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One cold day in January 1958, a copy of LIFE magazine was delivered to Shapiro’s Modern Economic store at 28 W. Blackwell Street, in Dover, New Jersey.
The shopkeepers, Israel and Ida (Fogelson) Shapiro were perhaps moved by the cover photo. It depicted a mounted Cossack soldier about to slash a poor peasant woman with his saber.
The issue was devoted to “a new and authoritative account” of the Russian revolution that ended the reign of Czar Nicholas II and the Romanov family dynasty. Irving and Ida, both Russian immigrants (from a region violently taken ripped from Poland), gave the magazine issue to their son Henry and his wife, Doris, who saved it. The Life magazine cover now hangs on a wall in our home as a reminder of my wife’s grandparents’ struggles and incredible resilience.
This cover photo captures the bitter personal history of the Shapiro’s, the Fogelson’s, the Raicer’s, and so many other Jewish families who made their way to Dover at the turn of the 20th Century. They fled the harsh Russian “pograms” that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Jews and the displacement of whole Jewish communities. Waves of Jewish families arrived here with nothing in their pockets and only the clothing they could carry. Israel restarted his life as a peddler carrying his wares in a sack on his back and walking from town to town. Yet, by the 1950s he and his fellow immigrants had become prominent business owners, shopkeepers, and community leaders. The unwanted “refuse” rejected by Russia blossomed here under our democratic and open society.
This brings us to us today, as Russian troops once again murder innocent civilians and lay siege to Ukraine. We have to ask why. Why are the good people of Russia so cursed with abysmal “strongman” governments? When will their voices ever be heard? When will the Russian people be free to navigate their own future?
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
Is it a fact that dictionaries define words like “violence”, “assault”, or “vandalism” as “Legitimate Political Discourse?”
Of course not!
Yet that’s exactly what the Republican National Committee declared in a voice vote taken on February 4, 2022, to censure Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their participation in the investigation of the deadly January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. Political violence is violence perpetrated to achieve political goals. Whether or not such violence is legitimate is a separate judgment call on which two sides may not agree. The larger question is how did we come to the point where one of our major political parties thinks violence is a legitimate means to settle political differences? How did we become so divided? One explanation is that we are seeing the cumulative impact of a sustained, covert, global cyber-war being waged against democracy. (For the record, I’m still in favor of having an equal say in government, and may the majority rule!)
We are under constant attack by the enemies of the world’s democratic societies. It is being waged through military-grade propaganda and disinformation campaigns using every means of mass communication. Make no mistake… it is organized, purposeful, and well-funded. The goal is to replace governments of the people with authoritarian rule and crony, unfettered capitalism.
Disinformation attacks take direct aim at our perceptions and feelings. They bypass normal filters and influence our subconscious. We feel these attacks when we read or hear something scandalous or shocking in the news that may not sound entirely true but still makes us feel extremes of anger towards the government, democratic institutions, opposing politicians, or neighbors. Our initial skepticism fades as these fictions stories are endlessly echoed over multiple media sources and from our online community of friends, some of whom may be fake accounts. We feel the effects of these attacks when we become uncharacteristically unsure about what to believe or who to trust. We become casualties in the cyber-war, or unwitting participants when we engage in verbal or physical attacks against friends, family, or strangers. We are casualties of war when our long-held belief systems are overturned in a relatively short time span. When friends or loved ones get upset and tell us we changed, we need to listen instead of justifying our feelings. They are in a better position to judge what is happening to us. There are very few internal warning signs when our perceptions and worldview are altered when under attack. It feels like we are still making our own choices when in fact we are being manipulated by targeted disinformation.
We must all learn more about cyber-warfare, how it works and how to recognize it. We must inoculate ourselves against it. There is a good article below on how Russia conducts its cyber-warfare, but they aren’t the only enemy of democracy. It is also helpful to reinforce our understanding of some basic terms about knowing when facts are true.
Many impasses in our fraught discussions boil down to completely different sets of facts between us and others. It’s like living in different universes. We need to state our facts, but we need to know how we sort fact from fiction. Under fire in an argument, folks who don’t share the same facts cause us to conflate terms like information, misinformation, and disinformation. They begin to would like roughly equivalent terms. When people under the influence of disinformation are confronted with verifiable facts, they may argue that all facts are really just someone’s opinion. That is a slippery slope towards chaos and disorder. When under pressure to produce data sources to verify their facts, people who are under the influence of propaganda strongly resist or refer you to their favorite websites instead of original source materials. Their denialism becomes apparent.
