Photoshopping the Gaza War

September 12th, 2014
in Op Ed

A Metaphor for the Post-Information Era

by Chuck Spinney, The Blaster

Beginning in the early 1970s, advocates of de-industrialization argued that the United States was entering another economic revolution, a post-industrial era so to speak. The they named it the Information Age or the Information Revolution. They argued that emerging information technologies would create a rich knowledge-based society, wherein the exploitation of information would yield better decisions and greater economic rewards for a than would industrial production in the United States; and therefore, industrial production could be left to less economically developed societies in the increasingly globalized economy.

Follow up:

To be sure, the technology industry —computers, sensors, software, connectivity — grew exponentially since the mid-1960s; it transformed the nature of our society, bringing benefits and hitherto unimaginable capabilities to many. Today, we live in a very different world than in 1960.

Yet this societal transformation also coincided with a welter of increasingly objectionable developments, including inter alia:

  • rising wealth inequality and a stagnation of middle class wages;
  • sluggish job creation, with most of the job growth in low wage service industries;
  • a growing loss of control in government decisions, including a breakdown of comity in government, manifested by increasing paralysis and chaos, together with an increased dependence on multi-thousand page,incomprehensible omnibus legislative packages;
  • a growing displacement of analysis by ideology in the economic, scientific, social, and foreign policy spheres of decisionmaking;
  • more frequent and sharper recessions, caused in part by the rise of massive financial corruption and speculation, hidden by arbitrary assumptions buried deeply inside incomprehensible computer models, notwithstanding the appearance of increased scientific rigor;
  • a dumbing down of the mass media to a degree that reflects the fear expressed by James Madison in his 1822 letter to W.T. Barry (i.e., "A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”);
  • a computer-driven domestic spying system, based on unreliable assumptions (especially artificial intelligence based on arbitrary Bayesian assumptions) buried in data analysis algorithms that has turned the Bill of Rights into a hollow shell;
  • a well documented breakdown of decision making in the Pentagon created by the predictions of an un-auditable, corrupt bookkeeping system that is driven by the conscious bureaucratic gaming of the world’s most elaborate, computer-driven program planning system;
  • and perhaps most destructively, the rise of a political system that is growing ever-more dependent on manipulating information to fuel the politics of fear and perpetual war.

To be sure, correlation or coincidence is not causation. There are many other independent causes in each of these developments, and information manipulation is as old as mankind. Also, information technologies are neutral and can be used for good or ill. The normative question has to do with their application. Nevertheless, the pervasive negativity in these developments embodies at least one common theme that is diametrically opposed to the central promise of the information revolution: each development can be interpreted as an outward indicator of decay in society’s collective capacity to make salutary decisions.

Since all decisions are based on the processing of information, is it reasonable to ask how the information revolution or knowledge based society could be coincident with the explosion of these kinds of developments?

The answer is obvious: these technologies have revolutionized the ability for individuals and factions to create, propagate, and hide inside alternative impressions of reality when they are competing for resources and authority. This is true whether the competition for advantage takes place in economics, science, politics, or war. At the very least, these alternative impressions of reality create an atmosphere of ambiguity, if not outright deception. While Sun Tzu first wrote about the benefits of deception in 400 BC or so, more recently Colonel Boyd explained whycreating an atmosphere of ambiguity and/or deception is crucial in the struggle to get inside your adversary’s Observation - Orientation - Decision - Action loop in any kind of competition. Ambiguity and deception free up room for quicker maneuvering by enabling a competitor to get inside the head of his adversary, and thereby paralyze him with a welter of unexpected ‘shaping' operations to collapse his observations of and orientation into a mass of disconnected and disorderly images. Boyd showed how this will cause your adversary to over and under react to changing conditions that drives him further away from his goal. If you doubt the importance of ambiguity’s paralyzing effects on the mind, spend a Sunday morning trying to make sense out of the alternative realities that are sold as analysis and spouted with absolute certainty by the self-assured pundits and politicians on the different talk shows.

As one wag in the Pentagon said to me in the 1980s when we were discussing the mental and moral problems created by the alternative realities in DoD's Plans/Reality Mismatch, “Welcome to the Post-Information Era; think of what Joseph Goebbels could have done with our information technologies.

Attached herewith is a concrete example illustrating how the hi-tech game of creating alternative realities is played in the 21st Century. In this case, it is being played for the most nefarious of reasons related to the promotion of a self-interested agenda. The author of this report, Gareth Porter, is one of the finest investigative reporters left standing in the fight to offset the alternative foreign-policy realities created by Amerika’s ruling war party.

Econintersect is grateful to Roger Erickson for introducing us to Chuck Spinney.


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