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Post-Truth News


 We stand in awe at the power of the crowd - the phenomenon of assembly and disassembly, of unification and fracture - the power of the crowd in the digital space and elsewhere, to come together and to unleash itself for better or worse, good or ill.

We've reached the point where a seemingly evolved western democratic culture has embraced a pathology of derangement so severe that politics no longer functions at the level of rational discourse.  There is a crisis of credibility and integrity. Contributing to this trouble is the fact that a previous emphasis on fact-finding and accuracy in the news media has been usurped by millions of content producers churning out free-floating opinion. The result is that truthfulness has been upended by puffed-up histrionics, fear-stoking, spin and pants-on-fire lies. You could say truth has been trumped.

It is amazing to me how ubiquitous is today's news and how everyone is a publisher.
The theorist Jean Baudrillard suggested decades ago that “we live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning."

Our shortened attention span and addiction to the novelty of the next digital stimulus leaves us open to manipulators who exploit the fissures of division between groups. Such a millieu provides a more than sufficient opportunity for disinformation: "You are FAKE NEWS!"

It also opens the door for any opinion to hold sway over the crowd, no matter how dangerous or poorly formed. Everyone can find their personal truths reflected in the iridescent patina of the web. The internet is a filter bubble. It is an echo chamber. It's is a personalized algorithm that feeds on itself and we are seduced by the glitter of our own digitized universe.

This disruption and exploitation was articulated by the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci who said in his prison diaries: "The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear."

It's easy to be smug, here in Canada. We should not be. Bend low your ear to the rumblings: hear the long-simmering cri de coeur rise up from both right and left. Not just a few restless voices are emboldened as once-firm bedrock shifts.

Looking to our neighbours to the south, we hope it all ends OK. It's sometimes tempting to look away and try to not watch. But then, like that car crash in front of your house - you can't avert your gaze. It's a bit like the cavity in your tooth. It's painful to stick your tongue in there. But you can't stop sticking your tongue in there.

As Andrew Sullivan observes, this inability to look away from the crisis, to detach from the emergency, is one of the proofs that autocrac rule is gnawing at the very heart of western democratic institutions and values: "One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all ... because we live under the rule of law, we can afford to turn the news off at times." How exquisitely ironic it is, then, that in a time of diminished confidence in news media that an anxious public turns to this very news media for information, a media which is, itself, also diminished, untrustworthy and unhinged.

This is particularly dangerous in the age of personality driven politics. And so what are we to make of this figure who occupies the centre of the cyclone to the south of us, from which we cannot look away? There are those who dispute it, but watching him, my own unqualified diagnosis would be narcissistic personality disorder triggered by low self-esteem. This can be measured by micrometer - you can gauge the thinness of the skin. That's because for the narcissist, like the Sultan of Delhi, there is no real communion with others. The same psychosis applies to the Jihadi narcissists who declare war in the name of God.

Elias Canetti describes the ascendancy of the manipulative power figure in his book Crowds and Power, as well as the psychosis itself. It is the seeker chasing glorification of his own Name: "Names collect their own crowds ... The crowd which the seeker after fame envisages consists of shadows, that is, of creatures who do not even have to be alive as long as they are capable of one thing, which is to repeat his name."

Friends, it all appears to be unfolding in the manner of a horses ass no matter which way you look at it. The wild ride is underway. So we are keeping the internet domain name Trump.Rodeo which has been put on a loop to here until a future utility for it unfolds.

(Image - After Amano - Digitized watercolour and ink on paper - David Roberts)












Zen Xmas Blues

Took the Christmas tree to the recycling depot today and had a hard time parting with it.

It was just your typical Fraser fir from the supermarket, where danger lurks for Christmas tree seekers. You never know what you've got until it thaws. But we were lucky: this tree was verdant and fragrant, one of those lavishly fulsome conifers from the balsam family as opposed to the scrawny 'Charlie Brown' style of tree we've routinely watched unfold in the living room in Christmas's past. They are stunning too, in their own way of course, but someone remarked that this one was the best Christmas tree we'd ever had. Who could argue? Almost everyone commented on how spectacular and luminous it was.