Here then are some defining terms and their relationship to what we believe to be true in the real world.
In an article published January 2020 in the British Journal of Sociology, Martin Innes defined disinformation this way:
“Disinformation can be defined as “deviant information.” For where information is imparted to enhance awareness, insight, and understanding, disinforming communications blend intent and action to distort, deceive, and dissemble.”
Disinformation – At its source, disinformation is a subset of propaganda. It is deliberately false information that is spread to deceive and cause harm. Also known as black propaganda, it is sometimes confused with misinformation. Disinformation may be comprised of knowingly false or fabricated data, intentionally biased, misleading, or fictitious rendering of the underlying data, or information devoid of any factual basis. Disinformation is never a real description of objects, people, or events in the world. It is, however, often embedded in truthful information to trick us into accepting it as true. Even misinformation can become disinformation when it is willfully represented as true even after it is known to be false. This is often the case on social media when individuals repost statements that they know to be misinformation. Disinformation is always intentionally harmful and corrosive to human understanding.
How is knowledge and understanding of the real world supposed to take place? It starts with data.
Data – Data are fundamental units of information about the real world. They are like the pixels that create a picture in a flat-screen TV. They are even more like sensory input from our eyes, or ears that our brain must then sort out and interpret. In a technical sense, data are a set of values of qualitative or quantitative variables about one or more persons or objects. They are building blocks of “facts” that can be transformed into information when viewed within a larger context. The expression, “check your facts” is a request to reexamine the underlying data for errors, omissions, faulty analysis, bias, etc. There are many ways that data can be in error, which includes intentional falsification.
Fact – A fact is a verbal statement of something that exists or happens in the natural world. It can be a single datum, or it can emerge from a coherent set of data pertaining to the real world. Either way, a fact must contain a high degree of certainty. If a statement of fact is later proven false it is no longer a fact. Facts can be thought of as subunits of information. They are assertions of confidence that its underlying data is accurate. Facts can be verified, replicated, observed by others, or logically derived. Facts cannot be metaphysical, hypothetical, To be a fact, it must accurately or fairly represent the current state of its underlying data. It must be testable in this regard. But that doesn’t mean must be durable over time. Facts must be true to the underlying data, but they may not represent absolute truth. Data evolves. It may progress, improve, or grow in unexpected directions over time. This drift of the underlying data requires altering the overlying facts. This can be a frustrating exercise for many people seeking certainty, including some scientists for whom this is a familiar feature.
Information – Information, in the everyday use of the word, is a verbal representation of an aspect or event in the world based on processed, organized, and structured sets of data-verified facts. Information conveys cognitive meaning within the context of our highest, most durable perception of natural reality. It provides a coherent contextual framework to understand the facts that emerge from very large sets of data. The information enables the type of higher-level decision-making of which we humans are capable. Information is usually more durable than facts or data because the overall picture can be correct even when some of the facts are less than certain.
Misinformation – Misinformation contains unintended errors of fact. It can result from faulty, misleading, or unintentionally omitted data, wrong assumptions, clerical errors, translational errors, measurements errors, etc. Misinformation is different from rumors which are purely speculative. Even if later retracted or corrected, misinformation can continue to influence the actions and memories of others. The outcomes of misinformation can be very harmful, so care must be taken to avoid misinformation. The diligence required to avoid misinformation should be at least proportional to the potential harm it could cause. Misinformation is an inevitable but correctable part of our understanding of the world.
Just keeping these concepts in mind as we consume content on social media or other media sources may help us our skepticism about what we see or read. Rather than surrender to those who push disinformation into our public discourse, we need to be proactive in checking our facts and stating them clearly, out loud, or in writing. This isn’t likely to change the mind of the person to whom you are responding, but many more impressionable online views need to see both sides of every argument. Do it for them. Not responding at all to propaganda and disinformation is tantamount to surrendering the battlefield to the enemies of truth and democracy.
The Bureaucracy Held, But is Our Past a Prelude to Violence?
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
When an agency pisses off politicians, they complain or blame the “bureaucracy”. When an agency lives up to its righteous, legislated mission (especially when it is under pressure) it is called an “institution”. We are told that “our democratic institutions held.”
