Rain On | Sunlit Ocean | Bad Accident | Megan Smith | Adult School | Rain Gauge | Boonville Saloon | Noise Pollution | Visible Planets | Ed Notes | Ukiah Wall | In Opposition | Clement/Perigot | Propane Service | Steeple Berries | Municipal Suggestions | Yesterday's Catch | Cattle Ranch | Childhood Scars | Last Whiteman | Controlling Twitter | Kearny Street | Opinion Lacks | Joy House | Cointelpro Lives | Feeder Empty | Narrative Matrix | Masked Ball | Dead Boys | Fiction Love | Fourth Revoltion | Standing Holy | Ukraine | Mariella
RAIN continues through Saturday with heavier rain rates in the southern portions of the area. This afternoon gusty winds will occur on exposed ridges south of Highway 299. Drier weather will arrive Sunday for a brief dry spell with more rain, snow and wind next week.
FLOOD WATCH remains in effect through Saturday morning...
* WHERE...A portion of northwest California, including the following areas, Mendocino, Northern Lake, and Southern Trinity counties.
* IMPACTS...Excessive runoff may result in flooding of rivers, creeks, streams, and other low-lying and flood-prone locations. Storm drains and ditches may become clogged with debris. Area creeks and streams are elevated and could flood with more heavy rain. This may include Highway 1 just north of Point Arena.
(National Weather Service)
BAD ACCIDENT not far north of Boonville Thursday afternoon about 2:30. Two persons, one unconscious, had to be pulled from their destroyed vehicle, which had unaccountably left the roadbed of Highway 128 and rolled over several times, then concealing it from first responders who had to be directed to the wreckage by a witness.
MEGAN CODDINGTON SMITH
A long-time pillar of the Kelley House passed away in early December, and we wish to acknowledge her work for the museum and the community it serves. Both as a tireless volunteer and a dedicated employee, Megan Coddington Smith did much to make the Kelley House Museum the institution it is today.
Megan was born in Lawton, Oklahoma in January 1942, the youngest of four children, three of them boys. Her family moved to Concord, California when she was ten years old. After her first youthful marriage and child, she married Tom Coddington, moved to Lakeport, and had four more children. She raised them while working in the library as an administrator and in the hospital in community relations. In both positions, she developed her admirable ability to organize volunteers.
In 1990, she moved to Fort Bragg, where she became the Director of the Kelley House, serving until 1996. In that time, she accomplished much for the Kelley House:
- She rounded up enough docents to open the museum seven days a week during the summer.
- She improved the Pioneer Families Vault, the place the museum stores all the valuable archives and artifacts. Temperature and humidity controlled, it protects the relics of Mendocino’s past.
- She beautified the Kelley House pond, and had the octagonal garden shed—affectionately called the Loo—built to grace the landscape while storing tools and equipment for lawn parties.
- She started a number of house renovations, especially the kitchen (originally the Kelley’s dining room) and the upstairs East Bedroom (Daisy and Elise’s room).
- She organized at least one house tour of Mendocino for 400 people.
- To maximize visitors’ opportunities to learn about Mendocino, she sometimes ran concurrent groups at the Kelley House, the Ford House, and on a bus, rotating them from place to place until everyone had seen and heard everything.
- She was partly responsible for starting the Kelley House auctions and turning the July 4th lawn parties into the high-powered fun that they are.
Megan married Rex Smith in 1995 and lured him into being a Kelley House docent, a position he still holds happily. Though she had moved on to other positions in the community in 1996, in 2005, when staffing changes at the museum caused a pressing need, she let herself be talked into returning as director for a couple more years. During that time, she hired Carolyn Zeitler to be our archivist, a move that has served the Kelley House immeasurably well since then. Carolyn actually retired as archivist in 2016, after ten years of painstaking work, but she continues to volunteer at the Kelley House every Friday, putting her deep knowledge of things Mendocino to work for all of us.
After Megan stepped down from her second gig as director, she volunteered as a museum docent for many years. Megan then served as a board member from 2015-2022. Unfortunately, she had to leave the board last summer due to her poor health. That means there is room for another history lover or two to take her place. Megan’s story illustrates just how much one person can do for her organization and community. The Kelley House is deeply grateful that Megan chose to give so much to us.
MEET THE AV ADULT SCHOOL! - Open House
Come and learn about the courses our school offers, meet the school faculty and staff, and register for the Spring 2023 semester. Sunday, January 22, 2023, 11:30am-1:30pm
Location: Adult School - 12300 Anderson Valley Way, Boonville (behind the elementary school, next to Peachland Preschool). Free food! Bring a friend or family member who is interested in taking classes.
For more info: 707.895.2953/ firstname.lastname@example.org / message us here!
WHEN I FIRST BECAME A WEATHER SPOTTER for the NWS in the early 90's they sent me this type of rain gauge that I use to this day. The inner tube measures rainfall in .01" (one hundredth of an inch) increments, very accurate. When we get a lot of rain & the inner tube fills it spills over into the larger tube which can hold up to about 12" of rainfall. To measure overflow simply drain the inner tube & add outer tube water to inner tube using the top lid as a funnel & you get the 24hr total (or whatever length of time you measure). You can get these easily online.
— Stephen Dunlap
OBNOXIOUS NOISE? MENDO DOESN’T CARE
by Mark Scaramella
Last November a local complaining about unreasonable noise at all hours of the night from an “obnoxious neighbor” near a parcel south of Boonville asked us for some background on “noise abatement” in Mendocino County and “what is in the Mendocino County ordinances about noise. Venues, private parcels, agriculture (wind machines), etc.”
Here is our response:
As you must know I sued my (former) neighbors (we’ve since moved) for their gross violation of what I first thought was a County noise ordinance for the window rattling noise generated by their vineyard wind fans back in 2014 when the infernal machines were first cranked up in Anderson Valley. The noise started about midnight and continued shaking the windows, rattling the walls, and making sleep nearly impossible while my brother was bed-ridden dying of end-stage prostate cancer. I also sued Mendocino County for their failure to address noise in the permits for wind machines. Several local wine people poo-pooed the problem, saying I was exaggeratig. I invited them to visit our house at midnight while the fans were on and explain to my distraught brother that the noise was minor. No one came over.
I sued after my brother died. All I asked was that the County improve their permitting process and that the neighbors do something to mitigate the noise.
Along the way I discovered that what people thought was Mendo’s “noise ordinance,” is only a “zoning ordinance” that prescribes noise level limits for certain types of parcels and usages during the permitting process. The distinction is important because the general public can’t enforce a zoning ordinance, and the County Planning Department does little more then check a box on the permit form.
The zoning ordinance is simply a planning tool (on paper) to determine if a proposed use of a property will create too much noise for the zoning involved. And even at that, I’ve never heard of it being applied to a permit application.
Then there’s the question of determining if a decibel level (as theoretically listed in the zoning ordinance) has been exceeded and by how much and at what time. I called four professional engineering outfits during my lawsuit. Three of them wouldn’t even return my call. The fourth, LaCo Associates in Ukiah, said they wouldn’t discuss it because they had contracts with the County — a bogus excuse, of course, because they didn’t want to get involved with the wine industry or the County (which was a defendant in my original suit along with the neigbhors).
I was willing to walk around my house with a recorder and a decibel meter while all five fans were rattling our windows at midnight to 8am while my brother was dying of cancer. But my lawyer said that anything like that would not be allowable in court.
