The evolution of democracy

Transcript (more or less) from The evolution of democracy: Explaining Trump, Brexit and the Colombia peace deal, a keynote at Inteligencia Colectiva para la Democracia’ in Madrid, 2016.

My name is Heather Marsh. I am a writer and a programmer and I have been studying and experimenting with both local activism and methods of mass communication and collaboration for many years now. From 2010 to 2012 I was the administrator and editor in chief of the Wikileaks news site Wikileaks Central where I experimented with creating knowledge repositories, tying that information to things that were happening in the news and creating action based on that information. News without action is just voyeurism and action without information creates a very easily manipulated public, so I was trying to bring the two together in one place. In 2012 I concentrated more social media collaboration and I wrote a first book called Binding Chaos about all the problems I had seen while working with Wikileaks, Occupy, Anonymous, M15 and many other mass movements in recent years. We all seemed to be coming up against the same issues with hierarchy, direct democracy, consensus and collaboration. As I kept working on various projects it became apparent that we as societies had been butting heads for millenia on these same issues which really come down to trying to create a balance between autonomy, diversity and society, which is the title of my next book. And along the way I have been thinking of what tools we would require to help us achieve this balance, and the primary one I have been working on is a universal database and trust network called Getgee.

So today what I would like to talk about are some ideas from Binding Chaos and a little bit from Autonomy, Diversity, Society which will hopefully help when we are thinking about creating products for mass communication and mass collaboration. The focus is on creating a balance between personal autonomy of those doing the work, diversity of ideas and solutions and allowing the participation of the whole society.

slide1

How many people here have heard of a technological singularity? A technological singularity is something IT people and science fiction writers have liked to talk about for years. The idea is that we will reach a point, or have already reached a point, where technology is beyond the scope of human understanding and artificial intelligence will be programming itself, in a Skynet sort of world. It’s funny, people have been talking about this for years, but not many have noticed or acknowledged that we have instead reached a completely different type of singularity which is a societal singularity. We have reached a point where no one can understand every aspect of society which affects them. If you go back in history, crafts people could know everything there is to know about their jobs and people could know everything that went on in their villages but this is just not true any more. And even our villages and neighbourhoods are not autonomous, they are all connected now at some level with all the other communities in the whole world, even uncontacted tribes.

We need to collaborate with others not only to develop tools but even just to understand the news. We have to put our faith in other people and believe in what they tell us or trust in their skill to create their components if we are building a product. As programmers we have been used to working as an ecosystem like this for years, we always have to incorporate other people’s work and their bugs into our own, but this has spread to almost every aspect of public life. And this is one of the biggest challenges in creating tools for democracy. We can’t have real direct democracy or self governance any more because none of us can understand every aspect of everything. We need to rely on collaboration instead and this is going to require a completely different set of rules than we have used in the past. We need more than simple referendums and voting to govern ourselves this way. We need to somehow create nuanced and detailed information we can trust and we need to coordinate goals with people we will never speak to.

There are two main areas to talk about which are idea based collaboration and action based collaboration. The challenge in a societal singularity is how to allow all people to participate and communicate but still be able to filter signal from noise and how to allow people democratic choice but still retain worker autonomy.

First of all, let’s look at mass action based collaboration.

slide3
For action based tasks, the model that has become almost ubiquitous is the competitive hierarchical model. Most of us are all too familiar with this model. The typical response to a situation which requires an action is to create a noun, in the form of an organization, government body, or an official person and the focus is always on the organization and the personalities involved instead of the action. The hierarchy creates what I call personality based systems, as opposed to idea or action based systems. A new idea in a personality based system remains completely bound to the owner until it is legally transferred to another owner. All contributors work for the owner, not the idea, and you have to wait on one specific person for approval or direction at each level so there are bottle necks everywhere.

Most workers do not enjoy hierarchical systems as they lose autonomy, mastery and creative control over their own work, they just become an instrument under somebody else’s direction. The orders come from the top down and so there is very little diversity of ideas and we lose all the talent and ideas downstream. Because it is a closed system, collaboration between people does not happen unless they are hired by the same project. Competition is the opposite of mass collaboration. It’s really people working against each other, not together. So there is no autonomy, no diversity and no society.

slide4
The alternative to competition has traditionally been cooperation. Cooperative groups try to replace the top down hierarchy with a group consensus driven system which allows diversity of opinion at the top.

This is most effective only in groups of two to eight people. For groups larger than 25, cooperation is extremely slow. It is still a personality based system. An idea in a cooperative must be approved by the entire group, both on initiation and at each stage of development. The majority of energy and resources are spent on communication, persuasion, and personality management, and a power struggle can derail the whole project.

It can be dominated by extroverted personalities who make decisions to control the work of others and are very justly resented by those doing the actual work. Cooperatives frequently use consensus or votes to make decisions for the entire group. These methods may not produce the best results, particularly in large groups, as many people may not understand the work if they are not actually doing it and they may demand things they would never be willing to do themselves. The feeling of the workers at the bottom is no different whether there is a horizontal or a hierarchical structure making the decisions, the workers still have no personal autonomy.

Both competitive and cooperative projects will die if the group that runs the project leaves and both will attract or repel contributors based on the personalities of the existing group. Both are hierarchical systems where individuals need to seek permission to contribute. Both focus on the authority of personalities to approve a decision instead of focusing on the idea or action itself. So we have a society, at least within the group, but not without, but we still have no autonomy and because of the need to reach consensus there is also no diversity of product.

This isn’t in any way to say that cooperative and consensus driven systems are bad. They are actually the most comfortable way of working in small groups who know each other and have similar styles and share a goal, but they are very difficult to scale. As soon as you have a very large group of people with opposing viewpoints and personalities that don’t mesh, it is very difficult to get anything done.

slide5

I use stigmergy to describe a method of action based collaboration that is suitable for mass movements. I didn’t make up this awful word by the way, it is lifted from biology where it describes indirect communication and collaboration among ants and termites and various other creatures. In human movements, it allows diversity of methods and autonomy for workers while still putting the ultimate authority of choice with the whole society, to try to achieve that balance we talked of earlier. It is neither competitive nor cooperative. It is action based collaboration instead of personality based.

A system is stigmergic if

– it follows one goal

– it is completely transparent

– it is open to everyone to participate, at least within the user group

– the output is free for anyone to use and improve on

Stigmergy gives people autonomy over their own work. With stigmergy, an initial idea is freely given, and the project is driven by the idea, not by a personality or group of personalities. So no one needs permission, like they would in a competitive system, or consensus like they would in a cooperative, to initiate a project. There is no need to discuss or vote on the idea. If an idea is exciting or necessary it will attract interest and the interest attracted will be from people willing to contribute so those with more involvement in the idea will automatically have greater influence through their contributions.

There are no official authorities but the power of the user group still exists in the ability to accept or reject the work.

Workers are free to create regardless of acceptance or rejection. Drastically innovative ideas almost never receive instant mainstream acceptance so leaving control of work to group consensus only cripples innovation. When we allow anyone to contribute we also have a great diversity of talent and people can step up to further the goal in ways the originator never imagined.

So here we have full autonomy and diversity but the entire society still has the ultimate choice.

slide6

Where is stigmergy? We have always had stigmergy in our social lives and it has been behind most mass movements that have had any success. You can see it wherever groups of diverse people who do not belong to any formal organization or have any formal communication with each other are all working together to carry out a goal.

If you look at something like the civil rights movement in the United States, that is a multi-generational movement of so many people and so many different methods and everyone who has contributed, whether they are groups or individuals, has decided for themselves how they can be most effective. If this stigmergy chart was for that movement, that big group can be the Million Man March, the square is Malcolm X and his followers, the heart can be MLK, and between them all by themselves is Ruby Bridges or Rosa Parks, none of them had to communicate or come to consensus but they are all trying for the same goal and are more or less aware of each other’s activity. The US still hasn’t reached that goal so they go through periods of great upheaval followed by periods of more calm working, depending on whether an event sparks more action or something blocks progress for a while.

A stigmergic movement will continue as long as the goal is not reached and people still share it, even if it dies down or goes dormant for a bit. That is the advantage to an idea based system over a personality based one, you can’t kill an idea.

Or another stigmergic idea is freedom of information. This has everyone from the free software movement, creative commons and similar open copyright groups, Sci-Hub which liberates scientific papers, other filesharing sites, Wikipedia, even the Internet itself in its original inception might be considered a node in that stigmergic movement.

What keeps these movements from burning out, like so many do in the massive assemblies, is the fact that they are not spending all their energy communicating except in small groups and they are following one clear idea.

It is not often you find one organization or group that is purely stigmergic, but Anonymous is one. This is why they say they are not an organization or group. They usually say they are an idea, but they aren’t really one idea either, they are a method of mass collaboration and the method is stigmergy. That method allows everyone to follow whatever ideas they choose, in groups or individually with perfect autonomy. Anonymous never tries to reach consensus. Anonymous is not unanimous. And there is no organization you can order to do something, Anonymous is also not your personal army. You have to just put an idea out and see who follows it.

It may seem difficult to figure out how stigmergy can be used in a corporate setting where everything is set up around organizations and official people, but it helps if we remember that each of those organizations, no matter how they are organized internally, can be a node under a stigmergic idea. I am often asked if Wikipedia is a good example of stigmergy and no, it is not. Wikipedia is a cooperative. You may contribute work without asking anyone but your work can be thrown out and you can be locked out of contributing, or the topic locked, and there is a definite personality based hierarchy and a need to reach consensus around one final product. There is no diversity of product tolerated and there isn’t any real autonomy either.

But Wikipedia is still one of many nodes under the idea of Freedom of information because what they produce is completely free for anyone else to use or modify. I said earlier that Anonymous was stigmergic but Anonymous very frequently works with other people like news or human rights organizations or other hacking collectives such as Redhack who are themselves internally communist. It doesn’t matter what the internal organization of each node is as long as they are all following the same idea and their work is available for everyone else to use.

So the same methods can be used for corporate work. The key is for corporate style organizations to recognize what stigmergic ecosystem they are a part of and follow the guidelines to make their work contribute smoothly to that idea. One place where stigmergic development has really taken off is in the IT industry because free software has meant that the output is available for everyone to use and improve or modify. If we look at one stigmergic idea: We need better web development tools. If we had left this to Google, and Google had been acting like their competitive corporate selves, we would have just had the Angular framework, and progress would be Angular 2.0. And we do have Angular 2.0, but we also have Facebook’s React, Ember and many others. As long as the user group has not reached consensus over what tools we want for full stack development we have many contributors creating different frameworks for us.

When we start to reach wide consensus in some area, like yes, we don’t want any more black and purple websites with green sparkles and the vast majority of us are going to create websites that are very uniform, we start to see more and more conformity around standards like Twitter’s bootstrap styles but as soon as someone has a very divergent idea that people find interesting again, like Google’s material design, many people will start hacking on it and trying to create different solutions again. The same periodic upheavals of innovation and change are apparent here as in the social movements driven by stigmergy. In this case HTML5 and ES6 stimulated a rush in web development tools in general.

Of course this example of corporate stigmergy has some major issues., first in who is getting paid and who is not. Google employees are and free software programmers frequently are not. And even with free software, when you have players like Facebook and Google and Twitter it is going to be a bit hard for anyone without their development team budget and user groups to compete so it is not a level playing field for all to participate, but as long as the code is commons property we can have consensus without monopoly which is a huge improvement. It is starting to approach stigmergic organization, just from the addition of this one change, of software that is free for anyone to use or modify. You can see this especially as you move away from the big corporations to the later development add ons, in all the diverse people writing packages and tools for React and Angular and the other frameworks.

This is better than academia and science manage. They are supposed to be stigmergic as well, the idea in science and academia is that everyone is supposed to publish and build off each others findings, but because they do not have open source and permissive copyright or even access, their work is frequently corporate IP property, and they don’t allow or reward outside contributions, they are very far from stigmergic and their progress is not nearly what it could be. If we look back at the principles of stigmergic organization, the last three of four points do not apply to science and academia so they both need to change if they are going to truly act as epistemic communities for us all. Which brings us to my next point which is about idea based collaboration.

slide8

We have stigmergy for action based collaboration which follows an idea, but what if we want to collaborate on ideas themselves, to build knowledge and find some most reliable facts? If we look at the 2010-2011 movements, like M15 and later Occupy and all the rest, they were fine with action based collaboration, especially when they used stigmergy, but they really struggled when it came to idea based collaboration, like setting goals. This is kind of important since without the ideas, you don’t have the action. Stigmergy follows ideas and information, so management of the ideas and information here is as important as management of personalities is in competitive or cooperative systems. If you think of this in a governance context, we won’t be electing personalities, we will be electing ideas.

