Psychology

The Climate Swerve: Reflections on Mind, Hope and Survival with Robert Jay Lifton and Bill Moyers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 22/09/2017 - 7:31am in

 Reflections of Mind, Hope, and Survival. By Robert Jay Lifton.

Robert Jay Lifton was born 91 years ago. Living through the catastrophes of the 20th century — world war, tyrannical regimes, genocide, the nuclear bomb, terrorism — he grappled with their terrible impact on human beings. His work as a psychiatrist, historian and public intellectual forged his reputation as one of the world’s foremost thinkers. Among his 20 books are such seminal award winners as Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (1967); The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (1986); and Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir (2014).

Now he has turned to climate change, which, he says, “presents us with what may be the most demanding and unique psychological task ever required of humankind.” In The New York Times three years ago, he wrote that “Americans appear to be undergoing a significant psychological shift in our relation to global warming.” Borrowing a term from Harvard humanities professor Stephen Greenblatt to describe a major historical change in consciousness, he called this shift a climate “swerve.” Lifton plunged into studying the phenomenon further and has just published a new book, The Climate Swerve: Reflections of Mind, Hope, and Survival.

Here is my interview with him.
 

 

Bill Moyers: In that New York Times essay back in 2014, you wrote that “experience, economics and ethics are coalescing in new and important ways” to bring about this change in attitude toward climate change. Yet you quoted Bob Dylan’s words that “something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is.” Do you know now, three years later?

Robert Jay Lifton(Credit: Robert Sandler)

Robert Jay Lifton: Yes. Resistance to climate truths is giving way to an embrace of them. Our mindset has been changing from rejection to confronting climate danger. I take that to be a profound change and a somewhat hopeful one, because at the global climate conference in Paris in 2015, virtually every nation in the world joined in the recognition that we’re part of a single species in deep trouble, and that each country had to make some contribution in cutting back on fossil fuels emissions, which are the source of our danger. Maybe that really indicates the shift from identifying with the smaller group to ultimately identifying with the whole human species. That sounds sometimes grandiose or romantic, but it’s an everyday matter when we think about the truths of climate change. It also applies to the nuclear threat.

Moyers: How so?

Lifton: Well, with the nuclear threat we know that if sufficient weapons are used, human civilization — all of humankind — could be extinguished literally by “nuclear winter.” So we have to see ourselves as part of the ultimate human group, just as we have to do with global warming.

Moyers: You write that in the 1980s there was a “swerve against nuclear weapons” by millions of people worldwide that produced a call for “a nuclear freeze.”

Lifton: That’s right.

Moyers: But look at what happened. Three decades later, in the first days of his administration, Barack Obama was given the Nobel Peace Prize for, in part, calling for an end to nuclear proliferation. Yet one of his final acts as president eight years later was to authorize a trillion dollars to modernize our nuclear weapons arsenal. One might say, “So much for the nuclear swerve!”

Lifton: It’s not over. Yes, it’s discouraging, and it was a terrible decision that Obama made. He made some kind of compromise and got something back from the Republicans. But these challenges are a continuous struggle, and it’s never won. There’s always a backlash. That’s true of any protest or struggle. However, it may well have been the swerve against nuclear weapons that kept them from being used after Nagasaki was destroyed in 1945. Maybe it’s served us in that manner.


The atomic cloud rising over Nagasaki, Japan. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.)

Moyers: In his magnum opus A Study of History, Arnold Toynbee argued that civilizations would fall not because doom was inevitable but because governing elites would not respond adequately to changing circumstances or because they would focus only on their own interests. Remember that?

Lifton: Yes. Well, the governing elite and even the common people have not responded adequately to either nuclear weapons or climate threat. See what’s happening with North Korea right now. So yes, it’s discouraging, but if we keep at it, maybe what we can achieve even in a bumbling way will prevent an ultimate catastrophe with both a nuclear and climate swerve.

Moyers: Have we reached a level of fear about climate destruction similar to the fear some years ago of nuclear destruction?

Lifton: That is an important question, because usually we say, “Oh, fear’s a bad thing, anxiety’s bad,” but it’s appropriate to experience fear and some kind of anxiety in relation to both nuclear and climate threats. We probably haven’t reached sufficient fear of climate disaster but it’s been growing and it’s becoming more immediate.

Moyers: Let’s take one by one the three forces you say are contributing to the swerve toward climate change awareness. First: experience. You wrote three years ago that people had been stunned into a new awareness by a drumbeat of climate-related disasters, hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts and wildfires, by extreme heat waves and extreme cold, by rising sea levels and floods. So here we are, three years later, with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and now Jose and Maria right behind them. Wildfires are consuming large swaths of forestlands in the Northwest. There are droughts all over the world. Is experience telling us global warming is worse today than when you set out to write The Climate Swerve?

Lifton: Absolutely. The planet gets hotter, there are more and more catastrophic disasters. The hurricanes are bad enough, but it’s not only those hurricanes; it’s storms in South Asia and the South Pacific that are occurring at the same time — and, as you said, the droughts and fires, the wildfires on a new level, more and more encroaching into urban areas. These are profoundly menacing developments. So it’s the immediacy and experience of climate change that’s becoming more traumatic and immediate, and we’re aware of it to a degree that we have not been before. And this also brings up another issue. With climate change there hasn’t yet been until possibly now, and maybe not even now, an equivalent of nuclear imagery. When you see imagery of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, you really sense that the world could be ended — the imagery of extinction as I call it — by these weapons. They’re more than weapons; they’re instruments of genocide. We haven’t had equivalent climate images. But now the hurricanes, the devastation of islands that an hour before had been beautiful places of pleasure, wiped out and rendered uninhabitable — that’s a pretty staggering image.

 Gerben Van Es/AFP/Getty Images)

An aerial photography taken and released by the Dutch Department of Defense on September 6, 2017 shows the damage of Hurricane Irma in Philipsburg, on the Dutch Caribbean island of Saint Maarten. (Photo: Gerben Van Es/AFP/Getty Images)
 

Moyers: The second force you identify as converging with experience is economics. You describe what you call a “wonderfully evocative term, stranded assets, to characterize the oil, coal and gas reserves that are still in the ground. Trillions of dollars of assets stranded there.” And you write: “If we’re serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and sustaining the human habitat, between 60 percent and 80 percent of those assets must remain in the ground. In contrast, renewable energy sources are taking on increasing value in terms of returns for investors, long-term energy savings and reduced harm to the communities where we live.” And, you write, “It matters that the market may end up devaluing their fossil fuel assets.”

Lifton: There’s more and more recognition that a carbon economy is dangerous to us economically. And there is increasing recognition that renewable fuels have economic value as well as obvious value for our health and our well-being and our survival. In fact, as you know, the economic revolution in renewable fuels has been impressive. It really had not been anticipated. In any case, you have the symbolism and active significance of members of the Rockefeller family and two of the Rockefeller foundations recognizing this — withdrawing from fossil fuels in terms of their investments, divesting themselves — and recognizing a new kind of economic possibility. So the economic side is making itself felt. Unfortunately, it’s still in a sense an impasse because there are lots of people who continue to defend those stranded assets with what I call stranded imagination or stranded ethics. They insist they have a fiduciary duty in terms of their corporation to serve investors by making use of those stranded assets. But there’s more and more pressure against them and more and more of what I call “species awareness” that condemns this pattern of stranded ethics.

Moyers: I want to believe you, but it still seems to me that powerful capitalist organizations such as ExxonMobil, libertarian oligarchs like the Koch brothers, and superrich right-wingers like the Mercer family are not going to want to leave all that buried treasure in the ground.

Lifton: Most of them will do their damnedest to bring it out of the ground and see themselves as even doing good in the process by creating jobs and by enhancing the economies of the developing world and other such rationalizations, yes. But there’s more and more of a recognition against it, again as embodied by the Paris accord. It’s of some significance Donald Trump tried to withdraw from Paris, never quite succeeded, and now seems to be looking for a way to stay in the treaty. Of course, he’s declaring all kinds of victories because he says we’re renegotiating the treaty, which means renegotiating with yourself, since you set the standards that one agrees to for reducing carbon emissions. But the fact that he couldn’t finally take us completely out of the Paris accord and that when he tried to there was a rallying by individual states, led by California and by others in the world, reasserting the principles of Paris we’re all in this together — well, you can’t deny the power of climate swerve — this new global awareness about climate danger.

Moyers: Regarding the choices we face, I remember your once quoting the old Jack Benny joke in which a robber points a gun to Benny’s head and offers him a choice: “Your money or your life.” There’s a long silence, and then Benny responds, “I’m thinking it over.”

Lifton: You need a few laughs if you are going to survive in all of this. Well, we’re thinking our choices over. And I call this the ultimate absurdity. If we do nothing different from what we’re doing now, continue with fossil fuels, not change anything, just do what we’re doing, we’ll destroy ourselves as a civilization. What could be more absurd than that? I distinguish between formed awareness and fragmentary awareness. You see one or two hurricanes and say, “Maybe what’s coming will be bad here, maybe it won’t.” That’s partial, fragmentary and skewed awareness, but if you have formed awareness it takes shape as a story, a narrative: “Global warming is real, it endangers the whole planet. We have to take steps toward eliminating or reducing it by eliminating carbon emissions and replacing them with renewable fuels.” That’s what’s taking place — formed awareness over the fragmentary awareness. It’s erratic, and any swerve is irregular, not quite predictable, and takes forms that we can’t anticipate. But it’s there and it’s happening, and even Trump’s experience regarding the Paris accord is evidence of it.

Moyers: What about people who say: “I agree global warming is happening and I know we should concerned about it, but my job depends on mining coal or on fracking. My job depends on oil and gas. My job depends on getting those resources out of the ground.” You told a story; I’ll tell another — of the longtime New Yorker who is walking down the street at night when an armed robber steps out of the dark doorway and demands, “Give me your money or I’ll blow your brains out.” At which the weary New Yorker replies, “Fire away, buddy; you can live in this city without brains but you can’t live here without money.” It’s a tough call many people face.

Lifton: Absolutely, and one can have considerable sympathy for them. Their jobs are essential, and that’s why with any kind of conversion into renewable energy, you’ve got to provide jobs for those who lose them when we step back from fossil fuels. It’s not so easy. Obviously, the Republicans haven’t thought about that and they’ve fought back against the climate swerve, but even the Democrats have probably not gone nearly as far as they should in recognizing the issue of jobs.

Moyers: To the two forces we’ve already discussed, experience and economics, you add third one that’s converging to create the climate swerve:
ethics. You write: “The swerve toward awareness of global warming was leading people to feel it was deeply wrong, perhaps evil, to destroy our habitat and create a legacy of suffering for future generations. Their consciences were being stirred. They were being energized.” This was three years ago. Do you still think that force is as powerful today as it was then?

Lifton: I think it still is, even though now with President Trump and his administration you have ethnonationalism, which combats exactly what we’re talking about. What we’re describing is a recognition that there’s something wrong with endangering ourselves as a species and perhaps even eliminating ourselves and our civilization. There’s something wrong with what we are bequeathing to the next generation.

//www.flickr.com/photos/climatecentre/36531181963/in/photolist-XE8RET-XyS67W-XEkLV8-YyfTd5-YhQoN6-XyLVfk-YxXUVb-Yzxj6U-YHxrzM-YwDViM-YUQY6X-YvTHyJ-YwZeoB-YPyRtk-XhYTKu-YFp1BV-XhZVmx-YD618C-YeJv7s-XC1TN7-XbKtHU-YdqM5c-YPyRwB-YPySFR-Ymq3a6-YrBWhk-YPySKZ-YyfTn3-XEkPbR-XB68fV-YdmAyW-Yy9f4k-XrsNzA-YjDMVi-YNLetr-YLZhqz-YivqQd-XcPJxQ-XyY34Q-YE62Ex-XB68oa-YzGu7N-YBbsES-Yss4xb-XB67Yn-YGknKx-XpYs2d-Y7vC8j-Ypt6xq-YuXoQP" target="_blank">Climate Centre</a>/ flickr <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/" target="_blank">CC 2.0</a>)

Picture taken in St Maarten between 10 and 14 September by Netherlands Red Cross (NLRC) photographer Arie Kievit soon after Hurricane Irma damaged or destroyed more than 90 percent of the territory’s homes and buildings as it crossed near peak intensity. (Photo by Climate Centre/ Flickr CC 2.0)
 

Moyers: What did you think when you heard President Trump say to the victims of Hurricane Irma, “We’ve had bigger storms than this”? And Scott Pruitt, the head of the EPA, in effect said to reporters pressing him about the relation of Hurricane Irma to climate change, “Don’t bring that up. To use time and effort to address [global warming] at this point is very, very insensitive to the people in Florida.”