Next is what (former) resident deputy Craig Walker told me about noise nuisances: You have to prove that the noise is “malicious” for the cops to even consider taking formal action under the “disturbing the peace” section of the penal code.
Remember when the early hippie fests at the fairgrounds went on loud and long into the night disturbring the peace of those neighbors around Lambert Lane? That terrible situation was only improved when the neighbors cooked up a petition and got the organizers to put some rules down for their late night acts. The County wasn’t involved. They don’t care, never have.
After I filed my original lawsuit, which basically demanded that the County impose permit conditions on windfan installations along the lines that the local wine growers association itself said was already being done. At the time, in the wake of the initial outcry about the noise, the AV Winegrowers own website claimed that Mendocino was “the only county in the state which required permits for wind-fans and that those permits addressed noise, placement and need.”
An outright lie. Pure propaganda. The permits only addressed the concrete pad and the electrical wiring.
In response, the County filed a motion saying that a request to require such permit conditions would have so serious an impact on the wine industry that I would have to post a $1 million bond to even allow the motion to be submitted to the court. Unbelievably, the County, not the potentially impacted wine industry, filed this motion. The County was running interference for the wine industry against what the wine industry falsely said was being done! The judge (Richard Henderson, an obvious friend of the wine industry) never ruled on the County’s application.)
In my motion I also pointed out that the wine industry could not claim a “right to farm” nuisance exemption because the windfans were not a pre-existing agricultural practice in Anderson Valley. The County disagreed saying, preposterously, that because windfans had been used for pears in the Ukiah Valley in the 50s, that constituted “a pre-existing agriculture use”!
Realizing that the County didn’t give a rat’s ass about the problem, and bleeding money for lawyer hours, I removed the County from my lawsuit. I couldn’t afford to push that angle any more.
I also eventually dropped my suit when two of my neighbors offered to upgrade their fans to three-bladed models which are significantly less noisy, less rattling. The third neighbor had fans from a different (and much fancier) manufacturer which didn’t offer a three bladed model. But they at least offered to pay for new soundproof windows on our house.
Given this history, it’s clear that official Mendocino County has no interest in addressing obnoxious noise from any source even when it’s the neighboring boombox variety, much less the much more widespread and much worse noise from vineyard wind machines.
Basically, the (legal) options are:
• Call 9-1-1 and see if a cop will make a courtesy call on the objectionable neighbor. If the cops show up (in the wee hours) and warn the neighbor to keep it down and then after that the noise persists you might have a prima facie case for a “malicious” violation of disturbing the peace. (A long shot, to be sure.) But we’ve never heard of a neighbor in the unincorporated area being charged with disturbing the peace for a persistent noise violation, be it “music,” pot growers’ diesel generators, or vineyard wind machines.
• File a noise complaint with code enforcement. If you’re lucky they might send someone out to check it out. But getting someone from code enforcement to show up in the middle of the night while the noise is being made is unlikely. (The County did send a code enforcement guy, during the day when the fans were off, but that was the last we heard of him or our complaint.)
Upshot: In Mendo for all practical purposes there’s no noise ordinance and no way to enforce one even if anybody in authority wanted to.
I’m still smarting from my awful (and costly) experience with the County which not only resisted any reform at all, but even did the industry’s dirty work. To add salt to the wounds, no locals came to my aide or contributed to my suit or (publicly) pressured our awful Supervisor Dan Hamburg to at least push for a better permit process. A couple of locals were willing to politely hold my coat as I pressed forward until I couldn’t afford to continue.
As a result, Mendocino residents to this day have no legal recourse when a neighbor makes outrageous noise keeping them from an ordinary night’s sleep.
STARGAZERS have been capturing some spectacular images of a rare astronomical event that means every planet in the solar system is visible in the night sky at the same time. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn can all be seen with the naked eye, while Uranus and Neptune are visible with binoculars or a telescope. Astronomer Dr Gianluca Masi shared a picture he took of the five planets that could be seen with the naked eye, while other skywatchers across the world also captured images of the 'planet parade'. He took it from the roof of a building in Rome, Italy last night, using a camera with special lenses.
MATIAS TOMAS VIETTO, the young Argentinian who held up Boonville's Mi Esperanza Market three weeks ago, was arrested three days later as he was about to board a flight home. We'll have to wait for his preliminary hearing for the details. Did he wield a gun, a replica gun? A knife? Did he threaten to harm the clerk and owner of the store, Maria Guadalupe Faria, or did he merely brandish a weapon, which would have sufficiently terrified Ms. Faria, who provides a crucial check cashing service for the local farmworker community.
UNCONFIRMED, but it is said Vietto got away with $20,000 which, given exchange rates, would have won him a comfortable year in his mother country if he had gotten there.
CAPTAIN VAN PATTEN of the Sheriff's Department told us that Vietto is expected to arrive at the Mendocino County Jail some time in the first weeks of January.
IF IRONY applies to armed robberies, it's fairly ironic that there is another Argentinian in the Anderson Valley, who is apprenticing at one of the wineries.
RUMORS flew the day of the big event that it was this Argentinian who had suddenly gone bandido. But no, it was Señor Vietto. We think. What are the odds of two Argentinians in the small population of the Anderson Valley at the same time? So far, lots remains unknown. (Argentina also has a booming wine industry.)
ON THE SUBJECT of prisoner transportation, an old convict, the late Dannie ‘Red Hog’ Martin, a bank robber by profession, became quite well known as a writer from inside the prison system when he contributed his stories to the SF Chronicle. Prison authorities were so unhappy with his revelatory work, that Martin was assigned to “bus therapy,” the practice of driving troublesome inmates endlessly around the country. Word got out that Martin was on one of these eternal trips and the practice was stopped. I met him in the early 1990s. We had a good laugh when he told me his Chron editor warned him to stay away from me as a “bad influence.”
SPENDING years in prison is not a liberalizing experience. Martin tossed off scarifying stories as if they were routine occurrences. When I mentioned another convict we both knew, Martin remarked, “He's never getting out, but you know what? He's a great guy. Nothing chickenshit about him at all, and he never killed anybody who didn't have it coming.”
A READER WRITES: Something that has struck me in old age is how some people get trapped in opposition to one thing or another, to the point of it defining and even consuming their life. Once I became aware of the phenomenon I started seeing it quite often. It's not exactly the same, but I think Paul Simon got me on the track of that discovery years ago with a favorite line from one of his songs: “some people are what they lack.” I thought that was a great observation and concisely put. Here's the song it's from:
Señorita With A Necklace Of Tears
I have a wisdom tooth
Inside my crowded face
I have a friend who is a born-again
Found his Savior’s grace
I was born before my father
And my children before me
And we are born and born again
Like the waves of the sea
That’s the way it’s always been
And that’s how I want it to be
That’s the way it’s always been
And that’s how I want it to be
Nothing but good news
There is a frog in South America
Whose venom is a cure
For all the suffering
That mankind must endure
More powerful than morphine
And soothing as the rain
A frog in South America
Has the antidote for pain
That’s the way it’s always been
And that’s the way I like it
Some people never say no
Some people never complain
Some folks have no idea
And others will never explain
That’s the way it’s always been
That’s the way I like it
And that’s how I want it to be
That’s the way it’s always been
That’s the way I like it
And that’s how I want it to be
If I could play all the memories
In the neck of my guitar
I’d write a song called
“Senorita with a Necklace of Tears”
And every tear a sin I’d committed
Oh these many years
That’s who I was
That’s the way it’s always been
Some people always want more
Some people are what they lack
Some folks open a door
Walk away and never look back
And I don’t want to be a judge
And I don’t want to be a jury
I know who I am
Lord knows who I will be
That’s the way it’s always been
That’s the way I like it
And that’s how I want it to be
That’s the way it’s always been
And that’s the way I like it
And that’s how I want it to be
Due to the fault of AmeriGas, we have been out of propane for the past three days (so no heat, no hot water, no cooking gas). Despite having called their customer service number many times over the past few days and being promised delivery each day, nothing has happened. When I called this morning I was once again told we weren't on the delivery list.
