American Inventors & The Cure For Extremism

Hi there and welcome.
This week a delve into Nationalism, Racism, Xenophobia, and Extremist Violence,
And claims that social media is to blame…
That we must curb the likes of Google and You Tube in order to stop it…

But wait a minute…
We had terrorism, and violence and hate speech
some time before the internet.
What’s going on?
What is really at the heart of it?
I’m Ant Biggs and you are listening to another can of worms.
This is COW – the Podcast.

So, Science
can prove
that race
does not exist.

I’m not going to go into that,
not in any detail
into how or why race doesn’t exist
other than to say …

It’s basic maths,
apparently.
About shared differences between populations
and across populations.
About having more differences with your neighbour
than you do similarities.
about having more similarities with people all across the world than you do differences.
That’s the nature of genetics.

And that means talking about race begins to
make no sense
when you start asking deeper questions…
about population groups,
or lineages…
And that’s great.

But science can also show
how differences between populations do exist –
How about Inuits
and West Africans for example –
an example of selection within populations
for environment…

They are Phenotypes,
different expressions
of a genetic base,
differences showing particular adaptions to environment,
adaptations to cold or heat in this cases
And that’s great too.

But now we have a paradox
and a division,
which sets us up
for a fight.

Both are right,
and both can be used as a factual basis for an argument.
The paradox is a question of different scales,
of different perspectives,
of seemingly opposed views
framed within the questions we are asking,
and in the answers we are seeking.

And this continues to be a thing
across cultures
and populations everywhere.

We are pre-programmed to explain
experience through narrative,
and difference through opposites.

And as I have tried to point out before,
Our beliefs,
Our truths,
are narratives
that have evolved in answer to
particular sets of cultural questions.
They are layers of environmental structure.

As in Bret Weinstein’s ideas about
metaphorical truths.
Truths that through narrative
when held as a group, contain our thoughts and our behaviours
and help that group to thrive.
despite
being literally untrue…

This week this I’m trying to get into a meta of my own.

It seems that being the chemical balls of trouble
that we have evolved to be,
It is at least one of our go to behaviours,
to join up, into groups,
to rally around a flag,
or a football team,
or a god, or a nation,
to create a group narrative
that brings us together.
We are social creatures.

Think X Factor, Think football.
Think Nation State, Think race
or religion, or politics.
And even science is no different in this respect.

My point is that we are drawn to these wrongs and rights,
the black and white binaries
of our own particular narratives,
and in being so drawn,
and in taking one side or another
we continue to perpetuate the important
and frequently unidentified problems
the meta narrative, underneath.
We are distracted and don’t see the “Meta”,
And we skip straight over the problem,
unable therefore,
to find sustainable solutions.

And in terms of race,
the answer is staring us straight in the face.
that we
humans
as products
of a blind but effective
evolutionary past
are pre-programmed for division, for prejudice, for mistrust,
and for violence against others.

And it is easy
to warn against the dangers of anthropomorphism.
To state that it is a mistake
to extend human characteristics to animals,
or to extrapolate human behaviours from animals,
But that doesn’t make it true.

We are animals,
We are mammals,
We are apes.

Like the chimpanzees
famously observed by Jane Goodall in the 70s,
who, in her research,
deeply shocking at the time.
uncovered violence, murder,
and long running tribal warfare
in the groups,
essentially explained as being over the control of resources.

Yes, we may be more complex but
I’m guessing I don’t need to provide evidence
for similar human behaviour?
Are we so different?

We are pre-programmed
to defend our own groups,
and to attack others.
And we are all capable of expressing this..

The question comes down to what we do about it.

What if this were our go to position?
What if we were able to recognise the monkey brained fears
and take control of them.
What if we were to acknowledge that this is a thing?

Hang on though,
I hear you ask
what has this to do with American Inventors…
why a reference to American Inventors?

If you can’t wait then just google it…
but bear with me…

First, it has been a busy week.
A confusing week
and so much happening.

I’d been tempted to start out
just gently picking away
at the dangers of censorship,
the dangers of having communication
throttled, monitored, controlled
in a defence of free speech
and to talk about the role of big data in this,
how our big data future might pan out
if we simply refuse to deal with it…
That is social engineering,
or mind control after all.

But along came the attack on the New Zealand mosques…
which began to bring some additional focus to my thinking,
and an argument for active censorship
began to gain some traction with me.
Understandably…

We’ll come to that title later
But Radio 4, Friday morning
I wake up to the news of the massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand…
an attack on a Mosque,
which we know now killed 50 people.

