Category Archives: Education

A perfect setup for authoritarians

Social media, power, algorithms and politics combine to “gerrymander us down to the person”. Author, social scientist and university professor Zaynep Tufekci speaks with Sam Harris in the podcast below. Zaynep asserts that the tools of what she terms “asymmetric surveillance capitalism” — algorithms Google and Facebook build for targeted advertising — have been used by political power-brokers to micro-target individuals for persuasion and control. The click-bait politics of social media are “a perfect setup for authoritarians”, Zaynep states: algorithms stoke divisions and create closed systems that push viewers down a rabbit hole toward extreme ideas.

Persuasion and Control

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Zeynep Tufekci about “surveillance capitalism,” the Trump campaign’s use of Facebook, AI-enabled marketing, the health of the press, Wikileaks, ransomware attacks, and other topics.

— Marcus

 

 

Leaving the prison state

“I was born in North Korea and stayed loyal to the country but got treated like a criminal. I got abandoned by China because I wasn’t their citizen, but the country that was supposed to be my enemy welcomed me with open arms… I couldn’t believe it.”

— North Korean defector

 

 

— Marcus

Worthy cause for warriors

Operation Surf

Operation Surf came into existence as a result of one wounded hero’s desire to learn to surf. Now, we are helping more heroes than ever. Participants of our program experience a decrease in PTSD symptoms by 36%, a decrease in depression by 47%, and an increase in self-efficacy by 68%.

When things get broken, they can be fixed. Surfing therapy for vets reflects the warrior ethos. It speaks less of fearsomeness, more of a willingness to transcend fear and approach life with empathy, honesty, courage, goodness and humor.

“The warrior ethos is not a luxury, it is essential when you have a military.”

— Marcus

Reason of state

Below, reporter Bill Moyers’s critical history of the National Security State, told through the lens of the Iran Contra scandal of 1987. What has changed in 30 years under successive administrations? What might President Trump, a man for whom truth is not a huge priority, at least in his public speaking, do differently? The need for open debate and congressional approval of executive branch security action remains critical; conservatives and liberals alike support constitutionally required oversight of war powers.

— Marcus

The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis | BillMoyers.com

OLIVER NORTH: And I still, to this day, Counsel, don’t see anything wrong with taking the Ayatollah’s money and sending it to support the Nicaraguan freedom fighters. [pullquote align=”right”]”Next week, Congress will publish a report on the Iran-Contra scandal. My colleagues and I have been investigating it ourselves.

 

Psyche

The below review of Michael Lewis’s new book, The Undoing Project: A friendship that changed our minds, explores developments in human behavioral science. Lewis’s story of Israeli researchers Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman is worth a look for those charged with understanding conflict.

— Marcus

Invisible Manipulators of Your Mind

We are living in an age in which the behavioral sciences have become inescapable. The findings of social psychology and behavioral economics are being employed to determine the news we read, the products we buy, the cultural and intellectual spheres we inhabit, and the human networks, online and in real life, of which we are a part.

 

 

Temporary people

They serve native populations, once fishermen and tradespeople, as poor as their own ancestors, now made outlandishly rich by the world’s dependence on oil — a happenstance of geography. The fiction book reviewed below, Temporary People, humanizes the “neocoolies” of the present-day international order — those who do the dirty-job work for the wealthy in the Arabian Gulf.

It’s worth pointing out that these individuals are the same men and women who find service as subcontracted workers on America’s military bases throughout the region. Though the wages earned would drive a soldier to mutiny, and have been the subject of controversy, they remain, relative to home opportunities, high enough to continue to lure economic migrants from the poorest of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan.

The DoD is aware of the exploitation that can be part of employing such temporary people and has taken steps to train soldiers and contractors to report abuse.

Stories of Fragmented Lives in the Emirates

TEMPORARY PEOPLE By Deepak Unnikrishnan227 pp. Restless Books. Paper, $17.99. Deepak Unnikrishnan’s novel-in-stories narrates a series of metamorphoses. Guest workers dissolve into passports, a man begins “moonlighting as a mid-sized hotel” and a sultan harvests a fresh crop of laborers.

 

— Marcus

Pax Americana vs. The Information Society

Below, in a 2012 interview, former Secretary of State George Schultz explains that the roots of the modern world order, the “economic and security commons”, as he puts it, lay in the power systems set up after World War II to prevent a repeat of this catastrophic conflict.

Due to developments in communications technology, he asserts, governments no longer possess a monopoly over the best, most accurate information — economic, political, or otherwise. This disruptive change in the distribution of power, in concert with the negative effects of monolithic economic policies in Europe, weakened the established order. An assessment of the current political climate in the West (5 years since this interview) might claim it is both animated by and a reaction to this weakening.

Resistance to globalism, a product of the success of Schultz’s world order, is, interestingly, a factor in the growth of extremist groups in the Muslim world. Curiously, these regressive groups readily embrace the new information society, capitalizing on social media and advanced communication technology to recruit adherents.

Related, and of interest, are the negative effects of filter bubbles — “fake news” and news designed to appeal to existing biases. Social media outlets (Facebook, Google, YouTube, sites with the familiar “Suggested for you” links) now source news information to a vast number of citizens, resulting in increasing inside group/outside group identification and the acceptance of misinformation as truth, factors that significantly degrade the ability of these citizens to make informed, pluralistic political choices. The precipitous break-up of our society into poorly informed, self-interested, reactionary, mistrustful factions, compounded by pre-existing factors like gerrymandering that increase political polarization, might be avoided if electronic media companies were required by law to include diverse viewpoints in their algorithms and police misinformation.

Another prediction from the past:

Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles”

As web companies strive to tailor their services (including news and search results) to our personal tastes, there’s a dangerous unintended consequence: We get trapped in a “filter bubble” and don’t get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden our worldview.

— Marcus

Pax Americana

Though many of the parallels drawn and claims made by the author here are quite debatable (modern counterinsurgency strategy has nothing to do with what the author describes in this book review, e.g.), nonetheless, the subject, that we should examine, debate and understand the history of American interventionism, is worthy of our time and consideration:

How the US Began Its Empire

For decades, anti-imperial thought has been largely absent from public discourse. So has the word “imperialism.” The chief substitute for it has been “internationalism.” The rhetorical shift from imperialism to internationalism suggests a sanitizing process at work during the twentieth century, as the United States moved away from a formal empire based on the occupation of foreign territory to an informal empire based on proxy governments backed by occasional US invasions.

 

— Marcus