The Artificial Crowd

Since at least the Upper Palaeolithic age, the noetic souls that are psychic individuals have expressed their expectations by tertiarizing them, that is, by projecting their retentions and their protentions outside themselves, between themselves and other psychic individuals, and in the form of traces through which they spatialize what they are living through or have lived through temporally (temporally meaning psychically, in the past, present or future). These traces are the hypomnesic tertiary retentions with which and through which these psychic individuals transindividuate themselves according to specific modalities – modalities specified by the characteristics of the tertiary retentions thereby engendered.1

For those of us not schooled in the French cultural elite rhetorical strategies of Stiegler’s audience what he is saying is simply this: Homo Sapiens at least since the so called Stone Ages has built up certain maps of reality through both individual and cultural collective memory and perception that it has externalized in myths, songs, dance, gesture, sign, writing, art, etc. that allows for the transmission of certain norms, modalities, regulatory functions for that society or culture that could be temporalized and past on from generation to generation through processes at once that carried the past and mapped a possible future. In our age the various civilizations and cultures that up to this point have lived separate and coeval lives encircled and inscribed within their domains have suddenly been faced with the reality systems of other cultures and civilizations. The norms and value systems of these various cultures and civilizations since at least Nietzsche’s time have begun to fray around the edges, their once powerful and empowered authority and vision that regulated these vast assemblages of peoples across the earth as truth has fallen into disrepute, lost its power over these peoples hearts and minds.

The Secular Age that sponsored Atheism and the Critique of the Religious Worldview is in turn gazing upon its own heritage and dismantling its own authority and theoretical underpinnings. That this new redoubling of the critique the world that our Enlightenment forbears invented is in turn dismantling itself. That something new is coming our way is all around us, and yet the forces that have kept the powers of the Outside at bay are in themselves powerless against this destruction of their own house. We are in the apocalypse so long dreamed as nightmare, so long believed to be a figment of religious imagination it has become at the hands of its critics the veritable engine of destruction that is brining Western Civilization to its knees and the earth upon which all humanity relies to the point of cataclysmic and environmental degradation and demise.

We’ve lived this out since the Enlightenment Age in the West. Other cultures because of the influx of globalization and the electronic age of global communications: all the analogue and now digital technics and technologies: telegraph, television, radio, etc. and now the internet… all this has broken down the codes and programs that have encircled and kept each cultural enclave a specific and secure space of being. The great philosophies of the past were based upon a vision of Being and Time, of certain fixities and ontological and epistemic verities that bound a cultures thoughts to its goals. Those have begun to fracture and splinter into our modern eras completed nihilism where the central myth of Nature or Environment that has been the main force against which human for millennia built up their civilizations as Security Zones against the chaos and destructive powers of the natural order. In doing this these civilizations created metafictional systems of governance and regulation to guide the common life of each through time to sustain an equitable existence against the destructive force of Nature and Others (not of our culture).

These great systems that in the 19th Century began to be explored by early sociologists and anthropologists, etc. fell into various open and closed forms designed to create societies based on war or peace, sword or plough. I simplify. One could cite authority after authority and their critics on all these facets. That in itself became part of the vast literature of our current culture industries that have formulated and abstracted out all the elements of these ancient systems, codified them, analyzed them, theorized them, bound them to new conceptualities to the point that one would be hard put to find anything left of the original world out of which they originated. This too is part of our current malaise for we have lost the thread of the human relation, of any pattern in the vast temporal sea of human time that could guide us through our contemporary moment. Why? Because nothing in that great past prepared us for what we are now going through.

We truly are at the beginning of something new and yet old and uncanny. For we are faced with the breakdown of one age (call it the Anthropocene – the Age of Humanity) and the birth of another which has yet to be named or fully understood. Yet, the outlines of this world are not assured, things can go wrong and the world composed of negentropic creativity and transformation could fall into utter chaos and oblivion along with the human world of that past. Humans are driven animals whose very make up is patterned by both memory and desire. The various social forces of the collective elites have for millennia channeled these forces into the wider cultural worlds of work and play that have kept the psychic life of most humans tamed and civilized.

