“Pi” the Movie


My mind is always working on problems related to the meaning of life and the nature of the universe. Yep, that’s me. Even my days of dance and rave had a metaphysical quality. As I grow older and closer to death, however, I find myself more distant from answers about That Which Is than ever before. I know nothing; have little relationship with the One I used to know. At best I am an agnostic. In the dark times I am a nihilist.

The other night I had a dream. I had purchased tickets to a movie called “Pi.” When we got to the theatre we were refused entry because the theatre had been rented for the night by a group of men with beards. Yesterday after I woke I searched for the movie “Pi” and realized that I had a copy of it. I recalled seeing it when it was released in 1998 and we watched it last night. “Pi” is all about math, religion, mysticism and the relationship of the universe to mathematics. Some interesting messages in it for me. Take a look at the film. Well worth the time.

A week off from Facebook? Participants in Danish experiment like this

Group who quit site for a week felt less stressed and spoke more with family and friends face to face, in study by Danish Happiness Research Institute

People taking pictures under blooming cherry blossoms at the cemetery of Bispebjerg in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Those in the Danish study that quit the social media site for week said they felt a ‘calmness from not being confronted by Facebook all the time’. Photograph: Sophia Juliane Lydoplh/EPA

“We look at a lot of data on happiness and one of the things that often comes up is that comparing ourselves to our peers can increase dissatisfaction,” said Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen.

“Facebook is a constant bombardment of everyone else’s great news, but many of us look out of the window and see grey skies and rain (especially in Denmark!),” he said. “This makes the Facebook world, where everyone’s showing their best side, seem even more distortedly bright by contrast, so we wanted to see what happened when users took a break.”

Participants aged between 16 and 76 were quizzed before the experiment began on how satisfied they felt, how active their social life was, how much they compared themselves to others, and how easy they found it to concentrate. The group was then split, with half behaving as normal and half agreeing to abstain from Facebook for seven days – “a big ask for many,” according to Wiking.

Stine Chen, 26, found it tough at first, saying: “Facebook’s been a huge part of life since I was a teenager and lots of social activities are organised around it.”

It was also a challenge for Sophie Anne Dornoy, 35: “When I woke up, even before getting out of bed, I’d open Facebook on my phone just to check if something exciting or important had happened during the night. I worried I’d end up on Facebook just out of habit.”

She deleted the smartphone app and blocked the site on her desktop to reduce temptation. “After a few days, I noticed my to-do list was getting done faster than normal as I spent my time more productively,” she said. “I also felt a sort of calmness from not being confronted by Facebook all the time.”

A week later, the group who had abstained reported higher levels of life satisfaction and better concentration, as well as feeling less lonely, less stressed and more sociable.

“My flatmates and I had to chat instead of just checking Facebook,” said Chen. Dornoy found she had longer conversations on the phone than normal and reached out more to family and friends: “It felt good to know that the world doesn’t end without Facebook and that people are still able to reach you if they want to,” she said.

The next step for researchers is to assess how long the positive effects of a social media sabbatical last, and what happens when volunteers go without Facebook for extended periods. “I’d like to try for a year,” said Wiking, “but we’d have to see how many volunteers we get for that.”



Breaking the chains: precarity in the Age of Anxiety

By Joseph Todd On October 15, 2015

Post image for Breaking the chains: precarity in the Age of AnxietyIn our Age of Anxiety, society assaults us from every possible angle with an avalanche of uncertainty. How do we fight back under conditions of precarity?

An Age of Anxiety is upon us, one where society assaults us from every possible angle with an avalanche of uncertainty, fear and alienation. We live with neither liberty nor security but instead precariousness. Our housing, our income and our play are temporary and contingent, forever at the whim of the landlord, policeman, bureaucrat or market. The only constant is that of insecurity itself. We are gifted the guarantee of perpetual flux, the knowledge that we will forever be flailing from one abyss to another, that true relaxation is a bourgeois luxury beyond our means.

Our very beings come to absorb this anxiety. We internalize society’s cruelty and contradiction and transform them into a problem of brain chemistry, one that is diagnosed and medicated away instead of being obliterated at root. All hope is blotted out. Authentic experience, unmediated conversation, distraction-free affection and truly relaxed association feel like relics of a bygone era, a sepia dream that perhaps never existed.

Instead we have the frenetic social arenas of late capitalism: the commodified hedonism of clubs and festivals, express lunches, binge culture and the escapist, dislocating experience of online video games, all underlined by either our desperate need to numb our anxieties or to create effective, time-efficient units of fun so we are available for work and worry.

This is assuming we have work, of course. Many of us are unemployed, or are instead held in constant precarity. Stuck on zero-hour contracts or wading through as jobbing freelancers in industries that used to employ but don’t anymore, we are unable to plan our lives any further than next week’s rota, unable to ever switch off as the search for work is sprawling and continuous.

And if we do have traditional employment, what then? We are imprisoned and surveilled in the office, coffee shop or back room, subject to constant assessment, re-assessment and self-assessment, tracked, monitored and looped in a perpetual performance review, one which even our managers think is worthless, but has to be done anyway because, hey, company policy.