Lifton: Those were further expressions of climate rejection. I talk less and less about climate denial and more about climate rejection. And the reason why I make that distinction is that everybody now, including Pruitt and Trump, the most antagonistic people to climate truths, knows in some part of their minds that climate change threatens us, but they reject the threat because they can’t accept what it demands of us. It demands that government itself be active and connect with other governments, and this threatens their worldview and their identity. Pruitt doesn’t ever want to raise it. There’s a problem now with people like him and people like Gov. Scott of Florida, who see terrible devastation, who still want to see themselves as humane leaders, who try hard to walk a fine line between continuing to reject global warming as a major factor in the extreme weather and still wanting to be seen as caring for people. It’s a losing battle because as they do this, the truths of climate more and more impinge. There is the old idea that we just adapt to each disaster because there will be new disasters, that after all, climate does change, and we don’t know whether human beings do it or not. That’s what the rejecters are now saying. Adapt! That’s again a form of stranded ethics.

Moyers: The subtitle of your book is “Reflections on Mind, Hope and Survival.” Those words express the hope you felt when you started writing it three years ago. But you didn’t — couldn’t — anticipate Donald Trump and the 63 million Americans who voted for him because they shared his worldview, or a Trump regime united in treating global warming as a hoax.

Lifton: Yes, that’s true. But my argument is that this climate swerve is still operative, still very powerful, still involves species awareness as epitomized by Paris, and that even Trump and his lackeys cannot buck it. They can try their best to delay it, to interfere with it, as they are, and they’ve done a lot of harm and they will do a lot more harm. But they cannot stop it. The swerve is larger than any person. It’s larger than Trump and his crowd. Again, I think his failure to leave the Paris accord is an indication of this.

Moyers: I hear you. And from the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima to the Holocaust, from genocide to terrorism — I know that you are not a romantic about human nature, or about power. But I have to say that I’m not as sure as as you are that Trump won’t get away with it. Here’s a man who says global warming is a hoax, who lies about the threat of global warming, who’s stacked the government with opponents of science, who’s created a hostile environment for scientific research by simply refusing to fill so many key scientific positions, who’s muzzled officials who are charged to inform the public—

Lifton: Yes, he’s done all that—


RELATED: Democracy & Government


The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: Robert Jay Lifton and Bill Moyers on ‘A Duty to Warn’

BY Bill Moyers | September 14, 2017

Moyers: —who’s sidelined or fired scientific advisers, closed down the Environmental Protection Agency program that helps states and local communities adapt to rising sea levels and other effects of global climate change, rolled back fuel-economy goals, killed flood risk standards for infrastructure projects, removed climate-related content from government sites, and proposes sharply to reduce climate research. That’s not just a few inches won here and a few inches there, like the battles of World War I. These add up to a blitzkrieg.

Lifton: They are significant. And they’re evil. And they’re dangerous — they’ve already caused all kinds of danger. And I’m sure that things he’s already implemented have interfered with efforts at dealing with this sequence of hurricanes that we’re talking about, and he’ll do a lot more dangerous things, and there will be difficulties that he’s caused that will take years or even decades to overcome. So I’m agreeing with you. But there is a future beyond Trump, and there is a significant element of new human awareness. You know, I say at the end of my book, “It is always and never too late.” Of course it’s too late to do what we should’ve done decades ago in terms of combating global warming and what we should’ve done in blocking Trump and not electing him and in doing other things that would have stymied him. But it’s not too late because we can still try to get rid of Trump, to change these policies and save much of our civilization, to bring about life-enhancing patterns that are the very opposite of what Trump has done. So that’s the long-range view that I put forward as at least a human possibility. And what I’m talking about in the book is a mindset that’s open to that possibility, while acknowledging that we haven’t actually achieved it.

Moyers: Let’s talk about that mindset. Because as we discussed in our conversation last week, 4 out of 5 Republicans still support Trump and a large majority of the 63 million people who voted for him still support him. Let’s talk about their mindset a moment, their psychology.

Lifton: Well, as we’ve been discussing, there is a movement of more people recognizing global warming as a danger, recognizing the human contribution to global warming, recognizing the necessity for doing something about it. So there’s a trend in that direction, and that trend is consistent with what a climate swerve — which is, as we’re both saying, a mindset.

Climate change is all-enveloping in everything around us every day of our lives. Trump’s supporters can’t avoid it any more than anyone else. So the danger’s still very much with us, but we possess the evolutionary capacity of human beings to cope with it. Our minds, some say, are not wired for anticipating the future — the future of climate threat and the greater forms of threat that will increasingly occur in the future. But the fact is, our evolutionary achievement with our human mind has to do with imagining beyond the immediate. It’s a capacity we have, and at Paris, even with a flawed accord, there was an expression of that capacity transformed into a political act or universal agreement. Yes, it’s shaky because it depends upon following through with actions that physically and physiologically affect our lives. But the mindset is the basic requirement for such action. It would have been impossible, prior to developing this kind of mindset and this kind of species awareness, to imagine any significant steps on a wide scale, internationally, to combat climate change. Now we can imagine them, and we’re seeing some of them in a beginning way taking shape, because our mindset is evolving. Other studies have talked about — and they’re really important — the scientific nature of climate threat and the scientific findings. And the climate scientists are really prophetic in what they’ve told us about climate danger. But one also has to look at what the human mind is capable of doing and where it is in relation to this capability.

Moyers: The Canadian writer Judith Deutsch recently published an excellent essay on “Convenient Untruths About ‘Human Nature:’ Can People Deal with Climate Change and Nuclear Weapons?” She invokes the book The Garden of the Finzi-Continis to make an important point. Did you read the book or see the movie based on it?


RELATED: History


Robert Jay Lifton, author

Robert Jay Lifton

September 17, 2001

Lifton: Yes, I did. I saw the film, yes.

Moyers: As the Nazis were consolidating power over Italy, everyday people were still exulting in the warm and pleasing experiences of daily life. They simply could not see or believe impending disaster. Some people cannot bring themselves to imagine the worst.

Lifton: That’s right. And that was true of many people in the Holocaust, many Jews who could not believe the danger they would be in and could not give up their homes and possessions, and could not allow themselves to imagine the horrors that the Nazis had begun to impose on people. There are patterns of what I call psychic numbing and other ways of diverting one’s mind from unacceptable truths. And there is a parallel, as you’re suggesting, with climate change.

But in a way, these hurricanes have been useful to us because they have received all kinds of visual expression now. We have all seen those dreadful threatening images of these hurricanes on television or the internet. This doesn’t mean that people won’t still deny, reject, numb themselves to climate change, but it’s harder to do so, and perhaps fewer and fewer do so successfully in the mixture of rejection and acceptance that many have in connection with this danger.

Moyers: How do you explain the studies showing that when some people — a lot of people — are confronted with an indisputable fact that contradicts their belief system, they will choose their belief and their values over that fact every time?

Lifton: I think the people who reject the facts of global warming in order to sustain a belief system that rejects it are a minority, and perhaps a minority that’s growing smaller as the mindset I’m describing in The Climate Swerve is growing. I repeat, it’s touch-and-go, and there’s no moment of truth. But it’s happening. That’s the argument I’m making. I’m not envisioning some beautiful future of humankind behaving perfectly and wisely in this new mindset. I just think we have an increasing capacity to avert catastrophe and to take some life-enhancing steps that comes from the mindset.

Moyers: What’s the danger that the vast and growing inequality of our time is leading to a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest world? You may remember the chief economist of Britain, Nicholas Stern, who quantified people’s right to live on the basis of wealth. I read that he justified expanding Heathrow Airport because he said a rich person would lose money having to wait for a flight and that this wealth was worth more than the wealth of people dying due to the greenhouse gas emissions from flying.

Lifton: Well, I don’t think such a view would gain too much of a hearing right now. I keep returning to these hurricanes. I think they’re very significant psychologically as well as physically. What they psychologically tell us is that everybody’s vulnerable. Rich vacationers, retirees in Florida, along with ordinary people are just as vulnerable as people whose islands in the South Pacific might sink into the ocean. There is the fantasy that calamity will affect them but not us. That’s wrong, and the hurricanes make the truth more available to us. I think, again, the experience side of climate change right in their own backyards, in our own backyards, alters that.

Moyers: Is there a danger we’ll be so dazzled by technology we’re likely to ignore the reality of danger? Remember what Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman reported after the first atom bomb test in New Mexico? He said that the scientists who brought it off broke into “tears and laughter. We beat each other on the back. Our elation knew no bounds. The gadget worked.” He got out his bongo drums and led a snake dance! What does that tell us about—

Lifton: There are a lot of things it tells us. The scientists who made the atomic bomb are, in my sense, people with a tragic destiny. You know, there was the US race with Nazi Germany and good evidence that the Germans were more advanced in nuclear physics, and we had to get the bomb first. But then there was the use of that dreadful weapon, or instrument of genocide, and many of the more sensitive scientists turned quickly into anti-nuclear people — and very effective ones.

But what you’re talking about in terms of the gadget and our embrace of gadgets more generally is an attitude toward technology, especially the idea that technology will serve us and save us. I speak of what I call rescue technologies. For example, there’s an embrace of what’s called geotechnology, a vast technology to change the climate, actually change the weather, which has never been proven and could have all kinds of dangers of its own. It’s significant that the scientist Edward Teller, who so believed in the technology of destruction — perhaps the leading nuclear theorist of his time — was also a leading advocate of geotechnology of this kind.


RELATED: climate change


Let me say embracing rescue technologies is very, very dangerous. Another rescue technology for nuclear weapons has been the strategic defense initiative, SDI, as though if we set up these anti-missile missiles, we’ll be OK and we can keep our nuclear stockpiles. The trouble is, it’s not OK. They’re never guaranteed to get all the incoming missiles and bombs. They may get most of them, but it’s never been demonstrated — and it seems unlikely to ever be demonstrated — that they can be foolproof against all nuclear weapons that are used. So this worship of technology, what I call technicism, which is a kind of child of scientism, is deeply dangerous, and that’s I think you’re implying with your question. Although it extends to all sorts of things we do in our culture that go beyond bombs and beyond climate, maybe it’s most dangerous with nuclear weapons and with climate.

Moyers: Why does all this matter to a 91-year-old man who, like me at 83, is, not likely to experience the worst climate disasters that might await our species? Why do you care?

Lifton: Bill, this book is about a vast universal problem. It’s also very personal in the way that I write it and the way I think about things. And it’s a series of reflections that I feel are justified in terms of my experience. I hold to the idea of what I call larger human connectedness. It’s a secular version of the sense of human continuity, or even sense of immortality, and we as a culture-creating species we really, really require. We don’t just live in a single moment. We don’t even live only in the lives of our parents and children and grandchildren, but rather as part of the great chain of being. I feel that very strongly. So it matters to me what happens along the way in that chain, what happens to the world in the future, what becomes of the nastier forces that I’ve struggled against in my lifetime. It matters to me that these convictions continue for the remainder of my life, and beyond, as part of the great chain of being.

The post The Climate Swerve: Reflections on Mind, Hope and Survival with Robert Jay Lifton and Bill Moyers appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Big Something

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 19/09/2017 - 2:27am in

(The embiggenation of some of these images can be caused by clicking on them.)

Bizarro is brought to you today by America’s Next President If I Have My Way.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Bigfoot lately, although I’ve no idea why. In the cartoon above, we see that Sasquatch belongs to a family in which each member has one oversized thing. (Get your mind out of the gutter.)

Not long ago, I published a cartoon about Bigfoot and his relationship to Trump. You can see it here. The cartoon inspired me to create a Bigfoot campaign poster and put it on a T-shirt. I’m offering it in several styles and colors, so be sure to poke around a bit and find one you like. I think this design is super fun and a subtle way to tell people where you stand politically. (Way out in the wilderness where it’s safe. Relatively)  As always, your purchase helps keep the lanterns full of oil here at Rancho Bizarro so we can keep poking the Orange Menace with our cartoon swords late into the night. Please also consider forwarding the link to folks whom you think might like the shirt! See the wonderful, aformentioned product here.

Some other funny shirts are in my store, too, so fish around a bit. So far, I have two pages of stuff. Here is my store’s homepage with the rest of the products.

Contrary to what many people think, dogs are not the only pets that do tricks. Cats are very good at disappearing and alligators are excellent at making others disappear.

I’ve never participated in group therapy per se but I’ve participated in a number of support groups, which are very similar except they aren’t normally led by a licensed therapist. I’m a big believer in this kind of thing because when you’re struggling in your personal life, it is so easy to fall into the trap of over examining every miserable aspect of your existence and losing touch with how your life stacks up against others in your community. You may rightly be upset that your husband of 30 years left you for a 22-year-old stripper, but then someone else at your support group tells the story of how they lost their husband and two children to an escaped pet alligator. Suddenly your problems seem a little more manageable.

