The ‘Greatest’ Show on Earth 

This ad proclaims that you can meet the characters of a well-known film in this tiny railway station. As a marketing concept, it is already a thing of the past. Now the biggest television show on Earth has invaded all our lives. It’s on our TVs, on the radio, in all our newspapers worldwide and in every nook and cranny of the Internet, every day and all day long. It’s in our conversations and maybe in our nightmares. The Trump Show. You are probably sick of it, if not worried sick by it.

The problem with this show is that it is not taking place on a set, in a fictious decor, it is taking place in real life. Sure, it is in such bad taste, so far-fetched, so ill thought out, so badly written, you scratch your head and wonder if it could be real. You wonder how such a production, clearly strung together on a shoe-string without the least professional input and so full of clichés and ready-made ideas, could possibly have grabbed permenant prime-time worldwide.

You may have seen the thought-provoking Truman Show, a film in which, from birth, a person is brought up and lives in a world that is a film set designed to make him believe it is the real world. All the people around him are actors. The Trump Show turns that inside out, omitting the humour in the process. The world we live in has been transformed into the set of a poorly-made film in which a ‘fictious’ character holds sway over us as powerless stand-ins. Fictious? It is hard to believe that such a person, who would be more at home in a scribbled right-wing comic strip, could possibly be real like you or I.

So what do you do when you and the whole world have been roped in, against your will, as throw-away stand-ins in a cheap TV series to the glory of one character who spews out hate and division  while he caresses the nuclear button with an itchy finger?

How about sticking your head in the sand? Maybe not. Hire an assassin? That’s probably exactly what the production are hoping for. Heap more violence on his violence. No! Certainly not. What’s more, as arguably the most hated person in the world, he must surely be the most protected. Shout out your refusal to comply? Why not? Not my president!

And laughing? Seems like a ridiculous reaction when crying would seem more appropriate. But surely if there’s one thing Trump can’t abide it is being laughed at. He might play the clown because he likes to think he is funny, but you can bet he’ll be furious if you laugh at him. He takes himself far too seriously. And that big red button, you ask. Won’t he use it if we drive him too far? Maybe. He’s that unstable. But can we afford to remain silent when a madman is running amok through our lives with a loaded gun in his hand?

Eclectic links to follow

Worlds Apart presents a list of eclectic links to follow.

Checks and balances

  (…)     
There’s a key lesson to be learnt by Americans from the disastrous Brexit process. Theresa May wanted to bypass parliament and dictate her own path but the judiciary said otherwise. The right-wing press tried to shoot the judges down, but the fact remains that an individual does not govern alone in our countries. Governing alone is exactly what Trump appears to be doing. No wonder he admires Putin. With his executive orders he bypasses Congress and Senate and all the checks and balances of a democratic system. Whether or not they prove to be yet more bluster remains to be seen. It is difficult to know from information available in the press, what legal value his executive orders have (1). In the mean time, why do we feel a sneaking sense of relief at Trump’s impetuous pronouncements? Because, even if we disagree with him entirely, he appears to free up a system that, with its sterile bipartite confrontation, was blocking much real constructive progress. At the same time, Trump’s headstrong, impetuous decision-making in the absence of any awareness of the longer term consequences (not just on Americans but on everybody) clearly requires checks and balances. Trump is not the answer. But the fact that he was elected and that he acts as he does, points to an urgent need for a carefully thought out reorganisation of the democratic system.

(1) The recent order banning muslims from certain countries  from entering the US seems to show that such executive orders do have a tangible effect.

A load of hot air

Météo Suisse has announced we are in a for a big storm this evening along the Jura mountains. It has been code-named Trumpette. This last snippet of information was unofficially provided by the official Russian Disinformation Agency under the leadership of an ex-KGB boss known to be lurking in the Kremlin. It was sponsored by a secret branch of the US Republican Party thought to be anywhere between The Tea Party, the Klu Klux Klan and the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant, according to a lorryload of confidential papers dumped on the doorsteps of world newspapers by Chinese workers disguised as emissaries of WikiLeaks who in turn were disguised as Swedish investigators looking for Julian Assange. The FBI and the CIA have stated they are currently unable to confirm whether the papers are to be trusted. They did however state that they burnt rather well. Congress has ordered an enquiry, although it has yet to be decided what the enquiry will investigate. President elect, Donald Trump, in fine form, tweeted: It’s a load of cr*p. Nazi bulls*t. And I’m still better than Hillary. But don’t let yourself be blown away by the news. It may just be a load of hot air.

Tromper

tr_mp_r

Many think that the surname Tr**mp has its origins in the musical instrument consisting of a twisted metal tube through which hot air is blown via pursed lips to produce a throaty, almost bodily sound designed to impress enemies in battle. Others maintain that the word springs from a long tubular protrusion that replaces the nose of some large animals and is used to sniffle at females in the preambles to rutting. But scientists have put forward another plausible explanation. The word may stem from the French verb ‘tromper’ which means, amongst other things, to deceive, delude, cozen, mislead, fool, dupe, cheat, betray, lure, beguile, impose, baffle, …

Missed chances

With hindsight, the US election result seems evident, even if we hoped/prayed for something else. Unfortunately, viable alternatives were not on the cards. The cracks that have been appearing in representative democracy (including the sterile deadlock of a polarised two-party system in the US) and the related bureaucracy have generated so much dissatisfaction that there was a giant, but partly hidden, reservoir of votes up for the grabs. With the right people that might have been a chance for serious change. But Clinton, for all her experience and competence, was defending institutional continuity with a measured dose of change that was not enough to win the confidence of those conservative masses disappointed with existing structures and people. Trump promised big changes. It was the hope those promises engendered and his out-spoken showmanship and buffoon-like character that seduced so many who didn’t want ‘more of the same’ but who welcomed a return to a ‘better past’.

