THE NARRATIVE FUTURE

You're reading a website with the subheading, "Dopamine's Only Natural Predator." So by choosing to be here you implicitly accept a certain level of bleakness. I'm conscious of the fact that people don't like to feel hopeless all the time, however, and I try to keep the content from becoming too dark accordingly. Fortunately there is always something to laugh about, even if it's the kind of laugh you make from stubbing your toe on the steps up the gallows.

Two stories that have simmered for the past year intersected yesterday, one of which is getting long-overdue mainstream media attention for the first time.

One is a thing I threw at you back in September – the emergence of this new editing technology that allows the creation, without expensive equipment or expertise, of very realistic looking fake videos. Examples abound on YouTube; Radiolab did an episode on this last summer; now the New York Times is noticing. Right now the tech is still imperfect. If you watch some of the examples available online they still look subtly "fake." It's hard to explain exactly why, but you'll be able to tell something isn't right. But give this, like any tech, five more years to improve and you're going to see videos all but indistinguishable from reality. Think, as an analogy, of the first fully-CGI characters in movies back in the 2000s compared to today. Once the gap between legit video and these edited concoctions is closed, it will be game over for any remaining hope of having one consensus reality. Any real video can be discredited as fake, and any fake video can be accepted as real.

The second item was this belated and shockingly casual admission that Russian hackers accessed voter rolls and voting systems in "a small number" of states in 2016. Now, before you go running for the deep end, it appears highly unlikely that the outcome of the election was affected in any way. That's not the problem. The problem is the final leg of legitimacy beneath our elections is being undermined on the record. As we all suspected, voting systems are not entirely secure (nothing is, obviously) and now the government has admitted that, yes, hackers have tunneled under the castle wall. I think we all kind of knew that. Now we know it.

This is a crucial step in all semi-authoritarian states – the delegitimization of election results. A good autocrat doesn't rig elections so much as he convinces the public that elections as a whole are not legitimate. Everyone's cheating! Who can say who really won?! Every election gets "disputed" and the outcome has to be determined by the state's unelected institutions – the courts, the bureaucracy, and, eventually, the military. As much as it seems like Trumpers would push back against a "Russia hacked the elections" story, this actually serves the long term goal very effectively. Undermine everything, then the power reverts to the status quo. Whoever is already in the driver's seat has a real advantage over everyone else who wants to get in it.

That's the agenda here, to undermine absolutely everything, even previously sacred cows like law enforcement. This is the strategy of denialists writ large. Climate change denialists, for example, don't want to convince anyone that climate change is fake; they want to convince people that no one really knows if climate change is real or fake. There's a "debate." A "controversy." Then the average person who doesn't know their ass from a mine shaft and who doesn't much care one way or the other can shrug and say "Well I guess nobody really knows." And once nobody can say for certain, everyone is free to choose whichever version of the narrative they prefer.

That is why the future is so dark right now – it's a future that looks eerily similar to Putin's Russia where reality is whatever you choose to think it is, nobody can really know anything for certain, and all information is subjective. Add in a burgeoning ability to generate fake images nearly indistinguishable from reality and it starts to look downright reasonable to conclude that we are well and truly fucked.

Be Sociable, Share!

36 Responses to “THE NARRATIVE FUTURE”

  1. waspuppet Says:

    And the "smart, sensible" ones among us continue to deny that Donald Trump, who has made it clear for at least 10 years that this country is not in his top five, would ever follow the lead of the authoritarian figures he clearly prefers to Americans.

    Now he wants a military parade. A year from now he'll be wearing epaulettes and medals and we'll still be reading "the institutions of democracy are holding" and "today he REALLY became president" takes.

  2. swkellogg Says:

    We are always fucked.

    The fantasy is thinking we can get un-fucked.

    At best, we can only soften the blow.

  3. FDChief Says:

    Throw in to the mix the old reality that there's a big chunk of the electorate that is genuinely incapable of "self-government and another that prefers autocracy provided the autocrat hurts "them" and you only have to fool a fairly narrow demographic to grab control of the whole nutroll. I think those of us who grew up at what now looks like the final years of the Great Caucasian Social Peace were unduly naive about how sturdy the social contract of American society was. It took some doing, but the "conservative" propaganda machine managed to widen the cracks in that contract to where it's almost as broken as it was in 1860.

    Can the nation survive half-FOX and half free? I think we're going to find out, and I'm not very optimistic.

