Article 43


Sunday, September 05, 2004


Welcome to - a memorial to the layed off workers of (PRE SBC MERGER) AT&T, and the disappearing MIDDLE CLASS citizens of America.  It is NOT endorsed or affiliated with AT&T or the CWA in any way.

This sticky post was written the day we appeared on the internet in 2004.

In addition to INFORMATION, resources and opinion for former AT&T workers DEALING WITH the EFFECTS OF LAYOFF and looking for meaningful employment, some articles here are meant to bring into awareness the LARGER PICTURE of corporate dominance of the UNITED STATES’ political and economic policies which brazenly DISREGARDS, disrespects and EXPLOITS worker, citizen and HUMAN RIGHTS under masks like FREE TRADE and the PATRIOT ACT - resulting in a return to a society of very rich and very poor dominated by a few very rich and powerful - whose voices are anything but - for the people. If left UNCHALLENGED, the self-serving interests of those in control may result in the end of DEMOCRACY, the end of the middle class, irreversible ENVIRONMENTAL damage to the planet, and widespread global poverty brought on by exploitation and supression of the voices of common people EVERYWHERE, while the United States turns into a REINCARNATION of the ROMAN EMPIRE.  Author Thom Hartmann shares some history and outlines some basic steps to return our country to “The People” in his two articles TEN STEPS TO RETURN TO DEMOCRACY and SAVING THE MIDDLE CLASS. I support CERNIG’S idea for a new POLITICAL MOVEMENT - if not a revolution to cleanse our country of the filth ruling it - as we EVOLVE into a GLOBAL community - assuming we learn the THE LESSONS OF OUR TIME and don’t DESTROY CIVILIZATION first.

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Resumes of layed off AT&T workers are posted for free HERE.

Information on the Pension Class Action Lawsuit against AT&T is HERE.  More pension-related articles are HERE.

Links to some Telecom companies’ career pages are HERE.

Click HERE to learn a little about Article 43 and why I loathe the CWA.
Click HERE or HERE to learn what the CWA did when given a chance to do the right thing.
Click HERE for a glimpse of undemocratic and hypocritical CWA practices.
Click HERE for an article on Corporate Unionism.
Click HERE for an article of AFL-CIO’s undemocratic history.

If you’re looking for telco nostalgia, you won’t find it here.  Check out THE CENTRAL OFFICE, BELL SYSTEM MEMORIAL, MUSEUM OF COMMUNICATIONS, TELEPHONE TRIBUTE, and THE READING WORKS websites instead.

This site can disappear anytime if I run out of money to pay for luxuries like food, health care, or internet service.

Discernment of truth is left to the reader - whose encouraged to seek as much information as possible, from as many different sources as possible - and pass them through his/her own filters - before believing anything.

...the Devil is just one man with a plan, but evil, true evil, is a collaboration of men…
- Fox Mulder, X Files

No matter how big the lie; repeat it often enough and the masses will regard it as the truth.
- John F. Kennedy

Today my country, your country and the Earth face a corporate holocaust against human and Earthly rights. I call their efforts a holocaust because when giant corporations wield human rights backed by constitutions and the law (and therefore enforced by police, the courts, and armed forces) and sanctioned by cultural norms, the rights of people, other species and the Earth are annihilated.
- Richard L. Grossman

Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.
- Albert Einstein

He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral. Why? Because anger looks to the good of justice. And if you can live amid injustice without anger, you are immoral as well as unjust.
- Aquinas

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
- Bishop Desmond Tutu

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
- Martin Luther King Jr

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
- Benjamin Franklin

If we do not hang together, we will surely hang separately.
- Benjamin Franklin

We must be prepared to make heroic sacrifices for the cause of peace that we make ungrudgingly for the cause of war.
- Albert Einstein

Solidarity has always been key to political and economic advance by working families, and it is key to mastering the politics of globalization.
- Thomas Palley

As we head into the next depression, fueled by selfish corporate greed, and a corrupt, SOCIOPATHIC US government, MIKE WHITNEY wrote a solution in 2007 that makes a lot of sense to me :

The impending credit crisis cant be avoided, but it could be mitigated by taking radical steps to soften the blow. Emergency changes to the federal tax code could put more money in the hands of maxed-out consumers and keep the economy sputtering along while efforts are made to curtail the ruinous trade deficit. We should eliminate the Social Security tax for any couple making under $60, 000 per year and restore the 1953 tax-brackets for Americans highest earners so that the upper 1%-- who have benefited the most from the years of prosperity---will be required to pay 93% of all earnings above the first $1 million income. At the same time, corporate profits should be taxed at a flat 35%, while capital gains should be locked in at 35%. No loopholes. No exceptions.

Congress should initiate a program of incentives for reopening American factories and provide generous sufbsidies to rebuild US manufacturing. The emphasis should be on reestablishing a competitive market for US exports while developing the new technologies which will address the imminent problems of environmental degradation, global warming, peak oil, overpopulation, resource scarcity, disease and food production. Off-shoring of American jobs should be penalized by tariffs levied against the offending industries.

The oil and natural gas industries should be nationalized with the profits earmarked for vocational training, free college tuition, universal health care and improvements to then nations infrastructure.

Posted by Admin on 09/05/04 •

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Monday, February 17, 2020

Politics Of Depression

Depression, the Left, and the Politics of Mental Health

By Mikkel Krause Frantzen
December 16, 2019

[W]e find that we endogenously produce our incapacity to even try, grow sick and depressed and motionless under all the merciless and circulatory conditions of all the capitalist yes and just cant, even if we thought we really wanted to.
- Anne Boyer, A Handbook of Disappointed Fate

"HOW DO YOU throw a brick through the windowof a bank if you cant get out of bed?” This question, formulated by Johanna Hedva in “Sick Woman Theory,” has been with me for quite some time now. I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. Why? Because it points to a situation familiar to too many of us (but who is that us?): a situation characterized by despair and depression. A situation in which you really can’t get out of bed. This situation is also, in most cases, saturated by politics and by the economy. Contrary to mainstream psychological and psychiatric discourse the reason why you cant get out of bed is not because you have a bad attitude, a negative mindset, or because you have somehow chosen your own unhappiness. Nor is it merely a matter of chemistry and biology, an imbalance in the brain, an unlucky genetic disposition, or low levels of serotonin. More often than not it is a matter of the world you live in, the work that you hate, or the job that you just lost, the debt that haunts your present from the future, or the fact that the planet’s future is going still faster and further down the drain.

