Do You Have A Living Doppelgänger?

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Folk wisdom has it that everyone has a doppelganger; somewhere out there there’s a perfect duplicate of you, with your mother’s eyes, your father’s nose and that annoying mole you’ve always meant to have removed. Now BBC reports that last year Teghan Lucas set out to test the hypothesis that everyone has a living double. Armed with a public collection of photographs of U.S. military personnel and the help of colleagues from the University of Adelaide, Lucas painstakingly analyzed the faces of nearly four thousand individuals, measuring the distances between key features such as the eyes and ears. Next she calculated the probability that two peoples’ faces would match. What she found was good news for the criminal justice system, but likely to disappoint anyone pining for their long-lost double: the chances of sharing just eight dimensions with someone else are less than one in a trillion. Even with 7.4 billion people on the planet, that’s only a one in 135 chance that there’s a single pair of doppelgangers.

Lucas says this study has provided much-needed evidence that facial anthropometric measurements are as accurate as fingerprints and DNA when it comes to identifying a criminal. “The use of video surveillance systems for security purposes is increasing and as a result, there are more and more instances of criminals leaving their ‘faces’ at a scene of a crime,” says Ms Lucas. “At the same time, criminals are getting smarter and are avoiding leaving DNA or fingerprint traces at a crime scene.” But that’s not the whole story. The study relied on exact measurements; if your doppelganger’s ears are 59mm but yours are 60mm, your likeness wouldn’t count. “It depends whether we mean ‘lookalike to a human’ or ‘lookalike to facial recognition software,'” says David Aldous. If fine details aren’t important, suddenly the possibility of having a lookalike looks a lot more realistic. It depends on the way faces are stored in the brain: more like a map than an image. To ensure that friends and acquaintances can be recognized in any context, the brain employs an area known as the fusiform gyrus to tie all the pieces together.

This holistic ‘sum of the parts’ perception is thought to make recognizing friends a lot more accurate than it would be if their features were assessed in isolation. Using this type of analysis, and judging by the number of celebrity look-alikes out there, unless you have particularly rare features, you may have literally thousands of doppelgangers. “I think most people have somebody who is a facial lookalike unless they have a truly exceptional and unusual face,” says Francois Brunelle has photographed more than 200 pairs of doppelgangers for his I’m Not a Look-Alike project. “I think in the digital age which we are entering, at some point we will know because there will be pictures of almost everyone online.

 

https://science.slashdot.org/story/16/07/15/2039233/do-you-have-a-living-doppelgnger

THE RISE OF FACEBOOK AND ‘THE OPERATING SYSTEM OF OUR LIVES’

Siva Vaidhyanathan, UVA’s Robertson Professor of Media Studies, is the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship.Siva Vaidhyanathan, UVA’s Robertson Professor of Media Studies, is the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship. (Photo by Dan Addison)

Recent changes announced by social media giant Facebook have roiled the media community and raised questions about privacy. The company’s updates include a higher level of news feed priority for posts made by friends and family and testing for new end-to-end encryption software inside its messenger service.

As Facebook now boasts more than a billion users worldwide, both of these updates are likely to impact the way the world communicates. Prior to the company’s news-feed algorithm change, a 2016 study from the Pew Research Center found that approximately 44 percent of American adults regularly read news content through Facebook.

UVA Today sat down with Siva Vaidhyanathan, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Media and Citizenship and Robertson Professor of Media Studies, to discuss the impact of these changes and the evolving role of Facebook in the world. Naturally, the conversation first aired on Facebook Live.

Excerpts from the conversation and the full video are available below.

Q. What is the change to Facebook’s News Feed?

A. Facebook has announced a different emphasis within its news feed. Now of course, your news feed is much more than news. It’s all of those links and photos and videos that your friends are posting and all of the sites that you’re following. So that could be an interesting combination of your cousin, your coworker, the New York Times and Fox News all streaming through.

A couple of years ago, the folks that run Facebook recognized that Facebook was quickly becoming the leading news source for many millions of Americans, and considering that they have 1.6 billion users around the world, and it’s growing fast, there was a real concern that Facebook should take that responsibility seriously. So one of the things that Facebook did was cut a deal with a number of publishers to be able to load up their content directly from Facebook servers, rather than just link to an original content server. That provided more dependable loading, especially of video, but also faster loading, especially through mobile.

But in recent weeks, Facebook has sort of rolled back on that. They haven’t removed the partnership program that serves up all that content in a quick form, but they’ve made it very clear that their algorithms that generate your news feed will be weighted much more heavily to what your friends are linking to, liking and commenting on, and what you’ve told Facebook over the years you’re interested in.