  4. Safety Man! Says:

    I’m sure that a lot (all) of the police brutality cell phone videos will be found to be “fake” in the future. And you thought this train wreck ended with politics, silly Ed.

  5. Ten Bears Says:

    Year and a half later … oh, and by the way, the election was hacked, its integrity compromised, this pResident illegitimate. Move along now folks. Nothing to see here. Hey! Look over there, some bimbo's not wearing underware!

  6. Mo Says:

    Money: That's the agenda here, to undermine absolutely everything, even previously sacred cows like law enforcement. This is the strategy of denialists writ large. Climate change denialists, for example, don't want to convince anyone that climate change is fake; they want to convince people that no one really knows if climate change is real or fake. There's a "debate." A "controversy." Then the average person who doesn't know their ass from a mine shaft and who doesn't much care one way or the other can shrug and say "Well I guess nobody really knows." And once nobody can say for certain, everyone is free to choose whichever version of the narrative they prefer.

    With Galbraith as corollary sauce:

    Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.

  7. Steve Says:

    No one talks about “checks and balances” anymore. The USA’s “great strength” was always touted as its checks and balances.
    The Republican Administration has been tearing them to pieces and wiping their arses with them since Scicluna died.
    From where I sit in Australia, your country is being subverted and destroyed.

  8. mothra Says:

    I visited St. Petersburg a.k.a. Leningrad in 1995 when on a cruise. Now, I was only there for a day, but I was absolutely struck with how most people seemed to be living in a state of resignation. Resigned to the fact that their lives would never not be shit, the only thing that might change is just how much shit their lives would be.

    Pretty much that's where I see the US heading–and really fast.

  9. Camembert Says:

    Well, we sure showed those hippies who said that making elections hackable was stupid, didn't we?

  10. Michael Says:

    "It's a future that looks eerily similar to Putin's Russia where reality is whatever you choose to think it is, nobody can really know anything for certain, and all information is subjective."

    I can only assume from this sentence that you, too, have read Peter Pomerantsev's Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia?

  11. jjack Says:

    Regarding video: the quality doesn't even necessarily have to improve, it just has to become common enough for you to stop noticing the subtle fakeness. Pitch correction in music is what came to mind. You can pick out the worst offenders if you know what you're listening for, but it's become the norm so it doesn't stand out as blatantly if you're not deliberately trying to find it.

  12. geoff Says:

    OMG WE'RE IN A PO MO HALL OF MIRRORS!! NOTHING IS TRUE AND EVERYTHING IS PERMITTED!!

    But seriously, I kinda gave up on trusting voting results after reading Greg Palast's reporting on the funny business in FL in 2000, and I REALLY gave up after the OH 2004 touch screen voting fiasco.

    http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/2319:new-court-filing-reveals-how-the-2004-ohio-presidential-election-was-hacked
    After 2000

    I am confident that GOP voter suppression (aided immensely by the Supremes' decision to gut the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County vs. Holder), Cross Check, and gerrymandering affected the outcome of our latest election far more than any Russian meddling. (NOT TO MENTION CITIZENS UNITED!!) The plain fact is that NEITHER national party seems interested in fixing our obviously broken voting system (and JFC I REALLY hate to bust out that "both sides do it" crap). At least part of the solution is simple: paper ballots, hand counted in public, but we don't seem to want to do that.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_Voter_Registration_Crosscheck_Program

    Public financing of candidates, or at least a return to the halcyon days of McCain- Feingold would be nice, too, but NOPE. If the Kochs or Robert Mercer wanna buy your state legislature or the fucking US Presidency that's their God given right as Billionaire-Americans.

    (Rant off. Sorry, y'all.)

  13. geoff Says:

    (poop, need edit.) On a lighter note, I haven't believed anything on tv is real since I saw Jurassic Park ; )

  14. Tim H. Says:

    Sooner or later, the world will relearn one of the big lessons from the Civil War, Southern style economies underperform, then "Enormous Money" will move elsewhere. We may have a chance to rebuild.

  15. Russia Without BS Says:

    Congratulations. Now you know what it's like to live in Putin's Russia!

  16. gundam wing Says:

    buy guns, losers

  17. Major Kong Says:

    I have plenty of guns. Some really nice ones actually.

    I don't see them being much use against an armored division backed up by a tactical air wing if it ever came down it.

    Heck, just take a look at the firepower your local Sheriff's department can bring to the table. Odds are they've got armored vehicles.

    I liked Red Dawn as much as the next guy but it wasn't a documentary.

