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Belmont Club

The Power of Bad Information

April 23rd, 2013 - 2:17 pm

Persons unknown hacked the AP’s Twitter account and spread a bogus story that two explosions in the White House had injured President Barack Obama. The fake report sent jitters through the markets and convinced more than a few uncritical news watchers that it was true before the real facts emerged.

It was an illustration of the power of information to affect material events. This power was never greater than it is today. A few decades ago the financial minister of a Third World country made a trip to the Western banking capital in which his nation’s foreign reserves were kept. After meeting with bank executives he asked if he might see the vault in which his government’s money was stored. The minister was duly escorted into the depths of the headquarters building. There inside a vault a bank executive handed him a spool of magnetic storage tape. “There are your country’s reserves,” he said.

That was it. The tape.

In one of the earliest posts of Belmont Club I remarked that on September 11 a malevolent idea had materialized over Manhattan and destroyed two of the tallest buildings in the world and killed thousands of its inhabitants. The genesis of the airplane plot has been described many times by recent history. Yet in the end it all began with an idea. Once the idea had been conceived, it was worked and reworked, tweaked and retweaked until it finally succeeded.

And then an immaterial notion became actual. It became as real as  hundreds of tons of aluminum and fuel hurtling at jet speeds toward skyscrapers in New York City.

If anything information has become more influential since.  One of the most striking things about the Boston Bombers was that they were dominated by idealism. It was a twisted idealism, to be sure, but an idealism all the same in the sense which “assert[s] that reality, or reality as we can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed”.

And those ideas which they imbibed from the mosque, the Internet, from mentors unknown or shadowy figures in Dagestan ultimatley proved more influential than all the kindness, scholarships and citizenships that were bestowed upon them.

Paradoxically the development of the material world has amplified idealism. The forces that actually control the world’s physical infrastructure are increasingly represented by abstract systems. SCADA systems control manufacturing plants. Air traffic control governs the passage of millions through the sky. The software in an MRI scanner can find, or not find, an embolism.

Information rules.

And it is because the world is so dependent on information that the hoax story of Obama’s injury was so serious. “I saw it on the Internet” has largely supplanted the old gold standard “I saw it on TV”. It can wipe out share values. It can generate a panic. It can do stuff, even though it is as insubstantial — nay even more insubstantial — than air.

The manifest power of ideas over things makes the indifference with which radical Islamism is regarded by the left even more puzzling. Radical Islamism does stuff, no less than Nazism as an ideology did. Yet many on the liberal side of the aisle appear to ignore it as a harmless, childish, essentially unserious notion.

When fanatical imams declare that Islam will conquer the west their rantings are dismissed as a kind of hoax. “They can’t mean it,” we are told. Or we are informed by talking heads that “they are only saying that because they someone drew a cartoon of Mohammed”. Or commonly yet, “we provoked it”.

Perhaps nowhere was the implicit assumption that Islamism is unserious more dramatically illustrated than in the aftermath of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. In the days following it the Obama administration sent Susan Rice around to explain that the attack took place because someone in Los Angeles produced a video.

So did we provoke Islamism?  Perhaps “we” did. But who is the we? Fewer still notice that Islamists focus their attacks on the cultural flagships of the Left. New York, Boston, London, women’s schools in Afghanistan, gay politicians in the Netherlands, apostate black women in Europe, and even pacifists who make their pilgrimage to the Middle East to bear witness to their own invincible idealism.

The Tsarnaev’s were showered with a huge amount of things. And did they like it? No they hated it. Hated the whole idea of the dirty, degenerate, corrupt West. They hated the idea and took the goodies without a thought.  Despite this the mainstream culture is set to respond to their attack with more things.  More drones, detectors, armored vehicles, barriers, restrictions, weapons, armor ….  more items the list of which goes on and on. But omitted from the catalog of responses will be any campaign to mentally engage radical Islam — to debate against it, denounce it or render it uncool — because that would be bigoted.

It is often forgotten that Freedom of Speech means debate.  It means patches on software, not paint on the equipment box. It means fixing the insubstantial. It means mental action. This is important because in the case of radical Islam Freedom of Speech has been redefined as the obligation to remain silent. That obligation has even been given a special term: it is called Tolerance. And no one seems to have noticed that Tolerance is essentially the opposite of Freedom of Speech. It means don’t program. Don’t unhack the hack. Do nothing. Pretend it’s all a joke. Watch the whole system melt down. Tolerance is a rejection of the manifest truth that information matters because it can cure or it can kill.

