TIMES, TIME, AND HALF A TIME. A HISTORY OF THE NEW MILLENNIUM.

Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.



Showing posts with label Eyes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eyes. Show all posts

Friday, August 25, 2017

In Millennial Eyes 8: Poland, the European Union, and the Game of Thrones


Image Source: Ancient Origins.

The blog is on a break, but I am happy to announce that I have been invited to submit pieces to Vocal Media. Today's post continues my discussion on fake news. Please click below to read it:
This piece explains why false, fictional or quasi-historical narratives become powerful in changing times, in spite of their flawed factuality or rationality.

The post concerns a secret history of a Polish empire, bolstered by fake maps and false or exaggerated contemporary documents. You can see Ancient Origins defend that alt-history, based on medieval chronicles, here.

The blog where I found this Turboslav vision of Europe faithfully reproduces the anti-Masonic, anti-Illuminati, anti-Semitic, New Age, health-food, anti-vaccine, extra-terrestrial, populist, neo-Nazi conspiracy theories which are so familiar on alt-sites on the Internet now.

When discussing history, most Websites of this type leave accepted scholarly history more or less intact. But they offer an additional 'insider's' history we don't know. This is a gnostic view - like the one described in my post on the alt-history of Quebec and the French Revolution - which adds enough information to break through to a new level of 'privileged' awareness.

An altered perspective is one thing; but this lost Polish empire is another matter. It transports today's believer into a completely different Europe. That is why it is too simplistic to assume that nationalists are motivated only by racism. They actually inhabit another reality. It is through this lens that we must understand their quarrels with EU leaders.


See all my posts on Millennial views of past events.

Friday, August 4, 2017

In Millennial Eyes 7: Edinburgh in 1544


Virtual Time Binoculars - Edinburgh 1544 from Smart History on Vimeo.

A new academic project has begun to explore the historical teaching potential of virtual reality environments. I have previously blogged on a similar projects concerning history and video game technology with regard to 17th century Netherlands in The Golden Age, and colonial Quebec in I Remember the French Revolution. This is the teaser trail for Virtual Time Binoculars - Edinburgh 1544:
"PREVIEW - TEASER TRAILER

New technology reveals old Edinburgh.

St Andrews research brings 16th Century capital back to life.

The lost townscape of sixteenth-century Edinburgh is being brought back to life by researchers at the University of St Andrews.

The reconstruction is still under construction and will be available on a number of digital platforms (including a mobile app, a 3D virtual experience, and more traditional web-based resources) from 1 May 2017.

'The new digital reconstruction is the first to be created of the sixteenth-century city, and is based on a drawing from 1544 (thought to be the earliest accurate depiction of the capital).'

The technology will be shown for the first time today (16 March 2017) at a special event showcasing the University’s research to industry partners.

The virtual time travel technology – which will be released as an app in May – provides a unique window into the capital around the time of the birth of Mary Queen of Scots.

The technology is the result of a collaboration between St Andrews historians, art historians, computer scientists and University spinout company Smart History. The result is an interactive tour of the capital as it appeared in 1544, just before the city was sacked and burned by an English army led by Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford.

Dr Bess Rhodes, an expert on sixteenth-century Scottish history who collaborated on the reconstruction, said, 'For the first time visitors and residents can compare the city they know with the capital of James V and Mary Queen of Scots.'

'It has been amazing seeing the recreation of a lost townscape. I hope this project makes the public more aware of the layers in the capital’s history, and furthers understanding of the complex way in which Edinburgh evolved.'

The reconstruction is inspired by a sixteenth-century drawing of Edinburgh made by Richard Lee, an English military engineer who later designed the massive artillery defences at Berwick-upon-Tweed. Lee accompanied the Earl of Hertford’s forces to Edinburgh in 1544, and his drawing is thought to be the first realistic depiction of Scotland’s capital.

The interdisciplinary team of St Andrews researchers supplemented the information from Lee’s plan with archaeological evidence, sixteenth-century written sources, and information about the geography of the modern city, to create an updated reconstruction of Edinburgh.

Dr Rhodes continued, 'The 1540s were a tumultuous period in Edinburgh’s history. In December 1542 King James V of Scotland died, leaving his baby daughter Mary as monarch. Not long after the English King Henry VIII ordered an invasion of Scotland, with the aim of forcing the Scots to accept a proposed betrothal between the infant Mary and his young son (the future Edward VI of England).'

'One of the first major actions in the conflict later known as the "Rough Wooing" was the Earl of Hertford’s attack on Edinburgh in May 1544. Hertford’s forces failed to capture Edinburgh Castle, but set fire to the city, damaging the medieval townscape, before they retreated. Our reconstruction is the first digital representation of Edinburgh at this eventful moment in the capital’s past.'

