The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."
Showing posts with label Censorship. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Censorship. Show all posts

Friday, June 10, 2022

Does anyone still care about climate science?

The logo of my old blog, Cassandra's Legacy. I am a little nostalgic about my old friend, the Trojan prophetess who had been an active blogger for ten years. But she had attracted the ire of the powers that be, so I had to move to a new blog, this one under the auspices of the ancient Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca. Poor Cassandra still seems to be a target, as I report in this post. 

You know that the Prophetess Cassandra was cursed so that she would never be believed and, at the same time, being always right. So, recently I noted that a post written in 2018 on my old blog, Cassandra's Legacy, had as title "Why, in a Few Years, Nobody Will be Talking about Climate Change Anymore."  And, as usual, Lady Cassandra, was right. Nowadays, nobody seems to care anymore about Climate Science -- zero, zilch, nada, null -- no interest. It is gone beyond the horizon of the events as if sucked into a black hole. Greta Thunberg? Who is she?

Strangely, though, a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to see that the Powers that Be targeted again the Trojan Prophetess for an old post on Climate Change. 

It is common on Facebook and Twitter that you see your posts removed because they "violated the community guidelines," whatever that may mean. But, on the Blogger platform, it was new for me. And yet, it happened. They removed a post on Climate Change that went back to 2014. Puzzled, I asked them to reinstate it, and they did, after just a couple of days. What Google takes away, Google may give back. 

With the best of goodwill, I could not find anything in that post that could have awakened the censors. Sure, it was "catastrophistic" but it didn't mention the current bugaboos (you know what I mean). They mentioned "malware" as the cause for deletion, but there was nothing of that sort in the post (and, after all, they reinstated it exactly as it was). I tend to think that someone got offended by this post and complained to them. So, maybe someone still cares about Climate Science! But we'll have to wait to see Troy on fire before admitting that the Prophetess was right.

I am reproposing the post here, on the "Seneca Effect" blog. 


Cli-fi: ten assorted doomsday scenarios

From "Cassandra's Legacy" 2014.

Image created by Robert A. Rohde / Global Warming Art.

In fiction, it is possible to extrapolate the consequences of normal phenomena to their extreme forms and to examine events that could happen, no matter how they are perceived as unlikely. Hence, the interest in "climate fiction" ("cli-fi") as a way to explore the possible consequences of climate change in situations much more extreme than those of the usually sanitized scenarios presented by scientists.

It seems that, so far, only a few of the many possible climate related catastrophes have been explored in detail in movies and novels. So, I have prepared here a list of ten apocalyptic scenarios, all related to climate change (of course, many more can be conceived). "Scenarios" and "fiction" are closely related concepts, except that the latter doesn't necessarily have to follow the laws of physics. In this case, none of these scenarios is physically impossible; but they are stretched a bit (a lot) for increased fictional dramatic effects. The list may serve as a source of inspiration for those of us who are trying their hand at writing cli-fi novels. The scenarios are arranged in an approximate order of increasingly catastrophic events. 

1.  "The Great Coal Flame" (or "Saddam squared"). A giant coal fire which can't be extinguished. We all know how, in 1991, the Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait dynamited some 700 oil wells, generating giant fires. The damage generated was not terribly catastrophic, and the fires could be extinguished in less than one year, choking them at the mouth of the wells. However, we can think of something more difficult to stop if we imagine that the fire could affect a large coal deposit. There already exist underground coal fires which have burned for centuries and seem to be impossible to extinguish. Let's imagine something much bigger, maybe as the result of a tactical nuke landing by mistake (or purposefully) on a major coal mine. The result would be a giant fire covering an enormous area; it would be probably much more difficult to  extinguish than the localized oil well fires of Kuwait in 1991. Maybe this would not be a global disaster but, already now, uncontrolled coal fires account for about 3% of the world's CO2 emissions; if a major coal mine were to catch fire, the resulting disaster could considerably accelerate the process of climate change. To say nothing of the damage generated in terms of ashes, sulfur oxides, mercury, and other poisonous chemicals.

2."Super-Calving." or "Heinrich's return". The rapid collapse into the sea of large amounts of ice. "Calving" is a well known phenomenon in which large masses of ice detach themselves from ice shelves and create icebergs. Normally, the process causes no damage to humans (except for special cases, such as for the "Titanic"). But imagine that very large chunks of ice were released at a much faster rate than the present one. It has happened in the remote past in episodes known as "Heinrich's events" described as "Armadas of icebergs crossing the North Atlantic". The process could disrupt navigation in areas near large ice sheets, such as near Greenland and it could also generate giant waves - not tsunamis, but large enough to cause damage at considerable distances. Then, the presence of large amounts of ice floating in the ocean would have significant effects on climate and on the oceanic thermohaline circulation. The combination of these phenomena would disrupt commerce and transportation in a vital area for the world's economy. Not really a worldwide disaster, but a big disaster anyway.