Continuous is the effective probationary period and we are forever teetering on the edge of unemployment. We internalize the implications of our constant assessment, the knowledge that we’re always potentially being surveilled. We censor ourselves. We second-guess ourselves. We quash ourselves.

And thanks to the effective abolition of the traditional working day, work becomes unbearable and endless. The security of having delineated time — at work and then at play — has been eradicated. Often this is because individuals have to supplement their atrocious wages with work on the side. But it is also because traditional 9-to-5 jobs have suffered a continuous extension of working hours into out-of-office time, enabled and mediated by our laptops and smartphones. These gadgets demand immediacy and, when coupled with the knowledge that you are always reachable and thus available, they instill in us a frantic need to forever reply in the now.

And with this expectation comes obligation. Hyper-networked technologies gift our bosses the ability to demand action from us at any moment. Things that had to wait before become doable — and thus are done — in the now. If you are unwilling, then someone is ready to take your place. You must always be at their beck and call. From this, our only refuge is sleep, perhaps the last bastion of delineated time against frenetic capitalism, and one that is being gradually eroded and replaced.

For those that are out of work the situation is no better. They face the cruel bureaucracy of the Job Centre or the Atos assessment, institutions that have no interest in linking up job seekers with fulfilling employment but instead attempt only to lower the benefits bill through punitive, arbitrary sanctions and forcing the sick back to work. Insider accounts of these programs betray the mix of anxiety inducing micro-assessment and surveillance they employ.

Disabled claimants — always claimants, never patients, insists Atos — are assessed from the moment they enter the waiting room, noted as to whether they arrive alone, whether they can stand unassisted and whether they can hear their name when called. Compounding this is the hegemonic demonization of those that society has failed: if you are out of work, you are a scrounger, a benefit cheat and a liar. Utterly guilty of your failure, a situation individualized in its totality and attributable to no system, institution or individual but yourself.

We are surveilled, monitored and assessed from cradle to grave, fashioned by the demand that we must be empirical, computable and trackable, our souls transformed into a series of ones and zeros. This happens in the workplace, on the street and in various government institutions. But its ideological groundwork is laid in the nursery and the school.

These institutions bracket our imaginations while still in formation, normalizing a regime of continuous surveillance and assessment that is to last for the rest of our lives. Staff are increasingly taken away from educating and nurturing and instead are made to roam nurseries taking pictures and recording quotes, all to be computed and amalgamated so authorities can track, assess and predict a child’s trajectory.

It is true that this does not trouble the child in the same way traditional high intensity rote examination does. But what it instead achieves is the internalization of the surveillance/assessment nexus in our minds; laying the groundwork for an acquiescence to panoptical monitoring, a resignation to a private-less life and a buckling to regimes of continuous assessment.

Britain is particularly bad in this respect. Not only does our government have a fetish for closed-circuit television like no other, but also, GCHQ was at the heart of the Snowden revelations. Revelation, however, is slightly misleading — as what was most telling about the leaks wasn’t the brazen overstep by government institutions, but that few people were surprised. Although we didn’t know the details, we suspected such activity was going on. We acted as if we were being watched, tracked and monitored anyhow.

In this we see the paranoid fugitive of countless films, books and television dramas extrapolated to society writ large. We are all, to some extent, that person. Our growing distrust of governments, the knowledge that our technologically-integrated lives leave a heavy trace and the collection of “big” data for both commercial and authoritarian purposes contributes to our destabilized, anxious existence. An existence that impels us towards self-policing and control. One where we do the authority’s job for them.

Many individuals offer the amount of choice we have, or the amount of knowledge we can access at the click of a button, as the glorious consequences of late capitalist society. But our rampant choice society, one where we have to make an overwhelming number of choices — about the cereal we eat, the beer we drink, or the clothes we wear — is entirely one sided. While we have an incredible amount of choice over issues of little importance, we are utterly excluded from any choice about the things that matter; what we do with the majority of our time, how we relate to others or how society functions as a whole. Nearly always these choices are constricted by the market, the necessity of work, cultures of overwork and neoliberal ideology.

Again we find this ideology laid down in primary education. Over the years more and more “continuous” learning has been introduced whereby children, over a two week period or so, have to complete a set of tasks for which they can choose the order. This is an almost perfect example of how choice functions in our society, ubiquitous when insignificant but absent when important. The children can choose when they do an activity, which matters little as they will have to do it at some point anyway, but cannot choose not to do it, or to substitute one kind of activity with another.

Why does this matter? Because meaningful choices about our lives give us a sense of certainty and control. Avalanches of bullshit choices that still have to be made, as study after study has shown, make us incredibly anxious. Each of them takes mental effort. Each contains, implicitly, the multitude of choices that we didn’t make; all those denied experiences for every actual experience. This is fine if there are only one or two. But if there are hundreds, every act is riddled with disappointment, every decision shot with anxiety.

