By Patrick Brogan
While doing research for this article, I took a little break and started watching a documentary about the library at Alexandria. It was described as the greatest collection of knowledge in the ancient world, and possibly ever. We live in a world where an almost limitless stream of knowledge is literally at our fingertips. Some are abusing this power.
I was going to title this article Trump’s War on Freedom of Speech, but that isn’t quite right, is it? His team prefer when more people are giving varying accounts of the same event because it becomes harder to tell what is true. When this doesn’t happen, they create their own “alternative facts”. This is the major problem in our modern world; information does not mean it is the truth. We are constantly bombarded by data, statistics, facts. What’s true anymore? Some have described this a post-truth world. That’s nonsense, of course. Politicians have always lied and they aren’t alone in that. The difference now is we can see all sides of the story at the same time and instantaneously. His is a war using communications, rather than on it. Right on cue, Sean Spicer is gone from his post as I write this article.
This a documentary on Netflix that supposedly looks at the ultra-rich attempting to stifle journalism, including Trump. This depends on what your definition of what journalism is. Gawker? Is that journalism? The documentary starts there and looks at the lawsuit Terry ‘Hulk Hogan’ Bollea took out against Gawker for releasing his sex tape online. Bollea won his case and got over $100 million in damages. This resulted in Gawker having to close. The Gawker team were curious to know how Bollea funded his legal costs and it emerged that Peter Thiel was backing him and others who had taken out law suits against Gawker. He had a vendetta and was vastly rich. Why? Well, this goes back to the seedy nature of Gawker itself.
They posted up the Gene Simmons sex tape. They later received a cease and desist order and had to take that down. Then there was an article about Christine O’Donnell. Now, it must be explained who she is because it does give some of the context of the motivation for posting up the article. O’Donnell was a Republican Tea Party member. She campaigned against masturbation, said homosexuality was an “identity crisis”, said she had seen the details of a secret Chinese plot to overthrow the US, but she couldn’t possibly divulge the details of it, wanted Americans to abstain from sex and was also found guilty by a judge of violating federal law regarding campaign funds she received. She used the funds to pay her rent and utilities.
You can see why she might be a figure of ridicule in the US media, but we haven’t hit on the bizarre and hilarious apex yet. She told Bill Maher in an interview she had dabbled in witchcraft as a teen. She later had to release a video explaining her position and the first sentence is “I’m not a witch.” Only in America.
Anybody involved in satire in the US must have thought they had won the lottery after this. And, as you would probably expect, they were not too kind. Especially the people over at Saturday Night Live. It can be viewed here; SNL.
This is important because she became a figure of national mockery and was deemed fair game by the media. In this environment, Gawker published details of a sort of one-night stand she had with a younger man. She slept beside him naked, but they never had sex. How is this in the public interest?
They bit off more than they could chew with this one. Owen Thomas of Gawker subsidiary Valleywag claimed Thiel was gay and that he had a boyfriend. He claimed it was something everybody knew, but nobody ever spoke about. For most of the article, it isn’t praising him as a major player in a world dominated by heterosexuals and being a mould breaker. It was puerile. OMG Peter Thiel has this massive secret we know about! A schoolyard mentality.
“But someone else, somewhere else” might take exception with Peter Thiel’s sexual orientation, almost goading somebody into acting negatively towards him or viewing Thiel as some sort of sideshow. The article then went on to say VC [venture capital] is a very homophobic society, but then says this is almost impossible to prove; “Admittedly it is very difficult to prove if VC are discriminatory”. Then the article concludes with “the smartest VC in the world, is gay. More power to him.” This is in marked contrast to the rest of the article and seems almost sneery. Thiel certainly never forgot this and was seeking revenge. In response to this, Thiel once said that Silicon Valley is “supposed to be about people who are willing to think out loud and be different” and described Gawker as terrorists as they had people living in fear.
Gawker is depicted as some sort of paragon of free speech. How is releasing sex tapes of celebrities in the public interest? To start with, it’s actually boring. Sex tapes are usually awkward, embarrassing looking affairs and I suspect that’s why Gawker peddled them and did so with relish. This is bullying masqueraded as freedom of speech. Surely some element of respect for privacy or basic human decency must pervade? Obviously not in this case. The section on the Las Vegas Review Journal is far more interesting and far more relevant to what is the main point; that is big money destroying journalism.
Who is Peter Thiel?
The video seemed to miss the major point about Thiel and freedom of speech. I will get on to this a little bit later. How can Peter Thiel afford to fund Bollea and other’s lawsuits against Gawker? Because he is seriously minted, that’s how. After getting a bachelor’s in philosophy and studying law at Stanford, he eventually went on to co-found Paypal alongside Elon Musk and Max Levchin. He was one of the first to realise the potential of Facebook and took a punt on it. Investing $500,000 through an angel fund seems like an obvious course of action but this was back in 2004 and Thiel was the first person from outside of the company to invest in Facebook. A sound move. That year, he also founded Palantir which some estimate to be worth $20 billion.
