Facebook’s war on free will

September 19, 2017

Facebook’s war on free will

Great article, but funny he never mentions all the cash these algorithms generate…perhaps that’s well-worn territory.

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It’s only words

August 31, 2017

This is an interesting editorial, suggesting that all Trump voters want and expect is a spokesperson for their Side to annoy and frustrate the Other Side: Liberals can’t hope to beat Trump until they truly understand him

It’s a theory partly borrowed from this New Yorker article: How Trump is Transforming Rural America

One observation: the title of the article, as well as descriptions of the way news and social media ‘discourse’ occurs, reminds us that the issue of sidedness is not…one-sided…

Snowflake apologetics 

August 19, 2017

I am starting off this post with a series of disclaimers regarding my blog…

  1. Just as a reminder, this blog is a way for me to think things through, which I do best in writing. I wanted to make my thought processes public but semi-anonymous to have a dialogue with people I know, and to make generally available one person’s struggle in comprehending what’s going on. Despite occasional rhetorical posturing, I do not guarantee that I will agree with anything I say in a year (or month…or week…), and the brunt of the ‘shoulds’ are pointed back at me.
  2. This is especially true when it comes to the question of what can be done about the increasing popularity of certain attitudes, beliefs and courses of action. I’m muddling along wringing my hands about what I should do…I share my thoughts about it here, but don’t really mean to be recommending anything to anybody…except maybe me…
  3. Most importantly, I write with awareness (albeit only a mustard seed’s worth) that I do so from a position of privilege as far as race, religion, sexual orientation and socio-economics are concerned. I readily confess that I have no idea what it is like to be without that privilege, and no idea how clueless I am when it comes to the manifestations of this lack of privilege in different geographic or socially constructed contexts. Those who do know what this is like may see this blog as a curiosity, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be mistaken for suggesting that it contributes to the infinitely more experienced and knowledgeable dialogue that is going on in many other places.

So here’s the post for today.

Two ideas that I had been harbouring separately for a long time suggested themselves to each other this week.

Sensitivity 

I could go on about this for a long time, but I’ll do my best to get to the point. Being ‘sensitive’ is something I’ve often been criticised for, sometimes explicitly and oftentimes implicitly in cultural norms. As far as the former goes, it’s usually like this: person says something; I am visibly defensive or upset; person is annoyed or hurt at my reaction because that wasn’t their intention, so they tell me that I shouldn’t feel bad or be upset; I then feel guilty, weak and wrong as well as upset. 

As for the implicit criticism, that’s woven through the fabric of socially unacceptable behaviours, like crying in public or telling someone that what they said affected you badly. It is best immortalised in the phrase ‘you shouldn’t care what other people think’. My fundamental problem with this (apart from the fact that people who really don’t care what others think are sociopaths) is that I don’t choose how I feel. I can choose whether to dwell on it or not; I can choose (and often do) to put my guard up in situations where I might be vulnerable; I can choose how I react; I can choose whether to write self-pitying blog posts about it. But if there’s a secret to being emotionally numb to certain things by choice, I haven’t found it yet. 

I’m going on at length about this because I know some people aren’t as ‘sensitive’ as I am and they just don’t understand. They like a good argument with the rental car company if they’re overcharged, or a hearty Facebook battle, or a communal ribbing with co-workers. It’s these lucky people who wouldn’t think all day about one friend’s comment on a stranger’s tweet.

Which, of course, brings me back to my last post. If I think that anything I make public is going to have the opposite effect to the one I intend, I’m not going to post it. But am I judging this from my knowledge of the mindset that I would like to change (as I think I am) or of how I would react if my opinions were (to put it hypobolically) different? Another unanswerable question.

But the admission that you’re all waiting for is, yes, I’m not only avoiding making a bad situation worse, but I’m also saving myself. This is indeed rather cowardly. How do I know that, along with the alt-righters who are ruing the day I chose Berkeley, there isn’t someone who will be positively influenced by a thoughtful piece about the cultural portent of statues or a timely reminder that if you replaced ‘armed white supremacists with a permit’ with ‘armed ISIS supporters with a permit’ things might be a little different. (Which maybe shows that I’m not very good at this kind of thing anyway.) 

