‘Artists are the gatekeepers of truth’ - Paul Robeson
BRISBANE – Covid or not, the blend of politics and economics that is neoliberalism continues to transfer control of the economy from government to private hands.
In doing so it continues to place limits on government spending, government regulation and government ownership.
Say what you like about governments, but at least in a democracy we can throw them out every few years. But neoliberalism wants governments out of the way so they can profit from people at will. Neoliberalism is an ugly idea with dreadful outcomes for the great majority of people.
Among its most pernicious features are intense surveillance aggravated by artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning, algorithms and predictive analytics, which uses past data to try to predict the future.
These wonderful technologies can be used to make our lives better but in the wrong hands they ease the way for neoliberalism’s relentless pursuit of profit.
Irrespective of the social consequences, the ubiquitous tentacles of surveillance capitalism can entrap humanity.
Sir Tim Berners Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, proclaimed the internet offered emancipation with incalculable benefits, although culture has since surrendered itself to the technology.
Berners Lee was authentic in his idealism but misjudged human nature. The internet can certainly enrich but it also surreptitiously gives new life to malevolent techniques, which dislocate freedom and maliciously augment power and control.
Independence is a noble gesture although many amongst those of us called upon to labour fail to acknowledge the shackles of oppression and never discard the yokes they are accustomed to and even perceive as normal.
The creation of user profiles that appear so straightforward in fact lead to the predatory capture and commodification of data which underpins surveillance capitalism.
The internet has transformed into an already intrusive architecture of tyranny and created escalating inequity and disruption, further influenced and encouraged by powerful forces to fulfil their secret covert and sinister agendas.
During the internet’s embryonic phase, users were delighted by the power and reach of internet search engines but these disturbing tools and their algorithms now do more than search - they penetrate who we are, what we do and even what we think, the hunter of information has become the hunted.
This is accomplished using an assortment of intrusive electronic equipment, including smartphones, laptops, digital TVs, wristwatches, even refrigerators Many toys and household gadgets thrill for a minute, until a nearby planned obsolescence renders them useless.
Over many years personal data has been stockpiled using deceptive consent or approval techniques and confidential details are stored and indexed with a ruthless military efficiency.
Silicon Valley oligarchs have accumulated individual digital profiles that contain more information about us than we know ourselves.
They have disenfranchised and digitally dispossessed people by infiltrating social media networks not only seeking data, which is commercialised for extractive profit, but inciting them to act in ways which are often not in their best interests.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning can shatter the harmony of faith-love-hope-justice and disregard many noble attributes such as compassion, wisdom, grief, trust and dignity.
Individuals are enslaved by systems, not the other way around, and rendered powerless by an overwhelming tyranny of unaccountable bureaucracy often administered by amoral zombies.
This has created an inertia best epitomised by looped renditions of Greensleeves by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as background to, ‘Your call is extremely important to us and is being recorded for quality assurance and training purposes’. Never ‘…. for tracking down purposes if you say something unwise’.
Machine learning evolved from the unfeeling disciplines of engineering and computer science, which frame learning as no more than data transfer and replication.
This amalgamation of humans with machines and its emphasis on objects wrongly implies that anything can learn because the definition of learning has been bastardised.
“All learning is in the learner, not the teacher,” said Plato, 400 years before Jesus was born. He knew something.
Machines have no social identity; they cannot dream, create, meditate, imagine or even fornicate, and the attribution of learning to an object is utter nonsense anyway.
The promoters of machine learning disguise an ideology of perfectionism. Their delusional misrepresentation about learning and faith in machines is an attempt to deny human fallibility.
The objective seems to want to alter human nature by means of technological advancement; to move society into a new stage of human development where we can acquire superior intelligence and emotional well-being.
This could even be desirable if these technologies did not have such a corrosive impact on democracy. Society has become more abstract with virtual and fabricated images dissociated from real world events and the truth of evidence.
Medical treatment is frequently mistaken for health care, paramilitary police protection for personal safety, and crime prevention and military prowess for national security.