This has a couple of ramifications. One, it sort of downgrades the project of bringing legitimate news into the forefront by default, but it also makes sure that we are more likely to be rewarded with materials that we’ve already expressed an interest in. We’re much more likely to see material from publications and our friends we reward with links and likes. We’re much more likely to see material linked by friends with whom we have had comment conversations.

This can generate something that we call a “filter bubble.” A gentlemen named Eli Pariser wrote a book called “The Filter Bubble.” It came out in 2011, and the problem he identified has only gotten worse since it came out. Facebook is a prime example of that because Facebook is in the business of giving you reasons to feel good about being on Facebook. Facebook’s incentives are designed to keep you engaged.

Q. How will this change the experience for publishers?

A. The change or the announcement of the change came about because a number of former Facebook employees told stories about how Facebook had guided their decisions to privilege certain things in news feeds that seemed to diminish the content and arguments of conservative media.

Well, Facebook didn’t want that reputation, obviously. Facebook would rather not be mixed up or labeled as a champion of liberal causes over conservative causes in the U.S. That means that Facebook is still going to privilege certain producers of media – those producers of media that have signed contracts with Facebook. The Guardian is one, the New York Times is another. There are dozens of others. Those are still going to be privileged in Facebook’s algorithm, and among the news sources you encounter, you’re more likely to see those news sources than those that have not engaged in a explicit contract with Facebook. So Facebook is making editorial decisions based on their self-interest more than anything, and not necessarily on any sort of political ideology.

Q. You wrote “The Googlization of Everything” in 2011. Since then, have we progressed to the “Facebookization” of everything?

A. I wouldn’t say that it’s the Facebookization of everything – and that’s pretty clumsy anyway. I would make an argument that if you look at five companies that don’t even seem to do the same thing – Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon – they’re actually competing in a long game, and it has nothing to do with social media. It has nothing to do with your phone, nothing to do with your computer and nothing to do with the Internet as we know it.

They’re all competing to earn our trust and manage the data flows that they think will soon run through every aspect of our lives – through our watches, through our eyeglasses, through our cars, through our refrigerators, our toasters and our thermostats. So you see companies – all five of these companies from Amazon to Google to Microsoft to Facebook to Apple – are all putting out products and services meant to establish ubiquitous data connections, whether it’s the Apple Watch or the Google self-driving car or whether it’s that weird obelisk that Amazon’s selling us [the Echo] that you can talk to or use to play music and things. These are all part of what I call the “operating system of our lives.”

Facebook is interesting because it’s part of that race. Facebook, like those other companies, is trying to be the company that ultimately manages our lives, in every possible way.

We often hear a phrase called the “Internet of things.” I think that’s a misnomer because what we’re talking about, first of all, is not like the Internet at all. It’s going to be a closed system, not an open system. Secondly, it’s not about things. It’s actually about our bodies. The reason that watches and glasses and cars are important is that they lie on and carry human bodies. What we’re really seeing is the full embeddedness of human bodies and human motion in these data streams and the full connectivity of these data streams to the human body.

So the fact that Facebook is constantly tracking your location, is constantly encouraging you to be in conversation with your friends through it – at every bus stop and subway stop, at every traffic light, even though you’re not supposed to – is a sign that they are doing their best to plug you in constantly. That phenomenon, and it’s not just about Facebook alone, is something that’s really interesting.

Q. What are the implications of that for society?

A. The implications of the emergence of an operating system of our lives are pretty severe. First of all, consider that we will consistently be outsourcing decision-making like “Turn left or turn right?,” “What kind of orange juice to buy?” and “What kind of washing detergent to buy?” All of these decisions will be guided by, if not determined by, contracts that these data companies will be signing with consumer companies.

… We’re accepting short-term convenience, a rather trivial reward, and deferring long-term harms. Those harms include a loss of autonomy, a loss of privacy and perhaps even a loss of dignity at some point. … Right now, what I am concerned about is the notion that we’re all plugging into these data streams and deciding to allow other companies to manage our decisions. We’re letting Facebook manage what we get to see and which friends we get to interact with.

MEDIA CONTACT

10 Takeaways About the Gig Economy That Has Pushed Europe to Say No to These Predatory Capitalists

ECONOMY
Europe knows what undermines economic stability, says author Steven Hill.

Photo Credit: rmnoa357 / Shutterstock.com

The gig economy, exemplified by ride-service companies like Uber, housing rental companies like Airbnb and freelance brokers like Upwork, is not a harbinger of an empowering new tech-driven economy. These are predatory corporations using age-old practices to exploit workers, dodge government oversight and evade taxes.

