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Blog Archive July 2012

Presumption of Innocence Until Executed

The lag between penning an editorial and breaking news can seem an eternity even when the two appear in the same edition of the newspaper. A Thai death penalty case has created a perfect journalistic storm with editors praising while reporter updates undermine and destroy the basis of such praise.

On 1st August, The Bangkok Post in an editorial titled “Sending the right Signals” supported the court decision to impose the death penalty on three cops convicted of the murder of a 17-year-old twelve years earlier.

“They clearly thought they were so far above the law that they had the power of life and death,” the editorial concluded.

On another page of the Bangkok Post we are informed the three cops sentenced to death have been released on bail. Altogether six police officers were charged with crimes related to the killing. One defendant was acquitted. Three officers were sentenced to death, one officer sentenced to life and another to seven years in prison. They are all out of jail.

A casual search of the history of the law of bail from the 18th century English and American law discloses no bail provision for someone convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The idea of someone condemned to death being set free on bail is not one that is common. Granting bail is mostly done prior to a trial. Once the accused has been convicted of the crime, the normal reasons for bail no longer apply i.e., the ability to assist defense counsel in countering the Crown’s case and accused presumption of innocence.

The presumption of innocence is lost once the court convicts the accused. While he may argue he has a continuing need to assist his legal counsel in the appellate process, that assistance is no longer one offered by a man presumed to be innocent.

A conviction by a court is the ultimate assignment of guilt and responsibility. Allowing bail for non-violent convicts might be justified but the grounds quickly vanish when the convict has been found guilty of murder.

The handing down of the death sentence upon conviction makes the granting of bail a case few lawyers will have encountered. In a bail assessment hearing, the court must assess the likelihood of the party requesting bail will jump bail and flee from prosecution. The Crown will argue (inevitably) the applicant is a high-risk case and the application should be denied. While the applicant argues that that family, community and his work history suggests that we submit to the court and not seek to escape.

It comes down to the discretion of the court to decide: what are the chances the applicant for bail will skip town and not appear at his hearing? That is a reasonable inquiry. When you ask a man who has been convicted to show up for his hanging there is a little voice inside all of us that scream—flee. Where the law of probabilities needle starts to point to one-hundred percent the question should be asked not whether the man with the death sentence will flee but when and where this will happen.

Thus once a man has been convicted and sentenced to death, it is difficult to think of a stronger case for the prisoner to run away as fast as he can. He has nothing to lose. He’s no worse off trying to escape once he’s been released from prison than if he never tried. He’s hanged in any event. As a matter of game theory, he’d be a fool not to make an attempt to escape, and he has nothing to lose trying to settle scores with those witnesses who were responsible for his conviction and death sentence.

Here’s some necessary background on the trial that led to the conviction of six police officers. The court sentenced three of the men to death, and according to news reports, granted them bail, meaning they were released from death row in prison.

The crime goes back to The War on Drugs in the early 2000s. Officially by the time the killing was called off, a body count of 2,500 people killed in extra judicial killings throughout the country. The idea of The War on Drugs was to rescue children and communities from the evil of drugs. And the best way to rescue them was to suppress and terrorize people involved in the drug business. Police were given a free hand to deal with suspected drug offenders, making no real distinction between users, dealers or petty criminals. It is never a good idea to issue 007 licenses to kill permits to law enforcement officers. Unlike a James Bond movie, the casualty rate has a way of sorting as the police fall into the routine of manning the roles of the prosecutor, judge and executioner. There were bound to be abuses.

Reports have circulated from that time (though no independent investigation was conducted) mentioning a range of number victims who were innocent (at least of drug crimes) as well as the casual drug users; these people were murdered during the dark era of the War on Drugs. The police said the deaths were the result of drug gangs going to war with each other. Others questioned the involvement of the police. Calls for an outside investigation and accounting of the actions of law enforcement officials largely went unanswered. The inability to bring to justice government officers responsible for the killings has often been cited as evidence of the culture of immunity and impunity that applies to protect government officials.