To see what happens when an idea loses its clarity, or its idea has been co-opted, look at feminism. The civil rights movement in the US retained its clarity because it has set specific goals in each cycle whether that is to end slavery, end segregation, or end police violence. When feminism meant fighting for the vote and legal personhood it had a clear goal and was a stigmergic mass movement but second wave feminism allowed itself to become a noun instead of an action, its goals became very loose and because there wasn’t a clear goal it was used to advertise corporate product and promote prominent personalities, primarily from the United States, who felt they could speak for every woman in the world on every topic. A noun is not a stigmergic goal, a noun is an organization, so when feminism became a noun it stopped being a stigmergic movement and became a competitive, personality driven, organization which became completely divided, as is typical, these types of organizations do not scale.

The single biggest factor I’ve found for whether or not someone will participate in a stigmergic action is whether they are sure of the idea behind it. Not whether it affects them, or if its simple to grasp or easy or even safe to do. I have created many actions where the audience was completely removed from the people affected or where the action was dangerous or very difficult to understand or even initially believe. None of this mattered. All that mattered in whether the action was a success was whether people could be sure the goal is sound. And the easiest way for someone to prevent action is to sow doubt in the goal. That initial kernel that makes up the idea looks simple but it is everything. But finding the information we need for conviction in our goals is not easy.

If we think of a large population creating a knowledge repository stigmergicly, we have a picture of a bunch of ants sifting and sorting information and putting the best in a pile. And that’s probably how we thought we were going too do things on Twitter. But that’s not how expert knowledge, like the kind we have in a singularity, works and it’s why a bunch of people in a horizontal group can’t just do that. Especially a personality dominated horizontal group like Occupy or any direct democracy that starts from the premise of all voices and opinions being equal. This goes back to the idea behind a societal singularity, we can’t all be experts at everything and we don’t want to be either. We don’t have the time and we may not have the interest. We can’t keep berating voters for not spending all of their time studying everything that affects them, it’s impossible and it’s not fun either. We need to find a better solution.

slide9

I love this chart because it illustrates exactly why we need concentric circles in a democracy. This space between innovation and acceptance is where demagogues and gate keepers lie in wait to control information before it reaches the public. Like little trolls under the bridge. This is why we need knowledge bridges to replace the gatekeepers because most ideas can’t make it across this chasm on their own.

If you think of recent examples of elite working groups whose ideas were rejected by the wider society, like Brexit in the UK or the peace deal in Colombia, it was because of a failure of the working group to establish effective knowledge bridges between them and the public. The public did not see their viewpoints being heard and responded to and they did not see or understand or trust the decision making process, which gave demagogues on the outside of the process the ability to derail the acceptance of their recommendations. The people had information that was too difficult to audit themselves, and they had no faith in the people offering solutions. People in the UK said repeatedly they were sick of being lied to by the media and experts.

When people lose faith in those who are supposed to be their experts, like politicians, or those who are supposed to be their knowledge bridges like the media, they lose faith in any stigmergic goal these people present and they will block it, as I said earlier. The information from the opposition in both cases was certainly no better, nobody was offering a fully developed and audited plan for an alternative peace deal or a detailed plan to exit the EU, but even very poorly supported information and hyperbole is sufficient to overturn an idea that the public doesn’t trust. We can see this also in most elections, there are just demagogues and hyperbole on both sides, there is no process of reconciling any issues with the public or providing information people can rely on. In fact, the goal seems to be to deliberately confuse and immobilize the public and then just give them a binary vote in the hope they vote against the establishment which has lost so much trust. This is why both sides seem to only be interested in painting the other as the most corrupt establishment.

[On May 8 2017, former US Director of National intelligence James Clapper suggested the solution to the misinformation of the US 2016 election was to further fund USAID and spread more misinformation against US enemies. Those are exactly the actions that caused people to lose faith in information emanating from the US in the first place.]

You may have seen a lot of people blaming this current state of low information on social media and they are partially right but corporate media certainly doesn’t get a free pass either. Most of the tools we have to communicate simulate direct democracy and look for popular ideas, the most retweets and the most readers, but not only is popular not innovative or expert, the two are mutually exclusive. Popular ideas are riding the peak of the wave of socially acceptable opinion. They already appeal to the widest audience. They are not new ideas, by definition, and they aren’t at a level of elite expertise that is difficult for all but a few to understand also by definition. This is why we now elect politicians on the basis of their tweets and this is the secret for politicians like Donald Trump who speaks at a grade 3 level. The more easily understood and the less challenging your message, the wider your appeal will be so an age that amplifies the most popular information, as we do now, will be an age of demagogues.

It is counter intuitive to think popular ideas are what we need to give us the best information. If we need some specialized level of knowledge to explain something like Brexit or a peace deal or the issues in an election, or if we want those making the decisions to hear the voices that are seldom heard, that may expand their Overton windows and give us some fresh perspective, or represent a rare case that will cause their solution to break, amplifying the most popular ideas or people is the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing. And really this is what direct democracy, representative and liquid democracy do, so of course it is also what the tools for democracy have been doing.

We have tools that are very useful to find out what a population thinks and tools that are great for discussing things and coming to consensus, but we need to also go to where their opinions are formed. Opinions are based on information. We need to be able to find expertise and accurate and diverse information that we can trust before we form our opinions and long before we measure them.

Ideas need to be audited and promoted by those users qualified to understand them to allow diversity of ideas and prevent the process from being dominated by celebrities without the expertise required. But if we have an elite discussion group with only elite experts or ideas in it, we are at great risk of having an elite oligarchy based on control of information. This is what we have now. We don’t maintain the necessary balance between autonomy, diversity and society unless this quiet place to talk remains a fully associated part of the wider group. So to avoid a hierarchy and leave control with the entire user group, I use a structure I call concentric circles.

slide10

Concentric circles relate to sound amplification. In a concentric circle, people or ideas promoted to the center by their peer group receive greatest amplification and their findings will be audited, amplified and explained to the general public by outer circles. They are not hierarchical as they have no direct control over the actions of anyone. An epistemic community is a knowledge resource only, authority remains with the entire user group which provides a good incentive for the epistemic community to ensure transparency and knowledge bridges so their ideas are accepted. As in stigmergy, votes in a concentric group are frequently replaced by actions. If this little drop receives no amplification, it is just an idea that goes nowhere.

With knowledge bridges, you don’t have to have personal expertise on every aspect of society. All you have to do is have a transparent concentric circle that you can look at, you can see the activity, you can get feedback if necessary, and you can say yes, there are a lot of people auditing, there is a lot of discussion, I trust some of the people in these circles, I trust that they know what they are doing. Everyone can review the work of the experts both directly and through the review by their peers. Experts can also be created by the system itself as users develop knowledge and reputation and move towards the centre and you will find this happens increasingly if users lose trust, they will realize they need to start auditing this circle.

Communication should not be the full responsibility of the experts in the centre, which is where government initiatives like Brexit and the Colombia peace deal have failed. Ideas should be carried over expertise bridges by full transparency and user participation. The epistemic community in the centre should not need to protect themselves from demands or attacks from completely uninformed users or demagogues. The circles of expertise which promoted them to the centre should also verify and explain their findings to the outer circles. And, concerns and arguments from the user group should be carried back to the epistemic community if the user group finds the points valid. So the epistemic community can work without noise but still receive ongoing feedback from the users and acceptance is a process, not just a binary vote after the fact.

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because this is exactly what happens in open source communities.

slide11
In open source software, the code for each project is available for all to see. Even if the end user cannot understand the code, they can go to discussion groups or listen to programmers who have read and audited the code, they can read the bug reports. Any urgent bugs will be broadcast to the general population and amplified by media as we have seen many times. The people with the greater knowledge of the system will provide knowledge bridges for people at a more novice level and increasingly, that’s how people are learning to code. Good ideas from forum discussions can be read, possibly implemented by the developers as well. Transparency goes both ways.

Open source software with forums open to all are a perfect working example of fully transparent and audited systems of elite knowledge. While the decisions are made by the developers, review and acceptance or rejection of the software is the right of the user group. If the developers refuse to listen to the user group and another development team is willing to work on the project, the original code can be forked and modified to meet the user requirements. Which means you can only be attacked by another fully developed, open and transparent epistemic community which also must be audited by knowledge bridges. You can’t be attacked just by a demagogue and rhetoric, you can only be opposed by another working solution so the user group has a choice between two or more working solutions instead of simply rejection or acceptance. Which means we need the final most important point for concentric circles – the information is free for anyone to use or modify.

Imagine if HTML and Javascript were corporate products that were not available to the public to use, like Bill Gates wanted programming languages to be back in the day. We would not be talking about web development frameworks as a stigmergic system. They would be just one proprietary product delivered by one corporation, probably Microsoft. The fact that we won this fight against Bill Gates and those like him is the single biggest reason that programming and IT have progressed so incredibly far and quickly and the reason IT is the best place to look for corporate examples of stigmergy. Just imagine if we had this same freedom to use the end products of other industries, like pharmaceuticals for instance which Bill Gates is currently pushing oppressive IP laws for.

Intellectual property in a stigmergic system is like an ant that finds food but doesn’t leave any pheromones to tell the other ants. Or worse, actually blocks the other ants and that idea is so ridiculous I can’t even think of a stigmergic example of it. Ownership of ideas is in complete opposition to stigmergy which is to say it is in complete opposition to rapid progress, finding the best solutions and democracy.

slide12

So what we have been looking for here are methods of collaboration that bring us a balance between autonomy, diversity and society. We want to allow the maximum amount of autonomy to those doing the work so we can include all of their ideas and abilities. We want to allow as many diverse solutions as people are inspired to try for each problem. And then we want to allow the entire user group to easily make an informed choice of which solution is best for them as is their right in a democracy. So our methods are stigmergy, which we use for mass action and concentric circles which we use to audit, teach and amplify information.

The best part of stigmergic work and transparent concentric circles for knowledge is our work doesn’t get wasted. When you come to an event like this with a specific project, it is easy to feel as though you are in a competition where you are only associated with one project and your success or failure is tied to that one project and the group around it. But even if you organize your own team in a completely different form, if you follow these principles you will still be contributing to progress as a node in a stigmergic idea. For this two weeks the idea is: Let’s develop better tools for democracy. If you follow these principles, if other people are free to contribute to your project and you to theirs, if you add what you learn to the epistemic community of ideas and act as a knowledge bridge to those learning and most of all if your code is open and free, you will still be part of the community around this idea contributing to the goal we are all working towards. You will be part of the ecosystem.

Q and A not translated.

Mastodon, Getgee and the decentralized data movement

From Diaspora and GNU Social to Cimba and Mastodon, increasingly sophisticated alternatives keep offering to move the public off of the data harvesting platforms that manipulate people and sell their personal data. No one should be gifting their innermost thoughts to states and corporations. Personal data is used to coerce public opinion and advance the interests of undemocratic entities who have only maximum profit for their shareholders as a guiding principle. No one should risk storing their personal data on a platform that sees their data as ‘the new oil’.

The problem is, the people aren’t moving. The reason they aren’t moving is the new alternatives aren’t offering what they need.

What do we need?

Our greatest need is for a collaborative information commons, for open journalism, for open science, and just for fun. We need a place where the data is not personal data but it is not corporate data either. We need a place where the application software is decoupled from the data but the data is all still linked.

While secure communication and ownership of personal data is important, mass communication and mass collaboration are required to change the world. People risk their lives to tweet because they want to be heard. More, they want their stories to be a part of the permanent record, not lost in a stream of transient white noise. If we have a data commons, we can have the participatory governance, research and global collaboration so many of us dreamed of, free of corporate ownership or interference.

