Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Declining Trust in - Rising Fear of - our expert castes

Having recently participated in the worldwide March for Science, I can only repeat my assertion that the "War on Science" is about a lot more than nerds and EPA grants.  You cannot name a fact-centered profession -- from teaching and medicine, to accounting and economics, to the U.S. military officer corps -- that's not under direct assault. 

Given that these professions created the vast profusion of wealth that uplifted our nation and planet, this is not a matter of classic "left" or "right." So how in the world did we get to this point?

In the recent issue of Foreign Affairs, Tom Nichols (professor at the Naval War College) appraises: "How America Lost Faith in Expertise And Why That's a Giant Problem." An incisive discussion -- from his book, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge

Nichols is cogent and on-target. But today I want to dig even deeper, down to the very roots of this phenomenon, showing that the War on Fact People is rooted in core mythologies that all Americans share! (Along with millions of others, around the world.)

I'll get back to that. But first, what some others are saying about it.

== Fear is key ==  

Let's start with civil servants.  “Declining trust in government has spread across nearly all advanced industrial democracies since the 1960s/1970s,” writes political scientist Russell Dalton: “Regardless of political history, electoral system, or style of government, most contemporary publics are less trustful of government than they were in the era of their grandparents.”  

This despite the fact that we are richer and better off by almost any measure you can name.

We all knew that Congress is the least trusted institution in American life, according to polls (yet, in each district, we keep re-electing our own crook.)  But surprisingly, churches have also taken a steep hit, and are now trusted by much less than half. Well, maybe not so surprising, giving the hysterical harpies who make up most of the boomer generation of pastors.  

Moreover “at last count, 1 in 4 Americans supports the idea of their state seceding from the union.”  Oy. What is driving this?

In a recent Stone Kettle blog, Jim Wright says: 

      "Conservatives, and many liberals too, have been conditioned by three generations of fear-mongering. It’s always something to be afraid of. Commies and Rooskies,  Red Chinamen and Black Panthers, Ebola, the brown horde south of the border, gangs and gays and atheism, with terrorists around every corner....

"75 years ago, in America’s darkest hour, a crippled man in a wheelchair told Americans that the only thing to fear was fear itself. Americans hitched up their pants, squared their shoulders and faced their fears. Today? Politicians tell people to be afraid. Media networks  invent things to fear, from Truthers to Pizzagate. Americans are addicted... we wallow in fear. But conservatives own the market...."

Wright is a veteran with a tough, rural background and the sort who might, in a different setting, be amiably libertarian-conservative. But he is also science and progress loving, sane and hence deeply angry over the hijacking of American conservatism. Indeed, he is on target about the role fear plays in our civil war. I'll get back to it soon.

== Don't trust people who know stuff! ==  

All right. I promised a set of different perspectives on why tens of millions of Americans -- who benefited  spectacularly from the rise of science and other kinds of expertise -- let themselves get talked into bilious rage toward all expert professions. I've been exploring this for years. This capsule summary (with links) reveals hidden factors

1) Suspicion of Authority or SoA is the core lesson taught in almost every Hollywood film along with countless popular novels and songs, going back to the origins of the Republic. As a general reflex, this core mythology kept us free! No authority figures should be exempt. "Faceless bureaucrats" and "faceless corporations," snooty academics and zillionaire oligarchs. Any power center could be a source of Big Brother -- including elites you happen to like. 

And yes, in theory, one can imagine a technocratic dictatorship of nerdy know-it-alls -- pushy, conformist, patronizing perfessors. It's unlikely, for dozens of reasons! (Have you ever tried to herd cats? Now try getting ten million highly competitive, confidently curious and irksomely well-informed scientific "cats" to agree on an Orwellian agenda.) 

But sure, it's healthy for some citizens to express wariness toward that 'elite.' Even (ungratefully) toward all of the smartypants castes who engendered way more than half our wealth. Skepticism and criticism are fine.  Only...

2) One elite using another as distraction.

... alas, all this ire toward nerds-as-dangerous-oppressors is blatantly a scam! One that has latched onto Suspicion of Authority (SoA) as a propaganda tool. 

