Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein trav­els across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea, the United States, Britain, Greece, and Australia to witness the reality of disaster capitalism. He discovers how companies such as G4S, Serco, and Halliburton cash in on or­ganized misery in a hidden world of privatized detention centers, militarized private security, aid profiteering, and destructive mining.

Disaster has become big business. Talking to immigrants stuck in limbo in Britain or visiting immigration centers in America, Loewenstein maps the secret networks formed to help cor­porations bleed what profits they can from economic crisis. He debates with Western contractors in Afghanistan, meets the locals in post-earthquake Haiti, and in Greece finds a country at the mercy of vulture profiteers. In Papua New Guinea, he sees a local commu­nity forced to rebel against predatory resource companies and NGOs.

What emerges through Loewenstein’s re­porting is a dark history of multinational corpo­rations that, with the aid of media and political elites, have grown more powerful than national governments. In the twenty-first century, the vulnerable have become the world’s most valu­able commodity. Disaster Capitalism is published by Verso in 2015 and in paperback in January 2017.

Profits_of_doom_cover_350Vulture capitalism has seen the corporation become more powerful than the state, and yet its work is often done by stealth, supported by political and media elites. The result is privatised wars and outsourced detention centres, mining companies pillaging precious land in developing countries and struggling nations invaded by NGOs and the corporate dollar. Best-selling journalist Antony Loewenstein travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Papua New Guinea and across Australia to witness the reality of this largely hidden world of privatised detention centres, outsourced aid, destructive resource wars and militarized private security. Who is involved and why? Can it be stopped? What are the alternatives in a globalised world? Profits of Doom, published in 2013 and released in an updated edition in 2014, challenges the fundamentals of our unsustainable way of life and the money-making imperatives driving it. It is released in an updated edition in 2014.
forgodssakecover Four Australian thinkers come together to ask and answer the big questions, such as: What is the nature of the universe? Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? And Where do we find hope?   We are introduced to different belief systems – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – and to the argument that atheism, like organised religion, has its own compelling logic. And we gain insight into the life events that led each author to their current position.   Jane Caro flirted briefly with spiritual belief, inspired by 19th century literary heroines such as Elizabeth Gaskell and the Bronte sisters. Antony Loewenstein is proudly culturally, yet unconventionally, Jewish. Simon Smart is firmly and resolutely a Christian, but one who has had some of his most profound spiritual moments while surfing. Rachel Woodlock grew up in the alternative embrace of Baha'i belief but became entranced by its older parent religion, Islam.   Provocative, informative and passionately argued, For God's Sakepublished in 2013, encourages us to accept religious differences, but to also challenge more vigorously the beliefs that create discord.  
After Zionism, published in 2012 and 2013 with co-editor Ahmed Moor, brings together some of the world s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution. Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonization of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably. This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Antony Loewenstein, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ahmed Moor, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
The 2008 financial crisis opened the door for a bold, progressive social movement. But despite widespread revulsion at economic inequity and political opportunism, after the crash very little has changed. Has the Left failed? What agenda should progressives pursue? And what alternatives do they dare to imagine? Left Turn, published by Melbourne University Press in 2012 and co-edited with Jeff Sparrow, is aimed at the many Australians disillusioned with the political process. It includes passionate and challenging contributions by a diverse range of writers, thinkers and politicians, from Larissa Berendht and Christos Tsiolkas to Guy Rundle and Lee Rhiannon. These essays offer perspectives largely excluded from the mainstream. They offer possibilities for resistance and for a renewed struggle for change.
The Blogging Revolution, released by Melbourne University Press in 2008, is a colourful and revelatory account of bloggers around the globe why live and write under repressive regimes - many of them risking their lives in doing so. Antony Loewenstein's travels take him to private parties in Iran and Egypt, internet cafes in Saudi Arabia and Damascus, to the homes of Cuban dissidents and into newspaper offices in Beijing, where he discovers the ways in which the internet is threatening the ruld of governments. Through first-hand investigations, he reveals the complicity of Western multinationals in assisting the restriction of information in these countries and how bloggers are leading the charge for change. The blogging revolution is a superb examination about the nature of repression in the twenty-first century and the power of brave individuals to overcome it. It was released in an updated edition in 2011, post the Arab revolutions, and an updated Indian print version in 2011.
The best-selling book on the Israel/Palestine conflict, My Israel Question - on Jewish identity, the Zionist lobby, reporting from Palestine and future Middle East directions - was released by Melbourne University Press in 2006. A new, updated edition was released in 2007 (and reprinted again in 2008). The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. Another fully updated, third edition was published in 2009. It was released in all e-book formats in 2011. An updated and translated edition was published in Arabic in 2012.

The net effect

The following essay about the web and my book The Blogging Revolution, by Richard King, appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on January 3:

Good, bad or a bit of both? Richard King asks whether the internet serves us, or we serve it.

Perhaps new technologies meet with suspicion because of the perception they extend the reach of humankind while detracting human nature. Even the esteemed technology of writing met resistance from Socrates, who in Plato’s Phaedrus puts forward the view that while writing may give the appearance of wisdom, it does so at the expense of genuine insight.