The benefits of support groups are deeper and more subtle than that, of course, but you get the idea.

Whenever I see people dressed in mascot costumes––whether they’re advertising some commercial establishment on the street or trying to entertain kids or whatever––I always wonder about the person inside. Perhaps it is a teenager and this is an acceptable, temporary job for them, but maybe it’s a formerly successful, middle-aged guy who lost his family to an escaped alligator, became an alcoholic, and can’t hold down a better job. That makes me sad.

It also reminds me of this cartoon from the turn of the century.

A few of my readers have criticized me for doing cartoons about politics in the past year. Some don’t like them because they are pro-Trump, others are just sick to death of politics being in their face 24/7. So here’s a shout-out to show that I sympathize. And I truly, deeply do sympathize in a meaningful way. If I lived in the U.S. right now, I’d be pulling my hair out. On our recent visit there, the Cheeto Mussolini and people analyzing his latest embarrassing tantrum or scandal were everywhere, constantly; bars, restaurants, airport waiting areas, etc. Here in Mexico, I can limit myself to reading a few headlines and stories online and I don’t watch any TV news or video whatsoever. In doing so, I’m able to go many months without ever seeing his face or hearing his voice. It’s a life saver.

This cartoon came from a comment I made while writing a blog post a while back and I figured it might make a good cartoon. Also worth noting is the poster on the wall that says, “The Electoral College and the End of the World” which shows these three steps: 1) Russia meddling in America’s election just enough to get Trump elected via the Electoral College, 2) the American fascist authoritarian facing off against the North Korean fascist authoritarian, 3) a nuclear mushroom cloud. The book on the kid’s desk says, “What is This? The History of Books”.

This cartoon actually happened to me. One day I was at my drawing table and chased with a flyswatter what I thought was an elusive mosquito. I wasted a couple of minutes looking like an idiot before I realized it was a floater in my eye. I was worried this gag might be too soft, not funny enough to relate to, maybe even too vague but it turned out to get lots of comments on social media from others who’ve done the exact same thing. Funny how that kind of stuff works out.

Thanks for reading this week’s roundup, Jazz Pickles, and not just skimming the cartoons in 9 seconds and moving on to Alex Jones’ website to see what institutional insanity looks like.  If you enjoy what I’m doing, please recommend my work to your friends and consider some of the options I’ve listed above and below that help me make ends meet as increasingly more folks read my work for free on the Interwebs.

Till next time, be smart, be happy, be nice.

The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: Robert Jay Lifton and Bill Moyers on ‘A Duty to Warn’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/09/2017 - 7:59am in

There will not be a book published this fall more urgent, important, or controversial than The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, the work of 27 psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health experts to assess President Trump’s mental health. They had come together last March at a conference at Yale University to wrestle with two questions. One was on countless minds across the country: “What’s wrong with him?” The second was directed to their own code of ethics: “Does Professional Responsibility Include a Duty to Warn” if they conclude the president to be dangerously unfit?

As mental health professionals, these men and women respect the long-standing “Goldwater rule” which inhibits them from diagnosing public figures whom they have not personally examined. At the same time, as explained by Dr. Bandy X Lee, who teaches law and psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, the rule does not have a countervailing rule that directs what to do when the risk of harm from remaining silent outweighs the damage that could result from speaking about a public figure — “which in this case, could even be the greatest possible harm.” It is an old and difficult moral issue that requires a great exertion of conscience. Their decision: “We respect the rule, we deem it subordinate to the single most important principle that guides our professional conduct: that we hold our responsibility to human life and well-being as paramount.”

Hence, this profound, illuminating and discomforting book undertaken as “a duty to warn.”

The foreword is by one of America’s leading psychohistorians, Robert Jay Lifton. He is renowned for his studies of people under stress — for books such as Death in Life: Survivors of Hiroshima (1967), Home from the War: Vietnam Veterans — Neither Victims nor Executioners (1973), and The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (1986). The Nazi Doctors was the first in-depth study of how medical professionals rationalized their participation in the Holocaust, from the early stages of the Hitler’s euthanasia project to extermination camps.

The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump will be published Oct. 3 by St. Martin’s Press.

Here is my interview with Robert Jay Lifton — Bill Moyers

 

 

Bill Moyers: This book is a withering exploration of Donald Trump’s mental state. Aren’t you and the 26 other mental health experts who contribute to it in effect violating the Goldwater Rule? Section 7.3 of the American Psychiatrist Association’s code of ethics flatly says: “It is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion [on a public figure] unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization.” Are you putting your profession’s reputation at risk?

Robert Jay Lifton: I don’t think so. I think the Goldwater Rule is a little ambiguous. We adhere to that portion of the Goldwater Rule that says we don’t see ourselves as making a definitive diagnosis in a formal way and we don’t believe that should be done, except by hands-on interviewing and studying of a person. But we take issue with the idea that therefore we can say nothing about Trump or any other public figure. We have a perfect right to offer our opinion, and that’s where “duty to warn” comes in.

Moyers: Duty to warn?

Lifton: We have a duty to warn on an individual basis if we are treating someone who may be dangerous to herself or to others — a duty to warn people who are in danger from that person. We feel it’s our duty to warn the country about the danger of this president. If we think we have learned something about Donald Trump and his psychology that is dangerous to the country, yes, we have an obligation to say so. That’s why Judith Herman and I wrote our letter to The New York Times. We argue that Trump’s difficult relationship to reality and his inability to respond in an evenhanded way to a crisis renders him unfit to be president, and we asked our elected representative to take steps to remove him from the presidency.

Moyers: Yet some people argue that our political system sets no intellectual or cognitive standards for being president, and therefore, the ordinary norms of your practice as a psychiatrist should stop at the door to the Oval Office.

Lifton: Well, there are people who believe that there should be a standard psychiatric examination for every presidential candidate and for every president. But these are difficult issues because they can’t ever be entirely psychiatric. They’re inevitably political as well. I personally believe that ultimately ridding the country of a dangerous president or one who’s unfit is ultimately a political matter, but that psychological professionals can contribute in valuable ways to that decision.

Moyers: Do you recall that there was a comprehensive study of all 37 presidents up to 1974? Half of them reportedly had a diagnosable mental illness, including depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. It’s not normal people who always make it to the White House.

Lifton: Yes, that’s amazing, and I’m sure it’s more or less true. So people with what we call mental illness can indeed serve well, and people who have no discernible mental illness — and that may be true of Trump — may not be able to serve, may be quite unfit. So it isn’t always the question of a psychiatric diagnosis. It’s really a question of what psychological and other traits render one unfit or dangerous.

Moyers: You write in the foreword of the book: “Because Trump is president and operates within the broad contours and interactions of the presidency, there is a tendency to view what he does as simply part of our democratic process, that is, as politically and even ethically normal.”

The presidency and the behavior of the president can be seen as under that category of malignant normality. For example, Donald Trump lies repeatedly. We may come to see a president as liar as normal… In other words, his behavior as president, with all those who defend his behavior in the administration, becomes a norm.

— Robert Jay Lifton

Lifton: Yes. And that’s what I call malignant normality. What we put forward as self-evident and normal may be deeply dangerous and destructive. I came to that idea in my work on the psychology of Nazi doctors — and I’m not equating anybody with Nazi doctors, but it’s the principle that prevails — and also with American psychologists who became architects of CIA torture during the Iraq War era. These are forms of malignant normality. For example, Donald Trump lies repeatedly. We may come to see a president as liar as normal. He also makes bombastic statements about nuclear weapons, for instance, which can then be seen as somehow normal. In other words, his behavior as president, with all those who defend his behavior in the administration, becomes a norm. We have to contest it, because it is malignant normality. For the contributors to this book, this means striving to be witnessing professionals, confronting the malignancy and making it known.

Moyers: Witnessing professionals? Where did this notion come from?

Lifton: I first came to it in terms of psychiatrists assigned to Vietnam, way back then. If a soldier became anxious and enraged about the immorality of the Vietnam War, he might be sent to a psychiatrist who would be expected to help him be strong enough to return to committing atrocities. So there was something wrong in what professionals were doing, and some of us had to try to expose this as the wrong and manipulative use of our profession. We had to see ourselves as witnessing professionals. And then of course, with the Nazi doctors I studied for another book — doctors assigned, say, to Auschwitz — they were expected to do selections of Jews for the gas chamber. That was what was expected of them and what for the most part they did — sometimes with some apprehension, but they did it. So that’s another malignant normality. Professionals were reduced to being automatic servants of the existing regime as opposed to people with special knowledge balanced by a moral baseline as well as the scientific information to make judgments.

Moyers: And that should apply to journalists, lawyers, doctors —


Professor Robert Jay Lifton, photographed at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Rick Friedman ©2003)

Lifton: Absolutely. One bears witness by taking in the situation — in this case, its malignant nature — and then telling one’s story about it, in this case with the help of professional knowledge, so that we add perspective on what’s wrong, rather than being servants of the powers responsible for the malignant normality. We must be people with a conscience in a very fundamental way.

Moyers: And this is what troubled you and many of your colleagues about the psychologists who helped implement the US policy of torture after 9/11.

Lifton: Absolutely. And I call that a scandal within a scandal, because yes, it was indeed professionals who became architects of torture, and their professional society, the American Psychological Association, which encouraged and protected them until finally protest from within that society by other members forced a change. So that was a dreadful moment in the history of psychology and in the history of professionals in this country.

Moyers: Some of the descriptions used to describe Trump — narcissistic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, delusional disorder, malignant narcissist — even some have suggested early forms of dementia — are difficult for lay people to grasp. Some experts say that it’s not one thing that’s wrong with him — there are a lot of things wrong with him and together they add up to what one of your colleagues calls “a scary witches brew, a toxic stew.”

Solipsistic reality means that the only reality he’s capable of embracing has to do with his own self and the perception by and protection of his own self. And for a president to be so bound in this isolated solipsistic reality could not be more dangerous for the country and for the world.

— Robert Jay Lifton

Lifton: I think that’s very accurate. I agree that there’s an all-enveloping destructiveness in his character and in his psychological tendencies. But I’ve focused on what professionally I call solipsistic reality. Solipsistic reality means that the only reality he’s capable of embracing has to do with his own self and the perception by and protection of his own self. And for a president to be so bound in this isolated solipsistic reality could not be more dangerous for the country and for the world. In that sense, he does what psychotics do. Psychotics engage in, or frequently engage in a view of reality based only on the self. He’s not psychotic, but I think ultimately this solipsistic reality will be the source of his removal from the presidency.

Moyers: What’s your take on how he makes increasingly bizarre statements that are contradicted by irrefutable evidence to the contrary, and yet he just keeps on making them? I know some people in your field call this a delusional disorder, a profound loss of contact with external reality.

Lifton: He doesn’t have clear contact with reality, though I’m not sure it qualifies as a bona fide delusion. He needs things to be a certain way even though they aren’t, and that’s one reason he lies. There can also be a conscious manipulative element to it. When he put forward, and politically thrived on, the falsehood of President Obama’s birth in Kenya, outside the United States, he was manipulating that lie as well as undoubtedly believing it in part, at least in a segment of his personality. In my investigations, I’ve found that people can believe and not believe something at the same time, and in his case, he could be very manipulative and be quite gifted at his manipulations. So I think it’s a combination of those.

Moyers: How can someone believe and not believe at the same time?

Lifton: Well, in one part of himself, Trump can know there’s no evidence that Obama was born in any place but Hawaii in the United States. But in another part of himself, he has the need to reject Obama as a president of the United States by asserting that he was born outside of the country. He needs to delegitimate Obama. That’s been a strong need of Trump’s. This is a personal, isolated solipsistic need which can coexist with a recognition that there’s no evidence at all to back it up. I learned about this from some of the false confessions I came upon in my work.

Moyers: Where?

Lifton: For instance, when I was studying Chinese communist thought reform, one priest was falsely accused of being a spy, and was under physical duress — really tortured with chains and in other intolerable ways. As he was tortured and the interrogator kept insisting that he was a spy, he began to imagine himself in the role of a spy, with spy radios in all the houses of his order. In his conversations with other missionaries he began to think he was revealing military data to the enemy in some way. These thoughts became real to him because he had to entered into them and convinced the interrogator that he believed them in order to remove the chains and the torture. He told me it seemed like someone creating a novel and the novelist building a story with characters which become real and believable. Something like that could happen to Trump, in which the false beliefs become part of a panorama, all of which is fantasy and very often bound up with conspiracy theory, so that he immerses himself in it and believing in it even as at the same time recognizing in another part of his mind that none of this exists. The human mind can do that.