Keep that in mind as you read the news or listen to media broadcasts. I have a lifetime of experience working in a massive state bureaucracy at nearly every management level. I can tell you this for sure. When an agency of government has a clearly articulated and righteous mission, it is the front line and lower-level employees who best uphold the mission. The further up the chain of command you go, the more political pressure there is to avoid scandals or succumb to the chief executive’s ideology and political calculus.
The whole reason for a bureaucracy is to faithfully execute a legislative mission under the operations of the executive branch of government. Bureaucracies were created to resist mission drift or the whimsy of powerful people at the top. We often disparage bureaucracies, but if they didn’t exist (or hadn’t worked properly) Donald Trump would have gotten those 11,000 unearned votes in Georgia. Without the bureaucracy, Arizona might have sent a partisan slate of electors to Washington instead of those chosen by the people of that state.
From the Whitehouse to the most remote election polling places in America, democracy held last November because the front-line and lower-level agents of government faithfully did their jobs. They carried out their mission on the people’s behalf. If this past election had been a military operation abroad, these same people would have been lauded as heroes. Indeed they are. I thank them all. If this includes you, know that I appreciate your dedication and sacrifice.
And now, because they did their jobs, they and the institutions behind them are literally under attack. America’s workforce of “civilian soldiers” are living under threats of bodily harm to them and their children from misguided neighbors duped into believing the election was stolen. They are being driven out of their jobs and their homes by angry mobs amped up by power-hungry politicians who can’t win office on the basis of having superior ideas for governing this great and diverse nation. Republican state legislators throughout the country are devising and passing laws to overturn our democratic institutions. Where will it lead? When does it end?
Will our history be a prelude to future events?
In 1856 Senator Charles Sumner gave an impassioned anti-slavery speech on the Senate floor during which he unleashed a blistering verbal attack on Steven Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina. After the Senate adjourned, while Sumner was still in the chamber, Preston Brooks of South Carolina struck Sumner from behind with a cane and beat him nearly to death. Brooks was subsequently lionized for his violent actions in the South while the shock of violence galvinized the North to condemn the violence and speak out against slavery. The event revealed how polarized the country had become and how intractable the perceptions were of those living in the North and South. The schism ruptured on March 14, 1861, and the civil war soon followed.
Please God, let’s find a way to bridge our differences now to avoid such violence in the future.
On May 22, 1856, the “world’s greatest deliberative body” became a combat zone. In one of the most dramatic and deeply ominous moments in the Senate’s entire history, a member of the House of Representatives entered the Senate Chamber and savagely beat a senator into unconsciousness.
The inspiration for this clash came three days earlier when Senator Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts antislavery Republican, addressed the Senate on the explosive issue of whether Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a slave state or a free state. In his “Crime Against Kansas” speech, Sumner identified two Democratic senators as the principal culprits in this crime—Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina. He characterized Douglas to his face as a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal . . . not a proper model for an American senator.” Andrew Butler, who was not present, received more elaborate treatment. Mocking the South Carolina senator’s stance as a man of chivalry, the Massachusetts senator charged him with taking “a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean,” added Sumner, “the harlot, Slavery.”
Representative Preston Brooks was Butler’s South Carolina kinsman. If he had believed Sumner to be a gentleman, he might have challenged him to a duel. Instead, he chose a light cane of the type used to discipline unruly dogs. Shortly after the Senate had adjourned for the day, Brooks entered the old chamber, where he found Sumner busily attaching his postal frank to copies of his “Crime Against Kansas” speech.
Moving quickly, Brooks slammed his metal-topped cane onto the unsuspecting Sumner’s head. As Brooks struck again and again, Sumner rose and lurched blindly about the chamber, futilely attempting to protect himself. After a very long minute, it ended.
Bleeding profusely, Sumner was carried away. Brooks walked calmly out of the chamber without being detained by the stunned onlookers. Overnight, both men became heroes in their respective regions.
Surviving a House censure resolution, Brooks resigned, was immediately reelected, and soon thereafter died at age 37. Sumner recovered slowly and returned to the Senate, where he remained for another 18 years. The nation, suffering from the breakdown of reasoned discourse that this event symbolized, tumbled onward toward the catastrophe of civil war.