We've seen zillionaire oligarchs finance relentless propaganda -- on Fox and alt-right media -- aimed at riling millions into hating knowledge 'elites.' They accomplish this by stirring up that pre-existing SoA reflex to aim in just one direction. Never at neo-feudal aristocrats!  Always at the very fact-people who stand in oligarchy's way. 

Flattery is a big part of the technique. Hollywood teaches us to admire authority-resisting underdogs!  So every American political movement (yes, liberalism too) portrays its followers as brave underdogs, striving for righteousness against the momentum of a majority that marches, lemming-like toward cliffs of tyranny.

This approach has been especially effective in neutralizing the Libertarian movement.  In theory, libertarianism - which distills the very core of Suspicion of Authority - should have offered millions of liberty-oriented Republicans a place to flee, upon seeing that their party has gone mad. Given that the GOP now stands for repression of both economic and personal freedom, this should have been a no-brainer. 

Yet, there has been to mass desertion of Republicans to the Libertarian Party. Elsewhere I explain why those millions of libertarian-minded republicans have clung to a loyalty that makes no sense.

3) An Age of Amateurs.  

There's a wholesome side to questioning the authority of know-it-all experts. As I explain in this video, the 20th century's professionalization of everything served humanity well, but could not continue. That vast trend is fast being replaced by an era when hundreds of millions will have side avocations, wherein they are almost as capable as their day-work. 

It's already happening with burgeoning expertise among amateurs, ranging from black-smithing to inventing to volunteerism to (yes) science!

Naturally, there will be an adversarial edge to this. People rightfully fear that scientists will act like old-time priests and lords and guild-masters, erecting barriers, preventing interested outsiders from joining the fun. And yes, at times we do see glimmers of old fashioned guild-protection. Fortunately, it's not substantial. 

Today's experts have been largely welcoming of the amateur trend. Scientists compete with each other to get on PBS shows explaining the latest discoveries! And there are now countless opportunities for citizen science -- ways for aficionados to get involved in projects in astronomy, biology, ecology and so on.

Still, suspicion of jealous, careerist exclusion lurks, and the oligarchy's propagandists have exploited it.

4) Back to fear

As Frank Herbert put it in Dune -- "fear is the mind-killer." One study showed that just mentioning the word death in passing will bias what fraction of people soon after are willing to sit next to a person of another race, or prioritize terrorism, or even listen to scientific facts. And yes, study after study shows that Republicans are more fearful than Democrats

Says Sheldon Solomon (author of The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life
in Human Mortality Denial and Terror Management: “When people are reminded of their mortality, they think more about money, alcohol, consumption, short-term satisfactions, close-in loyalties and chauvinistic politics.”

As I've described elsewhere, fear controls so many of our perceptions, such as where we perceive our "horizons."  
   Horizons of worry -- whether over your next meal, your next harvest or the ecosystem a century from now.
   Horizons of inclusion -- whether you hunger to expand the tribal circle to include others... or resent constant pressure to do so.
   Horizons of acceptable change -- whether you dread/resent it (and the expert castes who propel change) or else hunger to leave feudalism far behind us and seek a better tomorrow. Perhaps even inspired by science fiction. 

Going back to Jim Wright: "Republicans have been leveraging that fear to get elected for decades, they’re coming for your guns, they coming for your religion, they’re coming for your daughters, they’re coming for your jobs, they’re coming for your way of life. Be afraid! Be afraid!  Trump was just better at tapping into that fear than anybody else."

Is this consistent with the bluster and macho preening of so many red-confederates? How can it not be? Blue Americans live in the cities that are terror targets, yet they mostly want to get on with life and big projects, aware that death-by-terrorist ranks way low on the list of likely dangers. 

Our parents in the "Greatest Generation" experienced more loss during any week than we have from the entire War on Terror. Our greatest defiance of terrorists would be to deny them our fear. 

5) The Strong Father.

Here's one that a few smart pundits have at least mentioned. The brilliant master of language, George Lakoff, tried to tell the Clinton campaign they were combatting Trump in all the wrong ways. 

