Connect with us

Intelligence

After Coronavirus: “Nuda Vita” and the “Extraordinary Power” of the Modern State

Published

on

“Sovereignty is the refusal to accept limits … I have refused to submit, therefore, I am.”- Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share [1]

Over the past 20 years, the world and the system of international relations have been steadily moving towards a “state of emergency.” The “authority to do whatever was advisable to keep the state safe” that Carl Schmitt saw as the main sign of “extraordinary power” has long been the norm all over the world. And the evidence to support this is overwhelming. Instruments such as “humanitarian intervention,” the exclusion of rogue states from international engagement, the destruction of undesirable political leaders and the change of regimes through “revolutions,” and the introduction of political and economic sanctions are all used to restrict the sovereignty of states that are seen as a threat to international security or the security of specific states. The world is already used to the fact that the exclusion of some comes with the necessary assertion of the sovereignty of others. The intense demolition of the legal basis that underpins the outgoing world order and the withdrawal of individual states from international agreements that we have witnessed in recent years prove better than anything else that relations between states are now built upon this “state of emergency” and upon “extraordinary power.”

That being said, it is extremely rare that a “state of emergency” appears inside a country: relations between the state and society have typically been built on the basis of established legislation and the basic law. However, with the outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) in early 2020, the very notion of a “state of emergency” has become a “viral” phenomenon as well, and it is Western liberal democracies that are primarily responsible for spreading it. The concept of “norms” and “normality” no longer apply to international relations. Moreover, they are not typical of relations between state and society inside countries. The “extraordinary power” that the state resorts to during pandemics penetrates deep into all spheres of life, depriving us of our basic rights and changing the very structure of the way we live from day to day. Numerous biopower practices are put into action — from controlling people’s movement, rationing their consumption and restricting interactions with loved ones to compulsory health monitoring. The power of the sovereign has increased exponentially, while the sovereignty of the individual is crumbling before our very eyes. How will this period of increased “extraordinary power” affect relations between the state and the individual in the long term? How deeply will the trust of citizens in the state and its institutions be shaken if the latter cannot pass the litmus test in terms of guaranteeing security? When will we be able to return to “normal” life, if at all? If we will not, then what will the new “normal” be? And which of the “emergency” practices that are now in place will remain for a long time to come?

“Extraordinary power”: The Thin Line Between Legitimacy and Structural Violence

Back in 1995, the famous Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben published Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life [2], in which he demonstrated rather convincingly that every country, including liberal democracies, has a so-called “state of exception” where the individual is deprived of almost all rights and freedoms and exists in a state of “bare life” (nuda vita), living in the biological sense of the word only. Agamben used an analysis of the evolution of various political communities to demonstrate the “vitality” of this phenomenon in modern times — from the Nazi concentration camps to Guantanamo Bay and the refugee camps of today. By setting up areas like these, the modern state effectively isolates individuals who, as far as powers that be and society, in general, are concerned, pose or may pose a threat to “security.” The ability to create these kinds of areas and declare states of exception is a key sign of sovereignty. The largest and most obvious illustration of a “state of exception” in recent times concerns migration in Europe, where EU countries fiercely tried to defend their sovereignty and the right to independently determine the parameters of “including” or “excluding” migrants from society.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that these zones and “states of exception” still exist to some degree, even in liberal democracies, the scale of this phenomenon has been limited up until now, with governments attempting to “fit in” into what is considered the “norm.” There is a tacit understanding in society that “states of exception” are needed and potentially dangerous elements need to be isolated from the population at large. It is kind of an unwritten contract between the state and the individual, and more or less everyone agrees with the conditions for placing someone in the exclusion zone. For example, the Patriot Act passed by the United States after 9/11 served as a way to justify the restrictions on the fundamental rights and freedoms of U.S. citizens. We have come to terms with the security services using tracking technologies as a way to identify terrorists, with governments monitoring our social media content in order to fight extremism, with CCTV cameras everywhere to ensure that we follow the road safety rules, with biometric passports for tracking illegal border crossings, and so on.

However, it turns out that the concept of the state as a “night watchman” hired to protect our human rights and interfere in our private lives with the sole aim of ensuring our safety and to an extent proportional to the threat, is only useful during “normal” times, when the type and scale of threat is known and is sporadic or local in nature.

