American Fascism 1– What Is Fascism, and How Did It Get Here?

Michael O. Church

This series of essays shall cover one of the most depressing topics I’ve ever written about: fascism. The truth is, I’ve been writing and rewriting “the fascism essay” for almost two years. I’ve worked on one version or iteration, polished a bit… only to decide not to publish it. It’s such a dreary, demoralizing subject.

When fascism descends, one is faced with a fight– probably a losing fight– that a person of conscience still owes the world to fight.

I promise that this series will not focus on Donald Trump. It would be a mistake to conflate him with the more general fascist threat. More than he is a fascist, he’s an opportunist. Inevitably, someone would have tried what he did. Perhaps we are lucky. For reasons that will be discussed later on, he is quite ineffective when it comes to fascism. He has damaged this country, and he will…

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Education and training in a better future

The bootmaker will still be the authority concerning boots, so most likely there will still be apprenticeships. Hopefully in the future apprenticeships will put more focus on imparting skills and knowledge and less (really, none) on indenturing and hazing the apprentices, limiting access to learning (understandable as necessary economic self defense under the status quo of competitive markets) and preserving trade secrets. Hopefully all workforce development will consist of apprenticeships of this new type.

As for primary and secondary education, hopefully we can get rid of the cohort system, so that a child is free to function, say, at second grade level in one subject and seventh grade in another. Also, let’s blow away the assumption that primary and secondary education are exclusive to childhood and adolescence. In a truly self-paced education, there should be nothing wrong with taking until past age 30 to finish high school, or with starting university studies at age 10.

Universities should be centers of both teaching and research. They should be under joint faculty and student governance. There should be no classified or proprietary research. Curriculum should also be nonproprietary. Also, if for some reason there are still “professional degree” programs in the hopefully better future, at least get rid of the cohort system there (which discriminates against many types of disabilities) and also abolish any hazing which might be connected with professional degree programs. Professions should exist to foster collegiality among workers, and for no other purpose.

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Quotebag #124

Alan Mitchell:
In fact, we do not have any data commons at the moment, where each party gets their fair share. Quite the opposite. We have data enclosures, where a few powerful corporations harvest data for themselves to extract its value in deeply unfair ways.
Jason Stanley:
[David] Horowitz’s free speech attacks on universities lack legitimacy. Given the formal protections of academic freedom, universities in the United States host the freest domain of expression of any workplace. In private workplaces in the United States, free speech is a fantasy. Workers are regularly subjected to nondisclosure agreements, forbidding them to speak about various matters. In most workplaces, workers can be fired for political speech on social media. Attacking the only workplaces in a country with genuine free-speech protections using the ideal of free speech is another instance of the familiar Orwellian nature of propaganda.
Jade Blackthorne:
So how do you remove wealth from labor? We already know. By raising the costs of your basic needs. Basic needs like rent, mortgages, water, food, healthcare, education and transportation. You might notice that healthcare and education are the highest costs. Can you figure out why? Now imagine a whole community with free access to those resources and healing their minds and bodies and that community opening their eyes? That’s my fantasy.
John Patrick Leary:
Think about it: What could be less innovative now than founding yet another academic center for innovation and entrepreneurship?
assi9001:
Well no shit you make 125,000 to $150,000 a year you’re going to make a boatload of cash in a short period of time. being frugal and making a lot of money is always a recipe for success. being poor and frugal is a recipe for malnutrition and crippling depression.

 

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Should programming be taught to all K-12 students?

Computer literacy should absolutely be universal in the adult population and hopefully universally under development in the entire juvenile population. I’m not sure programming literacy is the most important component of this literacy. While there’s more than a little truth to the old saw “program or be programmed,” I’m currently more concerned about the level of data literacy in the public. Public policy discourse around counterterrorism, law enforcement and so much more is full of talk about “inter-agency information sharing,” while consumer issues getting a lot of airplay include things like “privacy policies,” “data brokers” and datasets said to have been stripped of “personally identifiable data.” As an inoculation or public health measure I would recommend a high school course, strongly encouraged if not required, that introduces database concepts, perhaps using SQL (which seems to me to have a gentle and intuitive learning curve, but my mileage may be atypical). I would want this introduction to take the students at least as far as the concept of a table join. That is because this is (in my opinion) where the “magic” of SQL happens. This is why having access to two datasets confers more than twice as much informational power (and Information *is* power) than having access to one dataset. Exercises for the kind of data literacy course I’m proposing would ask questions such as,

  • How would you go about trying to infer individual identities from records in this dataset which has been stripped of identifying information?
  • How would you go about devising a system for calculating a numeric “score” for each of the [people, products, locations, etc.] in this dataset, where your goal is that higher scores might be predictive of higher probabilities of [a crime taking place, a loan going into arrears, a consumer making a purchase, etc.]
  • How would you go about building a recommendation engine? Again, I’d like to see the emphasis less on the coding and more on the choice of what data, and data relationships, to work into the recommendations and in what way.