Those are the takeaways from the new book Raw Deal: How The Uber Economy and Runaway Capitalism are Screwing American Workers, by Steven Hill, a fellow at New America Foundation. Hill, who splits his time between California and Europe, intriguingly notes that unlike the states, the continent has not embraced the gig economy mainstays in its midst.

AlterNet talked with Hill about how Europe—particularly Germany, where he has lived for most of 2016—has not bought into the sector’s claims that it is somehow futuristic, different and above government regulation and public accountability.

“I first started looking at this myself because I live in San Francisco and I’ve been watching the impact of technology on jobs, and specific companies like Uber, TaskRabbit, and Upwork, which I think in some ways is the most alarming of these companies,” he said, referring to a firm that farms out freelance work to the lowest global bidders. “Having studied that here, and these companies are now operating in other countries as well, I wanted to see how other countries are reacting to the pressures that they’re getting from these companies.”

What follows are 10 of Hill’s observations about the burgeoning gig economy.

1. Not following the laws, anywhere. “The first thing for Americans to realize is that a lot of these companies aren’t following the laws, aren’t paying taxes. Uber comes in and just doesn’t follow local laws for taxis. Not only in terms of background checks, insurance laws, qualifications for drivers, but even in terms of paying livery taxes. Airbnb, same thing. Upwork and TaskRabbit, these companies aren’t following minimum wage laws.”

2. Europeans are not okay with that. “Americans sort of accept some of this. But the first thing you notice when you go to France or Germany, they say, ‘No, this is a taxi service. I don’t care that you are using technology to connect a driver to a passenger.’ In fact, Uber changed its name to Uber Technologies just so they could say they were a technology company, not a taxi company. Across Europe, people say, So what? We don’t care that you’re a technology company. It is the same service you offer, therefore we expect you to follow the same laws that we have for taxis. We expect you to follow the same laws that we have for hotels or any of these other services and platforms.

“So there is this interesting and I would say refreshing perspective: Of course, you’re going to follow the laws. You don’t get out of following laws just because you think you are something new and different.”

3. Anything but a new business model. “Airbnb, for example, will tell you, ‘Look, we want to pay taxes—the hotel and occupancy tax that hotels pay—and we want to follow local laws, but we’re in 34,000 cities and we just haven’t had time to research all of these cities and their laws, and we’re going to get to it.’

The thing that’s rather remarkable is they are asserting this new corporate right that you can set up operations first and figure out the local laws and taxes later on. If Boeing, for example, were to set up an airplane assembly plant here, and said we’ll figure out the taxes and local laws later on, we’d live in a very different world. Corporations don’t get to set up where they want and figure out the laws later on. But that’s what these companies are insisting on being able to do.”

4. Europeans are trying to reel this in. “In Berlin, where I was living for the last five months, they passed a law two years ago saying, ‘There’s going to be the new rules we are going to insist on [for Airbnb rentals]. We are not going to have it take effect for two years so everyone can have a chance to get ready.’

Well, the law just went into effect on May 1, and it basically says that you cannot own multiple properties, you can’t rent out your whole house—you can only rent out a spare room in your house or apartment; they put a percentage on it, and you have to register with the city. They are not looking to shut it down completely. Most people realize that the core idea of Airbnb, that you can allow people to rent out a spare room and make some extra money, is okay. But the problem is a lot of it has been completely taken over by professional real estate operatives, some of whom have dozens of properties. So cities like Berlin and Copenhagen are trying to return it to that earlier core business, where you can still have someone rent out a spare room, but you’re not going to create an opportunity for professionals to circumvent local laws or use Airbnb as a massive loophole.”

5. Pushback in U.S. lags far behind. “San Francisco just passed a law for tougher Airbnb rules. They already have a law that folks have to register, which has been in effect for almost a year and a half. This new law is going to put the burden on Airbnb and says you can’t list folks who haven’t registered. If you do list folks who have not registered, you are going to be fined… Other cities are looking at it.

“The problem, in terms of Airbnb, is that many of these laws have turned out to be unenforceable. Unless you have the data from Airbnb, it’s hard to know how many nights they’re renting out, how much they’re charging, these sorts of things. Airbnb is the only one that has that data, and has refused to give it up, despite requests. So this is a big problem in terms of enforcing any of these laws.”

