In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Cass Sunstein about the fragmentation of American society, “choice architecture,” the importance of face-to-face interactions for problem solving, group polarization and identity politics, virtuous extremism, the wisdom of crowds, direct democracy, the limits of free speech, the process of Presidential impeachment, and other topics.
Scholar Andrew Bacevich lectures Googlers in 2013 about what he considers an uncomfortable, new characteristic of American political culture: the rise of militarism and the unquestioned worship of soldiers as the standard bearers of American virtue. Bacevich argues that this new feature of our lives is not only unrealistic, but also permits folly: We’re spending lavishly on the military in a way that is not commiserate with the threats we face and we’re giving military tools primacy over diplomatic channels as a means to exert influence. Bacevich shows us the power of intellectual honesty when asked around minute 27 to argue the counterpoint to his own assertions.
Valuable lessons here:
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.
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.
“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
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.
IBJ’s accomplishments have to a great extent been possible because of the strong network we have built throughout the years.
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.
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.
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:
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.
What are the best ways to encourage others to behave better? Psychologist Daniel Pink explored this subject in his 2014 National Geographic series:
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.