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The Creation of Society’s Shared Hallucinations | Humanity’s Test

The Creation of Society’s Shared Hallucinations | Humanity’s Test.

Posted on February 28, 2014 by rboyd

 This is another of my draft chapters from the book, “Schizophrenic Society”, that I am working on. Please feel free to provide editorial feedback.

Since the advent of the printing press and general literacy, media organizations have constructed parallel realities for the general populace. Radio and silent films, followed by “talking pictures” and television went further by creating artificial worlds that can be seen and heard in the same way that the real world is perceived. The human mind  evolved in an environment with no access to such artificial worlds and thus even though a person may know that these worlds are not real their brain will in many ways treat such worlds as if they were. For example, a 1938 radio program in the United States depicting an alien invasion lead many to believe that there really was such an invasion taking place1.

Many psychologists have noticed the similarities between the mental state of dreaming and that of watching television or a movie2. Such a mental state bypasses some of the conscious mechanisms that people utilize to judge between reality and artificial representations, thus making them more susceptible to internalizing media output as if it were real. There have been many documented cases where the media has been shown to affect social reality, from the media emphasis on below-average sized women3 to the extensive usage of violence4 and the objectification of women5. Gerrig6 proposes that there is in fact no clean delineation in a person’s mind between the real and the artificial, with social reality being a combined construct of real world and media experiences.

Thus, media output acts in the same way as the images created by the mind of a hallucinating individual. Not being able to distinguish between the real and the imagined, the individual integrates the two into his conception of reality. The advent of computer games, with the individual transformed into an active participant within the game, only intensifies the challenges to the brain’s ability to assess what is truly real and what is only an artificial illusion. In many cases gamers even prefer their artificial existence to their real one. The same has been noted of participants in the Second Life artificial world.

As societies have grown in size and complexity, and the “local” has become highly integrated with other geographical areas, the individual has become more and more reliant upon the media to provide the information and conceptual structures with which to make sense of the larger world. This reality was captured vividly by Walter Lippman, “Inevitably our opinions cover a bigger space, a longer reach of time, a greater number of things, than we can directly observe. They have, therefore, to be pieced together out of what others have reported and what we can imagine.”7 Thus individuals rely upon the predominant media sources, such as television and film, to both inform them of events and general cultural trends, and help them construct the conceptual frameworks required to understand their meaning and importance. As Lippman noted, “The only feeling that anyone can have about an event he does not experience is the feeling aroused by his mental image of that event”7, and that mental image is heavily dependent upon the medias depiction of it.

With the power to directly affect the social reality through which individuals make sense of the world, and to decide what events and issues individuals should be made aware of, the media is a central force in the creation of the ruling societal discourse. In a fully working democracy one would expect extensive regulations and oversight to make sure that a great diversity of groups have fair access to media outlets and that such outlets represent a diversity of opinions. Unfortunately, this is not the case as the media industry has become dominated by large private corporations funded by advertising revenue, together with government-funded organizations. Thus, unlike an individual’s hallucinations, the media-created hallucinations are consciously produced predominantly for material gain, or under political constraints.

As Herman and Chomsky have pointed out8, with the advertising revenue model media groups become vehicles to sell things to consumers, rather than the independent purveyors of information about the wider world. Anything that gets in the way of ongoing consumption, and thus the success of advertisements focused on increasing that consumption, will reduce the attractiveness of individual media organizations to the corporations paying for the advertisements. The issues of Climate Change, Peak Resources, and Ecological Degradation are certainly not ones that serve to increase an  individual’s consumption habits. In addition, a greater awareness and understanding of such things could lead to political action to force changes directly upon corporations. If media organizations started to focus heavily on such matters they would be “biting the hand that feeds them”, and thus a high degree of self-censorship would be expected. In many cases advertisers are also directly involved in the process of selecting and developing programs (hence the term “soap operas” which were at first funded by soap companies), allowing them to filter out any “problematic” subjects and themes.

Private media organizations may also be constrained by the need to maintain government licenses, and access for their staff to government officials. In addition, such groups may also want to keep good relationships with the government as they work to reduce regulatory restrictions and grow through mergers and acquisitions that require government approval. Government departments may also offer beneficial support through access to knowledgeable staff and expensive resources for media productions that further their aims. For example, the military have given significant support to television program, film, and even computer game productions that show them in a positive light9,10,11. They can also severely constrain what they see as “bad” reporting, as shown by the embedded journalist program during the Iraqi war, which was designed to eradicate the extensive negative journalism (from the U.S. government’s point of view) seen during the Vietnam war.

With the purchase of media organizations by non-media companies, such as General Electric, and Sony, there is also the increasing problem of not wanting to negatively effect other parts of the conglomerate. In the case of G.E., that may include staying away from contentious stories on nuclear power, the efficacy of mammogram machines, military spending, and foreign arms sales. As media organizations have been allowed to consolidate into massive global corporations focused on growing revenue and profits they also become part of the wealthy and powerful elites. Too much focus on the shortcomings of the economic and social system within which they have flourished, and too heavy a positive coverage of alternatives, would be threatening to their own future prospects.

Overall, the media groups that create our shared hallucinations will tend to be very conservative, protecting the economic and social environment within which they have thrived. This will be reinforced by both the corporations who pay for advertising space and governmental organizations. As humanity’s destruction of the environment continues apace, and becomes more and more visible, these media groups could be expected to work harder to protect the status quo and ignore or downplay inconvenient facts and occurrences. In this light, reductions in staffing and coverage of climate change by media organizations, while the impacts and science become more irrefutable, could be seen as quite logical actions.

