Chaos as opportunity

Some Twitter users have noticed that the great majority of celebrity predator unmaskings have happened since the election of Donald Trump. "Coincidence?" one asks. "I don't think so."

While few would claim that Trump deliberately unleashed the storm that has taken down so many prominent sexual predators the correlation is too strong to be ignored. Something has definitely occurred which has given super-powers even to marginal journalists they never had before.  Karen Morrison noted the boldness with which tabloid sleuths were admiring their new muscles.

Joke of the Week: “journalists” at Page Six and other outlets are trying to claim the sex harassment stories “show the power of journalism.” REALLY? I think it’s the women, their LAWYERS, and the public’s disdain that earned these credits. Such self absorption.

Ronan Farrow might be asking himself: did I do that? Like the Hulk, it might be well to remember the role gamma rays could have played in their sudden strength, for this new found "power of journalism" has suddenly sprung up after lying dormant for so many years.  There are probably two explanations its sudden resurgence.

The first is that the celebrity "force field" which protected them from scandal is down.  Many of the fallen were formerly protected from exposure not just by wealth and lawyers but by an aura of reputational invincibility. They were larger than life, legends.

One of the synonyms for "legend" is "icon".  As the Atlantic put it "the case of Representative John Conyers, the otherwise venerable Michigan Democrat, is a particularly complex one. It demonstrates the way that a man’s stature can protect him."  Few want to be remembered has having brought down an icon.  It is the legend, whether among groupies, cults, gangs, ideological political parties or star-struck affinity groups, which forms a large part of the Svengali's invincibility.

But now for whatever reason the auras are severely weakened. The operational difference this makes was depicted in a key scene in the 2005 sci-fi movie War of the Worlds.  When the character played by Tom Cruise notices birds alighting on the formerly invulnerable Martian tripods he realizes their defenses are down.  "No shield!" he informs the formerly powerless soldiers.  "What?" they ask.  "No shield!" he repeats. Realizing the implication the troops then fire their Javelin anti-tank missiles at the tripods with lethal effect.

We are living in the post force-field world.  For better or worse the person most responsible for tearing down the reputation of the elite -- besides the elites themselves -- is undoubtedly Donald Trump.  There was a time when news anchors were revered figures and the president was regarded with almost religious awe.  By constantly reviling the media and saying outrageous things Trump lowered the standard of dignity to the point where everyone, including himself, was open to mockery.  In atmosphere where public figures were referred to "Pocahonthas", the "Rocketman", "Crooked Hillary" and Trump himself described as "The Dotard" or the Orangutan what expectation of deference did Harvey Weinstein have?

Once people realized there was no shield they fired the Javelins.

The second factor was the role played by disruptive technology, particularly social media, in destroying what economist Timur Kuran called preference falsification.  Kuran argued that "even formally ‘free’ citizens can be socially pressured into ‘living a lie,’ publicly justifying beliefs and practices that they privately reject, even abhor." Kuran applied this idea to explain how some Communist regimes collapsed so quickly.  Everyone shouts with the crowd, yelling "we love Big Brother" since that's what they hear others say, though each may privately hate him.

But the hatred in their heart never goes away, just lies dormant until some event occurs which publicly reveals what most people are really thinking to each other, as occurred during Nicolae Ceaușescu's final speech in 1989, and suddenly the truth comes tumbling out.

The crowd, now totaling up to 80,000, were given orders on where to stand, when to applaud and what to sing. The front rows of the assembly were made up of low-level Communist Party officials and members who acted as cheer-leaders. ...

Eight minutes into the speech, some in the crowd actually began to scream because there was a shooting that occurred in the background. Workers from a Bucharest power plant started chanting "Ti-mi-șoa-ra! Ti-mi-șoa-ra!"—a chant that was soon picked up by others in the crowd. In response, Ceaușescu raised his right hand in hopes of silencing the crowd; his stunned expression remains one of the defining moments of the end of Communism in Eastern Europe. After many people began to exit the square, Ceaușescu shouted over the public address system for them to "remain seated". He then tried to placate the crowd by offering to raise workers' salaries by 200 lei per month (about 18 U.S. dollars at the time, yet a 10%-20% raise for a modest salary) and student scholarships from 100 to 110 lei while continuing to praise the achievements of the past 42 years. He did not realize, however, that a real revolution was starting right before his eyes. ...

His security guard appeared, disappeared and, finally, hustled Ceaușescu off the balcony. At that very moment, many everyday Romanians saw the weakness of Ceaușescu's regime for the first time. Ceaușescu and his wife Elena escaped Bucharest by helicopter, but were captured four days later in Târgoviște, put on trial, and shot by a firing squad.

The same process is playing an analogous role in the exposure of elite predators.  People who were celebrities only yesterday find themselves pariahs after 24 hours. In contrast to 1989 when people had to be physically gathered in a square to exchange experiences, today they are virtually joined 24x7, greatly speeding the process of collapse.  Social media now means that experiences -- especially victim experiences -- can be globally shared in minutes. As we are now learning, many women were formerly living a private truth while pretending to a public lie.  Now with the false preferences breaking down the storm has spread with terrific force upon the media, Hollywood and politics.

Donald Trump's presidency by weakening the System has unleashed a plethora of unintended effects.  All kinds of things thrive in chaos; some good, some bad. The sea change in sexual mores may simply be the start.  The New York Times is now noticing that Trump's tax proposal threatens to change American life -- and to pass! Although his critics will argue that some effectswill be destructive, others -- like the opportunity to challenge powerful sexual abusers -- must inevitably prove to be objectively liberating.

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Books:

The Fleet at Flood Tide: America at Total War in the Pacific, 1944-1945, by James D. Hornfischer. From the historian who has been acclaimed as "doing for the Navy what popular historian Stephen Ambrose did for the Army," here is an unprecedented account of the extraordinary World War II air, land, and sea campaign that brought the U.S. Navy to the apex of its strength and marked the rise of the United States as a global superpower.

The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force, by Eliot A. Cohen. In the book, Cohen argues that hard power remains essential for American foreign policy. He explains that American leaders must learn to use hard power in new ways and for new circumstances. The rise of a well-armed China, Russia's conquest of Crimea and eastern Ukraine, nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, and the spread of radical Islamist movements like ISIS are some of the key threats to global peace. If the US fails to accept its role as the guardian of a stable world order, we run the risk of unleashing disorder, violence and tyranny on a scale not seen since the 1930s.

The Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee. An epic, moving history of a scientific idea coming to life, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies. But woven through it, like a red line, is an intimate history – the story of Mukherjee’s own family and its recurring pattern of mental illness, reminding us that genetics is vitally relevant to everyday lives.

Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919 (The History of NYC Series) 1st Edition, by Mike Wallace. Called "the new gold standard of urban history", this 988-page book covers literally every aspect of the city during the period, with facts, figures, maps, pictures, newspaper cartoons, and anecdotes. A fascinating and rich compendium.

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Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres

Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free

The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age

Storming the Castle, why government should get small

No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.

Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific

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