Opinion — Editorial: Cognitive Dissident
While I listen to the news about the alleged Russian interference in American elections, I can’t help but laugh. Loudly.
Why? Because while the news media are discussing the ramifications of using social media to manipulate and influence elections, I have to acknowledge, I have both been aware this was possible and inevitable for at least seven years.
I wrote about the idea of cyberwarfare, both of the electronic warfare kind, where dedicated hackers attack different parts of the digital infrastructure of foreign nations and have seen that confirmed through the Stuxnet events; and the social media kind where psychological manipulation takes place on a subtle but massive scale, similar to how advertising propagates through society, at a slow and steady pace unless it goes viral for some reason.
I also theorized that social media manipulation was likely being done, but I only had the manipulations performed daily by American agencies, such as Fox News and other extreme right/left wing political publications and news sectors which augment their media power using social media platforms, websites as well as online news feeds to direct and control their listeners perspectives.
Once upon a time we called it Madison Avenue. The Internet has been co-opted by advertisers who have finally learned how to blend in and instead of overwhelming their subjects with sound and fury, they instead creep in through the sides of your mind with threaded advertising connected by cookies across your browser until the urge to buy those Oreos you mentioned in an email about your kid’s lunch, eye-worm their way into your mind and show up on your shopping list without you realizing how it happened.
This was the magic of the First Media Bot War version 1.0 between the United States and Russia, fought during the election where Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States, upsetting what would have been the historic inauguration of the first female president, Hillary Clinton under any other, more reasonable circumstances.
After all, Donald Trump had literally nothing to recommend him. Accusations of sexual assault, admissions of sexual assault, four thousand pending lawsuits, one billion dollars worth of personal losses, an unwillingness to divest his businesses while president, an outright refusal to show his tax returns citing an imaginary tax review from the IRS. A complete willingness to conflate, mislead, misinform, dissemble, or bold-face lie directly to anyone on any subject even supporting the creation of the idea of ‘alternative facts.’ There are other equally damning things which have happened since he’s been in office but no one needs to hear them again. How could he have won? It should have been patently impossible given these circumstances…
The point, in fact, of this entire paragraph was to show Trump’s complete inadequacy to the task of being president, which has been confirmed to all but the absolutely-insanely devoted, of which there appears to be quite a number of his constituents who may indeed qualify.
Add to this understanding of the vulnerability of the American mind to media, advertising and now the hypnosis of social media, the recent (let’s say twenty years) of educational degradation, the overall failure of the education system which has resulted in a reduction in intellectual capacity, mental facility and in critical thinking; we are a nation plagued with an overall lessening of intellectualism, an critical affirmation of our anti-intellectual stature and a pride in this, which only increased the likelihood of this social media nightmare taking place.
Now, fast forward a nine months with a critically traumatized, nay, stupefied audience so abused, so confused with the thousands of lies they have had to be subjected to since Trump’s arrival in office, they are simply unable to discern truth from falsehood. Given the psychological isolation of the average social media user, they are vulnerable to the creation of false silos and echo chambers formed by social media fraternities on line, as well as the social narcissism promoted by social media has created the perfect storm for manipulation by corporate powers. Or anyone with the money to buy the right kind of structured media advertising.
Which said corporate powers used to advertise things people didn’t need, couldn’t afford and to force users online where they could not avoid the ever-increasing complexity of a world online. This continued rise of social media has lead these companies to be able to organize weaker minds to accept the lowest-quality information possible.
Yes, in essence, we gave foreign nations the capacity to manipulate the minds of our citizens. We handed these tools to them on a silver platter. Yes, they intended to only use it to shop, and maybe control the weaker willed masses, but never intended for anyone else to ‘weaponize the stupidity of Americans’ but themselves.
Now we are wandering about trying to figure out how to get the genie back in the bottle in a nation of paranoid, socially maladapted idiots more interested in reviving slavery, promoting the Confederacy, playing Nazi and exiling immigrants who keep this nation moving, along with a government which has all but kowtowed to its corporate masters, complete with allowing these so-called elites to avoid paying taxes, and abrogating any responsibility for the state of the nation, such as it is.
We are casting accountability instead onto social media platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter. Tempting though it may be, they are only one part of this axis of evil: At least some of our woes come from the nature of our pitiful government which has failed to remember its job of protecting the Greater Good, and the Commons of our nation from predation by megacorporations seeking to grow, in an unlimited fashion, despite the fact the Earth is a finite thing and cannot sustain the unlimited growth of anything, let alone a resource-hungry corporation…
Said government has not done its due diligence to ensure our citizens are educated to a level which would make it more difficult for foreign powers to manipulate us because THEY wanted to take advantage of this vulnerability themselves.
Instead corporations denigrate our educational services, employ people who undermine it, avoid taxes which pay for it, and price it so only the richest can afford a quality education so the general populace is little more than a snack food fit for consumption by the corporate monsters who spend their every waking moment slavering over the tender morsels who lie vulnerable at every level of society, feeing them into submission, and unable to resist the psychological assault on their minds through television, radio, smartphone, social media and any other kind of advertising possible.
We allowed, no, we handed the capacity to subvert our democracy to the Russians and whoever else takes advantage of our inability to discern truth from falsehood, which is not improving thanks to the constant exposure to lying by our current administration.
With elections just days away, can we be certain any aspect of who we vote for isn’t already working for a foreign power?
And while we may be casting ourselves as victims, it’s just as likely we are using the very same technology used by Russia to manipulate foreign nations less savvy than ourselves. It appears the Russians managed to get it done successfully against us first.
We had the perfect audience after all. Stupid, vain, online all the time and lacking the good sense to recognize when they are being misled with ‘alternative facts.’ I am certain this will come back to bite us again one day soon.
See you on Election Day, Comrade.
Thaddeus Howze is the Answer-Man. He is also a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding. Cognitive Dissident is a magazine dedicated to speaking the truth to power.