That study was a key link in a chain of evidence leading to an entirely different view of the real origins of the Immigration Act of 1990s and the H1-B visa classification. … Their aims instead were to keep American scientific employers from having to pay the full US market price of high skilled labor. They hoped to keep the US research system staffed with employees classified as “trainees,” “students,” and “post-docs” for the benefit of employers. The result would be to render the US scientific workforce more docile and pliable to authority and senior researchers by attempting to ensure this labor market sector is always flooded largely by employer-friendly visa holders who lack full rights to respond to wage signals in the US labor market.
I rate this credible.
Second, an article by Donald Holbrook, “What Types of Media do Terrorists Collect?” [PDF] Unfortunately, the article only looks at religious/historical/political media, and so does not answer the eternal question of whether terrorists prefer Asuka or Rei, or whether their media consumption differs in other ways from other people’s.
The author looked at media collected by ten Islamic terrorists in, I believe, Britain. It would be interesting to compare these collections to those of NRA terrorists and people of similar backgrounds who didn’t commit terrorism–maybe someone can do a follow-up study on the matter.
So what media do they consume?
Holbrook found, first of all, that most of their media is pretty innocuous–things like 17-part audiobook series on some historical topic. (Audio–rather than written or video–media predominated, but that may not hold in the future with YouTube videos now quite easy to produce.) Only a small percent of the media was coded as “extreme” (that is, advocating violence)–even terrorists don’t spend all of their time reading about how to build bombs.
A few items were consumed by multiple people (this was generally more extreme media, which probably just exists in much lower quantities,) but most of the media was of sufficient variety that different people read different things.
Most of it was in English, since the terrorists speak English. The author expressed some concern that translations of much older religious material were not entirely accurate, but also noted that the terrorists possessed a fair amount of religious/historical commentaries that expressed counter-extremist messages.
So what can we conclude from this?
It seems unlikely to me that radicalization is simply due to exposure to extreme material, since most of what they consumed was mild. It seems more likely that people who are prone to radicalization seek out more extreme material.
However, it is possible that a strong sense of historical or religious identity is an important part of radicalization–most people don’t listen to 17 part serieses on obscure religious history topics.
People who live in Britain but have a strong identity as something other than British are probably more likely to engage in anti-British terrorism
The internet/modern technology have increased the availability of historical/foreign documents, especially in translation, allowing for people to communicate across nations and through time in ways that were much more difficult and limited before.
#4 is, I think, quite important–across a range of different human activities, not just radicalization. I think the increased availability of printed material in the early modern period allowed for the spread of the European witchcraft hysteria, for example, as the gullible public eagerly consumed pamphlets purporting to report on heinous crimes of witchcraft occurring in neighboring towns.
Increased literacy probably also went hand-in-hand with the Protestant Revolution, which emphasized the importance of people reading the Bible for themselves in order to have a personal relationship with God–something that was impossible before the era of relatively cheap Bibles.
This, of course, launched years of religious warfare that scourged the European continent and led to a lot of people being burned at the stake, at least until people mellowed and decided religious differences weren’t that big a deal.
Today, changes in media availability/ease of communication is changing how Westerners think about morality. It may also be changing how non-Westerners approach the world too–but not necessarily in the same ways.
Unsurprisingly, this study contradicts the common claim that terrorists aren’t religiously motivated or aren’t practicing “true Islam.” Of course, I have yet to see anyone, ever, admit to practicing a false version of a religion. Everyone believes that they are practicing the true version (or the true lack of a version, in the case of atheists,) and that everyone else is practicing a false version. Of course I also think terrorists have got religion wrong, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t practicing it to the best of their abilities–and of course, they think I’m doing it wrong.
But the fact that these folks are religiously motivated is undeniable–they definitely consume far more religious media than the average person.
Last weekend, (as of when I wrote this,) while the rest of the world landed rockets on the moon, launched revolutions, enjoyed a good soccer match, or whatever it is other people do, Americans lost their shit over a teenager smirking (SMIRKING, I tell you) at a Native American.