This essay, then, is an attempt, based on a dissertation and some personal experience I had a postpartum depression in 2013/2014 - to think about depression and politics; to think about the political economy and the psychopathologies of the present. It is animated by a fact, a claim, and a call. The fact first: as the Danish Mental Health Foundation makes clear, more and more people in Denmark are diagnosed with depression. At any given time, four to five percent of the population is depressed, or, more accurately, diagnosed as such. Indeed, according to the Danish Health Authority more than 450,000 Danes bought antidepressants in 2011, a figure which has almost doubled over the past decade. This tendency can be observed all over the Western world. The US National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 7.1 percent of the adult American population 17.3 million people - suffers from depression. Other data suggest that depression affects one in every five Americans. These numbers have led the World Health Organization to conclude that depression is the most common mental disorder and the prime cause of disability and suicide, affecting around 350 million people worldwide. No wonder, then, that the global consumption of SSRI antidepressants has gone through the roof with sales now approaching $14 billion annually, according to the market research firm, which also, in some very clumsy prose indeed, points out that “[t]here are many factors including genes, factors such as stress and brain chemistry that could lead to depression.”

The claim: Depression makes manifest the contemporary subjects alienation, in its most extreme and pathological form. As such, the psychopathology needs to be related to a world of capitalist realism, where there really is no alternative, as Thatcher triumphantly declared, and the future seems frozen once and for all. The crisis embodied by depression thus becomes a symptom of a historical and capitalist crisis of futurity. It is a kind of structure of feeling, as Raymond Williams would say. Consequently, any cure to the problem of depression must take a collective, political form; instead of individualizing the problem of mental illness, it is imperative to start problematizing the individualization of mental illness. The call is for the left, for these specific reasons, to take seriously the question of illness and mental disorders. Dealing with depression - and other forms of psychopathology is not only part of, but a condition of possibility for an emancipatory project today. Before we can throw bricks through windows, we need to be able to get out of bed.

The best political thinker of depression remains the late Mark Fisher, who suffered from and in the end took his own life because of depression. His whole oeuvre is an ongoing meditation on depression as a personal experience and a social and political experience. In the book Capitalist Realism from 2009, he connected depression to what I have already referred to as capitalist realism, the widespread sense that “not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.” In this book, depression becomes a paradigm case of how capitalist realism operates, a symptom of our blocked and bleak historical situation. In the essay “The Privatisation of Stress” from 2011, later reprinted in K-Punk: The Collected and Unpublished Writings of Mark Fisher (20042016) from 2018, Fisher wrote that one difference between sadness and depression is that ֓while sadness apprehends itself as a contingent and temporary state of affairs, depression presents itself as necessary and interminable: the glacial surfaces of the depressives world extend to every conceivable horizon,Ҕ and because of that, because of that specific characteristic of depression, a strange resonance exists between the seeming ӑrealism of the depressive, with its radically lowered expectations, and capitalist realism.Ҕ And in the text Good for Nothing from 2014, Fisher stated that his depression always involved a deep and ineradicable conviction that he was literally good for nothing. He wrote that he offered up his own experiences of mental distress not because he thought there was anything special or unique about them, but in support of the claim that many forms of depression are best understood ӗ and best combatted through frames that are impersonal and political rather than individual and בpsychological.Ҕ The importance of arriving at a political understanding of depression cannot be overstated. If the reader only takes one thing away from my text let it be this: depression has a set of causes and a concrete context that transcend any diagnostic manual, as well as the neoliberal ideology of focusing on subjects, not structures; personal responsibilities, not collective ones; chemistry, not capital.

However, to understand depression through political frames does not mean that the problem of depression can be immediately solved by political means. There is a horror to depression that cannot and must not be translated too quickly into the sphere of politics, regardless of our critical and revolutionary aspirations. As anyone who has been depressed or been around someone who has ח knows, it is literally hell on earth. The physical pain is unbearable, your body is inert and feels too heavy, your mind is not functioning, and you cannot escape the feeling of being stuck, stagnated, that the race is run and that the present which is hell ח is all there is and all that can ever be imagined to be. It would be an offense to say, well, its just politics. By the same token there is absolutely no need to romanticize what has become known as depressive realism, since that ғrealism only runs in tandem with and supports the realism of capitalism: that there are no alternatives, that there really is nothing to be done about the current state of affairs. This is another thing to take away from this. LetԒs also not forget that depression is the major contributor to suicide deaths, which number close to 800,000 per year according to a recent report from WHO.

A third and final thing to be considered here is that it is indeed difficult to writeabout depression. By this I do not only mean that it is difficult to writeabout your own depression; it is also just difficult to writeabout the immense suffering while at the same time finding a position in relation to depression or developing a discourse on depression that is not in itself utterly depressing. Not less so after Mark Fishers tragic death.


We have a lot of facts about depression, but the facts do not speak for themselves. The sale of antidepressants does not correspond exactly to occurrences of depression, as SSRIs are not exclusively used for treating depression, but used to treat a range of other mental illnesses as well. The frequency of diagnoses does not necessarily mirror the frequency of depressions, and thus the increase in diagnoses could testify to a growing number of depressed people or to an escalating tendency to pathologize common, normalӔ affects such as sadness, translating them into the diagnostic category of depression (the latest example of this tendency is the inclusion of grief in the new editions of diagnostic manuals such as the DSM and ICD). We also have to wonder, why does there seem to be so much comfort in psychiatric diagnoses? Because there is comfort in the diagnosis of depression. So thats why I feel so bad! Depression! A chemical imbalance in the brain! In this way, the diagnosis provides momentary meaning to meaningless misery. The suffering gets a name and a cause: a lack of serotonin. But this cause has causes which in the diagnostic system җ and in the capitalist world as a whole remain undiagnosed and untold.

As Mark Fisher writes in Capitalist Realism:

It goes without saying that all mental illnesses are neurologically instantiated, but this says nothing about their causation. If it is true, for instance, that depression is constituted by low serotonin levels, what still needs to be explained is why particular individuals have low levels of serotonin. This requires a social and political explanation; and the task of repoliticizing mental illness is an urgent one if the left wants to challenge capitalist realism.

Before going into the causality of depression, however, let me first describe the morality that surrounds depression. Take, as an example, a self-help video, “Why am I depressed?,” by a man called Leo Gura. He is, according to his Twitter profile, “a professional self-development junkie, life coach, video blogger, entrepreneur, and speaker, who helps people design awesome lives.”

Gura, a bald man with a goatee and the founder of, starts the video by saying that he wants to answer the question of the title, “Why am I you [raising eyebrows, while forming with his hands a parenthesis in the air as if around the word] - depressed?” And the answer is simple: you are depressed because your psychology sucks. It should be noted that this is also the title of a video work by the artist duo Claire Fontaine, who in their ready-made video Untitled (Why Your Psychology Sucks) from 2015 has an African-American actress perform an almost exact verbatim copy of Gura’s talk, unfolding a pungent and quite comical criticism of the neoliberal self-help industrys ideological personalization of depression and generalized responsibilization of the subject as such. Claire Fontaine is one of the artists who have worked in the most concentrated and consistent way with the problem of depression. In their work, depression is always already political and must be understood in relation to its real basis in social conflicts within a capitalist economy of debt and financial speculation.