In 2013 the TV evening news broadcasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC in the United States covered climate change for a joint one hour and forty two minutes, an improvement over 2012 but still below the 2009 level12. Media groups have also tended to report on weather events as stand-alone occurrences without mentioning climate change13,14. A number of media groups have also significantly reduced the number of journalists covering environmental issues in recent years15,16,17. In addition, a false sense of balance has been used to give climate deniers much more airtime than their representation with the scientific community, less than 5%, would warrant18,19,20, and one news agency has even appointed a “climate skeptic” as its managing editor21. Coverage of climate issues has also predominantly relied upon the use of politicians and social scientists, rather than providing an avenue for scientists to communicate their concerns and findings directly to the public.

The fundamental problem with issues such as Climate Change and Ecological Degradation is that they stem from a core problem, the exponential growth of human demands upon the earth, and thus the only solution is an end to that growth. With the industrialized human societies having spent the past two centuries developing a tight fit to the exponential growth facilitated by fossil fuels, an end to that growth will require wrenching changes to how those societies are structured and operate. Such changes, while producing great concern to the general populace, will be extremely threatening to those that have succeeded under the current societal arrangements. These are the rich and powerful that have most control over media organizations, as well as other determinants of social reality such as the school system and the workplace. To help affect the creation of social reality in their favor, they have created many so-called “independent” think-tanks, and hired public relations groups, to help create a perception of uncertainty on subjects such as climate change and to gain more access for skeptics to the media22,23.

Just as it may have made sense for the Mayan elites to call for more sacrifices to forestall their societies downfall, rather than accept the reality in front of them, it may make sense for the current elites to call for the magic of the “invisible hand” of economics and the wonders of human technology, rather than accept the current reality that so threatens their own wealth and privileges. The longer they practice such conscious ignorance, the more they stand to be accused and attacked, the more such ignorance will be seen as beneficial. Once the media spell is broken, and the duplicity of the elites understood, the wrath of the general populace may be truly horrific. The search for others to “pin the blame on”, and ongoing extensions to the means to monitor and control society, are completely rational actions in this context. If even the members of the police and armed forces come to blame the elites for not taking the actions required to stave off calamity though, nothing may save the rich and powerful from a brutal denouement.

Hence the desperate need to keep control of the construction of social reality, and have the general population live in a mental world made up more of misleading hallucinations than actual reality. Such a state can be maintained for lengthy periods of time, as has been the case with the North Korean population who have for decades existed in a social reality more made up of fantasy than reality. Many commentators also give significant weighting to the inability of the East German authorities to block the television signals from the much more prosperous West Germany in undermining the basis of the communist state. Those that consider the internet to be a democratizing antidote to media concentration and control both misunderstand the ongoing concentration within media 24,25,26 on the internet, and the ability of authorities to block sources they find threatening. Also, as has been shown by the details provided by such whistle-blowers as Snowdon27, our new connected age may make the tracking of dissident opinion-formers much easier for the authorities.

References

  1. Lovgren, Stefan (2005), War of the Worlds: Behind the 1938 Radio Show Panic.Accessed athttp://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/06/0617_050617_warworlds.html

2.     Rieber, Robert & Kelly, Robert (2014), Film, television and the psychology of thesocial dream, Springer.

3.     Stice, Eric & Shaw, Heather (1994), Adverse Effects of the Media Portrayed ThinIdeal on Women and Linkages to Bulimic Symtomatology, Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 1994 13.3.288.

4.     Dill, Karen (2009), How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Seeing Through Media Influence,Oxford University Press

5.     Berberick, Stephanie Nicholl (2010), The Objectification of Women in Mass Media:Female Self Image in Misogynyst Society, Volume 5 2010.

6.     Shanahan, James (1999), Television and its Viewers: Cultivation Theory and Research, Cambridge University Press.

7.    Lippman, Walter (2012), Public Opinion, Dover Publications

8.   Herman, Edward & Chomsky, Noam (1988), Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon Books

9.   n/a (2006), U.S. Military Helps Create Hollywood Films On War and Warriors,PBSNewshour. Accessed at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment-july-dec06-hollywood_10-06/

10.   Rose, Steve (2009), The US military storm hollywood, The Guardian. Accessed athttp://www.theguardian.com/film/2009/jul/06/us-military-hollywood

11.  Zakarin, Jordan (2012), ‘Act of Valor’ And The Military’s Long Hollywood Mission,Huffington Post. Accessed at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/17/act-of-valor-military-hollywood_n_1284338.html

12.   Santhanam, Laura (2014), STUDY: How Broadcast News Covered Climate ChangeIn The Last Five Years, Media Matters. Accessed athttp://mediamatters.org/research/2014/01/16/study-how-broadcast-news-covered-climate-change/197612

13.  Fitzsimmons, Jill & Theel, Shauna (2013), STUDY: Media Ignore Climate ChangeContext of Midwest Floods, Accessed athttp://mediamatters.org/research/2013/05/07/study-media-ignore-climate-context-of-midwest-f/193936

14.  n/a (2013), TV News and Extreme Weather, Don’t Mention Climate Change, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Accessed at http://fair.org/press-release/tv-news-and-extreme-weather-dont-mention-climate-change/