Similarly, when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15th century, plenty of voices were raised in horror at the prospect of ignorant churchgoers reading the Holy Book for themselves. Not to mention all those out-of-work scribes covering the city walls with graffiti.

It’s easy to mock these doomsayers, but I sometimes wonder if it isn’t too easy. Negative Nancies they may be, but there are plenty of Pollyannas too, and they need to be treated with just as much caution. Luddite, now a term of gentle abuse denoting a fogeyish attitude to technology, refers to the 19th century artisans who protested against industrialisation, often by destroying mechanised looms. But the connection between the old sense of the word and current usage is far from watertight. The socialist historian E.P. Thompson suggested that Luddism should be understood, not as a fear of change per se, but as an attempt to alter the course of change, to steer the Industrial Revolution away from a rigidly free-market ethos. Reading Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley or an account of a 19th century slum, who dares call that objective naive?

The revolutionary technology of today is, of course, the internet, and the speed with which it has taken hold has meant that the question of whether it is a good thing, a bad thing or a bit of both will inevitably bring to mind the image of someone shutting a stable door as a horse disappears over the nearest hill. Nevertheless, the question is an important one and is rather neatly summarised by the words we use to describe the phenomenon. For although we talk of the web and the net, we rarely go on to specify whether we, the users, regard ourselves as the spiders or the flies, the fishermen or the fish.

Recently I read that George Orwell’s diaries are to be published as a daily blog, a project that seems to argue, tacitly, that Orwell would have smiled on the new technology and its apparent capacity to speak truth to power. But for many commentators, not all of them barmy, the internet is Orwellian. Imperfectly objectified in the form of our hard drive, our consciousness is now accessible to a degree unthinkable in the recent past. The screen looks in as well as out. We all live in the Big Brother house.

And so, as the internet gallops into the future, the questions about it multiply. Is it on the side of freedom? And what freedom are we talking about? Is the price of connection to the internet a social and spiritual disconnection? How is it possible to confer cultural value when Britney Spears’s Wikipedia page is almost three times as long as George Eliot’s? In short, what does it mean to be a netizen?

In The Blogging Revolution, the Sydney journalist and blogger Antony Loewenstein addresses the first of these questions head on, travelling to Iran, Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and China in an attempt to discover the effect that the internet, and especially blogging, has had and is having. To this end, he talks to dissidents, writers, journalists, students and even officials. It has been said the internet has the power to fulfil an oppositional role in politics analogous to that played by photocopiers and fax machines in the lead-up to the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, for governments that know what they’re doing, it is also possible to use the internet to keep an eye on subversive activity. In non- and semi-democratic countries, the internet is less a double-edged sword than a gun with a lethal tendency to backfire.

Consequently, the picture is extremely mixed. In Syria the online restrictions are such that one blogger is moved to comment, sardonically, that communications would improve significantly upon reintroduction of the carrier pigeon. Officials in Egypt, though willing to embrace the economic benefits of the new technology, are extremely wary of internal dissent, much of which comes from the Muslim Brotherhood. (One of Loewenstein’s more interesting findings is that many Middle Eastern bloggers are Islamists, some of them operating with official backing.) In Cuba the internet is almost non-existent and certainly plays no major role in organising political opposition, while in China “the regime has virtually perfected the art of internet censorship”. The Government employs around 40,000 technocrats whose job is to trawl the internet, keeping tabs on user content. “Applicants for the positions,” writes Loewenstein, “are offered lessons in Marxist theory, internet development and propaganda techniques.”

There is a contradiction at the heart of this book. On the one hand, Loewenstein is at pains to stress his misgivings about “official media”, which he accuses of being on the side of power, and his admiration for the bloggers who, in the lead-up to the war in Iraq, offered “criticism and cynicism and challenged the top-down approach of corporate media”. On the other hand, it is clear that the blogging revolution described in his title is largely non-existent and that, of the bloggers he interviews, most are more interested in sex and shopping than in effecting any sort of political change.

However, Loewenstein rescues his title by suggesting this non-political emphasis stands as a rebuke to those Western imperialists who would seek to impose their own way of life on “repressive” states (his quote marks, not mine). According to Loewenstein, most Chinese people are pretty happy living in a dictatorship. (Even if this is true, and I doubt it, what does it say about Loewenstein that he’d rather stress the happy majority than show solidarity with the unhappy minority?). The book is littered with egregious moral equivalences. For example, the Chinese regime is described as displaying “almost Nixonian paranoia”, while in Saudi Arabia “stories of humiliation, rape, bad pay and psychological torture suggested an underclass in the Middle East not unlike sections of the Hispanic community in America”.

How “not unlike” is that, exactly? He is, at best, mealy-mouthed about Iran and seems to think that he’s the first to point out the paradoxical nature of Iranian society. “This was not at all what I had been expecting – this brash modernity in which people used iPods and SMS with the same feverish attention as those in any international city.” Yes, I remember watching a film of a young woman being hanged for adultery. As the mobile crane was moved into place, a few sadistically grinning youths were preparing to capture the moment on their mobile phones. Feverish attention, indeed.