Compounding this orgy of choice, and in itself another root cause of anxiety, is the staggering amount of information that assaults us every day. Social media, 24-hour news, the encroachment of advertising into every crack — both spatially and temporally — and our cultures of efficiency that advocate consuming or working at every possible moment all combine to cause intense sensory overload. This world, for many, is just too much.

Although we’ve talked mostly about work, surveillance, assessment and choice, there are a multitude of factors one could add. The desolation of community due to the geographical dislocation of work, the increased transiency of populations and the growing privatization of previously public acts — drinking, eating and consuming entertainment are increasingly consigned to the home — shrinks our world to just our immediate families.

Camaraderie, extended community and solidarity are eroded in favor of mistrust, suspicion and competition. Outside of work our lives become little more than a series of privatized moments, tending to our property and ourselves rather than each other, flitting between the television shows, video games, home DIY and an incredible fetish for gardening with no hint towards the thought that perhaps these experiences would be better if they were held in common, if they appealed to the social and looked outward rather than in.

In the same way we could mention the ubiquity of debt — be it the mortgage, the credit card or the student loans — and the implicit moral judgment suffered by the debtor coupled with the anxiety-inducing knowledge that they could lose everything at any moment. Or we could consider the near-existential crises humanity faces, be it climate change, ISIS or the death throes of capitalism; all too abstract and total to comprehend, all contributing to a sense that there is no future, only a grainy, distant image of lawless brutality, flickering resolutely in our heads.

But the crux, and the reason anxiety could become a revolutionary battleground, is that neoliberal ideology has individualized our suffering, attributing it to imbalances in our brain chemistry, constructing it as a problem of the self, rather than an understandable human reaction to a myriad of cruel systemic causes. Instead of changing society the problem is medicalized and we change ourselves, popping pills to mold our subjectivities to late-capitalist structures, accepting the primacy of capitalism over humanity.

This is why “We Are All Very Anxious”, a pamphlet released by the Institute of Precarious Consciousness, is so explosively brilliant. Not only does it narrate the systemic causes of anxiety, but it situates the struggle within a revolutionary strategy, constructing a theory that is at once broad and personal, incorporating one’s own subjective experience into an explanatory framework, positing anxiety as a novel, contemporary revolutionary battleground, ripe for occupation.

It is, they claim, one of three eras spanning the last two-hundred years where we have progressed between different dominant societal affects. Until the postwar settlement we suffered from misery. The dominant narrative was that capitalism benefited everybody; while at the same time overcrowding, malnourishment and slum dwelling were rife. In response to this appropriate tactics such as strikes, mutual aid, cooperatives and formal political organization were adopted.

After the postwar settlement, until around the 1980s, a period of Fordist boredom ensued. Compared to the last era, most people had stable jobs, guaranteed welfare and access to mass consumerism and culture. But much of the work was boring, simple and repetitive. Life in the suburbs was beige and predictable. Capitalism, as they put it, “gave everything needed for survival, but no opportunities for life.” Again movements arose in opposition, positioned specifically against the boredom of the age. The Situationists and radical feminism can be mentioned, but also the counter-culture surrounding the anti-war movement in America and the flourishing DIY punk scene in the UK.

This period is now finished. Capitalism has co-opted the demand for excitement and stimulation both by appropriating formerly subversive avenues of entertainment — the festival, club and rave — while dramatically increasing both the amount and intensity of distractions and amusements.

In one sense we live in an age of sprawling consumerism that avoids superficial conformity by allowing you to ornament and construct your identity via hyper-customized, but still mass-produced products. But technological development also mean that entertainment is now more total, immersive and interactive; be it the video game or the full-color film watched on a widescreen, high-definition television.

Key to this linear conception is the idea of the public secret, the notion that anxiety, misery or boredom in these periods are ubiquitous but also hidden, excluded from public discourse, individualized and transformed into something unmentionable, a condition believed to be isolated and few because nobody really talked about it. Thus to even broach the subject in a public, systematic manner becomes not just an individual revelation but also a collective revolutionary act.

I’ve seen this first-hand when running workshops on the topic. Sessions, which were often argumentative and confrontational, became, when the subject was capitalism and anxiety, genuinely inquisitive and exploratory. Groups endeavored to broaden their knowledge of the subject, make theoretical links and root out its kernel rather than manning their usual academic ramparts and launching argument after rebuttal back and forth across the battlefield.

But more than this, there was a distinct edge of excitement, the feeling that we were onto something, a theory ripe with explosive newness, one that managed to combine our subjective experiences and situate them in a coherent theoretical framework.

However, we must be critical. To posit anxiety as a specifically modern affect, unique to our age, is contentious. What about the 1950s housewife, someone mentioned in one of the sessions, with her subjectivity rigidly dictated by the misogyny and overbearing cultural norms of the time? Didn’t this make her feel anxious?

Well, perhaps. But if we take anxiety to mean a general feeling of nervousness or unease about an uncertain outcome — with chronic anxiety being an actively debilitating form — then we can draw distinct differences. Although the housewife was oppressed, her oppression was codified and linear, her life depressingly mapped out with little room for choice or maneuver. Similarly with the slave — surely the universal symbol of oppression — hierarchies aren’t nebulous but explicit, domination is ensured by the whip and the gun, the master individualized and present.