The coronavirus pandemic, which politicians are increasingly comparing to an enemy in a war, requires a completely different kind of intervention in the everyday lives of citizens. State sovereignty has ballooned to almost unlimited proportions, at the expense of the sovereignty of the individual. Emergency directives passed, without parliamentary discussion, on the basis of nothing more than the “insight” of decision-makers who are supposedly able to assess the magnitude of the threat and take “adequate” measures, are used to restrict the basic rights of citizens. This includes freedom of movement, health protection, social interaction, education, etc. However, the problem is that in most Western countries there is no broad consensus on how big the threat actually is, which means that there can be no agreement on the degree to which government intervention is acceptable and which “extraordinary powers” may be appropriate. This much is evident from the sheer number of fines that have been handed out for violating the lockdowns. For example, over 72,000 violations were recorded in Italy over the period from March 11 to March 20. In Austria, people seem undeterred by the fines, which have been set at several thousand euros, as they continue to go out for walks and happily stop for a chat in the fresh air. But how is this lack of consensus dangerous when it comes to understanding security threats and evaluating the measures taken? Does this mean that the state has lost its ability to “mobilize” the population and is no longer able to demonstrate true “emergency” power? Why was China able to implement emergency measures to far greater effect than European countries? It would seem that the explanation is in the specifics of the functioning of “extraordinary power,” or, more specifically, in the fine line between legitimacy and structural violence. Let us elaborate on this fine line.

The almost universal introduction of a “state of emergency” brings to mind the classics of political thought, who devoted far more attention to matters of state and society. The key arguments put forward by Carl Schmitt in his Dictatorship [3], where he provides a detailed discussion on the exercise of “extraordinary power,” are particularly pertinent. Schmitt made a distinction between “what was legally regulated — that is, a limited exercise of the sovereignty,” and the “substance, always remaining hidden but at hand, and in principle unlimited, of the omnipotence of the state,” whose “self-commitment through ordinary legislation only held for situations considered to be normal.” And in abnormal situations, or what Schmitt would call a “state of siege,” sovereignty is manifested as “an authority, in principle unlimited, in order to do whatever was advisable to keep the state safe.” However, such broad powers require an extremely high level of trust in the authorities on the part of citizens. It is clear that liberal democracies that are used to the state acting as a “night watchman” are affected more by the transformation towards an authority that is “in principle unlimited.” Hence the need for a high level of trust: when the laws that make the interaction between state and society “normal” no longer work, trust remains the only mechanism that informs the legitimacy of the actions taken by the authorities in an emergency situation. Extraordinary power creates a new “normality,” and its normalizing force (according to Michel Foucault) increases many times over. Similarly, in the absence of trust, people see emergency measures as a form of structural violence. That is, Johan Galtung [4] and his followers point out, it is seen as an unlawful incursion into the private affairs of the individual. The consequences of such an “unsanctioned” incursion may end up costing the country’s political leadership what is left of its power, as well as the ability to exercise a “normalizing power.” This is why the sequence of measures taken in a crisis situation and the discourse used by the country’s leadership to legitimize their actions and gain the trust of citizens are so important.

If we look at how emergency measures were implemented in Europe from this point of view — and in Italy in particular, which has been affected the most by the pandemic — we see that trust is indeed a key condition when it comes to determining the effectiveness of emergency measures. Italy was the first hotspot of the pandemic in Europe. It quickly moved into second place in the world in terms of the number of infected, behind China, and soon after surpassed that country in the number of deaths. Little was known about the pandemic in February 2020, and even less about how China — a country that the West has a hard time trusting — was dealing with it. Hence the extreme caution and indecision of the Italian leadership and the resulting outbreak and deaths. With all the will in the world, the Italian government simply did not have enough information about the nature of the threat. Consequently, it was unable to form a narrative that would have allowed society to move quickly and accept the restrictions. Cynical as it may sound given the circumstances, other European countries were in a better situation to deal with the impending crisis, as they had learnt from how both China and Italy had responded to the threat and had a much clearer picture of exactly what they were facing. The price of freedom for each individual depreciated in proportion to his or her understanding of the seriousness of the threat. As fear grew, so too did the demands for the state to provide security guarantees, which in turn reduced the likelihood that the measures introduced would be seen as structural violence. This allowed several European countries to rush strict measures through — measures that most people saw as legitimate and justified. This is why control over information is so important in times of “extraordinary power” — many countries have already started monitoring fake news about coronavirus, as they understand that this is the most important factor when it comes to building trust. However, even the strict information control, the endless references to the authority of specialists, the “war” discourse that is increasingly being used by politicians in reference to coronavirus and the tragic reports coming from Italy are not always convincing enough. “Sovereignty is the refusal to accept limits… I have refused to submit, therefore, I am,” wrote Georges Bataille in The Accursed Share. As the current situation has shown, ordinary citizens of European countries with liberal democracies are not ready to give up their sovereignty and start to fully trust the state without a fight.