Back to the original video, where a flashing sequence of catchphrases or keywords succeeds Gura’s introductory remarks. In the order given, the words read: Success, happiness, self-actualization, life purpose, motivation, productivity, peak performance, creative expression, financial independence, emotional intelligence, positive psychology, consciousness, peak performance, personal power, wisdom. (Apparently, the concept of peak performance is so important that it must be repeated.) Then, Gura delivers his message, his shocking truth: Here is the deal. I’m going to blunt with you here, because the bottom line is that the reason you’re depressed is because your psychology sucks. Alright, you’ve got shit psychology. I’m not blaming you, I’m telling you a fact. He goes on to clarify that he is not talking about people who are clinically depressed, and who thus have legitimate depression. He is talking about the rest of us, the majority who get a diagnosis of depression and whom he is not blaming, except that he is. The video lasts a little more than 20 minutes, and at one point Leo Gura boldly and bluntly declares: “You are causing your depression. There is something wrong with your mental and cognitive apparatus, your psychology is shit. Stop being a victim and take ownership of your psychology! Peak performance!”

It is easy enough to laugh at the video and make fun of its logic, but the logic is the dominant one in the world of today - even if it is sometimes articulated in more moderate ways and it has real effects. The logic is this: people create their own reality. Thoughts alone can change things. This means that you weave the thread of your own fate, there are no external circumstances and no excuses either.

A Danish sociologist with a quasi-royal name, Emilia van Hauen, expresses the same logic when writing on her homepage that “happiness is a choice - your choice,” and fellow Danish therapist, Eva Christensen, sings along (again in my own translation):

Happiness is a personal responsibility. Happiness is not something you can expect to get from others. Everybody has the key to their own happiness. And hence also the responsibility to put the key in the right lock. Happiness is created from the inside, it is not other peoples responsibility to make us happy, it is our own responsibility. Just as we cannot change other people, only ourselves.

If the individual is responsible for her own happiness, then she is also responsible for her own unhappiness. If the keys are in our own hands, each of us is personally responsible for almost everything. Success or failure, and health or illness are a matter of subjective willpower, lifestyle, and choice alone. While we may not be able to change other people, or the world for that matter, we certainly can work on changing ourselves and our selves. Structural change, a change of the system, is abandoned in favor of subjective change, a change of the self. Every problem, however social, political, or economic in nature, is personalized and even criminalized, the subject is made responsible for its own unhappiness, and made to suffer alone and to feel guilty, at the same time, for feeling unhappy, for not being a good and productive citizen, for not coming to work, for not getting out of bed.

These processes of personalization and responsibilization that positive psychology and the imperative of happiness entail, these processes go hand in hand. Mark Fisher was attuned to this logic, or should we say ideology. Depressed people are encouraged to feel and believe that their depression is their fault and their fault only. “Individuals will blame themselves” rather than social structures, which in any case they have been induced into believing do not really exist, as he wrote in “Good for Nothing” - implicitly referencing another of Thatchers claims, that society does not exist. This is where the problem of depression feeds into a more general problem: the model of subjectivity advocated in the original self-help video by Leo Gura is identical to the model of the autonomous, self-determining, competitive individual, the fiction of capitalist subjectivity. In the video ғthe viewer, the ԓyou, is the cause of his or her own depression, but consequently also the only cure. What the video wants to do is to teach you how to ԓmaster your psychology and eventually put you in a state of ԓtotal bliss and happiness. It is a deeply moral message. Failing to be happy is simply immoral. If you are such an immoral and bad person that you have become unhappy ԗ or depressed it is you, and you alone that is to blame. This is the blaming cult of contemporary capitalism: you are causing your own depression - even when evidently you are not.

Capitalism, in other words, inflicts a double injury on depressed people. First, it causes, or contributes to, the state of depression. Second, it erases any form of causality and individualizes the illness, so that it appears as if the depression in question is a personal problem (or property). In some cases, it appears to be your own fault. If you had just lived a better and more active life, made other choices, had a more positive mindset, et cetera, then you would not be depressed. This is the song sung by psychologists, coaches, and therapists around the world: happiness is your choice, your responsibility. The same goes for unhappiness and depression. Capitalism makes us feel bad and then, to add insult to injury, makes us feel bad about feeling bad.

From my own experience of depression ė except that it is not really my ownӔ experience and from having written a dissertation on the topic, I think it is beyond doubt that we need another analysis of depression, and, also, another kind of cure. The personalization of depression must be answered by a politicization of depression. At the level of analysis and social causation, the phenomenon of depression should be connected to issues of labor and work ח and unemployment, since stats show that unemployed people are more susceptible to get depressed than people in jobs, regardless of how much these people hate their job. It should be connected to our brutal, neoliberal culture of competition (Happy Hunger Games and may be odd be ever in your favor!) and to the concomitant ideology of happiness, which forces all of us to smile and be happy nonstop, even or especially when we are fighting among each other, fighting to make ends meet and just get by another day. Depression should, moreover, be connected to the realm of education: it is obvious to me that so many of the students at the University of Copenhagen, where I work and teach, are struggling with countless mental illnesses. I cannot even begin to imagine how it must be in the United Kingdom or United States, where students dont have the benefit of free education as is the case Denmark but are driven ever deeper into a spiral of debt. No matter where we look, students are depressed, anxious, stressed out, burned out.

In the wake of the economic crisis, a plethora of studies have looked into the psychopathological consequences of debt. In 2012, economist John Gathergood published a study showing that people awash in a sea of debt experience and exhibit a variety of mental problems, including depression. By all accounts, it seems that being indebted can, and indeed does, lead to an increased risk not only of depression but also suicide. Another study found that ғ[t]hose in debt were twice as likely to think about suicide after controlling for sociodemographic, economic, social and lifestyle factors. And in The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu have conducted an epidemiological research project which demonstrates that austerity policies ԗ rather than recession as such have disastrous consequences for the state of public and private health. At one point in their book, Stuckler and Basu refer to a particular study of Americans over the age of 50 which found דthat between 2006 and 2008, people who fell behind on their mortgage payments were about nine times more likely to develop depressive symptoms. Their bleak conclusion is that austerity not only hurts, but kills, exemplified by the tragic case of the Greek Dimitris Christoulas, who on April 4, 2012, ԓput a gun to his head in front of the Greek parliament and declared: I am not committing suicide. They are killing me.ђ Then he pulled the trigger.

These conditions are real, and so are the causal connections. Obviously, the causes are many, and complex. But the symptoms of depression are also symptoms of something else. And the fact is that the economy of debt causes deep distress as indebted people, students and otherwise, are forced to pawn their own future. Yet the psychiatric and public discourse remain bent on treating depression as a personal problem devoid of context. Nowhere is this clearer than in the discourse of the diagnostic manuals ԗ a discourse that increasingly dominates public opinion where mental illnesses are addressed solely in terms of symptoms, without any regard for the historical, social, and economic context of the person suffering. An important task, then, for a leftist analysis of the present is not only to insist on the context but also and perhaps above all to insist, with Hedva, that דit is the world itself that is making and keeping us sick. Not the world in any abstract sense, but the concrete, capitalist world in which we live, or plod our way through. This is the reason why so many of us lie in bed, and canԒt get out of it. Or as queer theorist Ann Cvetkovich argues in her book Depression: A Public Feeling:

Epidemics of depression can be related (both as symptom and as obfuscation) to long-term histories of violence that have ongoing impacts at the level of everyday emotional experience. [] What gets called depression in the domestic sphere is one affective register of these social problems and one that often keeps people silent, weary, and too numb to really notice the sources of their unhappiness (or in a state of low-level chronic grief ŗ or depression of another kind if they do).