But Trump’s promises were and still are without any real vision or plan for how to achieve them. Those changes were backward looking and conservative and not at all designed to address the crisis in representative democracy lest it be via the belief in a return to former glory and the elimination of all that is seen as different (using walls, war, trials, exclusion, violence,…).

Trump’s legitimacy springs not from being part of a party – he is not really a Republican, who more or less disowned him – but from direct popular support that sets him outside existing structures and concentrates power in the individual. He, as all populists, sees such ‘legitimacy’ as a licence to do whatever he personally thinks fit without the slightest need to refer back to those whom he claims ro represent. That is really bad news, because Trump’s campaign made it clear he was not bent on fixing the system, but rather on capitalising on its failings to satisfy his own egotistical, megalomaniac desires.

In electing ‘a chief entertainer’, to use the words of Republican supporter in London, the US may well have wasted an opportunity to rethink representative democracy. It has condemned us all to sink deeper into the decline of the system at the expense of all those who are seen as different (especially in terms of race, religion, gender, nationality,…) or less able to defend themselves.

Maybe that is the only road possible to achieve change, but it is a distressing prospect, especially from a wider perspective in which a number of key countries are governed by equally destructive individuals while China quietly swallows up the world.

The Trumper syndrome

There are a good many people like Trump in the world, brash, outspoken individuals who insist they have the answer to the problem at hand. Each of us has come across them. Trumpers have an inflated sense of their worth, but have no idea that they lack the competences needed for the task they insist on doing. On one level Trumpers are impervious to those around them in their conviction that they alone can solve the problem. As such they are the first victims of their own bullshit (1). They are convinced they can solve the problem, that they are the only people who can solve the problem. It is for this reason that, on another level, Trumpers are deeply affected by the slightest suggestion of their inadequacy. Anyone who gets in their way, has to be belittled as incompetent or disqualified as part of the problem. Trumpers blunder their way forward, leaving a trail of devastation behind them.

Perhaps the sole merit of a Trumper is to insist on drawing attention to a problem that needs answering. Unfortunately, publicly hailing a problem doesn’t imply a Trumper is the person to solve it. Generally they muddy the waters by deflecting energy away from really addressing the problem. Sadly, the Trumper intuitively grasps that insistence on his capacity to solve people’s problems will sway a good many to believe his bullshit and support his cause which is then taken as a legitimation of their role and their capacity to fulfil it.

(1) See Harry K. Frankfurt’s delightful and enlightening little book, On Bullshit. See also the section on bullshit as a strategy in my article, From clockwork to webs of relationships. The relation between policy and practice on Connected Magazine

The Hinkley black hole

hinkley-point-disaster

Hinkley Point: a black hole through which Britain will disappear in a cloud of invisible toxic smoke while the Chinese and French tiptoe away.

See: Hinkley Point C nuclear power station gets go-ahead, The Guardian 2016-09-15.

Utility versus quality of life


Would you plant a stinky dustbin right in front of your door so that it greets anyone come to see you? Probably not. Then why have the local administration built a waste collection site right by the station where potential visitors arrive in Saint-Blaise? In this hot weather it stinks more than usual. Of course, there was a convenient plot of land available at no cost just where people could halt on foot or with their car to dump their waste, but then your front porch, to use the American expression, would no doubt be convenient too. You just open the door and toss your rubbish into it without having to stray further from your house or flat, or brave rain and wind in winter.

So what is this thought process that thinks first and foremost of the utilitarian and convenience to the detriment of quality of life and relationships between people?

Universal bullshit

source: RSR

The map depicts those parts of Switzerland where the Swiss Post may no longer be required to deliver post in the very near future as cuts are made in so-called universal service. No doubt this evolution is the impact of extensive internet penetration, the liberalisation of postal services, sparking fierce competition particularly in parcels, and a general tendency to slash the budgets of state-run services.

Such an outcome was predictable. I remember discussions (1) in the early days of the internet about new internet-based services and the reassuring words of those working for administrations. They would never abandon existing services in favour of the Net. It wasn’t lies, they believed what they said. Just bullshit that took some effort to maintain. Now the mask is falling away.

Exclusion may well be a fact of life. There will always be the excluded. Those who no longer get the post. Those beyond the range of mobile telephony. Those who have never been on the Internet and never will be. Those who will never have a job. Those who will never read and write. Those who will never have enough food… Despite all the goodwill and/or vested interests of those that strive for universality, the goal is probably unattainable. Like those mathematical curves that get closer and closer to an axis, but can never reach their goal, the closer you get, the more effort required to get even closer.

(1) See two articles I wrote, Desire and exclusion. The never ending quest for universal access written in 2000, and Belonging and being excluded written in 1997, both on Connected Magazine.

My thanks to Elisabeth Norton for her response to my original post on FB which sparked this short note.