This smirking teenager was so shocking to the American conscience that no less a newspaper than the New York Times covered the incident:
They intersected on Friday in an unsettling encounter outside the Lincoln Memorial — a throng of cheering and jeering high school boys, predominantly white and wearing “Make America Great Again” gear, surrounding a Native American elder.
Of course, many pundits have argued that wearing a hat supporting the sitting US president is itself a crime.
Condemnation for the crime of “getting up in yo face and smirking while wearing a hat” was swift. A Disney producer called for the boy to fed, head first, into a woodchipper.
Calmer voices advocated for merely punching the boy in the face.
About five minutes later, more video footage of the event emerged, and the real story began trickling through the internet–contrary to what the NY Times had reported, the smirking teens had not surrounded a Native American elder. The elder, (Nathan Philips,) had walked up to them, and they, waiting for their bus at the end of a school field trip, had stayed put and kept waiting for their bus.
At this point, some in the media apologized–and others doubled down. Smirking was a crime. The students were racists.
Everyone who bullied this little boy absolutely deserves to be beaten and then their parents deserve to be beaten for raising such disgusting little shits, but no one is calling for them to be put into a woodchipper, because the good and thoughtful of America don’t think bullying a disabled child to death is as terrible a crime as smirking at a guy.
I have yet to observe anyone in the media suggesting that we could save the American taxpayers a bundle by feeding Cerda through a woodchipper instead of keeping him in prison. Does he have a punchable face? More like a face that would break your fist if you tried.
I could go on. Criminals do terrible things every day. People raped, tortured, and murdered, even children. True, we have a system in place that tries, (albeit clumsily and at times with sociopathic carelessness,) to punish criminals and remove them from the rest of us, but the high and mighty of our nation seem utterly unmoved by their crimes. They express only confusion–and anger–at the peasant rabble that gets worked up by such meaningless events as “someone murdering your daughter.” Don’t these peasants know that the real crimes are committed by smirking schoolboys? That the real crime is smirking?
The real divide in America today is between people who think it should be illegal to shoot home invaders but legal to put MAGA teens through woodchippers, and everyone else who hasn’t gone completely fucking insane.
Whilst traveling through the darkest depths of the unexplored heartland of America, I encountered a mysterious beast I had only glimpsed in the many years since I left home at 18:
What was this flag-waving, headshot-zooming, sound effects-ridden creature, and why did it care that someone in Ohio doesn’t like “Baby its Cold Outside?”
I really can’t stay (but baby there’s meth outside)
Extended viewing (or listening) to what now passes for “news” on the 24-hour cable channels strikes me as bad for one’s mental health (possibly physical, as well.)
What is so bad about the news?
First, it is a never-ending stream of disasters, and disasters naturally tend to make people anxious and worried. But the disasters featured on the news are rarely relevant to your own life–most of them take place on the other side of the country, if not the planet.
In the past couple of months, you probably heard about wildfires in California, the War in Yemen, ISIS, someone shooting up a Christmas Market in Europe, Ebola in Africa, protests in France, children being gassed at the border, and of course the dire threat of secular Christmas Carols being taken off the radio in Ohio and rap music in Russia.
Chances are good that none of these things directly affects you.
How many news stories can you think of that actually occurred in your local community and have some relevance to your actual life?
News is irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of news is irrelevant to you.
Strong words from a newspaper.
At the very best, you are spending time and energy worrying about stuff that doesn’t actually affect you, while not learning about stuff–such as your neighbors’ thoughts on pest control–that actually does affect you.
And at worst, you are making yourself ill by feeding your mind constant disaster footage:
User Generated Content – photos and videos submitted to newsrooms by the public – has become a prominent source of information for news organisations. Journalists working with uncensored material can frequently witness disturbing images for prolonged periods. How this might affect their psychological health is not known and it is the focus of this study. …
Regression analyses revealed that frequent (i.e. daily) exposure to violent images independently predicted higher scores on all indices of the Impact of Event Scale-revised, the BDI-II and the somatic and anxiety subscales of the GHQ-28. …
The present study, the first of its kind, suggests that frequency rather than duration of exposure to images of graphic violence is more emotionally distressing to journalists working with User Generated Content material.
