26 January 2017

Feel the Burn

I was listening to Sarah Silverman interview Bernie Sanders.  He makes some good points, but there were a couple of contradictions that bothered me.

At one point he states that Trump Supporters are smart and hurting and not racist, but did not vote for Democrats because they do not trust the Democrats because the Democrats did not stand up to Wall Street.  Sounds great.  Except that they then turned around and voted for a party that has never stood up to Wall Street by electing a man who lies constantly.  I'm sorry, it doesn't work that way.  If you are smart and cared about the working class, Trump is not the person you turn to.  You turn to Trump if you're an idiot or you're racist.

Maybe Bernie feels he has to say something that at first glance sounds politically correct. Maybe it's our form of a progressive elite dog whistle.  Well call them "smart" and we won't call them "racist", but we're kinda depending on the fact that they're too stupid to make a logical inference.

Also, he's quite happy to distinguish between Us Americans and Those Foreigners.  I think that contradicts his message of cooperation.

I'd like to see a debate between Bernie Sanders and Brad DeLong.  Sanders claims we are losing jobs to foreigners because of NAFTA.  DeLong points out NAFTA has had essentially no effect.  Sanders would be much more convincing if he argued that the Oligarchs had maintained a strong dollar and thus driven manufacturing out of the United States.

The reason we progressives lost the last election was not because we are liberal elites who hurt the feelings of the white working class.  It's not because the white working class is ignored and can't be heard in Washington.  It's not because the white working class doesn't trust Democrats or Democrats don't work on behalf of the white working class.

It's because the political class has learned how to use the new publishing infrastructure.  I first saw this at Watts Up With That, a website where some weatherman reposts other people's content about climate change, but Watts puts a Denier spin on each re-post.  It's a nice study in how to make a steady stream of income with minimal work.  He has a large crowd of un-critical viewers happy to engage in his conspiracy theory.  Conspiracy theories are entertaining, and there is a large population of viewers that like to interact with fake news.

Breitbart and the alt-right are similar.  They like to re-publish news articles with "analysis" framing the articles to agree with their beliefs while ignoring any actual evidence.

And other advertisers have been learning how to refine their click bait.  

Fox News and right-wing radio have done this for a long time, but Watts Up With That and Breitbart require far less capital.

The key insight of Trump (or maybe Bannon) was that nearly 50% of people who vote are happy to engage with properly presented click-bait.  And then they just opened up the spigots.  Breitbart and similar outlets created click-bait on any subject they could think of (pizzagate!) and pushed it out over and over.  Right-wing media and talk-radio followed along because they were picking up really cheap content that they could re-publish.  Smart kids in Macedonia figured out this formula for creating click-bait and joined in the game.

The KGB and China helped refine some of the techniques.  Keep pushing out lies.  Keep on the attack.

One really effective technique is the Turn the Tables technique.  If attacked, repeat the exact same attack back at the attacker.  If Trump is accused of being a misogynist for sexual assault, then accuse Clinton of being a misogynist for staying married to her adulterous husband.  If one side claims the election was influenced by Russian hackers, claim the election was influenced by massive voter fraud.

It doesn't matter if the first attacker has evidence and the counter-attacker has no evidence. The beauty of this technique is that the weaker party then gets to turn around and claim that both sides constantly attack and demonize each other and thus that both sides must be creating fake news.

So, we've lost the war.  Democracy is dead.  Democracy depended on relatively expensive communications channels where a premium for Truth was able to minimize the competing Fake News.  (Although 1930's Germany is a notable exception.)  The internet made communication cheap and allowed a flood of Fake News to compete.  And now we see that the voting populace is really not capable of evaluating two contradicting news articles to determine which is valid. 


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