15.  Bagley, Katherine (2013), New York Times Dismantles Its Environment Desk,InsideClimate News. Accessed at http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20130111/new-york-   times-dismantles-environmental-desk-journalism-fracking-climate-change-science-global-warming-economy

16.  Ward, Bill (2013), New York Times Cuts Back Again: Farewell to Green Blog,TheYale Forum on Climate Change and the Media. Accessed athttp://www.yaleclimatemediaforum.org/2013/03/new-york-times-cuts-back-again-farewell-to-green-blog/

17.  Brainard, Curtis (2008), CNN Cuts Entire Science, Tech Team, ColumbiaJournalism Review. Accessed athttp://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/cnn_cuts_entire_science_tech_t.php?page=all

18.  Nucitelli, Dana (2013), Conservative media outlets found guilty of biased globalwarming coverage, The Guardian. Accessed athttp://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2013/oct/11/climate-change-political-media-ipcc-coverage

19.  Valentine, Katie (2013), Britain Cuts Environment Staff As BBC Comes Under FireFor Giving Airtime to Climate Deniers, Climate Progress. Accessed athttp://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/10/28/2847831/britain-environment-staff-bbc/#

20.  Hartman, Thom (2014), The Mainstream Medias Criminal Climate Coverage,TruthOut. Accessed at http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/22123-the-mainstream-medias-criminal-climate-coverage

21.  Robbins, Denise (2014), Report: Reuters Climate Change Coverage Continues ToDecline Under Skeptic Editor, Media Matters for America. Accessed athttp://mediamatters.org/research/2014/02/26/report-reuters-climate-coverage-continues-to-de/198220

22.  Bagley, Katherine (2013), Climate Skeptic Groups Launch Global Anti-ScienceCampaign, Bloomberg. Accessed at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-19/climate-skeptic-groups-launch-global-anti-science-campaign.html

23.  Goldenberg, Suzanne (2013), Secret funding helped fund vast network of climatedenial thinktank, The Guardian. Accessed at http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/feb/14/funding-climate-change-denial-thinktanks-network

24.     n/a (2010), Media Concentration Around the World: Empirical Studies, Columbia University. Accessed at http://www8.gsb.columbia.edu/citi/events/mediacon2010

25.     Noam, Eli M. (2013), Who Owns the World Media?, Columbia Business School. Accessed at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2242670

26.  Hindman, Matthew (2008), The Myth of Digital Democracy, Princeton University  Press

27.     n/a (2014), Snowden: Missions already accomplishedAl Jazeera. Accessed at http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/12/24/snowden-mission-salreadyaccomplished.html

The Creation of Society’s Shared Hallucinations | Humanity's Test

The Creation of Society’s Shared Hallucinations | Humanity’s Test.

Posted on February 28, 2014 by rboyd

 This is another of my draft chapters from the book, “Schizophrenic Society”, that I am working on. Please feel free to provide editorial feedback.

Since the advent of the printing press and general literacy, media organizations have constructed parallel realities for the general populace. Radio and silent films, followed by “talking pictures” and television went further by creating artificial worlds that can be seen and heard in the same way that the real world is perceived. The human mind  evolved in an environment with no access to such artificial worlds and thus even though a person may know that these worlds are not real their brain will in many ways treat such worlds as if they were. For example, a 1938 radio program in the United States depicting an alien invasion lead many to believe that there really was such an invasion taking place1.

Many psychologists have noticed the similarities between the mental state of dreaming and that of watching television or a movie2. Such a mental state bypasses some of the conscious mechanisms that people utilize to judge between reality and artificial representations, thus making them more susceptible to internalizing media output as if it were real. There have been many documented cases where the media has been shown to affect social reality, from the media emphasis on below-average sized women3 to the extensive usage of violence4 and the objectification of women5. Gerrig6 proposes that there is in fact no clean delineation in a person’s mind between the real and the artificial, with social reality being a combined construct of real world and media experiences.

Thus, media output acts in the same way as the images created by the mind of a hallucinating individual. Not being able to distinguish between the real and the imagined, the individual integrates the two into his conception of reality. The advent of computer games, with the individual transformed into an active participant within the game, only intensifies the challenges to the brain’s ability to assess what is truly real and what is only an artificial illusion. In many cases gamers even prefer their artificial existence to their real one. The same has been noted of participants in the Second Life artificial world.

As societies have grown in size and complexity, and the “local” has become highly integrated with other geographical areas, the individual has become more and more reliant upon the media to provide the information and conceptual structures with which to make sense of the larger world. This reality was captured vividly by Walter Lippman, “Inevitably our opinions cover a bigger space, a longer reach of time, a greater number of things, than we can directly observe. They have, therefore, to be pieced together out of what others have reported and what we can imagine.”7 Thus individuals rely upon the predominant media sources, such as television and film, to both inform them of events and general cultural trends, and help them construct the conceptual frameworks required to understand their meaning and importance. As Lippman noted, “The only feeling that anyone can have about an event he does not experience is the feeling aroused by his mental image of that event”7, and that mental image is heavily dependent upon the medias depiction of it.

With the power to directly affect the social reality through which individuals make sense of the world, and to decide what events and issues individuals should be made aware of, the media is a central force in the creation of the ruling societal discourse. In a fully working democracy one would expect extensive regulations and oversight to make sure that a great diversity of groups have fair access to media outlets and that such outlets represent a diversity of opinions. Unfortunately, this is not the case as the media industry has become dominated by large private corporations funded by advertising revenue, together with government-funded organizations. Thus, unlike an individual’s hallucinations, the media-created hallucinations are consciously produced predominantly for material gain, or under political constraints.

