Here are a few clustered “pieces of news” which I found myself reading about, and following on various other media, throughout the past couple of days:
- Afghanistan related news continued to show up on my newsfeeds with a somewhat toned down tendency. Whilst still being a main topic, the fierceness and rage of those weeks in August is lessening. We become used to information about women being deprived from education and from participating in forms of public life, we seem to begin to resign into facing a reality where two decades of successful promotion of women’s rights are being wiped out within weeks. We become used to news about journalists being deprived from the freedom to report. We hear from the humanitarian community warning about an imminent desaster, and we learn about a Taleban government comprising our worst previous enemies. Sometimes I feel that government is just sitting it out: “Don’t produce too bad news about violations of human rights, the international media train will move on after a while.”
- New news capable to create attention by producing feelings of being upset, being angry, they moved on to Mali. Already being a country where military control replaced civilian governance, within a growing set of West African countries moving away from democratic rules of governance, we now see a potential engagement of the Russian “Wagner Group” mercenaries, on request of the Malian ruling military class, and certainly on basis of profound Russian geo-strategic interests, leading to that France, Germany, and others raise questions of conditionality related to the engagement of our own military capacities, within the United Nations peacekeeping Mission MINUSMA, within EU-led military training missions, and through a multilateral set of counterterrorism forces operating in Mali, and the wider region. Feels like another looming implosion.
- The most recent clash is a different one: France recalling her Ambassadors to the United States and to Australia for “consultations” after being completely kept in the dark on discussions that led to what now is coined AUKUS. A new alliance being formed in secrecy between the U.S., Australia, and the UK, in a global undertaking confronting China in the Indo-Pacific. A multi-billion deal delivering French conventionally-powered submarines to Australia being scrapped with nothing else than shortest notice, in favor of nuclear-powered submarine technology provided by the U.S., assisted by the UK. These news somewhat also feel like the bookends to a discussion in between, a discourse about the future of the North-Atlantic alliance, and the parallel soul-searching of the European Union where we have a place in all this, including through own military capacities and capabilities. A French President and a French Foreign Minister asking as to which extent there is an extension of abandonment which some hoped to be only temporary during the Trump administration, into the Biden administration. Everyone who is reading this will grasp at least a sense of how profound global alliances and interests are changing. In a different piece, for other channels, I reflected on how much this also affects the work of the United Nations, within the field of peace&security, through political and peacekeeping efforts. Just mentioning that, here. And lastly, at least I begin to make an argument about the emergence of the big picture which explains also why the hard decisions on leaving Afghanistan may have been made: It is about re-organizing political and military might along new geo-strategic lines, and not being timid when implementing it.
- On a sarcastic note, then there also is rapper Nicki Minaj. For many, here is what CBS graced us with: “The White House has offered Nicki Minaj a call with a doctor, according to an official, after she expressed concerns this week about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. The rapper tweeted on Monday that she wants to do more research before getting vaccinated and claimed that a friend of her cousin’s had experienced adverse effects from it, which health officials have refuted. “My cousin in Trinidad won’t get the vaccine cuz his friend got it & became impotent. His testicles became swollen,” Minaj tweetedMonday. “His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding. So just pray on it & make sure you’re comfortable with ur decision, not bullied.” Well, sarcasm also reflecing on that this tweet provides a perfect example for how the media frenzy is providing opportunities for something which I am attempting to describe below.
The above almost arbitrary selection of newsbites which caught my attention yesterday and on this sunny and pleasantly chilly autumn morning in Belgrade, it made me thinking. Because, more often than not, my news selection leaves me with frustration, despair, worry. I know very well what these emotions do to me. If being allowed to go on the rampage, they make me restless and I find myself in a spiral of obsessive reading. My days may not be ending on a positive note then. Like in many other areas of my life, it is about emotional moderation, sometimes we call it emotional sobriety. There is a very thin line between compassion and obsession. If I don’t find a way into some form of loving non-attachment, I take everything personal.
I have to pick and choose amongst the thousands of pieces of information offered by my newsreader. The settings of this newsreader only subscribe to channels which I find interesting, acceptable, in line with my cultural and political belief system. So sorry, Fox News, Bild Zeitung, or alikes. Not subscribing. As a consequence, I have to accept a filtered view on the state of affairs because of my own choices. Solid journalism is not free from beliefs. A robotic emotionless and value-neutral set of information items does not exist. With every new reading, I am solidifying the neural pathways forming my own framework of how I see the world outside myself. With every piece of my writing here, I am doing the same.
The engineers and master-minds behind the advertising machinery and the machinery of political manipulation know about this. Walking in their shoes, I reckon they have at least two questions driving them when optimising their strategies:
- How to keep people in an existing framework, sometimes also referred to as “ecosystem”? Cynical emphasis put on “eco”. I prefer “belief system” as being a bit more precise. If I go one step further, I would even question “belief” and replace it with “emotion”. Whether we talk about a preference to, say right-wing or left-wing political beliefs, or people using Android or iOS, or PCs or Macintoshs, or being a hard-core fan of BMW or Mercedes, it doesn’t matter. Examples are endless. It’s all about emotions, creating emotional attachment, and emotional dependency.
