The Cowardly Face of Authoritarianism

But in a cult of personality, truth is replaced by belief, and we believe what the leader wishes us to believe. The face replaces the mind.

.. The transition from democracy to personality cult begins with a leader who is willing to lie all the time, in order to discredit the truth as such. The transition is complete when people can no longer distinguish between truth and feeling.

.. Cults of personality make us feel rather than think. In particular, they make us feel that the first question of politics is “Who are we, and who are they?” rather than “What is the world like, and what can we do about it?” Once we accept that politics is about “us and them,” we feel like we know who “we” are, since we feel that we know who “they” are. In fact, we know nothing, since we have accepted fear and anxiety — animal emotions — as the basis of politics. We have been played.

.. The authoritarians of today tell medium-size lies. These refer only superficially to experiences; they draw us deep into a cave of emotion. If we believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim born in Africa (an American lie with Russian support), or that Hillary Clinton is a pedophile pimp (a Russian lie with American support), we are not actually thinking; we are giving way to sexual and physical fear.

.. These medium-size lies are not quite the big lies of the totalitarians, although Mr. Orban’s attacks on George Soros as the leader of a Jewish conspiracy come rather close. They are, however, big enough that they help to disable the factual world. Once we accept these lies, we open ourselves up to believing a whole raft of other untruths, or at least suspect that there are other, vaster conspiracies.

.. We imagine that we make choices as we sit in front of our computers, but the choices are, in fact, framed for us by algorithms that learn what will keep us online. Our online activity teaches machines that the most effective stimuli are negative: fear and anxiety.

.. As social media becomes political instruction, we prime ourselves for politicians who reproduce the same binary: What makes us afraid and what makes us feel secure? Who are they and who are we?

.. The empty heterosexual posturing, the shirtless photo ops, the misogyny and indifference to the female experience, the anti-gay campaigns, are designed to hide one basic fact: A cult of personality is sterile. It cannot reproduce itself. The cult of personality is the worship of something temporary. It is thus confusion and, at bottom, cowardice: The leader cannot contemplate the fact that he will die and be replaced, and citizens abet the illusion by forgetting that they share responsibility for the future.

The cult of personality blunts the ability to keep a country going. When we accept a cult of personality, we are not only yielding our right to choose leaders but also dulling the skills and weakening the institutions that would allow us to do so in the future. As we move away from democracy, we forget its purpose: to give us all a future. A cult of personality says that one person is always right; so after his death comes chaos.

Democracy says that we all make mistakes, but that we get a chance, every so often, to correct ourselves. Democracy is the courageous way to have a country. A cult of personality is a cowardly way of destroying one.

 

Engagement Algorithms Work off of Emotions like Fear, Anger, Jealousy

violence is a part of human nature, too, but the technology of the atom bomb multiplies the danger for us all. So too with these newsfeed algorithms, which favor engagement above everything else, no matter how base and degraded the content is.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this interview with Jaron Lanier, and I’ll just share an excerpt because I think it provides some insight: “The problem, however, is that behind the scenes there are these manipulation, behavior modification, and addiction algorithms that are running. And these addiction algorithms are blind. They’re just dumb algorithms. What they want to do is take whatever input people put into the system and find a way to turn it into the most engagement possible. And the most engagement comes from the startle emotions, like fear and anger and jealousy, because they tend to rise the fastest and then subside the slowest in people, and the algorithms are measuring people very rapidly, so they tend to pick up and amplify startle emotions over slower emotions like the building of trust or affection.” https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/delete-your-account-a-co…!

Nebraska Sen. Sasse: Sean Hannity is Really Good at “Nut-Picking”

Ben Sasse, U.S. Senator (R NE), former president of Midland University in Fremont, NE and the author of Them: Why We Hate Each Other–and How to Heal (St. Martin’s Press, 2018) argues that loneliness is the underlying cause of America’s extreme polarization and the solution lies in finding deepening rootedness.

What Is Elizabeth Warren?

Conventional wisdom says the DNA report backfired on the senator. Maybe not.

During the Kavanaugh hearings, one wondered why Sens. Harris, Booker and Blumenthal, among others, went so over the top so often. Perhaps it is because over-the-top looks like it works now in politics, and much else.

None of these national politicians—Mr. Trump, Ms. Warren or the other Democrats—makes any attempt now to broaden their appeal. Left or right, they have a laserlike focus on their bases. This looks like the future of American politics: Play to a base jacked up by social media, hold it with scheduled feedings of red meat and simply force the rest of the bewildered electorate to sort it out and choose between two poles.

An analogy to data analytics in baseball comes to mind. Striking out a lot no longer matters if a player’s vertical launch angle off the bat produces enough home runs. In the 2016 GOP primaries, the Donald, despite routine verbal whiffs, had great launch angle. His competition did not.

Ms. Warren and others have seen the new reality. Critics can be made virtually irrelevant if they hit their base hard and often enough. Nothing so exciting or animating exists in the middle anymore, which is bad news for moderates such as Mike Bloomberg or John Kasich.

Personally, I don’t understand Elizabeth Warren’s appeal at all, with or without whatever is located on chromosome 10. But come 2020, that won’t matter.