Category Archives: Experts

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 below podcast. 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 of 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

Building bridges

Karen Tse: How to stop torture

Political prisoners aren’t the only ones being tortured — the vast majority of judicial torture happens in ordinary cases, even in ‘functioning’ legal systems. Social activist Karen Tse shows how we can, and should, stand up and end the use of routine torture.

 

International Bridges to Justice

IBJ’s accomplishments have to a great extent been possible because of the strong network we have built throughout the years.

 

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.

 

 

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

Aggregate behavioral science pt. 2

What are the best ways to encourage others to behave better? Psychologist Daniel Pink explored this subject in his 2014 National Geographic series:

Meet Daniel Pink

With over 20 years experience as a journalist and writer covering all aspects of Behavioral Science Daniel Pink now gets to find out what really works. Drawing on academic theories, experiments and the secrets of retail and advertising, Daniel turns urban explorer in National Geographic’s stand out new series ‘Crowd Control.’

 

When we wish to change the behavior of others (as many of us do who have engaged in the long war with militant extremism), it’s also helpful to understand the cognitive biases that shape human thinking, as well the psychological roots of conflict.

— Marcus

Deprogramming?

“Human minds, human psyches are malleable. They are pliable. In the same way as a person gets radicalized, it changes from a mainstream kind of person to a fringe kind of person, they can be brought back, and also they can be re-radicalized.”

Can we reverse radicalization with counselling?

Can aggressive counseling bring someone back from the brink of radicalization? Science correspondent Miles O’Brien explores the psychological basis for why people are drawn to extremist groups and how a bold experiment in criminal justice and clinical psychology taking place in Minnesota may offer a solution.

A bulldog’s account of war

Over 100 years ago, British Army junior officer and aspiring journalist Winston Churchill penned an account of an expeditionary campaign in Central Asia, which he called The Story of The Malakand Field Force: An Episode of Frontier War. Churchill’s observations remain relevant, especially those concerning the habits of the Pashtun tribes of the Malakand hinterlands:

“Except at the times of sowing and of harvest, a continual state of feud and strife prevails throughout the land. Tribe wars with tribe. The people of one valley fight with those of the next. To the quarrels of communities are added the combats of individuals. Khan assails khan, each supported by his retainers. Every tribesman has a blood feud with his neighbor. Every man’s hand is against the other, and all against the stranger.”

A few lines from the preface about the price of intellectual integrity also bear repeating:

“Indeed, I fear that assailing none, I may have offended all. Neutrality may degenerate into an ignominious isolation. An honest and unprejudiced attempt to discern the truth is my sole defence, as the good opinion of the reader has been throughout my chief aspiration, and can be in the end my only support.”

Servicemembers charged with duty in the Middle East and abroad may benefit from a reading of Churchill’s selected works.

Related:

Malakand District – Wikipedia

The Swat River flows through the district down towards Charsadda District where it falls into the Kabul River. Malakand District is bounded in the north by Lower Dir District, in the east by Swat District, in the south east and south west by Mardan and Charsadda districts respectively and in the west by Mohmand and Bajaur agencies.

Siege of Malakand – Wikipedia

The Siege of Malakand was the 26 July – 2 August 1897 siege of the British garrison in the Malakand region of colonial British India’s North West Frontier Province.