By Jan Worth-Nelson
One of the biggest threats facing the U.S. today is the “algorithm ghetto, the digital ghetto, the electronic ghetto,” Chicago journalist and Jewish historian Edwin Black told a group of Flint residents Friday while on a statewide tour as part of Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 12.
Alluding to recent studies suggesting that memories of the Holocaust, the murder of six million Jews during World War II are fading, especially among American youth, Black said the “electronic ghetto” means that facts, history, even accounts of personal travails can be controlled, deleted with the click of a button.
Black’s appearance, to a group of about 30 at the Knob Hill Bed and Breakfast, was part of a visit sponsored by the Flint Jewish Federation that also included a speech at Mott Middle College later in the day. He had spoken earlier at Grand Valley State University and at the Michigan State University Law School.
Black grew up on the South Side of Chicago, the son of Polish Holocaust survivors. A college dropout (he said he failed his college writing course) he has written 12 books translated into numerous languages, and does more than 200 speaking engagements a year. His 2009 book Nazi Nexus: America’s Corporate Connections to Hitler’s Holocaust, details the role of Ford, General Motors, and IBM among others in enabling World War II atrocities.
“The Holocaust was given a huge boost an indispensable boost, a pivotal boost, by the Ford Motor Company, that distributed through its distributorships, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion that Hitler lionized [It was a fabricated anti-Semitic publication supposedly describing a Jewish plan to take over the world].
“The concept of eugenics which was to create a master race was developed here in the great universities of America two decades before the Hitler regime came to power,” he said.” It was exported from the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations even into Auschwitz.
“The concept of the gas chambers came from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, long before they were mentioned by the Third Reich,” he continued. “The blitzkrieg had the benefit of the blitz truck and bombers manufactured secretly by General Motors under direct supervision of the Detroit office.”
And though his remarks began with the Jewish experience, he extrapolated into dangers of what he termed “unelected governance” controlled by anonymous decision makers and the designs of electronic media.
“What if a tree falls and nobody hears a sound? What if six million people perish and no one is reminded?” Black queried. “What if we tell the world and the world cannot hear us?”
“Even your anguish, your thoughts can be confined,” he said. “Goebbels [Joseph Goebbels, Third Reich minister of propaganda from 1933-1945] thought he could control the world by sending soldiers into newsrooms, the ‘minders,’ to control what could be read or printed. But Google can achieve this just by the press of a button–they will decide, and others will decide for you.”
Battleground in your phone
“The new battle ground,” he contended, “is not in some back yard where hate is brewing, it’s on your phone and your screens — it’s Facebook, Amazon, it’s Google…you think you’re screaming from the rooftops, and no one’s hearing you.
“I come not to mourn, nor to scorn, but to warn our world,” he said. He cited numerous examples, from the removal of his book Nazi Nexus from Amazon outside the U.S. because, he said, it has a swastika on its cover, to formerly obscure white supremacist Richard Spencer’s ascent from “a windowless basement room in some hotel” to international fame. Black suggested the electronic world is in fact creating “unelected governance” determining what we see, hear and think we know.
It’s a world, he said, “that Orwell [George Orwell, author of the dystopian novel 1984] couldn’t have imagined.”
He also warned about the dangers of a “cashless society,” already well underway, in which “Everybody knows that if you have a problem with your credit card, one click and your card will not be honored.”
Carried further, he said, “Imagine a cashless society where you cannot even buy bread without permission.” He also rued the advance of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), which already identifies through people’s phones when they walk into a store and from then on pitches products and knows where they’ve been.
He said he envisions a situation not far off in which RFID “will identify people and their value and their worth as they move through space, through cities, through time — a huge danger we haven’t even contemplated — a great master digital control.”
After one questioner, an African-American woman, noted that many of her students do not know what JFK or Martin Luther King did, Black quickly asserted this was another sign of “failure, failure,” propelled by a growing electronic “oligarchy.”
“There is no use talking about Holocaust education and civil rights education if people in Silicon Valley are going to suppress that education with the click of a few buttons,” he said.
“We are struggling, we’re in a war for truth, and we are the warriors, and that is why I’m arming whoever I lecture to with the facts. It is a crisis,” he said.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.