Moyers: It’s as if he believes the truth is defined by his words.

Lifton: Yes, that’s right. Trump has a mind that in many ways is always under duress, because he’s always seeking to be accepted, loved. He sees himself as constantly victimized by others and by the society, from which he sees himself as fighting back. So there’s always an intensity to his destructive behavior that could contribute to his false beliefs.

Moyers: Do you remember when he tweeted that President Obama had him wiretapped, despite the fact that the intelligence community couldn’t find any evidence to support his claim? And when he spoke to a CIA gathering, with the television cameras running, he said he was “a thousand percent behind the CIA,” despite the fact that everyone watching had to know he had repeatedly denounced the “incompetence and dishonesty” of that same intelligence community.

Lifton: Yes, that’s an extraordinary situation. And one has to invoke here this notion of a self-determined truth, this inner need for the situation to take shape in the form that the falsehood claims. In a sense this takes precedence over any other criteria for what is true.

Moyers: What other hazardous patterns do you see in his behavior? For example, what do you make of the admiration that he has expressed for brutal dictators — Bashar al-Assad of Syria, the late Saddam Hussein of Iraq, even Kim Jong Un of North Korea — yes, him — and President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, who turned vigilantes loose to kill thousands of drug users, and of course his admiration for Vladimir Putin. In the book Michael Tansey says, “There’s considerable evidence to suggest that absolute tyranny is Donald Trump’s wet dream.”

Lifton: Yes. Well, while Trump doesn’t have any systematic ideology, he does have a narrative, and in that narrative, America was once a great country, it’s been weakened by poor leadership, and only he can make it great again by taking over. And that’s an image of himself as a strongman, a dictator. It isn’t the clear ideology of being a fascist or some other clear-cut ideological figure. Rather, it’s a narrative of himself as being unique and all-powerful. He believes it, though I’m sure he’s got doubts about it. But his narrative in a sense calls forth other strongmen, other dictators who run their country in an absolute way and don’t have to bother with legislative division or legal issues.

Moyers: I suspect some elected officials sometimes dream of doing what an unopposed autocrat or strongman is able to do, and that’s demand adulation on the one hand, and on the other hand, eradicate all of your perceived enemies just by turning your thumb down to the crowd. No need to worry about “fake media” — you’ve had them done away with. No protesters. No confounding lawsuits against you. Nothing stands in your way.

So he says, in his famous phrase, ‘Only I can fix it!’ That’s a strange and weird statement for anybody to make, but it’s central to Trump’s sense of self and self-presentation.

— Robert Jay Lifton

Lifton: That’s exactly right. Trump gives the impression that he would like to govern by decree. And of course, who governs by decree but dictators or strongmen? He has that impulse in him and he wants to be a savior, so he says, in his famous phrase, “Only I can fix it!” That’s a strange and weird statement for anybody to make, but it’s central to Trump’s sense of self and self-presentation. And I think that has a lot to do with his identification with dictators. No matter how many they kill and no matter what else they do, they have this capacity to rule by decree without any interference by legislators or courts.

In the case of Putin, I think Trump does have involvements in Russia that are in some way determinative. I think they’ll be important in his removal from office. I think he’s aware of collusion on his part and his campaign’s, some of which has been brought out, a lot more of which will be brought out in the future. He appears to have had some kind of involvement with the Russians in which they’ve rescued him financially and maybe continue to do so, so that he’s beholden to them in ways for which there’s already lots of evidence. So I think his fierce impulse to cover up any kind of Russian connections, which is prone to obstruction of justice, will do him in.

Moyers: I want to ask you about another side of him that is taken up in the book. It involves the much-discussed video that appeared during the campaign last year which had been made a decade or so ago when Trump was newly married. He sees this actress outside his bus and he says, “I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her,” and then we hear sounds of Tic Tacs before Trump continues. “You know,” he says, “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet, just kiss, I don’t even wait.” And then you can hear him boasting off camera, “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything, grab them by the…. You can do anything.”

Lifton: In addition to being a strongman and a dictator, there’s a pervasive sense of entitlement. Whatever he wants, whatever he needs in his own mind, he can have. It’s a kind of American celebrity gone wild, but it’s also a vicious anti-female perspective and a caricature of male macho. That’s all present in Trump as well as the solipsism that I mentioned earlier, and that’s why when people speak of him as all-pervasive on many different levels of destructiveness, they’re absolutely right.

Moyers: And it seems to extend deeply into his relationship with his own family. There’s a chapter in The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump with the heading, “Trump’s Daddy Issues.” There’s several of his quotes about his daughter, Ivanka. He said, “You know who’s one of the great beauties of the world, according to everybody, and I helped create her? Ivanka. My daughter, Ivanka. She’s 6 feet tall. She’s got the best body.”

Again: “I said that if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.” Ivanka was 22 at the time. To a reporter he said: “Yeah, she’s really something, and what a beauty, that one. If I weren’t happily married — and, you know, her father…”

When Howard Stern, the radio host, started to say, “By the way, your daughter —” Trump interrupted him with “She’s beautiful.” Stern continued, “Can I say this? A piece of ass.” To which Trump replied, “Yeah.” What’s going on here?

Lifton: In addition to everything else and the extreme narcissism that it represents, it’s a kind of unbridled sense of saying anything on one’s mind as well as an impulse to break down all norms because he is the untouchable celebrity. So just as he is the one man who can fix things for the country, he can have every woman or anything else that he wants, or abuse them in any way he seeks to.

Moyers: You mentioned extreme narcissism. I’m sure you knew Erich Fromm —

Lifton: Yes, I did.

Moyers: — one of the founders of humanistic psychology. He was a Holocaust survivor who had a lifelong obsession with the psychology of evil. And he said that he thought “malignant narcissism” was the most severe pathology — “the root of the most vicious destructiveness and inhumanity.” Do you think malignant narcissism goes a long way to explain Trump?

Lifton: I do think it goes a long way. In early psychoanalytic thought, narcissism was — and still, of course, is — self-love. The early psychoanalysts used to talk of libido directed at the self. That now feels a little quaint, that kind of language. But it does include the most fierce and self-displaying form of one’s individual self. And in this way, it can be dangerous. When you look at Trump, you can really see someone who’s destructive to any form of life enhancement in virtually every area. And if that’s what Fromm means by malignant narcissism, then it definitely applies.

Moyers: You said earlier that Trump and his administration have brought about a kind of malignant normalcy — that a dangerous president can become normalized. When the Democrats make a deal with him, as they did recently, are they edging him a little closer to being accepted despite this record of bizarre behavior?

Lifton: We are normalizing him when the Democrats make a deal with him. But there’s a profound ethical issue here and it’s not easily answered. If something is good for the country — perhaps the deal that the Democrats are making with Donald Trump is seen or could be understood by most as good for the country, dealing with the debt crisis — is that worth doing even though it normalizes him? If the Democrats do go ahead with this deal, they should take steps to make clear that they’re opposing other aspects of his presidency and of him.

Moyers: There’s a chapter in the book entitled, “He’s Got the World in His Hands and His Finger on the Trigger.” Do you ever imagine him sitting alone in his office, deciding on a potentially catastrophic course of action for the nation? Say, with five minutes to decide whether or not to unleash thermonuclear weapons?

Trump is the most dangerous man in the world. He’s equally dangerous because of his finger on the nuclear trigger and because of his mind ensconced in solipsistic reality. The two are a dreadful combination.

— Robert Jay Lifton

Lifton: I do. And like many, I’m deeply frightened by that possibility. It’s said very often that, OK, there are people around him who can contain him and restrain him. I’m not so sure they always can or would. In any case, it’s not unlikely that he could seek to create some kind of crisis, if he found himself in a very bad light in relation to public opinion and close to removal from office. So yes, I share that fear and I think it’s a real danger. I think we have to constantly keep it in mind, be ready to anticipate it and take whatever action we can against it. The American president has particular power. This makes Trump the most dangerous man in the world. He’s equally dangerous because of his finger on the nuclear trigger and because of his mind ensconced in solipsistic reality. The two are a dreadful combination.

Moyers: One of your colleagues writes in the book, “Sociopathic traits may be amplified as the leader discovers that he can violate the norms of civil society and even commit crimes with impunity. And the leader who rules through fear, lies and betrayal may become increasingly isolated and paranoid as the loyalty of even his closest confidants must forever be suspect.” Does that sound like Trump?

Lifton: It’s already happening. We see that it’s harder and harder to work for him. It’s hard enough even for his spokesperson to affirm his falsehoods. These efforts are not too convincing and they become less convincing from the radius outward, in which people removed from his immediate circle find it still more difficult to believe him and the American public finds it more difficult. He still can appeal to his base because in his base there is a narrative of grievance that centers on embracing Trump without caring too much about whether what he says is true or false. He somehow fits into their narrative. But that can’t go on forever, and he’s losing some of his formerly loyal supporters as well. So he is becoming more isolated. That has its own dangers, but it’s inevitable that it would happen with a man like this as his falsehoods are contested.

Moyers: You bring up his base. Those true believers aren’t the only ones who voted for him. As we are talking, I keep thinking: Here we have a man who kept asking what’s the point of having thermonuclear weapons if we cannot use them; who advocates using torture or worse against our prisoners of war; who urged that five innocent young people here in New York, black young people, be given the death penalty for a sexual assault, even after it was proven someone else had committed the crime; who boasted about his ability to get away with sexually assaulting women because of his celebrity and power; who urged his followers at political rallies to punch protesters in the face and beat them so badly that they have to be taken out on stretchers; who suggested that maybe some of his followers might want to assassinate his political rival, Hillary Clinton, if she were elected president, or at the very least, throw her in prison; who believes he would not lose voters if he stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shot someone. And over 63 million people voted to elect that man president!

Lifton: Yes, that’s a deeply troubling truth. And I doubt the people who voted for him were thinking about any of these things. What they were really responding to was a call for change, a sense that he was connecting with them in ways that others never had, that he would express and represent their interests, and that he would indeed make this country one dominated again by white people, in some cases white supremacists. But as you say, these people who embraced that narrative unquestioningly are a lesser minority than the ones who voted for him. And of course, he still didn’t win the popular vote. But it’s true — something has gone wrong with our democratic system in electing a man with all these characteristics that make up Donald Trump. Now we have to struggle to sustain the functional institutions of our democracy against his assault on them. I don’t think he’ll succeed in breaking them down, but he’s doing a lot of harm and it’ll take a lot of effort on the part of a lot of people to sustain them and to keep the democracy going, even in its faltering way.

Now we have to struggle to sustain the functional institutions of our democracy against [Trump’s] assault on them.

— Robert Jay Lifton

Moyers: He still has the support of 80 percent of Republican voters — 4 out of 5. And it seems the Republican Party will tolerate him as long as they’re afraid of the intensity of his followers.

Lifton: Yes, and that’s another very disturbing thought. Things there could change quickly too. What I sense is that the whole situation is chaotic and volatile, so that any time now there could be further pronouncements, further information about Russia and about obstruction of justice, or another attempt of Trump to start firing people, including Mueller, and that this would create a constitutional crisis which would create more pressure on Republicans and everybody else. So even though that is an awful truth about the Republicans’ hypocrisy in continuing to support him, that could change, I think, almost overnight if the new information were sufficiently damning to Trump and his administration.

Moyers: Let’s talk about the “Trump Effect” on the country. One aspect of it was the increase in bullying in schools caused by the rhetoric used by Trump during the campaign. But it goes beyond that.

Lifton: I think Trump has had a very strong and disturbing effect on the country already. He has given more legitimacy to white supremacy and even to neo-fascist groups, and he’s created a pervasive atmosphere that’s more vague but still significant. I don’t believe that he can in his own way destroy the country, just as he can’t eliminate climate awareness, but he can go a long way in bringing — well, in stimulating what has always been a potential.

You mentioned Erich Fromm. I met him through [the sociologist] David Riesman. David Riesman was a close friend, a great authority on American society. He emphasized how there’s always an underbelly in American society of extreme conservatism and reactionary response, and when there’s any kind of progressive movement, there’s likely to be a backlash of reaction to it. Trump is very much in that backlash to any kind of progressive achievement or even decent situation in society. He is stimulating feelings that are potential and latent in our society, but very real, and rendering them more active and more dangerous. And in that way, he’s having a very harmful effect that I think mounts every single day.