We are freezing, filthy, and desperate to get our gas (that we pay a princely sum for each month) delivered today. Does anyone work for AmeriGas or have a contact number for someone who does locally? Or perhaps have a way to contact their service dispatch? Again, we are desperate.
Thank you in advance!
Amy Sarisky, she/her
FBHS English Dept. Chair
English 11 Honors, English 12, English 12 Honors, English 200
(2) We got the matter resolved! When I posted on here I also posted on a local Facebook group. Kevin Brennfleck who works for Thompson Gas got in touch with me and told me to give Thompson a call asap. I did and within literally five minutes Kevin was here with a new tank and will come fill it up the rest of the way tomorrow. Everything I've heard from folks today is that Thompson is an excellent company with wonderful customer service and they surely were amazing today.
As for AmeriGas, they were supposed to deliver our gas on the 14th of December but they simply never came. After calling for the past three days, multiple people told me we'd get delivery that same day. Cut to this morning when I called at 9am and was told that my name wasn't even on the delivery list. That did it for me.
Derek, I hope you get a gas delivery soon, but if the wait becomes interminable, maybe give Thompson a call.
Stay warm and dry everyone and thanks to all who reached out to me. Happy New Year!
CAN CAPITALISM HELP FORT BRAGG?
I have watched Fort Bragg over the past 40 years suffering through the seemingly eternal cycles of new leadership but the same old failures to mitigate the downward economic cycle that I observed when I worked there as the Finance Director about 20 years ago. The phenomenon mimics third world regions where leadership has defaulted to what is left of the residual talent pool.
Here are my suggestions to break out of the current cycle:
- Get some expertise in municipal capital markets.
- Expand the tax base through LAFCO.
- Use the valuable water resources at Fort Bragg to sustain the tax base.
- Get leaders to learn the complexity of municipal governance.
- Educate the citizens on future challenges faced by current trends.
CATCH OF THE DAY, Thursday, December 29, 2022
NOAH BEARD, Fort Bragg. Controlled substance, paraphernalia, false ID, probation revocation.
JOHN BOLTON IV, Willits. DUI. (Frequent flyer.)
MICHAEL CADY JR., McKinleyville/Ukiah. Controlled substance, leaded cane or equivalent.
SHANKARA CASEY, Redwood Valley. Failure to appear.
HOWARD COATS, Fort Bragg. Failure to appear.
ROBERT MCWILLIAMS, Ukiah. Under influence, disorderly conduct-alcohol.
KATHARIN OLSEN, Monterey/Ukiah. DUI, suspended license.
ESTHER PRECIADO, Windsor/Ukiah. Failure to appear.
BIANCA SCHOFIELD, Point Arena. Protective order violation.
MARCUS SLOAN, Ukiah. Probation revocation.
AMICA WETZLER, Ukiah. Vandalism.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
You have jogged another memory from my youth.
Armand, me and some neighborhood boys built a “fort” in the woods. Somebody found a large can of tar. The tar in it was mostly a dried out unused portion from a nearby construction project.
We put the can over a fire to soften up the tar so we could then use it to make our fort more air-tight and waterproof. We would take sticks and scoop out the now-runny tar and smear it into the fort’s cracks.
It was a messy job. My hands were covered in tar. Someone had a stick with a glob of burning tar on it. He swung it back and forth and a small glob flew off and landed on my dungarees (this is what blue jeans were called back in the day). I smacked this burning glob with my tar covered hands and they caught fire. I screamed in agony. Armand threw me to the ground and covered my hands with a jacket to extinguish the flames. He told me to “stop screaming or Mom’ll hear ya.”
There were bubbles of cooked skin. My hands were bandaged for a couple of weeks. There are scars on my hands from this incident to this very day. I marvel how any child makes it all the way to adulthood.
NOTE FROM SAN FRANCISCO
by Matt Taibbi
On the way home after the holidays, notes on ‘cherry-picking’ and a few other odds and ends…
Having seen the redwoods with the boys by day, sampled dim sum last evening, and overdosed nights on San Francisco movies (Bullitt, Vertigo, the underrated Zodiac), I’m headed home tonight. A terrific trip, which I won’t forget.
In the coming days you’ll find a new thread on Twitter, along with a two-part article explaining the latest #TwitterFiles findings. Even as someone in the middle of it, naturally jazzed by everything I’m reading, I feel the necessity of explaining why it’s important to keep hammering at this.
Any lawyer who’s ever sifted though a large discovery file will report the task is like archaeology. You dig a little, find a bit of a claw, dust some more and find a tooth, then hours later it’s the outline of a pelvis bone, and so on. After a while you think you’re looking at something that was alive once, but what?
Who knows? At the moment, all we can do is show a few pieces of what we think might be a larger story. I believe the broader picture will eventually describe a company that was directly or indirectly blamed for allowing Donald Trump to get elected, and whose subjugation and takeover by a furious combination of politicians, enforcement officials, and media then became a priority as soon as Trump took office.
These next few pieces are the result of looking at two discrete data sets, one ranging from mid-2017 to early 2018, and the other spanning from roughly March 2020 through the present. In the first piece focused on that late 2017 period, you see how Washington politicians learned that Twitter could be trained quickly to cooperate and cede control over its moderation process through a combination of threatened legislation and bad press.
In the second, you see how the cycle of threats and bad media that first emerged in 2017 became institutionalized, to the point where a long list of government enforcement agencies essentially got to operate Twitter as an involuntary contractor, heading into the 2020 election. Requests for moderation were funneled mainly through the FBI, the self-described “belly button” of the federal government (not a joke, an agent really calls it that).
The company leadership knew as far back as 2017 that giving in to even one request to suspend this or that set of accused “hostile foreign accounts” would lead to an endless cycle of such demands. “Will work to contain that,” offered one comms official, without much enthusiasm, after the company caved for the first time that year. By 2020, Twitter was living the hell its leaders created for themselves.
What does it all mean? I haven’t really had time to think it over. Surely, though, it means something. I’ve been amused by the accusation that these stories are “cherry-picked.” As opposed to what, the perfectly representative sample of the human experience you normally read in news? Former baseball analytics whiz Nate Silver chimed in on this front:
Nate Silver: “People don't distinguish enough between: 1) A ~random cross-section of communications from person/organization X 2) A cherry-picked set of favorable examples from a ~comprehensive set of communications from X. The threshold to move your priors should be **MUCH** higher under 2.”
What does he mean by “favorable examples”? Take a quote like this, from FBI agent Elvis Chan telling Yoel Roth at Twitter “possible violative activity” reports from the intelligence community will come via the Bureau, while a DHS agency will handle the home front.
“We can give you everything we're seeing from the FBI and USIC agencies,” he wrote. “CISA will know what is going on in each state.”