What about Russia? Russia has had even more time than other European countries to prepare its citizens for decisive measures. However, despite the fact that by mid-April 2020 the coronavirus had claimed more than 20,000 Italian lives and the number of infected in Russia had exceeded that figure, the Kremlin had not declared a state of emergency, the country was still not in full lockdown (a not-so-strict form of “self-isolation” is in place), and mixed signals were being sent about the possibility of more stringent measures being introduced. The government is developing a large-scale electronic system for tracking the movement of its citizens whereby drivers would need to obtain a QR code in order to move around Moscow and Moscow Region, but it has not been implemented yet. Movement between regions has not been suspended. It would seem that the country’s leadership can sense the fine line between legitimate measures and structural violence and is afraid to take more radical action, clearly waiting for the population to unequivocally ask for harsher measures. In other words, the government is waiting for a clear demonstration of trust on the part of its citizens. The trap, however, is that inconstant and one-sided measures can bring about a crisis of confidence far quicker than suddenly restricting the rights and freedoms of citizens in order to ensure security.

Business is also in a state of uncertainty, as it is still unclear who can and cannot work from home, how remote working will be implemented from a technical standpoint, what monitoring practices will be put in place to catch businesses that continue their operations and try to get their employees to continue to work, and what the authorities plan to do next in terms of saving Russian business. Most Russians saw the non-working week from March 30 to April 5 as extra vacation, an opportunity to head out to the park and wind down. Many businesses resumed operations on April 6, a fact that could lead to a sharp increase in the number of infections in the coming weeks. The move to tax those with over 1 million roubles in bank savings was not received well, as people saw it as the government taking the opportunity to pick the pockets of the burgeoning middle class (we use the term rather loosely here, as the Russian middle class is hardly comparable to the European middle class, for example), which had only just managed to accumulate such a safety net, instead of trying to rally the population by taxing large companies and monopolies. Most people see decisions such as these as rather shady. What is more, the process of deferring loan, mortgage and tax payments will require a lot of paperwork and procedural expenses, which will, in turn, reduce the public’s confidence in the state acting as a guarantor and insurer of the costs incurred. Business has little confidence in the government as it is, and this will only hit it harder. But the hardest hit of all will be those who operate in the “grey” and “black” areas of the economy — those had no trust in the state even before the crisis began — as there is no hope of them receiving any kind of financial support. And what will happen to the people they employ — the thousands of illegal immigrants who often work “off the books” with no labour rights or means of livelihood in a foreign country? Will they voluntarily self-isolate? Or will they go to any extreme in order to provide for themselves and for their families? Will the state be able to mobilize the necessary resources to prevent rampant crime in the most disintegrated part of society?

The State as the Sole Subject of “Extraordinary Power”

Despite the fact that the West has been talking about the need for a common response to global security challenges for decades now, the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that we are still woefully unprepared to deliver such a response. And this, despite the fact that the pandemic is neither a political nor an ideological challenge. The touchstone of supranational integration, the European Union, is on the verge of taking away one of its four freedoms — the freedom of movement for EU citizens. The Schengen Area has been temporarily closed. All migration inside and outside the European Union has been suspended, and its countries are making sovereign decisions based on assessments of the appropriateness of restrictive measures. Meanwhile, these measures touch on the very essence of the sovereignty of the individual in a democratic society, namely, the right to freedom of movement, the right to work and the right to the protection of one’s health and safety. In the three months since the pandemic began, the World Health Organization, G7 and G20 have not made a single binding decision, and the UN Security Council has remained silent. The European Union is trying to agree on economic support measures for its member countries, and while the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) has been suspended and countries have been allowed to violate fiscal and budgetary discipline, the idea of introducing so-called “coronabonds” (Euro obligations that would allow European Stability Mechanism funds to be spent on measures to overcome to consequences of the crisis) supported by Italy, Spain and Portugal, but not so much by Germany and the Netherlands, has split Northern and Southern Europe once again. Italy, which has been hit the hardest by the virus, is perhaps most acutely aware of the consequences of “losing a part of its sovereignty” to supranational European institutions: the reduction of hospital beds and medical staff was a direct result of the “austerity” measures put in place by Brussels in the early 2010s. Obviously, the discussion on the need to return sovereignty to the national level developed by the Italian side, specifically by Lega Nord, is quickly gathering steam. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has received parliamentary approval to extend the state of emergency for as long necessary and to adopt “emergency” decrees, while the European Union stands back and points fingers, thus underscoring its helplessness in the face of yet another triumph for national sovereignty.