They decided that the best way to defeat Trump was to use his own words against him. So they showed these clips of Trump saying outrageous things. Now what Trump was doing in those clips was saying out loud things that upset liberals, and that’s exactly what his followers liked about him. So of course they were showing what actually was helping Trump with his supporters."

Indeed, why would fundamentalist Christians support the most opposite-to-Jesus human on the planet? As I explain elsewhere, it is because he so galls and infuriates all the same people they also hate!

Lakoff continues: “All progressives and liberals have a moral worldview, what I described as the nurturant-parent worldview. (But despite his many anti-hispanic statements,) many Latinos voted for Trump. Why? Because “strict father” morality is big in Latino culture. The campaign was not looking at values. They were looking at demographics, and they missed the role of values.”  

Indeed, this is why I will soon post my big demand!  That the Democrats recruit 3000 retired U.S. Army and Marine colonels and Navy Captains to go forth and run in every deep red district in America.  We have stronger fathers.  Strong enough to be calmly confident. Strong enough to not be hysterics. Strong enough not to be afraid of strong women.  Strong enough not to be afraid of facts and science.

6) The Old Switcheroo

Often, lies are rooted in truths. Take, for example, how propagandists justify the War on Science - and against every single knowledge caste - from teaching and economics to medicine and now the Officer corps. They begin by rooting it in an aphorism that everyone knows to be true!

"Just because someone is smart and knows a lot, that doesn't automatically make them wise."

Well, when it's put that way, I doubt you'd find a single human on the planet who disagrees. We are all delusional, at one level or another. Which is why science - one of the most competitive of all fields - teaches us to admit "I might be wrong."

Only watch the way the War on Science and Smartypants is conveyed on Fox etc. Listen carefully, and you'll notice that the aphorism is implicitly re-stated as:

"Just because someone is smart and knows a lot, that automatically makes them unwise."

How else could these svengalis get millions to reflexively despise all the folks who study and  understand ten thousand topics... including fine-grained, cellular, gas-vapor models that accurately model weather and climate on six planets? How else to cast spite toward the men and women you will run to, when cancer looms?

I have found that the best way to fight this sneaky attack is to lay it bare, as I just did. And then to point out again and again that scientists are among the most competitive humans our species every produced.  And hence, when they agree on something, perhaps it us unwise to ignore them.

7) The June Trauma.

All very well and bad. But I think the pain and anger run even deeper! Underneath all the confederate hatred lies a grudge with some real basis. Something searingly traumatic that Blue America does to Red (or gray) America every year... 

...stealing their children.

What hurts is an annual brain drain. Every June, at the local high school that's the center of all life in rural towns, the brightest kids weep and hug and swear to keep in touch… then scoot as fast as they can to universities and bright cities. 

See this portrayed in... Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, by Arlie Russell Hochschild.

Those cities and universities and smartypants fact-professions thereupon, at a deep, psychic level, become associated with blandishment and the stealing of hope! Quite literally the stealing of your children.

The city as Mordor. The university as a witches coven. The "fact people" as satanic. 

And yes, it is that bad, boys and girls. The very same cities and universities that created the wonders and medicines and toys and wealth that citizens take for granted... those glittering realms are viewed (with some cause) as child-stealing molochs.

Face the truth: it will do no good to use facts and evidence to show we aren't Sauron worshippers. Or that Blue America is in no sense less moral than Red America. (Compare rates of teen sex/pregnancy, domestic violence, gambling, divorce, obesity, STDs, crime, bullying, and show us the purported rural superiority.) Sure we must confront lies and slander, but actual victory will come only if we start by acknowledging these undercurrents.

There are ways to deal with each of these underlying causes... but we won't accomplish a thing by ignoring that they are there.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Science: steps forward... through a minefield

Girding yourself for Saturday's Science March? This article - Donald Trump Should Not Appoint a Science Advisor - will steam you, offering much more detail on the White House Science Adviser office -- which Donald Trump has refused to fill -- first officially established by President Eisenhower. A partial list of responsibilities:

"Manage NASA strategy and budget. Work with the Office of Management and Budget on federal research and development investments. Deal with climate change, both in terms of mitigating it and diffusing the controversy. Testify before Congress. Oversee the National Science Foundation. Execute whatever the classified work on national security and homeland security might be. Forge science and technology cooperation agreements with nations like Brazil, China, India, Russia, and Korea. Support the State Department on other science-related initiatives. Put the president in contact with top outside experts when necessary. All in all, (Obama Science Adviser John) Holdren worked in approximately 70 different science fields at any given time." - writes Brian Palmer on Slate.