The new reconstruction gives an overview of the townscape of the entire sixteenth-century city, with a particular focus on the Royal Mile – the historic spine of Edinburgh. The digital development was largely financed by a grant from Innovate UK."

See all my posts in the series, In Millennial Eyes, in which I explore how history and historic themes are viewed from 21st century perspectives.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

In Millennial Eyes 6: The Antarctic Fourth Reich and the Great Game


Frank Hurley's photograph, taken between 1914 and 1916, of Antarctic explorer Dr. Leonard Hussey with Samson - one of the Canadian sled-dogs on Sir Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated Endurance expedition. Image Source: Pinterest via Royal Geographical Society.

Today's post continues my coverage of the Millennial Antarctic Fourth Reich conspiracy theory and its meaning in terms of Internet psycho-politics. In this case, I will describe how this conspiracy theory relates to the revival of the 19th century contest between Britain and Russia for Asian lands and wealth: the Great Game.

I argue that Antarctica now replaces Central Asia, to serve as a cipher in a new virtual Great Game. The Antarctic Fourth Reich conspiracy theory appears to be an alarming Russian-sourced or pro-Russian form of propaganda, which endorses and then moves past the pro-Trump agenda, to encourage Americans to destroy their own country from within. The Fourth Reich theory also channels a folkloric and racist renewal of Anglospheric nationalism, in which Vladimir Putin is viewed as a strategic ally.

The Fourth Reich conspiracy theory depends heavily on the Nazis' merger of the occult, politics, and technology. Secrets of the Third Reich: The Rediscovery of Vimanas (uploaded 11 February 2013). Video Source: Youtube.

The conspiracy theory also seeks to isolate the Anglosphere from the Europeans. It hinges on the supposed historic continuation of German Nazism (with a conspicuous, ahistorical failure to mention Italian fascism, Japan, or affiliated Axis powers from World War II) and returns Anglospheric opinion of the Russians to the sympathetic year of 1944.

Despite the apparent Russian dominance of this online extravaganza, the Anglospheric aspect of the Fourth Reich narrative has an elusive introspective quality which may excise the Russian factor and even nationalist racism. That is, something about this conspiracy theory involves America, the UK, and affiliated Commonwealth countries chewing over internal identity in light of contemporary politics and evolving global techno-economies and societies. The outcome of that muddled cultural reevaluation may be completely independent and unexpected, regardless of whether or not the Russians try to interfere with, or benefit from, this process.

Friday, June 16, 2017

In Millennial Eyes 5: Aryan Mystics of Antarctica and the Fourth Reich


Image Source: Nachtwächter.

The Millennial mind confronts many fears. Fear of poverty, fear of misrule, fear of violence and chaos. In a world dominated by science and technology, the ultimate fear is that rational systems could create mass irrationality. How could a pervasive anti-rationalism come to dominate a landscape framed by reason? Worse, anti-rationalism can manifest its own power. These concerns give rise to the fear that magic has been combined with politics, or that magic has been combined with technology.

Rationalists break things down, analyze them, and solve limited problems within defined boundaries. Wholeness is suspect in a world dominated by specialized knowledge and compartmentalized action. Universal knowledge is a path to faith, mysteries, and madness; however, it is enjoying a vogue in high circles and low. Conspiracy theorists - who lead the fearful - share a comprehensive vision with the supposed New World Order leaders they claim to oppose. Conspiracy theorists are now the world's greatest holistic myth-makers. If physicists seek the Grand Unified Theory and philosophers consider the Theory of Everything, conspiracy theorists offer their own brand of all-encompassing pseudo-knowledge.

The theorists have developed a Grand Unifying Conspiracy Theory, which centres on Antarctica, and uses the seventh continent to explain the role of Germany and America in 20th and early 21st century history. Beyond that, this theory claims to explain our entire world as it currently exists, and as it has ever existed.

Before I continue, I want to state clearly that I personally do not believe this conspiracy theory, nor do I subscribe to its racist or outlandish elements. However, I think it is an important phenomenon, which reflects the evolution of online behaviour and technoculture. This is the conspiracy theory to end all conspiracy theories. It revises the whole history of humankind. This alt-vision would be impossible without the Internet.

Post-Truth and Tomorrow's Politics

Salon screen capture, from a 4 March 2017 article, in which author Andrew O'Hehir lamented over "fake news and endless lies." Image Source.

The craziness of the phenomenon described here shows what happens when politics becomes a battleground of perceptions and opinions. Information is detached from reality and weaponized, and narratives are too. The Salon article above cited a New York Times article from 2 March 2017 on how Donald Trump has destroyed the tone of public debate and is jeopardizing democracy. We must find ways to determine between fake and real information. We must also consider what may or may not be discussed in the public square - and which voices are authoritative, and how, and why. But all these worries ignore a critical point.