Moyers: Some people who have known Trump for years say he’s gotten dramatically worse since he was inaugurated. In the prologue to The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, Dr. Judith Lewis Herman writes this: “Fostered by the flattery of underlings and the chants of crowds, a political leader’s grandiosity may morph into grotesque delusions of grandeur.” Does that —

Lifton: That’s absolutely true. It’s absolutely true. And for anyone with these traits — of feeling himself victimized, of seeking to be the strongman who resolves everything, yet sees truth only through his own self and negates all other truth outside of it — is bound to become much more malignant when he has power. That’s what Judith Herman is saying, and she’s absolutely right. Power then breeds an intensification of all this because the power can never be absolute power — to some extent it’s stymied — but the isolation while in power becomes even more dangerous. Think of it as a vicious circle. The power intensifies these tendencies and the tendencies become more dangerous because of the power.

Moyers: But suppose that if Donald Trump is crazy, as some have said, he’s crazy like a fox, which is to say all this bizarre behavior is really clever strategy to mislead, distract and deceive others into responding in precisely the manner that he wants them to.

Lifton: I don’t think that’s quite true. I think that it’s partly true. As I said before, Trump both disbelieves and believes in falsehoods, so that when he did thrive on his longstanding and perhaps most egregious falsehood — the claim that Obama was not born in the United States — he’s crazy like a fox in manipulating it because it gave him his political entrée onto the national stage — and also, incidentally, was not rejected by many leading Republicans. So he was crazy like a fox in that case. But it’s more extreme even than that. In order to make your falsehoods powerful, you have to believe in them in some extent. And that’s why we simplify things if we say that Trump either believes nothing in his falsehoods and is just manipulating us like a fox or he completely believes them. Neither is true. The combination of both and his talent as a manipulator and falsifier are very much at issue.

Moyers: You may not remember it, but you and I talked l6 years ago this very week — a few days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. ll — and PBS had asked me to go on the air to talk to a variety of people about their response to those atrocities.

Lifton: I haven’t forgotten it, Bill.

Moyers: And in our discussion, we talked about your book, Destroying the World to Save It, about that extremist Japanese religious cult aum shinrikyo that released sarin nerve gas in Tokyo subways, you compared their ideology to Osama bin Laden: “He wanted to destroy a major part of the world to purify the world. There was in this idea, or his ideology, a sense of renewal.” We saw it in that Japanese cult. So the issue I am getting at is that such an aspiration can take hold of any true believer — the desire to purify the world no matter the cost.

Lifton: It is a very dangerous aspiration, and it’s not absent from the Trump presidency, although I don’t think it’s his central theme. I think it’s a central theme in Steve Bannon, for instance, who is an apocalyptic character and really wants to bring down most of advanced society as we know it, most of civilization as we know it, in order to recreate it in his image. I think Trump has some attraction to that, just as he had attraction to Bannon as a person and as a thinker, and that influence is by no means over. He’s still in touch with Bannon. So there is this apocalyptic influence in the Trumpean presidency: The world is destroyed in order to be purified and renewed in the ideal way that is projected by a Steve Bannon. And there is a sense of that when Trump says we’ll make America great again, because he says it’s been destroyed, he will remake it. So there is an apocalyptic suggestion, but I don’t think it’s at the very heart of his presidency.

Moyers: So our challenge is?

Lifton: I always feel we have to work both outside and inside of our existing institutions, so we have to really be careful about who we vote for and examine carefully our institutions and what they’re meant to do and how they’re being violated. I also think we need movements from below that oppose what this administration and administrations like it are doing to ordinary people. And for those of us who contributed to this book — well, as I said earlier, we have to be “witnessing professionals” and fulfill our duty to warn.

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Underground Comics Legend Robert Crumb Lays into Donald Trump

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 09/09/2017 - 10:34pm in

This is another satirical piece I found on the SF/ weird art website, Tomorrow and Beyond, laying into the day-glo generalissimo, Donald Trump. It’s a strip by Robert Crumb from 1987 in which orange braggart gets his comeuppance and his head flushed down the toilet by a group of very offended liberals. They include two angry ladies, who given his very overt misogyny, have every right to give him an entirely unwelcome hair wash.

The site comments on the strip that although it was published thirty years ago, it’s still relevant. Quite. I think Crumb passed away a few years ago, so alas we’ll never know how he would have sent up his presidency. But odds on, it would have been extremely vicious, and guaranteed to be so offensive that it would have sent Republicans into orbit.

As a character study of Trump’s weird psychology, it’s amazing how much of it is still very accurate, and unfortunately well on display in his government and public pronouncements: the boasting, the lavish displays of personal wealth, the vanity, the need to attract the attentions of the opposite sex and the absolute incapability of believing that any woman could ever resist him, in short, the whole vulgar, materialistic vanity of the man.

This should have been a warning to everyone.

Unfortunately, it appeared in an underground comic, so the only people, who read it were the hippies, punks, stoners and other countercultural peeps, who weren’t going to vote for him anyway.

Personality Traits and Book Genre Preferences

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 06/09/2017 - 10:58pm in

What do people’s tastes in books tell us about their personalities? More specifically, what can we learn about people’s personalities from their preference for philosophy books? A team of researchers from Disney Research and the Singapore Ministry of Defense (what a combination!) used self-reported personality data from Facebook and user-supplied book-genre tags from Goodreads to try to find this out. 

For personality, they used the “Big Five” model, which looks at degrees of extraversion, agreeableness, openness, neuroticism and conscientiousness.

They found that books tagged “philosophy” were associated with a greater degree of openness and a lesser degree of neuroticism.

Note that books in this tag are not just academic philosophy books, but include books in the following categories: philosophical novel, spirituality and religion, science and technology, philosophy and psychology, Arabic books, politics and economics, among others.

The following chart shows where philosophy is in terms of openness and conscientiousness.

An earlier study about personalities and college majors, by psychologist Anna Vedel, found that “Arts/Humanities” majors, as a group, scored higher than other groups on openness and neuroticism, high on agreeableness, low on extraversion, and consistently lower on conscientiousness. However, a closer look at the data from that study suggested that philosophy majors are less neurotic than Arts/Humanities majors as a whole. (Whether majoring in philosophy is correlated with a preference for books tagged “philosophy” in the book genre and personality study is unknown.)

The paper, “Predicting Personality from Book Preferences with User-Generated Content Labels,” by Ng Annalyn, Maarten W. Bos, Leonid Sigal, and Boyang Li, is forthcoming at IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing.

The post Personality Traits and Book Genre Preferences appeared first on Daily Nous.

Jewish Labour Movement Attempting to Ban Criticism of Israel in Labour Party as Anti-Semitic

Tony Greenstein, a veteran Jewish socialist, anti-racist and anti-Zionist, has put up a very important piece on his blog reporting that the Jewish Labour Movement is attempting to insert an amendment into the membership clause of the Labour party’s constitution, which would make criticism of Israel illegal. Greenstein is a proud, secular Jew, and opposes Zionism precisely because it is racist, and venomously genocidal in its treatment of the Palestinians and Arab Jews. He has paid the price for his commitment to anti-racism and human dignity. Like other anti-Zionists and critics of Israel, Jewish and gentile, he has been smeared as an anti-Semite. Many Jews, who are critical of Israel, believe that they actually receive worse vilification for their stance than their gentile comrades. In Greenstein’s case, he’s been suspended from the Labour party, like hundreds of others, received hate mail and been physically assaulted.

The hate messages he has received are hardly distinguishable from the vile screeds of gentile Nazis and anti-Semites. A few weeks ago he posted one such message he got from an outraged Jewish Zionist, which called him a ‘traitorous Jew’ and mocked him for his entirely accurate statement that the majority of European Jews wanted to stay in the land of their birth, the countries that were their homelands, as equal citizens, rather than emigrate to Israel. He was told he should try living in a shtetl – the segregated Jewish village in eastern Europe with the gentiles ruling over him. The writer concluded his message with the statement that he didn’t really like saying this to another Jew, but he wished the angel of death had taken him and his family during the Holocaust.

It’s deeply unpleasant, racist stuff. Greenstein put it up on his blog as an example of Zionist anti-Semitism, to make the point that instead of Jewish critics of Israel being anti-Semitic, it was the Zionists. It’s a good point. The Zionist’s message is racist and anti-Semitic. It abused Greenstein because he was Jewish. As for being a ‘traitorous Jew’ – that’s the language the Nazi and Fascist anti-Semites employ when they claim that Jews and people of Jewish heritage are really foreigners, outside the nation, and secretly plotting its downfall. Like the stupid and murderous ‘stab in the back theories’ that circulated in Germany after the First World War, which claimed that Germany had been defeated because of Jewish treachery. These were monstrous lies. Jewish Germans had been extremely patriotic in their response to the war, serving their country with pride and honour. The captain of Hitler’s unit during the War, who had put the future Nazi leader up for an Iron Cross, was Jewish. And the Jewish ex-servicemen’s league was a real problem for the Third Reich, as these old soldiers couldn’t easily be accused of treachery.

This is the same type of language we heard from the Nazis marching at Charlottesville, chanting ‘the Jews will not replace us.’ One component of contemporary Nazi and White supremacist ideology in the states is the sick notion that the Jews under the Zionist Occupation Government are engaged in a vast conspiracy to destroy the White race through racial intermixing and the promotion of Black civil rights.

As for physical assault, Mr. Greenstein in his blog has also described how he was assaulted on the street by an irate Israeli. But because Greenstein fought back, he – not his attacker – was charged with assault, although this was later dropped. It’s a clear, manifest injustice.

Now he reports the Jewish Labour Movement are attempting to define racism, anti-Semitism or islamophobia as whatever is perceived as such by a member of the affected groups. He points out that it’s based on a skewed reading of Shami Chakrabarti’s citation of the McPherson report into the death of Stephen Lawrence.

If implemented, this would outlaw criticism of Israel on the grounds that a Jewish Zionist could simply say that it was anti-Semitic.

I’ve no doubt that this will happen. Mike said that after the sorely misnamed Campaign Against Anti-Semitism libeled him as an anti-Semite, he had Zionists turning up on his Facebook page complaining that his comments about Ken Livingstone were anti-Semitic, because they felt they were. And that was sufficient.

I’ve also seen debates between Zionists and anti-Zionists in which the latter included Jewish and Israel anti-racism activists – where the Zionist has accused his opponents of anti-Semitism, simply because they did not share his belief that Israel has a divinely given right to the Occupied Territories.

This is a deeply hypocritical, and very dangerous game. When New Labour under Blair and Brown wanted to introduce tougher legislation against hate speech, the Tories went berserk and accused them of introducing the same assumption into its definition. That something constituted a racist offence, if the victim thought it was, including racial abuse.

This adds a dangerous element of subjectivity into the argument. Of course, in the case of the JLM, it’s intended to rule out of bounds any criticism of Israel or Zionism, because as soon as anyone raises the subject they’ll scream ‘anti-Semitism’. Even though this may consist of nothing more than the truth: that Israel is an apartheid state, that it is engaged on a decades-long campaign to cleanse its territory of Arabs, and that Arabs in the Occupied Territories can be killed, attacked, have their drinking water fouled, and their homes and other property seized with impunity. They may also be jailed for no other reason than publishing a poem urging their brothers and sisters to resist, as occurred to Dareen Tatour.

Ezra Levant, one of the brains behind the Far Right Canadian media group, Rebel Media, once argued in one of his videos against legislation outlawing hate speech. Levant’s Jewish, and he argued that Jews had long learned from experience that the weapons you give the state to protect you, can also be turned on you. So if you give the state the power to censor or ban certain types of speech, they can use those same powers to silence you. He argued that this was the case with Nazi Germany.

Levant’s part of the Islamophobic ‘counter-jihad’ movement, and what he was really worried about was western countries – Europe, Canada and America – passing legislation to ban speech or writing inciting the hatred of Muslims. But he does have a point regarding the treatment of Jews.

One of the elements in anti-Semitism has been the belief that Jews believe themselves to be superior to and despise and sneer at gentiles. Since the Haskala, the Jewish Enlightenment, western Jews have taken great care to show that they don’t have this attitude. Indeed, in 1920s Germany I believe one traditional prayer was dropped from the synagogue service, in case it gave gentiles this idea. Jewish theologians and writers have also made the point that God gave the Torah to Israel and made them a people for His own possession, not because they were superior or stronger than the neighbouring peoples, but because they were weaker. Israel was to be a servant nation, acting as moral exemplars, and therefore ‘a light to lighten the gentiles’. Mr. Greenstein has also put up another piece on his blog about a Canadian rabbi, whose book on Jewish resistance to Zionism makes precisely this point against Zionism.

But if you introduce the idea of subjectivity into the definition of hate speech, it means that Jews are also vulnerable to unfair accusations of racism. A chance comment or remark, which may only just be a case of bad phrasing, may become a case for prosecution, simply because the person hearing it thinks they are being insulted, whether they are or not.