Even when the office was demoted, under George W. Bush, the WHSA - Jack Marburger - was a prestigious scientist who remained in a science-unfriendly administration because of crucial roles in the National Security Council -- roles that are now, under science-hating Donald Trump, deliberately left unfilled.

Now look again at my recent posting about the fellow who was Trump's top candidate for the Science Adviser role - David Gelernter - and see how this whole thing just gets weirder and weirder.

Seriously. Marching and chanting are among the least effective things we can do. But they are at least a bit effective and they take the least effort and can get our blood up for this fight to save civilization. Be out there on Saturday. If you can't make it to the DC March, there are over 500 marches, worldwide. Even if just alone on a streetcorner with a sign: SUPPORT A SCIENTIFIC NATION.

== The Singularity looms? ==

Ray Kurzweil, one of the principal thinkers regarding the Singularity, encourages lively debate about how to make the coming transformation a friendly one.

His popular website has published one of my essays - Preparing for Our Post-human Future - about this very matter: how we can teach "ethics" to the looming Artificial Intelligences... and whether ethics is even the right tactic to try.  While reviewing several recent books on AI, I ask whether more might be achieved using a different set of tools. 

What will happen as...Our computers learn to code themselves?

For more on how we will incorporate robots and AI into our lives, see Novum's latest podcast exploring Robots, Asimov, and... avoiding the Robot Uprising.

We need to rethink the mechanics of how we think. For a century, the neuron was thought to be the active element, turning on and off like a switch. Then the many synapses that flash between neurons seemed to resemble circuit elements in our computers.

Now we realize that dendrites make up more than 90 percent of neural tissue. Dendrites are the pickups that receive input from synapses, and they vastly outnumber the axons that deliver that input. Now it appears that dendrites engage in substantial internal information processing, far more than is done in the soma, or main body of the neuron.

“What we found indicates that such decisions are made in the dendrites far more often than in the cell body, and that such computations are not just digital, but also analog,” one researcher said.

This is an example of what some of us long expected… “intracellular computing” or multiplying manifold the processing power of each neuron. (Note, some speculate that computational or processing elements may exist within the body of the soma, too.)

This suggests that the brain has more than 100 times higher computational capacity than was previously thought! Not great news for those who expect Moore’s Law to imitate human mentation “any day now” by emulating the number of processing elements inside our skulls. (See Kurzweil's How to Create a Mind: The Secrets of Human Thought Revealed.)

On the other hand, it makes the Human Leap Forward all the more amazing.

== Altering Our Children ==

Speaking of which... are we ready for human gene editing?An influential science advisory group formed by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine on Tuesday lent its support to a once-unthinkable proposition: clinical efforts to engineer humans with inheritable genetic traits.” 

This has long been a red line that worried ethicists. 

“Just over a year ago, an international group of scientists declared that it would be “irresponsible to proceed” with making heritable changes to the human genome until the risks could be better assessed and until there was “broad societal consensus about the appropriateness” of any proposed change.”

Indeed, it’s why Robert Heinlein may be best remembered, a century from now, for the clever solution he recommends in his novel Beyond This Horizon, how to deal with the moral quandaries of genetic engineering — what’s now called the “Heinlein Solution” — allowing couples to select which naturally produced sperm and ova they want to combine into a child, but forbidding them to actually alter the natural human genome.

Consider the elegance of this proposed compromise. Thus, the resulting child, while “best” in many ways (free of any disease genes, etc), will still be one that the couple might have had naturally. Gradual human improvement, without any of the outrageously hubristic meddling that wise people rightfully fear. (No fashionable feathers or lizard tails, just kids who are the healthiest and smartest and strongest the parents might have had, anyway. Though I would make an exception for the flow-through lungs of birds. I want those!) 

