Thursday, July 21, 2005

Ibn Abu Archie

As the British government works to create alliances with the British Muslim community, they take the path that the law is law for all citizens and not a minority. This approach that favors legal remedies was proposed in the United States post 9/11 but rejected loudly and derisively by the religious right and the neocons of the Republican Party. As recently as a month ago, their acknowledged spokesman, Karl Rove dismissed this strategy as weak just prior to being plunged into a scandal based in his own disregard for the law. At least he is consistent.

The danger in this thinking is summarized in the remark made in the run up to the 'war on terrorism', that it is 'our right wing religious nuts against their right wing religious nuts'. There are tempting parallels but I don't think that exactly catches the image I see and hear in the hallways of American business and private enterprise. It seems that since the return of the Republican Party to power and the September 11 tragedy, an old and comic figure has come to dominate the speech of the right wing: Archie Bunker is back. Archie was a comic figure as he emerged at the end of the period of social revolution of the 1960s, but coming at the beginning of one, he is a terrible omen.

I find him sitting at his desk with his door closed listening to the hate mongers such as Rush Limbaugh, who eerily resembles the religious instructor at a madrassa repeating the edicts of the illegitimate fatwa. His lack of deliberation has that same empty eyed 'challenge me not' purpose, accepting his fate and the fate of his enemies as he works his purpose: to unify believers, destroy non-believers, and make his office environment pure. He knows without purity of intent and action, we can never defeat our implacable adversaries because to understand them is to justify them, so any attempt to open our minds is to be resisted first with derision, and needs be finally, with force. He lives for that moment when his force can be felt because then he will be triumphant and pure before his God.

His law is the law of the presumption of might. He believes that we can have both peace and cheaper gas if we will just unleash our nuclear arsenal on the countries that oppose us. Unknowingly, he embraces the dark vision of his opposite number: the gates to paradise are under swords.

He is our worst enemy and he is us. He is Archie Bunker not simply telling Edith to 'stifle', but his fellow worker, his mates, his neighbor, his children's teachers, and if needs be, the opposition party. His way is right. His way is rule. All others are his enemies.

While Archie sits stewing listening to the fat man with the radio show, others are beginning to realize that rule of law is the best means to defeat terrorism. Terrorists are murderers. They are not freedom fighters and are not even devout Muslims because Muslims live under religious laws, the sharia and understand the hadith. Mohammed The Prophet was only a warrior for eight years of his life and he taught that even in war there are limits that cannot be trespassed without invoking the wrath of Allah. The members of al-Qaeda have trespassed and have no place in paradise. They have raised their sword against the innocent and in so doing, have violated both divine and human law. Their punishment is to die and their self-chosen destiny to suffer the agonies of eternal separation from the divine.

Here on Earth, we have the law of man and it is the best solution if it can be applied equally, transparently, and where just, mercifully. When the Bani Quraiza were judged by Sa'd bin Mu'adh, he judged them in accordance with their own law, the Torah. This is of importance: we have both international law and the law of the local countries.

Systems of justice are now supported by information systems. This is a business I know well because that is what my company provides. I do not speak for my company, but I do see the immediate potential of such systems as they are provided internationally. Where law can be made transparent, it can be applied equally and where just,mercifully. Where such systems are integrated with the ever growing surveillance systems as they are being, evidence becomes more difficult to obscure and available to all sides in a case. Where integrated with the open source intelligence systems now coming into being, they are incorporated into the deliberative systems that can make it possible for both religious lives and secular lives to be lived if not in perfect harmony, at least in constant reexamination and growth.

The danger is that all sides of the war on terror are enabling the fundamentalists, the Archie Bunkers to drive our deliberations. This is a terrible mistake because whether he sports a cigar and an old hat, or wears a khaftan and a scowel, he is always the same bigoted loudmouth terrorizing his family and his neighbor. We must see him for what he is and understand that in this circumstance, he is not a comic figure but the agent of Shaytan. He leads away from peace, paradise, and the righteous life lived under the law of God and Man, away from dar al Islam to dar al Karb.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Deliberate Means

Today, President Bush changed his story. Now, he says if anyone in his administration has committed a crime, he will fire them. So one can be pretty certain that his lawyers have assured him that his buds, Karl and Libby, can't be convicted because by some technicality, they haven't committed crimes. But...