We can confidently state today that the nation-state remains the only subject of “extraordinary power” — a sovereign capable of defining the boundaries of the new “norm” and the subject of biopower in the territory that is subject to control. As the experience of combatting the pandemic in the European Union has demonstrated, it is the state alone that possesses the necessary resources to exercise control, guarantee security and reallocate resources in an emergency. National governments are still in control, among numerous other functions, of the police, the emergency services, the tracking of their citizens’ movements, information control technologies, the management of the labour market and industrial production and the redistribution and mobilization of resources within their respective countries, and the crisis has highlighted how quickly parts of these functions that have been delegated to supranational structures can be returned to the purview of national governments. The pandemic has also demonstrated that citizens invariably turn to the state and their national governments for protection.

For many states, the pandemic will likely be a way to test the boundaries and limits of “extraordinary power.” And every day it becomes increasingly obvious that these limits are linked to sociocultural considerations, which also respect national borders. For example. The freedom-loving French and Italians are now (finally) prepared to sit at home in order to save the older generation; the Chinese have spent their last savings on the production of masks and medicines; and the Japanese, who were already quite used to and accepting of social distancing and wearing masks, have taken the new demands in their stride; the Russians, upon learning that they would have to give the state a percentage of their savings during the crisis, rushed to their banks to withdraw money; while the people of Turkmenistan have been forbidden from saying the word “coronavirus” and wearing masks and may be sent to prison for ignoring the rules — in short, there is no such thing as coronavirus in Turkmenistan, and everyone agrees. All this “blooming complexity” in just a few months has laid bare the level of trust between citizens and the state, with each individual case demonstrating how far the state is prepared to go and how much society is prepared to tolerate. Many governments have started to seriously tighten information control against the backdrop of the fight against the pandemic. For example, a number of countries have introduced fines for spreading false information, and it is, of course, the government that decides which information is false, and it does not matter that much of the “knowledge” about this little-studied threat, even if it comes from respected scientists, can be refuted and become fake news in as little as a week. But information can be an incredibly powerful resource in times of “extraordinary power,” something that the government simply cannot fail to privatize, as information is the foundation of trust.

The Consequences of “Extraordinary Power”: A Large-Scale Crisis of Confidence

Trust becomes a strategic resource when institutions stop working. “Extraordinary power,” which has become the norm following the introduction (official or otherwise) of a state of emergency essentially means that governments are functioning on an ad hoc basis. Some states have long abandoned this practice and are finding it increasingly difficult to return to the “will of the sovereign” from institutionalized formal processes. For those who are used to living in the “manual control” regime, where institutional trust is typically low due to the fact that institutions have always been a “bonus” that the sovereign can use at its discretion, “extraordinary power” is, if not the norm, always tacitly understood as the scenario that is most likely to unfold in any given situation. Whatever the case may be, we are witnessing a deep crisis of confidence brought about by the fact that neither the institutions that seemed stable and effective, nor the forethought or farsightedness of the “wise leader” were able to prevent matters from taking a turn for the worse.

As we know from the works of Albert Hirschman [5], there are three basic types of attitude towards the state an individual can possibly adopt: exit, voice and loyalty. “Loyalty” is only possible when there is a high level of trust. “Voice” is an open protest that requires people to be ready to take social action, something that is unlikely given the current rules regarding social distancing and the fines for breaking them. “Exit” is the most realistic strategy when there is a lack of trust and the price of protest is too high. The “extraordinary powers” that are being implemented all over the planet today offer us a glimpse of just how high: the mobilization of the police, army and other guard forces; the experimentation with all manner of digital and physical control; and the introduction of various sanctions (financial, administrative and custodial). It thus follows that all the talk about globalization, the blurring of borders, the freedom of movement, and so on, is only possible as long as national governments allow it, all the while retaining the right to nix all these developments and implement their own instruments of control.

The choice of response strategy will, of course, be geared towards the interests of the nation, primarily due to national sociocultural specifics. However, even now, looking at how different societies have reacted to the measures that have been introduced and the level of trust that has been formed in response to these measures, we can assume that the most common strategy will likely be “exit.” This is due, first of all, to the fact that states — even Western liberal democracies that have more reason than most to count on the loyalty of their citizens — cannot guarantee the security of the population or even comply with the conditions of the social contract that EU taxpayer money has been paying for over the past several decades. The pandemic has opened the eyes of those in the most economically developed and liberal democracies to the fact that they have been living in a world of lies — from what they believed to be the most advanced medicine to Industry 4.0, which, as it turns out, was not able to manufacture enough medical masks. When the pandemic is over, “exit” for some will mean emigrating to a country with a more effective healthcare system, better social protection, superior business insurance, etc. For others, “exit” will mean the gradual transition to the “grey” or “black” areas of the economy. This will happen in countries where institutional trust was low before the crisis and continued to fall even further as a result of the ineffective steps taken by the state, or due to the unwillingness of the ruling class and big business to demonstrate social solidarity and share the hardships of rebuilding the economy with the middle class and SMEs. Still, others will see “exit” as an incentive for pursuing maximum autonomy in their lives: from switching to working from home and distance learning to subsistence farming. Others may experience “exit” as social marginalization. But one thing is already clear — in most states, the coronavirus will test the public’s confidence in their respective governments. This means that sovereign states today need a balanced, well-thought-out and consistent strategy in order to gain the trust of their citizens and be able to carry out their “normalizing” role into the future, when the time comes to rebuild and recreate institutions and practices and after our fear of death has given way to the fear that there will be no future at all.

