2007 - 2021

A Cacophony of Human Noise


A new report by scientists tells us that a “cacophony of human noise is hurting all marine life”.  This major new assessment concludes that the “ocean soundscape is being drowned out by human activity” with a massively detrimental impact on all sea creatures. The review, published in the journal Science, analysed more than 500 studies that assessed the effects of noise on sea life. About 90% of the studies found significant harm to marine mammals, such as whales, seals and dolphins, and 80% found impacts on fish and invertebrates. Male toadfish can’t attract a female and the honks that cod use to coordinate spawning can’t be heard over the din. Prof Steve Simpson at the University of Somewhere said noise pollution was like an “acoustic fog” in the ocean. He should take a look at my timeline.

If the lockdown is forcing us in doors it’s also forcing us online where we face a torrent of information and our own surround-sound of chat, views, opinions and rage. This increased domestication and isolation are palpably toxic when combined with our experience of the potion of daily death updates and economic collapse. Occasionally – like the veritable beached whale – I get washed up on the shore off the Sea of Memes.

In this global pandemic we traverse through the increasingly harsh and hostile oceans of click-bait and what passes for ‘dialogue’ in a state of hyper-arousal. In these critical times when are in desperate need of supporting each other and finding some solace and some solidarity we’re instead faced with waves of disinformation, mistrust and bad faith. We are overloaded with relentless bodycam footage and state violence and their antidote – the retreat into fluffy absurdity.

This week the army was used to militarise our health care and weaponised against the Scottish Government’s efforts to roll-out vaccination. If there’s anything more dispiriting than seeing daily statistics of death and infection – it’s seeing them used in information wars. Through being asked to compare rates and actions in England and Scotland you end up celebrating a one-upmanship that feels really sordid.

Whatever happened to Nobody’s Safe until Everybody’s Safe?

The aspiration to create better forms of communication, to nurture efforts for solidarity ends up feeling insipid when what is valued are “hot takes” vicious infighting and rage. If toilet roll was the unexpected currency of the first lockdown, incoherent rage is the new coin. We are locked down not just in our own homes but in our online silos where we huddle together with anyone we think agrees with us. Rage has been misconstrued for radicalism and as projects like RIC and Commonweal are threatened the descent into a Giant Squabble seems to be accelerating.

Cutting through this constant noise and the stagnation of closed groups is difficult. What we ‘need’ is a collective experience that isn’t Zoom, Instagram, Reddit or wherever you’re lurking. What we ‘need’ is to be challenged and stimulated not provoked and triggered. What we ‘need’ is forms of communication that allow for some listening and some nuance. Yet this ‘call to disarm’ lands on stony ground when all around us we see leadership failure, corruption and variant forms of cronyism and nepotism.

This crisis, this predicament isn’t confined to the democracy movement in Scotland but it’s heightened and amplified within it. I think this is because the foot-soldiers have been at this for a very long time and the stakes are high. When you stare into the abyss of being shackled to British rule: the economic consequences for Scotland; the potential wreckage of the peace in Ireland that Brexit brings it’s hard not to be both disconsolate and angry.  Anger is both a proper response and an inadequate one. Rage is essential but on its own its disempowering.

One of the difficulties about or present state is the feeling of impotence against forces outwith our control. What we are beginning to realise is the power of collective thinking, the working things out together that comes from creative exchange and how  difficult that is on forums that are designed to monetise outrage.

It’s in this ocean of outrage and grievance in which trust in media and politicians has collapsed that the conspiracy culture thrives. In post-Trump America CNN and MSNBC rose to the top spots in January’s TV ratings, prompting Fox to doubled-down in its far far right outlook. Nowhere could this lurch to the right be seen clearer than the views of their host Tucker Carlson, whose show is the most watched in cable news, and is among those leading the stations charge.

After Democrats called for a crackdown on white nationalists and domestic terrorism following a wave of extremist attacks, Carson had an interesting, and revealing, take for his audience.

“They’re talking about you,” Carson told his viewers on 26 January.

This swirling mess of racism, anti-semitism and conspiracy mixes gleefully with anti-vaxx propaganda and ‘Free Speech’ obsessives, but it’s not confined to the Circus Show of Fox News and Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has openly called for the execution of Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama. Here we have our own fringe of conspiracy theorists and right-wing libertarians who coalesce around Toby Young’s Free Speech Union or on the outskirts of the Reform UK, the repository for the dregs of the Brexit Party and for more of Aaron Banks lolly.

But worse this culture can be seen echoed within shards of the independence movement who talk of a war against the “woke” who complain bitterly against the most basic notions of equality, rights and defence of minorities. The dangerous paranoia, the cry to “wake up sheeple” and the hounding of women all have echoes of the Trumpian chants of “Lock her Up” and is a dangerous and reactionary force. It talks in dead certainties, indulges in wild conspiracy and is laced with misogyny and mild threatening undertones. The fact that it’s not very popular or effective shouldn’t stop it being called-out and challenged for what it is.

Stepping our of our houses and our silos, if and when mass vaccination allows us will not mean stepping back into the old world, it will mean stepping into a new world that requires fresh thinking and replacing fear and paranoia with new communities of trust. The task of restoration we face is huge. Rage needs to be tempered with rationality and triggered hyper-arousal needs to be replaced with listening, calm and reason if we are to have a chance to recover ourselves.

Comments (22)

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  1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

    Do you see this as a Bad Thing? As I said elsewhere: ‘I’d rather we had a cacophony of voices, of which none has any more authority than any other, and from which we might create each one’s own fluctuant polyphonies of opinion. Indeed, we have that now… a superabundance of information to weigh and examine!’

    If you want Truth and Certainty, join a church.