Honestly, the answer is that I’m not quite ready for that yet. I’m also not sure if, as an unrecovered snowflake, this is the best way for me to resist. I have some friends who are total Old Testament prophets on social media, some who share vitriolic memes, some who try to handle things more serenely. Me, well, I share this blog to my bubble and do research into building empathy and teaching digital citizenship…

Propaganda 

I think we’ve all been aware for quite some time that the (actual) fake news, alternative facts and information previously referred to as ‘lies’ but now freed from their modernist ‘meaningful’ definition in a way that would awake in Jacques Derrida a guilty schadenfreude…is all propaganda. Sometimes propaganda in an Orwellian ‘duckspeak’ kind of way, and sometimes propaganda in its more traditional forms, if insidiously masquerading as something else.

What I’ve always understood about propaganda is that it is emotional. What I hadn’t understood before is that the emotion doesn’t only affect those who believe the propaganda, but also those who reject it. And I’m afraid that I often overlooked the fact that everyone sees propaganda; Jews in Nazi Germany were assaulted by it just as much as any other Germans, and those of Japanese origin in the US were harassed by its racist imagery along with every other American. I can’t begin to fathom the alienation and fear that this kind of government-produced propaganda would create in its victims.

But I’ve just now realised that part of my intense emotional reaction to modern propaganda (although nothing compared to that of the targets of these campaigns, I am sure) is that its emotional reach is indeed to everybody. It presents a ridiculous image as fact, and challenges you to refute it, despite its absurdity. And that produces anger, insecurity, fear, hatred, feelings of powerlessness…

For someone like me, who seems to be susceptible this this kind of &@?!, this is emotional quicksand. But what keeps me getting sucked in is that I know that some people believe it! How can they believe that?! What would make you think that was true?? Here are five reasons that I thought of while trying to get to sleep that this is complete trash!!! (That I won’t post for fear of a DIY propaganda deluge the next day…)

And here it comes again: ‘you shouldn’t care about what other people think’.

Well, maybe not. But if they vote and carry weapons and drive cars, it doesn’t matter if I care or not. And I do care about that.

Unconclusion

It makes me feel a little better to link up these two things.

Other than that…still thinking…

Meta reinforcement

August 14, 2017

After spending the day feeling alternately seething, saddened and vaguely personally attacked by one friend’s comment to someone else on a Twitter, I would like to add my own emotional 2 cents to the current influx of emotional responses. 

The incomprehensible-to-me reactions of people I know force me back to the position (in which I try to make some sense of the world) that none of this will go away until we eschew this polarity of politics which has also became a polarity of ethics, morality and  fundamental definitions of humanity. This is the only explanation I can give for a reasonable, kind person to feel that they must stand on the side of the ideological enemies of (ideological) America, only because those condemning them are on the other side. Until we can overcome the ‘us versus them’, well…it will always be ‘us versus them’.

I don’t mean this as a nihilistic ‘there is no right and wrong’ argument. Rather, that if people are going to genuinely recognise what is right, it’s not going to be through vitriolic responses (however satisfactory they may be to me and those who agree with me), through arguments baited by internet trolls, or through pithy one-liners that insult or alienate. As those holding vigils yesterday were eager to emphasise, it is love that is going to win. I may feel that my side is more closely aligned with love, but it doesn’t mean that I can exclude my infuriating friend from that love.

An allegory…a few years ago I was deeply disturbed by the story of a baby who had died at the hands of a sadistic man. The news was full of the story, but I slowly realised that part of what troubled me was what the news never got close to addressing: why the man acted the way he did in the first place. It satisfied them that he was punished, but what I wanted was the story of how he became such a person, and what could be done to prevent anyone else becoming such a monster. 

It seems to me that it is easier for us to tell ourselves short news bites (bad people come out of nowhere and do bad things) than it is to acknowledge complex narratives of alienation or abuse or brainwashing. But I would argue that it is only when we can address these bigger, dirtier issues can we hope to stop the bad things from happening. In the short term, this means realising that the Onion article I long to post is only going to make things worse, and that withering thing I could say…I won’t.

Finally, I don’t mean to suggest that people should not post their reactions or opinions, but that they should do so with the knowledge that those who may be on the other side might be observing with immensely skewed perceptions and, as unfair as it is, we need to be careful in how much we actually are representing not our side, but love, goodness and (if you’re lucky) truth.

