Friday, 22 December 2017

What did YOU do in the First World Cyber-War?

It's happening - and let's pray that this time the only fighting happens online and not in our physical world. The global battle of ideas is being played out for the first time in human history on hundreds of millions of home computers around the world. No longer battlefields with bullets and shrapnel flying, the fight is now to win hearts and minds without the mass slaughter of global war. The existence of the nuclear bomb has brought grudging peace between the superpowers - the doctrine of mutual assured destruction ensures that while small-scale proxy wars are still fought, Russia and the West are unlikely to go for full-out armed conflict.

Instead, Russia is taking on the West in a different way. It is seeking to fracture social bonds, dissolve social trust, besmirch our institutions using not lethal weapons but using the internet. To create dozens of civil wars in countries around the world.

The social media has become a conduit for making ordinary people, with average levels of education - doubt everything they're told. Why? Because if the default position is "they're lying to us, aren't they?" there will be less outrage about Russia's aggression in Ukraine and the Middle East. "Who knows who's right? Maybe they're all lying? We can't trust anyone these days..."

Bombard the West then, not with bombs, but with ideas. Not one simple set of ideas, like in the ideological days of the USSR, when the Soviet Union projected its world view through Marxist-Leninist filters. Today, all sorts of weird and wacky ideas, of far-right, far-left, far-fetched conspiracy theories - anything with a bit of traction that the credulous can buy into.

It's not about good ideas - it's about the weight and volume of argument. Just because your argument is better thought-through; just because you understand the consequences of what's at stake and can articulate it, doesn't mean that you will win.

They will shout you down by amplifying the voices of the cranks, whose letters in green ink, in upper case, underlined twice, would go no further than the editor's spike in pre-internet days. Today, every crank has a global audience of ten, maybe a hundred people - link them together, foment fake outrage and you can create seismic shifts in social opinion.

Buoyed up by the feeling of being in a crowd, egged on by the Kremlin's troll army, the dissenters get increasingly aggressive towards their perceived enemies.

And here we have the liberal's conundrum - the liberal's enemy can stoop to verbal aggression to which the liberal cannot respond with counter-aggression - only with better arguments. Liberals should not allow themselves to be provoked.

We end up in our bubbles, rarely straying over into the other side. When we do so, it's because we've been outraged (or they've been outraged), and within a few tweets / comments it deteriorates into a slanging match, as our arguments fail to sway the other side. People are banned /unfriended, and it's all over, but the online conflict spills over into the real world as levels of social trust fall.

It's worth looking at 20th Century civil wars fought over ideology - in Russia and in Spain - how the venom turned human beings into murderous brutes - an enemy with the wrong ideology is dehumanised and their life without value. The aftermath of both wars was as bloody as the fighting, the victors spared not the losers. How will this play out in our cyber war?

Persuasion by argument works when you are dealing with a live human being (not an automated bot) who is able to accept logic and cause-and-effect. When your logical response is met with a stream of vitriolic abuse - time to move on.

It's tiring. In last week's Polityka tthere was a piece which suggests that in Poland, this November alone, 30,000 fake accounts were set up on Twitter. Ready for use in next year's local elections? By whom? Party 'A', Party 'B' - or entities directed from abroad?

Should we get involved in the debates? Should we try to persuade others to appreciate why our destiny as a species, our common journey away from barbarism, towards civilisation, away from the bestial towards the angelic is currently at risk? More at risk than at any time since the Cold War?

Or should we just Let It Be? Walk away from it, not caring as to the outcome?

What will you tell your children, your grandchildren decades from today - that you remember a time when The Big Man didn't rule over you, but when citizens, societies decided for themselves what was good - things were better then...

Did you take on the liars, the pedlars of fake news, the trolls, the haters, those that aim to divide and rule our Western democratic world?

Why didn't you do more to hang on to what you had then?

This time last year:
Solstice sunset, Gogolińska

This time six years ago
Extreme fixie

This time eight years ago:
Poland's worst railway station
(and it's no better two years on. Just two years shabbier.)

This time nine years ago:
Last Christmas before the Recession?


Anonymous said...

When James Joyce was asked "what do you do in the war", his repost would be that he wrote Ulysses.


White Horse Pilgrim said...

Have you tread "Post Truth" by Evan Davis. If not, I'd recommend it.

A key point is that a divided, tribal society is more likely to accept falsehood crafted to appeal to the prejudices of the tribe. A cunning manipulator will act to grow a tribe in order to increase his or her audience. Trump and Farage come to mind.

As you say, Putin is another sort, wanting our societies weaker and more confused to give him license to act.

Our only defence is to build a cohesive society where tribalism is minimised.