The history of depression is a history of our contemporary capitalist world ח and also, in the words of Cvetkovich, a history of violence: the violence that people of color, or LGBT people, or asylum seekers, experience on a daily basis, a violence both physical and psychic. Data are, again, overwhelming on this point, but suffice it to mention the 38 percent of low-income mothers and mothers of color who develop postpartum depression,Ӕ to quote from Sophie Lewiss Full Surrogacy Now; the half of LGBT people who have experienced depression in the past year; and the 61 percent of all the kids in SjҦlsmark Udrejsecenter, a prison-like camp for rejected asylum seekers in Denmark, who would meet the criteria for a psychiatric diagnosis. In many instances, depression bears the mark of such violence and vulnerability, though it is not, sadly, the only mental health issue at stake.

Up until this point I have not mentioned the climate crisis, but on the evidence of what has been said so far, it doesnĒt risk exaggeration to say that ecology and mental health stands in an intimate relation. This is not to neglect the material reality, only to hint at the profound psychic effects of ecological losses and a warming globe. Again, the young generation of today, sometimes called the fucked-up generation, is worth mentioning (Phil Neel writes about this generation, the first in a grand parade of the futureless,Ӕ in his brilliant book Hinterland). They are living in a world where tomorrow will most likely be worse than today, where there really are no alternatives and no future, not least because of how the climate crisis quite literally annihilates the future as such. Who can blame them for being depressed?

All of this to say that the current social, political, economic, ecological ח crisis is thus a mental health crisis as well. The perpetuum mobile of capitalism and its exhaustion of resources also pertains to mental resources. The economic and the psychological seem to have become indistinguishable from each other, as the double meaning of depression would also suggest. Naturally, we are not all in the same boat, or in the same bed. We are not all depressed (and those of us who are are experiencing it in the same way, or for the same reasons). We are not equally fucked (up). Some strata of society have access to futurity in ways that others do not, some bear the burden more than others, and some simply die sooner than others. People in Greece during the Euro Crisis, or people in the US higher educational system, are not indebted or depressed in the same way. As shown above, the violence and social suffering are differentially distributed along axis of class, gender, and race; so is the climate crisis insofar as citizens of Copenhagen are not feeling the devastating weight of it as those in Chittagong.

Insisting on the politics of illness, mental health, and depression, it is crucial to keep such local and global differences in mind. This should not, however, lead to a competition of social suffering. Competition is precisely what capitalism is all about, and seeks to intensify, so that we are, simultaneously, alone in our suffering and fighting among each others suffering selves. But it should lead to a recognition that a critique of capitalism will need to take into account the contextualized psychopathology of depression as well as other mental illnesses. Furthermore, it gives us an idea of a possible ғcure, of what needs to be done, of how we get out of bed (or maybe, why we even want to get out of bed).


The first thing to note is that an adequate diagnosis of depression and its context - is not enough in itself. It is common wisdom, however, that the diagnosis does not necessarily entail the cure. Just because we know whats wrong does not mean that we will be able to deal with it. On the contrary, one of the primary symptoms of depression is that what you need to do is precisely what you cannot do, at least not alone and on your own. Or in the plain words of Ann Cvetkovich: “Saying that capitalism (or colonialism or racism) is the problem does not help me get up in the morning. Also, there is no reason to believe that abolishing private property ownership, or realizing a global and absolute cancellation of private debt, will relieve the suffering of depressed people with a single stroke, as if by magic. But, in an act of speculation, I am tempted to say that revolution is the best antidepressant there is, it makes for a better world, true happiness. But, alas!, in order to do revolution, we need to get out of bed. A real dialectical catch-22 of depression.”

Maybe a good place to start, then, with regards to the politics of depression, is to collectivize suffering, externalize blame, communize care. At this point, the question of responsibility returns in all its force. The neoliberal responsibilization of the depressed subject must be rejected, and, also, replaced by an idea of collective responsibility. The same goes for any kind of therapeutic project, and Italian thinker Franco ԓBifo Berardi - who is, admittedly, a bit loose and careless when it comes to precision in the clinical vocabulary may be right when he asserts that דin the days to come, politics and therapy will be one and the same. Therapy as resistance, not as reactionary obedience to the given order. Therapy as a collective project, not an individual one. Therapy as the overcoming of alienation.

What might such collective and emancipatory ԓtherapy look like? We have an archive of feminist and artistic projects of care, self-care, and collective care from Audre Lorde to Claire Fontaine to, rather recently, Danish artist and activist Jakob Jakobsen and the Hospital for Self Medication that he initiated after a severe depression and several months of hospitalization. We need a language that joins this archive to a movement and separates it from institutional psychiatry, neoliberal therapies, and the capitalist pursuit of profit. This is care that transcends the hospital, the clinic, the family, the state, the insurance company, Capital as such (even if one does not have access to those institutions in the first place). This is care which, based on a politicized understanding of mental illness, moves beyond care in its commodified and capitalist form. When bodies take care of each other, when responsibility is redistributed, and individual collapses are transformed into collective intimacies, the future can be (re)built in the name of a communist, shared, and sustainable one. As poet Wendy Trevino writes:

We can’t individually win in this world & simultaneously create another Together.

This would be one way of imagining a cure for depression without reinforcing conformity and the status quo. What is certain is that any left politics worthy of its name must go beyond saying capitalism is the problem (even if it surely is) and confront the question of how to get up in the morning. This problem is as practical as it is revolutionary. Of course, sometimes staying in bed can be a revolutionary act in itself, a kind of strike, the epitomization of an exhausted and negative No, I can’t in a world that revolves increasingly around an emphatic and positive Yes, I can. But there are also people finding new ways to get out of bed: I’ll just mention in passing, as an encouraging sign, that there are cracks in the edifice of capitalist realism that Mark Fisher didnt live to see.

Regardless, the point is obviously not to get out of depression so that we can get back to the work that caused the depression to begin with. The point must be, rather, to destroy the material conditions that make us sick, the capitalist system that destroys people’s lives, the inequalities that kill. Thus, creating another world together. But to do that, to get to where that becomes possible, what is called for is not competition among the sick, but alliances of care that will make people feel less alone and less morally responsible for their illness. In alliance with each other, people might eventually be able to get up and throw some bricks.

Adapted from the book Going Nowhere, Slow, out on Zero Books November 29, 2019.

Mikkel Krause Frantzen holds a PhD from the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen, and is currently postdoctoral fellow at University of Aalborg, Denmark. He is the author of Going Nowhere, Slow The Aesthetics and Politics of Depression (Zero Books, 2019).