One more thing: Far too many of the programming courses I have taken (in conventional colleges and universities) rely far too heavily on quasi-business problems that are grossly oversimplified and unrealistic. I seem to remember a “write a simple reservation system for a simple hypothetical airline” or something. No wonder there’s no such thing as an entry-level job. I would hope that for the data literacy course the datasets would be empirical, which is to say, real world data. I would also hope that at least some of the datasets would be large-ish. Keeping in mind that (unfortunately for my purposes) information does NOT want to be free, some class assignments may be data collection assignments, perhaps sending the students out to conduct some surveys, or keep a food diary, or do some GPS-surveying or what have you.

 

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I hate “links” that link to JavaScript instead of URLs

I suppose, like many in my age cohort (older generation X) I was a very early adopter of the Internet and later the Web and tend to have “old school” attitudes about many of these things.

I think of web pages in general as possessing two cosmetically similar (sometimes identical) things that serve different functions. One is links (<a> elements). The other is text spans styled the same as links, whose destinations are onclick handlers rather than URL’s. I’m actually overjoyed that someone wishes to use this concept for good rather than shady.

But still, I’m old enough to remember that the original idea behind CSS was that styling should be the prerogative of the audience, not the developers. If it were as simple as one of my browser settings is a master CSS template to go over every page I visit, mine would be something like a {color:purple; background:mauve; text-decoration: triple-overline-with-spots} and I’d happily assume anything in purple text over mauve background that’s triple overlined with spots is a link and that anything that looks like a link is probably one of those Javascript tricks that someone is using to monetize a website.

As for the blank target thing, I only ever follow links by clicking right mouse button, then select “open link in new tab”. It’s a grooved reflex with me, largely grooved by the stuff described elsewhere in the present comment. Nothing like pain to train the brain. Other grooved reflex is ALWAYS hovering any link/pseudolink (as the case may be) before (even right) clicking. But Facebook et al even spoof the title attribute to ≠ the href.

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Social expectations rot

I think my age cohort (so-called generation “X”) was the canary in the coal mine. I’m over 50 and haven’t yet managed to land a job that’s not part time and/or temporary. Maybe it’s because I’m from a working class background and didn’t know any better than choose a liberal arts major. Maybe it’s because I’m something like fifth percentile in communication skills. But now upper middle class kids, even ones with communication skills, are settling for precariat jobs, or worse, piecework gigs. So the problem gets attention. Whether that attention will include public policy action, I do not know. It may already be too late. Usually when something becomes a problem for the upper middle class it gets recognized as a problem, but we may have reached the point where the threshold for having an opinion that matters starts in the upper upper class range.

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Whatever became of the Semantic Web?

I learned in a recent discussion on Fecebook that the semantic web was discussed during the Telluride Tech Fest back in 2002.

I’m not a member of the professional classes and don’t attend conferences and the like, but I certainly remember “semantic web” being quite the buzzword for a season or so. I looked it up a few times but never figured out for sure what it refers to. Just now looked it up on Wikipedia. It seems that distribution of machine-readable data is a large part of it. It seems to me that to the extent that machine-readability itself is monetizable (and it seems to me to be VERY monetizable) it will not be freely distributed. To quote James Alexander Levy, “For information to be free, the coordinates of the information must be free.” You can have all the speedy and public trials in the public record (as required by the US Constitution) but if machine readability of the public record is proprietary, there will be a business model for Intelius-like malignancies to offer $35-a-pop peeks at “the public record.”

I once downloaded and played with a MediaWiki plugin called Semantic MediaWiki. I found its markup schema too finicky and too labor intensive to be useful. Perhaps if I had a data entry staff… And there you have it. Workers deserve to be paid, so work product deserves intellectual property protections. But with data entry as a line of work degraded all the way to Mechanical Turk level piecework pay, you’d think machine readability would be too cheap to meter.

Perhaps it is, in terms of production costs, but the strategic advantages of information asymmetry (including asymmetric levels of machine readability) far outweigh the monetization opportunities of selling access to machine readability. To offer semantic web functionality as a product would be to leave money on the table, so instead of semantic web we have “big data.”

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