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We're not traumatized yet, trauma comes after a disaster.

Message Peter Barus
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Americans are a thoroughly terrorized people. I would say traumatized, but the human trauma response evolved to enable us to survive despite existential threats, after the fact. Like scar formation, trauma is a sign that the bleeding has stopped. It is the beginning of a painful journey, perhaps to full recovery, but at least to continued existence, that America has yet to begin. We will not begin it until the danger is over. The relentless and constantly worsening disasters that mark the twenty-first century form a continuous crescendo of overwhelming disaster and panic that strips away even the potential for the general ambience of dignity, trust, and affinity, essential to social coherence.

The Civil Rights movement achieved success when it impacted profits on Main Street. It was direct and simple, and got the attention of people behind the scenes who were in a position to order the local authorities to call off their dogs. It was simply cheaper (and maybe forestalled bankruptcy) to negotiate with the movement, and to a great extent on the movement's terms, because King was the acknowledged voice of that movement. One would have to guess that they also saw Malcolm X as the next challenge, and decided to settle with King. But it was, in the end, a business decision, because their own business-as-usual was the problem, not "outside agitators".

Sitting overnight on the Pentagon's front steps (well, one of its many facades), as I and several hundred others did to protest the Vietnam War, did have some impact, although at the time we seemed to be outnumbered and surrounded by soldiers with fixed bayonets. But it is more likely that the previous decade's push to beat the Soviets with higher education produced a generation of well-informed people who had endured Social Studies in high school, and could see the hypocrisy of napalming villages "in order to save them."

It took time, but education was brought to heel in a decade or so, simply by replacing scholarly college presidents with financial managers, and that was that. Today, the kind of leverage King, Malcom, SNCC, the Black Panthers and others applied so skillfully for that brief time is inaccessible on the scale necessary to bring substantive change. It was long before the Silicone Valley tech giants with their insidious "herding" algorithms. Old-boy county politics in Selma or Montgomery could not withstand the shame of national exposure. MLK understood this and applied it so effectively that eventually his opposition resorted to murder. That reactionary opposition is now proactively engaged at every political and institutional level.

Neither popular movements nor the murder of individuals (a King, a Kennedy, Abu Aqleh or Khashoggi) has anything like the same impact today. The ancient strategies for maintaining relative civil stability by "fighting them over there, so we won't have to fight them over here," was never scalable.

The advent of global telecommunications, far from "shrinking the planet", only shrank our individual worlds. This reduced the scale at which a society can function coherently: we're back to a period of warring feudal city-states, familiar to those of us who had Social Studies as part of our compulsory public education. The era of global empire is over, and the various political entities are only now finding out, and grabbing what they think they can.

To oversimplify this phenomenon: the optimum scale of an effective unit of governance, because of a technical breakthrough, shrank in a few decades like a collapsing star. Picture a planet full of feudal Shogunates, but with nuclear weapons instead of swords.

The Internet became a private extractive industry, not a public utility; and the raw ore being mined was not information, which tanked, but aggregated public attention, which now rules the marketplace. Astronomical returns on investment make conflict the most lucrative field in history. The leverage provided by the arts of worldview management has shifted the balance of power in favor of the followers of B.F. Skinner and Edward Bernays, but far beyond their most orgasmic dreams of control.

Organizing a movement is pretty much unmanageable now, and requires tremendous amounts of money. Once money became the determining factor, in both electoral politics and in grassroots organizing (now devolved to astroturf wars), there was no getting out of the fight-cage. Once two sides form there is no more fertile environment for the attention entrepreneurs, who hasten to build a stadium and start selling concessions. From that point on, the war is perpetual, studiously maintained by and for the box office. War is now the global economic engine.

In this context, terror is the only way to compete for public attention, which drives public action. That's why President 45 was able to, no, absolutely required to say and do more and more outrageous and dangerous things, ramping up to a reign of terror before he was somehow gotten out of office. "Somehow," because voters are putty in the hands of the "social" media platforms, as Cambridge Analytical demonstrated conclusively.

That's also why physical force is now useless against accelerating authoritarianism. Only a change in how people experience and understand their worlds will change that. Worlds, plural, because we each have our own now, thanks to more than a decade of "social" media algorithms. But even as president 45's own family eventually abandoned his mad scheme to become Emperor of the World, the current pretenders are victims of the same machinery through which they sought ultimate control.

The last paragraph of this article is the hopeful one. Our actions correlate to our worldviews. We are connected face to face now, on a global scale, in numbers beyond comprehension, including the capacity of algorithms that now curate so much of our individual experience. This is where humanity has a chance at continued existence: we are developing a new, unprecedented, common worldview. This cross-cultural, global, species-wide experience takes place outside the managed narratives generated continuously by the machinery that sustains the war-engine we now rely on for food. That's where a change in our obviously bankrupt trajectory may occur. That's a future fraught with possibility.

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I'm an old Pogo fan. For some unknown reason I persist in outrage at Feudalism, as if human beings can do much better than this. Our old ways of life are obsolete and are killing us. Will the human race wake up in time? Stay (more...)

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