If one allows that fake-versus-real is one discussion, one must still consider a second discussion, in which post-truth is a given. When post-truth is a given, one must learn how post-truth functions, in the same way a linguistic anthropologist studies urban legends, digital folklore, and their real contexts. If we agree with Samuel Greene at KCL that "voters' perceptions have become untethered from reality," we still need to understand how untethered perceptions work.

Post-truth is not fake news. It is neither true nor false. It is a principle for people who would like to keep all their options open and stay flexible when it comes to understanding reality. That grey area has tremendous utilitarian value, especially if it draws from deeply embedded cultural memory. In terms of that utility, it doesn't matter whether information is true, false, or blended. If established authorities decry threatening information as fake, so much the better. They stake their current power on a weakening principle, that is, old, limited forms of knowledge. Those who grasp post-truth's dynamics and mechanics have the advantage. That post-truth practical advantage drives the Antarctic conspiracy theory.

Still from Heimat (Season 1 Episode 1, Fernweh - 1919-28 (The Call of Faraway Places); first aired 16 September 1984). Image Source: Cartoon Simkl.

It may appear that conspiracy theories are idiotic nonsense, online entertainment for lunatics and basement dwellers. However, I am reminded of the Heimat German television series. That series dramatically covered the history of Germany from 1919 to 2000.

When I watched Heimat's first episodes on PBS in the mid-1980s, I was struck by how Nazis were depicted when they first appeared in rural Germany in the 1920s. They were shown as ridiculous, marginal figures, brown-shirted spotty teenagers, goose-stepping in the background of town squares. They were ignored by decent folk, who were talking in civilized tones in the foreground. In other words, no one who was 'normal' took these adolescent Nazis seriously.

That dramatic interpretation can be questioned; the history of youth movements in the 1920s confirms that Nazism was much more popular than that and its ideas grew from old precedents in Europe. But certainly, within ten years, Nazism, with all its outdoorsy nature worship and ludicrous magical politics became very serious business indeed. That is why the Antarctic conspiracy theory may seem a silly waste of time - arrested development fodder for adolescent Internet gnomes - but it would be wise to pay attention to it.

Technologically-induced social transformations are opening up power vacuums. Nimble opportunists on all sides recognize that everything is shifting, and potential power bases of the future - not yet extant - are up for grabs. Conspiratorial narratives are one way to surf the post-truth waves to future prominence and control. Today's Internet gnome is tomorrow's politician.

Memories of the racist past in the USA, especially the South, may feed American fears of neo-Nazis and of Trump as a new Hitler. That is, Nazis-in-America may not be as real as the American cultural memory of racism in the United States, a separate historical phenomenon from National Socialism in Germany.

In this post and a subsequent post, I describe how one thread of post-truth, which I call the Antarctic Fourth Reich, covers everything. It works on its own mythical terms, and defies fakeness or realness. In later posts on this topic, I will consider the Fourth Reich's cultural meaning and actual utilitarian effect in terms of real history and real politics.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

In Millennial Eyes 4: Nuclear Times and Chernobyl Urbex


Japan warns citizens they might have only 10 minutes to prepare for a North Korean missile (25 April 2017). Image Source: AFP/Getty via Washington Post.

The blog returns on 1 May 2017 after a break, with a series of posts which will explain fake news, cyber-memes, techno-cultural disinformation, virtual politics, and the perception of truth. Today's post is a prologue. The nuclear issue triggers all of these uncertainties. When it comes to nuclear matters, you never really know what is happening, and the stakes are high. On Sunday, 23 April 2017, a truck carrying Iridium-192 was stolen in Tlaquepaque, Jalisco state, Mexico. This radioactive material can be used to make a dirty bomb, and it has not yet been recovered.


Meanwhile, the world nervously eyes the Korean peninsula. It is curious that there have been a recent changes in and around leadership in both Koreas. These might indicate (or lead to) an incredibly delicate and dangerous effort to reconcile the two countries. In South Korea, Park Geun-hye was impeached in December 2016, charged in April 2017 with corruption, and publicly condemned for witchcraft. Liberal human rights lawyer Moon Jae-in is projected to win a May 2017 South Korean election, and he may soften the tone on North Korea.

Image Source: Reuters/The Economist.

British tabloids and the American media are openly speculating on whether Trump's administration should assassinate Kim Jong-un to stop a nuclear war. But Jong-un has been careful to eliminate successors, with few remaining close family members. The fact that he may have had his half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, assassinated on 13 February 2017 raised eyebrows. The use of the rare VX poison in the killing was even more disturbing. Developed by the British in the mid-1950s, it is the world's most toxic nerve agent and classed as a weapon of mass destruction. To use it in a public place on a direct descendant of North Korea's Baekdu Bloodline was a sign of extreme ruthlessness. Even more than all the other atrocities and executions, the murder of Jong-nam really scared people; it merited research and reconsideration of what is happening in Pyongyang.