3."HyperstormsGiant storms wreaking disasters. An increase in the frequency and the size of hurricanes is expected to be a consequence of climate change. In some conditions, hurricanes could become truly enormous and in this case they would take the name of "hypercanes", continent-size super-storms which reach the stratosphere, with side effects such as destroying the protective ozone layer. Because of this effect, it has been speculated that some of the past mega-extinctions were due thypercanes. It is believed that sea surface temperatures high enough to create hypercanes can be generated onlby exceptional circumstances, such as by asteroidal impacts. However, it is not impossible that a combination of factors related to global warming could generate larger and larger storms. Now, already in the present conditions, hurricanes are a major destructive force on human-built structures, imagine something much bigger and even more destructive..... The damage would be mostly local, unless we manage to unchain a true hypercane which would create worldwide havoc by destroying the world's ozone layer.

4. "The great ring of ice disaster". The melting of the Northern ice sheets generates earthquakes and tsunamis. The "ring of ice" is a region which encompasses a number of geological faults in the Northern Hemisphere. This is already a volcanic active region, but the melting and the Greenland ice sheet would generate further instabilities. Greenland "floats" over the underlying semi-fluid mantle and would rise up when freed of the mass of ice that covers it (this is called "isostatic rebound"). The result would be the destabilization of the geological faults in the area: an increase in volcanism, earthquakes, large coastal landslides, and perhaps the sudden release of large amounts of methane from frozen hydrates. The most disastrous results would be Atlantic tsunamis, a phenomenon which so far has been very rare, but that would be enhanced and made more common by climate change. Tsunamis originating in Greenland could hit especially hard Scotland, Norway, and Ireland, but also the Northwestern continental European coast (Holland, in particular) disrupting or destroying an industrial and commercial hub fundamental for the whole Europe. That would surely have worldwide repercussions.

5. "The Big Freeze" (or: "the Younger Dryas reloaded")A rapid cooling, something of the order of −5 °C (23 °F) of the Northern Hemisphere. The tumbling into the ocean of the Greenland ice sheet could shut down the North-Atlantic thermohaline circulation. As we have seen in the movie "The day after tomorrow," that would generate a rapid cooling of the Northern Hemisphere. It is believed that something similar has already occurred during the period called the "Younger Dryas", around 12,000 years ago; probably  caused by the sudden release into the Atlantiof the cold water of a lake ("Lake Agassiz") when the ice dam that kept it locked in place gave way. (yes, it is the plot of the second film of "the ice age" series, the one titled "The Meltdown"). In the case of the Younger Dryas, the freeze appears to have taken place in a few years. Imagine if something similar were to happen today: the consequences would be, well, unimaginable, even if we were to assume they would affect only the Northern Hemisphere.

6. "The great sea onrush" The sea rise generated by the rapid melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets wipes out most of the coastal cities and infrastructures. The disappearance of the ice sheets of Greenland and of Antarctica is not so much a hypothesis as a virtual certainty, given the present trends. That would lead to a sea level rise of some 7 meters (24 feet) from Greenland alone, plus about 3 meters from West Antarctica, and further contribution from the slower melting of other ice sheets. However, it is normally believed that this event would unfold in centuries or millennia and that humans would have time to adapt (perhaps). After all, as it is often said, what is affected by the sea rise "is only real estate". But let's imagine that the process were much, much faster - taking place in a few decades or even less, at least for one of the two most unstable ice sheets in the world: Greenland and West Antarctica. You would not see the onrush of giant waves submerging coastal cities, as in the "2012" movie, but the sea rise would still be so fast that there would be no time to build levees or to relocate buildings and facilities inland. The result would be a frantic rush inland, while vital industrial and transportation infrastructure would have to be abandoned. A true global disaster.

7. "Tickling the tail of the dragon" (or: "Shooting yourself with the clathrate gun"). A giant, human caused methane release and the consequent rapid rise in temperature. Let's imagine that some well intentioned people try to solve the energy crisis by extracting methane from buried hydrates (or clathrates) at the bottom of the ocean. Now, imagine that by drilling inside these clathrate reservoirs triggers a self-reinforcing release phenomenon. Just like BP didn't know how to stop the Macondo well leakage, the companies drilling - say - in the Arctic Ocean, would discover that they don't know how to plug the hole they have drilled and that, even if they could, more and more holes are appearing by themselves. The result is a massive release of methane in the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas much more powerful than carbon dioxide. As a consequence, the "worst case" IPCC scenarios unfold in a few years instead of a century. The results? Well, possibly all the four previous scenarios: collapse of the ice sheets, oceanic thermohaline shutdown and all the dire consequences. But also extensive climate disruption and the desertification of temperate region. You wouldn't speak anymore of "drought in California" for the same reasons why you don't normally speak of "drought in the Sahara desert." California would become like the Sahara desert (and not just California). Totally global disaster.