As Herman and Chomsky have pointed out8, with the advertising revenue model media groups become vehicles to sell things to consumers, rather than the independent purveyors of information about the wider world. Anything that gets in the way of ongoing consumption, and thus the success of advertisements focused on increasing that consumption, will reduce the attractiveness of individual media organizations to the corporations paying for the advertisements. The issues of Climate Change, Peak Resources, and Ecological Degradation are certainly not ones that serve to increase an  individual’s consumption habits. In addition, a greater awareness and understanding of such things could lead to political action to force changes directly upon corporations. If media organizations started to focus heavily on such matters they would be “biting the hand that feeds them”, and thus a high degree of self-censorship would be expected. In many cases advertisers are also directly involved in the process of selecting and developing programs (hence the term “soap operas” which were at first funded by soap companies), allowing them to filter out any “problematic” subjects and themes.

Private media organizations may also be constrained by the need to maintain government licenses, and access for their staff to government officials. In addition, such groups may also want to keep good relationships with the government as they work to reduce regulatory restrictions and grow through mergers and acquisitions that require government approval. Government departments may also offer beneficial support through access to knowledgeable staff and expensive resources for media productions that further their aims. For example, the military have given significant support to television program, film, and even computer game productions that show them in a positive light9,10,11. They can also severely constrain what they see as “bad” reporting, as shown by the embedded journalist program during the Iraqi war, which was designed to eradicate the extensive negative journalism (from the U.S. government’s point of view) seen during the Vietnam war.

With the purchase of media organizations by non-media companies, such as General Electric, and Sony, there is also the increasing problem of not wanting to negatively effect other parts of the conglomerate. In the case of G.E., that may include staying away from contentious stories on nuclear power, the efficacy of mammogram machines, military spending, and foreign arms sales. As media organizations have been allowed to consolidate into massive global corporations focused on growing revenue and profits they also become part of the wealthy and powerful elites. Too much focus on the shortcomings of the economic and social system within which they have flourished, and too heavy a positive coverage of alternatives, would be threatening to their own future prospects.

Overall, the media groups that create our shared hallucinations will tend to be very conservative, protecting the economic and social environment within which they have thrived. This will be reinforced by both the corporations who pay for advertising space and governmental organizations. As humanity’s destruction of the environment continues apace, and becomes more and more visible, these media groups could be expected to work harder to protect the status quo and ignore or downplay inconvenient facts and occurrences. In this light, reductions in staffing and coverage of climate change by media organizations, while the impacts and science become more irrefutable, could be seen as quite logical actions.

In 2013 the TV evening news broadcasts of ABC, CBS, and NBC in the United States covered climate change for a joint one hour and forty two minutes, an improvement over 2012 but still below the 2009 level12. Media groups have also tended to report on weather events as stand-alone occurrences without mentioning climate change13,14. A number of media groups have also significantly reduced the number of journalists covering environmental issues in recent years15,16,17. In addition, a false sense of balance has been used to give climate deniers much more airtime than their representation with the scientific community, less than 5%, would warrant18,19,20, and one news agency has even appointed a “climate skeptic” as its managing editor21. Coverage of climate issues has also predominantly relied upon the use of politicians and social scientists, rather than providing an avenue for scientists to communicate their concerns and findings directly to the public.

The fundamental problem with issues such as Climate Change and Ecological Degradation is that they stem from a core problem, the exponential growth of human demands upon the earth, and thus the only solution is an end to that growth. With the industrialized human societies having spent the past two centuries developing a tight fit to the exponential growth facilitated by fossil fuels, an end to that growth will require wrenching changes to how those societies are structured and operate. Such changes, while producing great concern to the general populace, will be extremely threatening to those that have succeeded under the current societal arrangements. These are the rich and powerful that have most control over media organizations, as well as other determinants of social reality such as the school system and the workplace. To help affect the creation of social reality in their favor, they have created many so-called “independent” think-tanks, and hired public relations groups, to help create a perception of uncertainty on subjects such as climate change and to gain more access for skeptics to the media22,23.

Just as it may have made sense for the Mayan elites to call for more sacrifices to forestall their societies downfall, rather than accept the reality in front of them, it may make sense for the current elites to call for the magic of the “invisible hand” of economics and the wonders of human technology, rather than accept the current reality that so threatens their own wealth and privileges. The longer they practice such conscious ignorance, the more they stand to be accused and attacked, the more such ignorance will be seen as beneficial. Once the media spell is broken, and the duplicity of the elites understood, the wrath of the general populace may be truly horrific. The search for others to “pin the blame on”, and ongoing extensions to the means to monitor and control society, are completely rational actions in this context. If even the members of the police and armed forces come to blame the elites for not taking the actions required to stave off calamity though, nothing may save the rich and powerful from a brutal denouement.

Hence the desperate need to keep control of the construction of social reality, and have the general population live in a mental world made up more of misleading hallucinations than actual reality. Such a state can be maintained for lengthy periods of time, as has been the case with the North Korean population who have for decades existed in a social reality more made up of fantasy than reality. Many commentators also give significant weighting to the inability of the East German authorities to block the television signals from the much more prosperous West Germany in undermining the basis of the communist state. Those that consider the internet to be a democratizing antidote to media concentration and control both misunderstand the ongoing concentration within media 24,25,26 on the internet, and the ability of authorities to block sources they find threatening. Also, as has been shown by the details provided by such whistle-blowers as Snowdon27, our new connected age may make the tracking of dissident opinion-formers much easier for the authorities.