If being exposed to the news is bad for journalists, it’s probably bad for you, too:
In this study, we tested if self-report of depression (SRD), which is not a clinically based diagnosis, was associated with increased internet, television, and social media usage by using data collected in the Media Behavior and Influence Study (MBIS) database (N = 19,776 subjects). … These analyses found that SRD rates were in the range of published rates of clinically diagnosed major depression. It found that those who tended to use more media also tended to be more depressed, and that segmentation of SRD subjects was weighted toward internet and television usage, which was not the case with non-SRD subjects, who were segmented along social media use. This study found that those who have suffered either economic or physical life setbacks are orders of magnitude more likely to be depressed, even without disproportionately high levels of media use. However, among those that have suffered major life setbacks, high media users—particularly television watchers—were even more likely to report experiencing depression, which suggests that these effects were not just due to individuals having more time for media consumption.
One woman I know got so worked up reading/watching articles and news reports about the Catholic Priest Scandals that she spent a week weeping and is now undergoing therapy for PTSD.
Stupid? Yes. Nevertheless, people are doing this to themselves.
Another woman I know recently announced that she thought “God was weeping” because things have gotten so bad in the world. After some questioning, she claimed that wars and third-world poverty are “worse than ever”–despite the fact that poverty is actually at the lowest it’s ever been and she lived through WWII.
Does watching the news make you any better informed?
Since the invention of 24 hour Cable News Networks, general knowledge of political matters has gone down slightly.
Looking at those who get their news primarily through radio and television, for most, following the news more or less closely had no reliable relation to whether respondents believed clear evidence had been found that al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were working closely together. Fox News was the exception. Those who followed the news closely were far more likely to have this misperception. Among those who did not follow the news at all 42% had the misperception, rising progressively at higher levels of attention to 80% among those who followed the news very closely. On the other hand, those respondents who get their news primarily from print sources were less likely to have this misperception if they were following the Iraq situation more closely. Of those not following the news closely, 49% had the misperception–declining to 32% among those who followed the news very closely.
This analysis is harsh on Fox, but keep in mind that it is specifically looking at misperceptions related to a war championed by Republicans–we might find a similar effect for different networks if we were looking for misperceptions related to something championed by a Democratic president.
The news makes money by convincing you to watch it–that is, it has a self-interest in being addictive, not in making your life better. The constant parade of anxiety-inducing disasters is one way they capture your attention; the nausea-inducing zooming camera pans and waving flags are another. Some news personalities are actually good at their jobs despite the distractions, but on average, the more boring stations and media do a better job of conveying actual facts, probably because they are less distracting.
The news is one-way communication: it is a voice constantly talking to you, not you talking back (well, you can talk back, but it can’t hear you.) Would you spend so much time listening, in real life, to someone who never listened to you?
There is something insidious about a voice that talks constantly to you, that decides what is an isn’t concerning, that uses psychological manipulation to keep you listening, and doesn’t listen to you.
None of which is to say that the news media is intentionally evil or trying to cause harm–these things are just natural side effects of the way media works–the network that convinces more people to watch makes more money than the one that doesn’t. You have a natural desire to hear about disasters, because before the invention of mass media, almost all of them were actually relevant to your life. This also need not condemn any particular news channel–these factors apply to them all.
You can always tell someone who pays too much attention to the news, because their attention shifts radically from week to week. One day, Russia–a nation with a GDP smaller than South Korea’s and a per capita GDP almost as low as Mexico’s–is a critical threat to democracy; the next week Saudi Arabia, a dictatorship well known for things like “funding 9-11,” “women must wear burkas and can’t drive,” and “starving Yemeni children,” is suddenly catapulted from “not a problem” to “defcon 12.”
A week later, all of these things are forgotten because Trump paid off a prostitute, which is clearly a pressing national problem, right up there with Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress.
Remember, the European witch-hunt hysteria was spread via the newly-adopted printing press, which made it easy for reports of broom-riding, devil worshiping, and livestock metamorphosis to spread from town to town. The equally absurd Satanic Daycare Scare of the 1980s was also spread by the News, this time on TV and radio.