With a universal data commons we can:

  • collaborate effectively and intelligently and solve the problems we are facing with far greater speed and accuracy.
  • all be much better informed and be able to easily see the original sources of our information.
  • easily see all related information on a subject from all perspectives.
  • replace transient and context-free news with continually growing and evolving knowledge repositories.
  • allow epistemic communities to work in peace within circles that match their own expertise and still maintain full transparency and participation by anyone interested.
  • bypass NGOs and funding platforms and provide aid to each other directly, and receive feedback directly, through our trust networks.
  • establish our own direct trade between communities.
  • use our own trust network to filter and fact check information for us instead of relying on third parties.
  • offer products and services to others and be easily found without centralized platforms.
  • rely on recommendations for products and services through our own trust networks.

With a universal data commons we can have far more understanding and well informed collaboration around the world. We need this.

Who is still on Twitter?

Reality Show Twitter, Instagram, etc

Twitter is a personality focused, broadcast platform for public data. Broadcast social media is largely a reality show, where microcelebrities vie with real celebrities for the next mainstream media article based on a tweet. No one on Reality Twitter wants to hide their light in personal online data storage (pods). Those not involved in the reality show are already on Slack, Gitter, sub-reddits, image boards, forums, irc, federated microblogging sites and secure group chats. The (sometimes paid) actors on social media reality shows will stay on the corporate broadcast platforms, along with their audiences and the media who report their tweets, until someone creates a decoupled, personality focused, broadcast platform.*

Research Twitter, reddit, etc

Yes, people are on social media to socialize, which is why the term was coined. But the term was also a demeaning dismissive, used by authoritative journalists and researchers who wanted to imply that all the public was interested in was socializing. Social media was meant to infer its users were not professional, even as all the professionals grudgingly moved onto it. The blue checks were meant to separate the real from the riff raff. In recent years, social media has become the unpaid backbone of research, journalism and governance. Social media alternatives are not addressing the unacknowledged part of social media, the collaborative media and research which the centralized platforms let us participate in and the open epistemic communities they let us listen to and learn from. Research Twitter will stay on Twitter until someone creates a decoupled, information focused, broadcast platform* that meets their needs. Like G.

What is wrong with what we have?

To quote Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, there are three primary problems facing web users today:

1)   We’ve lost control of our personal data
2)   It’s too easy for misinformation to spread on the web
3)   Political advertising online needs transparency and understanding

1) We have actually lost control of both personal and public data and in both cases we need to decouple application software from the data to regain control. In the case of private data we need to retain personal ownership and control of it and in the case of public data we need to create a universal data commons free from state or corporate control. We must have a clear distinction between public data and private data because the objectives are in complete opposition to each other. Since people don’t like using separate applications (based on the number of nude selfies posted in Twitter dm’s) we should make the transition from one environment to the other as seamless as possible for them.

The decentralized social media platforms on offer solve the problem of control over personal data in theory, but in reality most of them just create multiple little pods, each with their own tyrannical or benevolent admins, like subreddits or irc channels. They also make your data impossible to delete if they are linked to other pods.

2) and 3) are both problems facing the broadcast of public data which decentralized microblogging sites do not address in any way. Both of these issues require an application agnostic universal data commons like G. The hypernodes, constellations and galaxies in G allow all information in the data commons to be linked together and sourced, meeting item #3, transparency and understanding. G uses trust networks (which are not the same as social networks) to allow collaborative access and the optional filtering of information by the users themselves instead of by application software and search engines. These trust networks allow us to filter out astroturfing and set our own trust metrics (item #2, combating misinformation).

My own primary issues facing web users are:

1) Noise from celebrities and astroturfing drowns out the information we need the most.
2) Corporate and state control allow photoshopping of information they want suppressed and amplification of what they want heard.
3) Thought bubbles encourage consensus around one truth instead of allowing multiple viewpoints.

The answers to my issues are also provided by G:

1) We need an information focused platform instead of all the personality focused options we have.
2) We need to decouple application software from our public data and protect our data in a commons that is free from state or corporate influence.
3) We need a data commons which allows us to link multiple points of view at the data level.

Decentralized microblogging sites address none of these points either. For social peace, these pods of like-minded affinity groups may be a relief, but for information and research, they are a mistake. The only thing worse than a sealed well of information is a closed thought bubble of uniform opinion. A Wikipedia that was not all linked together would not be the resource we know and love. In fact it is frustrating that Wikipedia is separated by language, opposing opinions are lost to consensus and Wikipedia guidelines prevent gathering information by other guidelines.

* How can I tell if a new platform will take off? A checklist

What don’t we have yet?

People don’t move from the big microblogging platforms to the decentralized microblogging platforms because they are addressing technical issues and ignoring the personal ones. While a microblogging instance, a sub-reddit and an irc channel are all technically very different, they all feel very alike and will attract the same users. Their users do not have control of the data, but it isn’t really public either. They aren’t the right choice for private messaging, but neither are they the best choice for public broadcasting. They are personality focused and hopeless for information gathering but they are not a good celebrity vehicle either. They are decentralized by server (theoretically) but they are not decoupled from software.

The failure to replace the existing platforms is partly the failure to differentiate between public and personal data, between messaging and broadcast platforms, between personality and information focus and between decentralized platforms and decoupled data. Here is a little check list for the next time a ‘new social media’ is on offer. Is it adding something we need?

Public data: The goal is freedom from censorship or other deletion or modification. Most applications use p2p with or without blockchain, or censorship resilient platforms. We already have resilient publishing with p2p and blockchain (we could use more where appropriate but it isn’t a universal god like many believe).

Personal data: The goal is security against dissemination. Ideally, keep it off the Internet. If that is not possible, encrypt it and keep it under your control and easily deleted. Most people use secure chat apps (like those with otr). Secure data receives more funding and attention than any other technology and is fairly state of the art.

Personal messaging: The goal is to know who you are talking to. Most efforts for security already incorporate identity validation and most people currently use Facebook, Snapchat or other platforms that verify users and let you add and block them. This is the application that should be replaced by open source software alternatives using friend to friend architecture, like Retroshare, which have already existed for many years.

Broadcasting: The goal is wide dissemination. Most people use the platforms with the largest audience, like Twitter or public Facebook/Instagram pages or Youtube or mainstream media. Broadcasting is at the mercy of corporate and state control and needs solutions which decouple the data from application software. (See What Can G Be Used For?)

Personality focused: The goal is promotion of personalities (or brands). Most use large public platforms, like the above, which provide verification checks and audience/followers. Social media is almost universally personality focused, but there are opportunities for less central control and hierarchy.  (Again in What Can G Be Used For?)

Information focused: The goal is research and dissemination of information. This has very limited options available. At best we can use Wikipedia, media and specialized research platforms. There is a huge need for information centred solutions.

Decentralized platforms: The goal is to escape dependency on one server or platform. Data is spread across multiple servers or no servers (and so it is hard or impossible to delete). Use Diaspora, GNU-social, Mastodon, Retroshare, Secushare, Cimba …. Platform agnostic or decentralized options have been around for years.

Decoupled data: The goal is freedom from corporate ownership of data, freedom from software dependency, data reusability and versatility of use. Data is separated from application software and is agnostic to what applications are used to access it. Use a universal database like G. Application agnostic data is far more rare than platform agnostic applications.

We need an information focused, broadcasting platform with application agnostic data. This is what we don’t have. This is what G is.

 

More information:

http://www.getgee.xyz/

Getgee synopsis: https://georgiebc.wordpress.com/2015/12/24/getgee-tools-for-self-governance-part-1/

Getgee transcript of talk: https://georgiebc.wordpress.com/2016/04/25/transcript-from-talk-about-getgee/

A societal singularity

“In 1968 people like Habermas, Marcuse, and Roszak invited us to see the role of scientific rationality in the maintenance of the existing social order and to examine critically whether that was the role which we wished expertise to play…. On the whole, we failed. … What was just about escapable then seems inescapable now.” – Robert Young, 1984i

The discouragement of those who have been in the trenches of the radical science movement for over half a century is understandable. Accepting defeat is not an option, however. Society without science, and without an effective way to integrate epistemic communities, will always be a society dissociated and easily controlled. Society with integrated scientific and epistemic communities may even yet save itself.

For years, science fiction writers and scientists have been enthralled with the idea of a technological singularity. They have looked forward to a day when technology will be beyond the scope of human understanding and artificial intelligence will be programming itself. Instead, we have reached a societal singularity where no one can understand every aspect of society which affects them We need to collaborate with others to create or develop products and even just to understand the news. We have to put our faith in other people and believe in what they tell us or trust in their skill to create their components. We need to somehow create nuanced and detailed information we can trust and coordinate goals with people we will never speak to.. Our societies are all connected now at some level with all of the other communities in the world, including even uncontacted tribes. This singularity is both unacknowledged and a core part of our societal functioning (and malfunctioning). Not only knowledge based industries but every level of governance depends on our management of communication and trust. The lack of integration between knowledge and the public is crippling our progress.

Representative governance and both the Great Man and the identitarian views of history present all human interaction as personality based. If there are community conflicts, our institutions assume the problem is one of personality management which can be solved by law enforcement. If social issues aren’t addressed, representative democracy assumes a demographic is under represented. Collaboration in a personality based system can only be by authority or consensus. Most workers do not enjoy authoritarian systems as they lose autonomy, mastery and creative control over their own work and rule is by coercion, not choice. Consensus is ideal for small, local, like-minded affinity groups, but it only works in groups of under twenty-five people, preferably two to eight. Consensus is not useful for large scale collaboration or collaboration that is separated by communication barriers or over time.

Neither knowledge based industries nor governance ought to be personality based and neither can operate effectively in that way. The goal of all knowledge industries, including governance, is to stimulate the public to action. The only effective and voluntary large scale method of action based collaboration is stigmergy1 and stigmergic action follows ideas, not personalities. Since knowledge industries want to trigger stigmergic actions, they ought to be focused on ideas.

murmur

Currently, knowledge communities act like closed, internationally linked, affinity groups at a level of expertise not accessible to the general public. Affinity groups are personality based and allow expertise to be held by gatekeepers controlling information flow between groups. While local, self-governing, affinity groups should have the ultimate authority of acceptance or rejection of ideas, they all need access to the expertise of international epistemic communities in order to make the choices which are right for them. A structure which allows gatekeepers to control information flow will create both demagogues and an easily manipulated public. Epistemic communities that develop and audit ideas should use transparent and permeable concentric circles to integrate ideas from the epistemic communities directly with the public.

In a governance context this means we won’t be electing personalities, we will be electing ideas. We won’t have representatives for groups of people, we will have concentric circles around ideas.

Academic and scientific journals were created so that everyone would publish and build off of each others findings, guiding stigmergic action. In reality, most research is not open source, it is frequently corporate IP property and it does not allow permissive copyright or even access. Outside contributions and auditing is not rewarded or even allowed. Science and academia are very far from acting as concentric circles integrating ideas with wider society. Their closed communities allow their work to be easily controlled by politicians and industry and very little stigmergic action results from it. Without stigmergy, their progress is not nearly what it could be. Science and academia require knowledge bridges, transparency and free information if they are going to truly act as epistemic communities for us all and stimulate mass action.

Stigmergy is a method of collaboration for mass movements, not organizations. The civil rights movement in the United States was a stigmergic movement which retained its clarity through successive generations because it set specific goals in each cycle, whether that was to end slavery, end segregation, or end police violence. When feminism meant fighting for the vote and legal personhood it also had a clear goal and was also a stigmergic mass movement, but second wave feminism allowed its goals to become very loose. Because there wasn’t a clear goal, second wave feminism was used to advertise corporate product and promote prominent personalities, primarily from the United States, who felt they could speak for every woman in the world on every topic. When feminism stopped following ideas, it stopped being a stigmergic movement and became a competitive, personality driven organization which then became completely divided, as is typical. Personality based organizations do not scale.

Stigmergy is made up of collaborative actions, not identitarian organizations or people. All identity politics results in personality based organizations which is why so many resistance movements, especially in the United States, collapse due to infighting. If mass movements rallied to stop rape, or street executions by police, or contamination of water, they would be very widely supported and unstoppable. Personality based organizations claiming victimhood as the exclusive product of one identity group have succeeded in stopping mass movements around all of these these stigmergic goals.