Posted by Elvis on 02/17/20 •
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Friday, February 14, 2020

Just Married T-Mobile and Sprint

How the T-Mobile-Sprint Merger Legitimizes Monopoly
A federal judge has just deepened Americas corporate concentration crisis.

By Sandeep Vaheesan
Washington Monthly
February 11, 2020

Judge Victor Marreros Tuesday ruling that let T-Mobile take over Sprint just deepened America’s already dire CORPORATE CONCENTRATOIN crisis. By allowing the nations third- and fourth-largest wireless carriers to combine, Marrero has dealt a clear blow to competition in the wireless market and empowered all corporations seeking dominance through mergers and acquisitions.

The Obama administration wisely said no to consolidation that would reduce the number of national wireless carriers to just three. Indeed, the deal will effectively create a new carrier with more than 100 million users. As the states in the case argued, that will likely cost subscribers roughly $4.5 billion annually, as the market will effectively be concentrated between just T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon.

Nevertheless, the Trump administration - and now a federal judge - have rejected the Obama-era policy and permitted a dangerous new level of CONCENTRATION. Tuesday’s decision underscores the need for bright-line rules that deter harmful mergers and acquisitions and instead direct business strategies toward product improvement and investment in new capacity.

Equally disconcerting, the judges decision subverts the Clayton Act, the principal federal anti-merger statute. Passed in 1914 and strengthened in 1950, the law expanded the scope of business activities covered by the Sherman Antitrust Act and outlawed mergers that threaten to reduce competition or tend to create a monopoly.

Judge Marrero’s ruling permits otherwise illegal mergers if the merging corporations can establish productive efficiencies or show that one of the corporations involved is a weakened competitor.

But the Supreme Court clearly rejected these defenses in a series of rulings in the 1960s because they are contrary to the text and purpose of the Clayton Act. While there is a limited failing firm defense - which allows a merger that would create a less competitive market if the company is in danger imminent business failure - Sprint didn’t satisfy its requirements, nor did Marrero purport to apply it. Sprint may not be doing as well as its executives and shareholders would like, but it is not on the verge of collapse or insolvency.

Marrero’s ruling, therefore, leaves it to state attorneys general to keep anti-merger law alive and protect the public. Theyre now the best positioned to take a stand and appeal this decision to the Second Circuit - the most important thing they can do. It is critical they send a strong message to all corporations that they will uphold the law. Powerful firms in concentrated markets shouldn’t be allowed to consolidate even further.


Posted by Elvis on 02/14/20 •
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Friday, February 07, 2020

Bad Moon Rising Part 80 - Infrastructure Cyber-Threat IV

image: computer chip

Researcher says millions of IoT and surveillance devices that use HiSilicon chips have a trivial backdoor
The Chinese giant has another hot potato on its hands

By Adrian Potoroaca
February 7, 2020

In brief: Huawei is mostly known for its mobile products and telecom equipment, but its HiSilicon subsidiary produces chips that end up in many IoT products, including surveillance systems. A Russian researcher found that most of the companies that use HiSilicon chips use firmware that makes it trivial to take complete control of millions of DEVICES that are currently in use around the world.

Back in December, Huawei SAID it had reached record revenues of $122 billion, even as the US greatly restricted its ability to do business with American companies. Between the optimistic lines in its report, the Chinese giant warned that 2020 would be a challenging year, with lots of bumps in the road.

However, the company probably didn’t expect to see yet another security vulnerability affecting one of its products be disclosed just as it’s tackling CORONAVIRUS CONCERNS.

Recently, Russian security researcher Vladislav Yarmak published a worrying analysis of backdoor mechanism discovered in Hangzhou Xiongmai Technology firmware, which makes it trivial to take control of millions of security cameras, DVRs, NVRs, and other IoT devices using HiSilicon chips.

For those of you who don’t know, HiSilicon is a Huawei subsidiary that makes the chips that go in all of its products, including the fancy foldable Mate X smartphone that costs $2,400 and is reportedly selling better than Samsung’s Galaxy Fold. To put things in context, HiSilicon is the largest of the Chinese silicon giants, with many companies relying on its integrated circuits for their various products.

Yarmak says the backdoor mechanism is actually using a mix of exploits that take advantage of bugs that were discovered years ago, in 2017 and even as far back as March 2013. And since reporting those previous vulnerabilities led to no actual fix being deployed by HiSilicon, the researcher recommends owners of devices using HiSilicon chips switch as soon as possible to alternative solutions.

You can find a list of known brands affected HERE. If you can’t afford the hardware switch, Yarmak noted you should bolster security by restricting access to device ports 9530/TCP, 9527/TCP, and 23/TCP - all of which can be exploited using the proof of concept code he published on GitHub.

The way it works is that some older versions of the firmware used in products that are based on HiSilicon SoCs rely on access to telnet for remote connections. Telnet is enabled by default on these, so an attacker can get full access to these devices by using “a static root password which can be recovered from the firmware image with relatively little computation effort.”

Newer versions of the firmware come with telnet access disabled by default, but also have TCP port 9530 open for special commands, a feature which Yarmak says was intentionally baked in by HiSilicon, who didn’t bother to fix the new exploit published for it in 2017. Add to that the questionable practice of keeping a short list of static passwords that act as a backdoor to millions of IoT and surveillance products used worldwide, and you have a security nightmare.

To be fair, HiSilicon isn’t directly responsible here, as the vulnerability only affects products that use firmware developed by Xiongmai Technology and XMtech. The Huawei subsidiary published a security notice explaining that its SDKs don’t have the vulnerability presented by Yarmak in his report. The company noted that “Huawei (and its affiliates worldwide, including HiSilicon) has long committed that it has not and will never place backdoors nor allow anyone else to do so.”

As far as Huawei is concerned, the Telnet services were deleted on all devices it distributes directly to end users. Also, the overall narrative hasn’t changed - last year, the Chinese giant insisted that backdoors found by Vodafone in critical network equipment were “weaknesses.” To this day, the company is still fighting for the right to supply equipment to rural carriers in the US, even though its chances remain low.


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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

snooping pc

You Are Now Remotely Controlled

By Shoshana Zuboff
NY Times
January 24, 2020

The debate on privacy and law at the Federal Trade Commission was unusually heated that day. Tech industry executives argued that they were capable of regulating themselves and that government intervention would be “costly and counterproductive.” Civil libertarians warned that the companies data capabilities posed “an unprecedented threat” to individual freedom. One observed, “We have to decide what human beings are in the electronic age. Are we just going to be chattel for commerce?” A commissioner asked, “Where should we draw the line?” The year was 1997.

The line was never drawn, and the executives got their way. Twenty-three years later the evidence is in. The fruit of that victory was a new economic logic that I call “surveillance capitalism.” Its success depends upon one-way-mirror operations engineered for our ignorance and wrapped in a fog of misdirection, euphemism and mendacity. It rooted and flourished in the new spaces of the internet, once celebrated by surveillance capitalists as THE WORLD’S LARGEST UNGOVERNED SPACE”. But power fills a void, and those once wild spaces are no longer ungoverned. Instead, they are owned and operated by private surveillance capital and governed by its iron laws.

