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Month: November 2020

The Red-Blue Network-Centric Wars, or, Clash of the Media Bubbles

The Red-Blue Network-Centric Wars, or, Clash of the Media Bubbles

In the late 1990s, with the Cold War just ended and the United States as the world hegemonic “sole superpower”, a new doctrine of warfare called network-centric warfare emerged. The gist of it: “use information networks to get an advantage.” It was an acknowledgement of the growing power of densely networked computers, such as the Internet which we take for granted today.

Meanwhile, a constitutional lawyer named Philip Bobbitt was writing his seminal book The Shield of Achilles, in which he argued that the constitutional order of the industrial nation state was giving way to a new order, which he called the informational market state. Securing opportunity and choice were the new functions of government, over providing welfare and solidarity.

Fast forward to 2020, and we are in the midst of Cold Civil War II, the battle between the red zone and the blue zone that I’ve been blogging about lately. The United States has abandoned the world stage, and is focused internally. A pandemic undermines the legitimacy of the new market state order, by both reducing economic opportunity and creating a public welfare imperative. And the power of the world wide computer network is something to be feared now; it lets bad actors, even foreign powers, manipulate public consciousness. Information runs amok and the Internet is a battlefield in a domestic war, with each side using the network to spread agitprop promoting its particular version of reality.

For example, in the red zone reality bubble, millions of votes cast for Joe Biden in the 2020 Presidential election were fraudulent. Personally, I think that’s BS – if it were true, Trump’s lawyers would explicitly make the claim in court instead of only in media statements. But I am a partisan of the blue zone in this war, so how could my words carry any weight with a partisan of the red zone? It seems we’re at an impasse – and it shows in the paralyzation of our government.

The problem is, with each side convinced of the veracity of its version of the truth, how is the consumer-citizen of the informational market state supposed to know which version is correct? If we are a really in a state, as Bobbitt argues, where we can choose from a menu of informational realities – will that be facebook, or parler, sir? – then how could we ever function as a polity? We need some common ground to stand on.

I am reminded of the time of the French Revolution, when rumors spread readily and people on either side easily believed the worst about the other faction. It was a mindset that pushed the people of that time to extremes of violence. I worried about this earlier in a book review. No, they didn’t have the Internet then, but that’s beside the point. An information network is there, regardless of the technology in use.

Ultimately, the chaos and violence of the French Revolution opened a path for an autocratic ruler to emerge and restore order. The people of the time were just glad for extremists on either side of the partisan divide to be put down. The moderates prevailed, but only because an authoritarian silenced the mobs. Trump might have been like Napolean and achieved this…but as it turned out, he didn’t.

I think the willingness of people to ensconce themselves in their media bubbles and stick with their partisan “zone” reflects a strong need for a consensus narrative, for a sense of collective purpose. We just need that purpose not to be at odds with the vision of a major segment of the populace within our same society. Maybe the United States is paying a price for becoming the sole superpower: there is no external power to unite us, as there was in the last crisis, so we’re left to fight each other. 9/11 might have been like Pearl Harbor…but as it turned out, it wasn’t.

So how will the center hold now? I honestly can’t say, but I suspect we’ll find out in the months to come. This will probably be my last red-vs-blue post for awhile, until some major change breaks. Meanwhile, I certainly will be watching my media bubble feeds with trepidation.

Trump’s Legacy for Good

Trump’s Legacy for Good

While I personally detest President Trump, I’ll give him some credit for what he achieved in his bid for power. It can’t be denied that he has shaken up American politics. Thanks to him, the electorate has become more engaged than at any time in my memory. President-elect Biden is the first candidate to have received over 80 million popular votes. But Trump himself actually holds the next record, beating out Obama’s previous one from 2008. He could actually be proud of this, instead of dwelling on the fact that he lost the 2020 election, especially since he sees Obama as his nemesis.

Trump also forced the Republican Party to confront the fact that its platform does not conform to the needs of the American people. He hijacked the party, and you could say he made it into his own cult, but he also energized a right-wing populism that is likely here to stay. If Trump had been a more competent leader, he might have entrenched that version of populism in power. Instead, he simply gave a pass to the Democrats to attempt a return to the Obama era.

The left-wing version of populism, spearheaded by Bernie Sanders, was not so successful. But now that Covid-19 has taken over daily life, Biden can’t simply turn back the clock to 2016. So by energizing and engaging the populace, and by bungling the pandemic, Trump has had a big impact, which could shake us out of our neoliberal dream and actually take us to a brighter future for all Americans.