At least here in the West as Stiegler remarks “Automatic society is now attempting to channel, control and exploit these dangerous automatisms that are the drives, by subordinating them to new retentional systems that are themselves automatic, which capture drive-based automatisms by outstripping and overtaking them: formalized by applied mathematics, concretized by algorithms designed to capture and exploit the traces generated by individual and collective behavior, reticular interactive automatisms are systems for capturing behavioral expressions.” (AS, KL 1449)

Terms such as Civil, Citizen, Civilized, etc. all pertain to a process of cultural indoctrination and subordination of the individual to the norms and regulatory functions (Law, Justice, Mores…) that make up the codes of that world. Deleuze and Guattari in their history and philosophical speculations of capitalism would uncover aspects of this process in the West as humans moved from the early Paleolithic worlds of hunters and gatherers to the City States, to the Feudal empires, to the modern technological age in which we live. Deleuze in later life bounded by some of Michel Foucault’s notions of biopolitics and power/knowledge structures would term them societies of control. The controls set in place during the early Industrial era of the 19th Century bourgeoisie have eroded through the very technological explosion of the simple world of that era.

No longer living in a circumscribed and orderly world of values, and in fact living in an time where all values have become suspect, even the great theoretical underpinnings of that authority of authorities, the Sciences and Philosophy we realize that even this Secular Age is circumscribed and closing. The atheistic world that sought since the enlightenment to dismantle the ancient codes and norms of the religious worldview has by so doing brought about its own veritable demise.  The Age of Theory that gave us the tools to recon with the dark hinterlands of the collective and social psychic life of Western Civilization are now useless as we face the new and unbounded completion of that process (i.e., the completed nihilism of Nietzsche).

That the great worlds of Philosophy bounded within the closed world of Being no longer hold has been attested both in Analytical and Continental thought since the early thinkers of the Enlightenment. The Age of Metaphysics is over and something new but yet to surface is rising among us. We’ve seen in various philosophers and thinkers since at least Heidegger struggle with and against the metaphysical worlds. All of this is for most humans mute.

For most humans caught up in the cycles of birth, growth, maturity, work, old age, and death life is bounded by the ordinary automatisms of work and play. Most never go beyond the base set of beliefs and values by which they were first educated and indoctrinated into the cultures and societies within which they were born. Most never suspect that these norms and behaviors that guide and shape their lives are anything other than the ‘truth’. For the common lot of humans the world of thought is channeled and controlled by automatic scripts that allow them to believe they themselves are the part of something greater than themselves, that their lives have meaning and purpose as part of some group, collective, religion, political party, social club, marriage, etc. All the daily rituals that help the common lot to survive and protect them from the harsh worlds outside their social realms is accepted without any critical of theoretical knowledge otherwise. Most humans are cattle and machines of scripted worlds they themselves never made nor understand, and yet believe they are free and prosperous according to the myths and beliefs of the social systems within which they are prisoners. Even the intelligentsia are imprisoned by these various scripts and algorithms that govern and shape their own critical visions. Thousands of books critical of this or that part of the system are published every month suggesting radical or conservative change in this or that policy or law of the society, etc. Yet, as we all know these books are lost in the millions of pieces of data published each year. The Library of Congress catalogue alone boggles the mind of any scholar approaching a specific theme of study, etc.

We are in an age of information glut where any value or system can be critiqued or defended in a book, article, paper, speech, etc. with the assurance of such an automatic system that such efforts count. Sadly, they don’t. Knowledge is depleted. Critique is dead, the Scholar is replaced by unthinking analytical machines that automatically sort, analyze, organize, and script the world of Big Data day by day 24/7 without any thought of the norms or relations of humans. And do this as part of a system of governance over what humans are becoming: dividuals.  The notion of dividual refers to a term used by Deleuze and Guattari to refer to what Stiegler associates with the network effect:

In automatic society, those digital networks referred to as ‘social’ channel these expressions by subordinating them to mandatory protocols, to which psychic individuals bend because they are drawn to do so through what is referred to as the network effect, which, with the addition of social networking, becomes an automated herd effect, that is, one that is highly mimetic. It therefore amounts to a new form of artificial crowd, in the sense Freud gave to this expression. (AS, KL 1495)

Watching the buzz worlds of Twitter, Face Book, Linked In etc. one realizes this process of the in-crowd vogue of traces and circulations that provide the perfect control mechanism. In a world of blips and bytes the instantaneous reduplication of the cliché has found its perfect match of automatic society. From moment to moment one can see a news story offered by Reuters as fact blipped and transformed through the network effect into the various political filters of Left or Right where truth no longer matters and even ‘fact checks’ are ideological systems of governance that trap people in a blind man’s bluff game of political and social malfeasance.