On Monday of this week (31 July 2012), a Thai criminal court took the bold step of convicting five police officers for their roles in the death of Kiattisak Thitboonskrong, a 17-year-old boy in upcountry Thailand who allegedly had stolen a motorbike. The killing of the boy for which three of the policemen were convicted and sentenced to die had no real connection with the war on drugs except perhaps to highlight mission creep that often occurs once official lawlessness is sanctioned.

During the proceedings the murder victims aunt and two other witnesses were put under a police witness protection program. With the conviction of the officers, that protection automatically lapses. In normal circumstances, that would make sense. After the conviction the criminal is not on the street and not a threat to the witnesses. The aunt and witnesses now face the prospect of going about their business without protection against the convicted police officers whose were aided by their testimony, and those death sentence convicts are now out on bail.

The court decision to convict and then to grant bail sends contradictory messages. On the one hand, the conviction suggests that the criminal court is ready to hold police officer to account for murder. That is a significant shift to rule of law and accountability, requiring institutional courage by the court. At the same time, assuming the press reports are accurate, by releasing the three police officers sentenced to death, the conviction has been undermined and the lives of witnesses placed in possible harm’s way.

In most places in the world, when an accused has been convicted of an offense punishable by death or life imprisonment, he is not eligible for bail. In the days that come, there will be explanations, justifications, and finally the usual official stonewalling over the bail decision.

The bottom line is “Sending the Right Signal” might prove to have been a premature caption for the editorial applauding the conviction of the cops implicated in the boy’s murder. At best the five convictions and grant of bail applications fall under the head of “Sending a Confused Signal” as to the way the state deal with its officials who commit murder or other serious crimes. At this juncture, it is impossible to know what conditions were attached to the bail, the reporting obligations, the restrictions on contacting witnesses, handing over of passports, attachment of electronic monitoring bracelets, etc.

What is clear is the signal that as between cops convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die for their crimes, their right to liberty exceeds their right of movement and safety of the witnesses who testified against them. On the scale of justice, that is an odd weighing of the respective interest of the parties not to mention the interest of the public. How the risks will play out in the days that follow are difficult to assess. But the people who testified against the cops in the murder case and the cops who were convicted and sentenced to death share a common bond—they want to stay alive.

Posted: 8/2/2012 8:34:56 PM 

 

We Need to Have a Talk About Greed

The impulse motivating a lot of crime is greed. The outlier wants money for drugs, hot cars or motorcycles, beautiful women, expensive restaurants, foreign holidays—what are perceived as the good things that rich people, or at least well off people, use to identify themselves as successful, desirable, and admirable. Not to mention more sexually attractive. The determinist would argue our biology compels us to compete for mates and nature has no morality, only meaningful report card is the column marked reproduction success, so cheating and the rest of the card are worthless. In love and war there are no rules. Anything goes.

Many articles and books have hammered home the lesson that most acts of greed aren’t criminalized. In many cases, not only are such acts legal, the greedy are rewarded with large bonus, awards, put on the cover of magazines, appear on panels at Davos. When a huge company or firm threatens to blow up from an excess of greed, they turn to the government to safe them.

That’s why we need to talk about greed. We live in a time of vast inequality, a state that is defended by a sizeable portion of the population who happen to be the victims of such inequality. How did this happen? Have we been sleep walking for the last thirty years since President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margret Thatcher fired their starters’ pistol that allowed the greedy to spring ahead of us at the speed of light. All of this has happened in our lifetime.

How bad is it? What can we do about it? And how did hive create a unified mindset that greed was good? I don’t begin to have the answers to such complex questions.

What I have are a couple of pathways to explore, and one or two signposts that suggests a direction to move ahead.