This is in stark contrast to the current moment. While it is obvious that oppressions are distinct and incomparable, we can nevertheless see that the fug of the 21st century youth is of a different nature. Our only certainty is that of uncertainty. Our oppressor is not an individual but a diffuse and multiplicitous network of bureaucrats, institutions and global capital, hidden in its omnipotence and impossible to grasp.

We aren’t depressed by the inevitability of our oppression, but instead are baffled by its apparent (but unreal) absence, forever teetering on the brink, not knowing why, nor knowing who we should blame.

Similarly it is bold to claim that anxiety is the dominant affect of Western capitalism, tantamount to pitching it as the revolutionary issue of our age. Yet if we analyze the popular struggles of our time — housing, wages, work/life balance and welfare — they are often geared, in one way or another, towards promoting security over anxiety.

Housing for many is not about having a roof over their heads, but about security of tenure, be it via longer fixed-term tenancies or the guarantee that they won’t be priced out by rent rises that their precarious employment can’t possibly cover. In the same way struggles over welfare are often about material conditions, but what particularly strikes a chord is the cruel insecurity of a life on benefits, forever at the whim of sanction-wielding bureaucrats who are mandated to use any possible excuse to remove your only means of support.

Anxiety is also a struggle that unites diverse social strata, emanating from institutions such as the job center, loan shark, university, job market, landlord and mortgage lender, affecting the unemployed, precariously employed, office worker, indebted student and even the comparatively well-off. Again we find this unification in the near-universal adoption of the smartphone and other hyper-networked technologies. All of us, and especially our children, are beholden to a myriad of glowing screens, flitting between one identity and another, alienated and disconnected from our surroundings and each other.

This is not to say a movement against anxiety itself will ever arise. Such a rallying cry would be too abstract and fail to inspire. Instead, anxiety must be conceptualized both as an affect which underlies various different struggles, and a schema within which they can be assembled into a revolutionary strategy.

So, what is our tangible aim here? In part it must be to reduce the level of general anxiety so as to increase quality of life. Yet if we are to take a revolutionary rather than a mere humanitarian approach, this drop in anxiety must in some way translate into a rise in revolutionary disposition. In certain ways it obviously will. If there is a public realization that large swathes of the mentally ill are not as such because of their unfortunate brain chemistry but instead because of a misconfiguration of society, people are already thinking on an inherently challenging, systemic level.

Similarly, conflict with the state or capital — be it on the street, in the workplace or inside one’s own head — tends to be high-impact and anxiety-inducing. A drop in general anxiety will make it more likely that individuals will engage in such moments of conflict and, crucially, experience the intense radicalization and realization of hegemonic power that can only be achieved through such visceral moments. But a second part to this, hinted at already and integral to giving the struggle a revolutionary edge, is to emphasize that there is a public secret to be aired. As well as combating the sources of anxiety, we must say we are doing so; we must situate these struggles within larger frameworks and provide education on its systemic nature.

Thus, any strategy would need to be both abstract and practical. On one hand we must explode the public secret by raising consciousness. This would require a general onslaught of education, including, but not limited to, consciousness-raising sessions, participatory workshops, articles, books, pamphlets, leaflets, posters, YouTube videos and “subvertised” adverts. The emphasis would be to educate but also to listen, to intermingle theoretical understanding with subjective experience.

The second part would be to strategically support campaigns and make demands of politicians that specifically combat anxiety in its various different guises. When it comes to work, the abolition of zero-hour contracts, the raising of the minimum wage in line with the actual cost of living, and the tightening of laws on overwork as part of a broader campaign to assert the primacy of life over work, of love over pay, would be a good start.

For those out of work, underpaid or precarious, the introduction of a basic citizen’s income would represent a revolutionizing of the job market. In one move it would alleviate the cultural and practical anxieties of worklessness — ending the bureaucratic cruelty of the job center while removing the anxiety-inducing stigma associated with claiming benefits — while simultaneously allowing individuals to pursue culturally important and revolutionary activities such as art, music, writing or (dare I say it?) activism, without the crushing impossibility of trying to make them pay. When we look to housing obvious solutions include mandatory, secured five-year tenancies, capped rent increases and a guarantee of stable, suitable social housing for those who need it.

There are many more reforms I could list. You will notice, however, that these are indeed reforms; bread and butter social democracy. Does that mean such a program is counter-revolutionary? A mere placatory settlement between capital and the working class? No, it does not. Revolution does not emerge from the systematic subjection of individuals to increased misery, anxiety and hardship as accelerationist logic demands. Instead it flourishes when populations become aware of their chains, are given radical visions for the future and the means to achieve them. It is when leftists critique but also offer hope. It is when the population writ large are included in and are masters of their own liberation; not when they are viewed as a lumpen, otherly mass, of only instrumental importance in achieving the glorious revolution.