Our world has become a cliché of itself, a realm depleted of value gains instant notoriety from the most outrageous statements of this or that pundit, politico, are cultural elite. The trivialization of life and the implosion of real culture into this piss-pot sea of inanity has brought the human into a universal deconstruction machine that is eroding the last vestiges of the human mind and intellect and replacing it with trivia and mindless bric-a-brac.

According to Stiegler Freud showed that there are also ‘artificial’ crowds, which he analyses through the examples of the Church and the Army. In the twentieth century, and starting in the 1920s, the audiovisual programme industries, too, also form, every single day, and specifically through the mass broadcast of programmes, such ‘artificial crowds’. The latter become, as masses (and Freud refers precisely to Massenpsychologie), the permanent, everyday mode of life in the industrial democracies, which are at the same time what Stiegler calls industrial tele-cracies. (AS, KL 1512)

The very networks once espoused as the home of freedom for early pundits have become the blind halls of vast conglomerates and interconnected assemblages of hypernormalization, enforcing algorithmic governance so ubiquitous that the governed assume their thoughts and minds are inventing freedom rather than imposing the very mental chains of a worldwide teleocracy. We are the makers of our own prison system, the victims of our own desires, the cause and effect of our own artificialization in a world where the individual is replaced by his datagram: the dividual.

This process of artificialization has been going on from the beginning of those early Paleolithic ancestors. We’ve built and mapped artificial worlds we term culture and civilization as devices to secure and protect us from the encompassing threat of the Universe itself. So this new phase is nothing new but rather a continuing phase and transformation of an age old path we began long ago. All that has changed is that we’ve applied the theoretical gaze upon this vast Anthropocene Era of Humanity.

I’ll continue further tomorrow…


  1. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 1463-1469). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

The Artificial Human: Digital Life in a Mindless Habitat

Digital tracking technologies are the most advanced stage of a process of grammatization that began at the end of the Upper Palaeolithic age…

—Bernard Stiegler,  Automatic Society: The Future of Work

Education in its etymological context is the process of  drawing out or unfolding the powers of the mind in a child. This notion presupposes that a child is born with certain innate powers and capacities that can be slowly activated and molded by the cultural norms of the society within which it lives. But is this so? Do we come with a set of innate capacities and powers to learn, to know, to feel, to see, to understand, surmise, analyze, reason, think…? In other words is there some fixed and unchallenged thing called ‘human nature’ that can be shaped and formed into a human being or not? Of course the culture/nurture debates are unending and I’m not about to add to that vast literature. Instead let’s begin with our recent history.

If one cares to look at it we can discern that there are so many fragmented cultures across the planet that no one could in their right mind begin to know or understand each and everyone with any amount of success. The literature of anthropologists has become almost laughable in the sense that what it describes is not the scattered remnants of indigenous populations remaining in the world among us, but rather the mirrored reflections of our own fears and phobias, values and contexts. The very conceptuality we use to understand others is itself tainted by its ubiquitous reliance on hundreds if not thousands of years of clichéd use. Bounded by certain central concepts our thought as pointed out by those masters of irony the post-structuralists is already informed by metaphysical prejudice. We live in a circle of our own thought never able to truly grasp the Other at all. This goes both ways, too. For the Other is an alterity to us and we to her and the world is an endless Tower of Babel.

Of course we love to simplify, to abstract, to fictionalize that matters are other than this, that we can understand each other, that there are certain truths and norms that seem at first Universal everywhere. That even the Mind holds certain universal concepts and ideas that come with us at birth. Plato once believed all that was needed was to remember these Ideas, to educe them from the child and nurture them through a form of dialectic that would teach the young child the powers and capacities he already had within him. But was he right? Do we come with these innate ideas, forms? Are they existing like dormant seeds that need only be watered and nurtured to grow and mature? Or is the mind a clean slate, a sponge into which concepts and ideas are put by those very cultures, imposed from the outside in? Are we but empty vessels that can be slowly adapted and molded by the culture within which we are born and emerge, shaped and modulated by thoughts not innate but imposed? And, if so, does this imply that we are not what we think we are but something other?