Our perception of greed including the qualities that fuel greed—selfish and narcissistic attitudes and an absence of empathy begins to take shape in childhood

Most of us remember when as a child, a brother or sister, friend or neighbor, hogged more share of the popcorn or mom’s apple pie or the bicycle or the basketball never passing, always taking the shot from the corner. That was our childhood introduction to the idea of greed–actions that were tiny lessons in the art of selfishness. From an early age we calculate how other people divide and share time, opportunity, attention, and, of course, money. And one shouldn’t forget toys and invitations. My parents lectured me that being greedy was morally wrong and people wouldn’t like me if I were greedy. Of course you can be disliked for a lot of other reasons even if you’re not greedy. But that is another essay.

One would think with a lifelong series of lessons in the workings of greed in the back of our minds, we’d quietly resolve that once we grew up and ran things, we’d put a fence around greed, herd the greedy inside and watch them roam around being greedy among their own kind. An appropriate punishment is isolating the greedy.

The problem is, after we grew up the people who were greedy all around the edge of our life proved to have the kind of talent and ability most valued by the world of commerce. And there was no need to isolate the greedy, as they were perfectly capable to isolating themselves. Who else lived in gated communities?

As far as I can see, greed is a vast mall where pundits are gathering to talk about fair shares of this and that on a daily basis. Two recent stories made me understand that the lessons of greed learnt during childhood never fully prepared us with the way forces much larger than ourselves have scaled greed to unimaginable levels.

The first story about loan sharks or what the Bangkok Post called  “predatory lending cartels.” There are about 40 to 50 of these backdoor banking operations in Thailand. Apparently, two of the “businesses” have resources and what the Bangkok Post calls “backing to counter the authorities.” You get the picture—no one can do much about the ‘backed up’ greedy. They have juice.

The way it works in Thailand, is the borrower can opt for a 24-day repayment period or a “2% interest” payment plan. Under the first plan, the borrower repays an equal amount every day for 24 days. The average interest on the 24-day repayment plan is 50%. Under the Usury Law, the maximum is 28%, but as we have established if you have juice, you can squeeze out another 22% over the legal limit without too much of a problem. But the 24-day plan is a walk in the park compared with the 2% interest plan. Under that plan, the borrower is paying only the interest, and that continues until the day the borrower comes up with the principal to repay. Can’t come up with the principal, the borrower continues to pay for life.

Greedy lenders couldn’t exist without an element of greed in a large pool of borrower, especially ones who won’t ever receive a bank loan because they have no steady income or resources to put up as collateral. But they also want to buy gold, cell phones, iPads, and motorcycles. This class of upcountry lenders has an army of “black helmet” debt collectors who do nasty things to borrowers who miss payments. The handmaiden of greed has always been violence. When a borrower takes the money from one of these lenders, he/she forfeits his protection against intimidation and violence.

The upcountry Thai loan sharks show how greed can be organized and scaled on a regional and national basis, and how, at least some players in that network, are given a free-hand to violate the Usury Law and the criminal statues on threatens, intimidation and assault. The middle-class tends to write off the poor rural borrower, as someone reaping their bad karma.

The second story shows that Thailand’s loan shark operation is small change, backwater, out-of-date, out-of-touch money-making. When someone has a close look at the assets of the global super rich, we start to see the upper limits to which pure greed when left unregulated by government, and unbundled from any sense of ethics or morality, can take us. The Guardian  reports that 92,000 people or 0.001% of the world’s population has hidden out of tax view approximately $21 trillion dollars. That’s a lot of ice cream cones, basketball court time, and popcorn.

How much money is that? Three percent interest on that sum is equal, according to the Guardian, to the combined aid given by rich countries to the developing countries each year.

At one time it was said that money from the rich trickled down and everyone benefited. This hunk of an iceberg sits out of sight and despite global warming shows not only no sign of melting but no evidence of a trickle from a leaky kitchen tap.

A number of recent studies in psychology have shown that people have a burning sense of fairness. If A holds $100 dollars and the rule is she can keep the money provided B agrees, and before B agrees, A must make an offered division of the money. What the researchers found is that if A offered B $20 and wanted B to accept that offer so she could keep the $80, most of the time B would reject the offer even though B would be $20 worse off. The point is A loses the $80, too, and that makes for an incentive for a fairer offer, say a 60/40 split.