I have previously blogged about the Kim family and possible successors here. A favourite possibility among western leaders is Kim Jong-un's nephew and Jong-nam's son, Kim Han-sol, who is now 21 years old. Han-sol turned down an offer to study at Oxford University in February 2017, due to fears that he would be assassinated there.

Doan Thi Huong, who helped assassinate Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea's leader, told authorities she thought she was participating in a Reality TV prank. (February 2017) Image Source: Taiwan News.

North Korea is planning another nuclear test and rapidly developing its nuclear weapons program and ballistic missiles. It is hard to tell whether the tensions on the peninsula are a deadly game of bluff, or if Trump's unpredictable administration is planning preemptive action to contain North Korea's capabilities, or if this is a game of 4-D chess, marked by psychological warfare and sabre-rattling.

"A jet with blocked details landed at Wellington Airport[, New Zealand] on Monday evening [24 April 2017]." Image Source: Flight Radar 24 via stuff.co.nz.

There are reports on rehearsals for ex-pat civilian evacuations from South Korea. Officials from the Five Eyes intelligence network (USA, UK, NZ, Australia and Canada) met in Queenstown, New Zealand over the weekend of the 21-23 April. On 26 April, Kim Jong-un watched a giant live-fire drill (see it here) to mark the 85th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean People's Army. The US Senate has been summoned for a White House briefing regarding North Korea, also on 26 April 2017.







At the same time, there are drills in New York City to prepare for a simulated direct nuclear bomb strike over Manhattan on 24-26 April 2017, which may have already involved power outages in San Francisco; New York; Frankfort, Kentucky; and Los Angeles. Operation Gotham Shield uses a 10 kiloton yield, or a bomb a bit larger than a 'suitcase nuke,' as its hypothetical weapon. The FEMA overview manual for Gotham Shield is here. A November 2016 simulated nuclear attack (the Northern Lights Nuclear Power Plants Exercise) checked the readiness of the electrical grid at the Monticello plant and Camp Ripley, Minnesota on the US-Canadian border.

Gotham Shield internal document. Image Source: FEMA via Intellihub.

I have previously argued on this blog that the US had already nuked itself through numerous bomb tests over the past 70 years and lives in denial of this fact. In February 2017, there was an explosion at a French nuclear plant, Flamanville, but there was "no nuclear risk." Even more incredible denial is evident in Japan, where three China Syndromes have likely occurred at Fukushima. Yet on the sixth anniversary of the Tōhoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster, the government has invited families to reinhabit the exclusion zone. Fish are declared safe to eatDeeper denial: the summer 2020 Olympic games are partly set there!

Worse, workers were told they no longer needed protective suits at 95 per cent of the site. The rumour ran that this was because the huge quantity of hazmat suits became too expensive; the workers were considered likely to die anyway from exposure; therefore, the suits could be dispensed with to cut costs. There are unconfirmed stories and muted reports (often ending in dead links) of a TEPCO cover-up of thousands of dead Fukushima workers, whose employment is run by the Japanese mob, the Yakuza.

Image Source: Reuters via The Mirror.

This is an insane 'war without a war,' a nightmare in which Japanese aquifers are irretrievably poisoned. In February 2017, there was unconfirmed talk that underground explosions occurred, likely due to the molten coria hitting the water table. These explosions were heard and felt miles away from the plant. Also in February, a robot measured a staggering 530 sieverts per hour inside Reactor #2 - far higher than any reading ever recorded at Chernobyl. That reading could be ten times higher close to the elusive core. Due to the unwillingness to face the devastation of atomic realities, it is worth remembering the aftermath in an uninhabited nuclear wasteland.


The date 26 April 2017 shifts attention to another nuclear theatre. Today's post commemorates the 31st anniversary of the second-worst nuclear disaster in history at the Chernobyl plant and Pripyat, Ukraine. The blog follows American Millennial urbex Youtuber Josh, who said Pripyat was "legit" during his visit in March 2016. Actually, that is true. To understand the magnitudes of radiation which Josh's MKS-05 Terra-P dosimeter displayed (in microsieverts (uSv) per hour), go here and here. One sievert (1,000,000 microsieverts) if absorbed all at once is enough to make you ill; 6 to 10 sieverts will cause death.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Drone Precedents: Point and Click


The unmanned drone MQ-9 Reaper, made by General Atomics, designed in 2001, first introduced into use by the US Air Force in 2007. This photo is from Afghanistan. Image Source: US Air Force via Defense Update.

This is the third in three posts on discrepancies between declared meaning and hard reality and the problems those gaps cause in emerging Millennial history. Today's post focuses on warfare. The 2014 documentary Drone, directed by Norwegian director Tonje Hessen Schei, summarized the change from a critical perspective. Women's International League for Peace and Freedom reviewed the film in 2015:
"The international community has stressed that drone strikes involve killings without due process that are violating international law and human rights, most importantly the right to life. There have been strong concerns that drone operations do not gather sufficient information to establish legal targets, resulting in indiscriminate killings. The precision of drones, so fondly asserted by their supporters, is a myth.