Look at the practicalities and this becomes obvious. How can we expect individuals to launch themselves into high-tension anxiety-inducing conflicts if the mere thought of such a situation causes them to have a panic attack? How can individuals, in the face of near panoptical surveillance and monitoring, combat the overwhelming desire to conform if they aren’t awarded some freedom from the practical anxieties of life? How are we to think and act in a revolutionary, and often abstract, manner if the very real and immediate anxieties of work, home and play fog our minds so totally?

This is not to say freedom will be given to us. It must always be taken, and we must not rely on electoral politics to hand us the revolution down from above. Nor will true struggle ever be an anxiety-free leisure pursuit. Genuine conflict with the state and capital will always entail danger, stress and the possibility of intensified precariousness.

Nevertheless, the dismissal of electoral politics in its totality represents abysmal revolutionary theory. The pursuit of reforms by progressive governments being bitten at the heels by sharp, vibrant social movements can produce real, tangible change.

It was what should have happened with Syriza, and it is what will hopefully happen with the new Labour leadership in the UK. And if, as individuals and communities, we are to puncture the distress, precariousness and general sense of cruel unknowing so particular to the moment in which we live, if we are to overcome the avalanche of bullshit and reclaim our confidence, if we to construct and disseminate a distinctly communal, hopeful revolutionary fervor, such changes are imminently needed.

Joseph Todd is a writer and an activist. Find more of his writings here or follow him on twitter.



The Oregon school shooting and America’s brutal society


3 October 2015

The killing of nine students and the wounding of seven others by 26-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon on Thursday have once again revealed something deeply dysfunctional in American society.

Harper-Mercer opened fire on students in multiple classrooms in the campus’s Snyder Hall. He was subsequently killed in the course of a shootout with police outside the hall.

In coming days, more information will emerge about the particular psychological motivations—and illness—that led to Thursday’s events. Some details have begun to come out. Social media accounts belonging to Harper-Mercer indicate that he held a confused mix of right-wing nationalist ideas. A Myspace account had numerous pictures glorifying members of the Irish Republican Army. The name he chose for an online dating website, IRONCROSS45, is apparently a reference to a medal awarded by the Nazis. In his dating site profile he identified as a conservative Republican but noted organized religion as one of his dislikes.

In a recent blog post, Harper-Mercer reveled in the attention Vester Flanagan received when he killed two news reporters on live television in August. He then encouraged readers to view the video of the killing that Flanagan had posted on social media, saying, “It’s a short video but good nonetheless.”

The killings at Umpqua Community College are the latest in a seemingly endless series of horrific tragedies. The website shootingtracker.com, which has tracked mass shootings in the United States since 2013, reports that there have been at least 296 incidents so far this year in which multiple people have been killed or wounded by gunfire.

A recent study by Harvard researchers Amy Cohen, Deborah Azrael and Matthew Miller found that between 1982 and 2011 the average amount of time between mass shootings in which more than four people were killed or wounded was 200 days. Since 2011 the number of days between shootings has fallen to an average of 64, meaning there has been a three-fold increase in the rate at which such killings occur.

The list of mass killers includes: 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, who shot Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people on January 8, 2011; 24-year-old James Holmes, who killed 12 and wounded 58 in a movie theater on July 20, 2012; 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who shot dead 20 first graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012; 22-year-old Elliot Rodgers, who killed seven and wounded seven on the UC Santa Barbara campus on May 23, 2014; 21-year-old Dylan Storm Roof, who shot and killed nine people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 18 of this year.

Even such a limited accounting gives a picture of a truly sick society. No economically advanced country comes close to the number and frequency of mass killings in the United States.

In a rambling press conference held in the wake of Thursday’s shooting, US President Barack Obama struggled to account for yet another mass shooting during his tenure in office. “Somehow this has become routine,” he said fatalistically. “The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We’ve become numb to this.” At a press conference the next day Obama reinforced his loss for an explanation, superstitiously blaming all violence on “original sin.”

As he has done many times before, to the extent that he offered any explanation, Obama blamed lax national gun control laws, a problem that he said could be solved by the passage of the correct piece of legislation. “We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don’t work, or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens and criminals will still get their guns is not borne out by the evidence,” he argued.

Obama’s proposed solution to mass shooting—mainly aimed at increasing the power of the state and the police—will do nothing to actually address the underlying social issues that give rise repeatedly to such tragedies.

While each shooting has its own peculiarities, a phenomenon that occurs with such regularity must have deeper causes. What is the social environment that produces them? Decades of the suppression of class struggle and the promotion of individualism. An ideology that explains individual failings or successes as the product of personal characteristics, leading to deep disillusionment and alienation.

A general sense of hopelessness pervades among a generation of young people, who, if they were lucky enough to go to college, are saddled with a trillion dollars in student loan debt, with no prospect of a decent paying job that provides them with a good standard of living.

As for pervasive violence, this applies first and foremost to the state and the ruling class that controls it. Over the last two and a half decades, which encompass nearly the entirety of Harper-Mercer’s life, the United States has been at war in one country or another more or less continuously, resulting in the deaths of more than a million people and displacement of millions more. The shooter has grown up during the “war on terror,” which has been used by the ruling class to foster an atmosphere of paranoia and suspicion, and to justify all manner of violent actions by the state.