He is known for what some feel are controversial ideas. No joking, Thiel takes human growth hormone pills and is interested in parabiosis which is when, amongst other things, you injected yourself with the blood of younger people, all in a bid to live to 120 years. Peter Thiel was the first person in Silicon Valley to back Trump. Not just in words. This is where things get really interesting in the world of communications.
Anyone familiar with the Lord of the Rings films will know what these are. For those that are not, they are seeing stones and a form of long distance communication. The LOTR Wiki page, yes, I do visit this site often, describes them thusly; “Palantíri (singular Palantír) also known as Seeing-stones, the Seven Stones, and the Seven Seeing-stones, were spherical stone objects used for the purpose of communication in Middle-earth and beyond.” This profile also points out a few key facts; they are “inviolable” and the “Palantíri could not transmit sound; they could only show visions or intended thoughts of the users. They, in one direction, could see for leagues, with the farthest places showing the least clarity. Their vision was not based on obstacles, but on darkness; they could see through things, but would only see shadow- nothing within could be discerned. This was actually a method of security, called ‘shrouding,’ which protected the sight of the surveyor… it is beyond the skill of both Sauron and Saruman to create the palantíri and that Sauron cannot make the palantíri “lie”, or create false images (though the latter could show selective images to create a false impression on the viewer).”
These are worryingly good analogies for what data mining companies are cable of and do. More worrying, is why they picked this name in the first place. They take information, distort it for their own agenda and then project it back out into the world. Somebody with this type of ability is enormously influential. To give an example of some of their powers, they helped the NSA spy on the world and were influential in getting Trump elected with the data they had at their disposal. They are also heavily involved in Trump’s deportation plans. A man with vast amounts of money and data with questionable ethics now has a front seat in the White House. He’s a vampire; in a metaphorical sense in that he lives off of communication and data, but a literal one in the sense he wants the blood of others to live a longer life. Peter Thiel is not the only dubious person to help get Trump elected.
Mercer is a secretive hedge-fundist who has dabbled in politics lately. Not in the light of day, where he might be subject to scrutiny, but by pulling the strings in the background. He also supported Donald Trump. His public opinion researcher Patrick Caddell is known for his ability to gauge the national mood and was prominent in Jimmy Carter’s successful White House bid. In that article, Caddell described Mercer as ““a libertarian—he despises the Republican establishment,” and added, “He thinks that the leaders are corrupt crooks, and that they’ve ruined the country.””
I would question his Liberation credentials. Or, is this the version of Libertarianism that allows rich people to do whatever they want without worrying about the consequences? As it stands, he is enormously persuasive from behind the scenes and not just in his native US, but in the UK, particularly the campaign to leave the EU. Like Thiel, Robert Mercer also has a data mining company; Cambridge Analytica. Carole Cadwalladr covered how data mining companies influenced the referendum and it makes for some unsettling reading. The below is taken from that article;
““That was before we became this dark, dystopian data company that gave the world Trump,” a former Cambridge Analytica employee who I’ll call Paul tells me. “It was back when we were still just a psychological warfare firm.”
“Was that really what you called it, I ask him. Psychological warfare? “Totally. That’s what it is. Psyops. Psychological operations – the same methods the military use to effect mass sentiment change. It’s what they mean by winning ‘hearts and minds’. We were just doing it to win elections in the kind of developing countries that don’t have many rules.”
“Why would anyone want to intern with a psychological warfare firm, I ask him. And he looks at me like I am mad. “It was like working for MI6. Only it’s MI6 for hire. It was very posh, very English, run by an old Etonian and you got to do some really cool things. Fly all over the world. You were working with the president of Kenya or Ghana or wherever. It’s not like election campaigns in the west. You got to do all sorts of crazy shit.””
Cadwalladr goes on to point out the influence of tech giants over politics now. “A weird but telling detail. Because it goes to the heart of why the story of Cambridge Analytica is one of the most profoundly unsettling of our time. What’s clear is that the power and dominance of the Silicon Valley – Google and Facebook and a small handful of others – are at the centre of the global tectonic shift we are currently witnessing.”
And then, what almost unlimited power has done and, more troubling, what it may do in the future. “There are three strands to this story. How the foundations of an authoritarian surveillance state are being laid in the US. How British democracy was subverted through a covert, far-reaching plan of coordination enabled by a US billionaire. And how we are in the midst of a massive land grab for power by billionaires via our data. Data which is being silently amassed, harvested and stored. Whoever owns this data owns the future.”
Add into this Steve Bannon and his role in the administration. He helped found Breitbart. This has been described as a “fake news” site. This is untrue. In an article on this site, we said what Breitbart does do, and very successfully, is take the news and fit it to their own agenda. This can be done through omission or taking issues out of context. By adding all of these factors into to the mix, along with the Mercer and Thiel elements, you can see why information and communication can be used as a weapon.
Sometimes, I think Donald Trump is just a pawn in this game. To be disposed of when Thiel and Mercer have no more use for him, but there is one key element Trump brings and it cannot be understated. This is more through accident than design and something even Thiel and Mercer may have overlooked initially. This is his use of language. He doesn’t have a wide ranging vocabulary and normally this would be a flaw in a public figure, but it fits in very well with Trump’s anti-establishment stance because he doesn’t sound anything like a regular politician at a time when people were getting sick of sound bites and shallow politics.