There are probably some good sides to the news–it’s probably worthwhile to be informed about the world on some level, and it’s certainly useful to know what’s going on in your local area or economic trends that affect your business.
But be careful about letting strangers determine what you know and what you care about.
Make no mistake: Nichols is annoyingly arrogant. He draws a rather stark line between “experts” (who know things) and everyone else (who should humbly limit themselves to voting between options defined for them by the experts.) He implores people to better educate themselves in order to be better voters, but has little patience for autodidacts and bloggers like myself who are actually trying.
But arrogance alone doesn’t make someone wrong.
Nichols’s first thesis is simple: most people are too stupid or ignorant to second-guess experts or even contribute meaningfully to modern policy discussions. How can people who can’t find Ukraine on a map or think we should bomb the fictional city of Agrabah contribute in any meaningful way to a discussion of international policy?
It was one thing, in 1776, to think the average American could vote meaningfully on the issues of the day–a right they took by force, by shooting anyone who told them they couldn’t. Life was less complicated in 1776, and the average person could master most of the skills they needed to survive (indeed, pioneers on the edge of the frontier had to be mostly self-sufficient in order to survive.) Life was hard–most people engaged in long hours of heavy labor plowing fields, chopping wood, harvesting crops, and hauling necessities–but could be mastered by people who hadn’t graduated from elementary school.
But the modern industrial (or post-industrial) world is much more complicated than the one our ancestors grew up in. Today we have cars (maybe even self-driving cars), electrical grids and sewer systems, atomic bombs and fast food. The speed of communication and transportation have made it possible to chat with people on the other side of the earth and show up on their doorstep a day later. The amount if specialized, technical knowledge necessary to keep modern society running would astonish the average caveman–even with 15+ years of schooling, the average person can no longer build a house, nor even produce basic necessities like clothes or food. Most of us can’t even make a pencil.
Even experts who are actually knowledgeable about their particular area may be completely ignorant of fields outside of their expertise. Nichols speaks Russian, which makes him an expert in certain Russian-related matters, but he probably knows nothing about optimal high-speed rail networks. And herein lies the problem:
The American attachment to intellectual self-reliance described by Tocqueville survived for nearly a century before falling under a series of assaults from both within and without. Technology, universal secondary education, the proliferation of specialized expertise, and the emergence of the United States a a global power in the mid-twentieth century all undermined the idea… that the average American was adequately equipped either for the challenges of daily life or for running the affairs of a large country.
… the political scientist Richard Hofstadter wrote that “the complexity of modern life has steadily whittled away the functions the ordinary citizen can intelligently and competently perform for himself.”
… Somin wrote in 2015 that the “size and complexity of government” have mad it “more difficult for voters with limited knowledge to monitor and evaluate the government’s many activities. The result is a polity in which the people often cannot exercise their sovereignty responsibly and effectively.”
In other words, society is now too complex and people too stupid for democracy.
Nichols’s second thesis is that people used to trust experts, which let democracy function, but to day they are less trusting. He offers no evidence other than his general conviction that this change has happened.
He does, however, detail the way he thinks that 1. People have been given inflated egos about their own intelligence, and 2. How our information-delivery system has degenerated into misinformational goo, resulting in the trust-problems he believes we are having These are interesting arguments and worth examining.
A bit of summary:
Indeed, maybe the death of expertise is a sign of progress. Educated professionals, after all, no longer have a stranglehold on knowledge. The secrets of life are no longer hidden in giant marble mausoleums… in the past, there was less tress between experts and laypeople, but only because citizen were simply unable to challenge experts in any substantive way. …
Participation in political, intellectual, and scientific life until the early twentieth century was far more circumscribed, with debates about science, philosophy, and public policy all conducted by a small circle of educated males with pen and ink. Those were not exactly the Good Old Days, and they weren’t that long ago. The time when most people didn’t finish highschool, when very few went to college, and only a tiny fraction of the population entered professions is still within living memory of many Americans.