Who wouldn’t pick that cherry? Also, is the implication that another email exists somewhere telling Roth he won’t be getting requests from the “USIC” by way of the FBI? Come on now. This is just silly. It may be early to say exactly what these passages mean, but the emails say what they say, not something else. Let’s at least try to stop lying for a while, see what happens. How bad can it be?
Alright, signing out from the Bay. Thanks, everyone, and see you again from back home.
COVID, an on-line comment: "Sorry but knowing requires proof. Not speculation, opinion or agenda. There is no “open scientific discussion ” among conspiracists. All they do is speculate, trying to shoehorn everything to fit their beliefs. Digging up a few people with a few degrees behind their names to “prove” something by opinion is not science. But opinion is all conspiracists consider. If they don’t get what they want, they immediately go to “someone is hiding it.” When the reality is a virus can recombine on its own or be done in a lab and is not possible to know which without a clear fingerprint which has not yet been found from either natural or man made viruses. The answer “we don’t know” is not acceptable. So the answer then becomes “they are hiding it.”
FBI COINTELPRO IS BACK, WORSE THAN EVER
by James Bovard
Elon Musk has opened the floodgates to expose the FBI’s latest war on Americans’ freedom of speech. The FBI massively intervened to pressure Twitter to suppress accounts and tweets from individuals the FBI disapproved, including parody accounts. The FBI and other federal agencies also browbeat Facebook, Instagram, and many other tech companies.
Thus far, most of the American media has ignored or downplayed the story, known as the Twitter Files. Since many of the individuals who the FBI got squelched were pro-Trump, the violation of their rights is a non-issue – or a cause for quiet celebration. At this point, it is difficult to know whether the scant reaction to the Twitter Files is the result of political bias, collective amnesia, or simply a total ignorance of American history.
The history of the FBI provides perhaps the best guide to the abuses that may be now occurring. From 1956 to 1971, the FBI carried out “a secret war against those citizens it considers threats to the established order,” a 1976 Senate report noted. The FBI’s Operation COINTELPRO involved thousands of covert operations to incite street warfare between violent groups, to get people fired, to portray innocent people as government informants, to destroy activists’ marriages, and to cripple or destroy left-wing, black, communist, white racist, and anti-war organizations. The FBI let no corner of American life escape its vigilance; it even worked to expose and discredit “communists who are secretly operating in legitimate organizations and employments, such as the Young Men’s Christian Association and Boy Scouts.”
While many people are aware of how the FBI hounded Martin Luther King, Jr., and pressured him to commit suicide, that was not even the tip of the iceberg of the FBI’s racial persecution. Almost any black organization could be targeted for illegal wiretaps. One black leader was monitored largely because he had “recommended the possession of firearms by members for their self-protection.” At that time, some southern police departments and sheriffs were notorious for attacking blacks who stood up for their civil rights.
The FBI office in San Diego instigated violence between the local Black Panthers and a rival black organization, US (United Slaves Inc.). Agents sent forged letters making accusations and threats to the groups purportedly from their rivals, along with crude cartoons and drawings meant to enrage the recipients. Three Black Panthers and one member of the rival group were killed during the time the FBI was fanning the flames. A few days after shootings in which two Panthers were wounded and one was killed, and in which the U.S. headquarters was bombed, the FBI office reported to headquarters: “Efforts are being made to determine how this situation can be capitalized upon for the benefit of the Counterintelligence Program.” The FBI office bragged shortly thereafter: “Shootings, beatings, and a high degree of unrest continues to prevail in the ghetto area of southeast San Diego…. it is felt that a substantial amount of the unrest is directly attributable to this [FBI] program.”
The FBI set up a Ghetto Informant Program that continued after COINTELPRO and that had 7,402 informants, including proprietors of candy stores and barbershops, as of September 1972. The informants served as “listening posts” “to identify extremists passing through or locating in the ghetto area, to identify purveyors of extremist literature,” and to keep an eye on “Afro-American type bookstores” (including obtaining the names of the bookstores’ “clientele”). The informants’ reports were stockpiled in the FBI’s Racial Intelligence Unit. The FBI also created a national “Rabble Rouser” Index, a “major intelligence program … to identify ‘demagogues’.”
The FBI targeted the women’s liberation movement, resulting in “intensive reporting on the identities and opinions of women who attended” women’s lib meetings. One FBI informant reported to headquarters of a meeting in New York: “Each woman at this meeting stated why she had come to the meeting and how she felt oppressed, sexually or otherwise… They are mostly against marriage, children, and other states of oppression caused by men.” Women’s lib informants were instructed to “go to meetings, write up reports… to try to identify the background of every person there… [and] who they were sleeping with.” The Senate report noted that “the intensive FBI investigation of the Women’s Liberation Movement was predicated on the theory that the activities of women in that Movement might lead to demonstrations and violence.”
The FBI took a shotgun approach toward protesters partly because of its “belief that dissident speech and association should be prevented because they were incipient steps toward the possible ultimate commission of an act which might be criminal.” Some FBI agents may have viewed dissident speech or protests as a “gateway drug” to blowing up the Washington Monument. The Senate report noted that the clearest FBI COINTELPRO constitutional violations consisted of “targeting speakers, teachers, writers or publications, and meetings or peaceful demonstrations…. The cases include attempts (sometimes successful) to get university and high school teachers fired… to prevent the distribution of books, newspapers, or periodicals; to disrupt peaceful demonstrations, including… most of the large antiwar marches.”
The FBI especially loathed any opposition to the Vietnam War. The FBI ordered field offices in 1968 to gather information illustrating the “scurrilous and depraved nature of many of the characters, activities, habits, and living conditions representative of New Left adherents.” FBI agents were told: “Every avenue of possible embarrassment must be vigorously and enthusiastically explored. It cannot be expected that information of this type will be easily obtained, and an imaginative approach by your personnel is imperative to its success.” One FBI internal newsletter encouraged FBI agents to conduct more interviews with antiwar activists “for plenty of reasons, chief of which are it will enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles and will further serve to get the point across that there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.”
An FBI memo warned that “the anarchist activities of a few can paralyze institutions of learning, [conscription] induction centers, cripple traffic, and tie the arms of law enforcement officials, all to the detriment of our society.” The FBI declared: “The New Left has on many occasions viciously and scurrilously attacked the Director [J. Edgar Hoover] and the Bureau in an attempt to hamper our investigation of it and to drive us off the college campuses.”
Other federal agencies also trampled citizens’ privacy, rights, and lives during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The IRS used COINTELPRO leads to launch audits against thousands of suspected political enemies of the Nixon administration. The U.S. Army set up its own surveillance program, creating files on 100,000 Americans and targeting domestic organizations such as the Young Americans for Freedom, the John Birch Society, and the Anti-Defamation League of B’Nai B’rith. Nixon aide Tom Charles Huston, testifying to Congress in 1973, lamented the FBI’s tendency “to move from the kid with a bomb to the kid with a picket sign, and from the kid with the picket sign to the kid with the bumper sticker of the opposing candidate. And you just keep going down the line.”
Throughout the COINTELPRO era, presidents, congressmen, and other high-ranking federal officials assured Americans that the federal government was obeying the law and upholding the Constitution. It took a burglary of an FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, to break the biggest scandal in the history of federal law enforcement. After hundreds of pages of confidential records were commandeered, the “Citizen’s Commission to Investigate the FBI” began passing out the incriminating documents to the media. The shocking material sparked congressional and news investigations that eventually (temporarily) shattered the FBI’s legendary ability to control its own image.
