Tag Archives: democracy

… using – or being used by algorithms …

The morose question of whether to be or not to be has moved on to whether to appear or not to appear. Appearances can deceive according to context. Or as my spiritual friend, Fazal Inayat Khan used to say, ‘Form is a relic of eternal potential.’ Things that have lost their former function have joined the archive of icons, metaphors.

Could the function of our individuality become no more than a statistical entity during our lifetime?

Today’s institutions and corporations share knowledge, advice, wisdom, stipulate laws, or instill fear via alerts. Ultimately, they accumulate information but are not necessarily held accountable for how this information is used. Priests used to claim this power in the name of God, as well as sorcerers and witches, who made it their business to converse with spirits. Many people project power onto an all-knowing agency, though today’s most consequential agency has moved on into the next clan of power holders – those who collect and control data … our data, our location, movements, activities, political leaning, looks, habits, likes and dislikes.

Our existence is being whittled down into digits that tumble about in a sea of algorithms, and wherever they perk up in statistics they could fix our fate, since temporal data can be adjusted to any setting a bureaucracy chooses as being predictive. This, mainly unchecked, development is running into problems, with the recent U.K exam result fiasco only being the latest example. Bless our young people for revolting.

Power of information equals control, for your own good, maybe, depending, of course, on who is in charge. Distorting and withholding knowledge, be it intentionally, through ignorance or through expediency, endangers democracy when used unchallenged as manipulation tools by governments. At worst, it enables profit seekers to accelerate the exploitation of earth’s resources, maintaining poverty around the globe.

Those involved in research, students, scientist, and writes, know the challenges of filing and stacking information. My own filing mirrors the ad hoc workings of my brain. To find stuff again is a matter of focus, luck and intuition. While occasionally frustrating, I trust my larger self and the collective unconscious. It is my oracular method, circumventing any too strict measurements promoted as our new saviour, algorithms. I value rationality, just not when it discounts spontaneous human creativity, heart felt compassion, and the inspiring moods of nature.

Belonging has never been easier – not belonging has never been more difficult. How does one evade the pressure of countless unfair impositions our systems prescribe via algorithms? In Walt Whitman style one could say … every ‘digit’ belonging to me as good belongs to you …  But wait, there is vast space in the One, space between atoms, between digits, between the many of us, where one can belong and be eccentric and separate at the same time.

Where do algorithms lead? How do they influence our values? Yuval Noah Harari in his book Homo Deus, describes ‘dataism’ as a new religion, a potential digital dictatorship that could shape our reality. Who would aspire to such a stagnant future?

I was fascinated and encouraged by a recent discussion between Yuval Noah Harari and Taiwan’s digital minister, Audrey Tang. (click here for the YouTube video coming up on a separate page)

They discuss code, including, at the start, the issue of non-polarized gender, going on to the negatives and positives of human hacking and the democratic fairness that can potentially happen when transparent data sharing and plural viewpoints are allowed.

Audrey Tang says,

‘Technology should be utilised to promote freedom, democracy & human rights.’

In Taiwan, this hugely influential young trans woman is making this happen.

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… Punch is behaving disgracefully again …

Punch and JudyLong-festering issues are popping up in ugly shapes on our flat screens. Punch behaving disgracefully again. Policy makers had it coming. Ah, the ever irritating foibles of citizens, where resentment trumps over reason on issues which, after being hushed for stretches of time, repeatedly break into the light of reality and need to be engaged with. There is no magic knife to cut out the nasty parts, like the cancer of xenophobia, which is basically an overreaction to the fear of disorder and the slipping away of control over familiar attachments, the world over.

Science is at war with the random failures of our immune system, a war that may in future extend toward the gene-editing of troublesome feelings, equaling an attempt to not bother with the psychology of the unconscious. Please imagine what would happen, desirable as it might sound, if humans were made immune to anger and insulated from memory (a theme in the sequel to my novel ‘Course of Mirrors’) the danger being: if we close the door to one threat, we open the door to another. Medicine calls it ‘side-effects.’

What happens with social policies is no different. The debates before and after the Bretix referendum (how did such an ugly word become a brand?) leave essentials unaddressed in both camps. I have an image of a confused fleet of rudderless boats in the middle of the Channel, where the sound of – Brrrr – exxxx – ittt – is carried on the wind and presses on eardrums. The wind is useless without a rudder. Given the prevailing eccentric climate there is no knowing where the boats will end up.

I’m in such a boat, even though I have a home, a safe little shelter to feel smug in. Presently this comfort makes me feel very uncomfortable. The issues raised in the Brexit campaign are valid. They could be listened to and reasoned through towards a compromise, for the time being, since it is surreal to take the bundle of problems about broken communities, lack of housing, jobs and poor efforts of integration and blame it on people conveniently label as ‘others.’ The influx of migrants merely highlights an ever growing imbalance between have and have-nots. The world is changing faster than one generation can comprehend, despite, and also because of technological advances and instant information.

The exodus happening around the world is a global phenomenon.

RuinPeople fleeing from war-zones, natural disasters and nil prospects, attracted to the seemingly coherent structures of democracies, want to re-build their existence, are mostly educated, keen to work, and are longing to regain their self-esteem. Why not focus on the opportunities in this situation? Ask how the migration phenomenon can benefit societies? And how Britain can creatively support Europe in a process that simply cannot be stopped?

Actions based on fear and denial create more fear, and will hardly generate listening, humility, or reflection – like how the meddling in the Middle East caused more harm than good, and how the experiment of democracy is just that, an experiment.