It is a notion so insightful that biologists 40 years later have only recently started to discuss what may turn out to be Heinlein’s principal source of fame, centuries from now.

A more pragmatic concern driving the committee was the likelihood that the technology would be adopted elsewhere, in countries like China, where some pioneering research on editing human embryos — without the intent to gestate them — has already taken place.

“If we have an absolute prohibition in the United States with this technology advancing, it’s not like it won’t happen,” said R. Alta Charo, a bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the committee’s other leader. Many European countries that have signed a treaty to refrain from human germ line editing.

== Delusion: our greatest gift and curse ==

A UCSD anthropologist has recently asserted that our ability to persist in a belief despite evidence may be the reason humanity launched to high levels of intelligence – because only denial would let us endure the obvious futility of life and the looming inevitability of death. Denial: Self-Deception, False Beliefs and the Origins of the Human Mind, by Ajit Varki and Danny Brower. I do not believe this theory by the way; I have my own explanations for the human launch to sapience, as I discuss in Human Neoteny and Two-way Sexual Selection.

Oh, I avow that delusion is the greatest human talent. Even here and now, in the most scientific and fact-centered civilization of all time, we are awash in subjectivity and made-up narratives. Even scientists - trained to utter the sacred phrase: "I might be wrong" and to seek their own mistakes - only catch some of them.  For the rest, we rely on the greatest of all human inventions: reciprocal accountability through criticism. In which others, who don't share your particular delusions, can point them out for you... and boy will you eagerly return the favor!

When it works, reciprocal criticism leads to the only successful human civilization that ever happened. Ah, but there are those conniving right now, to ensure that it stops working. (A perennial theme of mine, because I believe if we solve this, and restore our delusion-penetrating processes - then all our other problems will resolve.)

Meanwhile, another exploration for the evolution of human intelligence and creativity is offered in: The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional by anthropologist Agustín Fuentes, drawing upon archeological and genetic evidence to pinpoint the roots of the spark that ignited the human mind.

In both Earth and Existence I speculated about resurrecting extinct species, like mammoths and Neanderthals. Now the Mammoth project is looking closer at-hand. And I am involved in an endeavor to grow Neanderthal brain organelles and fly them… in space.

== Tech advances ==

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, announces that its subsidiary Jigsaw (Google Ideas) is developing a machine learning technology - Perspective - that will promote more civil discourse on the internet and make comment sections on sites a little less awful, by helping web publishers to identify toxic comments that can undermine a civil exchange of ideas.

Ultra-thin temporary electronic tattoos can now turn body blemishes into touch-sensitive buttons, letting you control your smartphone with a stroke or a touch. 

A biofoam, laid across dirty or salty water, can use sunlight to separate out clear water.

As Earth Day approaches, you might be interested in a passionate essayist’s short piece on ideology, science, politics and sustainability.

Okay, get out there and do something to defend the only real chance at civilization against barbarians from without... and within.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Those were the days... When was America 'great'? And who has Steve Bannon reincarnated?

Have you heard of “Godwin’s Law?” It asserts that: “If an online discussion (regardless of topic) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will invoke Hitler.” In practice, it is used to shame or chastise those who make any sort of comparison to the fascist hellscape of the mid-20th Century.*  To be sure, an overused, hyperbolic cliché can be tiresome.** 

Mike Godwin must be going crazy, right now, amid the tsunami of post-election comparisons. For the record, I do not think Donald Trump wants to, or will, become a Hitler. Parallels with Mussolini are creepy though, starting with Il Duce’s fervid rallies and relentless slogans, calling on Italians to rebuild classical glories and — translated literally— “make Rome great again.” 

Sure, I’ve made my own parallels with 1933 Germany, and they remain apt. Just as the Prussian barons, or Junkers aristocrats, fostered the racist-populist brown shirts as a counterweight to socialists and communists, so Fox News, Breitbart-Limbaugh-Jones and the Kochs deliberately whipped non-college white male boomers into a froth… exacerbated by their grouchiness over getting old and seeing the world change around them.