Stigmergy can scale to an entire population if support for an idea is unanimous and identity politics is not used to drive people away. Because stigmergy follows ideas, ideas are as important in stigmergy as personality management is in organizations. The single biggest factor for whether or not someone will participate in a stigmergic action is whether they are sure of the idea behind it. Whether it affects them, or if its simple to grasp or easy or even safe to do matters very little compared to their belief in the goal. This means the easiest way for someone to prevent action is to sow doubt in the goal. Finding the information we need for conviction in our goals in the collaborative structures we use today is not easy.

Most of the tools we have to help mass communication simulate direct democracy and look for popular ideas, the most shares and the most readers. Not only is popular not innovative or expert, the two are mutually exclusive. Popular ideas are riding the peak of the wave of socially acceptable opinion. They already appeal to the widest audience. They are not new ideas, by definition, and they aren’t at a level of elite expertise that is difficult for all but a few to understand also by definition. This is why we now elect politicians on the basis of their tweets and this is the secret for politicians like Donald Trump who speaks at a grade 3 level.ii The more easily understood and the less challenging the message, the wider its appeal will be. An age that amplifies the most popular information, as we do now, will be an age of demagogues.

Screen shot 2014-04-14 at 11.50.28 AM

It is counter intuitive to think popular ideas are what we need to give us the best information. We need both expert and diverse knowledge. If we want those making the decisions to hear the voices that are seldom heard, that may expand their Overton windows and give us some fresh perspective, or represent a rare case that will cause their solution to break, amplifying the most popular ideas or people is again the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing. This is what direct, representative and liquid democracy do however, so of course it is also what the tools for democracy have been doing. We have tools for voting, tools that are very useful to find out what a population thinks and tools that are great for discussing things in affinity groups and coming to consensus, but we need to also go to where opinions are formed. Opinions are based on information. We need to be able to find expertise and accurate and diverse information that we can trust before we form our opinions and long before we measure them.

Ideas need to be audited and promoted by people qualified to understand them both to allow diversity of ideas and to prevent the process from being dominated by celebrities without the expertise required. If we have an elite discussion group with only elite experts or ideas in it, we are at great risk of having an elite oligarchy based on control of information, like we have now. Concentric circles relate to sound amplification. In a concentric circle, people or ideas promoted to the center by their peer group receive greatest amplification and findings will be audited, amplified and explained to the general public by outer circles. Concentric circles are not hierarchical as they have no direct control over the actions of anyone. An epistemic community is a knowledge resource only. Authority remains with the entire user group which provides a good incentive for the epistemic community to ensure transparency and knowledge bridges so their ideas are accepted. As in stigmergy, votes in a concentric group are frequently replaced by actions. If an idea receives no amplification, it is just an idea that goes nowhere.

concentric

“I wonder if the world is full of middle-aged people still waiting for their peers to take in the full range, depth, subtlety, and profundity of their work.” – Robert Youngiii

With knowledge bridges, everyone does not need personal expertise on every aspect of society. As long as there is a transparent concentric circle, everyone can see the activity and get feedback if necessary. If there are a lot of people auditing and a lot of discussion and if the observers trust some of the people in these circles, they can trust the process and the ideas. Everyone can review the work of the experts both directly and through the review by their peers. Experts can also be created by the system itself as users develop knowledge and reputation and move towards the centre. This happens increasingly if users lose trust and they realize they need to start auditing a circle.

The vast majority of scientific and academic work is ignored as the public has no access or understanding and the scientific community has no time to examine everything. With a wider circle of auditors, outside the community of competitive peers, this work would not all be lost. Instead of doctors ignoring their patients for the latest paper from their colleagues or funding from the powerful, knowledge bridges would encourage community driven knowledge and research. Psychologists should not have the sole authority to decide what is normative. Anti-social or social acts should be decided by the society itself. Pharmaceutical industries and medical professionals cannot be allowed to ignore the lived experience of groups such as the Hearing Voices Network and Aphrodite Women’s Health forum. Science, even where it uses isolation, must also be tested as a part of the whole, and even where it relies on peer review, must be fully open to review and contribution by the wider society.

Science will tell us that the population of an isolated community has shrunk 3.5 centimetres in the last century. If they asked the people in the village, they may hear that one man was 5’4” and had 27 children and almost the entire town are now his direct descendants, but in today’s structure they rarely ask. Science will tell us that a woman died of a heart attack. Her village could tell us that she died of a broken heart because her son died. Science tells us how, but without the village, we will never understand why. Science today is not asking the village. They are too busy telling everyone that people can’t die of a broken heart and sneering at superstitious villagers. As Paul Richards outlines in Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, ebola was not being spread by eating wild meat as the international experts claimed. Villagers noticed it was the people who attended funerals who contracted the disease and adjusted their behaviours more effectively on their own. If the international epistemic community studying ebola had been communicating with the local affinity groups dealing with ebola, they all would have been a lot more effective. Instead of providing a one way flow of near useless information, researchers could have been acting as an integrated epistemic community and a valuable resource.

No one is or should be more afraid of the mob, of mob norms and mob decisions, than those outcast on the fringes. For those accepted into the scientific community, it is frequently the first social gathering where they can share their knowledge and interests and the only place they can speak freely with others at their level of knowledge on their topic of interest. If they guard the borders of their nation it is not solely from xenophobia. Without isolation from the public, scientists and other specialists have a very valid fear that they would no longer be permitted to work. The marauding hordes which some fear would overrun science and persecute a scientific minority do pose a very existential threat. With no society which understands their work, scientists would be marginalized, their social approval stolen by demagogues and their work misunderstood or lost. In a larger community, all would demand equal and democratic amplification on topics far beyond their understanding. The wider public will always be resentful of any research support they see as self indulgent and this resentment will be used politically. Particularly where there is no public access or obvious public merit, the public will never willingly fund science or elite knowledge. When information is controlled by demagogues, what is important loses to what is popular.

When left out in isolation, user groups can be as guilty of group narcissism as the scientists they criticize. As psychoanalysts looked to parenting as the cause of scizophrenia and other illnesses as part of their vilification of mothers, feminists seized anorexia nervosa and anorexia bulimia as evidence of the body shaming culture women and girls lived in. The physical areas of investigation such as hypoglycaemia and associated yeast infections and digestive issues were spurned as reams of paper and mainstream media was filled on this far more lucrative and politically satisfying line of inquiry.iv Any scientific finding that endorses popular bias will receive far more media attention, approbation and funding than that which discredits popular bias. Scientific or academic findings which strengthen identitarian groups will be spread and encouraged by those identitarian groups. Even science likes being appreciated and will respond to public acclaim. Wider community influences on science must guard against the biases of scientists, not promote their own. Science and all specialized study requires autonomy from popularity. Complete transparency is required so media does not selectively report and science does not selectively research in response to political pressure.

Any specialist epistemic community cannot produce any work of value if they are expected to be in constant communication with people at a level of understanding far below their own. Neither can they produce work if they are fending off political attacks by demagogues. Communication should not be the full responsibility of experts. The current demand for people in knowledge industries to go on speaking tours, delivering sound bites like performing monkeys, is a waste of their expertise and forced crowd pleasing for survival. Epistemic communities should be allowed to work and to communicate only when they choose, to whom they choose.

While every epistemic community requires a quiet place to discuss work with those at a similar level of understanding, and no expert should be required to submit themselves to the “lol. Fake news.” level of Internet discussion, their work should be both completely transparent and accessible for others to discuss and build on. Their ideas should be carried over expertise bridges by full transparency and user participation. The epistemic community in the centre should not need to protect themselves from demands or attacks from completely uninformed users or demagogues. The circles of expertise which promoted them to the centre should also verify and explain their findings to the outer circles. In addition, the epistemic communities themselves must be completely permeable to anyone with valuable input. It is only by allowing oppositional thought and transparent auditing that expert communities can protect their ideas from being blocked by uninformed demagogues.

Popular instances of political demagogues overthrowing expert recommendations rely on simple sabotage. The opponents to the Colombia peace deal and Brexit had no better alternatives devised, any more than most politicians seeking election have reasonable platforms. Platforms are less and less a focus in elections in any case, as media and public attention is taken over by discrediting attacks instead of alternative solutions. Science cannot be allowed to be discredited by ignorant demagogues. Like free software, existing science should only be opposed by alternative theory which can meet the same standards of scientific rigour. Science cannot prove that vaccinations are safe, so vaccine safety should only be opposed by those who can prove they are not. It is only possible for science to be opposed by worthy rebuttals if it is within the power of everyone to make worthy rebuttals, if their work is also reviewed and they have the access required to audit and investigate.

In open source software, the code for each project is available for all to see. Even if the end user cannot understand the code, they can go to discussion groups or listen to programmers who have read and audited the code, and they can read the bug reports. Any urgent bugs will be broadcast to the general population and amplified by media as we have seen many times. The people with the greater knowledge of the system will provide knowledge bridges for people at a more novice level and increasingly, that is how people are learning to code. Good ideas from forum discussions can be read and possibly implemented by the developers as well. Transparency goes both ways.

Open source software projects with forums open to all are a perfect working example of fully transparent and audited systems of elite knowledge. While the decisions are made by the developers, input, review and acceptance or rejection of the software is the right of the user group. If the developers refuse to listen to the user group and another development team is willing to work on the project, the original code can be forked and modified to meet the user requirements. This means existing ideas can only be opposed by another fully developed, open and transparent epistemic community which also must be audited by knowledge bridges. They can’t be attacked just by demagogues and rhetoric. They can only be opposed by another working solution, so the user group has a choice between two or more working solutions instead of simply rejection or acceptance. This is only possible if the information is free for anyone to use or modify. Ownership of ideas is in complete opposition to both stigmergy and concentric circles, so it is in complete opposition to rapid progress, finding the best solutions and self governance.

The open software movement has driven most technology based fields into a flat and accessible relationship with the public and social media has done the same for journalism. As people become more accustomed to real and participatory news and culture, they will demand the same of science and academia. As science and academia develop their own direct relationships with their user communities, they will be in a position to shun those in industry or politics who refuse to support them or attempt to manipulate them. Politicians and industrialists are not necessary in a fourth age societal structure. Knowledge industries are and it is essential that local affinity groups learn how to communicate and support them directly.

We can never have idea and action based governance without the reliable information provided by fully open, transparent, epistemic communities and knowledge bridges. The ability to create a body of knowledge for review must not be restricted to one class. Access to and ownership of our knowledge must be a human right.

1 Stigmergy is explained in greater detail in both Binding Chaos and Releasing Chaos.

Excerpted from Autonomy, Diversity, Society. Citations will be transferred when I get a minute.

Talk below about societal singularity, stigmergy and concentric circles. (In English)
 
 

The Intelligentsia

People think that our sole object is to amass gold. No one believes what we say. Like insolvent tradesmen we are without credit. – Pope Pius II, 1460i

The very justified resentment against science as a classist system of control and manipulation is being used as propaganda by the same corporations and politicians who used science as a tool of oppression. With the necessary public examination of science and academia has come an anti-elitist backlash where people are encouraged to trust no one: not science, governments, media, politicians or any authority. While misleading information will encourage people to act against their own interests, no information will immobilize them or encourage them to follow demagogues. This rejection of expertise has been used repeatedly in recent democratic votes to encourage the rise of uninformed or dishonest demagogues globally. The rise in misinformation and demagogues has in turn encouraged calls for even tighter control over information and official channels.

Now science itself, like journalism, is struggling to be heard over the demagogues and struggling even more for the trust of the classes below them. The trust and faith of the jaded and confused public is the most fought over resource today, with billions or trillions spent annually to procure it. Scientists and journalists understand even more than most that the very existence of humanity is in the balance. The corporate demagogues are (correctly) depicting intellectualism as bourgeoisii and (incorrectly) telling the public that ignoring experts is the same as overthrowing the elite and refusing to be manipulated. This blocks even the prior filtered access to knowledge the public used to receive and leaves people at the mercy of personality based governance and demagogues. Even ideas are conflated with ideology and people are discouraged from thinking about ideas because of previous massacres in the name of ideologies.

“Ironically, while this work should serve to improve the quality of scientific medicine, it is being used by some cranks to attack the scientific basis of medicine.” – Dr. Steven Novella, Are Most Medical Studies Wrong?