- How to manage cross-overs, meaning, getting people moving over from one system to another? That, too, is all about emotions.
In a digital realm profoundly based on psychological knowledge how to manipulate, and how to exploit the neuroscience of addiction, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a blessing for those performing Black Magic. As a consequence, I navigate to the best of my education and ability to at least identify some of the manipulation efforts which are ferociously thrown at me every time I enter the Internet. Not only my computer needs a firewall, my brain needs a firewall as well, allowing me to stay clear from malicious forms of manipulation and from fake news. This goes so much deeper than only avoiding spam and malware attacks. “Social engineering” is a term which had been coined by the hacker scene. But AI takes social engineering to a quantum leap, and a new meaning: Very much like the hacker uses some fake personal credibility through phone calls in order to gain entry, social media perverts the personal meaning of “friends”. One click allows me to request somebody to be my “friend”. Nobody does this free from emotions: Whether I ask somebody in person to be my friend, or I push a button, the emotional reaction is very similar, may be except for sociopaths. With that person’s accepting click, we’re done! I have a new friend, and it is creating an emotional reaction again. If, then, a friend tells me a story, I tend to believe, or to support the attitude behind. That’s what friends do, right?
AI aiming at getting me to become a member of a group of friends, or a “follower” of another category of people, called “influencers”, that’s the wizardry of really smart social engineering. By the way, as perverted the digital meaning of “friend” may be, as cynically clear is the meaning of “influencer”. An “influencer” does what the name is suggesting: Influencing. Not “reasoning”, “informing”, or “entertaining”, but “influencing”. Stomach this. I don’t want to be a friend, nor a follower of, say, Nicki Minaj (see above). My son is dreaming of becoming an “influencer”. Because it’s all about status. But then the opposite to “being an influencer” is “being influenced”. There both is a benign meaning given to it by the new generations of smartphone kids, and a very malicious one, covertly applied by those who manipulate for reasons of profit, or ideological, religious, or political agenda. For those less benign, it is about that content only serves one purpose: Generating a click. There is no difference between somebody using that in order to catch followers adoring long and carefully draped blond hair sitting on top of a rosy face, and somebody who does this in order to catch attention to some specific upper torso specifics.
Nicki Minaj’s boobie-trapped testicle-reasoning against Covid-19-vaccines contributes to fueling the mistrust of millions, and of course because it just is a fancy way for Nicki to create attention for her media circus. No accountability, or sense of responsibility, Ms. Minaj, taking into account the Covid-deaths, suffering, and infringements on the rights of vaccinated people? People who can not pay themselves into privileged high-society realms, now including space, since this weekend’s SpaceX Inspiration4 spaceflight of a billionaire with his three friends?
One of the reasons why democratic values are so much challenged these days: Democracy works best when people make educated choices, and when there is at least some pretention of that all of us are equal. At least that was the idea. If we don’t find a way back into this understanding, democracy may be shown the way to the exit door.
My personal choices in this new world include that I stay almost entirely away from social media sites, like Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram, Tic Toc. I also am extremely concerned about their impact on emotional health issues of teenagers. Parenting two teenagers who struggle heavily with this, like millions of other teenagers too, I need to put this aside for another blog entry.
Yes, I have a select set of Youtube channels and I actively use Youtube to broaden my views on things I am interested in. Yes, I have a LinkedIn profile which I use only in a very restricted manner. But mainly, my own subjective worldview is based on choices I make when reading news in the Internet, using my Newsreader. I try to avoid the worst honeytraps of manipulation, and to mitigate the remainder through educated choices.
I consider myself being moderately good at this. I am aware of that I am blessed with sound education, a very broad experience, a non-local life-style, and broad cross-cultural and inter-cultural experiences. In this, I belong to a global minority. This summer allowed me, again, to see this. I traveled for many months and I stayed on campsites all over Europe, making many experiences meeting people from all walks of life. Sourcing my information from verified channels makes me part of a minority.
It’s not only about the quality of the news sources. It also is about the depth and the width. In order to understand (or trying to) global events, I need to maintain a global perspective. In order to understand complexity and interdepedency of events, I need to inform myself about a large variety of topics. Otherwise, developments seem local, disconnected, and hard to understand. Many people who I have met don’t do that. They source their information from unverified sources, they show limited interest to what happens outside their neighborhood, they feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of complex bad news. But they all try to make meaning.
No surprise then how seductive the simplifications offered by pied pipers are. Threatening narratives sell on feeding grounds soaked with fear. This I have expressed in various pieces on my blog here, and I feel it is not enough. There is some more, but I struggle with how to describe it in a way that is making sense without becoming too lengthy in this piece.
But I would end with that people in democratic societies vote. We are one week away from German Federal elections. I keep fingers crossed. Until then, I’ll go for a forest walk now enjoying the beautiful Belgrade late summer.