As those so-clever 1930s lords did then, today’s oligarchs stare in disbelief that a gifted shaman leaped aboard their carefully-trained beast, threw off the intended jockeys and grabbed the reins for himself.*** Back eight decades ago, at least a few of the Junkers had enough honesty to proclaim: “Mein Gott, what haf we done?” Alas, do not expect any such honor or decency from Rupert Murdoch, or the Worst Man in America, George F. Will.

Yet, I take solace from history. Back in the 1930s, as today all over the planet, common folk were mesmerized by new communications technologies. Back then it was radio and loudspeakers, that amplified the hypnotic voices of gifted, polemical svengalis, who took over almost everywhere, plunging humanity toward an abyss.

But not in the English speaking world.  Our parents and grandparents were captivated by gifted orators, too. But here, and in Britain, those gifted speakers were on our side, urging us — as Pericles did in Athens — to make the most of our democracy. Which brings us to a question that blue Americans really need to ask their red neighbors:

When do you envision that America had its “great” golden age?  “Make America Great Again” implies a clear notion of a time. So when was that?

It would seem that generally folks are referring to the era of the Greatest Generation – the boomers’ parents -- who overcame the Depression and Hitler, contained communism, built a booming market economy and got us into space, while too-gradually, but deliberately, taking on so many longstanding prejudices and injustices they inherited from their parents and a thousand other generations. 

Oh, but a funny thing about those folks in the World War II generation. They voted high taxes on the rich, which the rich patriotically paid. And they admired labor unions.

Above all, that clade of Americans had one favorite living human, a man adored by his people, his fellow citizens.

No wonder the New Lords have spent hundreds of millions and decades portraying Franklin Delano Roosevelt as Satan, incarnate.  All while invoking nostalgia for the “great” American era of the 1940s and 1950s, sweeping aside one fact -- that every notable aspect of that period was Rooseveltean. A time - I must reiterate - when unions thrived, the rich paid taxes, science was admired, and moving forward was in our blood. 

Oh, you sour boomers, don’t you dare to invoke the Greatest Generation!  They were union men, democrats mostly, held no truck with foppish billionaires, preferred facts over assertions, built giant projects, gave the world its first general peace and… oh, yes, can I say it again? Their favorite living human was FDR. And do you know who followed Roosevelt in that slot? Who was the most-admired American during the 1950s? A fellow named Jonas Salk.

Oh, they were far from perfect, my parents and their friends. Their faults were monumental! But they emulated the American Founders, and the soldiers of a righteous, abolitionist blue Union, and others who pushed our fine Experiment forward, not wallowing in nostalgia.  (See how I answer right wing adoration of the 1950s.) Moreover, we are not lesser beings than the Greatest Generation. We benefit by living in the great civilization they built. But they raised us to launch from their shoulders. And yes, we have mightily amplified all of their accomplishments with creativity, science and compassion. 

(BTW, the next generation – millennials, especially – are so much better than us boomers that there’s no comparison. Calmer by far. Generally wiser, nicer, smarter. As a parent I’ll take some credit. The best thing we boomers ever did! And we so owe the kids an apology, right now. We need to get out of their way.)

== They built ‘great’ America. FDR merely summoned their wills. ==

No, fanatics, you don’t get the Greatest Generation, who would be appalled by your quiver-lipped wrath and shrill, drama-queen wails. No. You must flee farther back from their Rooseveltean era, in search of your earlier “great” time!

Here’s a candidate period for you -- one admired by the alt-right and Fox – lauded in a song you might recall:

“Mister we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again.
Didn’t need no Welfare State.
Everybody pulled his weight.
Gee our old LaSalle ran great.
Those were the days.”

Is it 1929 then, that alt-right and the folks at Trump rallies yearn for? Surely the oligarch-junker lords financing the movement would be pleased to crank-back before FDR.  And yet, we all know that’s not it. 

Forget 1929.

It’s 1861, they yearn for. Only this time a confederacy that’s victorious. Plantation lords and their fervid vassals finally overcoming the blue forces of science, facts and progress. (And let us admit that this round of the civil war, with help from the Czar, the Confederacy has taken Washington.)

Alas, stupidly, they ignore real history and where this can only lead.
Their conspiracy will carry us to Paris, 1789.

