is filling classrooms, study halls, bedrooms and seemingly every other nook and cranny of our lives with technologies that are supposed to make our lives better, but too often create the impression of doing something when you’re doing nothing.

There is no going back. And while the world certainly will be a different place, it is difficult to see how it will be a better one.

The tyranny of positive thinking, animated


Barbara Ehrenreich’s one of esnl’s favorite authors, a scientist and a socialist, she’s emerged as one of the most perspicacious observers of the public commons, dissecting the institutions of society to convey enlightenment about the ways our lives have been coercively coopted by forces beyond our everyday awareness.

One of the most destructive strategies at work in latter-day America is the cult of positive thinking, which has corrupted not only our political lives, but our very way of thinking about the world.

The [British] Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce invites noted thinkers to speak to members, and one of the most delightful things the society does is to provide animations of the speaker’s thoughts, and this example features an excerpt from an Ehrenreich talk based on her latest book, Brightsided, which esnl highly recommends.

Have America’s youth lost their empathy?


Empathy has declined both radically and rapidly among America’s youth, according to social scientists at the University of Michigan, and they suspect media saturation may be one of the causes.

Also interesting is the date of the start of the decline: The same year that saw the election of George W. Bush to the White House and the triumph of the Neocons.

Here’s the official statement from the University of Michigan News Service. It’s worth repeating in full.

Today’s college students are not as empathetic as college students of the 1980s and ‘90s, a University of Michigan study shows.

The study, presented in Boston at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, analyzes data on empathy among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years.

“We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000,” said Sara Konrath, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research. “College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait.”

Konrath conducted the meta-analysis, combining the results of 72 different studies of American college students conducted between 1979 and 2009, with U-M graduate student Edward O’Brien and undergraduate student Courtney Hsing.

Compared to college students of the late 1970s, the study found,

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Quote of the day, Mario Savio edition


From his immortal speech on the steps of Sproul Hall, 2 December 1964. . .

Quote of the day: Chris Hedges on Ralph Nader


From his latest column at Truthdig:

Ralph Nader’s descent from being one of the most respected and powerful men in the country to being a pariah illustrates the totality of the corporate coup. Nader’s marginalization was not accidental. It was orchestrated to thwart the legislation that Nader and his allies—who once consisted of many in the Democratic Party—enacted to prevent corporate abuse, fraud and control. He was targeted to be destroyed. And by the time he was shut out of the political process with the election of Ronald Reagan, the government was in the hands of corporations. Nader’s fate mirrors our own.

The atomization of us, 2


To the rulers of America, people are valued solely as consumers: People who buy their products are, by definition, “good,” while those who can’t amount to little more than what the Nazis called “useless eaters.”

Any interests corporations have in the otherwise non-consuming poor arise from their ability to capitalize on government programs providing them with goods and services.

In California, for example, courts have upheld the demand that corporate officers and directors act in the interests of their investors—their share values and dividends—right up until the moment they file for bankruptcy, at which point a state appellate court has ruled that the and only then do they also assume responsibility for the corporation’s debtors. In Delaware, conversely, even bankruptcy doesn’t end the prime directive of looking out for Number One. California spells out its duties in law, in the form of the state Corporation Code while Delaware, the incorporation capital of the country, uses Common Law, the unwritten but court affirmed doctrines of English Common Law brought over by colonists before the revolution.

Whether created by common law or legislative statute, the corporation has become the dominant institution of the age, a multinational entity with no loyalty to anything other than the bottom line. Governed by the ethos of the psychopath [the term shrinks now use instead of sociopath], the corporation will relentlessly endeavor to offload all possible operational costs onto the physical, biological and human environments, where they are reckoned as “externalities” to the corporate ledger.

The only constraints on the psychopathic corporate zeal for profit are those imposed by statutes, regulations, and the civil and criminal courts,

Continue reading

The atomization of us


Folks are shaped by both nature and nurture. While nature sets dispositions in both our genes and the physical environment into which individuals are born, the force of lived experience carves out the channels of their expression.

Throughout most of humanity’s time on earth, most of the forces of nurture—save for the earths position in space relative to the sun, the global patterns of weather, and the rare global disaster—were exquisitely local.

Through trial and often-fatal error, humans learned which plants were edible, which ones could help us fight our ills and injuries, and which ones could alter our perceptions, sometimes in meaningful ways.

We discovered about dangerous animals, edible animals, and those creatures which offered companionship and even assistance in our search for survival.

For the vast majority of our time on the planet, we lived in small groups, knowing by name and personality everyone we met in the course of daily life. We learned their talents, their idiosyncracies, enabling people to interact for their mutual benefit with the fewest possible conflicts.

Life was short, with infant mortality, accident, disease, and violent conflict, especially with other groups, keeping the average lifespan much briefer than in today’s industrialized societies. Without written language, elders were venerated both as repositories of experience and wisdom and as resources to care for children as the younger adults hunted and gathered.

With leisure time exceeding that of today’s industrial society, a newly articulate species invented new ways of interacting, inventing rituals, celebrations, tools, and other techniques—memes—to perpetuate and evolve a growing but finite set of patterns capable of outliving every living human at any given point in our evolutionary history.

Distinctive styles of stone tool-knapping could last millennia and even vaster spans, as could medical practices and decorative modes, as well as are the host of vanished practices lost to the anthropological and archaeological record.

Predispositions inherited through this cultural exoskeleton, structured as memes and schemas, continue to govern our behaviors, even though the world of nurture has vastly and increasingly manifested previously unpredicted modes of influencing our behavior in ways unseen or little apprehended at a conscious level.

One meme above all others has nurtured and exploited this new environment, the limited liability corporation. Exploiting the whole range of predispositions shaped in our simpler evolutionary past, corporations turn the devices evolved to ensure our survival into the means of transforming us into their serfs.

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