When a force which should be productive is under attack by a force which is certainly destructive, it is a natural feeling to delay criticism which may be used by the forces of destruction and to insist that now is not the time to suggest improvement. In the case of science and academia, immediate critique is not only necessary, it is crucial and urgent, but critique alone is not enough. Every time scientists and academics have taken a stand against power, they are threatened, expelled, imprisoned or executed. It is almost impossible for scientists and academics to reach the public directly without media and politically vulnerable appointments. Science can be undermined by demagogues because demagogues control communication between science and the public. We have to establish direct communication between epistemic communities and the wider public in order to remove power from demagogues. We have to build a protective network for knowledge preservation, auditing and dissemination. A time when knowledge is already under assault is the best time to establish this network.

In this era of no traditions, science in particular and information in general control our actions. Our true governance is through information. We will destroy humanity or save it based on information. Governance by the people requires knowledge as a societal right and a global commons. It should be the duty of all members of a self governing society to audit and share knowledge and promote and support its development. The ponzi schemes of academia and science shun anyone not in the citation circle and block access entirely to ideas and critique from outside of their class. Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook and Google all serve as propaganda control for states and corporations. Our collective knowledge should not be directed by corporations or exclusively available to a tightly guarded class, either for access or for contribution. We live under a supranational empire. We do not need secrecy over borders to protect knowledge from our enemies. The classes on top are the enemies of those below and they are maintaining their positions by the secrecy and idea ownership we allow them.

The solutions being recommended to the lethal ignorance of the public are headed in the wrong direction, towards more corporate control and a more accredited expert class. Journalists are wanting the internet reconstructed to give themselves credit and funding for each piece of information posted while they still grant neither to their subjects or sources. Scientists are encouraging even more secrecy and delayed publishing and less communication with media, much less the public.

The scientific class encourages those admitted into it to listen to their peers ahead of their patients and listen to local and unsanctioned knowledge only to steal credit. Science encourages binary division and branding of people and nature as mad / sane, dangerous / harmless or normal / abnormal according to the needs of industry and the powerful and to the detriment of the public. Science, academia and the media together encourage a cult-like devotion to pronouncements of one truth at a time instead of reflecting the nuance and uncertainty inherent in most research. Science views everything through a lens of corporate interest. Elite knowledge is still a product of wealth, leisure and access.

While the world has now amassed a vast quantity of knowledge and progression of that knowledge has grown exponentially since science and academia began, there is no reason to believe the creation of a scientific class brought the growth instead of the slope of progression we were already on. If instead of a closed class of scientists we had created open, permeable, epistemic communities, it is hard to not believe we would have made far less mistakes and far more progress in directions more beneficial to all of humanity. If the epistemic communities were open to the people, our information would not be so easy for demagogues and corporate interest to intercept and manipulate. Canada teaches mining to children as a ‘sustainable resource’ and bans scientific research as ‘anti-oil’ opinions. This and other Lysenkoism and educational propaganda is only possible if we do not all have direct access to all expert information through transparency and knowledge bridges.

Oral history taught us that people can accumulate knowledge in the collective mesh network of their brains and retain it with detailed accuracy for thousands of years. Guilds attempted to hoard that knowledge away from other stratas for their own enrichment and power. The new intelligentsia has often tried to be open and evolve but failed miserably because of a hierarchical classist structure that blocks input or access from the lower classes and puts knowledge in service to a tyrannical corporate empire. From the first age we can learn that if people have information they own, they will happily spread it, preserve it and use it in their daily lives. The second age guilds taught us that knowledge is power and if it is not shared, it is a recipe for tyranny. The third age has taught us that the public has no trust in information outside of their own class strata and they are justified in that lack of trust.

Whenever knowledge has helped secure an economic advantage it has been a source of conflict. Even old family recipes or other skill that might improve marriage possibilities have been guarded as tightly as guild secrets. Methods of preserving food, fishing spots and the ability to sew and maintain mukluks have in other times and places been as valuable to their possessors as silk, ermine or tulips. These secrets are no longer necessary for the survival of any person, just corporations.

Artists and all creative or knowledge based professions have fought to criminalize their audiences since copyright was invented. All recording technology since the player piano has had to fight artists who insisted their professions would be ruined by it. Rap deejays were the first to force mainstream acceptance of using other artists’ music in a mashup, opening up a huge pool of creativity that is still fighting for legal acceptance. As soon as people in both the free software movement and social media, started freely sharing their knowledge, industry found itself too dependent on the open source commons material to maintain their exclusive control. In all cases, the removal of exclusivity and knowledge gates brought an explosion of work and far greater diversity and expertise. Instead of responding to the obvious societal good in removing copyrights and patents, as the reasonable time for either has shortened, the time of ownership has been lengthened under international law.[cite]

There have been many suggestions for science to follow the lead of open source communities.iii In 2009, The Tropical Disease Initiative and several others attempted to encourage unpatented, open source drug discovery. Some initiatives such as Sci-Hub, an open access library of scientific papers established by neuroscientist Alexandra Elbakyan, have had better success by just ignoring the intellectual copyright laws and allowing the public access.1 Lately, the Open Science movement has been gaining traction, especially in the European Union with projects such as Facilitate Open Science Training for European Research (FOSTER) and various other initiatives and calls to action. The problem with all of these movements is they only involve publishing scientific data. Knowledge is not accessible unless the public can understand it. Epistemic communities require knowledge bridges to communicate with the public.

Science and journalism must evolve into systems for producing open, transparent, verified knowledge, free of powerful influence. Academia and journalism must become fully open, transparent methods of transmitting verified knowledge.

Our industrialized society has given us a backwards world where ideas are owned and personal data is not. While societal knowledge is held away from the public by gatekeeping laws and institutions, the personal details of the public is a product being examined and manipulated for politicians and the trade economy. The current goals of knowledge based capitalism continue the progression of supranational empire. The billionaires of silicon valley, like the financial and commodity industries, exist to create a new corporate ruling class overseeing a new age of corporate empire. What they produce is in service of empire, not greater society. The financial and commodity industries were set up to rob resources and enslave the rightful owners. The technology industries have created a global governance system designed around control and manipulation of information.

Academia is the primary institution where people are sorted and taught to sort each other, where the class systems are created and perpetuated. Those that decry the anti-intellectual tendencies of those on the bottom refuse to acknowledge the class system behind the hostility. It isn’t knowledge these people disdain, it is the class of people who refuse to allow them input or entry into the halls of debate. Knowledge and certification are hoarded behind a series of obstacles, only accessible after years of hazing to determine whether the recipients are suitable for entry into a homogenized class. Academia, like science, is a knowledge dictatorship. The wider public are barred from seeing the source of knowledge and expected to accept the filtered and packaged versions as truth. They are expected to acknowledge the superiority of the keepers of knowledge, when that superiority was granted by an external authority with no mandate from the people to create a superior class. This is not the same as an epistemic community that the people promoted themselves.

Academia is not a member of the communities it dictates to by virtue of the class floor built between them. Academia is used to bar people from the organizations which profess to speak for them. Human Rights Watch and many other organizations protecting the rights of those on the bottom demand a PhD for applicants seeking employment with them, barring entry to most of the people they are speaking for. Academic standing is used not just to bar people from economic classes and knowledge. Most borders are also open or closed depending on academic credentials and the laws dictating that were created by political and legal academics. Academia provides the majority of the visas to the supranational classes and so acts as the bureaucracy for a global eugenics program. While massive open online courses (MOOCs) have been an amazing development in bringing knowledge to the wider public and creating concentric circles of expertise and knowledge bridges around epistemic communities, the accreditation is still withheld by institutions and accessible only to those with money and time.

Not only does academia categorize students, it also spends far more time on assigning ideas and actions to categories or Great Men than it does in initiating or evaluating either. Students are rarely given ideas to audit and test and translate to action. They are instead given ideas to attribute by Great Man and categorize by ideology. They debate with sources and quotes instead of opposing ideas and actions, encouraging a public which follows personalities and ideologies instead of testing ideas and creating action. They are taught to worship solitary geniuses instead of being taught mass collaborative processes and how to use them. Academia is conducted like religious study, focused on what the great men said and meant instead of whether or not they were correct. The printing press created a rigor mortis for debate which the Internet should have cured, but academia slogs on in its old path with the same methods.

We no longer live in a world dominated by resource capitalism or industry. We live in a world dominated by information capitalism and information control. Industry had a direct source of conflict between workers and owners. Information simply has manipulation at the top and those at the bottom are largely unwitting and passive consumers. The intelligentsia is depicted as a meritocracy, a victimless elite as opposed to the industrialists victimizing factory workers.

Science hoards knowledge and uses it against the people and for the profit of corporations. Academia acts as gatekeepers to allow filtered streams of knowledge to a selected few. Journalism acts as a marketing agent for information which benefits the powerful. Academia sorts the people for future valuation by the trade economy and the law punishes those they deem without value. None of these institutions are by and for the people as they are all imposed by an outside class. None have a right to the confidence of the people and they receive none.

A people with no confidence in either their epistemic communities from the scientific class or their knowledge bridges from the academic and journalist classes is a people with no belief in ideas. With no ideas to follow in confidence, people will become cults following personalities which will become demagogues.

Societies do not transcend classes. If all knowledge is removed to a higher class, the lower classes will neither trust nor follow it. Without reliable knowledge, action will follow class demagogues.

1 Go to sci-hub.cc if you have difficulty finding any scientific papers cited in the endnotes of this book. Also consider supporting Elbakyan and the site in any way you can, she does not receive nearly the support or recognition deserved for her brave and extremely important work.

 

Excerpted from Autonomy, Diversity, Society. Citations will be transferred when I get a minute.

 

Radical science

“When capital enlists science in her service, the refactory hand of labour will always be taught docility.” – Andrew Ure, 1835i

The problems with the scientific community were hardly news to scientists. Joseph Needham was concerned in 1935 about the impact of “scientific opium”, “a blindness to the suffering of others” and “a ruthlessness derived from the very statistical character of the scientific method itself” which “may too easily be applied to human misfits and deviationists in the socialist world order”. He addressed the scientific zeal to overcome all the evils of existence with the warning, “the problem of evil is not capable of so simple a resolution.”ii

After the atomic bomb was used in World War II, the world’s scientists enjoyed a boom in the United States in service to its ever-expanding military. The military expanded science and science expanded military in an all encompassing death dance that dwarfed all other funding and absorbed vast quantities of scientific thought and global potential. At this point scientists were not responding solely to their own very ample bigotries. They were being trained with military propaganda and their findings were spun by military propagandists. US President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous 1961 speech warning of the military industrial complex reminded us, “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present.”iii Any of science’s already tenuous claims at being apolitical and ideology free died during the science race of the cold war. J.D. Bernal wrote in 1958, “The only time I could get my ideas translated in any way into action in the real world was in the service of war.”iv The militarization and commodification of science was a fait accompli.

There were many efforts initiated in the 20th century to widen the perspective of scientists and to stop those projects which were destructive to humanity in favour of those which would be beneficial. Protests over scientists’ participation in weapons of mass destruction and exploitation of the environment were held in the late sixties, including the formation of the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science (BSSRS) in 1969. The Edinburgh branch of BSSRS helped run a teach-in about pollution which was attended by an estimated thousand people in 1970.v “It becomes essential to take binding steps which cut off one’s line of retreat… we have to fix it so they wouldn’t have us back even if we wanted to come.” Robert Young declared in 1977.vi

anti-oppression-salute-ne-010

By the 1980s, the removal of most research out of universities and into top secret research facilities muzzled dissent and greatly reduced awareness of what science was doing.vii The development of Science and Technology Studies (STS) to study the relationship between scientific knowledge, technological systems, and society was a painful attempt to study the impact of scientific isolation from society from an academic vantage point still isolated from society.viii The earlier radical science movement was often explicitly socialist, even explicitly Marxist. After the political failures of communism and technological utopia, striving for any type of political end fell very out of favour. Scientific circles sought to remove politics and ideology from their organizations and work entirely, returning to 1926 when Martin Heidegger declared “the end of philosophy”, and claimed that “science does not think”.ix

Of course, this was the equivalent of burying their heads in the sand as outside the lab, in the offices of their directors and funders, they were owned by politics and capitalist ideology. As journalism loses any claims of being unbiased as soon as it selects a topic as newsworthy, science is not apolitical as soon as it selects a topic of study. Science does not follow purely intellectual inquiry in pursuit of the greatest understanding. Science is not a science. Science has been a means of allowing officially accepted truths to emanate from only one class under direction from the ruling class. What scientific thought is doing much of the time is no more or less than what this book is doing: providing one framework out of a vast array of different possible frameworks and choosing to view the world through that framework and study only the issues that make up that framework. This can be a very helpful exercise for providing a certain perspective but it certainly does not result in a single indisputable truth.