So it was hard to strip it of its seasonal decor and then unceremoniously plop it on the snow-filled bed of the pick-up truck for a sordid ride to the recycle dump. I felt that it deserved a better fate and so the whole thing made me feel a bit sad.

But on the journey I kept telling myself that the tree had admirably fulfilled its' temporary purpose among us. I was reminded that nothing lasts forever. Nothing is permanent. This is the very heart of Mahayana - that all suffering flows from habitual attachment to things that are impermanent. And if we must cleave to something, then let us cleave to nothing. And having embraced nothing, even this, one day soon, we must eventually release.

All this likely came to mind because I have two books on Zen on the go, along with some essays on Zen. And it seems that almost every year at Christmas, for no real reason, some of my attention turns to Zen.
Indeed, though I am far from being a Zen-man, sometimes I'm compelled to recycle this stuff.
And rather than be sad about my culpability in the fate of this tree, I decided to say good-bye with admiration and happiness - acknowledging its' impermanence while reflecting on my own. This is today's little lesson and brings to mind the following aphorism by the Zen master Hyakujo. Hyakujo would offer lectures to the novice monks in his monastery. For several days he noticed there had been an old man standing in the back of the lecture hall. One day after the lecture the old man asked if he might speak with Hyakujo and the master had him brought up for a private meeting. The old man said: "I am not really an old man. I am a fox. In a prior world structure I was the abbot of this monastery and someone asked me, 'Is an enlightened person bound by cause and effect?' And I said 'No'. And for that answer I was condemned to live in this body of a fox for the past 500 lifetimes. Can you give me a turning word to release me from this fox-body?'" Hyakujo said: "Ask your question again." The fox-man said: "Is an enlightened person bound by cause and effect?" Hyakujo said: "An enlightened person does not ignore cause and effect." On hearing this, the old man was released from his fox-body.
So far in this New Year I have tried to peer a bit more clearly into things. One example is admiring the noble purpose of a really great Christmas tree. Similarly, if I am perturbed by our consumerist, throw-away society, or by the question of whether one should have a 'real' living Xmas tree at all, I am consoled to know that this living thing is subject to the condition of impermanence by virtue of its' arising from a cone and by the cone arising from a tree and going back generations of cones and trees seeing that it was conditioned by having come from a single undivided prokaryotic cell. There is an old Zen story that illustrates how we might avoid getting too caught up in our thoughts: A monk asked a Zen master: 'What shall we do when the 100, the 1000 and the 10,000 things come towards us all at once?' The teacher replies: 'Just don't try to control them.'
For just a fleeting moment then, for just 21 days, our little living tree gave as much pleasure as it possibly could squeeze from itself, standing so radiantly among us. In a twinkling you could say this humble tree served up its' own Buddha-nature, sharing its' most intimate self so perfectly and brilliantly. All we can do is stand in awe and toss it on the pile of soon-to-be wood chips and sawdust. Thank-you. Well played. Nothing more to be done.
(Top: watercolour & India Ink illustration Zen Christmas Blues, by David Roberts. Zen stories from 9 Essays Buddhism and the 12 Step Model of Recovery from the San Francisco Zen Centre circa 2006)









the New Year I predict
will unfold in the shape of far away thunderclaps
and in the daylight four leaf clovers
will dislodge their roots from the ground.
who will be the first to lick the creamsicle thighs
of the calendar girl
and be dragooned to the days of Saigon self-immolation
where the coolest breeze reverberates across an empty mountain
arousing the sleepy watchman
who washes his hands and trots out the dogs of peace
to howl their lonely chorus.






The MP from Watcherville

Driving home in my old pickup and there, in the rear view mirror, following me in his little red coupe, was the newly-minted Member of Parliament for my federal Electoral District.

Immediately, instinctively, I took evasive action. I tried everything to give him the slip: first by turning left, and then right. Still, he followed.