This is not the place to debate the extremes of such questions. Instead I’ll limit the discussion only to Bernard Stiegler’s notion of grammatization. What is grammatization? Following the work of Gilbert Simondon whose notions of transindividuation would deeply influence Stielger we can start with the notion of technics. For Stiegler humans, as a species, were not born into the world already equipped with mature cognitive capacities; these capacities developed over time in a transductive relationship with Neolithic technics, and they are still developing today hand in glove through our collective play with contemporary technics. Informed by Simondon, Stiegler routinely defined technics as organized inorganic matter.” The term refers both to the history of fabricated objects (e.g., flint, hammers, pencils, computers) and to the domain of techne: the techniques and practices involved in making (something with) technology. Technics are more than merely a part of the environment humans inhabit; technics constitute—not determine—our experience on every possible level, from retention to anticipation, and from cultural history to genetics.1

I hear many speak of the natural world and environment who say we are now entering a time when our world is becoming severed from its natural context and entering an artificial era. Truth is we’ve been living in artificial environments for millennia. Cultures and civilizations around the globe were since the first Neolithic stone age building artificial landscapes to escape and defend themselves against the natural world. As the verbose and witty if not always accurate cultural theorist and art critic Camille Paglia puts it: “We are hierarchical animals. Sweep one hierarchy away, and another will take its place, perhaps less palatable than the first. There are hierarchies in nature and alternate hierarchies in society. In nature, brute force is the law, a survival of the fittest. In society, there are protections for the weak. Society is our frail barrier against nature.”2

In the great debates surrounding whether humans determine technology, or technology humans, or / and if both co-evolve and determine each other in turn Stiegler would join his progenitor Jaques Derrida in circumventing this debate altogether by seeking the underlying conditions that determine both humans and technology: the constitutive processes, in Stiegler’s lexicon, are called processes of grammatization. (Tinell, p. 4) That Stiegler was influenced by French culture from the 60’s to 80’s with those such as the classicists and historians of writing (Leroi-Gourhan, Havelock, Goody), French philosophers and literati associated with Tel Quel (Derrida, Barthes, Kristeva), and North American media theorists (Ong, McLuhan, Ulmer) should be no surprise. (ibid., p. 5) Almost anyone who lived during this time period would have been versant in the structuralist and post-structuralist scholarship. Today one hardly hears the names of these scholars in current or contemporary radical philosophy, as if they were irrelevant and passé. Just another blip on the long slow demise of philosophy in an age of derivative metaphysics playing out its endgame. (Of course I wonder at times if it is just young thinkers seeking to bypass the rigours and time needed to fully delve into all the textual work it takes to study and learn the full gamut of all the philosophical traditions.)

Either way the scholars of this age according to media theorist Gregory Ulmer ultimately were led into various theoretical trajectories that would lead to grammatology. According to Ulmer, grammatology developed in three phases, all of which remain in progress. First, the historical phase featured a variety of archeological and paleontological investigations into the evolution of writing systems. These historians of writing attempted to account for the actual invention of writing in ancient civilizations, as well as devise elaborate taxonomies for categorizing the world’s writing systems, almost as if taking inventory of different species of plants or animals. Racing to gather new empirical facts surrounding the origins of particular writing systems, early historians of writing rarely paused to consider the theoretical significance of writing, nor did they question inherited assumptions about which activities and artifacts counted as writing. For this reason, Derrida—the first theoretical grammatologist—embarked on a “point-by-point repetition, of the history of writing into a theory of writing” (Ulmer, 1985, p, 17). As he deconstructed the metaphysical opposition of speech and writing, Derrida assembled something of a counter-history, wherein non-phonetic systems like hieroglyphics function as emblems with which he theorizes writing in general (i.e., arche-writing), beyond the limits of phonocentric discourse. (Tinell, p. 5)

Stiegler would transform and extend the thought of Derrida and other post-structuralist thinkers developing his own media centered notions of grammatization. For him according to Tinnell the term applies to processes by which a material, sensory, or symbolic flux becomes a gramme, which—broadly conceived—can include all manners of technical gestures that maintain their iterability and citationality apart from an origin or any one particular context.For Stiegler, the shift from cuneiform to phonetic symbols is a process of grammatization, the shift from hand-tools to factory machines is a process of grammatization, and so is genetic engineering—cells and organs become replicated and revised like a kind of alphabet. In every case, a continuous flux (e.g., speech, the body, the genome) becomes broken down into a system of discrete elements (e.g., alphabetic characters, mechanical systems, recombinant DNA sequences). And, in every case, the latter’s emergence always disrupts, transforms, and reconfigures the former. (Tinnell, p. 6)