The Senate report on COINTELPRO concluded: “Only a combination of legislative prohibition and Departmental control can guarantee that COINTELPRO will not happen again.” But the Ford administration derailed legislative reforms by promising an administrative fix. In 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft threw out many of those reforms as part of “a concerted effort to free the [FBI] field agents… from the bureaucratic, organizational, and operational restrictions” imposed after their prior abuses. Ashcroft declared: “In its 94-year history, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been… the tireless protector of civil rights and civil liberties for all Americans.” The same tripe has been uttered by many Democrats and liberals in the last five years.
The FBI’s latest war on wrong-thinking Americans took off after the FBI helped fabricate the 2016 RussiaGate fraud. The 1976 Senate report noted that COINTELPRO’s origins “are rooted in the Bureau’s jurisdiction to investigate hostile foreign intelligence activities on American soil” and that the FBI used the “techniques of wartime.” William Sullivan, former assistant to the FBI director, declared, “No holds were barred…. We have used [these techniques] against Soviet agents…. [The same methods were] brought home against any organization against which we were targeted. We did not differentiate.” Senate investigators warned in 1976 that the “FBI intelligence system developed to a point where no one inside or outside the bureau was willing or able to tell the difference between legitimate national security or law enforcement information and purely political intelligence.”
In our time, FBI officials pressured Twitter to suppress Americans based on false claims of fighting foreign influence. The same pretext was used by the Department of Homeland Security to massively suppress Americans’ criticism of election procedures (especially mail-in ballots) for the 2020 presidential election. As the covert war against “misinformation” expands, the list of federally prohibited online thoughts is snowballing. DHS is targeting “inaccurate information on the… U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the nature of U.S. support to Ukraine,” The Intercept reported. How many other foreign policy debacles are Americans not learning about thanks to federal censorship?
One of the biggest “misses” in the media coverage of the Twitter Files is the stunning failure of Congress to expose the abuses that Elon Musk is revealing. A few months ago, FBI director Christopher Wray, facing vigorous questioning from Sen. Charles Grassley and others, walked out of a Senate oversight hearing, claiming that he had an urgent appointment he must keep. It was later revealed that Wray’s “appointment” was hopping on an FBI jet for a family vacation. Congress punished the FBI with a $570 million budget increase, plowing $11.3 billion into its coffers in the coming year.
Is Congress terrified of the FBI nowadays like congressmen were in the COINTELPRO era? In 1971, House Majority Leader Hale Boggs revealed the shameless kowtowing on Capitol Hill: “Our very fear of speaking out [against the FBI] … has watered the roots and hastened the growth of a vine of tyranny…. Our society cannot survive a planned and programmed fear of its own government bureaus and agencies.” Boggs vindicated a 1924 American Civil Liberties Union warning that the FBI had become “a secret police system of a political character.”
But old quotes provide no protection against new depredations. The Twitter Files prove that G-men have been off the leash for years. We still have no idea how far the FBI and other federal agencies have gone to suppress our freedom of speech. Until federal abuses are fully exposed, Americans would be damn fools to believe their constitutional rights are safe.
(James Bovard is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books. Bovard is on the USA Today Board of Contributors. He is on Twitter at @jimbovard. His website is at www.jimbovard.com This essay was originally published by Future of Freedom Foundation. CounterPunch.org)
IT ACTUALLY ISN'T AN EXAGGERATION to compare the mainstream worldview to the virtual world depicted in The Matrix. The only difference is that instead of AI keeping us imprisoned, it's psychopathic oligarchs and secretive government agencies, and instead of code, it's narrative.
Few understand just how pervasively dominated our civilization is by narrative. How all our culture, beliefs, political and economic systems, are all made entirely out of mental stories that we collectively pretend are real — towers of narrative built on top of our basic animal needs.
The experience of the individual is likewise dominated by narrative. If you've ever tried to meditate, you know how the mind babbles and churns even when you try to silence it for a minute. All that babbling is made of mental stories about life that have no concrete reality. Even your very idea of yourself is made of narrative. Not just your stories about who you are and how you are, but the actual existence of a "self" that's separate and separable from the rest of life. It's all made of believed mental narrative, and its reality is entirely illusory.
Because human life is so dominated by narrative both collectively and individually, anyone who can manipulate the narrative can manipulate the humans. They can manipulate how we think, speak, act, shop and vote, as individuals, and at mass scale.
And they do.
Power is controlling what happens. Real power is controlling what people think about what happens. Our rulers do this by exerting massive amounts of influence over news media, Hollywood, Silicon Valley, think tanks, NGOs, and other systems of narrative manipulation.
They manipulate to start wars and roll out major control agendas of course, but their narrative control goes so much deeper than that. The bulk of it consists of mundane day-to-day manipulations which manufacture the normalization of status quo systems, making us think madness is sanity. They manipulate us into thinking poverty is normal, that our economic systems are the only way things could possibly be, that militarism is good, that it's perfectly sane and expected that we'd keep voting in political systems that never change anything no matter who we vote for, and that there's no other option anyway.
They don't just lie to us about what's happening — they lie to us about who we are. About what we should value. About how we should measure our successes and failures as individuals. We're saturated in these narratives from birth, and they all serve those who rule over us.
And we remain enslaved in that way: thinking, speaking, moving, working, spending, voting and behaving in perfect alignment with the wishes of the powerful. In the west we think we're free because we can do what we want, not seeing that our rulers control what it is we will want to do. We don't grasp how profoundly unfree we actually are, because another major purpose of the narrative matrix is to trick us into thinking that we are free. In reality we're no freer than we would be if we were kept in a coma in a vat with our brains jacked into a digital world.
Awakening from the narrative matrix isn't easy. It takes work. And just like in the movie, the path down that rabbit hole begins with a choice. That choice, that red pill, is committing yourself to a sincere devotion to living in truth, come what may. Even when the truth is inconvenient. Even when the truth goes against your biases and partisan loyalties. Even when it means seeing that everything you believe is a lie.
It takes time and effort to extract the lies from your perception, because you've been consuming them your whole life. It takes sincerity. It takes self-honesty. It takes a willingness to go places that you'd rather not go. And even when you think you're done, you're probably not.
Extracting yourself from the narrative matrix is a rabbit hole that keeps going and going. You clear one pile of lies only to find another. You get clear on your delusions about the outer world and discover a whole dimension of delusions about your inner world. It goes on and on.
But the clearer things get, the faster and more fun it becomes. The clearer you are on the false narratives about the world, the more effective you are at helping others see them. The clearer you are on the false narratives about yourself, the happier and more effective you become.
And then you're ready to fight. You're awake enough from the narrative matrix to help dismantle it, and to help wake up others.
And of course the Agent Smiths will appear to try to stop you. They will appear wherever you try to shine light upon things that want to stay hidden. They'll appear as strangers on the internet. They'll appear as your friends and family. They'll appear in you, trying to dissuade you from looking at parts of yourself that can only exist in unconsciousness.
But they are very beatable. Absolutely they are. Every positive change in human behavior, whether individual or collective, is always preceded by an expansion of consciousness. And that's all we're doing here: expanding consciousness. Making the unseen seen. That's the path. Just as in The Matrix there will be forces within and without that want to maintain the status quo of darkness and unconsciousness, but the hidden can't remain hidden forever. "As sure as God made black and white, what's done in the dark will be brought to the light."