[1] Bataille, Georges. 2006. The Accursed Share. Мoscow.

[2] Agamben G. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford.

[3] Schmitt, Carl. 2005. Dictatorship. St. Petersburg.

[4] Galtung J. Violence, Peace, and Peace Research // Journal of Peace Research. Vol. 6. No. 3 (1969), pp. 167–191.

[5] Hirschman A. 1970. Exit, Voice and Loyalty. Cambridge, Mass.

From our partner RIAC

PhD in Political Science, RIAC Program Manager, Research Fellow at Centre for Global Problems Studies, MGIMO-University

Continue Reading
Comments

Intelligence

The New World Order: The conspiracy theory and the power of the Internet

Published

on

“The Illuminati, a mysterious international organisation made up of the world’s top political and social elites, controls the workings of the entire world behind the scenes”. This is the world’s most famous conspiracy theory about the New World Order.

For hundreds of years, legends about the Illuminati have been spread and many people currently believe that the Illuminati still exist. It is believed that the Illuminati operate in various fields such as global politics, military affairs, finance and mass media and control the historical process of the entire world.

The ultimate goal is to establish a New World Order. Nobody can prove it, but many people believe it. This is the greatest paradox about conspiracy theories.

In the 2009 film, Angels and Demons – based on Dan Brown’s best seller of the same name about Professor Langdon, played by Tom Hanks – the story of the Illuminati, who supposedly originated in Europe during the Age of Enlightenment, was recalled. There were physicists, mathematicians and astronomers who questioned the “erroneous teachings” of the authority of the Holy See and dedicated themselves to the scientific field of the search for truth.

Eventually, the Illuminati were forced to become a clandestine organisation and have continued to recruit members for hundreds of years to this day. In Angels and Demons, the historical facts are clearly questionable, and the movie appeared after the great economic crisis of 2007-2008.

The New World Order conspiracy theory has been circulating for a long time and is full of mysterious theories that, however, convince many people who are powerless and dissatisfied with the current state of the world.

The Illuminati, who advocate the establishment of a New World Order through the planning of a series of political and financial events (the financial tsunami of 2007-2008 is said to have been planned by the Illuminati), attempt to influence the course of world history, and ultimately establish an authoritarian world government.

Supporters of the New World Order theory believe that even the powerful US government is now just a puppet government. While another “shadow government” made up of a few people makes decisions that will change the fate of the planet.

You might think that all of the above is just crackpot theories. Many people, however, believe this is true. According to a 2013 poll conducted by the Public Policy Polling Foundation, 28% of US voters believe that the New World Order is actually taking hold.

Brian L. Keeley, a professor of philosophy at Pitts College who devotes himself to the study of modern conspiracy theories, believes that an important feature of conspiracy theorists is that they cite some trivial and overlooked incidents and then propose a perfect explanation compared to an embarrassed official response. The reason why the conspiracy theory explanation can be widely disseminated is that it has no argumentation process to deny. It is just a judgement that jumps directly from hypothesis to conclusion. In the argumentation process, it is only a subjective interpretation of the event.

Nevertheless, for the public that does not fully understand the incident, the conspiracy theory provides an “explanation” for the unknown part of the said incident, and this “explanation” cannot be denied (because its very existence is not corroborated by real arguments and facts). It is therefore recognised as a valid argument by many people.

For example, no one has substantial evidence to prove that the Illuminati actually exist, but no one can prove that the Illuminati are purely fictitious. Therefore, you cannot deny their existence because their existence is “perfection without evidence”.

Columnist Martha Gill wrote in The Guardian on the subject, describing the Illuminati as the most enduring conspiracy theory organisation in world history.

“Conspiracy theories relating to the 1969 moon landing mission, the Kennedy assassination, the 9/11 attacks, etc., are all limited to a specific time and place. But conspiracy theories supporting the existence of the Illuminati can connect them. Anything about these connections, however, is difficult to prove”. In other words, the supporters of conspiracy theories may have common imagination and attribute everything to this organisation, so that every irrational phenomenon in the world can be explained.

