Thursday, January 5, 2017

Motivated Skepticism and the Sanders Legacy

Part of the Problem
I find I spend an inordinate amount of time cautioning people to be skeptical. Be skeptical of journalism, be skeptical of charts and graphs, be skeptical of 'scientific breakthroughs', be skeptical of politician's pronouncements - just verify everything before you accept it as fact. But beyond all that, the most important thing to be skeptical of in our post-factual internet driven siloed echo-chamber world is anything that reinforces something you WANT to believe, or that reinforces your core ideological world-view. Because no matter how careful we are, this is where we are vulnerable to sloppy logic and blind spots. If you read something and it makes you angry, be skeptical. But if you read something that makes you happy? Raise the threshold on it even higher.

This, of course, brings us to the Russian offensive cyber attacks interfering with the US presidential election. It's not at all surprising that Trump wants to disregard these intelligence reports. He's deeply invested in having won a HUGE victory, and any narrative that has him eking out a close split decision with help from the Russian GRU and the US FBI is not going to sit well with him. It's a little less expected to see so much of the US far right embracing the Kremlin as an innocent party and the Obama administration as evil, but considering the recent Russian far right positions on LGBT people and Islam, along with their support for white nationalist movements in Europe it's not that far-fetched a consideration.

But there is a third constituency gleefully wrapping their arms around the Russian government attackers and their stooge Julian Assange. BernieBros. I continue to use this term because it is useful. It describes a fairly small but significant portion of the American left wing who, over the years of the Bush and Obama presidencies have come to loathe everything that America is, and respond with a knee-jerk glee at anything that they see as weakening it. These people infuriate me. They don't attack the American Political Right anymore, and they certainly aren't interested in defending their nation. They attack their natural coalition as evil neo-liberal sellouts and take the position that it is the American Political LEFT that is the problem with America.

So, in the case of the Russian cyber-attacks, these American liberals happily march in lockstep with Donald Trump's far right authoritarian supporters. "Where is the evidence", they demand. Actually, there's a lot of evidence, and it's easy to find. Professional network security firms were reporting on Russian attacks on the DNC and Clinton campaigns as early as April. But if you show them the evidence, they declare it as worthless and go back to demanding to see 'the evidence'. This is a tactic they learned from Fox News and the Tea Party.

Next they demand 'proof'. Setting aside for a moment that there is no possible proof that they would accept as dispositive, these are intelligence agencies we're talking about. To provide 'proof' would require them to give up sources and networks in place, and there's simply no way they're going to do that. So demands for proof are safe - they can never be met.

Most of all, as someone with a long history in technology including working for a very advanced cyber security software vendor, it's amazing to me how so many of these people have somehow become experts in the field of enterprise network security, malware analysis and mitigation and computer forensics - all in a matter of weeks. They are perfect happy to stroke their chin and explain to me that it's impossible to trace a cyber attack back to its source. When I ask them about SIEM data, log analysis, malware signatures and exploit histories they have nothing to say, but nonetheless they KNOW that it's easy for hackers to hide their location (as if that was saying anything close to the same thing).

I'm deeply troubled by this faction of the American Liberal community that has become so utterly nihilistic as to be more closely aligned with Trump than they are with me. They worry me because they can easily offset the Democratic party's demographic advantage and hand continued power to the extreme ideologues that have taken over the Republican party. And they seem to be becoming nothing so much as a mirror-image of the tea party. They want different things, but they are immune to facts and reality and utterly refuse to compromise. They are a natural part of what should be forming up as a solid anti-Trump coalition, and instead they can't bring themselves to challenge him on something as basic and simple as this.