Really we're just an adolescent species going through an awkward and confusing transition phase as we learn to use these newly evolved brains more maturely, and our confusion is being exploited in the meantime by a few clever humans who understand manipulation better than the rest of is. That's all this really is. We're on the journey to becoming a mature and conscious species, and when that happens the manipulators won't be able to function, because they won't have these large pools of human unconsciousness to hunt in. They'll be like sharks flopping around on the beach sand.
We can help facilitate this by taking that red pill. By making a sincere commitment to be true to what's true, come what may. And then awakening the others, so that we can overthrow our oppressors and build a beautiful world together.
TWO DEAD BOYS
Ladies and Gentlemen, skinny and stout,
I’ll tell you a tale I know nothing about;
The Admission is free, so pay at the door,
Now pull up a chair and sit on the floor.
One fine day in the middle of the night,
Two dead boys got up to fight;
Back to back they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot each other.
A blind man came to watch fair play,
A mute man came to shout “Horray!”
A deaf policeman heard the noise and
Came to stop those two dead boys.
He lived on the corner in the middle of the block,
In a two-story house on a vacant lot;
A man with no legs came walking by,
and kicked the lawman in his thigh.
He crashed through a wall without making a sound,
into a dry creek bed and suddenly drowned;
The long black hearse came to cart him away,
But he ran for his life and is still gone today.
I watched from the corner of the big round table,
The only eyewitness to facts of my fable;
But if you doubt my lies are true,
Just ask the blind man, he saw it too.
I WISH WE could sometimes love the characters in real life as we love the characters in romances. There are a great many human souls whom we should accept more kindly, and even appreciate more clearly, if we simply thought of them as people in a story.
— G.K. Chesterton
THE FOURTH REVOLUTION
by Paul Kingsnorth
By now, you might have heard about the rising threat of ‘eco-fascism’. If you haven’t you soon will, because the number of people warning about this alarming new danger to civilisation seems to be growing exponentially. In publications right and left and neither you’ll be able to read long expositions of the origins and intentions of this frightening movement, which seems to be taking root all over the world.
Those essays and articles could be rolled into one easily enough, and sometimes it seems like they have been. The formula is always the same, and can be usefully applied across the political spectrum. Start with talk of the ‘rising tide of authoritarianism’ all over the world, as evidenced by ‘populism’, Brexit, Georgia Melloni, Viktor Orban, Justin Trudeau, Donald Trump, Joe Biden or any other leader you don’t like. Move on to explore how much of this ‘rising authoritarianism’ is reflected in environmentalism, as evidenced by Just Stop Oil, Extinction Rebellion, the Green New Deal, the Great Reset, Bill Gates, Greta Thunberg or [insert name of bête noire here].
After this, list the historical inspirations for these new green authoritarians: Ted Kaczynski, Pentti Linkola and Dave Foreman should do for starters. Dig into the most miserable chans and reddits of the Internet and ‘expose’ a few anonymised avatars promoting race war in the name of the planet. Mention the Christchurch shooter. Use the phrase ‘dark undercurrent’ a lot. Quote Murray Bookchin. Chuck in the names of a couple of nature writers from the 1930s who became fascists. Mutter darkly about ‘blood and soil’ and how Hitler was a vegetarian. Did you know there was an organic garden at Dachau? It makes you think. If you’re lucky.
Having got here, you can move on to the meat of the thing: sombrely intoning about the ‘new threat to democracy’ which is represented by this ominous movement. Depending on where you’re coming from, you can now explain how these new eco-authoritarians represent either [a] a threat to our God-given right to drive, mine, manufacture, fly, burn oil and freely enjoy the glories that only Western Progress can provide, or [b] a threat to diversity, equality, human rights, LGBTQIA++ people, refugees, ‘global justice’ and a woman’s right to choose. Either way, the conclusion will be much the same: a non-specific but ominous call for more monitoring of ‘problematic’ views, more work to tackle ‘radicalisation’, more ‘hate speech’ or anti-protest laws and probably more Internet regulation. For the safety of us all, of course.
The problem, though, is that actual ‘eco fascism’ is notable mostly by its absence. Dark corners of the Internet aside - you can find any craziness there, after all - it’s hard to find a single ‘eco fascist’ anywhere out in the real world. No public intellectuals, no writers, no philosophers, no politicians, no popular movements embrace anything of the kind. Plenty of people get the label applied to them of course - without the prefix, the word ‘fascist’ has been a meaningless, all-purpose insult for decades - but they all reject it. I was in and around the green movement for a long time, but I never met an eco-fascist, though I did have the pleasure of being called one.
So why all the dire warnings? I can think of two possible explanations.
One is fairly straightforward: there is something we can’t bear to look at, and we are trying to distract attention from it by screaming at the people who are pointing it out. The thing we are avoiding is the thing that we used to call ‘nature’, and the reality that we are trying to distract attention from is that we are part of it, we live inside it and that everything we do to it we also do to ourselves. Change the climate out there and it changes in here. Erode the soil, erode your soil. Poison the oceans, poison your culture. This is how it works, and this is what we are now facing.
And we cannot face it; even those of us who think we can. Whatever we think our politics are - and they are likely to be the least important thing about us - we have no idea what to do about the coming end of the brief age of abundance, and the reappearance, armed and dangerous, of what we could get away with denying for a few decades: limits. Those who point these limits out - and who point out, especially, that the very existence of industrial modernity might be the root cause of the problems we currently face - can expect to be smacked down with the worst insults our culture can conjure.
This is one explanation for the mysterious rise of the ghostly eco-fascists. But I think there might be another. This is that the phrase ‘eco fascist’ is a label which is increasingly being applied to the wrong kind of environmentalist: those who offer up a vision of humanity and nature that involves roots, traditions, smallness, simplicity, a return to previous lifeways, or any other kind of challenge to Machine modernity. This in turn is contrasted with the right kind of green: that which is modern, global, progressive and - most importantly of all - friendly to the onward march of the technological society.
Nearly a decade ago, I wrote an essay called Dark Ecology, about the state of environmentalism. In it, I wrote about the emergence of a tendency in green circles which I labelled ‘neo-environmentalism.’ The neo-greens - who preferred to call themselves ‘ecomodernists’ - emerged as a reaction to the traditional green movement, which in its infancy had been relatively conservative, low-tech and focused on the human scale. The neo-greens rejected all this as backward, impractical and even dangerous. The ‘new environmentalism’ they declared, in manifestoes like this one, would be, as we might now say, ‘grown-up.’
In ‘Dark Ecology’ I described the neo-greens like this:
The neo-environmentalists are distinguished by their attitude to new technologies, which they almost uniformly see as positive. Civilisation, nature and people can be ‘saved’ only by enthusiastically embracing biotechnology, synthetic biology, nuclear power, geoengineering and anything else with the prefix ‘new’ that annoys Greenpeace. The traditional green focus on ‘limits’ is dismissed as naive. We are now, in [Stewart] Brand’s words, ‘as Gods’, and we have to step up and accept our responsibility to manage the planet rationally through the use of new technology guided by enlightened science …
Sucks to be right, as I believe the kidz say on the Interweb.
Since I wrote that essay, the neo-greens have, as I suggested they would, mounted an effective corporate takeover of most of the environmental movement. Examples of what we might call Machine Environmentalism have been embraced by the corporate sector, big NGOs, global institutions and most of the intellectual class, most obviously in the ‘Green New Deals’ that are popping up like summer daisies in all corners of the globe. Meanwhile, as I also glumly predicted, the green movement is splintering into camps, determined by attitudes to the kind of intrusive and novel technologies that the Machine Greens are pushing as our final means of salvation.