Although no one can prove the real existence of the Illuminati, there is actually an alleged “global shadow government” in the world whose name is the Bilderberg Group. The Bilderberg Group holds an annual world-class private meeting and participants include elites from all walks of society such as government, business, media, science and technology.

Known as the “World’s Most Mysterious Conference”, the Bilderberg Group invites various famous political and economic figures to participate in its meetings every year.

Prince Bernhard van Lippe-Biesterfeld (1911-2004) held the first meeting in 1954. As the venue for the meeting was the Bilderberg Hotel in Oosterbeek, that name was used as the name of the group.

The existence of the Bilderberg Group is not a secret, but the content of the topics discussed at the Conferences is absolutely confidential and mainstream media cannot report on the content of the meetings.

The Bilderberg Group issues a press release every year to introduce the Conference participants and the outline of the topics discussed. Over the years, participants have come from many places, including Prince Philip of Edinburgh (1921-2021) of the British Royal Family, Crown Prince Charles, former British Prime Ministers, French President Macron, German Chancellor Merkel, former US Presidents Bush and Clinton, and even Bill Gates and other Internet giants. There were also Italians, as reported years ago in a newspaper of our country.

The 2018 Conference was held in Turin, Italy, in June. According to the description on the Bilderberg Group’s official website, the main topics included European populism, the development of artificial intelligence, quantum computer technology and the “post-truth” era. Obviously the actual content and results of the meeting’s discussion have never been reported.

Therefore, the Bilderberg Group has naturally become a locus where conspiracy theorists want to draw material. They describe the Bilderberg Group as true evidence of the theory that a very small number of elites controls the world, and the participants are planning a New World Order.

On the subject of strange things, let us give some examples. In June 2018, the British Royal Family was also caught up in conspiracy theories. When Prince Harry and his wife Meghan attended a show, they were caught on camera motionless, like two stiff and dull robots. Later related clips went viral on the Internet and netizens were in an uproar: many people believed that the distinguished members of the Royal Family were actually robots developed by high technology.

However, the management of the London museum, Madame Tussauds, later explained the mystery by stating that Harry and Meghan were only played by two actors who wore extremely high-realism wax masks on their faces – all to promote an exhibition of wax statues – and inadvertently caused an uproar.

In that short video, Harry and Meghan did not change their facial appearance and their expressions were stiff just like robots. Consequently, conspiracy theorists used this as evidence that they were robots secretly built by the British Royal Family.

This argument is an extension of the ‘trivial evidence’ mentioned above. The argument proponents ignore any argumentation process and directly draw the final conclusion through the above stated “trivial evidence”. This conclusion is highly topical and quite appealing. With the fast spread of the Internet, the “quick truth” will naturally be recognised and sought after by many people.

I think many people still remember the “Mandela effect” that spread wildly across the Internet in the early years as a false memory. The name “Mandela effect” is believed to have come from Fiona Broome, a self-described “paranormal consultant”, who created a website called the “Mandela effect”. Supporters of the ‘Mandela effect’ claim to “remember” that former South African President Mandela died in prison in the 1980s. But in reality, after being released from prison, Mandela served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999 and died in December 2013.

So why should anyone believe this seemingly absurd statement? The Internet has become a support platform for a lot of false content, fake news, as well as unreasonableness and lack of justification. When someone shared that ‘false memory’ with others on the Internet, many people believed it to be true, and even suddenly recalled having that memory: “Mandela died in prison that year”.

As a result, lies inconsistent with facts continue to spread. The lie is repeated thousands of times and many people consider it to be the truth: this learning phase is the first misleading rule on the Internet.

In the Internet era, multidimensional and multiplatform features have generated a number of online “malignancies” of conspiracy theories. Moreover, their dissemination ability is not limited to “believers” only. Since online social media provide a widespread and wide dissemination platform, one passes it onto ten people, ten spread it to a hundred, a hundred to a thousand, and so it goes on in geometric fashion, thus turning a ‘hot’ topic on the Internet into an absolute truth. Those who want to believe are naturally prepared and willing to do so. Moreover, these false opinions on the Internet may even have an impact on the real world.

For example, at the political level, everyone can now comment and participate in the online arena. For politicians to get the right to speak and set the agenda, the key is to rely on the public’s direction on the Internet. The Internet discourse has become the dominant factor of the political storytelling, and not vice versa. The characteristics of social networks are precisely the breeding ground for conspiracy theories.

The Internet is easy to spread among the public and it is exactly the breeding ground for conspiracy theories.