Rove & Co. outed a NOC: someone who volunteers to serve in deep cover overseas without diplomatic credentials, meaning if caught, disavowed by their own government and executed. Further, he and his destroyed a CIA front for deep cover operations during a time of war.

If you or I did that, we'd be in prison awaiting execution.

So the President's statements don't express a deeply moral position but I'm under no illusion about President George W. Bush and moral convictions. Yet this story hasn't played out. I was asked, what I thought and I replied,

"I think of 1973 and what happens when one starts pulling a thread on a carefully knitted sweater." The ghost of Tricky Dick visits George W. in the wee hours of the morning.

"So when will McCain dive into the fray. He has felt the lash of Rove's tongue?"

I wrote back, "If he is smart, when it formally becomes his obligation and not before. The lawyers are still parsing. Wait until the result tree is there to be deliberated, then strike like a black mamba."

A smart man is deliberate in his actions and his words. McCain was a naval officer and combat veteran. He is no fool about timing given a known enemy. He learned patience in many life experiences, not least of all, the Hanoi Hilton. He can wait.

The problem is we are at war and can't afford another zedGate. So this is a game that has to end without overtime or a Hail Mary pass. If Rove Inc has one ounce of patriotism, they will resign before the investigation is completed. Because they don't, we have to pray for their survival instincts to take over. All administrations end; thriving is a matter of what one does AFTER the next guy's innaugural. Traitors don't have careers on the salad circuit or sweet consultancies, so if the results of the investigation lead toward prosecution, their survival instincts may kick in.

How this plays out could make or break the next slate of presidential candidates on both sides. So they will be quite deliberate in their deliberations.

That word... hmm?

The press smells blood. If it bleeds, it leads. No moral required; just business. Rove can be hung by the very dynamic he has created, and that may not be justice, but it is bloody well karma.

What works for Rove also works for Jon Stewart. It is a matter of presentation.

Yep, that is Rove's problem. He is the master of the mirror image response. That is a proven tactic on the playground, but it works for anybody. Rove managed the evangelicals because they are conditioned to accept nonsense and the more fantastic the assertion, the more readily they accept it. The rest of the mammals like a good belly laugh. That works for Jon Stewart.

Presentation to the tastes of the audience matters. Is that deliberate? Sure. Is it democratic? Maybe it is just entertainment on both parts.

A good and dear friend writes to me and says

"Regarding Rove,, the subject of a paper I am writing is the need for increased civic engagement and deliberative democracy. If the average person had any idea what goes on up there..."

Well, we engage often. We present, we communicate, but that word again... deliberation. Hmm?

Most people don't know who Rove is. They view politics as corrupt from jump, so a master at corruption looks like someone who is a master at cooking or knitting. They have to see something very graphic repeated before it rises to the forebrain to be considered pertinent to themselves. They sleep through their lives lulled by a 4/4 beat of consumption of mediocrity. Who can blame them? The truth is ugly. We can't be bothered to deliberate about what we don't believe we can change.

That word again...

She made an excellent point: a democratic process is deliberate. That is a precise term. It has meaning. It creates conviction. It exercises reason.

Let's deliberate...

I keep reading that it is important to understand what blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc. have offered, that the citizen journalist can change the nature of modern democracies. I wonder if these technologies have offered any new fundamentals or merely changed the character of the existing processes of deliberation. For example, the fact that we can send email speeds up deliberations at a distance, but letter writing is an old and established means. Only the character changed, not the means.

Whereas it has been possible to control most media easily, these new media are not easy to control and they can be used by any participant with access to the Internet. So what? Niche positions emerge quickly.

Is that a fundamental change of means?

Some say that people get More Of What They Want To Know instead of diversity (think Fox News), thus fracturing the electorate, enabling them to be driven by sensationalized issues. In a sense, this is Yellow Journalism come back with a vengence. Success comes down to the strategy for establishing the belief in a system of distraction.

That is manipulation. It is NOT deliberation.