And the BBC reported one Australian Senator
as saying

“This violent vigilante-ism can never be justified
but it highlights the growing fear within our community
of an increasing Muslim presence.”

He said
“it is wrong to blame gun laws
or those who hold nationalist views.”

“What has gone wrong is allowing
Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place”

He was
in coded language
echoing the words of the shooter’s manifesto.
To be clear I don’t know if they were his exact words.
and I’m not going to bother with his name…
I’m passing on what I heard on the radio, in the media
and what I read in that manifesto.

So this is radio 4.
And I’m not having a go at the BBC here.
I’m trying to build a distance between us and the narrative.
Trying to see through it.
To step out of the go to…
because there is something very distasteful
about the comments,
to be sure,
but this distaste comes from our understanding of the sub text,
the meta text,
from the conclusions and value judgements
the speaker assumes.
Much of the superficial content
has a veil of innocence about it.
And we need to tackle this.
Not the words themselves but the sub text…
Find out what gives this narrative
validity

So what do our go to responses look like
What do we,
as rational, peace loving citizens do with comments like that.
What is the mainstream approach?

OK Firstly, we could refuse to repeat the message.
We don’t want others getting hold of it.
We remove it from the greater consciousness,
because there is no doubt
that once it’s aired then it becomes part of the narrative,
and as we know this is the narrative
that we have seen before
importantly
Its the narrative that we refer to
to define ourselves,
to create our sense of self.

The idea,
of ignoring, or repressing a point of view
is that the less said on it, the better.
And yes there is a case for this.
Reporting a minority view has the effect of providing coded
support for more extremist views.

Secondly though,
we report it and we take issue with it.
As did the BBC,
referencing the power of social media
to bring about all kinds of cohesion or fracture.
In the echo chambers as they are known.
There is no doubt that this is a dangerous road.
But if we are not careful to stay focused.
The effect of associating social media
with fears of violence,
Becomes in itself
a call for censorship.
In the words of Sophia Patel from Hope Not Hate

“What is needed
is that these arguments,
in the same way as they are constructed,
must be deconstructed
by equally powerful voices.

Providing facts, not fictions,
or simple versions of the truth”…

We’ll concentrate on that later.

Sir Mark Rowley,
Former Head of Counter Terrorism at Scotland Yard,
distinguished Fellow at the RUSI Think Tank,
was asked to comment on the attack.
He said,

“We’ve always had racist thugs, committing crimes.
They are now, more organised
and with more terrorist ambitions,
to kill politicians, police, and to kill minorities”

And perhaps in recognition of a rising political will
to control the powers of social media companies
he was asked about the potential effect that social media might have to infect others.
What part does social media play in radicalising our terrorists?
or in the promotion of our copycat acts?

And Rowley stated that the social media companies are a problem.
He said

“Social Media companies are monetizing our attention.
They do this by pushing us towards the most titillating,
bizarre and unusual, and in some cases extremist material.”

He said
“This has
possibly, unwittingly
helped with this kind of ideology,
and with conspiracy theories,
both Islamist, and on the extreme right,
in helping them propagate, and grow,
and in helping to form cells and networks of like minded individuals.”

But he went on to say that

“this is frankly
aggravated by mainstream politicians,
where small numbers of them
in Western countries
are using intolerant rhetoric to extremist effect. “

Take our Australian Senator for example,
or Tommy Robinson, Nigel Farage, Teresa May, Donald Trump etc

What is happening is that the intolerant rhetoric of mainstream politics
legitimises the violent ideas of extremism
by providing coded support for it.
The politicians themselves may not be violent,
but this coded support moves the political spectrum
close to an extremist agenda.

And it isn’t just the politicians,
Individuals, are drawn into this,
and become part of the problem.

Social media’s role is in reinforcing this with the echo chamber.
So no-one is denying the role of social media in this,
least of all me, but
for reasons I’ll go into in a moment,
we need to remain very careful
about where we begin to apportion blame for extremism.
The knee jerk reaction to acts of extremism
at this moment in our history seems to be
to call for controls on the flow of information…
and to blame the social media companies for the Fake News.

This in reality is a simple extension
of the argument that we should shut down the debate.
A Can of Worms…
and interestingly Rowley was asked his view on this
in commenting on the existence of Islamophobia in the UK.