Our psychology drives people on a personal, person-to-person basis, to reject an offer meaning she will get nothing but at the same time knows the other person who made the unjust offer also gets nothing. Once we scale away from the personal level (the level we know from childhood) we discover at global level of big business and finance, that capitalism inevitably, without safeguards and restraints, will always produce an unjust allocation. In this case, there are several ways those who feel the allocation between the 92,000 and the rest of us is an unjust and unfair allocation of resources. It’s a gross misallocation of money.

Here are a few ideas: First, we have the necessary tools to find the money Second, tax laws could be passed to compel the 92,000 to pay taxes on such wealth. Third, enact an “unusually rich” law (there is such a law in Thailand, but that is another essay) which allows the government to claw back money someone can’t account for.

Saying you won a couple of billion in a poker game or a lottery has been tried (and mostly doesn’t work). It might be better to cut to the chase, and admit that anyone with wealth over $100 million is unusually wealthy. The excess money goes back to the State. The environment, climate change, education, medical care, scientific research would benefit overnight from this cash injection. Though, with the cunning of international banksters combined with this treasure scattered like rice thrown at a wedding, enacting such laws would be almost as difficult as enforcing them if enacted.

The anger over the unfairness of how income and wealth is distributed is coming to a head. Precisely because you can poke large holes in the possible three solutions above, the political solution seems impossible. When that happens, expect to see self-help fill the void.

It won’t be long before technology will allow determined Internet Robin Hoods to ferret out the super rich, their bank accounts, their hiding places inside the global Nottingham Forest. Once there is a consensus that the Sheriffs have been bought off, the risk increases that self-help will fill the void. The task is a huge one. The construction of a secure fence to encircle greed might be technically possible but with the amount of wealth involved, the super rich will have their army of  “geeks” to subvert the Robin Hood assault.

Only a true romantic would believe that our childhood promise to install a means to control greed can succeed. No matter where on the planet the money is stashed, it can be shifted, converted, hidden and more accumulated in the meantime. Will there be an accounting of the super rich? That’s already been done. But accounting and accountability are two separate issues.

The digital auditors need backing. They can run the sums. They’ve identified the world’s elite class of the greediest. It is now over to those who have their hands on the levers of power to adjust the rules and tax laws. The way it looks, though, they are holding hands with the super rich. The levers of power are part of their hidden ownership.

It would be too depressing to leave the matter like a crime everyone witnessed but no one can arrest the killer. In the oft chance, the internet Robin Hoods need some analogue help in chasing down the super rich, or some technical advice on what do to with them when they’re found and confronted, they might consider a consultancy contract with the Black Helmet debtor collectors in Thailand. The Men in Black Helmets know how to produce results. The 92,000 might try to bargain, bribe or come up with excuses. These guys, according to press accounts, are good; they no how to cause pain without leaving marks. But the bribing potential is a bit of a problem but giving them a percentage of the take should take care of that.

For anyone on the 92,000 Greed List, you better start running about now, looking over your shoulder, because I see a crew of 53 kilo Black Helmet debtor collectors recruited as freelance taxmen and they have your name and address, bank account details, and the message from Thailand is that these guys just don’t accept  “no” for an answer.

Posted: 7/26/2012 9:00:23 PM 

 

HE SAID, SHE SAID

Technology is the major driver of change. Creative destruction is often used to describe the train wreck-like effect that new technology has as it destroys jobs, industries (think of publishing and newspapers), institutions, and markets. The bodies left in the path of creative destruction can be charted by examining the technological history as battle axes and arrows were replaced by muskets and cannon, only to be replaced machine guns, onto atomic bombs, and now in drones that deliver by remote control lethal ordnance.

What hasn’t kept with the rate of technological change is the way our brains process the big data that washes over our lives. It is likely that our cognitive biases and the narratives we invent from the patterns of information that stream through our lives daily are little changed over thousands of years. The fundamental neural wiring is 100,000 years old.