6. Europe is increasing enforcement. “In Berlin, in contrast, they’re ramping up enforcement. They are actually going to have people go door to door. They are encouraging neighbors to start reporting on neighbors who are illegally operating as Airbnb hotels. That’s interesting, as it taps into a whole history of Germany reporting on neighbors, going back to the Stasi [secret police] and everything else. It’s just a lot of different approaches that are happening. We’ll see if any of them are effective.”

7. Europeans are more concerned. “The public in Europe, in general, expect corporations to be better citizens. There is more of social dimension to the economy there. So when companies like Uber come in and say, Hey, we’re going to give you a new service, people take a second look.

First of all, in Europe, taxi service is pretty good, whereas here in the U.S. taxi service is not. There aren’t enough taxis on the road because of medallions and those sorts of things. But in Europe, there is not as big a need. There’s good public transit. That makes Europeans react by saying, If you want to operate here, that’s fine, but you have to follow the law. You can’t do it on the backs of your drivers, cutting their pay, and those sorts of things.”

8. The gig economy hasn’t exploded there. “It hasn’t hit there like it has here, partly because they insist that you follow the law. So Uber and Lyft and TaskRabbit and these other companies say it is a bigger uphill battle for them. They haven’t tried to push into there as much as in India or China. Europeans are aware of the gig economy. Some call it the digital economy. Some just call it the Internet economy. They’re aware that some of the ways that these companies operate really strike at the core of their social model.

“When you talk to business people in Germany and say, This is what these companies are; this is how they operate; they want a labor force they can turn on and off like a garden hose, they understand what that means for the economy. They have good labor relations and it’s part of their economic successes… So that is a barrier to entry for these kinds of companies.”

9. But European business people are worried. “The companies that are most concerning to them are a company like Upwork. It is based in San Francisco, in Silicon Valley, and has 250 employees who use technology to oversee 10 million freelancers from around the world. If you go on that platform, you see workers from Germany saying, I want 60 euros an hour for this job. And you can see a worker from Thailand or India saying, I’ll take two euros an hour. Some of those workers in Thailand or India are very skilled, have access to technology and can do the job.

“So, if you’re a business person in Germany, you feel torn because you can get someone for a lot less, but understand it undermines something crucial about the German economy, and the relationship between employer and employee, and the basis for their economic success. That’s the dilemma.”

10. American workers are less protected. “A lot of Americans who are working in these jobs just need the work. They know the jobs are not very good. If you look at Uber’s own numbers, it shows that 50 percent of their drivers last a year on their platform and then move on. So it’s a temporary job. It’s something they do because they can’t find anything better.”

The biggest takeaway 

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from listening to Hill is that the gig economy flourishes when the public faces a mix of economic anxieties and an absense of government oversight. On both those counts, the U.S. sits between Europe, which has resisted these exploitive firms, and Asia, where they are able to rapidly expand. Indeed, if Americans didn’t have as many economic anxieties at home, there would be less of a need to work longer hours and wrest more income from one’s assets.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

ALTERNET

Corporate Globalization Has Been a Wrecking Ball to the American Dream

LOCAL PEACE ECONOMY
If the American Dream isn’t working for them, why should anyone, anywhere, believe it will work for their own children?

Photo Credit: pixabay.com

This piece originally appeared atLocal Futures.

Implicit in all the rhetoric promoting globalization is the premise that the rest of the world can and should be brought up to the standard of living of the West, and America in particular. For much of the world the American Dream—though a constantly moving target—is globalization’s ultimate endpoint.

But if this is the direction globalization is taking the world, it is worth examining where America itself is headed. A good way to do so is to take a hard look at America’s children, since so many features of the global monoculture have been in place their whole lives. If the American Dream isn’t working for them, why should anyone, anywhere, believe it will work for their own children?

As it turns out, children in the US are far from “confident, self-reliant, tolerant, generous, and future-oriented.” One indication of this is that more than 8.3 million American children and adolescents require psychiatric drugs; over 2 million are on anti-depressants, and another 2 million are on anti-anxiety drugs. The age groups for which these drugs are prescribed is shockingly young: nearly half a million children 0-3 years old are taking drugs to combat anxiety.[1]

Most people in the “less developed” world will find it hard to imagine how a toddler could be so anxiety-ridden that they need psychiatric help. Equally difficult to fathom are many other symptoms of social breakdown among America’s children. Eating disorders, for example: the incidence of anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders has doubled since the 1960s, and girls are developing these problems at younger and younger ages.[2]

If eating disorders are the bane of America’s young girls, violence is a more common problem for its boys. Consider the fact that there have been more than 150 school shootings in the US since 1990, claiming 165 lives. The youngest killer? A six-year old boy.[3]