*The name of the post means that I’ve blogged this all before, and I’m just reinforcing my existing beliefs…just like I accuse everyone of us across all sociopolitical positions of doing daily…

Two new(ish) ideas

July 12, 2017

Germs of ideas…could make good PhD theses for someone…

  1. ‘International Forum’ for each university department: all students are invited to (and maybe get credit for) a forum where they can openly discuss how questions, issues and ideas in their discipline are addressed in their own country or culture. This could start out with discussion of how the home country approaches the discipline and higher education generally, and then move on to topics in the discipline. Students would have ownership of the forum, but staff would also be involved to learn from what the students say and contribute their own insights.
  2. Pairing primary and secondary school classes up with other classes around the world: as a very big idea, this would be part of the national curriculum (and countries worldwide would be encouraged to take part by some likely international body). Each school year the class would be paired with a class in a different country, and perhaps be given a general type of interaction as befitted the age of the students; for example, younger students might exchange drawings and photos of their school, home, local shops, etc. while older students could talk about cultural events or explore social norms. It would be hoped that the regularity of the interactions would, over time, help the students to approach each other without judgment or preconception, and thus by the time they got to the harder topics would not need a lot of scaffolding to treat each other respectfully. As much of this interaction would be done online (live video, shared multimedia spaces, blogs, apps, etc.) this would also be an opportunity to develop digital skills and digital literacy, explicitly and implicitly. There are plenty of examples of this type of thing as a one-off, but a sustained approach would be very interesting…

Others: crowdfunded book to fight hate

July 5, 2017

A professor at Durham is editing a book, Others, via crowdfunding. The explicit goal of the book, compiled of writing from prominent authors like Noam Chomsky, is to fight hate and raise funds for refugees–the proceeds will be donated to Refugee Action and Stop-Hate UK.

The argument is that literature can help the reader to walk in others’ shoes and understand others’ points of view…basically the empathy argument that I’ve blogged about before…so the book is meant to pack a double punch as far as its goals. Of course, I find this interesting as an unequivocating purpose of literature to change attitudes and open minds. But I do have a few questions…

  • Who is going to read the book? Will it not be people who are already devoted to the ideals that are being encouraged? Not that this doesn’t mean it won’t have a positive effect anyway, but maybe not on the people who need it most…
  • Does the funding method also mean that people who can’t afford to donate won’t be able to read it…?
  • What will writing for this book be like? Will the authors write as they always do, or will they be worried about whether their offerings are appropriate for the book…are relevant enough? (I’m sure we’ve all encountered otherwise worthy authors stumbling when trying to write fiction for a particular purpose.)
  • Getting a bit more philosophical, what does this whole thing mean? What does it say about the monetary value of writing, or of books, or of fighting hate…? What does it say about why people write, or why people read? What does it say about social media and personal persona-building when this gets retweeted (by people like me)?

New media, elections and the political knowledge gap in Australia 

June 21, 2017

Rachel K. Gibson, Ian McAllister (2014) New media, elections and the political knowledge gap in Australia, Journal of Sociology, Vol 51, Issue 2, pp. 337-353.

This is a bit dated now, but the study found that the internet tended to widen the political knowledge gap–the internet allowed people who didn’t care about political information to decide whether to see it or not.

Young people, digital media making and critical digital citizenship

June 14, 2017

Young people, digital media making and critical digital citizenshipD. McGillivray, G. McPherson, J. Jones, and A. McCandlish

Leisure Studies Vol. 35 , Iss. 6,2016

Empathy and the moral matrix

June 10, 2017

I think this guy agrees with me about sympathy for the devil (as alluded to in last post), at about 20 minutes in:

Can a divided America heal? 

More about the moral matrix:

The moral matrix that influences the way people vote

Empathy? Not in my book

June 8, 2017

Empathy? Not in my book
Counterpoint to the literary empathy argument. He makes some valid points about enthusiasm for literature reading as a means to an end (increased empathy.) But I do think that he’s assuming a little too much in suggesting that the argument for literary empathy is limited to empathy for the right kind of people. Empathy for the baddies of literature, it could be argued, is a relatively safe way to understand what drives people to acts that we are tempted to simply label as existentially ‘evil’. Graduates who can think deeply about [unpleasant] others’ histories and motivations are more likely to be able to come up with long-term societal solutions…I hypothesise…