Sunday, May 27, 2018

Elites are not the source of new answers to our problems

Sometimes, and right now is one of those, it is quite a reach to connect the dots when trying to curate some of the themes marching across our consciousness.

In an essay in The Atlantic, Henry Kissinger worries about the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence on human relations, as well as on international relations, especially given the two pillars of memorization and mathematical calculus that underpin the technology. He worries particularly that this new technology, unlike previous technological revolutions, is in search of a philosophy. And yet, with respect, there are loud and repeating drum beats in the U.S. and elsewhere that point to the dangerous notion that everything, including Artificial Intelligence, is based on the capitalist pursuit of profit defined as sales, dividends, and the ultimate seduction of users of technology. It is not technology in search of a philosophy, as Kissinger would like to believe. It is rather the profit motive simply and unabashedly and unashamedly following the template of unfettered capitalism as motherlode.

In another section of the current edition of The Atlantic, Matthew Stewart depicts a revised version of the new aristocracy, the 9.9% just below the 0.1%, generated, protected and sustained by “cartels” in professions, as well as in elite universities which have newly defined their “eliteness” through increased numbers of rejections of applicants. Notwithstanding that comparative salaries of graduates ranges from a super-high for those graduating from the top 50 American universities, to a medium for graduates from less “aristocratic” universities, to a considerably lower number for the more plebeian institutions, the whole movement toward making the new 9.9% the new power block deploys such rules and regulations as limiting the professional purview and “competence” of dental hygienists, in order to preserve and sustain the higher incomes of their dentist bosses.

Another cartel, according to Stewart, is found in the American medical profession through multiple tactics, almost invisible from the general public and certainly from the fourth estate. These include restricting the numbers of immigrant applicants, the number of residencies, and the number of graduates from clinical training thereby sustaining the much higher incomes of American doctors, especially compared with the inferior outcomes among their patients, as compared with other advanced countries.

And then there was former British Prime Minister, appearing as a guest on the tenth anniversary of CNN’s GPS with Fareed Zakaria, describing the need for the progressives to learn how to build bridges to the resentful, angry and uneducated populists, for example, who are trump’s electoral trust account. His highly analytical, nuanced and articulate analysis of the need to learn how to listen to, speak with and begin to embrace the ‘other side’ in and of itself, leaves that audience shaking their heads. So far removed from the street language, the guttural emotions, the simplistic answers to highly complicated problems, (for instance, the need to regulate, supervise and mediate global economic forces, and not let them dictate the terms of their own game) and the personal lens through which this quadrant views all things political, social and even intellectual is Blair’s point of view from the same sector whom he believes it is requisite to reach that, as a beginning dissertation, it fails to shine light into the minds, hearts and ambitions of those very people in public life who are attempting to do just what he counsels.

While acknowledging that the current political scene is dominated by “cultural issues,” and acknowledging that leaders like Clinton and Blair himself failed to grasp the needs, aspirations and hopes of the ‘other side’, Blair does draw a map for future leaders as to where their research and their language and their campaigns have to move. He identifies with the group who consider themselves ‘liberal’ on social issues, while also supporting private entrepreneurs, as a political model of neither the traditional right or left.

The fluid shifting of power blocks, responding to the massive dislocations of labour, wealth and tax laws rendering the rich even richer, accompanied by the rhythm of the tsunami of new technology including Artificial Intelligence, the #metoo and #TimesUp movements, religious tensions and the fundamental disconnect creating siloes for almost all groups and interests leaves most of us in a foggy conundrum. It is the penchant for the elites always and predictably to draw on their mantra, “we must have answers” even if and when they really do not have them, that sets these people apart from ordinary people.

The words, “I (we) do not have an easy, ready or pragmatic response to that dilemma!” are simply expunged from their world view. They make promises like “You can count on me!” as pacifiers, political placebo’s, and political crumbs from their self-appointed pedestals offered with a modicum of sincerity in the midst of their political campaigns, to people so desperate that they smile in gratitude for the comfort of the moment, knowing that it is as ethereal and ephemeral as a blink of an eye.

Political theory, political demographics, political data-mongering, mathematically manipulated by algorithms dedicated to the service of their authors, and then memorized as the latest “insight” or wisdom of the segment, and then served up to the financiers obsessed with their own aggrandizement, including their assuming the role of cheque-writer for the puppet political operatives, thereby enabling additional removal of restrictive regulations, or the guarantee that none will be enacted, can and will only leave us gasping for political, ideological, ethical and conflict-resolving oxygen, as the chasm between the have’s and the have-not’s continues to erode before our eyes.

The new aristocracy, including both the 0.1% and the 9.9%, with their iron-clad recruiting and supportive systems, linked to the new money, the new technology, and the old governance models of  co-dependent, narcissistic, money-grubbing political candidates whose discipline to “read” even the talking points of any piece of legislation, compromised by their reading the relevant opinion polls almost exclusively, and compromised also by their obsequious pursuit of cash to enable them to survive is a toxic mix of dominance. Ordinary people perhaps might be granted  a five-minute interview on a specific topic, provided they can articulate that issue in 100 words or less (no office staffer will read beyond that!) and, if needed, perhaps a ride to the polling station by those political operatives. Otherwise, the blind are effectively “leading” the blind; the political class is blinded by their own personal ambition; the rest of us are apparently blinded by our cell phones, tablets, or tv’s.

Secure in our respective complacencies, and our respective “ignorances” (and they are multiple and growing), we make a dissonant choir of disinterest, dispassion, disillusion and insouciance that threatens to enable the clarion call of a delusional strong man (ala trump) to seduce too many of us into believing his midway barker promises. Trouble with that picture is that we are not ambling through a midway looking for cheap thrills. We are not sidling up to a cotton candy confectioner to purchase another gut-full of pink sugar. We are not on a first date with an out-of-town girl from the farm, attempting to generate a few electric sparks, to ignite the spark of a new relationship, as if we were fifteen again.

Our churches have succumbed to the capitalist profit bait; our universities have fallen “in” on the same parade square; our public institutions, including our arts councils, our public scientific research centres, our unions, and our public health institutes have been partially if not fully fund-starved; our role models have morphed into sports and entertainment billionaires; the four most chosen career paths for the new aristocracy are finance, management consulting, medicine and law; the liberal arts, including the English, Philosophy and History departments have been succeeded in their recruitment successes by technological training and business skills.

No, Mr. Kissinger, the Artificial Intelligence cabal is not looking for a philosophy; no Mr. Blair, the neo-liberals have demonstrated their comfort with their own self-declared elitism; and as for Mr. Stewart, your piece linked with both Blair’s interview and Kissinger’s essay, offers only a strong kick in the pants to the 90% most of whom will be unlikely to discover your piece, built as it is on a summary and collaboration of multiple sources of statistical data, which taken together could be a wake-up call. 

Likely it will be tragically only another piece of articulate, intelligent and provocative reading for the 10% at the top.

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