Nowadays, conspiracy theories are enough to influence politics and even political developments. A specific conspiracy theory gains a number of supporters through the Internet that promotes it to become a highly debated topic among the public. Consequently, it enters the real political arena coming from the virtual community and its influence can change the direction of governmental decisions.

Looking at it from another perspective, when conspiracy theories are put on the Internet and continue to proliferate – regardless of whether the Illuminati exist or not – they are enough to establish a New World Order. The real-world public opinions, as well as the composition of opinions and the basis of social discussions are changed, and thus world’s countries, politics and rulers are affected.

Continue Reading

Intelligence

USA and Australia Worry About Cyber Attacks from China Amidst Pegasus Spyware

Published

on

Pegasus Spyware Scandal has shaken whole India and several other countries. What will be its fallout no one knows as we know only tip of iceberg. Amidst Pegasus Spyware Scandal USA and Australia both have shown serious concerns about Cyber Attacks on US and Australian interests. Both say that China is hub of malware software and both face millions of such attacks daily.

I am trying to understand why a software is needed to spy on a particular individual when all calls, messages, data, emails are easily accessible from server. In most of cases these servers are located in USA and some cases these are located in host country. In certain sensitive cases Government Agencies have their own server like Central Intelligence Agency and hundreds of other agencies and military establishment world over including India. Now point is who installs those servers.

A couple of years back I had talked to Mr Mike Molloy who is Chief Executive Officer of Orion Global Technologies previously known as Orion SAS. He had explained me how his company installs servers in host countries on request of private or gov bodies. He talks about contract and trust. That means even when a company or Gov buys a server or software for designated uses the “Secrecy” Factor remain on discretion of company which has supplied server or software.

Now  if all data, e-mail, chat, messages, calls are accessible to Gov as per law and technology (Through Server all components of Communication are accessible and thats why  me and you see start seeing call recording of a person even after many years later), I am unable to understand why a Gov will be needing a software to Spy on any one.

Now coming to where Australia and USA wants to carry the whole debate.

Australian Foreign Minister Sen Marise Payne said, “Australian Government joins international partners in expressing serious concerns about malicious cyber activities by China’s Ministry of State Security.

“In consultation with our partners, the Australian Government has determined that China’s Ministry of State Security exploited vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Exchange software to affect thousands of computers and networks worldwide, including in Australia. These actions have undermined international stability and security by opening the door to a range of other actors, including cybercriminals, who continue to exploit this vulnerability for illicit gain”, She further added.

She opined, ”The Australian Government is also seriously concerned about reports from our international partners that China’s Ministry of State Security is engaging contract hackers who have carried out cyber-enabled intellectual property theft for personal gain and to provide commercial advantage to the Chinese Government”.

She warned China by saying, “Australia calls on all countries – including China – to act responsibly in cyberspace.  China must adhere to the commitments it has made in the G20, and bilaterally, to refrain from cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets and confidential business information with the intent of obtaining competitive advantage”.

On other hand USA’s The National Security Agency (NSA), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a Cybersecurity Advisory on Chinese State-Sponsored Cyber Operations. National Security Advisor said, ”Chinese state-sponsored cyber activity poses a major threat to U.S. and allied systems. These actors aggressively target political, economic, military, educational, and critical infrastructure personnel and organizations to access valuable, sensitive data. These cyber operations support China’s long-term economic and military objectives”.

The information in this advisory builds on NSA’s previous release “Chinese State-Sponsored Actors Exploit Publicly Known Vulnerabilities.” The NSA, CISA, and FBI recommended mitigations empower our customers to reduce the risk of Chinese malicious cyber activity, and increase the defensive posture of their critical networks. 

Continue Reading

Intelligence

Afghan issue can not be understood from the simplistic lens of geopolitical blocs

Published

on

pakistan-terrorism

Authors: Tridivesh Singh Maini  and Varundeep Singh*

On July 14, 2021 a terror attack was carried out in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province in which a number of Chinese engineers, working on the Dasu hydropower project (a project which is part of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor) were killed. The attack predictably evinced a strong response from China. The Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi speaking before a Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Foreign Minister’s meeting asked the Taliban to disassociate itself from ‘terrorist elements’ and in a meeting with Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, asked Pakistan to bring the perpetrators to book. Earlier in April 2021, a car bomb attack took place at Serena hotel in Quetta which was hosting China’s Ambassador to Pakistan (four people were killed and twelve were injured)

Wang Yi significantly praised the Ashraf Ghani government, for its attempts towards building national unity and providing effective governance. Beijing clearly realizes that its economic investments in the country as well as big ticket infrastructural projects can not remain safe if there is no security. Afghanistan also criticized Pakistan for its role in sending 10000 Jihadis to Taliban, this is important in the context of the region’s geopolitics.