World Views on the Web

World Views on the Web

This is to follow up on my last post, where I revisited some Boomer generation founded web sites that were arguably cutting edge “new media” a decade or so in the past, but by now are being submerged by the flood of traffic to social media sites where everyone hangs out today. These Boomer sites are quite clearly split between “red zone” (conservative / traditional / Republican) vs. “blue zone” (liberal / progressive / Democrat) values.

I ended the post by speculating whether the same stark difference would be evident in the web sites founded by younger generations. On the one hand, younger generations aren’t as values-driven as the Boomer generation. On the other hand, they primarily derive their Weltanschauung from the vision of the Boomers, and so that vision should be reflected in their own culture.

Revisiting the sites which I had linked to back in 2014, my impression is that the sites decidedly shift from red to blue as you go from Gen-X to Millennial. However, I would say that the Gen-X red zone sites are less hysterically partisan than the Boomer ones. I mean, Matt Drudge is really a muckraker at heart, not a partisan conservative.

Here’s the list roughly in order from the oldest founder (Newsmax’s Christopher Ruddy, born 1965) to the youngest. Only the founders of Reddit are Millennials; the rest are Gen-Xers. In my judgment there is a shift from the red zone world view to the blue zone world view as you go down the age ladder.

This is true even though the site at the bottom, reddit, accomodates people of all views, in assorted safe spaces called subreddits. They are safe spaces because the admins of the subreddits can ban people who express opposing viewpoints. But, in my judgment at least, the majoritarian perspective on reddit is the blue zone perspective. You can judge for yourself by visiting the sites.

The Old New Media

The Old New Media

Ages ago (2014), on my rickety old Web 1.0 site which I still maintain, I published a list of prominent web sites by generation. The idea was to show how different generational archetypes produce different kind of content. The gist of it: Boomers make stuff that is ideological and righteously free-thinking, GenXers like sarcasm and muck-raking, and Millennials create consensus-building groupthink sites. The premier examples are probably HuffPost, The Onion and reddit, respectively.

Since it’s been a few years now, I thought I’d revisit the older sites, just the ones from the “Boomer” category. See if they’re still up and running. Consider that when they were created, ten or twenty years ago, these sites were cutting edge “new media.” Their Boomer founders were pioneers in a new form of communication. Now that social media has taken off, old fashioned web sites are losing influence (everyone’s going to “Parler” I hear).

As it turns out, all of the sites I originally listed are still up. I put them below, grouped into “red zone” and “blue zone.” The selection is somewhat arbitrary and I don’t feel like hunting more web sites down. It’s my little non-scientific study, but the sample size is enough to show how the red and blue zones really are in different reality bubbles. Two entirely different narratives of what is going in the U.S., particularly in regards to the election.

The Boomers, the Prophet generation in Strauss & Howe terms, is the generational archetype that rules over vision and values. So it makes sense that their cultural artifacts reflect these two dominant visions. But what about the web culture of the younger generations? Is it also split between these two visions? You can follow the other links to judge for yourself. One thing I’ll say is that so long as the Boomers, the values leaders, persist in their competing visions, we will probably remain as two separate generational constellations.



The Red-Blue Wars: Holding the Line

The Red-Blue Wars: Holding the Line

I’m going to keep going with the “Red-Blue Wars” posts I’ve been doing. It feels like there is nothing else to write about at this moment. As I sit here anxiously watching the results from this absolute nail-biter of an election, I just want to go back to the first post in the series, which was about the “generational constellation” – the arrangement of generational archetypes in their respective phases of life during a social era.

The Crisis Era generational constellation is what creates the sense of tension and urgency, as well the feeling of solidarity, as society faces the threat of the crisis. It’s clearly evident in the massive, record-breaking support that each candidate in the election has received, as well as in the fact that the supporters on each side won’t back down. As The New Yorker put it, “Trump, despite the catastrophes of his rule, has retained the loyalty of the vast majority of red America.” This is to be expected in a Fourth Turning, or Crisis Era. People will stick by their leaders even when they fail, because that is the only hope for progressing an agenda.

Now if only each side of the partisan split didn’t perceive the main crisis threat to be – the other side. Clearly we have to figure out how to work together, and I am starting to see opinion makers shifting to that perspective. It’s the only way we can get to a true civic regeneracy.

From the New York Times Twitter account, 11:12 AM · Nov 4, 2020