The rise of surveillance capitalism over the last two decades went largely unchallenged. “Digital” was fast, we were told, and stragglers would be left behind. It’s not surprising that so many of us rushed to follow the bustling White Rabbit down his tunnel into a promised digital Wonderland where, like Alice, we fell prey to delusion. In Wonderland, we celebrated the new digital services as free, but now we see that the surveillance capitalists behind those services regard us as the free commodity. We thought that we search Google, but now we understand that Google searches us. We assumed that we use social media to connect, but we learned that connection is how social media uses us. We barely questioned why our new TV or mattress had a privacy policy, but we’ve begun to understand that “privacy policies” are actually surveillance policies.

And like our forebears who named the automobile “horseless carriage” because they could not reckon with its true dimension, we regarded the internet platforms as “bulletin boards” where anyone could pin a note. Congress cemented this delusion in a statute, SECTION 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, absolving those companies of the obligations that adhere to “publishers” or even to “speakers.”

Only repeated crises have taught us that these platforms are not bulletin boards but hyper-velocity global bloodstreams into which anyone may introduce a dangerous virus without a vaccine. This is how Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, could legally REFUSE to remove a faked video of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and later DOUBLE DOWN on this decision, announcing that political advertising would not be subject to fact-checking.

All of these delusions rest on the most treacherous hallucination of them all: the belief that privacy is private. We have imagined that we can choose our degree of privacy with an individual calculation in which a bit of personal information is traded for valued services a reasonable quid pro quo. For example, when Delta Air Lines piloted a biometric data system at the Atlanta airport, the company REPORTED that of nearly 25,000 customers who traveled there each week, 98 percent opted into the process, noting that the facial recognition option is saving an average of two seconds for each customer at boarding, or nine minutes when boarding a wide body aircraft.”

In fact the rapid development of facial recognition systems reveals the public consequences of this supposedly private choice. Surveillance capitalists have demanded the right to take our faces wherever they appear - on a city street or a Facebook page. The Financial Times reported that a Microsoft facial recognition training database of 10 million images plucked from the internet without anyone’s knowledge and supposedly limited to academic research was employed by companies like IBM and state agencies that included the United States and Chinese military. Among these were two Chinese suppliers of equipment to officials in Xinjiang, where members of the Uighur community live in open-air prisons under perpetual surveillance by facial recognition systems.

Privacy is not private, because the effectiveness of THESE and OTHER private or public surveillance and control systems depends upon the pieces of ourselves that we give up - or that are secretly stolen from us.

Our digital century was to have been democracy’s Golden Age. Instead, we enter its third decade marked by a stark new form of social inequality best understood as גepistemic inequality. It recalls a pre-Gutenberg era of extreme asymmetries of knowledge and the power that accrues to such knowledge, as the tech giants seize control of information and learning itself. The delusion of Ӕprivacy as private was crafted to breed and feed this unanticipated social divide. Surveillance capitalists exploit the widening inequity of knowledge for the sake of profits. They manipulate the economy, our society and even our lives with impunity, endangering not just individual privacy but democracy itself. Distracted by our delusions, we failed to notice this bloodless coup from above.

The belief that privacy is private has left us careening toward a future that we did not choose, because it failed to reckon with the profound distinction between a society that insists upon sovereign individual rights and one that lives by the social relations of the one-way mirror. The lesson is that privacy is public - it is a collective good that is and morally inseparable from the values of human autonomy and self-determination upon which privacy depends and without which a democratic society logically is unimaginable.

Still, the winds appear to have finally shifted. A fragile new awareness is dawning as we claw our way back up the rabbit hole toward home. Surveillance capitalists are fast because they seek neither genuine consent nor consensus. They rely on psychic numbing and messages of inevitability to conjure the helplessness, resignation and confusion that paralyze their prey. Democracy is slow, and that’s a good thing. Its pace reflects the tens of millions of conversations that occur in families, among neighbors, co-workers and friends, within communities, cities and states, gradually stirring the sleeping giant of democracy to action.

These conversations are occurring now, and there are many indications that lawmakers are ready to join and to lead. This third decade is likely to decide our fate. Will we make the digital future better, or will it make us worse? Will it be a place that we can call home?

Epistemic inequality is not based on what we can earn but rather on what we can learn. It is defined as unequal access to learning imposed by private commercial mechanisms of information capture, production, analysis and sales. It is best exemplified in the fast-growing abyss between what we know and what is known about us.

Twentieth-century industrial society was organized around the “division of labor,” and it followed that the struggle for economic equality would shape the politics of that time. Our digital century shifts society’s coordinates from a division of labor to a division of learning, and it follows that the struggle over access to knowledge and the power conferred by such knowledge will shape the politics of our time.

The new centrality of epistemic inequality signals a power shift from the ownership of the means of production, which defined the politics of the 20th century, to the ownership of the production of meaning. The challenges of epistemic justice and epistemic rights in this new era are summarized in three essential questions about knowledge, authority and power: Who knows? Who decides who knows? Who decides who decides who knows?

During the last two decades, the leading surveillance capitalists Google, later followed by Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft - helped to drive this societal transformation while simultaneously ensuring their ascendance to the pinnacle of the epistemic hierarchy. They operated in the shadows to amass huge knowledge monopolies by taking without asking, a maneuver that every child recognizes as theft. Surveillance capitalism begins by unilaterally staking a claim to private human experience as free raw material for translation into behavioral data. Our lives are rendered as data flows.

Early on, it was discovered that, unknown to users, even data freely given harbors rich predictive signals, a surplus that is more than what is required for service improvement. It isn’t only what you post online, but whether you use exclamation points or the color saturation of your photos; not just where you walk but the stoop of your shoulders; not just the identity of your face but the emotional states conveyed by your “microexpressions;” not just what you like but the pattern of likes across engagements. Soon this behavioral surplus was secretly hunted and captured, claimed as proprietary data.

The data are conveyed through complex supply chains of devices, tracking and monitoring software, and ECOSYSTEMS OF APPS and COMPANIES that specialize in niche data flows captured in secret. For example, TESTING BY THE WALL STREET JOURNAL SHOWED that Facebook receives heart rate data from the Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor, menstrual cycle data from the Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker, and data that reveal interest in real estate properties from - all of it without the users’ knowledge.

These data flows empty into surveillance capitalists; computational factories, called “artificial intelligence,” where they are manufactured into behavioral predictions that are about us, but they are not for us. Instead, they are sold to business customers in a new kind of market that trades exclusively in human futures. Certainty in human affairs is the lifeblood of these markets, where surveillance capitalists compete on the quality of their predictions. This is a new form of trade that birthed some of the richest and most powerful companies in history.

In order to achieve their objectives, the leading surveillance capitalists sought to establish UNRIVALED DOMINANCE over the 99.9 PERCENT of the world’s information now rendered in digital formats that they helped to create. Surveillance capital has built most of the world’s LARGEST COMPUTER NETWORKS, data centers, populations of servers, undersea transmission cables, ADVANCED MICROCHIPS, and frontier machine intelligence, igniting AN ARMS RACE FOR THE 10,000 or so specialists on the planet who know how to coax knowledge from these vast new data continents.