Sometimes the violence is directed inward, with suicide the result. In America today, suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year olds. In 2013, 17 percent of US high school students seriously considered suicide during the preceding year.[4]

What has made America’s children so insecure and troubled? A number of causes are surely involved, most of which can be linked to the global economy. For example, as corporations scour the world for bigger subsidies and lower costs, jobs move with them, and families as well: the typical American moves eleven times during their life, repeatedly severing connections with relatives, neighbors and friends.[5]

Within almost every family, the economic pressures on parents systematically rob them of time with even their own children. Americans put in longer hours than workers in any other industrialized country, with many breadwinners working two or more jobs just to make ends meet.[6] Increasing numbers of women are in the workforce, so there are no adults left at home; young children are relegated to day-care centers, while older children are left in the company of video games, the internet, or the corporate sponsors of their favorite television shows. According to a 2010 study of American children, the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with various media; older children and teenagers spend more than 11 hours a day with media. Not surprisingly, time spent in nature—something essential for our well-being—has all but disappeared: only 10 percent of American children spend time outside on a daily basis.[7]

America’s screen-obsessed children no longer have flesh-and-blood role models—parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends and neighbors—to look up to. Instead they have media and advertising images: rakish movie stars and music idols, steroid-enhanced athletes and airbrushed supermodels. Children who strive to emulate the manufactured “perfection” of these role models are left feeling insecure and inadequate. This is one reason cosmetic surgery is on the increase among America’s children. According to the president of the American Academy for Facial Plastic Surgery, “the more consumers are inundated with celebrity images via social media, the more they want to replicate the enhanced, re-touched images that are passed off as reality.” What’s more, he adds, “we are seeing a younger demographic than ever before.”[8]

It seems clear that what is often called ‘American culture’ is no longer a product of the American people: it is instead an artificial consumer culture created and projected by corporate advertising and media. This consumer culture is fundamentally different from the diverse cultures that for millennia were shaped by climate, topography, and the local biota—by a dialogue between humans and the natural world. This is a new phenomenon, something that has never happened before: a culture determined by technological and economic forces, rather than human and ecological needs. It is not surprising that American children, many of whom seem to “have everything,” are so unhappy: like their parents, their teachers and their peers, they have been put on a treadmill that is ever more stressful and competitive, ever more meaningless and lonely.

As the globalization juggernaut continues to advance, the number of victims worldwide is growing exponentially. Millions of children from Mongolia to Patagonia are today targeted by a fanatical and fundamentalist campaign to bring them into the consumer culture. The cost is massive in terms of self-rejection, psychological breakdown and violence. Like American children they are bombarded with sophisticated marketing messages telling them that this brand of make-up will inch them closer to perfection, that this brand of sneakers will make them more like their sports hero. But in the global South—where the ideal is often blue-eyed, blonde, and Western—children are even more vulnerable. It’s no wonder that sales of dangerous bleach to lighten the skin, and contact lenses advertised as “the color of eyes you wish you were born with,” are booming across the South.[9]

This psychological impoverishment is accompanied by a massive rise in material poverty. Even though more than 46 million Americans—nearly 15 percent of the population—live in poverty,[10] globalization aims to replicate the American model of development across the global South. Among the results are the elimination of small farmers and the gutting of rural communities, with hundreds of millions of people drawn into sweatshops or unemployment in rapidly growing urban slums. Meanwhile, many of those whose ways of life are threatened by the forces of globalization are turning to fundamentalism, even terrorism.

The central hope of the American Dream—that our children will have a better life than we do—seems to have vanished. Many people, in fact, no longer believe that our children really have any future at all.

Nonetheless policymakers insist that globalization is bringing a better world for everyone. How can there be such a gap between the cheerleading rhetoric and the lives of real people?

Part of the disconnect results from the way globalization’s promoters measure “progress.” The shallowest definition compares the modern consumer cornucopia with what was available 50 or 100 years ago—as though electronic gadgets and plastic gewgaws are synonymous with happiness and fulfillment. More often the baseline for comparison is the Dickensian period of the early industrial revolution, when exploitation and deprivation, pollution and squalor were rampant. From this starting point, our child-labor laws and 40-hour workweek look like real progress. Similarly, the baseline in the global South is the immediate post-colonial period, with its uprooted cultures, poverty, over-population and political instability. Based on the misery of these contrived starting points, political leaders can argue that our technologies and our economic system have brought a far better world into being, and that globalization will bring similar benefits to the “wretched, servile, fatalistic and intolerant human beings” in the remaining “undeveloped” parts of the world.