And, to my mind, the biggest question of all is: how will the overly privileged individuals and corporations of this world respond to the ever widening imbalance of riches? This can not be left to politicians, whose promises are tied to only a few years in office. Imagination and forward looking reforms are needed.

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… The Inner Jihad …

I met some remarkable people in my life. During the late 70s, instigated by my then Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan, I stayed with my then partner for two months in Washington DC, at the time when President Carter was inaugurated.  Our contact person was Dr Abdul Aziz Said, Professor for International Relations at the American University. We saw him almost every day at his office at the University or at his lectures, or we met him at his home, and in other places. His sincerity had a great impact on me. His words never left me. He made us think about spiritual economy (of that another time) and he introduced us to some wonderful people, many of them Sufis , in the area in and around Washington DC.

Image by Yeshen Venema

Image by Yeshen Venema

Some were Muslims some were non-Muslims, some were Christians or Hindus, and others followed no religion but had faith in mankind. One day we were invited for a meal by a young couple, a practicing Muslim and his wife, a practicing Christian. Their loving relationship impressed me deeply. They lived what Sufis call the Greater Jihad, the inner struggle.

After the atrocity in Paris, having written realms of nonsense to try and clear my mind, I wondered what Professor Said had to say on the Islamic conflicts, I searched & re-found this yourtube video, where he addresses his students. It’s three years back but worth listening to twice. Here are some of his points:

  • Communicate respect and share values. Peace has been conceptualised by dominant cultures. Seek conflict transformation.
  • Insist on negotiating solutions, not impose them.
  • Engage – don’t exploit the rivalry between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
  • Westerners and Muslims could re-frame the conflict between Israelis and Arabs as an internal conflict within the Abrahamic family.
  • Peace is a fragile flower. Use public diplomacy to listen … and speak.
  • Build bridges through intercultural and interreligious dialogue, engage youth,
  • It’s not enough to condemn radical religions, we need positive alternative visions.
  • What does your religion bring to the table to deal with the issues of poverty, violence, and the environment?

He widens the perspective. East and the West must together become architects of a new story. The West could give the East the best it had to offer in exchange for the best the East has to offer. The idea is beautiful. I hope, with patience, it comes true.

Here are some of my present thoughts. I’m totally against bombings in Syria, as I was against the interference in Iraq. The problems of Islam are for the Arabs to sort amongst themselves, should have been from the start. In international conflicts the circular blame goes, ‘They hit us back first.’ Justified anger arises from having suffered abusive power, threats to livelihood, resources, security, chosen identity, religious or otherwise, or simply unbearable disillusionment, the loop has repeated itself throughout known history in the form of wars.

There is no denying the grit in the shells of democratic systems. Present irritations I observe in the UK are the dissemination of local community shops and enterprises, since anything small and beautiful can’t be economic, can it? Then the privatisation of essential resources, the absurd discrepancy between the rich and the poor, the lack of jobs due to a runaway technology, depriving innumerable young people of meaning. Add crime, insufficient support for mothers, depression and marginalisation … all in no small way due to excesses of a capitalism that feeds greed, consumerism and the exploitation of the earth. I’m not alone in feeling disheartened about such developments.

And yet, here’s the amazing thing, I can express my thoughts without being persecuted as an enemy of the state.  Cognitive dissonance and the battle for tolerance are uncomfortable, but rewarding. Maybe because of their faults, democracies have an evolutionary edge.  Here’s why?

Self-examination serves the growth of human qualities, or, if you like, the expansion of consciousness. I have an inner terrorist that battles with ambiguity, confusion, anger and vulnerability, at the same time I value being able to think independently. I feel privileged to live in a country where creativity and innovation are encouraged, individual voices can be heard, disagreements are allowed, and negotiations can be reached. Yes, hypocrisy and corruption are also rife, but with it the means to expose them.

Dresden, Feb 1945

Dresden, Feb 1945

Ideas can of course be subverted. Academics, innovators and scientists can’t control how their insights and inventions are applied, especially when social unrest becomes the manure for another utopian uprising, and more kneejerk reactions.

Are we brave enough to face the latent dangers of injustice, poverty and disillusionment that could call in another despot who sedates with propaganda and naive solutions that promise to solve all problems? For this reason, I think, a debate weighing the benefits of market-oriented enterprise against ways to curb the excesses of capitalism needs to happen, to search for a dynamic balance.

When it comes to the killing of civilians by militants in the name of Islam, ordinary Muslims do not condone these atrocities. Many may well be too dumbfounded and embarrassed to comment on the bizarre brainwashing of young the name of their faith, as in this video, which, however, given the puzzled expression on the children’s faces, I suspect has been commissioned to incite outrage in the west.  I dearly hope Muslims will find ways  to open a dialogue amongst themselves and with other faiths.

Lovers of life – don’t look away, don’t reject conflict and doubt, don’t numb your hearts. Secular societies with their temporary guardians, for better or worse, challenge us towards unlearning. Editing out complex thoughts will keep us stranded in the flatland of the known, unable to empathise with the physical and spiritual starvation suffered around the globe. Listen to the lecture of Dr Abdul Aziz Said again – and seek conflict transformation in all spheres of life.

One could say we are the particles of multiverses becoming conscious of embodied spirit. It’s no mean feat to shield our little lights from the winds of ignorance.

‘One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.’ – C G Jung

‘We are not meant to agree with each other, but to create beauty.’ – Fazal Inayat-Khan

And I can’t help it, I admire the graceful poet and singer, Leonard Cohen, who loves his country though he can’t stand the scene. Here is …  AnthemRing the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering – there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in …

 

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