Then came the realization that this new MP was a Liberal. So there's really nothing you can do about that, they are always there. You can try going left - but still they persist. You veer right and they do the same damn thing. Sure enough, no matter which way I turned he was still on me, no question. Unbelievable.

I thought we had punted the haughty Conservatives for their general malfeasance, including, inter alia, their zealous pursuit of the surveillance state - which had been ratcheted up to a dangerously undemocratic level. And now, as if the Cons weren't knee-jerk enough, here was the New baby Lib, not even yet sworn in, eyes glued to my bumper, raising the stakes and taking the watcher state to a whole new level. At least under the Cons the Canadian Security Apparatus was subtle, sneaky and secretive as it trampled my privacy rights. But here I could practically feel the heat of the Lib laser beams on my tail.

During the recent election campaign the Liberal had come to my door, the only candidate to do so. And I grilled him over his party's support for the Cons offensive and draconian Bill C-51. Now that he had emerged victorious in the election, I could see that this was personal payback. I pulled over in the pickup, making sure he wasn't hooked to my trailer hitch and hoping, like an old dog with indigestion, that this confrontation might soon pass.

And pass he did. So that now the tables were turned. And I swung into action, following him pretty much straight into his driveway before realizing that the fresh Parliamentarian for my federal Electoral district is one of my quite close neighbours.

Slowly, very slowly, I negotiated the old pickup and waved at him and smiled nonchalantly: "Good luck in Ottawa," I called out. And he waved back, meekly but not unpleasantly, no doubt wondering why the putz in the old pickup couldn't have just just stayed in the centre lane from where, of course, given that Naturally Governing vantagepoint, everything always looks to be just rosy and in its proper place.


*Illustration: Parliament Hill from Gatineau, by David Roberts 11"x15" Sharpie on wove paper




Words. Let me slip into you .... I'mma make you my bitch

St. David's Day and today our topic is ethics.
Suppose you're a big journalistic shark in a tiny local puddle and the malodorous truth emerges. There it is, black and white in The Town Mewler, The Town Crier, The Town Sniveler, The Town Screecher, Bawler, Ejaculator, The Tattler Bellower and Bleater: one of your Facebook friends is a red-handed crook.
You know who you are.
In fairness, a while ago when you FB'd him as a 'Friend' you did not know he was a perp although you might, long and hard, had you been paying any attention at all, have suspected it. It's not like you are close buddies or anything, right? Just Facebook friends. Whatever that means. What. Ever. But now that the truth is out, you can't write about him in The Tattler, surely? Still, there you are: the odour of malfeasance hangs in the air like a fart in a perfume factory. Do you immediately unfriend the bastard? You didn't ask my advice but probably you should. Let him know why. And then ask yourself some serious questions about why you became friends with the liar and the cheat, the thief and the braggart, this light-fingered and plunderous gunsel in the first place.
Maybe he asked you to become his Facebook friend - which is an old trick of miscreants, to hide in plain view among the prominent and legitimate folk, since the seraphic aura of the 'elite' can serve as outstanding cover for the kleptomaniacal activities of the more common criminal. In fact, sometimes, I'll grant you, it is hard to tell the two apart. But, as a big shot journalist, that is your job. Please don't hide behind 'it's only Facebook'. Indeed, see my earlier meanderings on the nature of Friendship in the age of FB, my pal Hosni Mubarak, and the reification of language: Here.
Anyway, I'll grant you that for the moment, the allegations against your felonious friend, while undoubtedly true, remain still unproven in a technical and strictly legal sense. But you can't hide your face in the sand forever. The fact is you've got wiggling, niggling, journalistic decisions to make about the nature of this Friendship, hombre. Because everyone can see that you are Facebook friends with His AssHoliness, you cannot therefore pretend otherwise and your problem is real and it won't go away unless and until you act.
The wonkiness of his reputation, the stink of it, lingers on the body of your own rep. And for a journalist, without an honest reputation, you are nothing. At least in my eyes, you are nothing.
Illustration: The Heist - 8"x13" watercolours - David Roberts