  18. Katydid Says:

    @Major Kong; the original Red Dawn had its charms, but the remake? Bleah… For example, the Spanish spoken in the original was at least Caribbean Spanish and the Russian was spoken by actors who'd actually heard the language before.

  19. Matt Says:

    TBH, I don't see how much the tech changes things – we've *already* got Fox-bots who will happily believe anything they're told, and a press corps that will dutifully report "the President is not going golfing" as his clubs are loaded into the car right in front of them.

  20. Ten Bears Says:

    I often encourage reichwingers and tea baggers to "go right ahead on 'er, point your little pop-guns at the US Army", while I sit home on a sack of seeds.

  21. Ekim Says:

    @ Mo:

    I agree that the ruling oligarchy is trying to institute autocracy as a means of institutionalizing their access to money (money> power> MONEY), but it's sometimes astounding how quickly autocratic regimes cause a deteriorating economy. True, they see themselves above the nation, but they may have to move elsewhere to enjoy their ill-gotten gains, as it's difficult to enjoy them when you are missing your head.

    I say this as the Senate has passed their suddenly-more-liberal budget (and if you think the GOP had any ideals in opposing budget increases for Obama other than ideal cynicism, I've got a bridge in Alaska with such a deal for you…) Some mostly-competent economic pundits are warning that with the rich-persons tax cut, it could stoke inflation at a time that the economy is still struggling to recover.

  22. Ekim Says:

    @ Major Kong,

    They might be able to suppress us for a while, but without mandatory conscription their manpower base will quickly erode. Thank god for a volunteer armed forces. Now, they can probably get some poor young white guys to take their place, but they've pretty much tapped out that market for now. The problem with the 101st Chairborne is that they're approaching middle age (if not at or past it) and haven't had a chance to meet the physical standards for the Armed Forces exams. In other words, if you're behind the keyboard praising Trump all the time, you're probably old and/or fat.

    And as we used to say in the Marines, those Sheriff's deputies, tank and air crews gotta sleep and eat and take a leak sometime…

  23. Ten Bears Says:

    Doubtful even the poor young whites can meet the standards.

    Your attrition strikes me as balancing, both qual and quantitatively: the erosion of the motivated predominantly immigrant and people of color base made up for by the influence of unhealthy illiterate snowflakes.

    History only repeats to those paying attention.

  24. jcastarz Says:

    @ geoff: "On a lighter note, I haven't believed anything on tv is real since I saw Jurassic Park." Good for you! I haven't had TV myself SINCE Jurassic Park.

    I was at a local business today, and a set in the store was tuned in to F-News, with the announcers complaining about conservative videos being blocked on certain web sites… I mean, these are the same people who deep-sixed net neutrality, right?! So here's "free markets" in action, and they're not happy with it?!

  25. PrairieBear Says:

    This made me think of the moon landing and how terrible the first video images taken and sent back were. A lot of people at the time, including me — and yes, I did and do believe it was real — noted that it looked like bad special effects from a really low-budget movie.

    There is a tornado video on youtube created like what you said that apparently a lot of people think is real footage. One commenter said it is from an actual movie, but I'm not sure about that. Some of it does look pretty good, but when it shows the people supposedly watching and doing the filming, it starts to look fake, and at about 1:30 in completely becomes unrealistic. A Facebook friend shared it the other day, talking about how brave the guys were who shot it, etc., and I didn't have the heart to say anything.

  26. Major Kong Says:

    @Ekim

    Didn’t work so well for the FARC, Tamil Tigers or Syrian rebels (to name a few).

    If you bring up the Vietnam Cong I will ask which foreign superpower you think is going to supply us?

  27. Flying Squirrel Says:

    Time for some quality rodent time, hang out with species having a better perspective on life.

  28. quixote Says:

    what geoff said earlier. (long comment, although the Jurassic Park one is true too.)

  29. tankermottind Says:

    @Major Kong: the point of a guerilla resistance is not to defeat the occupying army but to sow chaos and disrupt its ability to govern. If guerillas directly engage government armor or air assets, they're Doing It Wrong.

    However, if the government were to fall, that would lead to the country being carved up by rival warlords like Afghanistan today or China in the 1920s. Would you rather have Donald Trump or Lord Humongous?

  30. Aurora S Says:

    @tankermottind, et al.:

    Maybe I'm missing something, but are we talking about another civil war within America, or are we talking about occupation by a foreign government? Because I gathered this was a derail regarding the hypothetical possibility of another civil war and the futility of attempting to arm ourselves against our own government.