There is evidence for a disconnect between what new methods, structures, and networks that we have invented and how we continue to perceive and behave in the world. Most people’s behavior and mindset appear immune to technological change. The world inside their head is largely untouched by innovation. If you want to witness cognitive limitation, spend a little time in a courtroom or in a police station or a legislative assembly.

One of the reasons that crime novels, mysteries, and courtroom dramas remain highly popular as novels, TV dramas and movies, is people can relate to the conflict in perception, the stories, the mistakes, the lies, and the biases. I suspect it has always been so. We aren’t robots. We are cognitively flawed human beings who have the fancy idea that since we innovate, we, too, have benefited from this technology in the way we behave and think.

That is plain wrong.

Lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and police spend a lifetime listening to conflicting versions of events from those directly involved and bystanders. I call this the magic realm of ‘He said, She said.” Like watching a tennis match, each player hits the ball across the net to win a point only to find the ball comes back. In the courtroom game, people bring in their point of view, emotions, hindsight bias and assume their memory is the complete record of the experience, and any other version is wrong, biased, based on lies and fraud.

While technological changes that are designed to update our cognitive abilities, reduce the biases and flaws may appear in the distant future, there is an intermediate period of change that is happening now to redefine the ‘He said, She said’ world of diverse, confused and biased memory recall. In the real world, who ‘he’ is and who ‘she’ is, at least in my part of the world, is a significant factor in determining what happened.

One such technology is the car camera. Real time, video cameras with high resolution, good lens the camera is fixed to your dashboard or review mirror where it can record everything within 150 degree view of the road as you are driving.  In Thailand, where I drive on the highway a couple of times a week, I witness something approaching low-level warfare on wheels. That is likely my bias talking. But in the event of accident, having the video footage leading up to the event, in theory, eliminates the social status of the other driver and his/her story as the accepted version. Having a car camera that also records your speed would also be an advantage when the police stop and say that you were speeding.

I can see a couple of flaws in the car camera. It is possible the video recording would be confiscated and ‘lost’ (this has happened not with car cameras but with CCTV cameras in Thailand on occasions). Some places in the States have made it illegal to photograph or video the police. Shaking off our long history of cognitive biases will be much more difficult than landing a man on the moon.

From judges to cops, to school teachers and prison guards, welfare officers to bankers and government officials, their status has given them an edge when the stories they tell conflict with the stories told by those under their power and authority.  As more and more ways of monitoring come on the market, we hear the cry of loss of freedom and free will. That is mainly an illusion. We only have enjoyed a limited about of freedom since we became domesticated about 9,000 years ago, and free will was one of those just so stories we accepted on faith.

The yoke of flaw cognitive abilities and authority structures based on power rather than facts or truth, won’t be overturned as that is the nature of how we are, and revising our cognitive abilities won’t be easy.

Just as the modern GPS on iPads, cell phones and other devices reduces the chances of us getting lost when we travel to a new destination, the car camera promises a way to resolve the ‘he said, she said’ stalemate by producing a neutral way to establish the facts of what happened.

Those in power and authority will hate being challenged with the Third Eye. The technological eye that lacks bias, is not obedient to authority, and has no past or reputation to defend.

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www.cgmoore.com

Christopher G. Moore’s latest book is a collection of 50 essays titled Faking It in Bangkok, which is available as a kindle ebook.

Posted: 7/19/2012 9:00:19 PM 

 

Noir Fiction Barbarians – Part 2

Barbarians have acquired a bad name. Their negative press is part of our hive programming. We feel revulsion to outsiders, the barbarians who threaten our way of life, our values, our norms, and our laws and institutions. Leave our hive alone!

The barbarians, in Roman times, were the Germanic tribes along the borders. These tribes had a disturbing feature—their members had minds that hadn’t been programmed by Roman cultural, governmental, military or educational authorities. More simply they came from another hive. That’s why they were called barbarians. They weren’t Romans in outlook or mindset. They had their own ideas about honey.

On one level a barbarian is a person who had managed to escape, reject or avoid the programming of an established culture or civilization. On another level the barbarian wants to impose a different operating system on the invaded hive.