With Google in the lead, the top surveillance capitalists seek to control labor markets in critical expertise, including data science and ANIMAL RESEARCH, elbowing out competitors such as start-ups, universities, high schools, municipalities, established corporations in other industries and less wealthy countries. In 2016, 57 percent of American computer science Ph.D. graduates took jobs in industry, while only 11 percent became tenure-track faculty members. It’s not just an American problem. In Britain, university administrators CONTEMPLATE a “missing generation” of data scientists. A Canadian scientist laments, “the power, the expertise, the data are all concentrated in the hands of a few companies.”

Google created the first insanely lucrative markets to trade in human futures, what we now know as online targeted advertising, based on their predictions of which ads users would click. Between 2000, when the new economic logic was just emerging, and 2004, when the company went public, revenues increased by 3,590 percent. This startling number represents the “surveillance dividend.” It quickly reset the bar for investors, eventually driving start-ups, apps developers and established companies to shift their business models toward surveillance capitalism. The promise of a fast track to outsized revenues from selling human futures drove this migration first to Facebook, then through the tech sector and now throughout the rest of the economy to industries as disparate as insurance, retail, finance, education, health care, real estate, entertainment and every product that begins with the word “smart” or service touted as “personalized.”

Even Ford, the birthplace of the 20th-century mass production economy, is on the trail of the surveillance dividend, proposing to meet the challenge of slumping car sales by reimagining Ford vehicles as a TRANSPORTATION OPERATING SYSTEM. As one analyst put it, Ford “could make a fortune monetizing data. They won’t need engineers, factories or dealers to do it. It’s almost pure profit.”

Surveillance capitalismҔs economic imperatives were refined in the competition to sell certainty. Early on it was clear that machine intelligence must feed on volumes of data, compelling economies of scale in data extraction. Eventually it was understood that volume is necessary but not sufficient. The best algorithms also require varieties of data economies of scope. This realization helped drive the җmobile revolution sending users into the real world armed with cameras, computers, gyroscopes and microphones packed inside their smart new phones. In the competition for scope, surveillance capitalists want your home and what you say and do within its walls. They want your car, your medical conditions, and the shows you stream; your location as well as all the streets and buildings in your path and all the behavior of all the people in your city. They want your voice and what you eat and what you buy; your childrenӔs play time and their schooling; your brain waves and your bloodstream. Nothing is exempt.

Unequal knowledge about us produces unequal power over us, and so epistemic inequality widens to include the distance between what we can do and what can be done to us. Data scientists describe this as the shift from monitoring to actuation, in which a critical mass of knowledge about a machine system enables the remote control of that system. Now people have become targets for remote control, as surveillance capitalists discovered that the most predictive data come from intervening in behavior to tune, herd and modify action in the direction of commercial objectives. This third imperative, economies of action,ғ has become an arena of intense experimentation. We are learning how to writethe music,ԓ one scientist said, and then we let the music make them dance.ԓ

This new power to make them danceԓ does not employ soldiers to threaten terror and murder. It arrives carrying a cappuccino, not a gun. It is a new instrumentarianԓ power that works its will through the medium of ubiquitous digital instrumentation to manipulate subliminal cues, psychologically target communications, impose default choice architectures, trigger social comparison dynamics and levy rewards and punishments all of it aimed at remotely tuning, herding and modifying human behavior in the direction of profitable outcomes and always engineered to preserve usersԗ ignorance.

We saw predictive knowledge morphing into instrumentarian power in Facebooks contagion experiments published in 2012 and 2014, when it planted subliminal cues and manipulated social comparisons on its pages, first to influence users to vote in midterm elections and later to make people feel sadder or happier. Facebook researchers celebrated the success of these experiments noting two key findings: that it was possible to manipulate online cues to influence real world behavior and feelings, and that this could be accomplished while successfully bypassing usersҒ awareness.

In 2016, the Google-incubated augmented reality game, Pokmon Go, tested economies of action on the streets. Game players did not know that they were pawns in the real game of behavior modification for profit, as the rewards and punishments of hunting imaginary creatures were used to herd people to the McDonalds, Starbucks and local pizza joints that were paying the company for ҩғfootfall, in exactly the same way that online advertisers pay for ԓclick through to their websites.

In 2017, a leaked Facebook documentacquired by The Australian exposed the corporationԒs interest in applying psychological insightsӔ from internal Facebook dataӔ to modify user behavior. The targets were 6.4 million young Australians and New Zealanders. By monitoring posts, pictures, interactions and internet activity in real time,Ӕ the executives wrote, Facebook can work out when young people feel ӑstressed, ґdefeated, ґoverwhelmed, ґanxious, ґnervous, ґstupid, ґsilly, ґuseless and a ґfailure.Ҕ This depth of information, they explained, allows Facebook to pinpoint the time frame during which a young person needs a confidence boostӔ and is most vulnerable to a specific configuration of subliminal cues and triggers. The data are then used to match each emotional phase with appropriate ad messaging for the maximum probability of guaranteed sales.

Facebook denied these practices, though a former product manager accused the company of lying through its teeth.Ӕ The fact is that in the absence of corporate transparency and democratic oversight, epistemic inequality rules. They know. They decide who knows. They decide who decides.

The public’s intolerable knowledge disadvantage is deepened by surveillance capitalists’ perfection of mass communications as gaslighting. Two examples are illustrative. On April 30, 2019 Mark Zuckerberg made a dramatic announcement at the company’
s annual developer conference, declaring, “The future is private.” A few weeks later, a Facebook litigator appeared before a federal district judge in California to thwart a user lawsuit over privacy invasion, arguing that the very act of using Facebook negates any reasonable expectation of privacy ԓas a matter of law. In May 2019 Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google, wrote in The Times of his corporationsԒs commitment to the principle that privacy cannot be a luxury good.Ӕ Five months later Google contractors were found offering $5 gift cards to homeless people of color in an Atlanta park in return for a facial scan.

Facebooks denial invites even more scrutiny in light of another leaked company documentappearing in 2018. The confidential report offers rare insight into the heart of FacebookҒs computational factory, where a prediction engineӔ runs on a machine intelligence platform that ingests trillions of data points every day, trains thousands of modelsӔ and then deploys them to the server fleet for live predictions.Ӕ Facebook notes that its prediction serviceӔ produces more than 6 million predictions per second.Ӕ But to what purpose?

In its report, the company makes clear that these extraordinary capabilities are dedicated to meeting its corporate customers ғcore business challenges with procedures that link prediction, microtargeting, intervention and behavior modification. For example, a Facebook service called ԓloyalty prediction is touted for its ability to plumb proprietary behavioral surplus to predict individuals who are ԓat risk of shifting their brand allegiance and alerting advertisers to intervene promptly with targeted messages designed to stabilize loyalty just in time to alter the course of the future.

