THE YEAR OF THE ROOSTER IS UPON US

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As it hap­pens, the Chi­nese New Year is aptly ti­tled to de­scribe the strut­ting, preen­ing, crow­ing two-legged crea­ture that has just taken up res­i­dence in the White House…

As our read­ers know, a hu­man­ist, scep­tic ethos per­vades Hog Heights. We be­lieve in rea­son and re­search, in ev­i­dence, in care­ful anal­y­sis and con­sid­er­a­tion, in sci­en­tific process and very good cof­fee. It fol­lows that, up here, there are facts but no al­ter­na­tive facts. If asked to choose be­tween Sergeant Joe Fri­day of Drag­net and Don­ald Trump and his rat-pack we would side with Joe.

There are many rea­sons, not least the pro­nounce­ments of Trump’s press sec­re­tary Sean Spicer. He isn’t the only mem­ber of Trump’s cab­i­net who de­lib­er­ately mis­leads and ob­fus­cates – but he’s the one who gave us the term “al­ter­na­tive facts” and in so do­ing joined a long list of po­lit­i­cally-mo­ti­vated lan­guage butch­ers in the US. Re­mem­ber known un­knowns?

Much has been said about the per­verse im­pact of in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia al­go­rithms on our un­der­stand­ing of what’s go­ing on in the world. The po­lit­i­cal and so­cial dam­age has been im­mense, and in­so­far as it has been a fac­tor in the rise and rise of Don­ald Trump, it has fo­mented disas­ter.

Ma­jor dig­i­tal ser­vice providers, Face­book and Google in par­tic­u­lar, have been ap­praised of the role their en­ter­prises played in the un­fold­ing catas­tro­phe. It’s not that they ac­tu­ally pro­moted the sup­pu­ra­tion, it’s rather that they didn’t have reg­u­la­tory frame­works or sys­tems to deal with false re­search and fake news. We’ll leave data min­ing and pri­vacy out of this for the mo­ment.

A ma­jor­ity of peo­ple now get their news on­line. One reg­u­lar poster com­mented to the Hog that he has even given up in­sert­ing links in his posts, be­cause many peo­ple now can’t even be ar­sed to fol­low the link to an­other site or ar­ti­cle. In­stead he in­cludes bits of what he wants read­ers to see in the post it­self.

That be­ing so, and given the de­gree to which users of dig­i­tal me­dia are herded by “in­tu­itive” search pro­cesses, you can see how peo­ple wind up fol­low­ing spu­ri­ous news re­ports. Plus, there is a pre­mium for OMG sto­ries, ones you read and share be­cause they’re so… OMG! Cue “share”…

That re­ac­tion is usu­ally based on feel­ings or in­tu­ition rather than knowl­edge. But since most of your network think and feel like you do, ev­ery­one loves it any­way and prob­a­bly presses “share” too. And so it goes, on and on, the so-called “echo cham­ber” ef­fect.

The thing is, this has also in­fected es­tab­lished me­dia streams just as in­sid­i­ously and com­pletely as it has the gen­eral pub­lic. Listen to chat ra­dio and news pro­grammes and you’ll im­me­di­ately sense the de­gree to which re­searchers rely on Twit­ter trends, dig­i­tal news feeds and in­ter­net searches. We’re sym­pa­thetic: they have lit­tle time and lots to do. But it’s a ma­jor is­sue.

At least ev­ery­one has now been alerted to the phe­nom­e­non of fake news and it seems that ma­jor news providers are, as a re­sult, much more wary than they were. But this didn’t pre­vent wide­spread cir­cu­la­tion of the ru­mour that a shop in Cork had sold a Euromil­lions win­ning ticket, did it?

Any com­fort to be drawn from the sight of Don­ald Trump sneer­ing “fake news, fake news” was greatly di­min­ished by the re­al­i­sa­tion that the very con­cept it­self has now be­come a weapon that’s be­ing used to sub­vert truth. When con­fronted with gen­uine truth the bas­tards sim­ply shout “fake” to un­der­mine their opponents and dis­tract ev­ery­one.

TRADE WAR WITH MEX­ICO

“Al­ter­na­tive truths” are fun­da­men­tal to this ap­proach – as are di­ver­sion­ary tac­tics such as Trump’s per­sis­tence in claim­ing that up to five mil­lion peo­ple voted il­le­gally. He of­fers no ev­i­dence for this; it’s his way of sab­o­tag­ing the truth that he lost the pop­u­lar vote.

You can see why it’s at­trac­tive to the neo-Nazis and white su­prem­a­cists who back Trump, and whose as­so­ci­ates sniff power in Europe. If you can pick and choose which truths to ac­cept, you can un­der­mine ac­cepted and proven facts such as the Holo­caust.

That said, it may well be that the ex­cep­tional vit­riol di­rected by Trump at the me­dia will re­turn to haunt him. Al­ready they smell blood in his re­fusal to re­lease his tax re­turns. His rat pack would want to be very care­ful too.

But the chal­lenge is im­mense. In the US, Trump ad­her­ents choose to be­lieve he’s do­ing a great job and to dis­re­gard crit­i­cal me­dia re­ports or even, as one Guardian story from Michi­gan re­ports, not to bother with news at all. If a trade war breaks out with Mex­ico, they’ll blame the Mex­i­cans. If a trade war breaks out with Europe, they’ll blame Europe. And if a trade war, or in­deed a real war, breaks out with China, they’ll blame the Chi­nese.

Over the last week­end, some on Hog Heights cel­e­brated Tet. And Chuc Mung Nam Moi to you too! Else­where this is known as the Chi­nese New Year. The Year of the Mon­key has just ended and the Year of the Rooster has be­gun. Watch­ing Trump, the year of the bull might be more ap­pro­pri­ate – in the China shop, so to speak.

But with all that cease­less crow­ing and preen­ing, Rooster fits too.

You may be in­ter­ested to hear that ac­cord­ing to a puff piece in the Ja­pan Times, Hong Kong ge­o­mancers pre­dict that Trump will strut through the Year of the Rooster and 2017 will be marked by ar­gu­ments and ag­gres­sion, these be­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of a rooster.

“Hong Kong sooth­sayer Thierry Chow” is quoted as pre­dict­ing that Trump will ruf­fle feath­ers in his first year as pres­i­dent and that: “There will be a lot of strikes and even ri­ots.” Oth­ers say the stock mar­ket will rise and the US econ­omy will ben­e­fit. But feng shui mas­ter Alion Yeo says that Trump’s good luck will only be tem­po­rary as the el­e­ments turn against him in fu­ture years. “He will have a good run in 2017, but this won’t be the case for 2018 (the Year of the Dog)”.

Yeah. Sure. Well, if we be­lieve in rea­son and ev­i­dence we can’t be hang­ing on the words of ge­o­mancers, (that is, chancers), can we? But the idea that the el­e­ments will turn against Trump is kinda se­duc­tive.

“You can see why it’s at­trac­tive to the neoNazis and white su­prem­a­cists who back Trump, and whose as­so­ci­ates sniff power in Europe. If you can pick and choose which truths to ac­cept, you can un­der­mine ac­cepted and proven facts such as the Holo­caust.”

You can fact right off now, Don­ald

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