Saturday, November 7, 2015

Amped Attacks, a hacker allegedly associated with the hacker group Anonymous, released a list falsely accusing a huge number of U.S. politicians of belonging to the KKK. When Anonymous released its list two days later, almost no politicians were on the list. (Indeed, most of the people Anonymous "outed" were already publicly known to be KKK sympathizers or members.)

Interestingly, I see no one apologizing today for acting on that false information. Hmmm... a lapse of ethics. Bad.

Amped Attacks' list was pure bullshit. But I saw a huge number of people on my Friends list calling for investigations, resignations, even assault on those named in the Amped Attacks list.

So where are the apologies? I've not seen a single one from any of my FB friends.

And why isn't anyone upset that "mob rule" essentially gripped Facebook for two days? Why isn't anyone upset that anonymous rumors nearly brought down hundreds of innocent people in a scandal akin to the McCarthyism of the 1950s?

When Anonymous released their list Thursday, the people on its list were almost all publicly known to be Klan members or sympathizers. The list was, essentially, existing information just repackaged (according to the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith). Yet, I saw no one on FB calling for these people to be fired from their jobs, removed from positions of authority, or assaulted.

What I see is hypocrisy and a horrific failure of ethics: A huge number of progressives engaged in McCarthyism, and now refusing to apologize for it.

* * * * * * *

I understand the need for people to have a "trustworthy" source. So many sources of authority seem to have failed us: Church, government, family, news media, schools, industry. So people look for a source of authoritativeness, of truth, which they believe they can trust. Anonymous -- which seems to have no ties to industry or government or religion -- fills that role for many.

Notice, however, that people ASSUME Anonymous has no ties to industry, government, or religion. That assumption is an article of faith -- as much an article of faith as Christianity is, or Islam, or Wicca. As much an article of faith that "the media is liberal, and only Fox News tells the truth." As much an article of faith as "the free market is efficient". One article of faith (religion, ideology, etc.) has merely been substituted by another.

I also understand the need to have a "truthful" source of information. It's hard to have to think through these issues every day. It takes a lot of time to read more than one or two or three news sources. It takes a lot of energy to become expert in fields like polling, balloting, economics, political science, sociology, history, law.

It's so much easier to "let someone else do it" -- to trust a news source, or to trust a group assumed to be independent and host like Anonymous.

This desire isn't mere sloth. There's a desire to want to live one's own life, a desire to enjoy the good things in life and not always work so hard to have to understand complex things outside one's own experiences or knowledge. I understand and sympathize with that desire.

There's also a feeling of betrayal and anger out there. So many social institutions have failed us, have proven to be human rather than mythically perfect. The feeling of betrayal is very powerful. Unfortunately, it comes with a lack of historical knowledge. The past is mythologized: Politics was never this driven by money, never this personal, never this bad. The world was never this racist, never this hard to get by in, never this misogynist. Things were so much better in the past... Even though most people acknowledge that racism, homophobia, oppression, poverty, and misogyny were far worse in the past, they don't FEEL that. They know it. But they don't feel it, not in the way they powerfully feel the sense of betrayal, anger, exhaustion, and alienation today.

The sense of betrayal is worsened by mythologizing the past. The desperate need to find a source of truth, a source that's trustworthy, become magnified by mythologizing the past.

Notice how easy it would be to reject democracy. "This is too hard." (See the scene in "The Remains of the Day", where the English fascists ridicule the butler, Stevens, for not knowing the esoteric intricacies of the world they've created.)

Notice how easy it is for citizens of a democracy to want to withdraw. (See the scene in the movie "Network", where the mad Howard Beale shouts on television, "We know things are bad, worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out any more. We sit in the house and slowly the world we're living in is getting smaller and all we say is 'Please -- at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone'.")

But democracy is hard. Life is hard. It takes a lot of work to get educated enough to buy a house. It takes a lot of work to get educated enough to understand politics, economics, diplomacy. It takes a lot of work to have a relationship, and love someone for the rest of your life. It takes a lot of work to have cancer, or diabetes, or heart disease, and still survive.

So what do we do?

I don't think the answer is in becoming McCarthyists. I don't think the answer lies in hypocrisy. The answer does not lie with Anonymous, or belief systems as powerful as religion masquerading as "I trust that independent news source".

The answer is in community. In working together to understand things, to ferret out information, in educating one another. It doesn't come in memes, it doesn't come in "Facebook activism", it doesn't come in click-bait articles, or posts that mimic Red-baiting whisper-campaigns, or using "independent" news sources that have hidden agendas, or in blindly posting extremist articles just because they appeal to our despair, our betrayal, our exhaustion.

It's an intensely personal answer. Maybe that, too, is harder. But it's easier than anything else, and comes with a human being.

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