In ancient times the word often used to describe the power of information over man was “spirit”. And the old ones knew that though the spirit moved in us,  it could be of two kinds. There could be angels and demons.  And they still can be, though we give them other names.

And perhaps that is why terrorism is so hard for the modern post-western, multicultural elite to confront.  We don’t cast out demons any more.  They’ve joined the operating system.


The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99

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Top Rated Comments   
Wretched, I disagree with your term, "Idealism." The Bomber Brothers, the Fort Hood shooter, and virtually all of the islamic terrorists are self-absorbed. Islam is the "religion" with no one in charge and where no one is responsible. Any loser can set himself up as an "imam," and a "jihadi" can act out his frustrations with failure by killing people. They are motivated by self-centered deviance.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Toleration was one of the key doctrines of Restoration Anglicanism. It was the apotheosis of the ineffectual. To tolerate something you have to first morally reject something and then withhold action. In the Anglican construct Toleration is tied to Noninterference. In that version Noninterference refers to the withholding of action by the Established Church and the Sovereign in the public sphere against Nonconformists.

The alternative to Toleration is Respect. When you disagree with a method but accept the moral integrity of those behind it then you can treat them with respect. That leads to restraint or noninterference in private affairs between peers, such as equal citizens. Christians Jew and Buddhists etc can all treat each other with respect while being honest about their disagreements.

Pope Benedict gave the Muslims respect when he seriously critiqued their doctrines in comparison to his own, and requested that they offer respect and restraint to others. When as teacher I failed a student I told them that I was offering them respect. Some shook my hand.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ooff Topic - How I Read Wretchard's Blog
1. I click the title I want to read.
2. I click "more."
3. Then I click "View As One Page" if applicable.
4. Then I scroll down to the bottom of the comments.
5. Then I click "View All" if applicable.
6. Then I scroll to the top of the comments
7. Then I click "Oldest" to get them in chronological order.
8. Then I scroll slowly down the comments, clicking "Show More" where applicable, all the way to the end of the coments.
9. Then I scroll to the top of the topic and begin reading.

P.S.: I still miss Numbered Comments.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (54)
All Comments   (54)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Formerly Norm # ?? (and in the Top Rated comments above)

Ditto to everything you say.

This fuster cluck of a comments system is more than just annoying. It has a real negative impact on how often and how effectively we at BC communicate with one another. That makes it an abomination!

The numbered comments were incredibly user friendly for expanding on a particular thread. If Formerly Norm had a number next to this comment (let's say #27), anyone who wanted to add something could begin their comment with "Formerly Norm #27". This helps everyone on BC make a quick decision about whether to read the comment, skim it or ignore it.

The "Reply" feature is a poor substitute - too much effort for the reader to backtrack through all the comments (without the aid of numbers!) in order to find the specific comment by Formerly Norm and see if there have been followup comments on that thread.

In a feeble attempt to make the current sucky system a little better, I intend to mostly ignore the Reply feature and simply preface my posts with a reference such as "Formerly Norm # ??" If Formerly Norm has made several posts, the reader will have to guess about which one is being referenced. And of course, he will have to painstakingly search for Formerly Norm's original comment rather than rapidly scrolling to #27.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
I agree. Often the ''remember me'' doesn't work for me. I'm going to do the same, just site the comment I'm responding to.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Oooops! Change to ''cite''.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
A lot of us miss the formatting features provided by HTML. We could be more nuanced, and our hyperlinks were actually active. Also, we could edit our content so as to appear actually literate. This switch by the "new" PJM makes as much sense as the GOP enthusiasm for immigration "reform."
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Annoy Mouse # ??
"I submit that this is more about the Left maintaining target lock on... its primary target, conservative thought."

Excellent comment.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
I was thinking earlier of how the middle eastern states wasted the surplus wealth they received over the past 20 years when oil prices were at their highest price. When the US experienced boom times they built interstate highways, went to the moon, built universities and museums. Quite a difference.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think progressives tolerate Islam out of fear, pure and simple. Islam is in the complete opposite direction of leftist belief, e.g., feminism, same sex marriage, drug and alcohol use, etc. Oppose Christians and they turn the other cheek, safe. Oppose Islam and they turn you into red goo,not safe. Cowards, the lot of 'em. Notice how many famous leftists volunteered for war service after 9-11? Cowards.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
"What if you can show that indoctrinated females are the driving force behind Islamic fascism? Does this make killing women and kids acceptable? The obvious danger here is a society destroys its own basic values in order to defeat an immediate enemy, i.e. one wins the battle but loses the war."