References

  1. Lovgren, Stefan (2005), War of the Worlds: Behind the 1938 Radio Show Panic.Accessed athttp://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/06/0617_050617_warworlds.html

2.     Rieber, Robert & Kelly, Robert (2014), Film, television and the psychology of thesocial dream, Springer.

3.     Stice, Eric & Shaw, Heather (1994), Adverse Effects of the Media Portrayed ThinIdeal on Women and Linkages to Bulimic Symtomatology, Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 1994 13.3.288.

4.     Dill, Karen (2009), How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Seeing Through Media Influence,Oxford University Press

5.     Berberick, Stephanie Nicholl (2010), The Objectification of Women in Mass Media:Female Self Image in Misogynyst Society, Volume 5 2010.

6.     Shanahan, James (1999), Television and its Viewers: Cultivation Theory and Research, Cambridge University Press.

7.    Lippman, Walter (2012), Public Opinion, Dover Publications

8.   Herman, Edward & Chomsky, Noam (1988), Manufacturing Consent, Pantheon Books

9.   n/a (2006), U.S. Military Helps Create Hollywood Films On War and Warriors,PBSNewshour. Accessed at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment-july-dec06-hollywood_10-06/

10.   Rose, Steve (2009), The US military storm hollywood, The Guardian. Accessed athttp://www.theguardian.com/film/2009/jul/06/us-military-hollywood

11.  Zakarin, Jordan (2012), ‘Act of Valor’ And The Military’s Long Hollywood Mission,Huffington Post. Accessed at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/17/act-of-valor-military-hollywood_n_1284338.html

12.   Santhanam, Laura (2014), STUDY: How Broadcast News Covered Climate ChangeIn The Last Five Years, Media Matters. Accessed athttp://mediamatters.org/research/2014/01/16/study-how-broadcast-news-covered-climate-change/197612

13.  Fitzsimmons, Jill & Theel, Shauna (2013), STUDY: Media Ignore Climate ChangeContext of Midwest Floods, Accessed athttp://mediamatters.org/research/2013/05/07/study-media-ignore-climate-context-of-midwest-f/193936

14.  n/a (2013), TV News and Extreme Weather, Don’t Mention Climate Change, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Accessed at http://fair.org/press-release/tv-news-and-extreme-weather-dont-mention-climate-change/

15.  Bagley, Katherine (2013), New York Times Dismantles Its Environment Desk,InsideClimate News. Accessed at http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20130111/new-york-   times-dismantles-environmental-desk-journalism-fracking-climate-change-science-global-warming-economy

16.  Ward, Bill (2013), New York Times Cuts Back Again: Farewell to Green Blog,TheYale Forum on Climate Change and the Media. Accessed athttp://www.yaleclimatemediaforum.org/2013/03/new-york-times-cuts-back-again-farewell-to-green-blog/

17.  Brainard, Curtis (2008), CNN Cuts Entire Science, Tech Team, ColumbiaJournalism Review. Accessed athttp://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/cnn_cuts_entire_science_tech_t.php?page=all

18.  Nucitelli, Dana (2013), Conservative media outlets found guilty of biased globalwarming coverage, The Guardian. Accessed athttp://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2013/oct/11/climate-change-political-media-ipcc-coverage

19.  Valentine, Katie (2013), Britain Cuts Environment Staff As BBC Comes Under FireFor Giving Airtime to Climate Deniers, Climate Progress. Accessed athttp://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/10/28/2847831/britain-environment-staff-bbc/#

20.  Hartman, Thom (2014), The Mainstream Medias Criminal Climate Coverage,TruthOut. Accessed at http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/22123-the-mainstream-medias-criminal-climate-coverage

21.  Robbins, Denise (2014), Report: Reuters Climate Change Coverage Continues ToDecline Under Skeptic Editor, Media Matters for America. Accessed athttp://mediamatters.org/research/2014/02/26/report-reuters-climate-coverage-continues-to-de/198220

22.  Bagley, Katherine (2013), Climate Skeptic Groups Launch Global Anti-ScienceCampaign, Bloomberg. Accessed at http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-19/climate-skeptic-groups-launch-global-anti-science-campaign.html

23.  Goldenberg, Suzanne (2013), Secret funding helped fund vast network of climatedenial thinktank, The Guardian. Accessed at http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/feb/14/funding-climate-change-denial-thinktanks-network

24.     n/a (2010), Media Concentration Around the World: Empirical Studies, Columbia University. Accessed at http://www8.gsb.columbia.edu/citi/events/mediacon2010

25.     Noam, Eli M. (2013), Who Owns the World Media?, Columbia Business School. Accessed at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2242670

26.  Hindman, Matthew (2008), The Myth of Digital Democracy, Princeton University  Press

27.     n/a (2014), Snowden: Missions already accomplishedAl Jazeera. Accessed at http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/12/24/snowden-mission-salreadyaccomplished.html

Why economists are almost always wrong | Business Spectator

Why economists are almost always wrong | Business Spectator.