In reality, however, globalization is a continuation of a broad process that started with the age of conquest and colonialism in the South and the enclosures and the Industrial Revolution in the North. From then on a single economic system has relentlessly expanded, taking over other cultures, other peoples’ resources and labor. Far from elevating those people from poverty, the globalizing economic system has systematically impoverished them.

If there is to be any hope of a better world, it is vital that we connect the dots between “progress” and poverty. Erasing other cultures—replacing them with an artificial culture created by corporations and the media they control—can only lead to an increase in social breakdown and poverty. Even in the narrowest economic terms, globalization means continuing to rob, rather than enrich, the majority. According to a recent report by Oxfam, the world’s richest 62 people now have more wealth than the poorest half of the global population combined. Their assets have risen by more than $500 million since 2010, while the bottom 3.5 billion people have become poorer by $1 trillion.[11] This is globalization at work.

While globalization systematically widens the gap between rich and poor, attempting in the name of equity to globalize the American standard of living is a fool’s errand. The earth is finite, and global economic activity has already outstripped the planet’s ability to provide resources and absorb wastes. When the average American uses 32 times more resources and produces 32 times more waste than the average resident of the global South, it is a criminal hoax to promise that development can enable everyone to live the American Dream.[12]

The spread of globalization has been profoundly destructive to people’s ability to survive in their own cultures, in their own place on the earth. It has even been destructive to those considered to be its most privileged beneficiaries. Continuing down this corporate-determined path will only lead to further social, psychological and environmental breakdown. Whether they know it or not, America’s children are telling us we need to go in a very different direction.

 

Helena Norberg-Hodge is founder and director of Local Futures (International Society for Ecology and Culture). A pioneer of the “new economy” movement, she has been promoting an economics of personal, social and ecological well-being for more than thirty years. She is the producer and co-director of the award-winning documentary, The Economics of Happiness, and is the author of Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. She was honored with the Right Livelihood Award for her groundbreaking work in Ladakh, and received the 2012 Goi Peace Prize for contributing to “the revitalization of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide.”

Steven Gorelick is Managing Programs Director at Local Futures (International Society for Ecology and Culture). He is the author of Small is Beautiful, Big is Subsidized (pdf), co-author of Bringing the Food Economy Home, and co-director of The Economics of Happiness. His writings have been published in The Ecologist and Resurgence magazines. He frequently teaches and speaks on local economics around the US.

http://www.alternet.org/local-peace-economy/how-globalization-impacts-american-dream?akid=14341.265072.CtYp-J&rd=1&src=newsletter1058139&t=8

Facebook, Google and the Tech Companies Bankrolling Hate at the RNC

ECONOMY
Trump has threatened to shut down the open internet. Why aren’t companies divesting from him?

Photo Credit: Khalil Bendib / OtherWords

It’s common for major corporations to sponsor political conventions to buy favor with political parties. But what about when the convention nominates a presidential candidate who’s an out-and-out racist?

That’s a deal breaker, right?

For some big tech companies, apparently not.

Facebook recently announced that it will provide funding and other support for the Donald Trump-led Republican National Convention. And Google will be the event’s official livestream provider via YouTube.

These companies need to find their moral compass and divest from hate.

“Trumped into a Corner,” an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

Trump’s violent rhetoric has inflamed a national atmosphere that’s already hostile toward Latino, Muslim, and black communities, as well as women and people with disabilities. He’s called for the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, promised to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, and vowed to ban all Muslims from entering the United States.

Trump has also incited actual physical violence against people of color, and refused to denounce the white supremacist organizations that openly support him.

If that weren’t enough, Trump’s also threatened to shut down the open internet, censoring the dissident voices standing up against his hate and racism. He’s called for greater surveillance of communities of color, and has encouraged violence against protesters and journalists.

In short, Trump’s campaign isn’t “business as usual”—and corporations shouldn’t treat it as such. That’s why the racial justice group ColorOfChange has launched a campaign called Divest from Hate.

They’re urging major tech companies not to bankroll a platform for hate while Trump continues to incite violence against marginalized communities. Other groups, including my own, have joined the effort to push tech companies to pull their support from the Republican convention, including both direct financial donations and in-kind contributions.

This isn’t about left or right, but right and wrong. People of color make up a large portion of the users of services like YouTube and Facebook. These companies are essentially profiting off the very communities that Trump’s rallying against.

Erin Egan, a Facebook vice president for publicity, claims that the company’s involvement in the convention will “facilitate an open dialogue among voters, candidates, and elected officials.” But throwing a coronation ball for Trump and his white supremacist supporters has nothing to do with democracy.