Under Obama’s drone assassination program, open murder has become the official policy of the US government. The president and other government officials publicly boast of “taking out” people placed on their kill lists, including American citizens. While the US government keeps secret how many people it has killed with drones, conservative estimates based on public reports indicate that thousands, including women and children, have been summarily executed without charge or trial.

Domestically, a society riven by growing economic inequality has at the same time been increasingly militarized, with military service glorified at every possible moment as the highest service to the nation. Police forces have been armed to the teeth with armored vehicles and assault rifles making them indistinguishable from military units. Killings and brutality are routine, with nearly 900 people murdered in encounters with the police so far this year.

The United States remains the last economically advanced country that imposes the death penalty. Since 1976, 1,416 people have cruelly and inhumanely been put to their death. So far this year there have been twenty-two such state-sanctioned murders.

The solutions routinely advanced in the wake of such shootings will do nothing to address the causes of mass killings that are rooted, in the final analysis, in America’s brutal society.

Niles Williamson



New App Lets You Rate and Review Actual Human Beings

Imagine all your worst ideas poured into an app and you’ve basically got it.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Chaikom

If there is one thing that absolutely no one has been asking for, it is a social media app that lets you rate people as if they were products or restaurants. But a Calgary-based company isn’t letting that major issue get in the way. Instead, it’s developed an app called Peeple, which allows anyone age 21 or over who has your phone number to rate you on a scale from 1 to 5, and to give you a review.

Sounds like just what the Internet needs, right? Another way for people to voice their unfiltered and unsolicited opinions on something — or someone, in this case — just because!

Here’s how this awful, no-good idea, which cofounders Nicole McCullough and Julia Cordray say will launch in November, will work: Users will log into Peeple via Facebook and enter their phone numbers to demonstrate they aren’t bots and to verify their identity. Then, to rate a person, they’ll have to pick a category that defines the nature of their shared relationship: personal, professional or romantic. From there, they can issue a rating and write a review, the way you might on Yelp or Amazon, only about a flesh-and-blood human being.

But wait, there’s more! Even if you don’t sign up for the app, someone else can create a profile for you. According to the Peeple site, “[i]f the person you are searching for is not in the app you can add their name, profile picture, and start their profile by rating them.” All you need is said person’s cell phone number. And once you have a profile in the Peeple app — even one you yourself didn’t create — it’s there for good.

Peeple co-founder Nicole McCullough, speaking to the Calgary Herald, said, “The aim of our platform is to showcase a person’s true character. I came up with this idea over a year and a half ago from wanting to find a good babysitter in my neighborhood. We tend to trust referrals and so we wanted to create a platform that allowed people to refer each other in several different ways.”

“People do so much research when they buy a car or make those kinds of decisions,” co-founder Julia Cordray told the Washington Post. “Why not do the same kind of research on other aspects of your life?”

The short answer is, because people are not cars or objects. Summing a person up on a scale of 1-5 seems irresponsible and overly simplistic, not to mention completely unnecessary. (You want to know what someone’s like? It sounds crazy, but you might try talking to that person.) If, as McCullough suggests, the company was simply interested in creating a means of vetting service providers — e.g., baby sitters — why not build a site like Healthgrades or Rate My Professor, which focus on rating a person in a capacity that it makes sense for a reviewer to comment on, or a potential customer to know? Why would anyone think that essentially inviting any acquaintance — from old lovers to former co-workers you mostly avoided — to weigh in with thoughts on a person is a good idea? Knowing what we know about the Internet, and how people behave online, who wouldn’t see this as a devolutionary step in social media? It’s all just so obviously made to go terribly awry.

What’s more, the Washington Post also notes that, even under the best of circumstances, rating sites and app users exhibit inevitable human biases:

[A]ll rating apps, from Yelp to Rate My Professor, have a demonstrated problem with self-selection. (The only people who leave reviews are the ones who love or hate the subject.) In fact, as repeat studies of Rate My Professor have shown, ratings typically reflect the biases of the reviewer more than they do the actual skills of the teacher: On RMP, professors whom students consider attractive are way more likely to be given high ratings, and men and women are evaluated on totally different traits.

McCullough and Cordray point to Peeple’s terms and conditions, which rule out things like bullying, abuse, hateful content, sexism and more, but I think we’ve all seen how effective that is in practice on any number of sites. Still, there may be one way to avoid the inevitable downsides of this whole thing. Positive ratings will post on a profile the instant they’re submitted, but negative ratings will be withheld for 48 hours while the parties involved attempt to settle the issue. If you aren’t registered for the site, you can’t engage in that process, and your page will therefore only display positive comments. (You can also respond to negative comments, Yelp-style, but I say not registering seems like the best route for everyone.)

Until their launch, McCullough and Cordray are speaking with angel investors and venture capitalists to raise funds. The Post estimates the company is currently valued at $7.6 million.