27 Jan, 8:13 AM 27

That verbose title is almost the reverse of a quintessentially arrogant statement of economic supremacy published in the UK’s Daily Telegraph – on the editorial page of the business section – by Andrew Lilico. Entitled “Economists are nearly always right about things, despite what you may think in the print edition, its content and tone encapsulated everything about economic theory, and economists’ blind belief in it, that led me to write Debunking Economicsover a decade ago.

Figure 1: Lilico’s article in the print edition of the UK Daily Telegraph
Graph for Why economists are almost always wrong

The two main factors that made that book necessary were the capacity of economists to intimidate opponents with their apparent depth of knowledge of a difficult subject, and the reality that economists knowledge of their own subject was, to coin a phrase, not even shallow: it was frequently outright wrong.

Lilico’s article contained numerous examples of this, but I’ll focus on an apparently esoteric one: his defence of the assumption of rational behaviour, which is an integral part of conventional economic theory. As a piece of prose, his defence of it is a gem of “logic” and linguistics that should have fans of Noam Chomsky rolling in the aisles, but that’s not why I’m quoting it here:

“But rationality is not an assumption of orthodox economic theory in that sense. Instead, it is what is called an “axiom”. No behaviour can prove that people aren’t, in fact, rational, because for an orthodox economist the only kind of explanation of any behaviour that counts as an economic explanation is an explanation that makes sense of that behaviour – that shows why the behaviour is rational. (Lilico, 2014/01/22)”

OK, now stop giggling (or put the brandy bottle away). Apart from the fact that this would show both committing suicide as rational (and yes of course there are economic theories that say it isand deciding not to commit suicide also as rational, it’s wrong about economic theory itself. This is because Paul Samuelson, the prime developer of the underlying theory of rational choice, reacted to precisely this criticism of economics as unscientific: if a theory can explain everything, it explains nothing – a point Lilico himself makes in taking a swipe at professional critics like me:

“Irrationality and other heterodoxy is usually little better than an all-encompassing conspiracy theory, explaining everything and thus nothing — for while many behaviours may not be rational, there is no behaviour that is not irrational. In the process, heterodoxy misses all that is fruitful and important.”

OK, he shot himself in the foot by blasting heterodoxy for “explaining everything and thus nothing” when precisely the same critique applies to his unfalsifiable definition of rationality, the treble negative in the penultimate sentence may necessitate another swig of brandy — and Chomskyites, get up off the floor. But let’s get back to Paul Samuelson and why Lilico doesn’t know what he’s trying to talk about.

In 1938, Samuelson (Samuelson 1938) developed what became known as “the axioms of revealed preference”, in response to criticisms that a key component of the economic concept of rationality was unobservable, and therefore more metaphysical than scientific — according toPopper’s definition of science.

This was the idea of subjective utility, and its representation in so-called “indifference curves” that John Hicks recently devised. Samuelson, in other words, wasn’t happy that the theory rested merely on unchallengeable beliefs — yet Lilico believes he’s defending economic theory by claiming that rationality is an uncontestable “axiom”. This is typical: mainstream economists like Lilico don’t know the history of their own discipline, let alone know much about its flaws.

The economic literature also contains a disproof of Lilico’s dismissive “No behaviour can prove that people aren’t, in fact, rational”. In fact, Samuelson designed his  “axioms of revealed preference” so that it would be possible to test the behaviour of people, and conclude whether they were or were not rational. These axioms of rational behaviour were:

  • Completeness: shown any two shopping trolleys full of goods, a consumer could say which one she preferred (or if she was indifferent between them).
  • Transitivity: if the consumer preferred trolley A to trolley B, and trolley B to trolley C, then she necessarily had to prefer trolley A to trolley C.
  • Non-satiation: if she was indifferent between two trollies A and B, throw one Mars Bar into trolley A and she must prefer A to B.
  • Convexity: this is a bit trickier to explain. If she was indifferent between trolleys A and B, then any trolley containing a mixture of the goods in A and B would have to be preferred to A or B.

Samuelson’s argument was that, if a consumer behaved rationally as defined by these axioms, then you could present them with a whole range of shopping trolleys, and derive what their “indifference curves” were — so it wasn’t true that they were “unobservable”, you could actually derive them from empirical research.

In the late 1990s, the German economist Reinhard Sippel decided to test this in a meticulous experiment: he presented his students with sets of prices that they could use to “buy” a handful of goods, where the choices were set up to test how rational these students were according to the “axioms of revealed preference”.

The substantial majority of his students turned out to be “irrational” according to the theory of rational behavior, because they violated some or all of these axioms. They’d choose a trolley A instead of B one time, and then B instead of A another; given a choice between A and B, they’d choose B, then between B and C, they’d choose C, and then between C and A, they’d choose A.

Were they “irrational”? No, of course not: it’s the mainstream economics definition of rational that is “irrational”, because it ignores the blinding complexity that exists even in what appears to be a simple choice between different combinations of a handful of goods — say ten goods for example, where you could buy between zero and nine units of each.

How many shopping trollies could you fill with different combinations of those ten goods? One hundred million of the buggers. Try to imagine a parking lot filled with 10,000 shopping trollies in one direction, and 10,000 in the other. Do you think that (given a set of prices and an income constraint) you could easily pick the one you preferred out of all others you could afford?

Of course not. So what you rationally do is you ignore many of those combinations, using grouping of different goods together (“buy fruit” rather than “buy apples or oranges or bananas or…” according to what’s cheapest), follow habit (“Dad, why do you always give us turnips?”), custom, etc. So rational behavior isn’t what Samuelson defined it to be — to consider all options and pick the best — but to reduce the complexity of your decision-making process in sensible ways so that you can make a satisfactory decision in finite time.

