The Fake Leading the Fake
Are we watching what's left of Western civilization drive itself nuts?
Not just Trump, but a whole cast of strange Washington figures daily appear on TV, saying the most astonishing things. Even the subject matter of public discourse has gone weird. Shrillness and hysteria are the order of the day. Every statement is shouted in capital letters.
Nor is there any harbor to be found in social media, only more paranoia -- amplified by Russian trolls admired perhaps by fake rental followers from India. There is even fake music. The watchers have been contaminated. Newsweek has been accused of falsifying their audience traffic. It is now a case of the fake following the fake.
Gone are the days when public policy concerned itself with sober questions like nuclear strategy, containing Communism or stopping fascism. Today the world's giant bureaucracies seem busy hunting down people who leave impolite notes on ambulances or use the wrong gender pronouns. Blake Hounsell of Politico, covering the Russia collusion investigation, cannot shake the feeling that despite its superficial sobriety things "don't quite add up", that there is a tint of the outré in everything the dramatis personae do; that he's watching a farce and not a tragedy.
Flynn pleaded guilty only to lying to the FBI, which Bharara surmised suggests might mean Mueller didn’t have much on him. ... Then there is Papadopoulos, the hapless campaign volunteer who drunkenly blabbed to the Australian ambassador to London that the Russians were sitting on loads of hacked emails. He, likewise, confessed only to lying to the FBI. ...
anyone who has seen Page’s TV interviews or read through his congressional testimony can tell that there’s something not quite right about him. He’s apparently broke, doesn’t have a lawyer, and has issued lengthy, bizarre statements comparing himself to Martin Luther King, Jr. Back in 2013, when a Russian agent tried to recruit Page, he described him as too much of an “idiot” to bother with. This is the mastermind of the Russia scandal?
Perhaps Hounsell's mistake is to assume things have to add up. Suppose nothing makes sense any more and hasn't in a long time? The world is off -- that's the story. That's what we're missing.
GK Chesterton once observed that one should never argue with a madman because "it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment." Today the world is in interminable dialog not just with one madman but many all arguing together and it is sure to have an effect.
Part of the intent is strategic. The Russians have known for a long time it is more important to attack the mind than the body. That they have not forgotten this principle was brought home by the recent reports of American diplomats in Cuba hearing things that neither the FBI, the CIA or medical doctors could explain. The New York Times reports:
A group of American diplomats stationed in Havana appear to have symptoms of concussion without ever having received blows to their heads, medical experts have found. ...
The incidents occurred in 2016, when 18 of the 21 affected diplomats reported they heard strange sounds in their homes or hotel rooms. The noises were loud and sounded like buzzing or grinding metal, or piercing squeals or humming, the diplomats recalled. ... All but one reported immediate symptoms: headache, pain in one ear, loss of hearing. Days or weeks later, other symptoms emerged, including memory problems, an inability to concentrate, mood problems, headaches and fatigue. ...
Dr. Douglas H. Smith, director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania, emphasized that there is much more to learn. ... “We all believe this is a real syndrome,” Dr. Smith added. “This is concussion without blunt head trauma.”
Dr. Smith forgot to note one key thing about the Cuban syndrome: the concussion was caused by a human agency. It was intentional. If so Smith might have related the goings-on in Havana to what Andrew Sullivan was witnessing in campuses all over America. The academy has unaccountably gone mad. What is worse is the academics think it's good. Ironically Sullivan misses the same key fact Dr. Smith does. The madness on campus did not just happen; it was also caused by a human agency.
Those familiar with the Gramscian March Through the Institutions will realize that at least part of the madness we're experiencing is part of a long standing campaign orchestrated more through the Ivy League rather than via Carter Page. Yet not all of it. Part of the recent craziness is wholly new and may have taken even Putin by surprise. Technology has divided us in a fundamentally novel ways. We have not yet learned to deal with it; maybe we never will. The great cities of the West are filled with people staring for hours at their virtual universe bound more to their online friends (some of whom may be fake) than to the physical person next to them.