“Scientists always stomp around meetings talking about ‘bridging the two-culture gap’, but when scores of people from outside the sciences begin to build just that bridge, they recoil in horror and want to impose the strangest of all gags on free speech since Socrates: only scientists should speak about science!” – Bruno Latour, 1999x

The much resisted opening of the knowledge hoarded by science, as well as long overdue scrutiny of the activities of scientists, has brought a great deal of very valid criticism of both. The slur that anyone who questions them is anti-science is ironically used to silence anyone who questions the methods and motivations of scientists. The idea that criticism or a demand for transparency is an attack, or that any criticism is dangerous and anti-knowledge, is simply more evidence of the scientific class acting like a closed and extremist cult instead of a method of producing verified knowledge. This is the reaction of an elite class outraged and panickedxi that anyone is questioning their authority and control over knowledge, much like news media did before them. If scientists are no longer an ingroup with very different rules for their outgroups, then everyone must be free to examine them just as they examine everyone. Despite the very popular and publicly redeeming efforts of the scientific community in the work to protect the environment, and the fight against industry for acceptance of scientific findings on the environment, there is still no integrated structure of public audit or transparency.

Thomas Kuhn could point out in 1962 that science viewed the world through a series of periodically revolutionized paradigmsxii but the same critique from the poststructuralists outside the scientific community was met by enough hostility that the critique and reaction were popularly dubbed the Science Wars of the 1990s. In Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Sciencexiii Paul Gross and Norman Levitt insist that those who question them do not believe in reality itself. Who but science could claim that only they know reality and they alone are influenced by nothing? We are to believe they create their ideas directly from the primordial soup, a godlike feat indeed. This unquestioning belief that science has the sole key to facts and reality has given us an educational system that graduates people more ignorant than when they went in. There is a point in the process of being educated on a topic when the student is full of information and convinced they have all the facts and solutions. If education progresses and experience is broadened, they will discover nuance and context and layers of alternating perspectives and realize they have only ideas which may or may not bring the results they are hoping for. Without this broadened perspective, scientists become more convinced in their own infallibility, or at least superiority. At least the uneducated understand their own ignorance.

The highly inaccurate and unscientific idea that the challengers of science are The Academic Left is an invitation to further persecute that subsect of academia who were already purged from academia and driven from their jobs in the west during the cold war. In a brief exchange with a New York Review of Books literary criticxiv the authors also bring the critic’s leftist politics to the forefront in the first paragraph of their rebuttal. For a pair of scientists intent on proving that science is apolitical, it is obvious that mentioning someone’s political beliefs is their go to method of lumping all of their critics together and discrediting all of their beliefs based on one political belief. The Academic Left is also a not very veiled reminder that the ideas of everyone who is not a caucasian man are still superstition. Others may acquire education but then their ideas are just “higher superstition”. The reference to “the left” is also a nod to the history of radical science which attempted to warn the world about environmental destruction and weapons manufacturing in the 1960s and 1970s. A 1977 Daily Mail article foreshadowed the 1994 book when it depicted a BSSRS action against the British Science Association as “the Left has Science by the throat” with no acknowledgment that the BSSRS were also scientists.

The political accusations are also meant to imply that the authors are, by defending the status quo, apolitical. Establishment scientists see themselves as an international class like Olympians, and like Olympians, they see themselves as apolitical while standing on politically funded podiums representing political alliances. The co-option of science by industry is depicted as the conventional stance and the fight for science for humanity is depicted as a fringe attack on science. The casting out the Left from science and the depiction of all opposition as the Left is nothing if not political. Choosing the status quo is not the same as being apolitical or non-ideological. Higher Superstition claimed an agenda by “postmodern and feminist critics, AIDS activists, environmentalists, animal rights advocates and others”xv against “reality”. It is not hard to discern in their defense of reality a political defense of the supremacy of the status quo and the exceptionalism of the wealthy, western man.

flask

BSSRS cartoon about sexism in science

It is only with no connection at all to reality that a person could fail to notice, particularly in the 1990s, the neglect of diseases such as AIDS (or now ebola), the lack of representation of women and minorities in test results or the experimentation on lower classes for the benefit of higher classes. The reality science described was of course a reflection of the bigotries and group narcissism of the scientific community. Scientists’ insistence on presenting themselves as a pure meritocracy depends on public acceptance of this reality. Valuations of people which place IQ above strength or kindness and compensate years of university ahead of shortened life expectancy is part of the reality science has created for us. The group narcissism of scientists sees itself as the standard and lashes out at the slightest criticism. Like a traveler in Einstein’s elevator they are not fit to measure or even detect the elevator they are traveling in.

scienceforpeople

Cartoon from Science for People, issue 43

As Gary Wersky described in 2007, “The conviction grew in some that, far from being allies in the fight against ‘higher superstition’, STS ‘social constructionists’ had joined hands with an academic left made up of feminist scholars and postmodernist English professors in an unholy conspiracy to undermine the legitimacy and authority of science.”xvi By depicting all critics as a block of uniform opinion and politically motivated ideology and depicting all criticism as an existential threat, science slammed and bolted the doors to constructive (or deconstructive) criticism. This lack of acceptance of outside critique led to criticism being formed outside of the community instead of in tandem with it. Such criticism was then rejected by scientists who complained it frequently lacked both understanding and intellectual rigour. Science refused any meaningful use of outside critique and forced all interested parties into two parallel and uncommunicating streams. Science lost the opportunity to open their epistemic communities and create knowledge bridges which would provide much needed critique in a rigorously vetted and usable standard. They instead left their critics free to collect an outside audience to view both the closed hostility of the scientific community and any sometimes poorly founded sniping of those outside. The public is now left with a choice between acceptance of the wildest of conspiracy theorists or blind faith in the closed and frequently sociopathic science industry because scientists refuse to be questioned by those they very transparently see as inferiors.

The distrust sown and never reconciled was easily exploited by demagogues such as Thatcher and Reagan. Science became even more isolated and alienated from a misunderstanding and judgmental public and even more did they require the protection of their exploiters from government and industry. The hostility perplexed Bruno Latour as he wrote “Far from not believing in reality, surely science studies has added reality to science.”xvii But the reality added by science studies was reality from the perspective of outgroups and it polluted the clear lens of the scientific community, the only view accepted by them as the one clear reality. “How could we be pitted against the scientists?” Latour wondered. “Are biologists anti-life, astronomers anti-stars, immunologists anti-anti-bodies?” Sadly, the answer is not a clear no. Scientists, from the time science first decided that nature would reveal its secrets more readily under torture, have most often taken positions in opposition to the objects of their study. Scientists who are so suspicious of science studies may be projecting from their own relationship to those they study.

“The duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth is his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and … attack it from every side.” Hasan Ibn al-Haytham 1011-1021

Whether science likes it or not, science is a part of a wider community and impacts a wider community and must be audited by and transparent to all those they affect. The insistence that we are to believe that all scientific and industrial developments are safe until proven unsafe or that we are to trust regulatory boards and studies commissioned and funded by the very industry that would be profiting from it are not reasonable. Those scientists who see doubt of them as a lack of respect for their higher ranking, and their doubt of the experiences of the lower classes as healthy skepticism, must be overruled. Outside critique must be integrated within the process of science and not seen as an enemy attack. The scientific method must be expanded to include integration and feedback with the entire society and ecosystem impacted.

The most persistent complaint of scientists is that their critics do not have the knowledge to critique them usefully. The Socal hoax in 1996 involved a physicist convincing a small academic journal to publish a parody of the worst of scientific critique as evidence of their lack of scientific rigour. He was asked to change all of the worst elements of the article and refused. The journal published his article in the end in deference to his scientific credentials as he was the only natural scientist who had submitted to their Science Wars edition and thus they became the butt of the hoax. Despite the fact that he proved they “felt comfortable publishing an article on quantum physics without bothering to consult anyone knowledgeable in the subject”xviii he also proved much more than he set out to do.

Social Text was a small publication in no way to be confused with a professional science journal. The alternative takeaway from the Socal Affair is that journals show deference to the scientific community over those trying to be heard from the outside, even in the most sympathetic of editions of the most sympathetic of journals. He also proved that journals will publish a certified expert even when it is obvious to them that his methods and conclusions are not of a professional standard. The Socal Affair did not prove that this same deference was afforded to anyone not recognized as an expert and the journal’s response that “Less well known authors who submit unsolicited articles to journals like ours may now come under needless suspicion”xix intimated that he had aggravated the credibility divide. The fact that science’s gossip magazine Lingua Franca published Socal’s exposé with no opportunity for rebuttal given to the journal even further shows the double standards between the two worlds as does the fact that Socal suffered no professional repercussions for his outgroup hoax which would certainly not have been tolerated within the community of professional scientific journals. Socal’s depiction of the outside critics as “barbarian hordes”xx did more to illustrate the problem with science than the problem with its critics. Science responded to perceived criticism that they were an isolated and narcissistic community with demands for isolation and proof of group narcissism.

The unfortunate part of this reaction is not just the loss to science but also the loss to its critics. There were a great many valid criticisms that needed to be made about the excesses of reactionary poststructionalism in the 1990s, and we are feeling the repercussions from the lack of correction today. The idea grew among the political descendants of radical science that a lack of cultural hegemony had contributed to the failure of Marxism, so they invested more and more into identity politics. Rojek and Turner in 2000, while once more depicting science critics in the U.K. as Left-wing, also contributed valid points. They critiqued the critics own group narcissism including “the self image …[that cultural studies] are closer to material reality” and “its own variety of moral arrogance, intellectual narrowness and over-confidence”. They asserted that cultural studies contributed to revising power relationships primarily at an aesthetic level, was deeply politicized and magnified current local conditions over broader and historical trends. They pointed out the negative and reactive nature of postmodernism which produced “an undecideable sea of micro-relationships” and “the privileging of the cultural over the social and economic”. They also claimed that postmodernism “Although profoundly politicized … has no tenable or sustained political agenda” and accused its proponents of careerism.xxi

Seventeen years later, it is obvious that the above criticism was valid and ought to have received more discussion and resolution. Instead, each side progressed in hostile and opposing thought bubbles, each pointing at how bad the other is, like two political parties. Neither side included the wider public and neither offered solutions to use criticism more effectively. Anger sells and pointing out faults is easy. Solutions are difficult to develop, difficult to explain and risky to implement. Far fewer people read scientific papers than social media. Criticism of a broad societal hierarchy devolved into the rise of micropolitics and the social media microcelebrity hierarchy. Dissidence became a career, not a means to a solution. Division and hostility sell. The everything is political post modernists of academia brought us the everyone is a demographic politicians of representative democracy and the every microaggression is a career thought leaders of Twitter.

The division of dissent into packets of identity politics allowed scientific establishment to appease the individual sects with initiatives of political correctness. The radical science of the 1960s and 1970s, which fought issues such as weapons, environmental destruction and technologies of political control, were transformed into institutions for cultural studies and feminist critiques. Radical magazines like Science for People, Radical Science Journal and Undercurrents were replaced by sectarian courses of study, politically pleasing, reactive, narrow in perspective and low on facts. Radical science had also been concerned with inclusion of marginalized groups but today it is the issues which are marginalized. A war which was to fight the direction humanity was taking was reduced to a war over whether all sects were properly represented in our mutual destruction.

