The story is so old and weathered it pains me to have to recant it again, but we have to go back to the beginning don’t we?
A craftsman builds a beautiful chessboard for a king, in return he asks only for a grain of rice on the first square, twice that number on the second, twice the second on the third and so on. The amount of rice, of course, grows exponentially and the king is unable to pay as the amount of rice necessary would be roughly the size of Mount Everest. More grains of rice than insects on the planet earth. More grains of rice than possible ways to fill out a 64 team NCAA tournament bracket.
If that helps you.
But it probably doesn’t.
No fault of yours; we just aren’t built for this. Although we have trained our minds to follow strict rules of calculation to solve complex mathematical problems our brains are analogy engines. They runs on comparisons. Ideas, people, concrete objects, trajectories, tastes of foods, aesthetics; in the end are all just by products of a brain that is built to fire neurons linked to memories of these items. These neurons are linked to other neurons and thought centers and the way these pathways are similar and different determine how we see things. We have each spent a lifetime comparing things and building metaphors in our brains. This is a natural limitation of a brain that has evolved. If we were a construct we would have a brain based on math like a computer’s and would probably see the world very differently. In the end, large numbers perplex us and lead us to poor decisions and distorted world views.
A favorite story of the futurist Ray Kurzweil involves our problems with such numbers. Kurzweil recalls that when the human genome project was half way through its 15 year budget it had only decoded 1% of the human genome. Many said it would take another century to complete, but Kurzweil and many scientists understood that the genome project was based on information technology and that the speed with which the project progressed was doubling every year or so. The project was finished on schedule.
Without the knowledge of the behind the scenes numbers the problem seems simple, but with exponential growth and large numbers our brains get easily tricked. If big numbers were the worst of our problems than there might be a light at the end of the tunnel, but in 2016 we are being purposefully fed bad math.
Any fool can look around them and see that the world is in crisis. People are being killed around our country on a daily basis, terrorists are striking the innocent around the world, the end is near, etc. But if that fool happened to look out his front door and not to the internet for his information he would see the world looking the same or better than it did in the past. Violent crime in America is down, as is worldwide terrorism.
But, but, but…
What has changed is how we consume information. In the 80’s and 90’s Americans received most of their information about the world outside their own life from the nightly TV news, a radio station here and there and a smattering of newspapers and magazines. A well informed American might take in 20 news stories a day on a very busy day of watching, listening and reading.
Today we are bombarded by news on a constant basis. Facebook, twitter, reddit, TV news channels with a constant crawl of sensationalist headlines that they down have time to cover. Headline after headline. With so much information coming in, not only do we not have time to read much if at all past said headlines, but we also fall back into our cave man math.
“Today I hear about 10 times as many depressing news stories than I did in the 90’s so obviously the country is 10 times worse.”
Death sells; and we are getting sold into a false reality with every click of the mouse or the remote control. The crime, the pain, the hurt. These things have not increased. What has increased is the access we have to this information.
We read the article and our empathy kicks in, then our fear response, and suddenly we are ready to ban people of a religion from entering our country because a tiny percentage of them might do something violent.
It is this wave of information overload that our modern Authoritarian Western Politicians have ridden to election. They have discovered that this headline consuming populace is a perfect breeding ground for fear. And fear is their fuel.
Maybe someone far smarter than me will look at this problem and find a solution, but in all likelihood we are too late. We can not put the genie back in the bottle. If we kill the internet the Authoritarians win. If we censor the internet the Authoritarians win. If we leave things the way they are The Authoritarians win.
Trump was right. The game is rigged. And the Authoritarians of the world are the ones pulling the strings.
We are in familiar territory here.
For years the political strategy of attacking the opponent for your own weakness has been on the rise. The GOP has becomes the party of large corporations, oil companies, and banks and attacks the Democrats for being in Wall Street’s pocket. Trump has made it an art form. Trump is a compulsive liar so he calls his opponent Lying Ted. Trump acts like a child so he calls his opponent Little Rubio. Trump is surrounded by scandal so he taunts his opponent with Crooked Hillary. Trump is a criminal so he has his supoporters chant lock her up. Trump claims the ellection is rigged and when the results are in and he wins he chastises the opposition for asking for recounts. And so on.
In Mein Kampf Hitler wrote about The Big Lie. He claimed that it was a tool used by the Jews to control public opinion. Then he turned around and used it himself to bend a nation to his will. Attack your weakness.
“All this was inspired by the principle – which is quite true in itself – that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.”
The big lie is even easier when an army of loyal and often cruel followers are constantly restating the lies to the world. If you have the stomach you can take a read through Donald Trump’s twitter output. You will quickly find, that not only does he tell lie after lie, but that a band of thousands of followers quickly agree with everything he says giving the appearance that the whole of America is behind him. On closer inspection you will find that many of his top twitter followers started their accounts around the same time he decided to run for office and have been making time to post political tweets backing up their candidate 50 to 100 times per day. Who needs Brown Shirts when you have a paid twitter army to brow beat your opponents verbally with untruths and insults in the comments section of every news article that even hints at politics.
History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.
Hitler rose to power on a tide of fear, economic depression, and nationalism.
This is not Facism; this is Facism 2.0.
Stronger, sleeker, Less visible, less messy.
Instead of embracing the fact that America has steadily been moving towards being a nation with no clear cut racial majority, in this election White America has chosen the path to go kicking and screaming into the night. And night will come. Faster than you think. We live in an information age, an internet age, and when culture becomes an information technology it is subject to Moore’s Law just as much as computer processors and genome mapping.
Over the next generation we will see the decline of Western democracy. In two generations The dominance of the west will be a memory.
Save that sticker. It will serve as a reminder that you voted in the last free American Election.
No Authoritarian regime lasts forever, but they are not voted out. They are removed. And the system of government that put them into power is removed with them. What the next step will be I can’t pretend to guess, but brace yourself, because this is going to hurt.