    1. Outline of the 5th Estate concept here: https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/about-us/ – what I’m talking about is the toxic elements of political dialogue interacts with the worst aspects of social media culture

      1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

        Yes, the ‘fifth estate’ as the interaction of political dialogue with social media, by means of which everyone’s voice can be heard; as a cacophony of human noise, in other words.

        I just don’t see how you can square this aspiration with exclusionary talk of ‘toxic’ elements in this dialogue and ‘worst’ aspects of social media use. Surely, these ‘rule-breaking’ elements and aspects of which you disapprove can’t be excluded from the fifth estate without it ceasing to be the fifth estate, an order in which everybody’s voice can be heard, even the ‘worst’ and most ‘toxic’ of them.

        1. Being part of the 5th Estate doesnt require you to be a valueless uncritical void-space (?). Clearly there are reactionary political elements and parts of contemporary culture (?) Why wouldnt you comment on that?

          1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

            Certainly, being part of the fifth estate doesn’t require you to be silent; rather, being part of the fifth estate requires you to descend into a Giant Squabble, a cacophony of human noise, among all its toxic elements and in all its worst aspects, and curate one’s own truth. We needn’t complain; it’s just the nature of the beast.

  2. Daniel Raphael says:

    Haters are not people with whom dialogue is possible–unless, of course, you define ‘dialogue’ to include any noise that comes out of a mouth. I think your point is clear enough, Michael–and it is appreciated. Anger is not a virtue, and less is it a means to our ends. Yes, it has its place, and no, it does not substitute for rationality and good intentions. We are witnessing–and experiencing–the breakdown of human communication. The atomization of society is a predictable outcome of societies that replace everything else with “the marketplace,” where the barker extols the product, the products are any thing and any one, and the only operative question is “How much?” There is free-floating angst and rage because we have experienced–are experiencing–the breakdown of human ties, replaced with commercial ones. We internalize this, the latest word, slogan, and jingle, because the voice we are subjected to, the one we cannot control, is the voice that continually tells us we are recipients, receptacles, powerless and capable only of feeling our helplessness…which leads us back to our bath of increasingly irrational emotion.

    This is not rhetorical arabesque, it is the recognition of what occurred in the US Capitol, and what you have described in more modest dimensions within the Scottish movement for national liberation and independence. Your point is taken.

  3. David Mackenzie says:

    Spot on, thanks. I wonder if a useful baseline to work with just now is the notion that we are all made a bit loopy by the pandemic and that, as a result, we all need air more than we need arguments.

  4. The Over Extended Phenotype says:

    ‘This increased domestication and isolation are palpably toxic when combined with our experience of the potion of daily death updates and economic collapse.’
    Why are you whining? You supported lockdowns from day one.

  5. The Over Extended Phenotype says:

    ‘Rage needs to be tempered with rationality and triggered hyper-arousal needs to be replaced with listening, calm and reason if we are to have a chance to recover ourselves’
    So why do you remove comments from the comments section? Why do you feel so threatened when people hold opinions or make arguments that differ to your own?

    1. Because people are being offensive, defamatory or lying. I try and keep things as open as possible but its up to me to moderate. Its a difficult balance.

      The comments section is full of people disagreeing or deriding me, which is absolutely fine.

      Have you had a comment moderated?

      1. Niemand says:

        Yes, the moderation is very light touch here and to be commended. The comments’ section is also lively and not full of yes people. Articles are polemical but the site and readership are up for debate and robust exchange, but rarely any real nastiness. This is a huge strength here. I wish more authors would join in but maybe they don’t have the time.

        1. Foghorn Leghorn says:

          I’d second this. The dialectic is good here.

          (‘Dialectic’ – the art of investigating through argument the truth of opinions.)

          You can never get enough dialectic, especially in times of crisis, when established truths or ‘certainties’ are called into question.

        2. Thanks. Its a difficult challenge.

      2. The Over Extended Phenotype says:

        On 26th Jan ’21 you published an article titled Dream State in which you claimed that 100,162 people had died of Covid 19. The same figure was repeated two days later by George Gunn in his article Narrow Road to the Deep North. Somebody commented below these articles that in fact this number would be made up of people who had genuinely died of Covid 19, those who had died of something else but had had a positive test at some point in the 28 days previous to their death, and some who had been misdiagnosed because the test had been incorrect.
        This statement is completely uncontentious. Surely everybody knows by now that somebody who dies in a car accident but has tested positive at some point in the 28 days previous to their death will be recorded as a Covid death. Surely everybody knows that all mass testing programs include a small percentage of false positives which can skew the figures. But the comments making this point were removed. Why?
        Neither comment was offensive, defamatory or lying. So why did you remove them?

        1. Because we’re in a fucking pandemic you fucking disgrace. I know people who are ill, I known people have died. Everybody does.

          Fuck off.

          1. Derek Thomson says:

            Say what you really feel Mike.

          2. Paula Becker says:

            It’s just a hop, skip and a jump
            ‘listening, calm and reason’
            ‘offensive, defamatory or lying’
            ‘because we’re in a fucking pandemic’
            ‘Fuck off’

          3. Paula Becker says:

            Fergie made the model
            Drosten made the test
            Tedros made it global
            the sheep did all the rest

            Billy paid for Fergie
            Drosten paid per test
            and editing a journal
            that says Drosten is the best

            Tedros works for China
            Mugabe as his guide
            behold the reign of terror
            and the ghost of genocide

  6. Axel P Kulit says:

    A week or two back I read that China is experimenting with synthetic whale songs which include hidden instructions to submarines. They are doubtless not the only ones, but I hope the song comes out as clearly fake to the wales.

    It seems to me we are devolving into a set of tribal cultures. This link, though a bit old, is relevant. It refers to the USA but could equally well apply to any nation of the UK.


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