In 1984, George Orwell warned us of what lay in wait in the future. Orwellian is often described as being authoritarian. This is not the case as authoritarian regimes had been around for thousands of years. Orwellian alludes to the use of language to stifle political dissent. Dissent has even become a dirty word. This extends to the thought process of a populous and the ruling class want to destroy any thoughts that may lead to their downfall and hold on hegemonic power. This is where political correctness steps into the equation. I don’t think any rational person can state with any seriousness that the initial ideas of political correctness were good in the sense that it stopped minorities from being abused. Like so many of these concepts, it was exploited by those in a position to do so. The result has been a narrowing of political discourse and even in what you are “allowed” to think.
Then along came Trump. Impersonating someone with a disability and telling an interviewer that when you are successful women let you “grab them by the pussy”. Along with the politicians, people were tired of political correctness for its restricting effect. Indeed these two went hand-in-hand. While those who hated Trump complained that this was offensive, which it was, it worked in his favour in two ways. Firstly, when the “liberal-left” complained about this, it meant his stature increased in the eyes of his most ardent supporters and secondly, it obscured his politics. What would he do when he was in power? We were no closer to knowing at the end of his presidential campaign.
Smoke and Mirrors
In fact, we were further away because Trump flip-flopped on so many policies and ideas. This is something that has continued into his presidency. His communication is poor and this works in his favour. Look at his Twitter account. He has invented a new word; covfefe. And the lies. Oh, so many lies. Alternative facts, even when they are obvious, have acted as a shield. While it was clear in many of these cases they were lies, reporters and people, in general, focused on the lie rather than on what the initial issue was. And these are pumped out so quickly that nobody can really tell what’s going on anymore. This reminds of Malcolm Tucker’s quote in The Thick of It when he is trying to obscure a potentially sticky issue for the UK Government; “Stats, percentages, international comparisons, information. E-mail them fucking wads of information! And tell them to get their heads around it before they put pen to paper, or I’ll be up their arses like a fucking Biafran ferret, right? Come on, unleash hell!” Just to give you the sheer number of strange and perplexing issues that arose even before Trump was elected, here is a reminder;
Certainly, Thiel and Mercer and Bannon could not have handmade a better candidate because not only does Trump not worry about accountability, but he seems immune from it. There are many troubling affairs relating to Trump, his university, Pam Bondi, James Comey, his links to Jeffrey Epstein, the list is endless really. He gets away with it because there is a fresh controversy every few hours and then there is a lie or bizarre comment that muddies the waters. From the outset, his was a divisive campaign. Mexicans are rapists and murders, troubling comments about women, et cetera. This opened the door for hate groups to rear their heads in the name of free speech. They praised Trump for his stance on freedom of expression whilst he cast aspersions on people due to their race, gender or religion. It looked like this would die off, but what wasn’t clear at the time was very powerful individuals were also backing this campaign and they had many of the same notions and a terrifying vision for the world.
This isn’t to praise Hillary Clinton. Not at all. Because she actually has many of the same traits, but is less open about these, including the dark arts of data mining. She also had the benefit of the backing of a corrupt corporate media. Plus, she would have pushed the world to the brink of a global conflict. Her record truly is appalling.
On the Plus Side
The combination of money, knowledge and power appears to be an insurmountable object. You would hope humans would be able to see through these and there is evidence these tactics don’t always work. Regardless of how you feel about their politics, Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn relied on getting their message directly to the people. They didn’t need the traditional media or data mining. As far as we’re aware.
Sometimes it pays to lie and avoid accountability. Also, when you are a billionaire and have billionaire friends with data mining companies and have a media mogul on your team it helps. To say Trump’s election was down to just these few factors would be untrue. Many of Trump’s supporters had an unshakeable belief in him. This always gave him a chance. But his timing was critical. He ran against a poor candidate at a time when people were tired of the establishment and you would be hard-pressed to come up with a politician that personifies this more than Hillary Clinton does.
There is no guarantee that the use of data mining companies will work, but it is a troubling development and it is very undemocratic. In a world worried by cyber hacks and online breaches of data, we now have a fresh problem. We don’t know who is looking, stealing or taking our data out of context to get someone elected. Trump was portrayed as the anti-establishment candidate. He isn’t. He is just facilitating one changing of the guard to another. He is disposable. When he has no use, a new candidate will come along that pushes Thiel and Mercer’s agendas. Orwellian through the back door. They use money as an influence, gather data on any potential dissent and then discredit them with shadows of facts. They have changed the rules, like all those obsessed with power do. Like I said, there is no guarantee it will always work, but this gives them a massive advantage. This will further erode the confidence society has in itself. This can go either one of three ways; we willingly support it, allow it through apathy, or we take power away from both corporations and governments and move towards a more democratic society. These men want to own and control the narrative. Don’t let them. I leave you with the words of Niccolo Machiavelli; “Men are so simple and so much inclined to obey immediate needs that a deceiver will never lack victims for his deceptions.”
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