8. "Goldilock's disasters" or "The great climate rebound"Geoengineering can backfire. We can imagine multiple disasters arising from well-intentioned but ill-conceived efforts to reduce global warming. Spraying particulate in the upper atmosphere, or maybe putting giant mirrors in orbit, would cool the earth, but we don't know how it would affect the weather patterns. For instance, it could weaken the Indian Ocean monsoon and condemn at least a billion of people to starvation. Or, one could go too far in the opposite direction and cool the planet too much, (too much of a good thing) with effects similar to those of a nuclear winter. Maybe we can also imagine that a major economic crisis defunds the geoengineering effort. Or, imagine that a major spin campaign convinces people that it was a hoax or useless (that's possibly the most realistic element of this scenario). Then, as the sunscreens fall, the earth returns to warming with a vengeance, as it would do after a nuclear winter and temperatures shot up so fast that, before screening can be resumed, it is too late. And that's truly global!

9. "The world as a giant gas chamber". What if CO2 turns out to be not as harmless as it is commonly believed? CO2 is often defined as "plant food" and it is believed that it cannot negatively affect human health until it reaches concentrations over at least 10 times the present values. However, it is also true that our species evolved in conditions of CO2 atmospheric concentrations below 300 ppm and that the present concentrations of 400 ppm have never been experienced by our ancestors. As the concentration of atmospheric CO2 keeps building up, we could reach concentrations four of five times larger than those which have been the rule for the past million years or so. CO2 is a reactive molecule which, among other things, would affect the blood pH and it has been argued that concentrations over 425 ppm would already have negative effects on human health; to say nothing of much higher values. So, if we discover that we have transformed the planet into a giant gas chamber, what would we do? 

10 "Venus, the ultimate disaster."  Temperatures could go up high enough to kill everything. The "Venus Scenario" is an extreme version of the "runaway greenhouse" effect. As temperatures go up, more and more water vapor is pumped into the atmosphere. Since water vapor is a greenhouse gas, it causes further warming of the atmosphere. At its extreme limit, the process could self-reinforce to the point that the oceans would completely evaporate. Temperatures could become so high that carbonates in the crust would be decomposed and that would create a dense atmosphere saturated with CO2. Add some sulfuric acid generated by volcanoes and you have transformed Earth into something very similar to Venus. Temperatures would reach several hundred degrees C at the surface; no liquid water, no life. Right now, the solar radiation arriving on the earth is believed to be not high enough to generate the kind of feedback that would transform earth into a twin of Venus. But there are always uncertainties in these calculations and the "Venus scenario" cannot be completely ruled out. The only escape from the Venus catastrophe would be leaving Earth for another planet, supposing that humans were able to build spaceships early enough. This is, clearly, the ultimate catastrophe: the sterilization of the whole planet.

It is fiction, it is only fiction, but........

See also another list of climate disasters. Also the source of the above image

Monday, December 6, 2021

Propaganda: the Doom of the Western Empire

This painting by Konstantin Vasiliev (1942-1976) celebrates the great patriotic war of 1941-1945 (Вели́кая Оте́чественная война́). It is a good example of Soviet propaganda at its best: sometimes it could produce stunningly beautiful images. But, on average, propaganda in the Soviet Union was primitive and heavily based on censorship, eventually turning out to be unable to keep together the Union in a moment of crisis. In the West, propaganda was much more sophisticated and, for a while, it managed to convince Western citizens that they were told the truth by their governments. That phase is now over and the Western propaganda system has moved to a fully "Soviet-style" censorship system. With this development, the Western Empire may well have sealed its doom: no government can survive for long if the people it rules don't believe in it.

“The devil's finest trick is to persuade you that he does not exist.” Charles Baudelaire

I distinctly remember when I was a child and my father saw me reading a small book illustrated with images showing red flags, sickles, and hammers. Worried, he took it from my hands, looked at it, and gave it back to me. "It is all right," he said. "It is our propaganda." 

What I had in my hands was an anti-communist pamphlet of the 1960s, issued by the Christian Democratic party. I remember it well, it was full of images of evil Soviet Communists slaughtering their own dissidents, part of the general anti-communist propaganda in Italy of the post-war period. 