Someone who knows all about this crude reality is Brandon Bryant, a former US Air Force drone operator diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, who is now speaking out to the world on what he experienced during his time flying drones. In the documentary, he describes the light-hearted, often nonchalant, atmosphere in the control room, half a world away from the people they were targeting, and how he himself grew more and more jaded for each strike."
The documentary (available at time of writing, here) sounds an alarm on drone development; the film regards drones as an international, not purely American, problem; and it criticizes the Republicans and especially the Democrats for their endorsement of the drone programme. The narration opens with an interview with Brandon Bryant, as he reflected on how drone operation dehumanized him:
"I didn't really understand what it meant to kill at first. It was horrible. Sometimes it plays itself over and over again in your head, so much that you, you just imagine who these people were. We sat in a box for nearly twelve hour shifts. I [was] typically on the night shift. It was quieter. All the lights were usually off, except for the light coming from the monitors. It was so weird just being able to watch people's lives. ... I remember watching a wedding. I mean, these were people enjoying themselves. These were people celebrating, like, a wedding. You know? Like - but someone in that wedding was a bad person, and at that moment, they were celebrating. It's just weird, like, I'm watching this person, and this person has no clue. We're the ultimate voyeurs, the ultimate Peeping Toms. No one's going to catch us, and we're getting orders to take these people's lives. It was just - point and click."
Bryant claimed most of his fellow drone pilots did not view their operations that way, and some threatened him when he came forward to criticize drones. At the other end of engagement, civilians sitting under drone attacks regard them as despicable and illegal. Lawyers in Pakistan have taken drone attack cases before their courts as criminal extrajudicial killings. But the paper trail disappears when it reaches the American government's doorstep, due to the confidentiality of unidentified authorities and top secret status of intelligence officers. In 2015, The Guardian called "Obama's drone panopticon" a "secret machine with no accountability." In the old military system, information can pinpoint those who violate military laws and court martial them. In the new military system, information disappears.




The verdict on conventional warfare from 2001 to 2008: Abu Ghraib prison torture in 2003 Image Source: Progressive Charlestown. The Senate committee report on torture was published on 30 December 2014. Image Source: Christian Science Monitor. Wife at the grave of an American soldier. Image Source: The Daily Call. Approximately half of veterans (over 1 million former military personnel) returned home to suffer PTSD, drug problems, convoluted governmental support, unemployment in the Great Recession, and other difficulties. A homeless veteran in Houston, Texas. Image Source: IFTBQP. Wiki: "In 2013, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs released a study that covered suicides from 1999 to 2010, which showed that roughly 22 veterans were committing suicide per day, or one every 65 minutes."

Barack Obama's drone programme grew out of a catastrophic evaluation of George W. Bush's conventional wars. The Americans faced huge criticism and problems over their handling of the War in Afghanistan (2001-2014) and the Iraq War (2003-present). Abu Ghraib prison, torture, and Guantanamo Bay became ugly mirrors which the big media held up to show a proud nation its shameful inhumanity. The media and experts challenged the justifications and WMD premises for the war. Bush's conventional war was also astronomically expensive. In 2004, Osama bin Laden stated that one of al-Qaeda's aims was to provoke the USA into military conflict to the point of bankruptcy. He almost succeeded. Critics blamed the 2008 meltdown partly on the cost of war. In 2013, Reuters reported that the Iraq War and its related aftermath could cost USD $6 trillion over the next four decades, including interest.

Enter the drone, a comparatively cheap, recessionary weapon. In 2015, The Daily Dot reported that Obama requested roughly USD $561 billion in defense spending for the following year, with a growing portion devoted to drones or drone research, to around USD $5 billion by 2016. This was the projected cost of 'soft defense' with a 'small footprint': "While controversial for a variety of reasons, the drone program was supposed to usher in the era of a slimmer, smarter military for the U.S." Bard College has a Center for the Study of the Drone, which broke down America's annual drone budget for 2016 (here) and 2017 (here). According to one PBS opinion piece, the Democrats paid for the drones by printing money, as part of recessionary quantitative easing.

So, Obama declared: war is peace. Drone technology effectively continued Bush's Middle Eastern military policy in a different style. Single, targeted drone attacks became more widespread, akin to drone bombing. The Intercept dug through leaked classified drone papers, especially those for Operation Haymaker in Afghanistan in 2012-2013, and found large numbers of civilian casualties. For all the earlier concerns in Iraq and Afghanistan, this was a troubling shift in operational perspective. The Democrats' policy obscured reality, and was conceptually, politically and philosophically dislocated from the reality it created. This war continued mostly out of the public eye, behind a façade of peace. The film Drone maintains that the sympathetic Democratic rhetoric of humanitarianism and frugal economy held the moral high ground over the sabre-rattling of hawkish Republicans. However, the Democrats' withdrawal of troops and peaceable rhetoric cynically, strategically - and progressively - continued the war with drone technology and mercenaries, who replaced American soldiers on the ground.


