Cambridge
Analytica is said to be negotiating “two potentially lucrative new contracts,
one to boost the incoming Trump White House’s policy messaging and the other to
help the Trump Organization expand its sales.” Those who question President
Trump’s conflict of interest in maintaining control of the Trump Brand may find
that rumor worth chasing down. Not so sure I want a ‘guided’ democracy.
Cambridge
Analytica’s web site says
“We bring together a 25 year experience in behavioral
change, pioneering data science, and cutting-edge technology to offer
unparalleled audience insight and engagement services and products … We collect
up to 5,000 data points on over 220 million Americans, and use it to model
target audience groups and predict the behavior of like-minded people.”

That’s
cool. There are any number of companies collecting personal data across various
media and internet searches. How do you suppose Facebook and Google are able to
feed you and me specific ads related to our search history? Just click on an
article relating to climbing boots or eyeglasses and watch the ads for those
products follow you around your surfing experience.
No
harm, no foul.
Mostly free access to
the Internet and all its charms is predicated upon collecting our personal data
and, for the most part, we’re comfortable with that. Polling firms have called
supposedly representative slices of society on the telephone (particularly at
dinner time) for decades to give us—and
those who feed off us—an idea of what we like and don’t like. Of course we knew the rules of pollsters and took
what they told us with however many grains of salt we felt appropriate.
But there is harm and is a foul when the purpose of data-mining is to separate us
politically by finding out, without
asking,
what we might be reluctant to share even with neighbors, close
friends or business associates. There is
harm and is a foul
when that information targets us individually with fake
news or even the outright lies that we find easy to believe, whether on the
left or right. There is harm and is a
foul
to our beloved sense of democracy (or fading memory of democracy) when
we are sold candidates like consumer goods—this
message will appeal to the 19-35 group
and this to the over 40 empty-nesters.
Of
course political rhetoric has always
had a very high bullshit coefficient. A damned good case can be made that this
year’s political climate across America, Britain and the European Union is
simply a wake-up call for decades of governmental neglect. I would personally
buy into that point of view because I’ve been ranting about it for decades, but
there’s something else going on,
something darker and more sinister.
Those
who would do us harm (on either the right or left) have gotten hold of the
tools to actually get inside our heads
and monkey around in there
.
Half a century ago,
when we were sold the absolute total fucking lie of trickle-down economics, we
responded by “well, maybe we ought to
give that a try
.” At least, to some degree, it was a conversation. The same
can be said for privatizing every governmental responsibility for which a
willing buyer could be found—“Well, I
dunno, but maybe selling off our parking meters and state prisons to investors
might actually work.
Obviously
it didn’t work, but what it did
accomplish was to create an electorate that was so pissed off and had so
little trust
in anything government had done over the past four decades
that we threw it all down the toilet and held the flush button. Good for us or bad for us depending upon how much attention you paid, but we
thought it was the end of lies.
Well,
it’s not. Instead, we have customizable lies—tailor made for
aspects of our subconscious minds we don’t even know about ourselves.
Half-truths that sound like they may be
true
in order to plant the seeds of doubt and, repeated often enough, those
seeds of doubt sprout and grow and become
our truths. All of this mind-fuck is made possible by the new tribes we joined on Facebook, Instagram, Reddit and Twitter.
Our
tribe was once made up of friends and associates—the people whose kids were our
kids age, who we went out with on weekends before we even had kids and came over for dinner a couple times a month. The men
played golf or duck-hunted and the women worked-out or served on boards of
charities. Spending time together
kept us in touch with reality. Face-time is a reliable bullshit filter.
But
with busier and busier lives, growing families and corporate transfers to other
cities, that all broke down and face-time became Facebook. Facebook is a
reliable bullshit enabler because it seems like and substitutes for relationships
in lives that are lived more and more at a distance. And so here we are—Brits leaving
the reality of the European Union and Americans, choking down a reality-show
president—neither of us knowing exactly what happened.
I
suspect we will survive it on both sides of the Atlantic, but politics will
never be the same again.