It's happened so seamlessly we didn't even notice it. Joy Behar of the View thought it was clever to proclaim that anyone who prayed to God was crazy. “It’s one thing to talk to Jesus. It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you. That’s called mental illness, if I’m not correct . . . hearing voices.” She didn't think it the slightest bit odd that many in her audience or among her friends might spend hours posting online each day to attract fake followers. As the New York Times recounts one instance:
The real Jessica Rychly is a Minnesota teenager with a broad smile and wavy hair. ... But on Twitter, there is a version of Jessica that none of her friends or family would recognize. While the two Jessicas share a name, photograph and whimsical bio the other Jessica promoted accounts hawking Canadian real estate investments, cryptocurrency and a radio station in Ghana. The fake Jessica followed or retweeted accounts using Arabic and Indonesian, languages the real Jessica does not speak. While she was a 17-year-old high school senior, her fake counterpart frequently promoted graphic pornography, retweeting accounts called Squirtamania and Porno Dan.
All these accounts belong to customers of an obscure American company named Devumi that has collected millions of dollars in a shadowy global marketplace for social media fraud. Devumi sells Twitter followers and retweets to celebrities, businesses and anyone who wants to appear more popular or exert influence online. Drawing on an estimated stock of at least 3.5 million automated accounts, each sold many times over, the company has provided customers with more than 200 million Twitter followers, a New York Times investigation found.
People hear voices all the time. Just stroll down any big city street and you will encounter dozens of people, linked by Bluetooth to their mobile devices, arguing with someone, grooving to something, gnashing their teeth in disappointment at the message in their ears. Or maybe it's a rebuke from Alexa or Siri or no one at all.
A few years ago I sat on the train beside a man who continuously made important sounding phone calls despite the shabbiness of his attire. It wasn't until his 5th call that I realized that the phone wasn't turned on at all. He was simply simulating employment to give himself the self-worth the job market had taken from him long ago. That's the sort of lost soul Jesus still might listen to. I doubt the Devumi company will.
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The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam, In this book, bestselling historian Max Boot chronicles the life of legendary CIA operative Edward Lansdale and reframes our understanding of the Vietnam War. Lansdale pioneered a "hearts and minds" diplomacy, first in the Philippines, then in Vietnam, a visionary policy that was ultimately crushed by America's giant military bureaucracy. With interviews and newly available documents, Boot rescues Lansdale from historical ignominy and suggests that Vietnam could have been different had we only listened.
The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus, Retracing his own spiritual journey from atheism to faith, author Lee Strobel, former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, cross-examines a dozen experts who are recognized authorities in their own fields. He challenges them with questions like, How reliable is the New Testament? Does evidence for Jesus exist outside the Bible? Is there any reason to believe the resurrection was an actual event? The book reads like a captivating, fast-paced novel but it’s not fiction. It’s a riveting quest for the truth about history’s most compelling figure.
Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission, by Hampton Sides. On January 28, 1945, 121 hand-selected U.S. troops slipped behind enemy lines in the Philippines. Their mission: March 30 rugged miles to rescue 513 POWs languishing in a hellish camp, among them the last survivors of the infamous Bataan Death March. This book vividly re-creates this daring raid, offering a minute-by-minute narration that unfolds alongside intimate portraits of the prisoners and their lives in the camp.
The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook, by Niall Ferguson. The 21st century has been hailed as the Networked Age. But in this book, Ferguson argues that social networks are nothing new. From the printers and preachers who made the Reformation to the freemasons who led the American Revolution, it was the networkers who disrupted the old order of popes and kings. Far from being novel, our era is the Second Networked Age, with the computer in the role of the printing press. Once we understand this, both the past and the future start to look very different indeed. Ferguson offers a whole new way of imagining the world.
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