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Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Return of the Sophists

The so-called ”Californian Ideology” have emerged promoting a form of techno-utopia as a reachable goal. "The Californian Ideology" is a 1995 essay by English media theorists Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron of the University of Westminster. Barbrook describes it as a "critique of dotcom neoliberalism".

In the essay, Barbrook and Cameron argue that the rise of networking technologies in Silicon Valley in the 1990s was linked to American neoliberalism and a paradoxical hybridization of beliefs from the political left and right in the form of hopeful technological determinism.

The Californian Ideology is based on evolutionism, which very shortly said is a linear view of history which are describing a forward movement of constantly progress and innovation. It is a worship of the up-cycles of life. The problem is that it ignores that life also consists of down-cycles. Evolutionism is based on optimism and positive thinking, and are avoiding to see the negative sides of life. It is avoiding seeing the human painbody, or the human shadow side (see my article The Emotional Painbody and Why Psychotherapy Can´t Heal It).

In his book Antisocial Media – How Facebook disconnect Us and Undermines Democracy, Siva Vaidhyanathan explains what the consequences are when The Silicon Valley ideologists ignore this dark human trait. He claims that Facebook is a story of the hubris of good intentions, a missionary spirit, and an ideology that sees computer code as the universal solvent for all human problems. And it´s an indictment of how social media has fostered the deterioration of democratic and intellectual culture around the world.

Silicon Valley grew out of a widespread cultural commitment to data-driven decision-making and logical thinking. Its culture is explicitly cosmopolitan and tolerant of difference and dissent (the postmodern relativism). Both its market orientation and its labor force (included the Facebook users) are global. Silicon Valley also indulges a strong missionary bent, one that preaches the power of connectivity and the spread of knowledge to empower people to change their lives for the better. But Vaidhyanathan asks:  “So how did the greatest Silicon Valley success end up hosting radical, nationalist, anti-Enlightenment movements that revolt against civic institutions and cosmopolitans? How did such an enlightened firm become complicit in the rise of nationalists such as Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Narendra Modi, Rodrigo Duterte, and ISIS? How did the mission go so wrong?”

I say: because of the denial of the dark side of life. Facebook is the paradigmatic distillation of the Silicon Valley ideology. No company better represents the dream of a fully connected planet “sharing” words, ideas, images, and plans. No company has better leveraged those ideas into wealth and influence. No company has contributed more to the paradoxical collapse of basic tenets of deliberation and democracy.

Evolutionism and The Californian Ideology have fertilized the ground for the return of the Sophists, and a global spreading anti-intellectual and anti-scientific movement (about the Sophists, see the last part of my article The Matrix Conspiracy). The problem is much more dangerous than Donald Trump, much larger than the United States. Vaidhyanathan claims that the autocrat, the de-territorialized terrorist organization, the insurgent group, the prankster, and the internet troll share a relationship to the truth: they see it as beside the point. If they can get the rest of us scrambling to find our balance, they have achieved their goals. Those who oppose or dismiss democracy and the deliberation and debate that make democracy possible do not care whether claims are true or false, or even how widely they are accepted as true. What matters is that a loud voice disrupts the flow of discourse, and that all further argument will be centered on the truth of the claim itself rather than on a substantive engagement with facts. Power is all that matters when trust and truth crumble.

Much of the world is suddenly engaged in a reignited battle over truth and trust. “Credibility” and “authority” seem to be quaint, weak concepts. Experts are derided for their elitism, their choice to reside in comfortable social and intellectual bubbles. Scientific methods are dismissed for reflecting class interests of the scientists and institutions that produce and certify knowledge. Vast bodies of knowledge are doubted repeatedly by elected officials through powerful media outlets to the point where substantial portions of Americans have cease to believe basic facts about the oceans that are rising around them. Across the globe communities of doubters invite renewed outbreaks of deadly measles among children because publicity-seeking, soft-minded doubters have fooled just enough parents into believing that the risks of vaccines outweigh the benefits (Oprah Winfrey is considered a larger medical authority than the medical experts). Journalism has collapsed as both a practice and an industry as advertisement revenue fled to online platforms and a cacophony of new voices asserted their newfound potency, certified by high Google search ranks or millions of Twitter followers.

Vaidhyanathan says that the erosion of truth and trust is more acute in the United States than it is in Canada, The United Kingdom, France, or Germany. But much of the rest of the world is shaking as well, since America is the leading storyteller. We see how authoritarian governments assumed control of Turkey, Hungary, and Poland and economic and political chaos has tested institutions in Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece in recent years. Pluralistic, liberal democracy finds too little favor these days in Russia, India, the Philippines, or Venezuela. Democracy has seen better days in Brazil and Mexico, both of which danced for a while with competitive elections and peaceful transitions of power, only to see traditions of grift and graft creep back again. Egypt flashed an interest in democracy, then quickly reverted to brutal military rule. Tunisia and Myanmar offer some hope for the sort of transitions to democracy and the rule of law we so recently celebrated as the emerging norm, but ethic and sectarian strife threaten to bludgeon any hopes in both of those countries.