Critical thinkers, noir crime novelists, essayists like George Orwell are a few examples of modern-day barbarians who perform intellectual hacks into the ‘civilized’ mind, planting a disturbing possibility—what civilized cultures have accepted as reality is dangerous, distorted, and flawed.

A few essays ago, I warned that the Truth Keepers (the Official Programmers, Honey Hoarders, the metaphors multiply in a hive setting) have exploited a programmed belief system built on anxiety, fear and desire so that the system largely serves the honey flowing for a narrow part of the hive and the bees who are close allies. The way people are programmed not to think other than the accepted wisdom about work, family, parliament, courts, cities, shopping centers, or entertainment makes them good candidates for hacking.

It is the duty of the Official Programmers to guard their turf and strike hard at hackers trying to break into and alter the messages about how the system functions, its purpose, and fairness. I suspect it is no different at Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook or hundreds of other less well-known companies where most of the honey goes to only a few.

Until the Internet changed the way the game was played. It seems that the programming works best when the Truth Keepers had a secure monopoly on what beliefs and ideas were transmitted on which channels. For most of human existence, the borders of the mind have been sealed like the borders of North Korea. No outside ideas contrary to the received wisdom could get in, and only the elites and their children, who were the main beneficiaries of the ‘civilized’ and ‘sacred’ beliefs, were allowed to leave and return with little anxiety they would come back and start a counterattack. In the case of Cambodia, in the time of Pol Pot, the French-educated Khmer Rouge leadership played the part of the barbarians.

There was no doubt an evolutionary advantage to tribes that shared the same unquestioned beliefs, thoughts and values in confrontation with tribes of free thinkers who thought dying for a shared belief was a stupid thing. While there were likely no tribes whose members were all free-thinking with no shared beliefs, there are free thinkers nestled inside or nearby for every tribe. They look for ways of breaking out through the barricades with a hack that isn’t supporting the Truth Keepers/Official Programmers’ system.

Control is essential to maintaining any programmed system, including the one that has shaped your mind.

Some of those seeking to hack the official system write noir crime fiction.

Noir crime fiction is one of those barbarian-created enterprises. The dark shadows that fall over the lives of the characters—who have no avenue of escape from a corrupted system that lies, cheats, and represses the truth—and hack that message into the civilized mind. It leaves behind large questions about the trust that can be vested in Truth Keepers. Barbarians raise doubts and spread uncertainty.

The darkest of noir scrawls a message that those who you believe are responsible for making you safe are the exactly the ones you have the most to fear from. The noir hack opens that vault where our deepest fears, anxieties and desires are locked. The noir hack rewires a small part of the neural network used to maintain an ordered, stable consistency of complex beliefs, values and morals. It corrupts that network with contradictions, inconsistencies, and duplicity.

Steig Larsson’s novels offer just enough hope to make them hardboiled thrillers. But Roberto Bolando’s noir hacks strike deep into hive chaos. He dares you to walk through that wall of fire and come out the other end unharmed. Try reading his novel titled 2066 for the full monty of noir.

Some readers will stop reading a noir crime novel because they’d rather not have to go through an ordeal that comes from characters whose existence and fate seriously expose flaws in their beliefs or the Truth Keepers are parasites. We tend toward reading that makes us comfortable, and reinforces our beliefs. We seek out books and films that our Official Programmers recommend.

Readers programmed to want a happy Hollywood ending can be disappointed with a noir crime novel. They expected a hero who overcame the odds he faced. Identifying with a hero allows us to feel that we can also beat the odds and live happily ever after, content with our life of honey gathering in the hive. Framing of hope embedded in worthy narratives is part of what Truth Keepers do for a living. These readers push books that reflect the official line onto the bestseller category and into Oscar winning movies.

The world of Harry Potter created billionaires and a publishing mini-boom around the world. Eight hundred thousand copies of the first Harry Potter novels translated in Thai were sold in a country where 5,000 copies is a bestseller. Crime noir stories turn the Harry Potter narration on its head. Noir characters are caught like a deer in the headlamps on a badly lit road.