That year a young man named Christopher Wylie turned whistle-blower on his former employer, a political consultancy known as Cambridge Analytica. ԓWe exploited Facebook to harvest millions of peoples profiles,Ҕ Wylie admitted, and built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons.Ӕ Mr. Wylie characterized those techniques as information warfare,Ӕ correctly assessing that such shadow wars are built on asymmetries of knowledge and the power it affords. Less clear to the public or lawmakers was that the political firms strategies of secret invasion and conquest employed surveillance capitalismҒs standard operating procedures to which billions of innocent usersӔ are routinely subjected each day. Mr. Wylie described this mirroring process, as he followed a trail that was already cut and marked. Cambridge Analyticas real innovation was to pivot the whole undertaking from commercial to political objectives.

In other words, Cambridge Analytica was the parasite, and surveillance capitalism was the host. Thanks to its epistemic dominance, surveillance capitalism provided the behavioral data that exposed the targets for assault. Its methods of behavioral microtargeting and behavioral modification became the weapons. And it was surveillance capitalism’s lack of accountability for content on its platform afforded by Section 230 that provided the opportunity for the stealth attacks designed to trigger the inner demons of unsuspecting citizens.

Its not just that epistemic inequality leaves us utterly vulnerable to the attacks of actors like Cambridge Analytica. The larger and more disturbing point is that surveillance capitalism has turned epistemic inequality into a defining condition of our societies, normalizing information warfare as a chronic feature of our daily reality prosecuted by the very corporations upon which we depend for effective social participation. They have the knowledge, the machines, the science and the scientists, the secrets and the lies. All privacy now rests with them, leaving us with few means of defense from these marauding data invaders. Without law, we scramble to hide in our own lives, while our children debate encryption strategies around the dinner table and students wear masks to public protests as protection from facial recognition systems built with our family photos.

In the absence of new declarations of epistemic rights and legislation, surveillance capitalism threatens to remake society as it unmakes democracy. From below, it undermines human agency, usurping privacy, diminishing autonomy and depriving individuals of the right to combat. From above, epistemic inequality and injustice are fundamentally incompatible with the aspirations of a democratic people.

We know that surveillance capitalists work in the shadows, but what they do there and the knowledge they accrue are unknown to us. They have the means to know everything about us, but we can know little about them. Their knowledge of us is not for us. Instead, our futures are sold for othersҒ profits. Since that Federal Trade Commission meeting in 1997, the line was never drawn, and people did become chattel for commerce. Another destructive delusion is that this outcome was inevitable an unavoidable consequence of convenience-enhancing digital technologies. The truth is that surveillance capitalism hijacked the digital medium. There was nothing inevitable about it.

American lawmakers have been reluctant to take on these challenges for many reasons. One is an unwritten policy of דsurveillance exceptionalism forged in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when the governmentԒs concerns shifted from online privacy protections to a new zeal for total information awareness.Ӕ In that political environment the fledgling surveillance capabilities emerging from Silicon Valley appeared to hold great promise.

Surveillance capitalists have also defended themselves with lobbying and forms of propaganda intended to undermine and intimidate lawmakers, confounding judgment and freezing action. These have received relatively little scrutiny compared to the damage they do. Consider two examples:

The first is the assertion that democracy threatens prosperity and innovation. Former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt explained in 2011, we took the position of “hands off” the internet. You know, “leave us alone.” The government can make regulatory mistakes that can slow this whole thing down, and we see that and we worry about it. This propaganda is recycled from the Gilded Age barons, whom we now call “robbers.” They insisted that there was no need for law when one had the law of survival of the fittest,” the “laws of capital” and the “law of supply and demand.”

Paradoxically, surveillance capital does not appear to drive innovation. A promising new era of economic research shows the critical role that government and democratic governance have played in innovation and suggests a lack of innovation in big tech companies like Google. Surveillance capitalism’s information dominance is not dedicated to the urgent challenges of carbon-free energy, eliminating hunger, curing cancers, ridding the oceans of plastic or flooding the world with well paid, smart, loving teachers and doctors. Instead, we see a frontier operation run by geniuses with vast capital and computational power that is furiously dedicated to the lucrative science and economics of human prediction for profit.

The second form of propaganda is the argument that the success of the leading surveillance capitalist firms reflects the real value they bring to people. But data from the demand side suggest that surveillance capitalism is better understood as a market failure. Instead of a close alignment of supply and demand, people use these services because they have no comparable alternatives and because they are ignorant of surveillance capitalism’s shadow operations and their consequences. Pew Research Center recently reported that 81 percent of Americans believe the potential risks of companies’ data collection outweigh the benefits, suggesting that corporate success depends upon coercion and obfuscation rather than meeting peoples real needs.

In his prizewinning history of regulation, the historian Thomas McCraw delivers a warning. Across the centuries regulators failed when they did not frame strategies appropriate to the particular industries they were regulating. Existing privacy and antitrust laws are vital but neither will be wholly adequate to the new challenges of reversing epistemic inequality.

These contests of the 21st century demand a framework of epistemic rights enshrined in law and subject to democratic governance. Such rights would interrupt data supply chains by safeguarding the boundaries of human experience before they come under assault from the forces of datafication. The choice to turn any aspect of oneӔs life into data must belong to individuals by virtue of their rights in a democratic society. This means, for example, that companies cannot claim the right to your face, or use your face as free raw material for analysis, or own and sell any computational products that derive from your face. The conversation on epistemic rights has already begun, reflected in a pathbreaking report from Amnesty International.

On the demand side, we can outlaw human futures markets and thus eliminate the financial incentives that sustain the surveillance dividend. This is not a radical prospect. For example, societies outlaw markets that trade in human organs, babies and slaves. In each case, we recognize that such markets are both morally repugnant and produce predictably violent consequences. Human futures markets can be shown to produce equally predictable outcomes that challenge human freedom and undermine democracy. Like subprime mortgages and fossil fuel investments, surveillance assets will become the new toxic assets.

In support of a new competitive landscape, lawmakers will need to champion new forms of collective action, just as nearly a century ago legal protections for the rights to organize, to strike and to bargain collectively united lawmakers and workers in curbing the powers of monopoly capitalists. Lawmakers must seek alliances with citizens who are deeply concerned over the unchecked power of the surveillance capitalists and with workers who seek fair wages and reasonable security in defiance of the precarious employment conditions that define the surveillance economy.

Anything made by humans can be unmade by humans. Surveillance capitalism is young, barely 20 years in the making, but democracy is old, rooted in generations of hope and contest.

Surveillance capitalists are rich and powerful, but they are not invulnerable. They have an Achilles heel: fear. They fear lawmakers who do not fear them. They fear citizens who demand a new road forward as they insist on new answers to old questions: Who will know? Who will decide who knows? Who will decide who decides? Who will writethe music, and who will dance?

Shoshana Zuboff (@ShoshanaZuboff) is professor emerita at Harvard Business School and the author of “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism.”

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: .

Follow @privacyproject on Twitter and The New York Times Opinion Section on Facebook and Instagram.


Posted by Elvis on 01/28/20 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Dying America
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