At that time, it was still fine to state openly that something was propaganda. And it was normal in a bi-polar world to be expected to believe in the propaganda issued by one's political side while despising the symmetrical propaganda issued by the other side. 

Things changed over the years. With the Soviet Union spiraling down into a crisis from which it would not survive, its propaganda system revealed its limits. It is the basic problem of censorship: if you have to suppress contrasting opinions, it means that you have something to hide. The Soviet public understood that very well and it maintained a healthy dose of skepticism toward anything that their government was telling them. They still do.  

In the West, instead, the propaganda system evolved into a more and more sophisticated instrument that even managed to elevate itself into a "non-propaganda" system by abandoning censorship. In this way, it managed to convince most people that propaganda did not exist in the West (the devil's finest trick, according to Baudelaire). 

Consequently, Westerners started to believe that their "free press" was providing them with objective and trustworthy information, unlike the state-controlled press of those evil Soviets. That was truly a triumph: still today, the naïve trust of Western citizens in the media baffles the people who lived on the other side of the Iron Curtain. 

But things keep changing, as they always do. The apparent triumph of the West turned out to be hollow. Now, the West faces the same problems that the Soviet Union faced at the time of its demise: how to maintain the cohesion of a large group of states and populations which don't find it attractive anymore to be part of an empire?

One consequence is the return of rather primitive propaganda methods to support the military control of the Western sphere of influence. During the past few decades, the West started using a series of "shock and awe" propaganda campaigns designed to demonize foreign governments, and to open the way for their military elimination. Saddam Hussein was the first victim, others followed. The mechanism is still in operation, although it seems to have become less effective in recent times.

During the past two years, the Western propaganda system underwent a further evolution. Under the banner of fighting "fake news," it started to enforce a pervasive Soviet-Style censorship system over the Web, coupled with the complete government control of the media. Propaganda has become truly all-encompassing and brutal, at present taking as a target for demonization the so-called "anti-vaxxers." 

Why this evolution? Everything that happens, happens for a reason. And it is clear that the West is reacting to a major economic, environmental, and resource crisis. As it happens to all societies in crisis, it reacts by trying to tighten the links that keep the system together. But these "solutions" may well be worsening the problem. 

It is a well-known story, noted perhaps for the first time by the founder of System Dynamics, Jay Forrester. When people find themselves in trouble, they are normally able to identify the elements that cause the problems: the "leverage points" of the system. And almost always they tend to act on these points in such a way to worsen the problem. 

In this case, the evolution of the Western propaganda system into a censorship-based Soviet-style apparatus may temporarily be effective, But, in the long run, is destined to have disastrous effects. Eliminating dissent looks like a good idea by the elites in power, but it has a deadly consequence: it "freezes" society into a rigid structure. Rigid means fragile, as those who work in materials science know very well. In this case, it becomes impossible for society to adapt to new problems except by collapsing: it is the "Seneca Effect."  

Most Westerners have been taken by surprise by this rapid change in the management of a communication system that, up to just a few years ago, glorified "freedom of speech." They seem to refuse to believe in what's happening, even though they see it happening in front of them. They still have to develop the memetic antibodies against propaganda that the Soviet citizens had developed long ago. But, as they are fed more and more blatant lies, eventually they are going to develop a certain degree of immunity. 

And that's the basic problem: no government can exist for long if the people it rules don't believe in it. That was the doom of the Soviet Empire and it may well be that the Western Empire has sealed its own doom by destroying its free press system of which it was justly proud. Without an internal method to critically evaluate the government's decisions, huge mistakes -- even deadly ones -- are unavoidable.

What form the doom of the Western Empire will take, and how fast it will come, is difficult to say. We may just remember Seneca's statement that "increases are of sluggish growth but the way to ruin is rapid." 

On this subject, see also Simon Sheridan's "The Twilight of Narrative"  and Franco Bifo Berardi's "Rassegnatevi" (in Italian)

Monday, February 8, 2021

Cassandra is Dead. Long Live Cassandra!


After the fall of Troy, Cassandra was taken as Agamemnon's "pallake" (concubine) and taken to Mycenae where she was killed by Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's wife. The destiny of prophetesses is never so bright, especially when they turn out to have been right. Something similar, although fortunately much less tragic, is happening to the Cassandra blog, censored on Facebook by the powers that be. So, I guess it is time to call it quits. But Cassandra is not dead! She will return in some form.


On March 2, 2011, I started the blog that I titled "Cassandra's Legacy." 10 years later, the blog had accumulated 974 posts, 332 followers, and more than 5 million visualizations (5289.929). Recently, the blog had stabilized at around 2,000-3,000 views per day.

