Zuckerberg: the world’s biggest dictator

My latest article at MercatorNet is a brief primer on the increasing significance of Facebook and other Big Data collectors in shaping our polity:

So called “dark post” Facebook ads are visible only to their targeted audience, and as a recent post promising to build a border wall “(not a fence)” shows, the Trump campaign clearly thinks these tactics worth continuing.

With all the focus on “fake news” and not trusting everything you read online, it’s disconcerting to find that people are being wilfully manipulated by online content the rest of us can’t see or scrutinise, even if we wanted to.

The danger in Facebook’s Big Data powers is epitomised in new revelations that Russian operatives used Facebook to influence American politics over a two year period, with as many as126 million Americans viewing the posts.

Facebook has refused to release the ads, but described them as focused on “divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum”, such as race relations and gun rights.



Regime-change in the USA

Be honest – how many of you were expecting to see something like this:

No one really knows what a Trump presidency will look like. But we can agree at least that this election result is more profound than the usual changing-of-the-guard seen in political duopolies like America.

In my latest piece at Mercatornet, I examine Trump’s victory in the sensible context of ancient Chinese history:

There’s a Chinese proverb to the effect that “he who wins becomes king while he who loses becomes an outlaw.” Though Trump has suggested that this might literally be the case once he is inaugurated, what the saying really refers to is the historical Chinese concept of the “mandate of heaven.”

At various points in history, dynasties became corrupt, weak, unjust or ineffective and were overthrown. A successful rebellion was taken as evidence that the defeated regime had lost its way, effectively surrendering the right to rule through its own misdeeds and poor governance.

As power changed hands, the mandate of heaven became a way of retaining theoretical continuity with the previous regime while lending legitimacy to the new one.

A modern democracy mirrors the mandate of heaven, but fixes authority in the “will of the people” instead. Fair and free elections allow for political transitions to occur without massive violence and disorder, and the victors typically pledge to unite the whole country, to work for the good of those who voted for them, as well as those who didn’t.


How we vote: the four temperaments

My latest piece at MercatorNet suggests that differences in temperament may explain why otherwise intelligent and like-minded people have fallen apart over voting for Trump.

Choleric temperaments see the world in terms of achievement and ambition. They excel at rational calculations of whatever is to their advantage. Voting in an election is no different from investing in the stock market – you want to park your money or your vote where it has the best chance of making a return.

By contrast, the melancholic temperament sees the world in terms of ideals. For a melancholic, a vote for Trump implies an endorsement of the man and his politics, with all the accountability such support entails. In an ideal world, voters would take personal responsibility for the moral character of the candidate they support.



Finding your inner Trump

My latest piece on MercatorNet is part of a first foray into the four temperaments theory:

If you want to know what an extreme choleric looks like, start with Donald Trump.

If an ancient Greek physician met Donald Trump, they would be deeply concerned. Not for any of the usual reasons, but because Trump’s behaviour and appearance would be viewed as indicating a severe excess of yellow bile – a terrible imbalance of humour with associated medical complaints.

On the psychological level Trump is an excellent specimen of an extreme choleric. He is proud, ambitious, audacious, thin-skinned, aggressive, bullying, self-absorbed, energetic, and individualistic.

There’s a little bit of Trump in all of us, but more so (much more so) in others of the choleric temperament.


Discerning The Donald

My aforementioned efforts in fiction have coincided with a slump in article-writing. Thank goodness for the American election season, a subject to which I can turn my attention  without fear of being either too pessimistic or sardonic.

Imagine if Oprah Winfrey were running for President, and the nature of the advantage becomes clear. Trump may not be as likeable, but he doesn’t have to beat Oprah, he only has to beat a few interchangeable, significantly younger career politicians who are best known to the public at large for their role in the current Presidential primaries.

How galling it must be for Trump’s rivals to have played the political game so carefully, to have plotted and planned not to mention polled every aspect of their campaign, only to be stomped underfoot by a guy who would be easy to dismiss as ostentatious, narcissistic, boorish, crude, or any other of a dozen nasty epithets if only he wasn’t winning!