Blackwater gained public attention when four of their mercenaries were ambushed, killed and burned on a bridge in Fallujah, Iraq, on 31 March 2004. It took two military battles for the Americans to take the city. After the victory in December 2004, the Marines signed the bridge with their Latin motto. In the photo above, 3/5 is the 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment of the Marines, also known as the Darkhorse. From 2005 to 2011, investigative reports linked birth defects in Fallujah to the US Army's use of white phosphorous. The incident showed how unconventional mercenaries and weapons overlapped with conventional forces and the media. Images Sources: Mount Holyoke University; flickr.

In 2008, Hillary Clinton condemned the Bush State Department's employment of the military contractor Blackwater. But a 2014 HuffPo investigation found that shortly thereafter, Clinton's State Department stepped up hiring of private armies; her office promised Blackwater (now known as Academi) USD $500 million in mercenary contracts. In 2010, Wired reported that Clinton's State Department signed a five-year contract worth over USD $10 billion with a mercenary umbrella group called, 'International Development Solutions,' which included Academi-formerly-known-as-Blackwater. In 2014, there were rumours that Academi and an affiliated, Barbados-based company, Greystone, were active in the Ukraine. Other Blackwater shell companies, like Paravant, have grimly ironic names (a paravent is a portable bedroom privacy screen). According to Wired, here are a few other names Blackwater, its subsidiaries, or related merc companies have taken on to shed baggage:
  • Total Intelligence Solutions
  • Technical Defense Inc.
  • Apex Management Solutions LLC
  • Aviation Worldwide Services LLC
  • Air Quest Inc.
  • Presidential Airways Inc.
  • EP Aviation LLC
  • Backup Training LLC
  • Terrorism Research Center
  • Xe Services LLC
  • Worldwide Protective Services
  • AAR Corp.
The employer-reviews Website, Glassdoor, has employees' reviews of International Development Solutions; one reads: "Great pay. Travel is awesome. [But y]ou're away from home quite often." Darker parts of the story emerged in 2016 about an embryonic private air force (here and here), while ex-Blackwater CEO Erik Prince aided in China's quiet imperial conquest of Africa. One blog devoted to overseas military contractors calls them "the best kept secret of the wars." Contractors and drones allowed war to disappear (largely) from the media; conflict faded into the background behind the term, 'deniability.' Regardless of the winner in the American presidential race, this approach will continue. The current foreign policy advisor to Donald Trump is Joseph Schmitz, a former Blackwater executive.

Even more than before, politicians separated cause from effect and meaning from reality. This policy created two contemporary historical narratives, the politicized metahistory, and the factual course of events. The misleading image of a kinder, gentler government became easier to cultivate, because warfare was conducted through several degrees of separation and obscured political responsibility. Drone argues that Obama disapproved of Guantanamo Bay, so he solved that problem by killing suspects with drones, thereby avoiding the public relations mess of capturing, incarcerating them and facing scrutiny over that process. Critics in Drone maintain that this policy by-passed international and national legal systems (as opposed to violating them, as the Bush administration had). Other critics assert that the same policy encouraged the rise of ISIS. Drones are one of the reasons why ISIS are so keen to provoke the Americans back into boots-on-the ground, hand-to-hand combat in the Middle East. In their eyes, a bloody human clash is the true contest between societies, and remote-piloted drones are the weapons of cowards.

Purported drone killing (12 November 2015) of 'Jihadi John' aka Mohammed Emwazi (born Muhammad Jassim Abdulkarim Olayan al-Dhafiri), a Londoner who beheaded several high-profile western captives for ISIS, including American journalist James Foley on 19 August 2014 (see my post on Foley's beheading here). ISIS confirmed Emwazi's death in January 2016. The gamer who posted this video on 13 November 2015 rejoices in the killing. This is likely the wrong footage, revealing public difficulty in confirming the details of drone warfare. According to the Daily Mail, Emwazi was killed on a street while talking on his cell phone. Video Source: Youtube

The psychological orientation of drone battle is different from conventional warfare. One army sits, thousands of miles away from the arena of action. Their engagement is virtual, disconnected from direct combat, and they target enemies dispersed among a civilian population. The documentary observes that human operators of drones will soon be replaced by computer algorithms, thus making the targeting of undesirable individuals in the world nearly fully automated. Proponents of algorithmic pilots argue that an algorithm is more objective than human drone operators. At present, the human decision to assassinate an individual or group depends on intelligence analysis and a chain of command. The intelligence is gathered through governmental monitoring of private citizens' information, combined with international intelligence tips - including, the film asserts - from the European Union, whose governments have not criticized Obama's policy on drones.

In DroneColonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005, remarked that the advent of drones changes the legal connotations of war, and positions the soldier as more murderer than defender of his or her society. Drone operations demand a different kind of recruit, from soldiers who are physically, organizationally and strategically trained for combat, to soldiers who are computer gamers. The US military has developed unmanned airplane computer games to ferret out and attract drone pilot recruits at as early an age as possible. From Wilkerson in Drone:
"It's a very different youth group that we're dealing with, that we're forcing into this environment of killing. And it's a very different form of killing, when you're in Nevada and the people you're killing are ten thousand miles away. We have something in the armed forces that we call the 'warrior ethos.' You destroy that when you go out and kill people and you're totally invulnerable. I think the drone business, the distance imposed, amplifies this a hundredfold. And the distinction between killing for state purposes under just war theory and killing for state purposes with no vulnerability is, I think, the difference between killing in a way that is recognized and legalized, even, and murder. How did we get to the point where we're no longer warriors, we're murderers for the state?"

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Mind and Government, Terror and Ideology: Reframed


1907 photograph of an 1872 Leon Berger model guillotine, stored with its body basket. The photograph was reproduced by someone who currently makes historic replicas of guillotines. There had to be someone out there doing this. Oddly, there is more than one. Some people make mini-guillotines as a side hobby. The 1792 French Revolution guillotine mini-model plans are offered to aspiring carpenters on the Internet for USD $38, here. The finished mini-model (perfect for your back yard?) is here; the full-sized 1792 model, five times larger, built from the same plans for a Belgian museum, is here. Image Source: Bois de Justice.

This post was written before the terrorist attacks in Nice (14 July 2016) and Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray (26 July 2016). With regard to those attacks, no disrespect is intended in discussing today's anniversary of the end of the Terror during the French Revolution. To be clear, although this analysis runs up to the present, it does not source radical Islamic terrorism in the western political system. I would argue that jihadism has its own specific origins, although it ironically mirrors as nemesis a western concern with the relationship between fear and control in psychology and politics.

This post on politics is the second of three on how perceived understanding or framing of reality diverges from hard facts, and creates problems in the historical narrative. I have a theory that when human beings build governments and devise theories of government, they project outwardly their awareness of the inner structure of the human psyche. That is, when we build and control society in the outer world, we embed how we think, perceive and feel into those constructions. And if there are parts of ourselves we would rather not face, we embed the suppression, too.

On a basic level, it makes sense. We fear our capacity for savagery and bloodshed, and know that the hell-pit at the dark end of the behavioural spectrum is something we ought to avoid. That is why the idea of climbing toward something higher through renewed social order is so appealing. The initial drive begins with a justified fear of the demons inside us and a moral journey to find the "better angels of our nature."

The French Revolution presents a powerful example of that journey and its challenges. Today marks the 222nd anniversary of the end of the Terror (6 September 1793 - 28 July 1794), a period of mass execution of enemies of the Revolution. It is ironic that 'terror' - described today as the greatest nemesis of global civilization - played a critical part of the establishment of modern western politics. Although there were revolutionary precursors in England and America, the founding moment began with the French Revolution. Everything we take for granted, from left-wing and right-wing politics, to the basic rights of human beings, was most clearly expressed there.

Today's post reconsiders the circumstances in which the west's current political ideologies developed, to see how the story of rational modern politics diverged from its reality. The French Revolution came dressed in the rhetoric of liberty, equality and fraternity, respectively sources of liberalism, socialism and nationalism. Revolutionaries changed how we measure time, months, hours, days. 18th century perceptions of time were different from post-revolutionary modern ones. The revolutionaries standardized weights and measures - previously a privilege of the nobility - with the creation of the metric system. They developed the modern media in their propaganda. They overturned a corrupt and bankrupt absolutist monarchical system, a privileged nobility and aristocracy, and a dominant clergy.

They did it through a commitment to rationalism. 1789's Tennis Court Oath was a pledge to develop a constitution, made in the spirit of earlier writings from the empiricist political philosopher and father of modern liberalism, John Locke (1632-1704). Locke's plan for government derived from his view of psychology. With his certainty that the mind was a tabula rasa, Locke insisted on experiential and logical systems of governance. He espoused the natural rights of man, of life, liberty, and property. He protected those innate values was through the social contract, imposed from outside upon the consenting individual in an embrace of nuture over nature. But starting with man's natural rights, he maintained that no one is innately superior to anyone else. He removed God and superstition from human politics, government and law, by stating that all men were divinely appointed to their state in nature. There was no divine right of kings: all people are equal.