The insistence of the subjective perception of anti-Semitism also shows how close the Zionist lobby is coming to outright Fascism. Irrationalism was one of the formative components of Fascist psychology and ideology. Rational belief didn’t matter. They were just rationalisations used to justify a pre-existing belief or act. What mattered was how something felt, and this meant primarily one’s passionate commitment to the ethnic group and its character according to nationalist and racist theories. The JLM and the Zionists can’t argue against facts, and so their attempting to use the subjective perception of whether something is anti-Semitic to justify their attempts to close down discussion of Israeli racism and human rights abuse instead.

As for the Jewish Labour Movement, Greenstein makes the point that this is a sister organization to the Israeli Labour party, which is racist to the core. Recently, one of their MKs expressed his disgust that 61 other members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, were Arabs, and made it very clear that he despised Arabs and wanted them expelled from Israel.

He also discusses the example of the far right Israeli leader, Gopstein, a member of a racist nationalist group, Lehava, who made a speech encouraging Israelis to burn down churches and mosques. Despite calls from the Vatican that he should be arrested, Gopstein’s still free.

And Jewish Arabs have also been subject to discrimination and monstrous human rights abuse. Greenstein and Counterpunch have published several articles describing how the Zionist pioneers, as European colonialists, believed they were inferior, and wanted to destroy their Arab character. This even included forcibly taking the babies born to Yemeni Jews away from their mothers and giving them to rich, childless European Israelis or American Jews.

This is not only a crime against humanity in itself. It is also included in the UN definition of genocide, which includes the forcible removal of one part of an ethnic group to another. This also occurred during the Third Reich, where the Nazis sought Aryan bloodlines amongst the conquered Poles. Polish babies with blonde hair and blue eyes were declared to be of German stock, and were taken from their parents to be brought up as Germans.

The JLM are apologists for a viciously racist, genocidal state and political order that is ruthlessly intolerant of its critics, vilifying anti-racist gentiles as anti-Semites, and making the same, or even anti-Semitic insults at decent, self-respecting Jews. If Labour is serious about tackling racism and inequality, this amendment should be thrown out. At the very least, by introducing the element of subjectivity, as the Ezra Levant has pointed out, they have given a potential weapon to the real anti-Semites. And they won’t hesitate to turn it on them.

TYT’s Francis Maxwell Tears Into Charlottesville Nazis in Less Than Five Minutes

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/08/2017 - 8:30pm in

In this short clip, The Young Turks’ Francis Maxwell uses his dulcet Scots tones to rip into the Nazis who goose-stepped into Charlottesville last week with stinging ridicule. Maxwell states that he’s mocking fun of them because they do not deserve to be taken seriously or to be given the dignity of anything but mockery and ridicule. And he also lays into those from the Right, from Donald Trump and Laura Southern on down, who condemn both sides. Because this equates anti-Nazis with Nazis, those who protest against racist violence and discrimination, with those who would perpetrate.

Amongst the Nazis and White Supremacists he attacks is the young man, who claims he wasn’t really a racist. He points out that if he seriously means that, then he should have take a trip to Las Vegas instead of joining a Nazi rally. He then posts up multiple pictures of the guy, with a paedophile moustache added so that he resembles his hero, Adolf Hitler.

He also tears bloody chunks off an older man, in T-shirt with long, greying hair, whom he calls ‘Gandalf’. This man spent years planning armed attacks against Black and Jewish businesses. He’s a career criminal, who, if they were serious about their march being all about heritage and not a campaign for racist violence, shouldn’t have been allowed in the local demonstration.

He also launches another attack on a yet another moustachio’d man, who cried that he’d better be kept a hundred feet away from a school.

He also mocks them for their lack of personal hygiene, their terrible fashion sense – deriding them as ‘neckbeards’ who have stolen their father’s khaki chinos, and their entire lack of attractiveness to women. He calls them ‘basement dwellers’, who have never ‘touched a breast’, and says that ‘Gandalf’ should have taken his crew to a brothel instead of the march, as there they would have had a 20 per cent chance of actually talking to a woman. Although this was still high estimate of their chances of success. He also accused the lad wearing the neckbeard of having grown it to hide how many times women had swiped left on him when they’d seen him on mobile phones.

The Young Turks in their blurb for the video state that this is how you rip into them, and they’ve got a very fair point. As for the Nazis’ sex appeal, or lack of it, The Young Turks have also made a video revealing that the young men, who joined their march were encouraged by the organisers, who told them that this would make them attractive to women and would get them girlfriends. Some hope of that! As the Turks themselves also pointed out, this was the same recruiting tactic ISIS uses: that if young guys join them, they’ll be inundated with jihadi brides all wanting their bodies and their children.

Counterpart also published a piece commenting on the Nazis’ sexuality as well by a female sex therapist, who has contributed a number of articles to their site. She also observed their massive lack of appeal to women, and stated that rather than confronting the fact, they simply retreated into massive misogyny and hatred towards women in order to try and explain it to themselves. She also declared that many of them were repressed gays trying to suppress their fantasies about their fellow stormtroopers, and tormented by fantasies of well-endowed Black men satisfying their wives or girlfriends.

As a general observation on the weird sexuality of Fascist groups, this is very accurate. Ludwig Theweileit, a German historian, wrote an entire book, Male Fantasies, arguing that an important psychological component in Nazism was homosexuality. 75 per cent of the SA, the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party, who were wiped out by the SS on Hitler’s orders during the Night of the Long Knives, were gay.

This doesn’t mean that the Nazis were at all tolerant of gays, as claimed by some supporters of the Republican party. They weren’t. Homosexuality amongst Jews was promoted before the Holocaust as a method of stopping the Jewish people from reproducing. Aryan gays were persecuted as well as the other racial, religious and political groups banned by the Nazis, and were interned in the concentration camps. If I remember correctly, there was even a play about the Nazi persecution of gays, Bent, staged in the 1980s.

And lurid fantasies and fears about the racial other preying on Aryan women is also a standard part of White racist/ Nazi psychology. Hitler had a recurring nightmare of a chained, blonde woman terrorized by a Jewish butcher. One of the anti-Semitic myths promoted by late 19th century racist ideologues is that Jews are more highly sexed than gentiles. And Blacks have also suffered from a similar racist myth – that they are more sexually motivated than Whites, and have larger genitals.

As for their lack of success with women, this reminds me of an article about a Far Right musician, who was part of the Nazi Black Metal/ Industrial scene in America in Adam Parfrey’s collection of articles on apocalyptic America, Cult Rapture. The article was entitled, ‘Where Can I Find a Girlfriend for this Nice, Young, Nazi Psycho-killer’ or something similar. This particular specimen of walking race hate had produced a book or pamphlet arguing that, rather than being prudes and puritans, the Third Reich was a sexual wonderland. The author himself was also spectacularly unsuccessful in attracting the attentions of the opposite gender. He did manage to get himself a date once with a female White supremacist, but he was too much even for her. She escaped from him by claiming out the windows of the ladies’ toilets after telling him that she needed to powder her nose.

Of course, they’re a very serious threat under all this. But the Nazis are such a bunch of twisted individuals that they deserve all the ridicule they get.

Presenters of Sam Seder’s Majority Report Defend Themselves against Accusations of Anti-Semitism

Readers of this blog will know very well that the Zionist lobby in Britain and America has repeatedly smeared decent, anti-racist people with the accusation that they are anti-Semites, when their only offence is that they have dared to hold Israel to the same moral standards as the rest of the world.

Israel is a racist state, which occupies the Palestinian territories on the West Bank, and which has engaged in a decades long campaign of brutalization and ethnic cleansing towards the indigenous Arabs population.

Those, who oppose this policy of massacre, persecution and expulsion include Torah-observant, and secular Jews as well as decent, anti-racist gentiles. Despite the fact that very many anti-Zionists and supporters of Palestinian rights are self-respecting Jews, who may be active members of their community, they are vilified as anti-Semitic, or self-hating, every bit as much as the non-Jewish opponents of the Israeli state. Indeed, some are subject to worse abuse.

Sam Seder’s Majority Report is a left-wing internet news programme. Mr. Seder and at least one other of his fellow presenters and staffers on the show is Jewish. In 2014 they made a series of videos reporting the carnage in Gaza, and fiercely criticized the Israeli state’s oppression of the Palestinian people. They also attacked and mocked a Republican mouthpiece, Ben Shapiro, for his stupid accusations about Obama’s administration similarly being anti-Semitic.

So, inevitably, the show received a message from a viewer accusing them of anti-Semitism. In this clip below, the presenters Michael Brooks and Matt Binder, defend themselves and the show from these accusations and make the point that criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitism. The presenter begins by stating that he reported the numbers of Palestinian and Israeli casualties, 500 Palestinians to 15 or 16 Israelis, not because he believed that they should be higher or more equal, but because he felt that there should be none at all. No-one should have died, regardless of whether they were Israeli or Palestinian. He also makes the point that his Jewish identity, which is specifically a German Jewish identity, is very important to him.

He states that the use of the accusation of anti-Semitism to close down a conversation about the systemic abuse of human rights by Israel, a sovereign state, is cynical and cheapens anti-Semitism. He states that he doesn’t often read the comments on YouTube. Sometimes the comments are anti-Semitic. Sometimes, after condemning actions by Hamas, and then offering an objective assessment condemning occupation, bombardment and civilians (by Israel), they have been called anti-Semitic. He states that he cannot understand the mindset, but believes some of those, who make the accusation are too caught up emotionally to make a rational judgement.

But with others, it is just a cynical ploy to stop criticism. And one which he states insults the long history of genocide, exodus, expulsion, torture and persecution that the Jewish people have suffered down the centuries. It cheapens also the Jews, who have been tortured and killed simply because of their Jewish identity by terrorists and suicide bombers. It’s a cheap, disgusting parlour trick. He states very clearly that Israel needs to be held to the same moral standards as a normal nation state, not criticized because it is Jewish, nor excused for its wrongful actions for the same reasons either.

The Israeli government and those before it have a policy of expanding Israeli settlement and limiting those of Palestinians. This is a vital issue, and using the accusation of anti-Semitism to stop it is disgusting and disingenuous.

Sam Seder is attacked because he mocked Ben Shapiro, who called Obama’s government one of the most anti-Semitic administrations. The presenter states that this is stupid, and calling Seder himself anti-Semitic is moronic. Seder, he states, is one of the most Jewish people around, outside the Ultra-Orthodox Jews, who live in Crown Heights. Many of whom, he says, are lovely people, as he used to live around there. If you’re going to describe him as ‘anti-Semitic’, at least say he’s self-hating instead.

As for Ben Shapiro, the presenter describes him as ‘a prepubescent little schmuck’ whose statement was too much even for Trump’s spokeswoman, Megyn Kelly. To call them, the producers of the show, anti-Semitic because they spent three minutes mocking him, shows how stupid the caller is, and they have to have compassion on that. But he also makes the point that it’s clearly wrong to call this mockery anti-Semitic, and claim it comes from the same motives as the Holocaust and the murder and torture of Jewish people, such as those, who were killed by the terrorists in Mumbai.

He and the producer then make a few sarcastic, but very accurate points about being called ‘anti-Semitic’ and accused of denying the Holocaust in their turn, simply because they have told their accusers that they’re morons and made even more comments mocking Shapiro.

I’ve put this up as this response to the accusations of anti-Semitism by Sam Seder’s fellow broadcasters – Seder himself goes on to rebut it himself in a later video – because it’s also an excellent response to the smears made by the Zionist lobby over here against Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker and the many other decent people, who were targeted simply because they supported Jeremy Corbyn, as well as people like Mike, who was smeared simply because he dared to defend Livingstone, Walker and several of the others on grounds of historical accuracy.

Many of those smeared and suspended from the party were Jews, or of Jewish heritage, and had suffered genuine anti-Semitic abuse. One person had had her son attacked by a British Nazi. As for the non-Jews smeared as anti-Semites, like Mike, these were anti-racists, and many of whom similarly had a proud personal history of attacking anti-Semitism. Like Red Ken, who attacks it, along with anti-Black racism, and the British state’s recruitment of real Nazis in their battle with Communism during the Cold War, in his 1987 book, Livingstone’s Labour. These were real Nazis, who had committed horrific crimes against Jews during the Holocaust.

For the non-Jewish people smeared as anti-Semites, the other point the presenter raised remains valid: the accusation of anti-Semitism is a cheap, disgusting rhetorical smear to try to shut down their pertinent criticism of the state of Israel for its crimes. And by using anti-Semitism in this way to deflect criticism of a sovereign nation – Israel- for its disgusting human rights abuses on the same grounds as other nations are attacked and criticized, grotesquely cheapens and insults the real history of Jewish persecution and the memory of those, who suffered.