Still, at least Loewenstein retains some faith in the power of the internet to change the world for the better, an assertion that can certainly not be made in the case of the American journalist Lee Siegel. As evidenced by the rather sniffy subtitle of Against The Machine: Being Human In The Age Of The Electronic Mob, Siegel is no internet fan. He is even less of a fan of blogging, for reasons very close to home. In 2006 Siegel was writing a culture blog for The New Republic. So enraged by the abusive comments he was getting, he decided to ignore the age-old advice never get into a fight with a chimney sweep. Going undercover as a commenter himself, he attacked the attackers in splenetic terms, while praising his own stuff to the skies. Unmasked, he was suspended from the magazine and loudly mocked throughout the blogosphere. He now insists this was a prank. If so, it was a sinister one. “Who am I?”, he demanded of one commenter. “Someone who knows who you are.”

Looked at cynically, Siegel’s Against The Machine is an attempt to rescue some dignity by turning this rather sordid affair into something higher-minded than it actually was. But Siegel makes important points. “The internet didn’t supersede the printing press. The printer superseded it.” Siegel prefers the car analogy. “Like the car, the internet has been made out to be a miracle of social and personal transformation when it is really a marvel of convenience – and in the case of the internet, a marvel of convenience that has caused a social and personal upheaval.”

Siegel sees the internet as an aspect of broader cultural trends and, to take it at its own estimation, Against The Machine is a serious attempt to put it into historical context. It will come as no surprise to learn that economic individualism is the principal motor of the current epoch, and the book is sprinkled with references to Marx, as well as less august futurologists, whom Siegel all but accuses of complicity in the conspiracy to turn us all into “prosumers” – producer-consumers. Also culpable are Method acting, confessional literature and dance music, all of which are evidence of a growing emphasis on the “performing self”. But the crucial development, in Siegel’s view, is the shift from popular or mass culture to a culture of participation. In the past, we had culture for the masses. Now we have culture by the masses, in which the loudest, most outrageous voice will prevail. “Enchantment of the imagination has given way to gratification of the ego; vicarious transport out of yourself has given way to . . . yourself.”

There is truth to this, but Siegel’s intemperate tone might suggest The New Republic controversy affected him more than he lets on. Certainly, he shows signs of habituation to the intellectual style of some bloggers. For one thing, his thesis is way over the top. He even compares the furore over the fake YouTube diarist lonelygirl15 with George Bush’s lies about weapons of mass destruction. He is preternaturally shrill. No great stylist himself, he belabours others for their stylistic infelicities, and accuses “dead tree” journalists of lacking the courage to stand up to the internet. He writes of one blogger-turned-journalist: “Jarvis’s story is all about Jarvis,”, yet Siegel’s book is all about Siegel.

If Siegel’s aim is to put the internet into a cultural and historical context, Susan Greenfield’s is to put it into a scientific one – specifically, a neuroscientific one. Siegel is surely right to say that the internet did not develop in a vacuum. However, an effect can become a cause and it is with the various ways that the internet is effectively reconfiguring our brains that Greenfield, an eminent British scientist and baroness, is explicitly concerned. “My recurring theme,” she writes in her preface to ID: The Quest For Identity In The 21st Century , “is the dynamism, the plasticity, of the human brain.”
To what extent, and in what ways, have technologies of recent years altered our brains and thus our identities? Greenfield suggests the internet is turning us into what she calls Nobodies. Here, she compares the “people of the screen” with the “people of the book”.
She invites us to compare the book’s continuous narrative with the mentality engendered by the internet, “with its icon-laden, text-light multimedia pyrotechnics”. “Might it just be the case,” asks Greenfield, “that constant, fast-paced and noisy thrills and spills, with one screen image tumbling in after the other, could well militate against the long spans of attention that we of the 20th century have taken so much for granted?”

Thinking skills may atrophy and the Net Generation become permanently stuck in a state of semi-infancy in which the ability to confer value and trustworthiness by comparing one thing to another has all but disappeared. “For us People of the Book, an icon on the screen can be a symbol for many other things . . . [But] how many of those born in the 1990s . . . would actually recognise and understand the significance of that most-used icon, the egg-timer?’

Egg-timers aside, it’s clear that Greenfield has ignored a wealth of cultural data in order to arrive at this hypothesis, not least the phenomenon of the Harry Potter books, which, regardless of their literary merit, have taught an entire generation how to read for pleasure. Indeed, at times she sounds less like a neuroscientist and more like a member of the British House of Lords (which, by an amazing coincidence, she is). Her grasp of the new technology seems dubious, while such practical measures as she recommends – “Perhaps software could be developed that at least has built-in pause times” – are half-baked to say the least.

Still, I suppose that’s to be expected. It has been said that while children love the world and teenagers are revolted by it, there comes a point in everyone’s life when one simply ceases to understand it. The pace of change is now so rapid that this stage is reached sooner rather than later, and if one point emerges from these three books it’s that our understanding of Internet Man, of Homo interneticus, is patchy at best. “The internet”, writes Siegel, “is the first social environment to serve the needs of the isolated, elevated, asocial individual.” Just because he’s biased doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

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