It was suggested that some are nervous even of the word itself,
and this is no accident.
in that it is a label that can be used
to prevent criticisms of aspects of Islam that they don’t approve of.

This idea of being able to shut down an argument by simply calling it out as racist,
or Islamophobic, or as anti-Semitic.
This is a mainstream political tactic now.
That must be called out.

Look at the trouble that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party
has had with anti-semitism.
I’m conscious that I could talk about this in the abstract
but to open up the can of worms,
I am absolutely convinced that the charges
are being levelled against the Labour party
in order to stop criticism of Israel’s actions in Palestine.

And if you think that is an over-reaction,
Today for example,
as I was researching approaches to racism
I was repeatedly being fed video adverts from
an organisation called the Tikvah Fund.
imploring me to sign up
for a video course in Jewish Nationalism…

They say
“The Tikvah Fund is a philanthropic foundation
and ideas institution committed to supporting the intellectual,
religious, and political leaders of the Jewish people … “
The Jerusalem Post says
“Don’t support the Tikvah Fund, whatever you do”

To all intents and purposes this appeared to me to
be an attempt to radicalise people
in the cause of the Israeli State.

It’s author Yoram Hazony, wrote
“The Virtue of Nationalism”,
in which he argues that you if you’re not a nationalist, you’re an imperialist.

On the subject of shutting down the conversation.
I am with Dr Norman Finkelstein
Who is a Jew and a fierce critic of Israel.

In a video which you can find on YouTube,
there is an attempt to shut down one of his lectures.
by offended listeners when one is driven to tears.

Finkelstein shouts over the baying crowd,

“that precisely because of what [he] and his siblings learned from his parents is why he will not be silenced.”
“I refuse” he says, “to be intimidated by crocodile tears and if you had any heart in you at all, you would be crying for the Palestinians.”

The parents Finkelstein talks about were lost to the Nazis.
In the concentration camps.
As were the rest of his family.

It’s a common fallacy by which someone tries to win support
or to shut down an opponent
by exploiting his or her opponent’s feelings of pity or guilt.
Crocodile tears…

And another to shut down debate “Ad Hominem”
where genuine discussion of the topic is avoided
by instead attacking the character,
motive, or any other attribute
of the person making the argument.
The messenger…

These are both a real danger to the democratic process,
and are commonly used within popular debate.

I didn’t sign up,
in case you were wondering…
for the courses in Jewish Nationalism,
but I mention this because it is at the heart of the problem
that I started out with, and which
think tank Rowley
acknowledged.

The problem with having search algorithms
concerned only in learning how to compete better for your attention,
in pusuit of profit,
and having them decide what we will see,
in our search results.
It’s an example of how this works,

Yes, the machines really do feed us
with more and more contentious or extreme material.
It is not coincidence.

And Yes, there is a need to combat this world of conspiracy theories.
Linking halal food to terrorist finance is an example,
because conspiracy theories
when presented by a good enough Orator
can become real
in the eyes of their followers.

So there emerges a general knee jerk call
for social media
to be made responsible for what it says, under the threat of law
to take control of what we see,
and ultimately to be responsible
for our actions
as individuals ~

Now this is on one level just a simple case of “ad hominem”,
of blaming the messenger,
but on another it is a shameful dereliction of
human moral duty,
especially on behalf of those that seek to lead,
or protect us.

This is about putting social engineering
whether you like or not,
into the hands of unthinking,
and unguided robots.
Leaving moral judgement in the hands of AI,
or perhaps even
in the hands of our silicon valley hackers.
The irony is that it is already happening.

This is what the rabbit hole really looks like.
And this is where our title comes in.

Google “American Inventors”
images,
and see what you get.
What you get is a page of black inventors.
Only black inventors.
And that’s great.
I had no idea…

but I also have to admit to having had a bit of a brain freeze,
when I came across it.
I didn’t know what I thought about it
Or in fact what
to think about it.
I was in Shut Down
Cognitive dissonance writ large…
because all of the inventors I thought I knew about,
and to be fair not my area of expertise,
were white…

Now, whatever we do dare to think about this,
we have to acknowledge that its there.
And that what we are being fed
has been manipulated.
And we also have to acknowledge
that every other result we seek through our use of the internet
is being served up in a similar way.