    I'm with Major Kong in that I believe that arming yourself because you're afraid that the US Military is going to bust down your door and take your canned goods is idiotic at best. They out-arm us ten-thousandfold, and if you think that a rag-tag band of misfits can take on highly-trained military professionals–strategically OR via sheer physical power–it's time to turn off the teevee and get your head out of your ass. Privacy is an illusion and guns not used for hunting or hobby purposes are nothing more than absurdly dangerous security blankets.

    The American Civil War is called such because America won and got to name it. The Confederates gave America the finger, seceded (or, more accurately, a handful of the US state governments got together and handed Lincoln a strongly-worded letter stating they were planning on doing so, taking half the land of the country with them) and declared themselves another country entirely. Lincoln figuratively replied, "You're not going anywhere, assholes." It wasn't a war of the individual citizens vs. the US government no matter how badly the South wants to conflate it with the Revolutionary War to seem more "noble". This was ultimately a war between state governments that were already in place. (When people say that soldiers were fighting "brother against brother", they mean it literally. They had zero control over which government they fought for because it was dependent entirely upon their physical addresses, not their political philosophies.) The South didn't want to form a new style of government from the ground up–they just wanted to tweak it and make sure the wealthy plantation owners could continue to keep slaves.

    If we're talking about guerrilla warfare, that typically relies heavily on lack of knowledge of the foreign terrain, lack of mobility, and a reluctance to kill civilians by the occupying forces. There needs to be a certain desperation on the part of the guerrillas. There's also no real "winning" that situation. It basically just sort of wears the invading forces out until they decide it's not really worth wasting the resources anymore. The American government is already "home", and will handily cream anything that resembles a guerrilla-style uprising before it becomes a thing through covert means. People are not nearly as good at this as they think. You "defend yourself" from The Government from your homestead. Then what? They pick up their marbles and go home? They just stop? How do you "win"?

  31. Mo Says:

    Given the military arming of police departments, ICE rampaging unchecked, and our 1% oligarchy handing the defense industry a handsome spending package …

    I'd say our white male overlords are spooked by demographics and planning to use armed violence to maintain power.

    Even if it means bombing North Korea and starting WWIII.

  32. Katydid Says:

    @Aurora S: they can take my canned goods, but they'll never get my boxed mac & cheese!!!

  33. Katydid Says:

    @Ten Bears re: mandatory conscription: The national school lunch program was founded because the American youth were too sickly and malnourished to fight efffectively. A few school districts still offer healthy lunches, but by-and-large the school lunch program is a nutritional wasteland. The former FLOTUS worked really hard to upgrade the food but she was outnumbered by reactionary jackasses.

    If we have another situation where the USA tries to add to its military with a draft, they won't be very successful. An alarmingly big (in all senses of the word) swath of the country is obese and unfit for duty. Side note; a channel on my cable subscription has been running a series on Jamie Oliver's attempts to bring nutrition to schools and their associated towns in Appalachia and it's heartbreaking to see them clinging stubbornly to their pizza pockets and 32-ounce Slurpees.

  34. democommie Says:

    "it's heartbreaking to see them clinging stubbornly to their pizza pockets and 32-ounce Slurpees.".

    I've seen parts of that series and I think Mr. Oliver is a smart and dedicated fellow. That series showed just how fucking entrenched the defensiveness of bad behaviour can be.

    Most people who do stupid shit that will shorten their lives (including me) come to acceptance of responsibility the hard way.

  35. Aurora S Says:

    @Mo—

    I don’t think our white male overlords are spooked by anything; however their immediate white male underlings are terrified. All the rich have to do is distract the threatened white male population (“middle management”, if you will) with nightmarish visions of equality with the “undesirables”, add lots of guns, and turn them loose on the rest of the population. The plutocrats get their NRA blood money and the problem takes care of itself.

  36. Brian M Says:

    I thought this summed it up pretty well: (From Juan Cole's commentariate):

    They won’t wake up. They’ll double down. They’ll blame scapegoats and either pledge to pick up arms and kill Trump’s opponents, or call Trump a sellout and look for a purer racist to lead a war of secession from the United States. They will never give up the only idea that keeps them going; that their kind are meant by God to be the only ones fit to control life in America, meaning beating the rest of us degenerates and traitors into producing the wealth that was stolen from them by Jews and Negros.

Leave a Reply