The noir author weaves a web, and no matter how the character struggles, his or her decency or nobility will not save them. Noir characters never escape their fate. No hive operating system has ever been in their interest. People are locked inside a belief system. There are no handles on the door. Those who deviate from their programmed belief system, they find themselves cut off, isolated, and with no net to catch them when they fall. They are, in a word, fucked. Just like the deer. Thump. Just like Winston Smith in Room 101.

You aren’t going to find noir crime fiction written, published and distributed in countries such as North Korea, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria or China. You can add other countries to this list.

The crime noir readers receive an existential message—that their civilization is based on a successful system program rest on gulag of mental slavery (always a few people who fall between the cracks—they are subject to censorship, disappearance, house arrest, prison or exile).

In the noir world, the barbarians work as authors processing their fictional characters as hacks into how most people think about their part of the world. Readers follow noir characters much like themselves who were raised and educated under the operating system, and rather than being rewarded, a small turn of the wheel of fate seals them to certain defeat.

A novel often takes many twists and turns, showing struggles, the ups and downs, but the end is inevitable. It is relentlessly dark. The power of noir is the shattering of the illusion that the characters can effectively operate as independent and free agents. There is no free will in noir. In a noir story, such a character is ultimately destroyed in the attempting to exercise free will. It has to be that way. It’s for the good of the hive.

Noir fiction is subversive literature. It is what barbarian minds use to hack minds civilized to live, act and think within the coconut shell of civility.

History shows that over time, civilization lose their confidence in Truth Keepers, elites fall out and go to war with each other, and that absolute belief systems, sooner or later, have a sell-by date. Books are an early warning sign of a programmed system in decline and ripe for collapse. That’s why governments, school libraries, and local authorities censor them. And noir fiction might be thought of as the canary in the coal miner’s cage. Since noir fiction is largely dismissed as crime, a thriller or a mystery it slips past like a stealth bomber.

Noir narratives are hacks that lodge inconvenient questions into the reader’s mind about the fairness, purity and sanctity of his beliefs. In the larger scheme of things, a book is a tiny hack in a vast system. Most books, and certainly most noir crime fiction, go unnoticed by most readers whose minds are under a daily official programming schedule and subject to a huge range of government and commercial hackers. Authors would like to think their book makes a difference. Realistically, it is useful to remember that the ‘literate’ person who can read and write has a mind like an immune system programmed to filter out challenges to their preset programming.

Biases are a difficult beast to defeat. Once they have their teeth in you, they can rarely be shaken off. The political turmoil in many places is the struggle to challenge the official programming. We are Rome and the barbarians are massing and occupying public spaces. The flow of contradictions calling into question the sanctioned beliefs accelerates.

In the long haul, it is the outside barbarians who bring down the old system and establish their own civilization, install their own Truth Keepers or Official Programmers, and the cycle will begin again. A new hive comes into being.

When that happens, a reset button is pushed and a new system, system operators, routers, programmers evolve a new and improved security systems to keep the new imported message pure and uncorrupted. The irony is the barbarians aren’t all that different. They will work hard to prevent others doing to them what they did to the old Official Programmers. Way down the long road of time, if we are still here, cultural and social life in the hive will have been rebooted and junked many times. Will there be a new group of noir crime authors whose narratives shape, in a small way, some of the outcomes? Or will we be just another small band of barbarians who end up in a footnote in a digital history library sprawled over a hundred light years across?

Have a second look at the video.  I posted last week. It is one ‘barbarian’ who walks into the crowded square and plays the outsiders music, intoxicates the crowd and soon the locals are dancing to his tune. The sweepers, the military, everyone is won over to their side. It is a good illustration of what the Truth Keepers fear most about the barbarian.

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www.cgmoore.com

Christopher G. Moore’s latest book is a collection of 50 essays titled Faking It in Bangkok, which is available as a kindle ebook.

Posted: 7/12/2012 9:00:56 PM 

 

 

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