== Back to Godwin ==

Okay, we’ve drifted. Yes, it is vital to nail the Trumpists by demanding they say when they think America was Grrrrreat! ****  

Still, circling back to the beginning, we started with Godwin’s Law. Recall that I dismissed the likelihood that Donald Trump wants anything Hitlerian. So don’t exaggerate! It just harms your credibility. I doubt he’s personally very racist, while cynically egging on those who are. Though parallels with Mussolini seem apt.

No, I’ve taken you on this journey in order to convey a chilling moment of realization that I had today, when looking at Donald Trump’s White House appointments. A shiver of recognition that can only have come from watching way too much History Channel (before they became the Bigfoot Channel.)  Specifically…

…I looked at the epically prototypical brownshirt who is Donald Trump’s chief aid and ‘strategist’ — Steve Bannon, whose silver-spoon life and cushy parasitism at Goldman Sachs then subsidized a plunge into manipulative populist cant, raging against the civilization that benefited him for decades. (Forecast; no bills will be introduced to actually change Wall St. parasitism.)

I know him, you see. Not directly, but every howl against modernity. Every appeal to Cyclical History (the central incantatory touchstone of the reactionary right.) His contempt-drenched ragings against science and every other knowledge caste. I know the cult of neo-feudalists who aim for a return to the standard human condition of 6000 years, and his raves are identical to their calls for a return to kingship, to dominance by Aryan males, to Church and hierarchy and empire, stirring mobs to crush citizenship. 

Using populism to wreck government by-the-people.

Moreover, in all traits he seems eerily reminiscent of (may Godwin forgive me) a certain historical figure whose arc and ambitions and face strike chilling parallels. A fellow named --

The chief aid, factotum, ear-whisperer, private secretary and ‘strategist’ who controlled the flow of information and access to you-know-who. The Grima Wormtongue of humanity’s darkest time.

A stretch? Then photoshop-modify the hair. Ditch the peach fuzz. Hell, drawl the name

Now guess which of them said: ““Darkness is good… That’s power. It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.”

Okay, that was Bannon. Here’s the full paragraph: “Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power. It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they’re blind to who we are and what we’re doing.”

And now some of you are mumbling: "Brin are you insane?  Bannon will surely see this! It will stand out and get you on a list." To which I answer, well... ******

I do have to ask: has any member of this generation actually read Mein Kampf? Anyone? At all? Read it! Or at least skim -- look past the screeching racism and rage at the deeper threads of romanticism and the incantations of cyclical history. The calls for not improvement or progress, but restoration of a spectacular purity and glory that never, ever existed in the past.

Then note while flipping through those pages, it isn’t Donald Trump whose voice you can hear, speaking the lines. (Trump is more like Huey Long or Father Coughlin or yes, Il Duce.) But Bannon is there. His voice.

Oh my Godwin.

== Best friends ==

Do I exaggerate?




I was a participant in a long-ago, early-primitive message group, when attorney Mike Godwin coined his famous ‘law.”

** Speaking of clichés, it can be apt to swap the phrase “Godwin’s Law” into Godwin’s Law: “If an online discussion (regardless of topic) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will invoke Godwin's Law.” 

*** As DT eagerly toes the line of Koch orthodoxy, I have to wonder if he experienced recently a moment like that in the film NETWORK, when Howard Beale meets Ned Beatty's wonderful mogul, Arthur Jensen. Watch it. Watch Network, including the classic "Mad as Hell!" scene... and then my response to it.

**** Tony the Trumpeter Tiger?

******  Will I be put on lists? Oh, sillies, of course I'm already on lists. And other lists of people whose 'accidents' would be probed. I do have some courage and sense of duty to a civilization, planet and species that I love, and so willingly take some risk. But probably foremost is the fact... that I wrote the character Nathan Holn, in The Postman. And there are some tough hombres out there who don't care that I portrayed Holn as a villain. They adore him, anyway. And me as Holn's 'creator. And hence, I've been offered shelter in places where... let's just say it would take an army. Martin Bormann would have envied these 'redoubts.'  Of this I have little doubt.

******* Oh! Late breaking development. I'm not the first to notice the resemblance!  Aw shucks.  And also... relief.