I would say that a rule to be effective needs to be observed by both parties. If one party does not recognize your "rules" than they are not really in effect. Put in another way, Islam has set the rules of our engagement. It would be an abrogation not to offer more civilized terms but that aside, it is a suckers bargain to negotiate from your own position of weakness. The USA loses to China on on requited trade relationships and Republicans lose to Democrats for the sake of a sentimental acceptance of failure.

I say let the opponent set the lowest common denominator in the equation and accept their terms with extreme prejudice. You are not negotiating your own comfort, you are negotiating for the freedom of unborn children. Die comfortable if you care but don't convince yourself that acquiescing to evil be the high road.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment

“to debate against it, denounce it or render it uncool — because that would be bigoted…”

I submit that this is more about the Left maintaining target lock on its domestic opposition by never letting outside influences take priority. In a sense they can empathize with Islam. Especially when treaties can be made with outside terror organizations like the Taliban, its focus must be on the total annihilation of the primary target, conservative thought.

So the Left tolerates all external threats as a possible enemy of their enemy and will never fully condemn Islam. That would invite common cause with most Americans which would undermine their revolutionary causes. Condemnation to the fullest extent must be reserved for its mortal enemy, mortal because conservatism does not merely chaff against the interests of the Left, it is diametrically opposed to its moral and philosophical tenets in its entirety.

So as liberals will never name Islam as the enemy, conservatives will never admit that they are in an existential war against the Left. ‘Liberals’ that includes Republicans who wish to serve out the rest of their comfortable existence as the loyal opposition. This is a war for everything beginning with our own offspring.

50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Fantastic post, Wretchard! Even captured the spiritual element.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
Basic western morality dictates that women and children should always be treated with mercy, i.e. you never target schools, orphanages and hospitals.

This is all covered by Westphalian notions of nation and war. It's not quite that there is a moral or ethical issue about women and children, that's PC nonsense. The issue is that we want to limit war, and if nations act responsibly we can limit war, to just uniformed and specified armies, leaving civilians and even infrastructure minimally targeted. British Redcoats and all that being the ideal, I suppose.

The supporting infrastructure is never innocent, how could it be? Is your opponents gun innocent, is his underwear innocent, must we take steps never to damage his innocent underwear? Perhaps it is not guilty of its own free will, but that does not lead to a coherent conclusion that we must therefore take steps to avoid targeting it, except insofar as we find rules of war that benefit all of our enlightened self-interest.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
W: "But omitted from the catalog of responses will be any campaign to mentally engage radical Islam — to debate against it, denounce it or render it uncool — because that would be bigoted… This is important because in the case of radical Islam Freedom of Speech has been redefined as the obligation to remain silent. That obligation has even been given a special term: it is called Tolerance."

Bigotry is irrational intolerance. It is irrational, and therefore bigoted, to be intolerant of peaceful Islamic worship. However, it is rational to be intolerant of Islamic law which is its self irrationally intolerant of non-Muslims and former Muslims, and it is supremely rational to be intolerant of violent Islamic jihad whose purpose is to bring about the establishment of irrationally intolerant, i.e.: bigoted, Islamic law.

“In regard to religion, mutual toleration in the different professions thereof is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practiced, and, both by precept and example, inculcated on mankind. And it is now generally agreed among Christians that this spirit of toleration, in the fullest extent consistent with the being of civil society, is the chief characteristical mark of the Church. Insomuch that Mr. Locke has asserted and proved, beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such toleration ought to be extended to all whose doctrines are not subversive of society. The only sects which he thinks ought to be, and which by all wise laws are excluded from such toleration, are those who teach doctrines subversive of the civil government under which they live [Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, Constitution].” Samuel Adams

http://history.hanover.edu/texts/adamss.html
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
The stock market had a brief conniption yesterday after the bad tweet. It would be interesting to see who made money...and who lost.

This is an old game. In Dumas's "The Count of Monte Cristo" the count bribes the operator of a Chappe semaphore telegraph station on the French/Spanish border to send a false report up the line that there was political trouble in Spain and there was about to be a revolution or a coup.

This induces one of the villains to sell his Spanish bonds, then the "truth" comes out that the signal was "misunderstood" due to fog...but villain loses a million francs.

50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
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