Rove builds a mirror image of any position his opponent takes and uses it to demean the issue into banality. He is able to smear without penalty because even if verified or denied, the damage is already done. Facts don't matter; he is using a non-linear model of recursive self-interests to create emotional perceptions of superiority. That is why the evangelicals are useful; they are conditioned to accept faith-based proclamations without argument and from there, it is easy to get them to accept nonsense of any kind. Goebbels 101: prepare the ground and plant The Big Lie.

Blogging seeds niche issues. Blogs and niche issues don't always have much effect because of a limited readership, but blogs are a testing ground for the talking points.

What succeeds best is a blog-inspired information chase picked up by a central medium. This is amplification. By co-opting blogs AND talk radio and stifling NPR, public radio and E-TV, they are creating a perception of solidarity. Is it real? Perhaps not, but it is effective because it distracts OR informs and it is hard to tell which on any given issue. Even if blogs catalyse and dissolve false positions, they also create support for them. The shared metric is acceleration. Once the talking points are vetted in a blog, it is simply a matter of presenting them in a mainstream media such as TV, then they take off.

Presentation is NOT deliberation.

Democracy is participative. The problem is an abundance of signal and few good reliable filters. I predict the near term result is fatigue. Information overload leads to the desire to opt-out but that isn't easy to do. People want to turn off the cellphones but discover they are addicted to the feed. They organized their lives and schedules around being always connected and now they can't easily disconnect. By participating, they become easy targets for information.

Infoglut is only suffered by gluttons.

In the long run, there is more information, some better information, and those who have a will to know can know... something and they can participate.... across borders. That is better. The influence of the global observers is felt. That is, British, Canadian, etc. citizens become part of the American political conversation, and given the role we play in their economies, they participate to help themselves. It isn't unselfish, but it is the wildcard limiting centralized attempts to steer the conversation with propaganda. The outsider by nationality can participate.

But it isn't entirely global.

In countries and cultures such as China, a different dynamic is emerging. They are using their economic clout to persuade technology vendors such as Microsoft to become partners in filtering the conversation to enable more centralized control. The question is, as the western powers observe this, will central planners attempt to do the same here? The average wirehead believes it is impossible to control the internet, but that is false. It is not only possible, it is reasonable to do so given that unfiltered communications also makes the invasion of privacy, stalking, identity theft, rise of hate groups, and so on more probable. Participation is dangerous.

Participation is NOT deliberation.

The politics of the 90s until now have been about the suppression of deliberation.

Communication is not deliberation. Presentation is not deliberation. Participation is not deliberation. Yet deliberation is the critical skill for participative democracy reliant on communication and presentation. What must be mastered is discriminating among these qualitatively as means to suppress deliberation and these as means to enable deliberation.

Democracy is not only communication, participation, or simply the global conversation. Emphasize the meaning of deliberation: a process of coming to a reasonable position BEFORE voting based on verification, critically noting the results, and continuing a deliberation with new facts. For that to work, one must be able to verify facts. The Internet has made it possible to both get facts and to work in community to verify facts, but it has also made it possible to create false and reasonable domains of interest that distract us just as television did and continues to do. In the end, the Internet is simply an amplifier; it is still the will of the listener to deliberate that settles issues shouted from a merely louder podium.

The short version of this long rant is this: democracy can only survive by mastering the critical ability to discriminate between the means of real deliberation and means that even while disguised as communication, are really means to suppress deliberation.

What about the web enhances deliberation?

An overlooked power of the web is the wikipedia and, not the blogs, the podcasts, and the online newspages.

This is not Googling. This is the power to type in a word and instantly get back a definition and all of its available references. Awesome. The ability to 'look at all sides of a question' is the definition of deliberation. That I can find the definition faster may not change the nature of deliberation, but it sure as hell improves the speed and accuracy when the terms are there for everyone's immediate access so we can look at all sides of a question with the same shared meanings.

Those wise in the ways of power will become very aware of these online dictionaries and ontologies. Because these are edited by communities instead of authorities, they make a persuasive case for both the vox populi and the intelligensia.

When ANYONE can post and EVERYONE can edit, a new dynamic emerges and that is a qualitative change. That is participative, that communicates, and that convergence on a sharable, verifiable meaning, is deliberate.

Comment Policy

If you don't sign it, I won't post it. To quote an ancient source: "All your private property is target for your enemy. And your enemy is me."