It’s important to note that these companies have taken stands on other political issues.

Both Google and Facebook recently spoke out against North Carolina’s transphobic “bathroom bill.” And earlier this year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg circulated an internal memo calling out employees who crossed out the words “Black Lives Matter” on the signature wall at the company’s headquarters. He called the behavior “malicious” and “unacceptable.”

Now it’s time for Facebook and Google to take another stand against hate—and to join companies like Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft that have already scaled back or cut their support to the Republican convention.

Lucia Martínez is an organizer with the Free Press Action Fund, a nonpartisan organization that doesn’t support or oppose any candidates for public office.

http://www.alternet.org/economy/facebook-google-tech-funding-trump-rnc?akid=14341.265072.CtYp-J&rd=1&src=newsletter1058139&t=24

Post-Capitalism Utopia Is a Bit of a Farce

WORLD
Technology brings new ways of working, but what has really changed?

Photo Credit: Microsiervos / Flickr Creative Commons

One of Ireland’s thicker politicians recently made the rather bold claim that the country was in danger of becoming “a lawless utopia.” The ditzy comment spurred much head-scratching among the Irish, who tried fruitlessly to square her obvious negative intent with the image of a paradise on earth so wonderful even laws would be obsolete.

After all, most of us, it’s fair to say, would agree that a lawless utopia sounds like a pretty good thing. It’s just that it also sounds… how shall I put this…utopian? Unrealizable? Ultra-idealistic?

Nonetheless, the recent paperback edition of Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future by British journalist Paul Mason got me thinking about lawless utopia again. The book itself was something of a disappointment, with the author offering up such morsels of wisdom as “understand the limits of human willpower” and “attack the problem from all angles,” apparently in ignorance of the fact that you can get this kind of sage advice for free on social media now, alongside perennial favorites like “follow your dreams” and “once you choose hope, anything is possible.” In fact, Postcapitalism reads like one long buzzy LinkedIn post, a collection of a hundred inspirational anecdotes, none of them leading anywhere much.

This created an atmosphere of such utter boredom while reading that the high points for me consisted in a mention of one economist named Slutsky and another named Cockshott (sadly, the constraints of time and space prevented them from ever producing a mutual paper).

But these failings notwithstanding, Mason’s main premise, that information technology will bring with it profound new ways of work and perhaps a new economy—a post-capitalist economy if you will—is an interesting one. Unlike so many others on the political left—and Mason is definitely and unapologetically on the left—he has grasped that a return to the glory days of widespread union membership and workplace solidarity is impossible. People simply do not live and work in the rooted communities of the past—they are more disaggregated, hopping from job to job and city to city, working on contract, freelance or as self-employed “entrepreneurs” of the digital age. At the same time, the scarcity model of economic understanding is at least partially unraveling, with social enterprise and the sharing economy blurring, as the author puts it, the distinction between work and play.

Unfortunately, the insights end there. While Mason views the “networked individual” plugged in to the online community as key to the future, recognizing that not only will we change technology, but that it will change us, he does not pursue this line of philosophy to any particular conclusion. Instead, he uses the final chapter of his book to offer up such simple recipes for change as “nationalize the central bank,” “switch off the neoliberal privatization machine” and “liberate the 1 percent” because “[t]hey become poorer and therefore happier. Because it’s tough being rich.” Naively hopeful doesn’t begin to describe this. Even Jesus went in for a bit more of the carrot and stick when he declared that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.

That being said, the idea of economic decentralization is a big one, something we’ve all been vaguely eyeballing for a while now, with a mix of tingling anticipation and anxious trepidation.

In his science-fiction books, Scottish author Iain M. Banks created one of the most spectacular utopias of all time, a society not far off the one Mason seems to be pointing to. This society, known simply as the Culture, was inhabited by what one could term “networked individuals” who live in a perpetual state of awe-inspiring abundance, without central government and free to live life on whatever terms they choose. More to the point, when Banks began writing his Culture novels (the first was published in 1987) few people had cellphones or home computers of any description. Yet Banks envisaged a culture (or Culture) in which all citizens had the potential to connect to each other and to the collective knowledge of their entire society at any given time. It is this connectivity to each other and to the communal knowledge base that Mason also sees as pivotal for the new post-capitalist economy.

At the time of Banks’ death in 2013, smartphones and Wikipedia had ensured that society had come a long way toward looking like the civilization he had foreseen, although it was still lacking a few things on the Culture, and not just the space travel and three-legged aliens. We may be pretty much networked like a utopia, but we do not enjoy either the equality or freedom of one.