The point about my cognitive dissonance
my shut down,
my cognitive paralysis,
is that I am a product of my own echo chamber.
I’m used to seeing what I’m habitually presented with,
I’m used to the familiar…
so much so that I can hardly imagine that any other valid perspective might exist.
I’m pretty much forced into some form of psychological zombie state
if I’m forced to confront it.
As are we all…
and the net effect of this,
possibly unwitting, control
on our fundamental narratives
is to strengthen and to reinforce groups
of like-mindedness, as we wish.
American Inventors shows that it is happening already…

And we are calling for more!
Surely if we,
humans,
individuals,
are not here to make those kinds of decisions
for ourselves,
no matter how difficult they are,
deciding what we should be thinking,
and how we should behave.
Then what are we here for?

To view another side,
many Muslims believe that
Islamophobia is simply not taken seriously enough.
That it is not recognised, or acted upon.

And this is true!
And it is easier to be seen to be doing something now
to be tightening gun laws,
or outlawing extremist videos,
or demonising social media,
than to be identifying the causes
of this behaviour,
and tackling it where it emerges,
addressing the real problem.

So let’s get the social media companies to do it…

Great in theory, they’ll be quick and efficient at it.
They could promote a deep
and meaningful discourse
about inclusive, and just and egalitarian social behaviour…
enshrining our social norms in an ever evolving
program of moral growth?

Or will they just shut shit down?
because that seems to be what we’re getting at the moment…
And they say be careful what you wish for?

So we might ask
how mainstream politics
might tackle the ideas
behind this kind of violence,
without being accused of promoting the extremists and
without being accused of silencing political debate,
Because as we understand
Silencing political debate,
is one sure fire way of adding fuel to the fire that we are attempting to put out,

It is a difficult question.
You can’t silence debate,
you can not silence citizens
who want to air grievances,
but at the same time
there is a line to be drawn
between legitimate protest
and violent extremism,
between legitimate debate and
peddling hatred and bigotry.

Rowley again…
There is all sorts of prejudice in the UK.
Some on the rise.
and Islamophobia is certainly one of them.
He suggests that calls to equate Islamophobia with racism are born of clumsy thinking,
and rightly so
but asked if we need to be alive to threats to Muslims and Muslim communities
Says Yes, we absolutely do!
We can’t have that…

Ironically extreme right wing terrorism
and Islamist terrorism
both share the same rhetoric
that White and Muslim communities are incompatible.
Yes, the community roots are different,
but beneath the surface, they share similarities.

And to me we this is where we begin to get at the “meta” that I’m instinctively drawn to…
Isn’t blaming social media
for the ills of society
a little late…
shutting the stable door after the horse,
or blaming foxes for fur coats,

This human propensity for violence
we know is not a new phenomenon.
so let us not shoot the messenger…
so to speak
And let’s begin to get at an underlying biology.
What if it is simple primal fear
that drives all forms of extremism?
In which case the terms itself will be a distraction.

We need to call out this label of extremism.
And I think to concentrate on Xenophobia instead,

Xenophobia the fear and distrust of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange. Xenophobia can involve perceptions of an ingroup towards an outgroup and can manifest itself in suspicion of the activities of others, and a desire to eliminate their presence to secure a presumed purity and may relate to a fear of losing national, ethnic or racial identity. .

To ask
to what extent
extremist behaviour belongs simply to a lunatic fringe,
or is linked on a continuum with mainstream politics.
is a tough question to answer.
Because there is a conflation of the two.
There is a blurred line between populist rhetoric
and extreme activity…
We’ve seen how these same words can be used to promote different subtexts
And under the label of extremism we can see how that subtext becomes obscured.
Often enough to distract us from the sub-text.

This sloppy terminology leads us to a state of cognitive dissonance, shut down.
That is until we re-frame the the question.
If the question is re-framed in terms of fear,
natural but misguided fear, xenophobia,
we gain a new powerful perspective.

And we understand how fear can drive us to terrible acts,
even to attack…
And we can recognise factors that might contribute to this fear.
We can begin to understand the subtlety
of coded approvals, and reinforced stereotyping
from the likes of mainstream politicians, and media.
And we begin to understand the full range of the spectrum.

Isn’t the point that we might make an effort to understand these fears…
to hear them,
and to calm them?

Who would comfort a frightened child
with threats of punishment
if they were to mention their fears…
And who would ban a child from mentioning their fears
whilst continuing to talk of the dangers, and the threats
in coded talk,
as if they won’t understand
on some deeply psychological level.
The effect is worse when it is covert.
Who would perpetuate that child’s fear?

And if we are to do this politicians, broadcasters and media companies take note,
that social media may be our best chance yet.

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