Angry people click more.” - Adam Curtis, Hypernormalization

Following the closing of the Aleppo saga and our previous post, we’ve exchanged arguments and counter arguments over social media. Arguing on Facebook is probably the least effective way to change things in the world, but the reality is that it is where people get their information. Apparently, Twitter is recognized as a journalistic tool even though information must be condensed in less than 140 characters, which is less than this sentence.

In fact, the rise of social media has had a powerful impact on traditional media. Over the years, online ‘information’ content was gradually reduced from elaborate articles to short stories with ‘clickbait’ headlines. Infographics and video support have been growing as users accustomed to a ‘swipe culture’ do not free the time necessary to actually read content and parse through complex points of view.

For the Syrian war, this change is illustrated by the rising number of videos with increasingly shocking content to arouse emotions. Shared between videos of animals, this summarizes very well the current mood of the times: people strive for change and goodness, but they actually do rather little in their everyday life. The easiest way is to share videos online to show their support for a given cause.

As a result, videos of animals, dead Syrian and empowering quotes are mixed on Facebook, creating a rather strange patchwork where innocence meets the cruel brutal reality of our world. To help cope with the obvious dissonance, empowering quotes offer its readers to engage, change and hope for a better future. Yet all this great mumbo jumbo remains online. ‘In Real Life’, people are increasingly isolated, living in a world of their own through their digital identities.

And in the end, we argue that the users of social media are increasingly confused about the priorities for their countries and the tools that must be used to address them. There is no grey online, only black and white. Clickbait titles and quotes simplify the complexities of the world, leaving us unable to put forward adequate answers. In this environment, only those who use simplistic rhetoric will be able to reach out to people. Trump is the poster boy for this trend.

In fact, we expect him to fail spectacularly, but it doesn’t matter in the paradigm that we described above. Short attention span, too much information, misinformation, simplification and a disconnect between reality and the online world are very real threats to Western democracies. Our phones may be dubbed ‘smart’, but if we do not understand what they are actually doing, then we must be dumb.

Science, General Knowledge & Environment

Uber, Gig Economy: “The Brutality of the System Is Being Lost on Those Who Actually Use These Apps” – [Video] – “Izabella Kaminska has been an Uber skeptic for some time (see Why Uber’s capital costs will creep ever higher and The taxi unicorn’s new clothes). In this video, she signs up as a gig economy worker and uses her experience to explore what she argues is a new form of feudalism.

History & Geopolitics

There is more than one truth to tell in the awful story of Aleppo – “Certainly our political masters are – and for the same reason as the rebels kidnap their victims: money. Hence the disgrace of Brexit May and her buffoonerie of ministers who last week prostrated themselves to the Sunni autocrats who fund the jihadis of Syria in the hope of winning billions of pounds in post-Brexit arms sales to the Gulf.

The Syrian War Condensed: A more Rigorous Way to Look at the Conflict – Nassim Nicholas Taleb “The way to analyze the situation is to look at the factions comparatively. You do not compare Assad’s regime to the Danish or Norwegian governments, but to the alternative. The question becomes if there is anything in the left column that is worse than the right column?

L’état de barbarie – (Hat tip Yu Chuan) – “Si intervention il devait y avoir, ce qui se discute, c’était bien avant qu’il fallait y penser. Maintenant, il n’y plus qu’à s’indigner, protester, crier, pleurer, éteindre les Tour Eiffel, toutes choses peut-être nécessaires mais en tout cas suffisantes en rien.

Tenons-nous à distance de Poutine – (Hat tip Lao Ho) – “Si la realpolitik l’emporte sur toute autre considération dans la définition de notre rapport au monde, ce n’est pas vers la Russie de Poutine que nous devrions nous tourner mais vers la Chine de Xi Jinping.

Where Intelligence and Foreign Policy Intersect – [Video] – “Stratfor Vice President of Tactical Analysis Scott Stewart discusses the role intelligence agencies play in the foreign policy process.

Too big, too Leninist – a China crisis is a matter of time – (Hat tip Lao Ho) – “If, as seems likely, Mr Xi’s effort to combine restoration of Leninist discipline with market liberalisation proves unworkable, the regime will confront a deeper crisis. That might not come soon. But it seems sure to come in the end.

Asia is in the grip of a transnational crime crisis – but governments look away – “Law-enforcement agencies now routinely observe convergence and connectivity among different Asian crime groups. Former ethnic or linguistic distinctions once associated with traditional organised crime groups, for instance, are now blurred. And major Chinese and Japanese crime groups are increasingly connected with Mexican, West African, Iranian and South Asian crime groups.

Finance & Economics

Hugh Hendry on the Trumpian New World Order – “Think of it as the financial equivalent of chemotherapy where the side effects of treatment can initially make the patient feel worse before allowing them to live longer. It’s just that Europe, by steadfastly refusing treatment for so long, may have irreparably weakened itself to such an extent that the side effects might end up killing the patient, in this case the EU project.

So Who Gets to Pay for Italy’s Banking Crisis? – “In other words, a government that is buckling under the sheer weight of its own debt exposure and whose 2017 budget is already at risk of breaching EU fiscal rules due to excessive spending could be on the verge of bailing out banks that, according to some estimates, have more than €350 billion of toxic debt festering on their balance sheets.

China cedes status as largest US creditor to Japan – “The data also do not capture overseas trading activity by Chinese state-owned financial institutions. But the reversal — China overtook Japan as the biggest holder of US Treasuries in 2008 — is likely to continue as pressure mounts on the renminbi after this week’s interest rate rise by the US Federal Reserve.

Picture of the day: Becoming Santa


About Carlito Riego

"Great perfection may appear imperfect, but its usefulness is inexhaustible. Great abundance may appear empty, but its usefulness cannot be exhausted. Great correctness may appear twisted, great skills appear crude, great eloquence appear awkward. Activity conquers cold; inactivity conquers heat. Clear serenity governs the world." - Lao Zi