“Peeple will revolutionize the way an individual is seen in this world through their relationships,” Cordray said to the Calgary Herald. “When social graces are becoming lost to the past, we want to revive this forgotten manner and bring attention to how a person appears to others.”

It’s an ironic statement, considering the app seems to eschew the very social graces Cordray suggests it was created to promote.



Rave SWAT Teams

Cops Cracking Down on ‘Evil’ People Who Dance Late at Night

The motion is a reactionary step following the death of two people at last month’s HARD Summer music festival.

Los Angeles, Ca — Last week, local politicians in Los Angeles voted unanimously to create a new police task force that will be entirely focused on electronic dance music events. Earlier this summer, Los Angeles County council members proposed banning these types of events entirely. While that option is still on the table for them, they are now moving to crack down on these events until they are able to initiate a complete ban.

The recent proposal to create a police task force was put forward by county supervisors Hilda Solis and Michael Antonovich. The motion reads “Ultimately, in the interest of public safety, a ban of electronic music festivals at county-owned properties remains a possibility that will continue to be evaluated.”

“I want to emphasize that our efforts around this motion, above all, are about the health and safety of those attending these events. No lives should be lost while attending any music event,” Solis said in a statement.

The motion is a reactionary step following the death of two people at last month’s HARD Summer music festival at the Pomona Fairgrounds.

While deaths at events are a concern, they are largely due to the prohibition of these drugs, which makes them more dangerous. To make matters worse, the zero tolerance policy at events prevents drug users from getting the help they need when something does go wrong.

The development of a rave task force is reminiscent of the fear-mongering propagated about raves in the late 1990s.

In April of 2003, the government passed a law that everyone could agree on, the Amber Alert Bill. The Amber Alert is a notification system that sends warnings about missing and abducted children.

At face value, this seemed like something that was completely positive, and when it comes to rescuing abducted children, the Amber Alert system has surely saved many lives. However, the piece of legislation that put this system into effect is a perfect example of how the government is able to pass unpopular laws, by attaching them to popular bills.

In the case of the legislation that set up the Amber Alert system, there were also completely unrelated issues covered in the bill. For example, hidden deep within the bill was one of Joe Biden’s pet projects, the RAVE ACT, a law that imposes legal penalties on hosts and participants of late night dance parties.

According to the Wikipedia entry for the RAVE ACT:

On Thursday (April 10, 2003) the Senate and House passed the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act (formerly known as the RAVE Act) as an attachment to the child abduction-related AMBER Alert Bill. The language of the original act was changed slightly before the bill was passed without public hearing, debate or a vote.

Festivals and other events are not to blame for overdoses, or other personal decisions that attendees make on their own. This is especially important to consider when the events host anywhere between 10,000 and 100,000 people.

In an area with that many people, as populated as some towns are, it is inevitable that a wide variety of situations can pop up. In fact, any large event that hosts so many people see occasional deaths. Due to the large volume of people, the chances increase that something will go wrong somewhere. This goes for sporting events to parades and other types of events that are considered wholesome and family-friendly.

Some other factors to consider are the many unintended consequences of the drug war, which causes drugs to be more dangerous, and limits harm prevention policies that could be put into place to prevent overheating and drug overdoses.

John Vibes is an author, researcher and investigative journalist.



Noam Chomsky: How America’s Way of Thinking About the World Naturally Produces Human Catastrophes

The scholar talks about the seemingly innocuous elements of our socialization that promote one-world view over another.


Tavis: Noam Chomsky is, of course, internationally recognized as one of the world’s most critically engaged public intellectuals. The MIT professor of linguistics has long been an unapologetic critic of both American foreign policy and the ideological role of the mainstream media.

He joins us now from MIT to talk about the seemingly innocuous elements of our socialization that promote one-world view over another. Before we start our conversation, a clip from “The West Wing” that I think will set this conversation up quite nicely.

Tavis: Professor Chomsky, good to have you on this program. Thank you for your time, sir.

NoamChomsky: Glad to be with you.

Tavis: I think that clip, again, sets up our conversation nicely. Let me just jump right in. Why all these years later is the west better than the east, the north better than the south, Europe better than Africa? These notions continue to persist. Tell me why.

Chomsky: There’s a generalization. We are better than they, whoever we are. So if you look through the whole history of China, one of the most ancient, most developed, civilizations which, in fact, was one of the centers of the world economy as late as the 18th century, China was better than everyone else.

It’s unfortunately a natural way of thinking, very ugly and destructive one, but it’s true. We are the west, the north, Europe and its offshoots, not Africa. So, of course, we’re better than them.

Tavis: When you say it’s a natural way of thinking, unpack that for me. What do you mean by a natural way of thinking?

Chomsky: It’s not unusual for people to think that our group, whatever it is, has special traits that make it better than others. So, for example, I happen to be Jewish. If you look at the Jewish tradition, the leading rabbis and so on, many of them held the position that Jews are a special race above ordinary mankind.

China had similar views. The north and the west had the same views and, of course, it’s enhanced by the imperialist history which ended up with Europe and its offshoots conquering and controlling most of the world.