What were seeing here is a theory of influence between human and its technics, the slow process of these material grammes acting like programs computing and activating processes throughout history. In this way Stiegler forces us to think about technologies and techniques not as separate processes but rather as co-sharers and partners in ongoing processes out of which both are conditioned. The key here is that as everyday objects transform into what some glibly term the ‘internet of things’, or a world of smart objects, or as Stiegler would term them: gramme objects, we see a world artificially animated by intelligences that activate and control our habits, intentions, and actions. The environment surrounding us will track us, help us, teach us, enclose us with a grammatical texture of ubiquitous technics designed to operate on us 24/7.

Defining all writing technologies as pharmakon, Stiegler (2011) warned that hyperindustrial investment in digital machines was contributing to a general proletarianization of the consumer’s existence to an even more pervasive extent than the industrial investment of factory machines effected a proletarianization of the worker’s labor. Nevertheless, in addition to this disconcerting ramification, the pervasive networks of gramme and gesture emerging with wearable computers and biotechnologies mark new rhetorical/media ecologies that introduce unusual and, perhaps, promising affordances for multimedia composition. (Tinell, p. 7) The point here is that all these gadgets that seem to optimize our physical and mental processes, help us perform better, become better adapted to the rigors of this 24/7 world are in fact shaping and modulating our lives through a new form of social control (Deleuze).

Without going into the full details of how all this came about Stiegler compresses the main tenets of his oeuvre into an ensemble of theoretical gestures. For Stiegler the movement from the Industrial to Hyperindustrial  era we are now in, or what Nietzsche would term the era of a ‘completed nihilism’ when theory and knowledge itself would become valueless and stupidity would reign everywhere is upon us. We’ve heard repeatedly from my friend R. Scott Bakker that this is so, that philosophy in the traditional sense is dead, mute. That theory is without a project, a future. That humanity is giving way to a process of stupefaction, automatization. That every facet of our lives and thoughts is slowly being governed and manipulated by the ‘trace’ – a world of data and metadata attached to our dividual lives in an electronic world that never sleeps. The a universal city of nightmares is being set loose within the ‘internet of things’ in the sense of a playground for total immersion and calculability. As Stiegler remarks,

After the loss of work-knowledge in the nineteenth century, then of life-knowledge in the twentieth century, there arises in the twenty-first century the age of the loss of theoretical knowledge – as if the cause of our being stunned was an absolutely unthinkable becoming. With the total automatization made possible by digital technology, theories, those most sublime fruits of idealization and identification, are deemed obsolete – and along with them, scientific method itself. We saw in the introduction that this is the conclusion Chris Anderson reaches in ‘The End of Theory’… (AS, KL 1187)3

As Anderson said in that article Google conquered the advertising world with nothing more than applied mathematics. It didn’t pretend to know anything about the culture and conventions of advertising — it just assumed that better data, with better analytical tools, would win the day. And Google was right. As he remarks,

Google’s founding philosophy is that we don’t know why this page is better than that one: If the statistics of incoming links say it is, that’s good enough. No semantic or causal analysis is required. That’s why Google can translate languages without actually “knowing” them (given equal corpus data, Google can translate Klingon into Farsi as easily as it can translate French into German). And why it can match ads to content without any knowledge or assumptions about the ads or the content.

This is the world of Big Data and Calculation. The rule of algorithmic governmentality that needs no theory or theoretician, scholar or pundit. It just does all this without human intervention at all. A world run for and by machinic intelligence, optimized by algorithms that chart and navigate the traces we leave in our ordinary everyday lives, attuned to our whims, to our desires, to our unknowing.