In Britain, for example, this divide has been illustrated recently by attitudes to green pundit George Monbiot’s latest book, which embraces the neo-green vision. In the humbly titled Regenesis, Monbiot, an urban vegan intellectual, makes a case - based, naturally, on the ‘peer-reviewed science’ - for the ‘end of most farming’ and the replacement of much of its output with vat-grown, bacterial ‘food’ manufactured via ‘industrial biotechnology.’ The vast acreages of land which have been stripped of their farmers can then be ‘rewilded’ in various Monbiot-approved ways, which mainly seem to involve growing forests for always-on urbanites to go wolf-spotting in at weekends.
In promoting a high-tech, globalised food system (perhaps overseen by the world government he has previously argued for), and casually calling for the destruction of the basis of post-Neolithic human civilisation, Monbiot offers a perfect example of what a neo-green future will look like: utopian, hyper-urban, technological, rational and most of all, ‘efficient’. What matters now, as he explains, is mathematics:
It’s time we became obsessed by numbers. We need to compare yields, compare land uses, compare the diversity and abundance of wildlife, compare emissions, erosion, pollution, costs, inputs, nutrition, across every aspect of food production.
Welcome to what the greens have become.
A number of actual farmers who are also first-rate thinkers have taken aim at Monbiot’s Machine Green dystopia in recent months (Simon Fairlie, Chris Smaje and John Lewis-Stempel offer some of the best critiques), but while they might win the battle they are, for now at least, losing the war. Industrial biotechnology is joining the growing list of other ‘green’ innovations which are set to cut our world of megacities and glowing screens off even further from the real world.
Only last month, the pioneering Finnish ‘solar food’ company championed by Monbiot as part of the future of food was given EU permission for ‘industrial deployment of relevant infrastructure in the hydrogen value chain’ as part of the ‘European green deal.’ In plain English, this means that they now have permission to roll out production of their new ‘sustainable protein’. The company says that the production hub in which it produces this ‘novel food’ - a laboratory which it calls ‘Factory 01’ - is part of a ‘food revolution’ which will, for the first time in history, detach food production from the land, the farmers who work it and the culture it creates. Excitable admirers are already explaining that this may give us the ability to one day 3D-print our own food. I’m salivating already.
Older, crustier greenies like me, labouring under the yoke of a pre-modern sensibility which makes us reluctant to eat the sludge and live in the pod, might feel that something has gone terribly wrong with the numbers-obsessed rationalism that underlies this new, corporate-friendly green technocracy. But we have no five point plan of our own, and we can’t peer-review our intuition, so our complaints don’t convince anybody who matters. And now that the localists, the distributists, the deep ecologists, the neo-Luddites, the peasants, the small farmers and anyone else whose human-scale vision actually interferes with the march of Progress have been usefully designated as ‘eco fascists’, we are able to behold the only legitimate form of environmentalism which remains: a globalised, technocratic, ‘progressive’ push for ‘sustainability’, led by intellectuals, entrepreneurs and professional activists, following The Science down a path which just happens to lead to the triumph of the Machine.
Earlier this year I wrote an essay exploring the shared roots of the allegedly anti-capitalist left and the corporate world. Both, I suggested, had their common source in a worldview which sought the elimination of all borders, boundaries and limits:
Progressive leftism and corporate capitalism have not so much merged as been exposed for what they always were: variants of the same modern ideal, built around the pursuit of boundless self-creation in a post-natural world. The Canadian ‘red Tory’ philosopher George Grant once observed that ‘the directors of General Motors and the followers of Professor Marcuse sail down the same river in different boats.’ These days, they have abandoned their separate vessels and are sailing downstream in a superyacht together, while the rest of us gawp or throw rocks from the banks.
The green movement, long ago co-opted by the left, has now been co-opted too by technocrats. For this reason, the neo-green (or should we say soylent green?) food future can’t be viewed in isolation. It is only one aspect of the unfolding phenomenon which has been dubbed the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ - a revolution in which the Machine Greens, wittingly or otherwise, are playing a key part.
Dreamt up, like so many other catchy corporate catchphrases, by the World Economic Forum in 2015, the Fourth Revolution is a way of describing our historical moment, and it’s not a bad summary of the state we’re in. In a book of the same name, produced that same year by Foreign Affairs journal to accompany the annual Davos gathering of politicians, business leaders and Bono, the inescapable Klaus Schwab makes his case:
We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. We do not yet know just how it will unfold, but one thing is clear: the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive, involving all stakeholders of the global polity, from the public and private sectors to academia and civil society.
Schwab, a man whose prose style could make a Martian invasion sound boring, goes on to outline human’s three previous revolutions, and the coming of their successor:
The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.
The rest of the book, made up of offerings from various scientists, engineers, politicians and philosophers, explores the implications of this ‘blurring of lines’ between created and uncreated, natural and artificial, wild and tamed. Now that we inhabit what the neo-greens like to call the ‘Anthropocene’ - now that we are, in H. G. Wells’s formulation, Men Like Gods - what do we intend to conjur with the thunder and the lightning that pours forth from our just and rational fingers?
All of the contributors stress that overcoming the old-school distinction between the digital and the natural is the essence of the thing. Neil Gershenfeld, for example, defines the ‘digital fabrication revolution’ - the one which will soon be growing our tank-bred bio-sludge dinners - as ‘the ability to turn data into things and things into data.’ Gershenfeld writes of the potential ability to build a home-made drone that can ‘fly right out of the printer’. That printer will eventually be able to ‘make all its own parts’, so that the tech being used to build physical things out of digital data will itself become self-replicating. Every home will become a lab which can whip up anything we desire, from junk food to sex dolls.
This kind of ‘distributed solution’ (the actual problem remains mysteriously vague) is the essence of the coming Internet of Things, and its associated Internet of Bodies, which I wrote about here last December. ‘Intelligent’ buildings, wearable sensors, implanted chips: six years ago, when this book was written, these may have seemed radical. Today, it feels as if they have been almost normalised. Partly this is because of the ubiquity of Amazon Alexas, Smartphone apps and endless, boosterish narratives about the exciting future that AI is building. And partly it is because the covid pandemic, as I wrote back in December, was used as a trial run for precisely the kind of technologies - smartphone-enabled passports, under-the-skin microchips, digital population tracking, media-driven narrative control, psychological ‘nudging’ - which are now increasingly sold to us as a means of ‘saving the planet.’ It is no coincidence that some of the loudest proponents of Machine Environmentalism were also fanatical supporters of the covid biosecurity state. We have been trained to like what is coming - or at least to shrug our shoulders and accept its inevitability.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution explores everything from the creation of artificial life through synthetic biology (spoiler: it’s already happened), digital finance, gene editing, the morality of robotics, the ‘new world order’ of the ‘second machine age’ and the future of cities. Not all of the contributors are starry-eyed about what is unfolding, but all agree on the breathtaking speed of it. This rapid transformation is surely one reason that the world seems so unstable, confusing and manic as the 2020s unfold. All that is solid melts into bytes and is transformed into data. Then you can print it out at home in any shape you please. Behold: liberation!