Critics of Israel, who have suffered these smears, like Norman Finkelstein, have made the same point again and again. But the Zionist lobby carries on with the same vile libels. And the point needs to be made: as well as being a cheap response in itself, it’s also a case of crying wolf. As we’ve seen from the events in Charlottesville several days ago, there are now real Nazis on the march, killing people. These are the real anti-Semites, and if that accusation has to retain its power to shock and reveal just how vile the real Nazis are, then it should not be squandered on vilifying decent people, just for the benefits of the supporters of a vile, racist state, who can only defend their country by smearing decent people as the type of goose-stepping, chanting thugs, who killed an innocent woman and injured 19 others in Charlottesville.

Hyper Evolution – The Rise of the Robots Part 2

Wednesday evening I sat down to watch the second part of the BBC 4 documentary, Hyperevolution: the Rise of the Robots, in which the evolutionary biologist Ben Garrod and the electronics engineer Prof. Danielle George trace the development of robots from the beginning of the 20th century to today. I blogged about the first part of the show on Tuesday in a post about another forthcoming programme on the negative consequences of IT and automation, Secrets of Silicon Valley. The tone of Hyperevolution is optimistic and enthusiastic, with one or two qualms from Garrod, who fears that robots may pose a threat to humanity. The programme states that robots are an evolving species, and that we are well on the way to developing true Artificial Intelligence.

Last week, Garrod went off to meet a Japanese robotics engineer, whose creation had been sent up to keep a Japanese astronaut company of the International Space Station. Rocket launches are notoriously expensive, and space is a very, very expensive premium. So it was no surprise that the robot was only about four inches tall. It’s been designed as a device to keep people company, which the programme explained was a growing problem in Japan. Japan has a falling birthrate and thus an aging population. The robot is programmed to ask and respond to questions, and to look at the person, who’s speaking to it. It doesn’t really understand what is being said, but simply gives an answer according to its programming. Nevertheless, it gives the impression of being able to follow and respond intelligently to conversation. It also has the very ‘cute’ look that characterizes much Japanese technology, and which I think comes from the conventions of Manga art. Garrod noted how it was like baby animals in having a large head and eyes, which made the parents love them.

It’s extremely clever, but it struck me as being a development of the Tamagotchi, the robotic ‘pet’ which was all over the place a few years ago. As for companionship, I could help thinking of a line from Andrei Tarkovsky’s epic Solaris, based on the novel by the Polish SF writer, Stanislaw Lem. The film follow the cosmonaut, Kris, on his mission to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. The planet’s vast ocean is alive, and has attempted to establish contact with the station’s crew by dredging their memories, and sending them replicas of people they know. The planet does this to Kris, creating a replica of a former girlfriend. At one point, pondering the human condition in a vast, incomprehensible cosmos, Kris states ‘There are only four billion of us…a mere handful. We don’t need spaceships, aliens…What man needs is man.’ Or words to that effect. I forget the exact quote. I dare say robots will have their uses caring for and providing mental stimulation for the elderly, but this can’t replace real, human contact.

George went to America to NASA, where the space agency is building Valkyrie to help with the future exploration of Mars in 2030. Valkyrie is certainly not small and cute. She’s six foot, and built very much like the police machines in Andrew Blomkamp’s Chappie. George stated that they were trying to teach the robot how to walk through a door using trial and error. But each time the machine stumbled. The computer scientists then went through the robot’s programming trying to find and correct the error. After they thought they had solved it, they tried again. And again the machine stumbled.

George, however, remained optimistic. She told ‘those of you, who think this experiment is a failure’, that this was precisely what the learning process entailed, as the machine was meant to learn from its mistakes, just like her own toddler now learning to walk. She’s right, and I don’t doubt that the robot will eventually learn to walk upright, like the humanoid robots devised by their competitors over at DARPA. However, there’s no guarantee that this will be the case. People do learn from their mistakes, but if mistakes keep being made and can’t be correctly, then it’s fair to say that a person has failed to learn from them. And if a robot fails to learn from its mistakes, then it would also be fair to say that the experiment has failed.

Holy Joe Smith! I was also a reminded of another piece of classic SF in this segment. Not film, but 2000 AD’s ‘Robohunter’ strip. In its debut story, the aged robohunter, Sam Slade – ‘that’s S-L-A-Y-E-D to you’ – his robometer, Kewtie and pilot, Kidd, are sent to Verdus to investigate what has happened to the human colonists. Verdus is so far away, that robots have been despatched to prepare it for human colonization, and a special hyperdrive has to be used to get Slade there. This rejuvenates him from an old man in his seventies to an energetic guy in his thirties. Kidd, his foul mouthed, obnoxious pilot, who is in his 30s, is transformed into a foul-mouthed, obnoxious, gun-toting baby.

The robot pioneers have indeed prepared Verdus for human habitation. They’ve built vast, sophisticated cities, with shops and apartments just waiting to be occupied, along with a plethora of entertainment channels, all of whose hosts and performers are robotic. However, their evolution has outpaced that of humanity, so that they are now superior, both physically and mentally. They continue to expect humans to be the superiors, and so when humans have come to Verdus, they’ve imprisoned, killed and experimented on them as ‘Sims’ – simulated humans, not realizing that these are the very beings they were created to serve. In which case, Martian colonists should beware. And carry a good blaster, just in case.

Garrod and George then went to another lab, where the robot unnerved Garrod by looking at him, and following him around with its eye. George really couldn’t understand why this should upset him. Talking about it afterwards, Garrod said that he was worried about the threat robots pose to humanity. George replied by stating her belief that they also promise to bring immense benefits, and that this was worth any possible danger. And that was the end of that conversation before they went on to the next adventure.

George’s reply isn’t entirely convincing. This is what opponents of nuclear power were told back in the ’50s and ’60s, however. Through nuclear energy we were going to have ships and planes that could span the globe in a couple of minutes, and electricity was going to be so plentiful and cheap that it would barely be metered. This failed, because the scientists and politicians advocating nuclear energy hadn’t really worked out what would need to be done to isolate and protect against the toxic waste products. Hence nearly six decades later, nuclear power and the real health and environmental problems it poses are still very much controversial issues. And there’s also that quote from Bertrand Russell. Russell was a very staunch member of CND. When he was asked why he opposed nuclear weapons, he stated that it was because they threatened to destroy humanity. ‘And some of us think that would be a very great pity’.

Back in America, George went to a bar to meet Alpha, a robot created by a British inventor/showman in 1932. Alpha was claimed to be an autonomous robot, answering questions by choosing appropriate answers from recordings on wax cylinders. George noted that this was extremely advanced for the time, if true. Finding the machine resting in a display case, filled with other bizarre items like bongo drums, she took an access plate off the machine to examine its innards. She was disappointed. Although there were wires to work the machine’s limbs, there were no wax cylinders or any other similar devices. She concluded that the robot was probably worked by a human operator hiding behind a curtain.

Then it was off to Japan again, to see another robot, which, like Valkyrie, was learning for itself. This was to be a robot shop assistant. In order to teach it to be shop assistant, its creators had built an entire replica camera shop, and employed real shop workers to play out their roles, surrounded by various cameras recording the proceedings. So Garrod also entered the scenario, where he pretended to be interested in buying a camera, asking questions about shutter speeds and such like. The robot duly answered his questions, and moved about the shop showing him various cameras at different prices. Like the robotic companion, the machine didn’t really know or understand what it was saying or doing. It was just following the motions it had learned from its human counterparts.

I was left wondering how realistic the role-playing had actually been. The way it was presented on camera, everything was very polite and straightforward, with the customer politely asking the price, thanking the assistant and moving on to ask to see the next of their wares. I wondered if they had ever played at being a difficult customer in front of it. Someone who came in and, when asked what they were looking for, sucked their teeth and said, ‘I dunno really,’ or who got angry at the prices being asked, or otherwise got irate at not being able to find something suitable.

Through the programme, Japanese society is held up as being admirably progressive and accepting of robots. Earlier in that edition, Garrod finished a piece on one Japanese robot by asking why it was that a car manufacturer was turning to robotics. The answer’s simple. The market for Japanese cars and motorcycles is more or less glutted, and they’re facing competition from other countries, like Indonesia and Tokyo. So the manufacturers are turning to electronics.

The positive attitude the Japanese have to computers and robots is also questionable. The Japanese are very interested in developing these machines, but actually don’t like using them themselves. The number of robots in Japan can easily be exaggerated, as they include any machine tool as a robot. And while many British shops and businesses will use a computer, the Japanese prefer to do things the old way by hand. For example, if you go to a post office in Japan, the assistant, rather than look something up on computer, will pull out a ledger. Way back in the 1990s someone worked out that if the Japanese were to mechanise their industry to the same extent as the West, they’d throw half their population out of work.

As for using robots, there’s a racist and sexist dimension to this. The Japanese birthrate it falling, and so there is real fear of a labour shortage. Robots are being developed to fill it. But Japanese society is also extremely nationalistic and xenophobic. Only people, whose parents are both Japanese, are properly Japanese citizens with full civil rights. There are third-generation Koreans, constituting an underclass, who, despite having lived there for three generations, are still a discriminated against underclass. The Japanese are developing robots, so they don’t have to import foreign workers, and so face the problems and strains of a multicultural society.

Japanese society also has some very conservative attitudes towards women. So much so, in fact, that the chapter on the subject in a book I read two decades ago on Japan, written by a Times journalist, was entitled ‘A Woman’s Place Is In the Wrong’. Married women are expected to stay at home to raise the kids, and the removal of a large number of women from the workplace was one cause of the low unemployment rate in Japan. There’s clearly a conflict between opening up the workplace to allow more married women to have a career, and employing more robots.

Garrod also went off to Bristol University, where he met the ‘turtles’ created by the neuroscientist, Grey Walter. Walter was interested in using robots to explore how the brain functioned. The turtles were simple robots, consisting of a light-detecting diode. The machine was constructed to follow and move towards light sources. As Garrod himself pointed out, this was like the very primitive organisms he’d studied, which also only had a light-sensitive spot.

However, the view that the human brain is really a form of computer have also been discredited by recent research. Hubert L. Dreyfus in his book, What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Intelligence, describes how, after the failure of Good Old Fashioned A.I. (GOFAI), computer engineers then hoped to create it through exploring the connections between different computing elements, modelled on the way individual brain cells are connected to each by a complex web of neurons. Way back in 1966, Walter Rosenblith of MIT, one of the pioneers in the use of computers in neuropsychology, wrote

We no longer hold the earlier widespread belief that the so-called all-or-none law from nerve impulses makes it legitimate to think of relays as adequate models for neurons. In addition, we have become increasingly impressed with the interactions that take place among neurons: in some instances a sequence of nerve impulses may reflect the activities of literally thousands of neurons in a finely graded manner. In a system whose numerous elements interact so strongly with each other, the functioning of the system is not necessarily best understood by proceeding on a neuron-by-neuron basis as if each had an independent personality…Detailed comparisons of the organization of computer systems and brains would prove equally frustrating and inconclusive. (Dreyfus, What Computers Still Can’t Do, p. 162).

Put simply, brain’s don’t work like computers. This was written fifty years ago, but it’s fair to ask if the problem still exists today, despite some of the highly optimistic statements to the contrary.

Almost inevitably, driverless cars made their appearance. The Germans have been developing them, and Garrod went for a spin in one, surrounded by two or three engineers. He laughed with delight when the car told him he could take his hands off the wheel and let the vehicle continue on its own. However, the car only works in the comparatively simply environment of the autobahn. When it came off the junction, back into the normal road system, the machine told him to start driving himself. So, not quite the victory for A.I. it at first appears.

Garrod did raise the question of the legal issues. Who would be responsible if the car crashed while working automatically – the car, or the driver? The engineers told him it would be the car. Garrod nevertheless concluded that segment by noting that there were still knotty legal issues around it. But I don’t know anyone who wants one, or necessarily would trust one to operate on its own. A recent Counterpunch article I blogged about stated that driverless cars are largely being pushed by a car industry, trying to expand a market that is already saturated, and the insurance companies. The latter see it as a golden opportunity to charge people, who don’t want one, higher premiums on the grounds that driverless cars are safer.

Garrod also went to meet researchers in A.I. at Plymouth University, who were also developing a robot which as part of their research into the future creation of genuine consciousness in machines. Talking to one of the scientists afterwards, Garrod heard that there could indeed be a disruptive aspect to this research. Human society was based on conscious decision making. But if the creation of consciousness was comparatively easy, so that it could be done in an afternoon, it could have a ‘disruptive’ effect. It may indeed be the case that machines will one day arise which will be conscious, sentient entities, but this does not mean that the development of consciousness is easy. You think of the vast ages of geologic time it took evolution to go from simple, single-celled organisms to complex creatures like worms, fish, insects and so on, right up to the emergence of Homo Sapiens Sapiens within the last 200,000 years.