Even science and the scientific method is being made obsolete by this world of Big Data. As Anderson continues, “But faced with massive data, this approach to science — hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete. Consider physics: Newtonian models were crude approximations of the truth (wrong at the atomic level, but still useful). A hundred years ago, statistically based quantum mechanics offered a better picture — but quantum mechanics is yet another model, and as such it, too, is flawed, no doubt a caricature of a more complex underlying reality.” Absolute innovation and revolution in a continuous world of total optimization of code and gramme, control and gesture. Anderson being more optimistic than Stiegler hypes this new world, saying,

The new availability of huge amounts of data, along with the statistical tools to crunch these numbers, offers a whole new way of understanding the world. Correlation supersedes causation, and science can advance even without coherent models, unified theories, or really any mechanistic explanation at all.

With the demise of computer simulations and models comes the ousted computer modeler or programmer themselves, and the instigation of self-replicating algorithms and deep learning algorithms that have no need of the human engineer anymore. A world without humans is being martialed before our very eyes, one that will eventually not only replace work but life. Nietzsche once declared that God was Dead. One day a machine may say: “The Human is Dead.” Excluded from our own creation we may discover a civilization we thought to become a utopia has indeed become just that without us.

As Stiegler himself says,

Founded on the self-production of digital traces, and dominated by automatisms that exploit these traces, hyper-industrial societies are undergoing the proletarianization of theoretical knowledge, just as broadcasting analogue traces via television resulted in the proletarianization of life-knowledge, and just as the submission of the body of the labourer to mechanical traces inscribed in machines resulted in the proletarianization of work-knowledge. The decline in ‘spirit value’ thereby reaches its peak: it now strikes all minds and spirits. (AS, KL 1195)

We’ll continue this tomorrow…


  1. Tinnell, John. Grammatization: Bernard Stiegler’s Theory of Writing and Technology. Article in Computers and Composition · September 2015.
  2. Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae (p. 3). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.
  3. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 1187-1192). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

 

Zombie Wiring: Retrofitting the Brain

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Interesting article by Matthew Hutson on the Daily News We are zombies rewriting our mental history to feel in control:

Bad news for believers in clairvoyance. Our brains appear to rewrite history so that the choices we make after an event seem to precede it. In other words, we add loops to our mental timeline that let us feel we can predict things that in reality have already happened.

Adam Bear and Paul Bloom at Yale University conducted some simple tests on volunteers. In one experiment, subjects looked at white circles and silently guessed which one would turn red. Once one circle had changed colour, they reported whether or not they had predicted correctly.

Over many trials, their reported accuracy was significantly better than the 20 per cent expected by chance, indicating that the volunteers either had psychic abilities or had unwittingly played a mental trick on themselves.

The researchers’ study design helped explain what was really going on. They placed different delays between the white circles’ appearance and one of the circles turning red, ranging from 50 milliseconds to one second. Participants’ reported accuracy was highest – surpassing 30 per cent – when the delays were shortest.

That’s what you would expect if the appearance of the red circle was actually influencing decisions still in progress. This suggests it’s unlikely that the subjects were merely lying about their predictive abilities to impress the researchers.

The mechanism behind this behaviour is still unclear. It’s possible, the researchers suggest, that we perceive the order of events correctly – one circle changes colour before we have actually made our prediction – but then we subconsciously swap the sequence in our memories so the prediction seems to come first. Such a switcheroo could be motivated by a desire to feel in control of our lives.

A Planetary Crisis: The Dark Side of War and Refugee Plight

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The Plight of Refugees, the Shame of the World gives us a clue. Death of children. UK response. Yazidis faced with genocide. John Kerry on US lottery. Merkel has made a dire situation worse. An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011. The European Union’s leaders go to shocking lengths to get refugees out of sight, out of mind and out of Europe. EU struggles to reconcile values with barbed wire fences. Map of countries accepting refugees. Syrian refugees stranded in exile may go back to war-ravaged homeland. Hate crimes against refugees up in America and Europe. Ten largest refugee camps in the world. Housed in a notorious concentration camp: Refugees who fled to Europe for a better life are living in former Nazi barracks at Buchenwald.  On its eastern border, Hungary is building a barbed-wire fence to keep out refugees, remarkably like the barbed wire “iron curtain” that once marked its western border. Choose whatever image you want — ships full of Jews being sent back to Nazi Europe, refugees furtively negotiating with smugglers at a bar in Casablanca — and it now has a modern twist.