Technology is a patient assassin that replicates friendship. It can restrict our ability to make choices and process information. It ignores diverse learning styles and disregards unique human traits like empathy and free will,
We need to be able to make mistakes to experience reality from different perspectives; we should acknowledge fallibility, which can motivate us to repent, recover - and learn.
Recognising how to live in the real world surrounded by fallible people in a complex environment with an uncertain future is our worldly truth.
The obsessive focus on perfection and denial of fallibility is not only unrealistic, it is an endorsement of totalitarian and brutal ideologies and it has created a climate of risk aversion. There can be no learning without risk.
Elderly Indigenous Australians easily recognise oppression and will recall the tyrannical New South Wales State Welfare Board, empowered under the Aborigines Protection Act No. 25 1909.
For many decades this official entity controlled almost every aspect of their existence under the deceptive title of protection and care.
Public schools principals could expel Indigenous children and bureaucrats could enter homes without notice. Early evening curfews were imposed and there was segregation, bans on gathering in groups and prohibition from drinking in local pubs.
A failure to comply incurred beatings, several nights in a police cell, unaffordable fines and vocational prospects that extended no further than the country’s gaols.
In Brisbane’s inner city suburbs of West End and Spring Hill boundary posts are silent reminders of an oppressive regime that segregated indigenous Australians from early British settlers. Stringent curfews were imposed and troopers patrolled the boundary posts with stock whips.
At the white man’s school, what are our children taught?
Are they told of the battles our people fought?
Are they told of how our people died?
Are they told why our people cried?
Australia’s true history is never read
but the black man keeps it in his head.
In October 2021, journalists Maria Ressa and Dimitry Muratov were jointly awarded the Nobel peace prize for their brave efforts to safeguard freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia.
They remind us that freedom of expression and speaking truth to power in totalitarian regimes is under attack almost everywhere. We live in an era of authoritarian populism.
Traditional techniques for crushing dissent mostly involved the sword, although 1839 Edward Bulwer-Lytton conjured up, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’, then a smart line from his little known play, ‘Richelieu, or the Conspiracy’, now a familiar adage.
In many alleged Western democracies where the pen is increasingly told what to do by the sword, activists are increasingly in trouble for peacefully expressing their views, exposing systemic corruption or whistleblowing.
Nobel awardee Muratov is a courageous Russian journalist who established Novaya Gazeta newspaper several decades ago. Six of his colleagues have been murdered for their success in truth-telling.
Following Muratov’s recent achievement he received congratulations from the Kremlin, which ensures he remains a strong contender for an involuntary injection of Novichok nerve agent.
Ressa, another who has spoken truth to power with great effect, is one of the few journalists in the Philippines to regularly criticise president Rodrigo Duterte who encourages police to kill suspects without trial.
The psychopathic Duterte proclaims journalists are not exempt from assassination and many have been murdered under his brutal regime.
During the 2017 election in Papua New Guinea, Martyn Namarong, a distinguished PNG Attitude correspondent and anticorruption activist, used social media to criticise allegedly corrupt electoral commissioner, Patilias Gamato.
A gagging order was subsequently issued, prohibiting Namarong from publishing further defamatory remarks. A year later, the Waigani National Court dismissed the case and the electoral commissioner was ordered to pay accrued court costs.
As PNG’s next election looms, Gamato remains out on bail awaiting a trial that never seems to arrive on charges of official corruption and conspiracy.
And so traditional forms of repression are increasingly reinforced and now augmented by innovative methods of controlling freedom of expression and online speech. The Chinese Communist Party has overseen construction of a gated information sphere with a national Great Firewall of China using digital tools to curate and sanitise information that reaches its citizens.
Constant surveillance incarcerates the mind and plunders our privacy, agency and autonomy. It denies solitude and renders freedom increasingly unattainable.
Reagan, Thatcher, Blair and many others proclaimed that neoliberalism enhanced freedom and unshackled individuals from economic slavery.
The internet promised similar emancipation but we find that technology has transformed it into a rapacious agent of capitalism.
We have reached a point where the lyrics sung by the late Paul Robeson are quite foreboding:
There’s a man going ‘round taking names
There’s a man going ‘round taking names
He’s been taking my father’s name an’ he left my heart in vain
There’s a man going ‘round taking names