Thanks partly to its critics, science has lost all of its metanarratives. There is no longer a goal specific to science, or none which is acknowledged. There is a purpose to all action, and where it is not defined by the actor they will follow a purpose assigned to them. In the case of science, they follow their funders and their purpose is to exploit the earth and its inhabitants for maximum profit. Even where scientists fight against the destruction of the earth in its entirety, that is in line with their capitalist mandate. They are still enabling the exploitation of each piece of it individually. The idea that science is too impartial and apolitical to follow a metanarrative is contradictory to the very existence of science. Science once defined itself and its claim to reason as the very essence of humanity, as the higher purpose of humanity’s existence and as proof of humanity’s superiority. Without the idea of collecting, cataloguing and expanding all the knowledge of humanity, science would never have existed much less had a singular goal to follow with such religious zeal. The scientific community needs to once more clearly define its purpose.

It is not enough for science to be separated from malevolence by a few degrees to claim to be apolitical. The benefits to the scientific community of alliance with militaries and governments is a loss for collaboration and global knowledge. A movement which, for all its faults, existed to build commons knowledge for the betterment of humanity willingly walked into secret chambers to work for the destruction of humanity. Autonomy for groups in society is a privilege granted by the wider societies. This privilege can and should be lost when the group begins to act in a manner which is a danger to the wider society. The autonomy and trust enjoyed by many in the higher stratas of knowledge, religion and politics has been proven repeatedly to be dangerous to all of their out groups. These groups can no longer be organized in isolated and autonomous stratas. The work of scientists affects entire communities not in their stratas. Input from and transparency to the rest of the user groups is essential.

Excerpted from Autonomy, Diversity, Society. Citations will be transferred when I get a minute.

Objective cruelty

“The socialist society must therefore guard against taking over from science too much of scientific abstraction, scientific statistical ruthlessness, and scientific detachment from the individual.” – Joseph Needham, 1935i

The religious and political ideologies celebrating individualism and liberty were established to justify the use of the earth and all people and animals on it by a very restricted class of men. The restriction of science and academia to this same group developed the tools and further justification for exploitation. The popular individualism did not translate into autonomy for women over their bodies or indigenous people over their land. Europe’s scientific revolution occurred during a time when Europe was rejecting the bureaucratic patriarchy1 system of rule which had crushed their peasantry since the middle ages. It was necessary to create racism to replace religious bigotry as justification for slavery and land theft in the Americas, especially in the United States which espoused religious freedom. It was also necessary to replace patriarchy as a justification for the subjugation of women in the new fraternal order of the west.2 This new fraternal order was headed by the new men of science and scholarship, particularly after they broke the guilds’ control of information, so they set to creating explanations and justifications for their new order.

The push to isolate and classify everything and the reverence accorded to any opinions from the scientific class both established and justified sexism and racism. The sadism towards and dehumanization of everyone not in their class served to both establish an ingroup with no outside loyalty and to justify the exploitation of all outside of it. The exceptionalism of this group established by the new ownership and access to knowledge fed group narcissism within and dependency without, entrenching the racism and sexism that established it. Like religion, science was used to create division in service to the trade economy. Unlike religion, which was used to divide people into opposing societies, science was used to divide global society against the lowest classes.

In its war against all indigenous and female forms of knowledge, science created a near religious cult of nihilistic reason, a supposedly male faculty which celebrated a sociopathic disregard for animals, humans other than educated caucasian men and even the earth itself. Science as a religion was complete with prophets and promises to rid the world of evil and hardship through enlightenment. The saviour mentality that came with science, promised to free us all from drudgery, illness and even death, through finding all the truths. Acceptance or acknowledgment of scientific ideas or progress came with demands for unquestioning faith based devotion to both the ideas and the prophets. Any excesses of sadism and destruction were justifiable if they were depicted as a sacrifice to the twin gods of science and the trade economy as both were to be the path to our salvation. Any humanitarian concern was contemptuously compared to old traditions and religions and said to block progress. Human rights and environmental activists that opposed scientific nihilism or industry were depicted as naive, childlike and overwhelmingly female and indigenous as opposed to wise, professional, caucasian men.

Descartes assured the world that animals felt no pain on vivisectionii, contrary to the knowledge of people everywhere who lived with, observed and frequently worshiped animals. He and other scientists wrote that animal reactions were purely mechanical just as the same group of men were attempting to convince the courts that women’s tears were not to be trusted. The insistence that animals and the earth were given to man for his use and exploitation echo the claims that women were intended only for childbirth. The denial of the reality or importance of the pain of animals echoes the insistence that women were intended to experience extreme pain and frequent death in childbirth. Torture was justified by the pursuit of knowledge, in persecution of witches and terrorists and in science.

Eco-feminists of the 1970s forward have frequently pointed out the similarity in rhetoric when describing the scientist attitude towards the earth and its role as a thing to be exploited by trade and the rhetoric towards women and their role in lifegiving. The push to maximize production beyond need or the safety of women or the earth and the justification of anything sacrificed to the great trade economy god show the same ideology behind both. Mother nature was treated by the same principle as mothers, if they died fulfilling their role it was god’s wish or their destiny.

Freud called women the “dark continent”iii in a comparison with the uncolonized regions of Africa. Carolyn Marchant Bacon has found a great deal of similarity between the scientific exploration of nature and the Inquisition’s investigation of the secrets of witchcraftiv, not surprisingly as the same group of academic men were discussing both. “In 1696 Leibniz wrote about “the art of inquiry into nature itself and of putting it on the rack—the art of experiment which Lord Bacon began so ably.” Four years later, Jean Baptiste du Hamel, secretary of the Paris Academy of Sciences, wrote, “We discover the mysteries of nature much more easily when she is tortured [torqueatur] by fire or some other aids of art than when she proceeds along her own road.”v The belief that witches had power over nature which the scientists jealously sought to own and the respect accorded to the knowledge of witches which scientists also wanted for themselves, made the two wars against witches and against nature even more connected.

Experiments which would horrify the wider society have been a common theme in science since its establishment and continue today.vi The need to develop a collaborative body of knowledge had to be tempered by the need to restrict knowledge of its activities from the wider society. The preexisting class of scientists was therefore entrenched by limited access and restriction of scientific research to only their class. This restriction further exacerbated the racism and sexism science was born with and produced an ever-expanding list of atrocities conducted by scientists on those in classes below them. Ingroups are partially created by shunning and cruelty to outgroups and the intensity of the cruelty contributes to the intensity of the ingroup bonding.3 The scientific preference for reason over passion, or scientific experiment over sympathy, empathy or love, provided fertile ground for this cruelty. The scientific class then used their own standards and culture to pronounce what is normative for all societies, to depict sociopathy as incurable and the supposed greater good as justification for atrocities.

The continual harassment of nature and people is not simply for knowledge. In the world run by the trade economy that knowledge must find a use and a buyer.

Scientists did not just study the world around them, they also used their power as the arbiters of knowledge to recommend actions, not least in the way we ought to treat each other. Darwin told the world that hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed.”vii and hoped both that the “weaker and inferior” humans would refrain from marriage and that open competition would be encouraged which would allow the most able to succeed best. The trade economy trained people to look up at those more advantaged instead of down at those less advantaged and to feel envy instead of pity. Those who spent their lives striving for more advantages for themselves instead of assisting those more disadvantaged found a perfect moral justification in Darwin’s expert opinions.

Unlike some of his fellow scientists such as Arthur de Gobineauviii, Darwin did not believe in racial superiority or even different races of humans and he was a slavery abolitionist. These qualifications are commonly used to excuse him of promoting eugenics. It is only possible to excuse his writings in a world so fixated on the idea of race that they do not see class. Darwin was certainly wishing the lowest classes would cease to exist. The trade economy has continued to carry his survival of the fittest ideas forward to the unnecessary misery of billions, with very few objections. Mass murder is only considered genocide if it is against a nation or a fictional race. The extermination of the bottom class is still considered part of the natural order as preached by the scientific community. As Gary Wersky has pointed outix, that “weaker and inferior” bottom class included the unemployed. Hitler’s T4 Program was only following the popular international eugenics movement when it ordered execution of anyone deemed a burden on society, that society being defined as corporations. Valuation of people according to scientists was and is the same as the corporate valuation. The earlier fad of IQ testing is today largely replaced by academic testing but the corporate standards continue and the misery assigned to those who fail also continues. Herding people into slums based on the idea of race is now decried but herding people into slums based on corporate valuation is widely accepted. The eugenics program called economics continues.

Eugenics, and periodic other justifications of active or passive mass murder, are not an example of scientists putting reason over emotion. They are an example of the scientific class advocating cruelty to an outgroup. If scientists truly wanted to improve the human species, they would be investigating solutions to the tropical diseases and dysentery killing children more than male pattern baldness and erectile dysfunction.[cite] No scientist has pointed out that the wealthy are contributing the least labour to society. Instead of advocating that these most unproductive members of society be expelled from the nest (as capitalist reason may dictate), scientists are testing blood transfusions to allow the wealthy to feed off the young to extend their youth [cite] and preserving only that number of the young required to maintain the elderly. Scientists also continually experiment on prisoners and the poor for the benefit of the higher classes who can afford their products. Scientific reason is really economic advantage.

Neither are Darwin’s recommendations an isolated incident of a scientist unwittingly saying something which causes real world harm. Scientists have been protected for years by the claim that they are just seeking knowledge and they can’t control where their funding comes from, but scientists have been an actively participating part of every atrocity being committed against the general public for many years. From experimenting on prisoners for the cosmetics industry to torturing people for the military to creating surveillance and weapons worldwide, the scientific class has been as complicit as the industrial or political classes in maintaining oppressive tyranny and far less accountable than either. Protection from the public by both secrecy and limited access, dependency on the powerful for their own right to exist and an overwhelming group narcissism which celebrates the distance between themselves and the classes below them, have isolated the scientific class from empathy with the humanity they study and experiment on.

Intellectual justification for mass atrocities was taken from theology to science as science began to play god. The idea of ideal vs defective people replaced good and evil, but the defective were condemned just the same. Scientific labeling and categorization, the greater good, utilitarianism, reason over empathy and the justification of improving nature were used in aid of mass atrocities in the politics of both the left and the right. The concept of the greater good relies on an affiliated group being defined which will benefit from shunning those it considers harmful. Like theologists and capitalists, scientists were not all guilty or even acquiescent with the atrocities aided by some. They are all however, participating in and enabling a class structure which enables and ignores atrocities to its outgroups.

Scientists and academics stand with their own as strongly as every other class and far more effectively than most. Dr. Aubrey Levin headed a South African apartheid era torture program which used methods such as chemical castration, electric shocks and incomplete sexual reassignment surgery as a cure for homosexuality. After almost two decades of torture on mostly teenage boys drafted into the military, ending in 1989, he was licensed in Canada and employed by the university of Calgary until he was arrested on unrelated charges of sexual assault on male patients in 2010. Dr, Albert Kligman was a multi-millionaire who became rich after violating the Nuremburg Code against testing on prisoners for two and a half decades. He exposed hundreds of prisoners to the toxic chemical used in Agent Orange and many pathogens and was never prosecuted. These are two of an inestimable number of medical practitioners and scientists who have never, despite all professional codes of conduct, suffered professionally for their atrocities committed in support of power or pursuit of personal wealth. A 2015 independent review of the American Psychological Association (APA) found the organization “suppressed internal dissent from anti-torture doctors; cleared members of wrongdoing” in support of CIA torture programs.”x These are the people who define what is normative behaviour in the United States. The public can vote against or overthrow politicians and boycott or strike against industrialists, but there is very little recourse against scientists.

People can be conditioned to feel very differently about their ingroups than those outside. While empathy can certainly extend to all living creatures, people can also be taught to vilify anyone unfamiliar. It is easier to persuade people to kill an insect than a lizard and easier to persuade them to kill a lizard than a kitten. It is also easier to persuade a population to kill a woman, someone from a different ethnic group or people from a lower class if those groups are habitually vilified and presented as different and not included in the ingroup. Science has consistently used the lowest classes as a product or testing ground for the upper classes and consistently ignored the most vulnerable in favour of the most profitable.

These facts are not lost on the lower classes who do not bother depending on the scientific class for their expertise and go back to fixing their own problems. The limited resources at their disposal are still better than being experimented on or ignored. In Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, Paul Richards, describes how, after the world ignored the ebola epidemic outbreak, the villagers discovered that the expert advice being given to them was wrong and that they were more effective with their own solutions.xi The term People’s Science recalls the 1970s radical science publication Science for Peoplexii  and is a perhaps unintentional reminder that the other science is most certainly not of the people.