I have great respect for Sippel because I am sure he thought, when he set the experiment up, that he would both vindicate the theory and bring it alive for his students. Instead, he looked at the experimental results and concluded that they contradicted economic theory:

“We conclude that at the evidence for the utility maximization hypothesis is at best mixed… we would like to stress the diversity of individual behaviour and call the universality of the maximizing principle into question…,” he said. “We should therefore pay closer attention to the limits of this theory as a description of how people actually behave, i.e. as a positive theory of consumer behaviour. Recognising these limits, we economists should perhaps be a little more modest in our `imperialist ambitions’ of explaining non-market behaviour by economic principles.

Sippel’s reaction to his experiment was the mark of a real scientist. Lilico’s defence of economics despite its many empirical failings is the mark of a zealot. That is the real weakness of mainstream economic theory: that it engenders in its followers a manic belief that is impervious to empirical reality.

Steve Keen is author of Debunking Economics and the blog Debtwatch and developer of the Minsky software program.

Noam Chomsky Criticises Canada’s Energy Ambitions

Noam Chomsky Criticises Canada’s Energy Ambitions. (source)

Noam Chomsky, the famed linguist, philosopher, and political commentator has recently taken part in aninterview with the Guardian, to discuss Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper’s exploitation of the Alberta tar sands in an effort to pursue economic development no matter the cost.

“It means taking every drop of hydrocarbon out of the ground, whether it’s shale gas in New Brunswick or tar sands in Alberta and trying to destroy the environment as fast as possible, with barely a question raised about what the world will look like as a result,” he said.

Referencing the indigenous Canadian’s opposition to the expansion plans at the Alberta tar sands, one of the most polluting and fastest growing sources of oil in the world, Chomsky said that “it is pretty ironic that the so-called ‘least advanced’ people are the ones taking the lead in trying to protect all of us, while the richest and most powerful among us are the ones who are trying to drive the society to destruction.”

Related article: U.S., Canada Lead World in Shale Gas Production

Idle No More

Recently, in response to an indigenous movement called ‘Idle No More’, which was set up to oppose Harper’s aggressive promotion and expansion of polluting tar sands projects and his disregard for the environment, armed Canadian police forces raided a camp of shale gas protestors in New Brunswick. A sign that the conflict between the government and environmentalists is becoming more heavy-handed.

Chomsky explained that the calls to save the environment are currently ineffective, and that they must be worded in a way that emphasises how fighting climate change is can improve people’s lives.

“If it’s a prophecy of doom, it will act as a dampener, and people’s reaction will be ok, I’ll enjoy myself for a couple of years while there’s still a chance. But as a call to action, it can be energising. Like, do you want your children, and grandchildren, to have a decent life?”

Related article: Canada and China Deepen Cooperation but Potential Roadblocks Loom

He suggests that mass transportation, localised agriculture, and higher energy efficiency are easy ways to reduce energy consumption and therefore reduce emissions, giving an example that it is much better for an individual, and the environment, to spend 10 minutes on the underground travelling across a city, than an hour stuck in traffic on the surface.

One of the greatest foes of climate change, according to Chomsky, are the markets. “Markets are lethal, if only because of ignoring externalities, the impacts of their transactions on the environment. When you turn to energy production, in market exchanges each participant is asking what can I gain from it? You don’t ask what are the costs to others. In this case the cost to others is the destruction of the environment. So the externalities are not trivial.”

After the 2008 financial crisis banks were able to ignore free market systems and ask the government to bail them out, unfortunately “in the case of the environment there’s no one to bail it out,” and it is fast approaching a major crisis point.

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com

 

How The World Really Works – The Documentary | Zero Hedge

How The World Really Works – The Documentary | Zero Hedge. (source)

Renegade Economist’s “Four Horsemen” documentary lifts the lid on how the world really works. “Four Horsemen is abreathtakingly composed jeremiad against the folly of Neo-classical economics and the threats it represents to all we should hold dear.” Free from mainstream media propaganda — the film doesn’t bash bankers, criticize politicians or get involved in conspiracy theories. It ignites the debate about how to usher a new economic paradigm into the world which would dramatically improve the quality of life for billions. Since it is becoming abundantly clear that we will never return to ‘business as usual’, 23 international thinkers, government advisers and Wall Street money-men break their silence and explain how to establish a moral and just society.

 

The Conspiracy is Systemic and Legalized. | Collapse of Industrial Civilization

The Conspiracy is Systemic and Legalized. | Collapse of Industrial Civilization. (FULL ARTICLE)

