“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” ― Isaac Asimov
Leading up to the election, The Chronicle of Higher Educationreleased a Trump 101 syllabus to explore his campaign academically. Following that, N.D.B. Connolly and Keisha N. Blain released a corrective one called the Trump Syllabus 2.0 that more fully considered Trump’s campaign, focusing on xenophobia, racism, and sexism. Following the release of now-President-Elect Trump’s infamous “locker room talk” footage (wherein he made references to nonconsensual, predatory sexual advances towards women), Laura Ciolowski released the Rape Culture Syllabus in order to situate the culture in which Trump’s comments about sexual assault could be normalized.
In 2014, following the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Dr. Marcia Chatelain started the #FergusonSyllabus movement to help explain the history behind the protests over police misconduct and the birth of the Black Lives Matter Movement sweeping the nation.
Much has been written about the arrival of a “post-truth” era, in which facts become secondary to feeling; expertise and vision to ersatz emotional connection. Nazi Germany shows that this is not new, but the internet-driven efficiency with which it can be manipulated is.
One of the main drivers of this process is a click-based revenue model, in which algorithms prioritise items in news feeds based on how likely individual users are to “engage with” (ie click on) them – and thus be exposed to more ads. Whether these items contain carefully researched or fabricated material is of no concern to the algos: in fact, false, sensationalist stories that bolster existing prejudices are more likely to draw clicks than sober analyses that challenge assumption. With misinformation being incentivised in this way, who could be surprised when Buzzfeed found a group of young Macedonians copying the most outlandish fabrications to more than 140 specially created pro-Trump websites and sexing up the headlines to gain clicks and go viral on Facebook?
Among the most pernicious myths of our time is that the functioning of the web is neutral and immutable; that it has evolved of its own ethereal logic, like a galaxy, and can’t be changed or stopped.
This is important, because a recent study by the Pew Research Centre found a majority of American adults using Facebook as a source of news (which means Britain is sure to follow). Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been resistant to the notion that his company, social media, or the web in general are undermining democracy (“a pretty crazy idea”), even after dozens of his own staff formed a covert taskforce to address the problem post-election. It’s easy to see why he bridles too, because if he accepts the truth that his algorithms function no more objectively than a human editor, then he bears responsibility for their choices. And once he does that, he allows the equally obvious truth that Facebook, whether it wants to be or not, is now a media organisation and must vouch for the information it disseminates.
The most interesting question about 2016 is not why the Brexit result and Trump happened, but whether historians will regard both as incidental; whether this will go down as the year democracy revealed itself unworkable in the age of the internet – in which reality, already engaged in a life-or-death struggle with inverted commas, finally gave way to “alt-reality”.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups in the US, NPI is one of the four most influential organizations of academic racists in the country. Its companions on that list include the Charles Martel Society, run by NPI’s founder, millionaire publisher William Regnery. Also on the list: the New Century Foundation, which is run by Jared Taylor, one of the founding members of NPI’s board. It’s a small pond, and just about everything you fish out of it has some connection to NPI.
THE TERM “ALT-RIGHT” probably makes you think of Twitter or a dark subreddit, or 4chan, or some social medium occupied by meme-slinging, Trump-supporting, unapologetically bigoted provocateurs. You probably don’t think of a PO box in Whitefish, Montana. In any event, they should be called what they are: Nazis.
But now that clique’s ideas, the ideological tentpoles of the alt-right movement, have swum out into the mainstream.
The National Policy Institute spread the term “alt-right.” It’s a white nationalist think tank (and an academic version of 4chan). The post How the Alt-Right Grew From an Obscure Racist Cabal appeared first on WIRED.
Today, less privileged white Americans are considered to be in crisis, and the language of sociologists and pathologists predominates. Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010 was published in 2012, and Robert D. Putnam’s Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis came out last year. From opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, they made the case that social breakdown among low-income whites was starting to mimic trends that had begun decades earlier among African Americans: Rates of out-of-wedlock births and male joblessness were rising sharply. Then came the stories about a surge in opiate addiction among white Americans, alongside shocking reports of rising mortality rates (including by suicide) among middle-aged whites. And then, of course, came the 2016 presidential campaign. The question was suddenly no longer why Democrats struggled to appeal to regular Americans. It was why so many regular Americans were drawn to a man like Donald Trump.
Ripped Donald Trump signs lay on the floor at a rally in Radford, Va., Feb. 29, 2016.
“We don’t run cigarette ads because they are hazardous to our health, and we won’t accept Trump ads for the exact same reason.” So said Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti in announcing his company’s decision to dump its ad deal with the Republican National Committee because of Donald Trump’s comments about Muslims, Latinos, women, and the free press. Even though this is a business and not an editorial decision, the move will undoubtedly raise the issue of bias in journalism and increase the political vitriol aimed at the media. But here’s the thing; while journalists are expected to be unbiased in the delivery of facts, they should and must be biased against hate and prejudice. Historically, Americans have depended on that bias. Unbiased reporting doesn’t mean checking your frontal lobe at the door. I am biased in every link I share and every word I write. I won’t keep pertinent news from you and I save my most politically-motivated writing for other platforms. But the issues raised by Buzzfeed go way beyond normal political discourse. Americans can disagree on the best ways to deal with terrorism or improve the economy, but when the discourse clearly sinks into hate speech against our fellow citizens, it’s time to draw a line in the sand, not stick our heads in it. No one is going to build a wall between me and my ethics. If that means I lose some subscribers, so be it.