So, how to get from the point of transition Mason senses to something more like the wonderland described by Banks?

The key, I believe, lies in creating mechanisms for decentralization while still maintaining quality control. We have seen a certain decentralization of knowledge, as Mason points out, but we need to follow this up with decentralization in other areas of life. Technology is key here, but unlike Mason, I have difficulty in believing that such change is inevitable or that it will occur spontaneously.

Another recent paperback, Digital Gold: The Untold Story of Bitcoin offers an instructive example. Prior to reading, I had been worried that Digital Gold would be a slog of technical details that would force into my mind the unholy knowledge of how Bitcoin actually works. However, it turned out to be a surprisingly easy, and genuinely interesting read.

Although—spoiler alert—the author does tell you how Bitcoin works, the emphasis of the book is on why a digital currency was dreamed up in the first place and the ups and downs of trying to make it a success.

Early Bitcoin collaborators foresaw the coming end of cold, hard cash, and went to some efforts to create a digital equivalent that would allow for anonymous transactions. However, Bitcoin’s political potential went much further than cash replacement. Its manner of production—by harnessing computing power—placed it beyond the control of central banks and governments. Taken to its logical conclusion, this allows money to become a shared resource, instead of something that can be manipulated by a small number of individuals deciding on monetary policy in the form of interest rates, quantitative easing (printing more money) and the like. Bitcoin, when used as creator Satoshi Nakamoto intended, has this decentralization embedded into the very technology—the collective, not the individual, is in charge. When one thinks of the way the LIBOR rate, that is the interest rate banks charge each other, was manipulated in the run up to the 2008 crash, or how credit rating agencies handed out triple-A ratings to what would later become junk bonds, it is all too obvious that our highly centralized financial system has some serious weak points that could potentially be addressed through decentralization, provided that such a system could be adequately secured. The prospects may look at bit dim with Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht sentenced to life without parole for running a drug trading forum that utilized Bitcoin and Mt. Gox Bitcoin exchange owner Mark Karpeles under investigation for embezzlement, but digital cash has taken its share of highs and lows before, and implementation is never a linear process.

Another mode of possible decentralization runs through the media, with products like Twitter allowing users to bypass the centralized output of CNN, Fox News, and the like. New forms of journalism like the Backfeed Magazine are working to use similar algorithms to Bitcoin to harness the hivemind in adjudging the value of journalism and rewarding risk-takers who make major contributions. The idea is to put it all out there, but curate top stories based not on shallow feedback like views or comments but perceptions of value added. In other words, say good-bye to clickbait. It’s freedom to the highest common denominator, not the lowest, for a change.

In similar fashion, decentralized decision-making has received a massive boost through online technology that allows large groups of people to debate and decide on political issues collectively in a way that logistics would make impossible in the “real” physical world. Let’s face it, no utopia can really be lawless—even Banks’ Culture had its methods of norm enforcement—but mass digital decision-making—something that is already entirely possible—lets those laws be in the interests of the majority instead of the so-called elites.

While those elites are hardly likely to disempower themselves, however often Paul Mason may try to sell them on the benefits of the simple life, it is still possible to harness technology in ways that work against them. The same breakthroughs that enable NSA spying also allow average people to work together like never before, bypassing traditional hierarchies. Mason and the Bitcoin collaborators—and even that dumb Irish lady—are right about one thing: however dark things may look, this is, at least, an interesting time to be alive. The hoverboard may have been a disappointment—notable, indeed, for its complete lack of hovering—but I still have hopes of driving a flying carsomeday. I’d just rather not be flying it over an endless slum.

And therein lies the thorny issue of knitting together technological and societal progress. I highly doubt that even marginal positive changes to our society will be induced purely via the wonderful ways of technology, which has the ability both to centralize and de-centralize, to empower and enslave, and is thus, unto itself, a double-edged sword. However, I remain hopeful that, given some of the emerging tools, we don’t need to be constrained by superficial ideas of what a decent future could look like. The Jetsons may have left us all with a lingering feeling that flying car stage represented the pinnacle of societal achievement, but life’s a bit more complicated. What we really need to focus on is how we can leverage some of these technological developments to shift traditional power balances. Concrete actions rather than wishful predictions are called for. That is a tall order, but there are some promising options for radical change out there, and it we play our cards right, the future needn’t be dismal; compared to our current situation, it may even feel a little bit like utopia.

Dr. Roslyn Fuller is a research associate at Waterford Institute of Technology and has lectured in International Law at Trinity College, Dublin and National University of Ireland, Maynooth. She is also legal correspondent for Russia Today.