If you are a person who gets their news solely from mainstream media and forms a worldview from that information, then this website would perhaps strike you as radical, off-base, and conspiratorial. But what if nearly everything you listen to and read has been filtered through the monied interests of the most powerful entities on the planet? And what if those entities quite literally control the government by way of a revolving door, campaign contributions, and lobbyists who unduly influence the crafting of legislation in favor of big business while ignoring the needs of the common citizenry? What if you are merely a pawn in the machinations of such a system — a consumer for the all-important world market and a disposable human resource in its labor pool? What if the wealth created by such an economy is amassing at the very tip of this pyramid scheme while leaving those below to fend for themselves in a world depleted of its resources and poisoned by industrial waste. Would such a grim reality be considered a conspiracy theory? In other words, would the previously described outcome of such a socio-economic system necessarily have to be the plan of a secret cabal of powerful people? If corporations must compete to survive and are legally bound to look after the financial interests of their shareholders, then protecting and growing profits must in the end override all other concerns — environmental and social. The gross wealth disparity, environmental destruction, and political disenfranchisement created by capitalism is not the byproduct of a conspiracy; it’s simply the end-result of a system operating as intended. Concentration of wealth, a characteristic result of capitalism, inevitably leads to a near total corruption of journalism and democracy. Of course the corporate elite may collude to price-fix, bribe regulators or heads of state, and cover up environmental damage and dangers to public health, amongst many other devious activities, but it is invariably done in the interest of gaining dominance in the market place and protecting profits. Capitalism and democracy are not compatible. In fact, life on Earth is ultimately not compatible with capitalism….

Noam Chomsky on the Classification System: “It’s to Protect the State from the Citizens” | A Lightning War for Liberty

Noam Chomsky on the Classification System: “It’s to Protect the State from the Citizens” | A Lightning War for Liberty.

 

March 31, 2013 ‘Signs’ Introductory Post

ECONOMIC COLLAPSE?

The crises in Europe continues unabated. In the latest crisis, Cypriot citizens and businesses with uninsured deposits were hit with a ‘one-time tax’ that could be as high as 80% (see this). The narrative the media was sharing at one point was that rich, Russian oligarchs would be the main ones to be hit in this, as Cyprus supports an off-shore banking ‘haven’ for these plutocrats (see this). The Russians have NOT been pleased about this and after already moving ships off the coast of Syria (see this), they began an unannounced war games exercise in the Black Sea, a stone’s throw from entering the Mediterranean (see this). This was after the ECB’s first proposal that ALL depositors be hit with a ‘one-time tax of almost seven percent for insured deposits and close to ten percent for uninsured deposits (see this). Governments were being told to take money from their citizens in return for loan guarantees to help bail-out insolvent banks. This has changed from using the taxation system to support bail-outs; the taxpayer was not to be used to bail-out the banks. It would seem, however, that someone leaked the news to the Russian and British off-shore depositors, as they seemed to have moved their money out already (see this and this), leaving the citizens of Cyprus to bail-in the banks. Most certainly, it is beyond obvious that the crises in Europe are not over and is likely to continue to deteriorate (see this).

In light of this change, many are beginning to wonder if the elite have suddenly changed the rules (or put in place something that they’ve been planning) (see this). Marc Faber, the author of the Gloom and Doom Report website, suggests that developed nations the world over are likely to follow this model: to begin to implement a ‘wealth tax’ for anyone above an arbitrary cut-off (see this). This could mean that all of your assets are considered and a ‘one-time tax’ will be implemented to help support the banks (see this); you know, those institutions that have gambled their depositors’ property that they were entrusted with.

The Canadian government is actually preparing for something along these lines. Their first move has been for the federal government to hide in their latest budget a provision for a ‘depositor haircut’ (see this and this). A more general wealth tax may be in the future…

SOCIOPOLITICAL COLLAPSE?

There is little doubt Canadian governments at all levels are testing the waters with respect to what they can force upon their citizens. As a vice-prinicipal, I have been subjected to the Ontario government’s latest salvo at educators, Bill 115 (see this). This bill was used to impose contracts on educators across the province. The government spun a tale that focused upon a wage freeze and the media conveniently played along, while the unions attempted their own spin by focusing on the constitutionality of collective bargaining rights. Regardless of the intent, what I found most distressing about the bill was the section that stated the government’s actions were above the rule of law, beyond the purview of the courts to judge (see this).

We also see the Canadian military pursuing the use of unmanned drones over Canadian territory (see this) and the media is trumpeting it (see this). Unmanned ‘eyes-in-the-sky’ have been increasingly used over Canadian skies by the RCMP and various local police forces (see this). So, is the Canadian government preparing to restrict the freedoms of its citizens in the future through the more widespread use of these drones? What better way to ensure the masses do not stray from their confines, as Noam Chomsky reminds us (see this).

Couple this with the American precedent to use such drones to assassinate ‘terrorists’ within their domestic borders (see this) and we are a stone’s throw away from a state that could not only spy on our every move, both aerially and digitally (see this), but target us for ‘elimination’ if we are deemed terrorists. Given that the definition of who is considered a terrorist shifts as governments deem fit (see this and this), the door is open for anyone who disagrees with or challenges the government to be labelled a ‘domestic terrorist’. But there could be more brewing here as there are some suggesting that the American government could be preparing for a potential civil war (see this and this). Where would the Canadian government lay its allegiance in such a war and what would be the impact on Canada considering that the U.S. is our most significant trading partner; and we have the world’s longest, unguarded border?

History and prehistory point to examples of governments and societies collapsing because of such trends and actions (see this and this).

As geopolitical tensions rise, environmental concerns escalate, and economic sustainability and trust are increasingly questioned, one has to wonder when the tipping point will be reached and cause our hyper-complex, interconnected world to crack and crumble…

_______

I stand before this faceless crowd
and I wonder why I bother
so much controlled by so few
stumbling from one disaster to another
I’ve heard it all so many times before
it’s all a dream to me now
a dream to me now
And if we’re lost
then we are lost together

Blue Rodeo, 1992
Lost Together, Lost Together

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