Actually, this world view about, you know, the north somehow being on top and the south being on the bottom goes way back to the origins of what’s called western civilization.

So, for example, it was believed in classical times that nobody could live south of the equator because their heads would be pointed downward. I think even St. Augustine held that view, if I remember correctly.

And it carries over up to the present when Henry Kissinger says, “Nothing important ever came from the south.” He’s essentially expressing a modern version of the same racist conception.

Tavis: Since you mentioned Henry Kissinger, I was just about to ask, so I will now, Professor Chomsky, how our socialization–or as you might put it–how this natural way of thinking ultimately impacts and affects our foreign policy. If we think that we are better than everybody else, how does that impact and affect our foreign policy?

Chomsky: Oh, very definitely. You see it very clearly if you study internal documents, you know, declassified documents discussing how leaders plan things among themselves.

So go back to, say, 1945 when the U.S. pretty much took over domination of the world. It was incredibly powerful without any counterpart in history, half the world’s wealth, incomparable security, military powers.

So, of course, it planned detailed plans as to how to run the world. Now a lot of it was laid out by the State Department policy planning staff. It’s head was George Kennan, one of the highly respected diplomats, one of the framers of the modern world.

And he and his staff parceled out different areas of the world and described what they called their function within the U.S.-dominated system. So, for example, the function of southeast Asia was to provide resources and raw materials for the industrial countries of Europe and the United States and so on.

When he got to Africa, he said, well, we’re not that much interested in Africa, so we will hand Africa over to Europe for them to exploit–his word–for them to exploit for their reconstruction. If you look at the history of relations between Europe and Africa, some slightly different conception might come to mind, but it never entered the thought of the planners.

So the idea that Europe should exploit Africa for Europe’s reconstruction passed without comment. This is just deeply imbedded in the consciousness of what’s sometimes called white supremacy which is an extraordinary doctrine.

Comparative scholarly studies, George Frederickson, for example, one of the main scholars who dealt with it, concludes that in the United States, white supremacy was even more extreme than in apartheid South Africa. It’s a very powerful concept here. It’s buttressed by imperial domination.

The more powerful you are, the more you dominate others, the more you create justifications for that in ideology and education and media and so on. If you’ve got your boot on someone else’s neck, it’s typical to provide a justification for it. We’re doing it because we’re right, they deserve it, we’re better and so on.

Tavis: I want to come back to how we change that thinking before our conversation ends. Let me go back one more time, though, to your Kissinger reference when Henry Kissinger said that, “Nothing good ever came out of the south”.

If the earth is a sphere–think about this–if the earth is a sphere and we’re constantly in motion, what is to be gained by drawing consistently certain countries on the top half and other countries on the bottom half? What is to be gained by that?

Chomsky: What’s to be gained by that is a graphic representation of the fact that we are more important and better than them. We’re the north, they’re the south. We dominate because of our essential superiority of character, qualities, righteousness and so on.

It’s a graphic manifestation of the we are better than them conception that, as I said, is unfortunately pretty natural and is greatly enhanced by when it’s associated with power. So when you actually dominate others, that enhances the natural we are better than them conceptions.

Tavis: Speaking of conceptions, it seems that every other day now someone else is announcing that he or she is running for president. And I suspect, between now and November 2016, we will hear the term “American exceptionalism” over and over and over again.

By any other definition or espoused any other way, is this notion again that we’ve been talking about tonight that the USA is all that and then some, what do you say to the American people about how we challenge our own thinking, how we reexamine our assumptions, how we expand our inventory of ideas, as it were, about this notion that we hold onto so dearly?

Chomsky: Well, the best way to do it is to look carefully at the facts that are easily available to us. So take the phrase, “American exceptionalism”, which is supposed to express our unique superiority to other countries, the unique benevolence of our intention with regard to others. You get this across the spectrum.

So a recent issue of the New York review of books, the kind of ideological journal of the left liberal intelligentsia, has an article by the former head of the Carnegie Institute for Peace saying that it’s just obvious beyond discussion that the United States is unique. Other countries work for their own interests. We work for the interests of mankind.

That’s American exceptionalism. There are two problems with it. For one thing, it’s flatly false. As soon as you look at the record, you see nothing like that is true.

The second problem is it’s not uniquely American. Take other great powers in their day in the sun, they had the same doctrine. England was British exceptionalism. France was France’s civilizing mission. Anywhere you look, you find the same thing.

We happen to be the world dominant power for a long time, certainly since the Second World War economically, even before that. Sure, American exceptionalism is our version of the same disgraceful conception of history that’s concocted by the powerful. And how do you combat it? With the facts.

Tavis: Easily said, not easily done. Always pleased to be in conversation with this brilliant thinker, Noam Chomsky, challenging us tonight to reconsider our world view. Professor Chomsky, thanks for your time. Never enough time with you, but I’m honored to have had you on this program tonight, sir.

Chomsky: Thank you.

Noam Chomsky is a professor of linguistics and philosophy at MIT.