Surviving our future? We may need to re-write it. (First published Oct 2017)

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Do androids dream of electric sheep was written in 1968 by American author Phillip . K. Dick. It has recently been re-published having achieved cult status. The novel is set in  San Francisco following a global nuclear war, where Earth’s life has been greatly damaged. Most animal species are very rare or extinct from extremes of radiation, so much so that owning an animal is now a sign of status and empathy. Some people will remember the story better as the movie by director Ridley Scott called ‘Blade runner’, recently re-booted in the sequel , Blade runner 2049. This science fiction ‘film noir’ is reminiscent of Raymond Chandler with lots of rain washing down on pavements lit by flickering neon lights. The  world of  the super corporations has become merged with the state and law and order and those unable to afford to get ‘off world’ to a better future wait out their lives in the over populated and polluted city.

The stark truth is that this very dark world view could be our own future if we do not deal with some key challenges facing us now. Some are outlined below. Science fiction has a habit of becoming science fact in an increasingly short space of time. A new sequel to the movie and a re-published book shows there is a strong resonance  today to a book written nearly 50 years ago.

1.Nuclear War.

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American anti-communist propaganda during the early days of the ‘cold war’.

While we are not living in a post nuclear apocalypse yet thankfully, the twitter sphere has been full of threats of starting all out nuclear war between Washington and Pyong Yang as this New Yorker article outlines, Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have been goading each other to start one.With the Trump Presidency the world is in a precarious position unlike the Cold War years of US and Soviet nuclear arms escalation.

Nuclear standoffs happen, but each side has always understood where the brink lies and was careful not to overstep it. That means, especially, understanding the need not to say anything that the other side might misinterpret as a cue for war.

But the question hanging over the world today is one that has never had to be asked before: does the US president understand this most essential point, one on which the fate of the world depends?

Lets hope ‘the Donald’ gets this important point!

2.Global warming and food insecurity

Even without a nuclear apocalypse the world has faced an onslaught of unfettered  resource exploitation that threatens our existence on the planet and has led to climate change despite what Jim Sillars and other climate change deniers would have us think. The frequency of hurricanes and tropical storms which hit communities from the US Florida coast, the Caribbean Islands and now as far as Ireland and Scotland has increased. As names go, so far we are up to ‘Ophelia’ which made it all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to cause deaths in Ireland. They will go all the way up to ‘Whitney’ during 2017.

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We also heard further evidence this week about a more insidious ecological catastrophe.The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists. The loss of habitats and the use of pesticides look to be the likely causes.Insect abundance has fallen by 75% over 27 years according to a study cited here.

This is a staggering decline in ecological terms and does not bode well for our future food security. In fact it is fair to say that it over shadows the current Brexit shambles of squabbling about ‘divorce’ bills and trades deals because we may have nothing to trade with if the ecology of our farming systems is threatened by a loss of insect life.

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We need a rapid acceleration of renewable energy investment and we are fortunate in Scotland already to be leading in this field and can be poised to be a world leader in this technology. This week saw the opening of the first floating wind farm off the Aberdeenshire coast here is how it works. Agriculture is another question.We need to grow to more food locally and not rely on food transported half way around the world as we are now. We also need to do it as environmentally friendly as possible.

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3. Control of the population through media manipulation.

This is where the robots come in. Or should we say ‘bots’. The populations of any country are to some degree placated and have their opinions influenced by what is on the media in many forms, printed press, TV and social media. More evidence has come to light to emphasise the ways in which this is possible on media such as Facebook and Twitter through the existence of  bots and algorithms ( maybe not actual robots yet but they are running hotels in Japan and are coming here soon, maybe to pick our fruit as well)

A social bot (also: socialbot or socbot) is a particular type of chatterbot that is employed in social media networks to automatically generate messages (e.g. tweets) or in general advocate certain ideas, support campaigns, and public relations either by acting as a “follower” or even as a fake account that gathers …
There are pieces of software operating on social media platforms that basically serve to amplify certain messages.

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Researchers have uncovered new evidence of networks of thousands of suspect Twitter bots working to influence the Brexit debate in the run-up to the EU referendum in 2016. The findings, from researchers at City, University of London, include a network of more than 13,000 suspected bots that tweeted predominantly pro-Brexit messages before being deleted or removed from Twitter in the weeks following the vote.The research – which is published in the peer-reviewed Social Science Computer Review journal suggests the suspected bot accounts were eight times more likely to tweet pro-leave than pro-remain content.
“There is a potential distortion of public communications and we want to get to the bottom of that. This amplification is of concern as it gives us a false sense of momentum behind certain ideas… If there is false amplification, how do we know if someone is genuine?”