 Like all other countries, Beijing and Islamabad, would have expected uncertainty after the US withdrawal of troops but perhaps over estimated their capabilities in dealing with the turbulence which had been predicted by many.

Importance of Chinese Foreign Minister’s statements

Wang Yi’s statements are important because days earlier a Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen had praised China and welcomed its role in the country’s reconstruction. He had also assured China that those involved in the insurgency in Xinjiang would not be given refuge in Afghanistan (one of China’s major concerns has been the support provided by Taliban to the East Turkmenistan movement)

While Beijing may have opened back channels with the Taliban and realized that it needs to adapt to the changing geopolitics, recent developments would have increased its skepticism vis-à-vis the Taliban. On the other hand, Russia has been more favorable towards the Taliban. Russia’s Deputy Chief of Mission in India, Roman Babushkin argued that the Taliban are a reality which needs to be accepted, and also that any military activities without a political process are insufficient.

Babushkin did make the point that for successful negotiations, Taliban needed to end violence.

‘that Taliban should deal with the problem of terrorism and other related issues in order to become legitimate, in order to [get] delisted [at the UN Security Council], in order to go ahead with the future Afghanistan and creation of the inclusive government

It would be pertinent to point out, that Zamir Kabulov, Russian President’s Afghanistan envoy went a step further and said that the Afghan government was not doing enough to make talks with Taliban a success.

China’s statements subtle warning to the Taliban, indicating its reservations, and praise of Ghani indicate a possibility of greater understanding between Washington and Beijing (even though Beijing has repeatedly attributed the current troubles in Afghanistan to Washington’s decision to withdraw troops).

Can US and China find common ground

 It remains to be seen if Biden who has exhibited dexterity on a number of complex issues reaches out to Xi Jinping to find common ground with regard to Afghanistan. Significantly, while US-Turkey relations had witnessed a downward trajectory and Biden has been critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies and Human rights record, both leaders met on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in June 2021. During the meeting Turkey agreed to secure Kabul Airport. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan while commenting on Turkey’s assurance said

‘The clear commitment from the leaders was established that Turkey would play a lead role in securing Hamid Karzai International Airport, and we are now working through how to execute to get to that,’

Taliban earlier this week warned Turkey of ‘consequences’ if the Middle Eastern nation increased its troop presence in Afghanistan.

Conclusion

Russia’s statements with regard to the Taliban indicate that it is not totally on the same page as China (its prior experience in Afghanistan has made it more cautious and circumspect), and that the Afghan issue can not be understood from the simplistic lens of geo-political blocs and traditional lenses. All major stakeholders in Afghanistan, both within the region and outside, seem to be understandably befuddled by the turn of events. It is not just the US, but even China which would be worried not just from an economic stand point but the overall security implications of the turmoil in Afghanistan. The terror attack in KPK indicates that other CPEC related projects could also face threats from militant groups. Beijing would thus need to be quick to react to the overtures from the Taliban in order to secure its economic assets and lives of Chinese workers in neighbouring Pakistan.

 It is especially important for Washington, Beijing and other important stakeholders in the region to work together for dealing with the near term turbulence as well as long term challenges Afghanistan is likely to face.

*Varundeep Singh is an Independent Policy Analyst.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Reports2 hours ago

Sweden: Invest in skills and the digital economy to bolster the recovery from COVID-19

Sweden’s economy is on the road to recovery from the shock of the COVID-19 crisis, yet risks remain. Moving ahead...

Intelligence4 hours ago

The New World Order: The conspiracy theory and the power of the Internet

“The Illuminati, a mysterious international organisation made up of the world’s top political and social elites, controls the workings of...

Environment6 hours ago

Western Indian Ocean region has declared 550,000 square kilometers as protected

The Western Indian Ocean region has declared 143* marine and coastal areas as protected – an area covering 553,163 square...

Green Planet10 hours ago

Six things you can do to bring back mangroves

Don’t be fooled by their modest appearance: mangroves are important players in some of the greatest challenges facing the world...

Development12 hours ago

ADB Calls for Just, Equitable Transition Toward Net Zero in Asia and Pacific

Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Masatsugu Asakawa today called for countries in Asia and the Pacific to take bold action...

Green Planet14 hours ago

Oil, acid, plastic: Inside the shipping disaster gripping Sri Lanka

It’s visible in satellite images from just off Sri Lanka’s coast: a thin grey film that snakes three kilometres out...

Terrorism16 hours ago

A question mark on FATF’s credibility

While addressing a political gathering, India’s external affairs minister  S. Jaishanker made a startling lapsus de langue “We have been...

Trending