A small blog, by all means, but I always had the sensation that it was not without an impact on the nebulous constellation of the people, high up, whom we call "the powers that be." It is a story that reminds me the legend that George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq in 2003 after he had learned about peak oil. Reasonably, it can't be but a legend, but are we sure? After all, the people who take decision are not smarter than us, just way richer. And they can misunderstand things just like we all do. Of course, their blunders make much more noise.  

And so, it may well be that many things that we are seeing around us have a logic. For sure, a certain kind of message cannot be eliminated anymore simply by ignoring it. It has to be actively suppressed. And that seems to be what's happening, with censorship rampant in the social media. Even the Cassandra blog, even though not important in itself, attracted the wrath of the powers that be. It was censored on Facebook and it seems to me that it is also kept nearly invisible in the search engines. As I discussed in a previous post on Cassandra, we knew it was going to happen and it did. 

Of course, this blog could survive even while boycotted by Facebook, but when you discover that you are in the crosshairs of someone big and powerful, it is better to take notice, duck down, and take cover. It makes little sense to insist to keep an indefensible position. It is time for Cassandra to fold. 

But this is not a defeat. It is, on the contrary, a badge of honor that the PTBs noticed this blog and acted against it (O.K., maybe it was just a glitch of some complicated AI program, who knows?). In any case, closing the blog simply means recognizing that the memetic war follows the standard rules of war. It is all about movement. And that's what Cassandra is doing. It is moving. We all do. The only things that never move are the dead, and we are still very much alive! And "Cassandra's Legacy" will remain on line, although it won't be updated anymore.

I am working at renewing a blog that I had already created, called "The Seneca Trap."  It will be online soon with the name "The Seneca Effect". We'll see if it becomes another target for the PTBs!

In the meantime, I am passing to you a few paragraphs that I took from Dmitry Orlov's book "The Five Stages of Collapse." (2013) where he correctly predicted how the West was moving along a path that's taking it to follow the steps of the old Soviet Union, even in terms of censorship. Orlov describes how, at that time, people defended themselves from an obtrusive and obtuse regime. I guess we'll have to adopt the same techniques.

The Rise of Steganography

by Dmitry Orlov -- From "The Five Stages of Collapse" (2013)

I am sure that certain readers will at this point recollect schlocky American Cold War novels they wasted their time reading, or automatically conjure up secret codes and communications technologies used Financial Collapse45to play a spy vs. spy cat-and-mouse game with the KGB, while others will want to think that the KGB was sufficiently incompetent and/or demoralized to just let all that secret communication slip by (I assure you that it was not). Well, having seen how it all works in practice, I am happy to disabuse you of all such notions. The only technologies involved were spoken word and pen and paper; the good results were achieved thanks to mental fortitude and solidarity.
The technique I saw used was an instance of steganography, which “is the art and science of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one, apart from the sender and intended recipient, suspects the existence of the message, a form of security through obscurity. The word is of Greek origin and means ‘concealed writing’ from the Greek words steganos (στεγανός), meaning ‘covered or protected’, and graphei (γραφή), meaning ‘writing.’”10 There is the outer, public message, which is innocuous or insipid or annoyingly redundant (except for a few easily overlooked details); then there is the inner, private message, which can only be discerned by the intended recipient, who has prior knowledge. The key security feature is that the recipient needs to know that the message is a message at all, never mind decipher it.
My mother and my grandmother kept up a voluminous correspondence augmented by regular telephone conversations. They discussed everything from the weather to their reading to what they ate for break-fast. They also seemed to be curiously obsessed with pieces of porcelain: which tea set was a present from whom, who would have liked it, who had owned a similar one at one time or another, from whom they may have purchased it and how much they may have paid for it, how many cups were cracked or broken, whether they could be repaired, who was the clumsy one and broke a cup, who had been particularly skillful at gluing together a broken cup so that it is now as good as new and so on and so forth, all seemingly innocent prattle between two dotty women reminiscing about sentimental bits of bric-à-brac—but for someone in the know, laden with secret meanings. Cups were thousands of dollars. Tea sets were tens of thousands. Cracked cups were expenses incurred. Broken cups were deals that had fallen through. Any persons mentioned were not referred to by full name but by informal diminutives and endearments and referenced not to actual places and times but to private, shared memories. But there were also passages of general interest, such as soup or cake recipes, sometimes supplied with a passing comment addressed directly to the KGB censor, such as “Others who are reading this might find this interesting as well.” Who could possibly suspect secret, nefarious, conspiratorial intent in some-one so seemingly guileless? Not even the KGB!