The new evidence of botnet activity in the EU referendum raises serious questions. Not least did Twitter have any evidence as to who was behind the bots and were they aware of it at the time? Rather than creating outright fake news, the researchers said, the accounts worked to “amplify” existing memes, hyperpartisan news, and supportive media stories.Reassuringly they noted that the bots were often not as effective as real users at spreading messages – often dampening their impact by talking to and retweeting other bots, rather than reaching real users.

The new evidence of bot activity comes at a time of mounting concerns in the UK and US around campaigns of election interference. Possible influences have been quoted as Russia or so-called ‘dark money’ interests.i.e. other states or rich corporate backers influencing democratic processes for a specific aim such as lucrative contracts following electoral success.

Separately others have commented on the possible role such ‘dark money’  can bring an influence to bear on the EU referendum outcome.  Other articles have revealed how the DUP took £435,000 to campaign for Brexit but refuse to reveal who gave them the cash. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of pounds are funnelled to political parties through loopholes which allow donor anonymity. We do not really know who is bankrolling British politics. The research findings also highlight similarities in the behaviour of suspected bots influencing Brexit with some of those noticed by US researchers and authorities in the run-up to Donald Trump’s election in 2016. These include amplifying messages from similar accounts connected to the alt-right, and even the pattern of deletion and removals.

So, bots and algorithms really do really exist outside the world of science fiction and are shaping public opinion. Add in to the mix teams of human operatives to interact with social media and ‘nudge’ public opinion then you have a powerful set of tools at your disposal  in controlling opinions and possibly carrying out bigger processes like regime change and winning elections.

4. All out State repression of the population.

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If media manipulation isn’t working the state can always fall back on sending in physical force. In the 80’s we saw this on a massive scale during the miners strike. Large numbers of police and some would argue soldiers too were mobilised and the usual protocols of officers wearing police numbers on the their uniforms was suspended.Notably at Orgreave where there are still calls for a proper enquiry of events there. Like all meaningful social history for the communities involved, the media tries to re-write it and make it go away.This analysis of the literature of the miners strike tells a different story.

Most recently though we see the Spanish State Police, the Guardia Civil, which is the oldest law enforcement agency in Spain used to repress a popular movement to vote to achieve independence in Catalonia. It is organised as a military force charged with police duties under the authority of both the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Defence and on the 2nd October they lined up on the streets of Barcelona to attack Catalan Fire and rescue officers who were trying to protect voters.

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The answer to state violence can only ever be non violent resistance.People in Catalonia provide a modern-day example of how to do this extremely effectively. Martin Luther King was arguably the greatest advocate of non violent resistance after Ghandi in India. The civil rights movement in the USA ‘faced down the man’ over many years and won against apparently impossible odds. The tactic in Catalonia has always been to flood the streets with people even to the extent of immobilizing the Guardia Civil headquarters by sheer numbers of people.

Behind this however lies a more fundamental level of people power.Not just weight of numbers but meticulous organisation at a grassroots level.The smartphone and mobile technology became a tool for non-violent resistance in a very new way enabling the co-ordination of opening polling stations amidst a very hostile environment. In Catalonia’s case resistance was not futile in the face of state violence it was very effective.

We need not accept the  bleak dystopic future of  science fiction films and novels. The future is unwritten and there are many ways to change  it.-

  1. Rapid acceleration of renewable energy-Scotland is already leading on this and is poised to be a world leader in this technology
  2. We need more localism in terms of food production- no agricultural robots sighted off the A9 picking fruit yet but soon Brexit will push us towards this.We need more environmentally friendly agriculture
  3. More controls on pesticides- treaties are required, puts Brexit into perspective if we can’t have food security what do we sell.America is one of the worst culprits.Why are we leaving the EU again?
  4. People need to become citizen journalists. Fact check everything and support your local bloggers and independent news providers
  5. Non violent civil protest is the way to go when times get tough.Local organisation and the networking of individuals to become strong against state repression is possible. Me,us,we. The example of Catalonia mass mobilisation and grass-roots organisation is inspirational.

 

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Dream Angus

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