Veronika Pehe, editor at Political Critique, interviews Budapest-based activist Bálint Misetics, who offers some observations on the Hungarian response to the refugee crisis: What is visible is the compassion of the Hungarian people, which is of course very strikingly juxtaposed with the vicious xenophobia and petty political maneuvering of the Hungarian government. There is also a lot of harassment going on. Volunteers providing food are regularly verbally assaulted by other locals, and there have also been some attacks by far-right-wing groups at Keleti railway station. The public is really polarized, however. When this situation started early in the summer, with the government putting up posters with messages for the so-called migrants (but in Hungarian!), saying that if you come to Hungary, you have to respect our culture, not take jobs from Hungarians, and so on, there was an interesting upsurge in direct action and civil disobedience. And this was not only in activist circles, but amongst ordinary people, who tore these posters down or painted over them. So I think what is happening is that—and this is something we also witnessed with anti-homeless propaganda a few years ago—the government always needs to find a scapegoat. In this case, it’s the refugees. But what the government is doing is so obviously inhumane that it encourages many to find a way to help or in any case to sympathize with the refugees, because the other position seems morally untenable.

According to UN more than 43 million people worldwide are now forcibly displaced as a result of conflict and persecution, the highest number since the mid-1990s. Others like NY Times report closer to 60 million. Several million people remain displaced because of natural disasters, although updated statistics are not available. UN says three specific challenges facing humanitarian efforts: 1) the protracted nature of many modern conflicts, some of which have dragged on for years or even decades; 2) the dangerous climate in which humanitarian actors must work today, or what UNHCR calls the “shrinking of humanitarian space”; and, 3) finally, the erosion of the institution of asylum. This is particularly of concern in industrialized countries trying to cope with so-called “mixed movements” in which migrants, asylum-seekers, refugees and victims of trafficking travel alongside each other.

In terms of hosting displaced people, developed countries pale in comparison with nations bordering conflict zones. Combined, the United States and France had 760,000 refugees last year. Ethiopia, for example, is host to some 665,000, most  from Somalia and South Sudan. Rich nations offer most of the funding to aid refugees in the developing world. The United States contributed about a third of the United Nations refugee agency budget in 2014. Refugee Council USA supports more influx of Syrian refugees. China and Russia also have close ties with Syria so why aren’t they doing anything?

One of the drivers of this is not only cheap labor, but slavery, trafficking, and prostitution rings. This new variant of slavery arrived with the twenty-first century. Today slaves are cheaper than they have ever been. The enslaved fieldworker who cost the equivalent of $40,000 in 1850 costs less than $100 today.1 The second factor pushing these growing millions toward slavery is a collection of dramatic social and economic changes, many of which were supposed to make those people’s lives better. Corruption, especially police corruption, is the third force that drives the growth of slavery. For slavery to exist, the slaveholder must be able to keep the slave where the law can’t protect them. The pattern is strong and clear: more corruption means more slavery. This is a special challenge when corruption becomes institutionalized. The bribes pass up the chain of command and into the hands of politicians and government officials. Soon law enforcement is dedicated to protecting systematic law violation. (Bales, KL 244)

Scores of the Syrian women who escaped to Jordan are turning to prostitution, some forced or sold into it, even by their families. Some women refugees are highly vulnerable to exploitation by pimps or traffickers, particularly since a significant number fled without their husbands – sometimes with their children – and have little or no source of income. Despite strong traditions against sex outside marriage, prostitution takes place in the Arab world, as in other regions, though it is largely more hidden. While there may be known cruising areas in cities, overt red-light districts are rare, and some prostitutes even wear face veils to hide their activities. Arrangements can be made by phone, and short-term or informal marriages are sometimes used as a cover for prostitution or sex trafficking. Among the casualties is an 18-year-old native of Homs, Syria, who arrived in Zaatari camp last summer. Soon after, her father married her for $1,000 to a 22-year-old Jordanian man who frequently visited the camp. The husband then handed her over to a brothel in Irbid, where she is among 20 women pimped out by a man who calls himself Faroun, Arabic for Pharaoh.

One of the many documentaries dealing with the breakdown of society and how the refugee crisis affects both the populace and the people seeking asylum. This is a larger issue than any one country and seems that it is not being addressed as a global issue, which means dealing with the problems in Syria and other nations: war and tyranny:

UN Refugee Agency latest news.
Refworld updates and information.
USA’s own immigration crisis.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC)

  1. Kevin Bales. Ending Slavery: How We Free Today’s Slaves (Kindle Locations 171-172). Kindle Edition.