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Fourth Revolution, though, is what has been called ‘datafication.’ The book’s chapter on ‘Big Data’ explains that the knowledge available to each of us today on the Internet dwarfs that which would have been available in the Great Library of Alexandria, the greatest repository of learning in the ancient world. ‘Today’, intone the authors, ‘there is enough information in the world to give every person alive 320 times as much of it as historians think was stored in Alexandria’s entire collection — an estimated 1,200 exabytes’ worth.’
But size, as they explain, isn’t everything:
Big data is also characterized by the ability to render into data many aspects of the world that have never been quantified before; call it “datafication.” For example, location has been datafied, first with the invention of longitude and latitude, and more recently with GPS satellite systems. Words are treated as data when computers mine centuries’ worth of books. Even friendships and “likes” are datafied, via Facebook.
Here we see the same ‘obsession with numbers’ that George Monbiot demands of us as we contemplate how to produce our food and live in our landscape, and it reveals the elision between Machine Environmentalism and the elite-driven tech revolution it is part of. What we can see is that both achieve their goals through the process of datafication: the quantification of everything. The pattern of reality will be transformed into bits and bytes, comparisons and yields, numbers and statistics, until even novels and friendships and meadows and family meals on winter nights can be measured and compared and judged for their relative contributions to efficiency and sustainability.
There is a rift here, and we should gaze deep into it, because there is something down there that we need to make out. It is the ancient rift between those who embrace the mindset of ‘datafication’ and those who are repelled by it. It is a very old rift - ‘datafication’, in the form of sums and the written language they are recorded in, is one of the foundations of civilisation - and I suspect it can never really be healed, because it marks the border between two distinct ways of seeing. In my last essay I wrote of them as the ratio and the nous, but we could just as well call them left and right brain, mythos and logos, or - perhaps most simply - the sacred and the profane.
The Fourth Revolution, and the Machine Environmentalism which it contains, offer us a profoundly profane vision of the world. Life in this understanding is not a sacred thing - what does ‘sacred’ mean after all? - but an engineering challenge. It is something which can be studied, quantified and constantly tweaked until we arrive at the most efficient version, best suited to our needs and designed to achieve maximum efficiency, equality and progress. The world of Big Data is a world in which an astute study of The Numbers can always help us arrive at the right conclusion.
All of this may be done with the best of intentions (or it may not) but the things which cannot be measured will, of course, be left out of the equation, and the things which cannot be measured happen to be the stuff of life. Love. God. Place. Culture. The profound mystery of beauty. A sense of being rooted. A feeling for land or community or cultural traditions or the unfolding of human history over generations. Song. Art. They’ll ‘datafy’ all of this soon enough, no doubt, or try to. But the kind of people who think that the Great Library of Alexandria contained ‘exabytes’ worth of information’ rather than the collected fruits of hard-won wisdom are lost before they ever sit down to their datasets.
If you have ever wondered why climate change has so utterly dominated the green debate to the exclusion of so many other problems which stem from industrial society - mass extinction, soil erosion, the collapse of human cultures, ocean pollution, fill in the blanks - then the answer, I think, is here. Climate change is a problem amenable to numerical questions and technocratic answers which go with the grain of a Machine culture. It is, furthermore, a problem which, almost by definition, can only be solved by elites. If you can’t read or understand the ‘peer-reviewed science’ then you are open to being intimidated into fearful silence by those who can, or claim they can. And those people - drawn, as all green ‘thought leaders’ are, from the upper strata of society - will bring with them a worldview which treats the mass of humanity like so many cattle to be herded into the sustainable, zero-carbon pen. If you’re wondering where you’ve heard this story before, just dig out your dirty old covid mask. It will all come flooding back.
Interestingly, some of the progenitors of the Fourth Revolution are themselves uneasy about where some of it is leading. Even Klaus Schwab, who these days is often lazily presented as a volcano-dwelling Bond villain pulling the global strings, admits to unease at the speed and scale of change, and how our ‘quintessential human capacities such as compassion and co-operation’ might be eroded by deep shifts like these:
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, finally, will change not only what we do but also who we are. It will affect our identity and all the issues associated with it: our sense of privacy, our notions of ownership, our consumption patterns, the time we devote to work and leisure, and how we develop our careers, cultivate our skills, meet people, and nurture relationships. It is already changing our health and leading to a “quantified” self, and sooner than we think it may lead to human augmentation.
Even as he promotes it, Schwab can see what is coming. Google maps and smartphone apps were always just the beginning. We are headed into a Brave New World of all-knowing Smart homes and vat-grown sludge for breakfast, and every step along that road will make perfect rational sense. A Panopticon world, remade at the nano level by the allegedly well-meaning, lies just around the corner. C. S. Lewis understood the trap well:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
What the Fourth Revolutionaries never seem to grasp is that the question you ask will frame the philosophy you develop. If your question is ‘how can we remove all this atmospheric carbon to avoid what these computer models say is coming?’ then the answer can only lead you to a globalised technocracy. If, on the other hand, the question you ask is ‘how can we build lives which offer us meaning, in alliance with the rest of nature?’ then you may be led in a very different direction.
It is the first kind of question that a Machine society will always ask, and there will always be endless, multiplying justifications for asking it. Ecology, equality, feminism, democracy, public health, growth, security, the war on terror/crime/drugs/whatever: there is always a reason for Big Data, the techno-security grid, the Internet of Bodies. The control is always necessary to prevent a greater evil. Even a movement which once challenged this grim way of seeing has today been bought and sold by it.
For at least two hundred years we have been thoroughly undermining the foundations of all of our assumptions. Now, new cracks in the masonry are appearing daily. Can we caulk them up with vat-grown eco-sludge and hope they don’t spread? Can Big Data come to our rescue? What can we measure, manage, monitor, to help us escape from this? You know what I think, though I often wish I didn’t. We are living now through what may be the final triumph of Rational Man. The tower he has made has nearly touched the very roof of the world. Every old story can tell us what will happen next.
UKRAINE, THURSDAY, 29 DECEMBER
Kyiv’s mayor says 40 percent of residents have been left without power after a new wave of Russian air attacks. Belarus’ defence ministry says there is “nothing to worry about” after its air defences shot down a Ukrainian S-300 missile in a village on the border of Ukraine.
According to the Ukrainian deputy head of the president’s office, Kyrylo Tymoshenko, two people died, and 12 were wounded on Wednesday.
Russia to build new ballistic missile submarines: Putin Russia will build four new ballistic missile submarines that will ensure the country’s security for decades, Putin said
The new submarines and ships with modern navigation, communication and sonar systems will be equipped with high-precision weapons and robotic systems.
Putin added that Generalissimus Suvorov’s submarine armed with Bulava (Mace) ballistic missiles would “significantly increase the capabilities” of nuclear naval forces.
“And I would like to note that within the framework of the current state armament program, four more such submarines will be built, which will ensure Russia’s security for decades to come”, he said.
In addition, Putin said that the small rocket ship Grad Sviyazhsk is also a new generation project, specifying that ships effectively perform combat tasks in Syria and during the “special military operation” in Ukraine.
No signs that Russia wants peace, says Italian PM Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni says there are no signs that Russia wants peace in Ukraine, urging continued international backing for Kyiv.
The prime minister said supporting Ukraine was key to maintaining a balance of power on the battlefield and creating conditions for peace.
Speaking at an end-of-year news conference, Meloni also said she intends to visit the Ukrainian capital before the first anniversary of the Russian invasion, which began on February 24.