I have warned against the return of the Sophists many times. The whole debate between the Sophists and philosophy (Socrates), which Plato´s work was all about, is back. Also Vaidhyanathan believes this. He says that sophistry is the dominant cultural practice of the moment. People can´t agree. We can´t agree on what distinguishes a coherent argument from a rhetorical stunt. But despite the erosion of trust in long-established institutions, there are, according to Vaidhyanathan, two sources of trust that are growing in their power to claim truth: Google and Facebook. Americans trust Google search results and links much more than they trust traditional news outlets. My own concern here is the original wisdom traditions. New Age, with its infringement of experience and tradition, have completely taken over the internet so that everytime you do a google search on spiritual topics, you will find links to New Age websites. With New Age we are in this way witnessing an exploitative form of colonialism and one step in the destruction of, first the indigenous cultures (see my article Plastic Shamanism), and eventually all the original wisdom traditions. The latter is happening through the mantra about that these traditions best can be understood through Western psychology and psychotherapy (= reduced to, and therefore reduced to subjectivism). I have mentioned this kind of “google spirituality” in my articles The Conspiracy of the Third Eye, and Why I Don´t Teach Tibetan Dream Yoga.

Google is, with the words of Stewart Justman, a “Fool´s Paradise”. And Facebook users judge the trustworthiness of information that comes across their News Feed based on who posted it rather than the source of the original post itself. Many people judge whether a claim is true or false based on how much prominence Google gives it or which of their Facebook Friends choose to push it forward to others. Vaidhyanathan believes that we are collectively worse off because of Facebook. If you wanted to build a machine that would distribute propaganda to millions of people, distract them from important issues, energize hatred and bigotry, erode social trust, undermine journalism, foster doubts about science, and engage in massive surveillance all at once, you would make something a lot like Facebook.

Vaidhyanathan asks you to step back from your experience for a moment. Would the world be better today if Facebook had never been invented? If Facebook disappeared tomorrow, as Twitter could at any time unless it figures out how to make money, would the world improve? Vaidhyanathan claims that there is a strong case for the affirmative. While the Guardian story you encountered yesterday might have led you to a new novel or an interesting thinker, millions of others came across a story from that drove up the barometer of bigotry in our society. Someone else decided not to vaccinate a baby because of something she read on Facebook. Someone else now believes climate change is a conspiracy constructed by Big Science.

So, what we are facing with The Californian Ideology, is the return of the Sophists, who come in the disguise of philosophers and scientists. Following the Californian Ideology and its technological utopianism, they are all in for scientism, the ideology of science: the believe that you can do philosophy instead of the philosophers, and then avoid the difficult task of philosophical argumentation, by claiming that what you do is science. It is people who are suffering from the thought distortion called The Illusion of Transferable Expertise. It is typical people who are educated in a single branch of science, and then want this single branch to be the answer to all philosophical questions (this trend are followed by hordes of amateurs, or people with credentials from diploma mills or private weekend-educations). But the people with actual educations are typical computer programmers, biologists, psychologists or physicists, who have a very limited understanding of philosophy, or rather: a lack of a basic understanding of that they are doing philosophy and not science. The result is the spread of junk philosophy, and the first step in the destruction of philosophy. You could term them Matrix Sophists. Below is a list of people whom I have examined in The Matrix Dictionary (the list will be updated in line with that new Matrix Sophists pops up on the internet):

British Matrix Sophists:

Stephen Hawking (in popular culture believed to be one of the greatest scientists ever, but in reality he has made very limited scientific innovation, before he became inflated by The Illusion of Transferable Expertise. Is known for leading Nietzsche´s claim that “God is Dead” a step further, and pronouncing that “Philosophy is Dead”, and that science from now on has taken over, where after he spends the rest of his life doing what he just had pronounced dead: philosophy, or rather: junk philosophy).

Richard Dawkins (in popular culture believed to be "the greatest scientist since Darwin" but in reality he has made no scientific innovation at all. Most of his ideas are based on those of others. He has come up with an idea of the Meme, though. An idea which only can be described as a pseudoscientific fantasy).

American Matrix Sophists:

Ken Wilber (in popular culture believed to be the greatest philosopher in history. In reality his work is a plagiarism of different historicist thinkers, who, like himself, were fascinated by evolutionism. He has hereafter replaced their words with his own words. The same trick is seen in New Age systems such as The WingMakers Project and The Human Design System).

Robert Lanza (in popular culture believed to have created a scientific paradigm shift with his concept of Biocentrism. But biocentrism is just a reworded version of something which has been known in philosophy for hundreds of years; philosophical idealism, a metaphysical theory, that ends in psychologism/solipsism. Lanza combines it with quantum mysticism and a scientific sounding language, and hopes that no one with knowledge in philosophy will discover his plagiarism).

Bruce Lipton (doing the same as Lanza)

Gregg Braden (doing the same as Lanza)

Joe Dispenza (a chiropractor who likes to call himself a neuroscientist and brain expert, and title himself Dr. Joe. Dispenza is also all in for Lanza).

David Jay Brown (doing the same as Lanza combined with psychedelics and plastic shamanism).

Deepak Chopra (doing the same as Lanza)

Nassim Haramein (an amateur physicist who in popular culture is known as a nobel prize candidate for having solved Einstein's Field Equations. We are still waiting for the prize. Haramein is doing the same as Lanza).


The Californian Ideology, by Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron

The Matrix Conspiracy Updates (the above blog post is a part of this article)

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