From that natural and secular socialist equality, Locke derived fraternity and liberty as human beings left the pure state of nature and entered the body politic. As far as fraternity was concerned, toleration depended on having sufficiently enlightened, educated and morally informed citizens, who understood that some surrender of liberty was necessary to maintain a commonwealth. That social contract, if properly ordered, would clearly broadcast the principles and preconditions of mutual tolerance inside a nation. Within those non-totalitarian bounds, liberal citizens were free.

Locke influenced the French philosophes, notably Voltaire (1694-1778) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Further principles of liberty and separate powers came from other Enlightenment thinkers such as Montesquieu (1689-1755) to form the familiar 18th century values of the American constitution and the French Revolution. These thinkers drew the line between a divine source for the unified Church and State in absolutist monarchical systems and enlightened, secular, humanist, rationalist, democratic republics, with a separated Church and State. According to Montesquieu, there were underlying collective psychological trends in political development toward victory or defeat. Different types of government used varying core principles to drive those trends. The transition from monarchy to republic marked a shift in principles from honour to public virtue. But what must be avoided above all was a loss of liberty through fear. Wiki:
"[T]here were three main forms of government, each supported by a social 'principle': monarchies (free governments headed by a hereditary figure, e.g. king, queen, emperor), which rely on the principle of honor; republics (free governments headed by popularly elected leaders), which rely on the principle of virtue; and despotisms (enslaved governments headed by dictators), which rely on fear."
Thus, removing God from everyday government had created an interesting philosophical gap in the conception of modern politics. The unknown and unknowable had to be understood in new rational ways, or they would give rise to fear and dictatorship. In Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), Locke cautioned against raising children by intimidating them with fear. He warned against servants filling children's heads with fear of the dark, or goblins and monsters. Infantile superstition and threats bred subjection in grown men:
"Such bug-bear thoughts once got into the tender minds of children, and being set on with a strong impression from the dread that accompanies such apprehensions, sink deep, and fasten themselves so as not easily, if ever, to be got out again; and whilst they are there, frequently haunt them with strange visions, making children dastards when alone, and afraid of their shadows and darkness all their lives after. I have had those complain to me, when men, who had been thus used when young; that though their reason corrected the wrong ideas they had taken in, and they were satisfied that there was no cause to fear invisible beings more in the dark than in the light, yet that these notions were apt still upon any occasion to start up first in their prepossessed fancies, and not to be removed without some pains. ...

And to let you see how lasting and frightful images are, that take place in the mind early, I shall here tell you a pretty remarkable but true story. There was in a town in the west a man of a disturbed brain, whom the boys used to teaze when he came in their way: this fellow one day seeing in the street one of those lads, that used to vex him, stepped into a cutler’s shop he was near, and there seizing on a naked sword, made after the boy; who seeing him coming so armed, betook himself to his feet, and ran for his life, and by good luck had strength and heels enough to reach his father’s house before the mad-man could get up to him. The door was only latch’d; and when he had the latch in his hand, he turn’d about his head, to see how near his pursuer was, who was at the entrance of the porch, with his sword up ready to strike; and he had just time to get in, and clap to the door to avoid the blow, which, though his body escaped, his mind did not. This frightening idea made so deep an impression there, that it lasted many years, if not all his life after. For, telling this story when he was a man, he said, that after that time till then, he never went in at that door (that he could remember) at any time without looking back, whatever business he had in his head, or how little soever before he came thither he thought of this mad-man."
Locke's rational suppression, denial and dismissal of fear remained a weak alternative to the absolutist monarch's God. Given his denial of a priori knowledge and insistence on a posteriori knowledge, Locke faced the dilemmas of the rationalist, locked inside his own mind, guided only by his sense impressions of the world. Locke did consider what lay beyond empirical experience. In chapter 27 of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689), he argued that worldly identity depended on an eternal, immaterial soul, incarnated in a physical body in the real world. In one example, that notion led him to suggest that a human being's worldly personal identity was distinct from the soul's consciousness. Worldly personality did not extend beyond the individual's rational thoughts, memories and life experiences. An eternal soul would have had past human lives, but a temporal individual personality housing that soul would have no memory of those past lives. In other words, Locke admitted that there were things beyond a posteriori awareness, but we have no rational access to them. Our only access to consciousness when building our personal identities would be through real life experiences and the memory of real life experiences. And that was the rock on which modern political order must be built.

However, when it came time to build the rational project during the French Revolution, to bring down the absolutist monarchy and remove God from government, the unknown manifested in the undertaking, in the form of the irrational element of fear. The rationalization of western politics depended on the Terror, on force as an instrument of fear to impress conformity to those ideals. Modern politics sealed a commitment to high intentions, rejected superstition and hereditary inequality; but it did so through mass intimidation and mass killing. From a psychological point of view, this means that when we strive toward highest purpose, we are still enmeshed in lowest impulses. The history of the French Revolution reflects a conscious-unconscious duality, as western political ideals emerged from bloodshed. The complete formula of the French Revolution would have been: liberty, equality, fraternity - and terror.