Nevertheless, the programme ended with Garrod and George talking the matter over on the banks of the Thames in London. George concluded that the rise of robots would bring immense benefits and the development of A.I. was ‘inevitable’.

This is very optimistic, to the point where I think you could be justified by calling it hype. I’ve said in a previous article how Dreyfus’ book describes how robotics scientists and engineers have made endless predictions since Norbert Wiener and Alan Turing, predicting the rise of Artificial Intelligence, and each time they’ve been wrong. He’s also described the sheer rage with which many of those same researchers respond to criticism and doubt. In one passage he discusses a secret meeting of scientists at MIT to discuss A.I., in which a previous edition of his book came up. The scientists present howled at it with derision and abuse. He comments that why scientists should persist in responding so hostilely to criticism, and to persist in their optimistic belief that they will eventually solve the problem of A.I., is a question for psychology and the sociology of knowledge.

But there are also very strong issues about human rights, which would have to be confronted if genuine A.I. was ever created. Back in the 1970s or early ’80s, the British SF magazine, New Voyager, reviewed Roderick Random. Subtitled, ‘The Education of a Young Machine’, this is all about the creation of a robot child. The reviewer stated that the development of truly sentient machines would constitute the return of slavery. A similar point was made in Star Trek: The Next Generation, in an episode where another ship’s captain wished to take Data apart, so that he could be properly investigated and more like him built. Data refused, and so the captain sued to gain custody of him, arguing that he wasn’t really sentient, and so should be legally considered property. And in William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the book that launched the Cyberpunk SF genre, the hero, Case, finds out that the vast computer for which he’s working, Wintermute, has Swiss citizenship, but its programming are the property of the company that built it. This, he considers, is like humans having their thoughts and memories made the property of a corporation.

Back to 2000 AD, the Robusters strip portrayed exactly what such slavery would mean for genuinely intelligent machines. Hammerstein, an old war droid, and his crude sidekick, the sewer droid Rojaws and their fellows live with the constant threat of outliving their usefulness, and taking a trip down to be torn apart by the thick and sadistic Mek-Quake. Such a situation should, if it ever became a reality, be utterly intolerable to anyone who believes in the dignity of sentient beings.

I think we’re a long way off that point just yet. And despite Prof. George’s statements to the contrary, I’m not sure we will ever get there. Hyperevolution is a fascinating programme, but like many of the depictions of cutting edge research, it’s probably wise to take some of its optimistic pronouncements with a pinch of salt.

Forthcoming Programme on the Destructive Consequence of IT

Next Sunday, the 6th August, BBC 2 is showing a documentary at 8.00 pm on the negative aspects of automation and information technology. Entitled Secrets of Silicon Valley, it’s the first part of a two-part series. The blurb for it in the Radio Times reads

The Tech Gods – who run the biggest technology companies – say they’re creating a better world. Their utopian visions sound persuasive: Uber say the app reduces car pollution and could transform how cities are designed; Airbnb believes its website empowers ordinary people. some hope to reverser climate change or replace doctors with software.

In this doc, social media expert Jamie Bartlett investigates the consequences of “disruption” – replacing old industries with new ones. The Gods are optimistic about our automated future but one former Facebook exec is living off-grid because he fears the fallout from the tech revolution. (p. 54).

A bit more information is given on the listings page for the programmes on that evening. This gives the title of the episode – ‘The Disruptors’, and states

Jamie Bartlett uncovers the dark reality behind Silicon Valley’s glittering promise to build a better world. He visits Uber’s offices in San Francisco and hears how the company believes it is improving our cities. But Hyderabad, India, Jamie sees for himself the apparent human consequences of Uber’s utopian vision and asks what the next wave of Silicon Valley’s global disruption – the automation of millions of jobs – will mean for us. He gets a stark warning from an artificial intelligence pioneer who is replacing doctors with software. Jamie’s journey ends in the remote island hideout of a former social media executive who fears this new industrial revolution could lead to social breakdown and the collapse of capitalism. (p. 56).

I find the critical tone of this documentary refreshing after the relentless optimism of last Wednesday’s first instalment of another two-part documentary on robotics, Hyper Evolution: the Rise of the Robots. This was broadcast at 9 O’clock on BBC 4, with second part shown tomorrow – the second of August – at the same time slot.

This programme featured two scientists, the evolutionary biologist, Dr. Ben Garrod, and the electronics engineer Professor Danielle George, looking over the last century or so of robot development. Garrod stated that he was worried by how rapidly robots had evolved, and saw them as a possible threat to humanity. George, on the other hand, was massively enthusiastic. On visiting a car factory, where the vehicles were being assembled by robots, she said it was slightly scary to be around these huge machines, moving like dinosaurs, but declared proudly, ‘I love it’. At the end of the programme she concluded that whatever view we had of robotic development, we should embrace it as that way we would have control over it. Which prompts the opposing response that you could also control the technology, or its development, by rejecting it outright, minimizing it or limiting its application.

At first I wondered if Garrod was there simply because Richard Dawkins was unavailable. Dawko was voted the nation’s favourite public intellectual by the readers of one of the technology or current affairs magazines a few years ago, and to many people’s he’s the face of scientific rationality, in the same way as the cosmologist Stephen Hawking. However, there was a solid scientific reason he was involved through the way robotics engineers had solved certain problems by copying animal and human physiology. For example, Japanese cyberneticists had studied the structure of the human body to create the first robots shown in the programme. These were two androids that looked and sounded extremely lifelike. One of them, the earlier model, was modelled on its creator to the point where it was at one time an identical likeness. When the man was asked how he felt about getting older and less like his creation, he replied that he was having plastic surgery so that he continued to look as youthful and like his robot as was possible.

Japanese engineers had also studied the human hand, in order to create a robot pianist that, when it was unveiled over a decade ago, could play faster than a human performer. They had also solved the problem of getting machines to walk as bipeds like humans by giving them a pelvis, modeled on the human bone structure. But now the machines were going their own way. Instead of confining themselves to copying the human form, they were taking new shapes in order to fulfil specific functions. The programme makers wanted to leave you in new doubt that, although artificial, these machines were nevertheless living creatures. They were described as ‘a new species’. Actually, they aren’t, if you want to pursue the biological analogy. They aren’t a new species for the simple reason that there isn’t simply one variety of them. Instead, they take a plethora of shapes according to their different functions. They’re far more like a phylum, or even a kingdom, like the plant and animal kingdoms. The metal kingdom, perhaps?

It’s also highly problematic comparing them to biological creatures in another way. So far, none of the robots created have been able to reproduce themselves, in the same way biological organisms from the most primitive bacteria through to far more complex organisms, not least ourselves, do. Robots are manufactured by humans in laboratories, and heavily dependent on their creators both for their existence and continued functioning. This may well change, but we haven’t yet got to that stage.

The programme raced through the development of robots from Eric, the robot that greeted Americans at the World’s Fair, talking to one of the engineers, who’d built it and a similar metal man created by the Beeb in 1929. It also looked at the creation of walking robots, the robot pianist and other humanoid machines by the Japanese from the 1980s to today. It then hopped over the Atlantic to talk to one of the leading engineers at DARPA, the robotics technology firm for the American defence establishment. Visiting the labs, George was thrilled, as the company receives thousands of media requests, to she was exceptionally privileged. She was shown the latest humanoid robots, as well as ‘Big Dog’, the quadruped robot carrier, that does indeed look and act eerily like a large dog.

George was upbeat and enthusiastic. Any doubts you might have about robots taking people’s jobs were answered when she met a spokesman for the automated car factory. He stated that the human workers had been replaced by machines because, while machines weren’t better, they were more reliable. But the factory also employed 650 humans running around here and there to make sure that everything was running properly. So people were still being employed. And by using robots they’d cut the price on the cars, which was good for the consumer, so everyone benefits.

This was very different from some of the news reports I remember from my childhood, when computers and industrial robots were just coming in. There was shock by news reports of factories, where the human workers had been laid off, except for a crew of six. These men spent all day playing cards. They weren’t employed because they were experts, but simply because it would have been more expensive to sack them than to keep them on with nothing to do.

Despite the answers given by the car plant’s spokesman, you’re still quite justified in questioning how beneficial the replacement of human workers with robots actually is. For example, before the staff were replaced with robots, how many people were employed at the factory? Clearly, financial savings had to be made by replacing skilled workers with machines in order to make it economic. At the same time, what skill level were the 650 or so people now running around behind the machines? It’s possible that they are less skilled than the former car assembly workers. If that’s the case, they’d be paid less.

As for the fear of robots, the documentary traced this from Karel Capek’s 1920’s play, R.U.R., or Rossum’s Universal Robot, which gave the word ‘robot’ to the English language. The word ‘robot’ means ‘serf, slave’ or ‘forced feudal labour’ in Czech. This was the first play to deal with a robot uprising. In Japan, however, the attitude was different. Workers were being taught to accept robots as one of themselves. This was because of the animist nature of traditional Japanese religion. Shinto, the indigenous religion besides Buddhism, considers that there are kami, roughly spirits or gods, throughout nature, even inanimate objects. When asked what he thought the difference was between humans and robots, one of the engineers said there was none.

Geoff Simons also deals with the western fear of robots compared to the Japanese acceptance of them in his book, Robots: The Quest for Living Machines. He felt that it came from the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. This is suspicious of robots, as it allows humans to usurp the Lord as the creator of living beings. See, for example, the subtitle of Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein – ‘the Modern Prometheus’. Prometheus was the tAstritan, who stole fire from the gods to give to humanity. Victor Frankenstein was similarly stealing a divine secret through the manufacture of his creature.

I think the situation is rather more complex than this, however. Firstly, I don’t think the Japanese are as comfortable with robots as the programme tried to make out. One Japanese scientist, for example, has recommended that robots should not be made too humanlike, as too close a resemblance is deeply unsettling to the humans, who have to work with it. Presumably the scientist was basing this on the experience of Japanese as well as Europeans and Americans.

Much Japanese SF also pretty much like its western counterpart, including robot heroes. One of the long-time comic favourites in Japan is Astroboy, a robot boy with awesome abilities, gadgets and weapons. But over here, I can remember reading the Robot Archie strip in Valiant in the 1970s, along with the later Robusters and A.B.C. Warriors strips in 2000 AD. R2D2 and C3PO are two of the central characters in Star Wars, while Doctor Who had K9 as his faithful robot dog.

And the idea of robot creatures goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Hephaestus, the ancient Greek god of fire, was a smith. Lame, he forged three metal girls to help him walk. Pioneering inventors like Hero of Alexandria created miniature theatres and other automata. After the fall of the Roman Empire, this technology was taken up by the Muslim Arabs. The Banu Musa brothers in the 9th century AD created a whole series of machines, which they simply called ‘ingenious devices’, and Baghdad had a water clock which included various automatic figures, like the sun and moon, and the movement of the stars. This technology then passed to medieval Europe, so that by the end of the Middle Ages, lords and ladies filled their pleasure gardens with mechanical animals. The 18th century saw the fascinating clockwork machines of Vaucanson, Droz and other European inventors. With the development of steam power, and then electricity in the 19th century came stories about mechanical humans. One of the earliest was the ‘Steam Man’, about a steam-powered robot, which ran in one of the American magazines. This carried on into the early 20th century. One of the very earliest Italian films was about a ‘uomo machina’, or ‘man machine’. A seductive but evil female robot also appears in Fritz Lang’s epic Metropolis. Both films appeared before R.U.R., and so don’t use the term robot. Lang just calls his robot a ‘maschinemensch’ – machine person.

It’s also very problematic whether robots will ever really take human’s jobs, or even develop genuine consciousness and artificial intelligence. I’m going to have to deal with this topic in more detail later, but the questions posed by the programme prompted me to buy a copy of Hubert L. Dreyfus’ What Computers Still Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason. Initially published in the 1970s, and then updated in the 1990s, this describes the repeated problems computer scientists and engineers have faced trying to develop Artificial Intelligence. Again and again, these scientists predicted that ‘next year’ ,’in five years’ time’, ‘in the next ten years’ or ‘soon’, robots would achieve human level intelligence, and would make all of us unemployed. The last such prediction I recall reading was way back in 1999 – 2000, when we were all told that by 2025 robots would be as intelligent as cats. All these forecasts have proven wrong. But they’re still being made.

In tomorrow’s edition of Hyperevolution, the programme asks the question of whether robots will ever achieve consciousness. My guess is that they’ll conclude that they will. I think we need to be a little more skeptical.

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