In a world where we are governed by highly specialized epistemic communities of elite knowledge, it is essential that there is broad diversity in those communities. Corporate, scientific and academic propaganda since colonization in all parts of the world has depicted care and connectedness to the environment as aboriginal sentiments, implying bizarrely that some inhabitants of earth are not aboriginal and even more bizarrely that care for one’s own home and life essentials is cultural. This served the dual purpose of both ghettoizing environmental concerns as minority issues and inhibiting those labeled as non-aboriginal from speaking about concerns that were decreed the cultural property of others. This ghettoization and marginalization tactic was also used with women. Destruction of families and homes and abusive treatment of children were first depicted as feminist issues and then feminism was redirected to uphold a corporate ideal instead.

The objectification and othering of women and indigenous cultures was used to block any potential empathy with them or the causes they were associated with. By attaching all human social needs to these two vilified groups, capitalist power was able to marginalize the human social needs themselves. The environment, children and all human society that did not relate to capitalism was cast into a human rights ghetto and declared not real news. The survival of the poor was tacitly agreed to be not in the interest of the greater good. The only topics considered worthy of serious study were those which isolated and commodified little pieces of nature or humanity so they could be marketed for profit. The scientific religion that was supposed to bring salvation for us all sold their interest in those at the bottom for increased corporate profit.

The scientific class will never cease to be used as an oppressive tool as long as access and input to knowledge are restricted by class and dependent on political and corporate approval. Unlike politicians, industrialists and theologians, the world needs scientists and all of our knowledge industries. If the scientific community is to cease being an oppressive tool, it must become fully autonomous and separated from political and industrial power. If the world is to benefit from the epistemic communities we desperately need to progress, the scientific community must become transparent to and inclusive of the wider public.

 

1 Not the real form of clan based patriarchy as practised in the Greek and Roman empires and still throughout the Middle East but the mimicking form encoded into state, church and bureaucracy as described in Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha. In this dissociated form, women such as Queen Elizabeth I of England and Queen Isabella I of Spain could be powerful without disrupting the structure.

2The transition from the patriarchy to the fraternity in Europe is discussed in much more detail in the second book in this series, Exceptional Lives.

3Shunning and inclusion is discussed in much more detail in the third book in this series, Outcast.

Excerpted from Autonomy, Diversity, Society. Citations will be transferred when I get a minute.

People are means of destruction

If we compare the natural duties of a Father with those of a King, we find them to be all one, with no difference at all except in their latitude or extent. As the Father over one family, so the King, as Father over many families, extends his care to preserve, feed, clothe, instruct and defend the whole commonwealth. – Robert Filmer, Patriarcha[cite]

For any society to exist, there must be creators and protectors working for the society. All adults were usually needed in both roles, providing shelter and food and creating the physical assets of a home such as tools, clothing, blankets and art and building the social structure of the society. In most times and places, there have also been highly gendered roles. The women gave birth and did the majority of the early child care and men assumed more of the protector roles, both in defending the tribe and their assets in conflicts and in representing the tribe in outside negotiations with possibly unfriendly neighbours. In these societies, strength, bravery and generosity to the tribe were the most admired attributes of any man. The power of social approval was strong enough in most tribes that people, especially men, would face certain death for a favourable place in their tribe’s history.

As societies grew, many turned into patriarchal clans. In these societies, men were not just members of the tribe, sharing duties and receiving benefits as equals. The common protective role assumed by men became the role of a disciplinarian parent. The father-ruler in these clans was the embodiment of law and order. They made all the decisions for the clan and were to be obeyed without question. They meted out punishments to any who disobeyed and resolved conflicts with more punishments. The love and gratitude a tribe felt for their warriors became awe and fear for these patriarchs.

A structured class difference was created with patriarchs above the clan and men above their own families. As with all class barriers, people became isolated from each other by power and fear. Men in these societies felt the love they once earned replaced by respect at best, fear at worst. Communal sharing of responsibility was replaced by complete authority where the patriarchs were expected to have all answers for everything that occurred in their domain. The subjection of women infantilized women but it also made parents of men and placed formerly shared responsibility on the shoulders of only men. The shame men once felt for personal failure was now shame for the failure of anyone in their clan. With greater responsibility came greater tyranny and deeper class divide between men and the source of their approval.

Lately it has become common to equate patriarchy with oppression of women by men. Patriarchy is simply oppression, of women and men, by a class structure that infantilizes those at the bottom and burdens those at the top. It was not women who overthrew the patriarchy in Europe, it was men. While women fought alongside men, it was men who designed the future structure of society, summed up in the cry for Liberté! Egalité! Fraternité! The cry for liberty was a cry for freedom of men, both freedom from subjection by a patriarchal ruler and freedom from responsibility for all of society. The responsibility and isolation of men in a patriarchal society was frequently empty and unrewarding. The call for fraternity was a call for brotherhood, for a society of equals who would meet without demanding anything of each other. Since that call, libertarian men have fought for their independence from responsibility to society and insisted that the principle of equality means all are equally able to care for themselves. Most industrialized communities are no longer patriarchal. They are nearly all fraternal. The fraternity denies responsibility to society and in return receives no approval from society. Approval from others is the life force for humanity, our single greatest motivator. Life without approval is an empty shell.

For those men that remained committed to service to their communities and maintained their old roles as caregivers and protectors, they found their communities deeply changed. While the trade economy was teaching women that they were parasites and lucky to be enslaved, it was teaching men that they could only buy acceptance, love and society. As societies became more dissociated, generosity to the entire village or clan was replaced by a man building the personal wealth of his own immediate family. Jobs went from being of service to your village in exchange for approval from your village to being of service to corporate industrialists or militias in exchange for currency. The former great men who protected and served the villages became industrialists who exploited and attacked the other villagers.

The social motivation was the exact same. The men still craved the approval of their societies but approval which had been gratitude for service became approval of wealth. Currency became a dissociated form of approval that you could keep in the bank and spend at will. A rich man could walk down the streets of a village and receive attention and gifts just as a hero could earlier. These men still crave the same things their earlier forebears did: celebrity, political leadership, high social ranking, a place in history, and most of all, approval.

The difference is not in the men but in the social structure they are now acting in. Instead of being in service to society, these men are in service to industry which is usually in direct opposition to the best interests of their society. The role of a great man has been perverted to mean its opposite. Those once celebrated as being society’s great protectors and creators are now given a monetary simulation of approval for being society’s great destroyers. Their labour which would once have brought them approval from all members of their society and attention from their love interests, now brings them media celebrity and flattery from the hurricane of vampires and sycophants orbiting the ponzi schemes of wealth and celebrity. The men who gain wealth to marry a beautiful, young woman and then complain that she married them for their wealth know what they are missing but not how to attain it.

The dissociation of modern families means that not only does a man no longer include his extended family or village in the society he seeks to benefit, he frequently does not include his wife either or sometimes even his children. Many billionaires still crave approval and a spot in history as great men but work all of their lives with only one goal, to amass as much wealth as possible. It is hard to imagine what makes these men so obsessed with collecting more and more of this dissociated approval with no real approval behind it except a very deep confusion as to what they are craving and where to find it.

It is possible that the too-little-too-late groups of philanthropist billionaires are a glimmer of recognition in these men, particularly the ones who realize they don’t even like their own wives and children enough to create an empire for them. The patronizing, ineffective and frequently outright sociopathic projects they undertake in the name of philanthropy show either a complete lack of understanding of society and social needs or reinforces the fact that they are irreclaimably sociopathic and still associate control and power with approval. Even where their projects may be of some actual benefit to society, when presented on top of their years of internationally destructive activity, it is little more than very insufficient war reparations.

This is the role men have been forced into since the beginnings of the trade economy. Men were shunned out of their families and into industry or military far more often than women and were not welcomed back into their families without currency. In many cases they had to give up their entire family life and just send back the currency while they lived far from home. The social approval a woman once received for being a good mother was given to men if they were a good provider. After the trade economy took control of all social relationships, a good provider was the one who spent the least time with his family or village and was most successful in exploiting his society. Industry pretended that industrialists provided jobs and money, neither of which are needed by any community, and successfully perverted the word providers to be applied to the community destroyers. Social acceptance was granted to those who would formerly have been attacked.

Because men were much more successful as wage earners and because men migrate with far greater ease than women and have far less social obligations keeping them at home, women became the backbone of resistance to industrialists or military repression. From environmentalists to mothers of the disappeared, women have been filling the streets of peasant revolt for millennia.[cite] From industrialists to militias, men have made up the overwhelming majority of those they are fighting. The old social kernel, with the weak and the caregivers at the center and able adults, mostly men, as a protective shell, has changed to a society at war with itself.

Once children would be taught to be of service not just to their parents but to all elders and smaller children to gain the approval of their society. Now children are taught to be of service only to themselves and to exploit all others. Communities which once shared skills and knowledge with each other have now commodified teaching and restricted it to only their own children or those who can pay. Once children were taught that their tribe was the best and there was no other tribe as wonderful as theirs to strengthen group affiliation and an ingroup narcissism that shunned those outside. Now children are taught individual narcissism that shuns everyone outside themselves. A class war was created within families. Now caregivers serve children and those in the trade economy, those in trade purchase caregivers and children, and children are created as product to serve corporations. Even this most basic social network of dependencies has been turned into a siphon for the benefit of corporations.

The group narcissism that has throughout history allowed societies to ruthlessly exploit each other has become distilled into individual narcissism on a massive scale as each person looks out for their own society of one. In countries as dissociated as the United States, where people have been taught since birth that the potential loss of one American life is worth unlimited destruction of the rest of the world, the extreme group narcissism sets the scale for the extreme individual narcissism. This individual narcissism combined with the sectarianism of the United States looks like every person is a society at war with every other. It is hard to imagine such a country coming together enough to even conduct a civil war.

In the middle of this sits a disaffected group of men who are currently populating the part of the Internet called The Manosphere. This is the group of men who would previously have been receiving the greatest success under the trade economy and the greatest empty approval from their purchased caregivers and children. They have been taught to do nothing without personal benefit which they can exchange for specific approval. The specific approval from women and children is no longer forthcoming as both are much harder to purchase in industrialized societies than in the past, both because of their own independence and their own growing narcissism. The explosion of the PUA (pick up artist) industry is a movement where these men are trying to forcibly take the empty approval they feel entitled to, with or without an exchange. The fact that they spend most of their energy debating how to receive the most while giving the least, and the reliance on market deception, reflects their view of female approval as a commodity they ought to be able to purchase.

It is no surprise that these men have created such a powerfully bonded community any more than it is any surprise when they join violent cults and gangs. The new communities are providing them with the approval they crave. It is no surprise that they are so angry, or that opposing factions of women are equally angry. Narcissistic rage towards the designated source of approval is an invariable reaction to a withdrawal of approval. This is a principle recognized by MGTOW (the name of a group who call themselves Men Going Their Own Way but in fact spend all of their time online discussing women). The goal of MGTOW is to make women feel the narcissistic pain of rejection that they are feeling by withholding themselves from women.

The dissociation of industrialized societies has changed national narcissism into an explosion of individual narcissism. The amount of approval now demanded by individual members of industrialized societies is unlimited and of course, unsustainable. The monetization of this approval still requires a social aspect. As it takes more and more money to buy the envy and obsequiousness of others, the ruthlessness in obtaining wealth and the dissatisfaction it brings will continue.

The solutions to this narcissistic emptiness will not be found in gender parity in a trade economy. The answer is not that women should benefit from trade, it’s that men should not. All money in a trade economy comes from the powerful and we need to build a society that benefits the powerless. If service to society becomes the measure of worth, women will have parity overnight and all people will receive direct approval for their contributions. If we reject the economy based on trade to the powerful, neither men nor women will have to, or be able to, buy their acceptance into their own families or the approval of their communities.

The social acceptance we once received for being of service to our communities we now receive for competing with and exploiting them. This acceptance is not the social approval we all crave as humans. It is envy and fear and it leaves us empty.

 

Excerpted from Autonomy, Diversity, Society. Citations will be transferred when I get a minute.