Aside from Nichols’s insistence that he believes modern American notions about gender and racial equality, I get the impression that he wouldn’t mind the Good Old Days of genteel pen-and-ink discussions between intellectuals. However, I question his claim that participation in political life was far more circumscribed–after all, people voted, and politicians liked getting people to vote for them. People anywhere, even illiterate peasants on the frontier or up in the mountains like to gather and debate about God, politics, and the meaning of life. The question is less “Did they discuss it?” and more “Did their discussions have any effect on politics?” Certainly we can point to abolition, women’s suffrage, prohibition, and the Revolution itself as heavily grass-roots movements.
But continuing with Nichols’s argument:
Social changes only in the past half century finally broke down old barriers of race, class, and sex not only between Americans and general but also between uneducated citizens and elite expert in particular. A wide circle of debate meant more knowledge but more social friction. Universal education, the greater empowerment of women and minorities, the growth of a middle class, and increased social mobility all threw a minority of expert and the majority of citizens into direct contact, after nearly two centuries in which they rarely had to interact with each other.
And yet the result has not been a greater respect for knowledge, but the growth of an irrational conviction among Americans that everyone is as smart as everyone else.
Nichols is distracting himself with the reflexive racial argument; the important change he is highlighting isn’t social but technical.
I’d like to quote a short exchange from Our Southern Highlanders, an anthropologic-style text written about Appalachia about a century ago:
The mountain clergy, as a general rule, are hostile to “book larnin’,” for “there ain’t no Holy Ghost in it.” One of them who had spent three months at a theological school told President Frost, “Yes, the seminary is a good place ter go and git rested up, but ’tain’t worth while fer me ter go thar no more ’s long as I’ve got good wind.”
It used to amuse me to explain how I knew that the earth was a sphere; but one day, when I was busy, a tiresome old preacher put the everlasting question to me: “Do you believe the earth is round?” An impish perversity seized me and I answered, “No—all blamed humbug!” “Amen!” cried my delighted catechist, “I knowed in reason you had more sense.”
But back to Nichols, who really likes the concept of expertise:
One reason claims of expertise grate on people in a democracy is that specialization is necessarily exclusive. WHen we study a certain area of knowledge or spend oulives in a particular occupation, we not only forego expertise in othe jobs or subjects, but also trust that other pople in the community know what they’re doing in thei area as surely as we do in our own. As much as we might want to go up to the cockpit afte the engine flames out to give the pilots osme helpful tips, we assume–in part, ebcause wehave to–that tye’re better able to cope with the problem than we are. Othewise, our highly evovled society breaks down int island sof incoherence, where we spend our time in poorly infomed second-guessing instead of trusting each other.
This would be a good point to look at data on overall trust levels, friendship, civic engagement, etc (It’s down. It’s all down.) and maybe some explanations for these changes.
Nichols talks briefly about the accreditation and verification process for producing “experts,” which he rather likes. There is an interesting discussion in the economics literature on things like the economics of trust and information (how do websites signal that they are trustworthy enough that you will give them your credit card number and expect to receive items you ordered a few days later?) which could apply here, too.
Nichols then explores a variety of cognitive biases, such a superstitions, phobias, and conspiracy theories:
Conspiracy theories are also a way for people to give meaning to events that frighten them. Without a coherent explanation for why terrible thing happen to innocent people, they would have to accept such occurence as nothing more than the random cruelty either of an uncaring universe or an incomprehensible deity. …
The only way out of this dilemma is to imagine a world in which our troubles are the fault of powerful people who had it within their power to avert such misery. …
Just as individual facing grief and confusion look for reasons where none may exist, so, too, will entire societies gravitate toward outlandish theories when collectively subjected to a terrible national experience. Conspiracy theories and flawed reasoning behind them …become especially seductive “in any society that has suffered an epic, collectively felt trauma. In the aftermath, millions of people find themselves casting about for an answer to the ancient question of why bad things happen to good people.” …
Today, conspiracy theories are reaction mostly to the economic and social dislocations of globalization…This is not a trivial obstacle when it comes to the problems of expert engagement with the public: nearly 30 percent of Americans, for example, think “a secretive elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world” …
Obviously stupid. A not-secret elite with a globalist agenda already rules the world.
and 15 percent think media or government add secret mind controlling technology to TV broadcasts. (Another 15 percent aren’t sure about the TV issue.)
It’s called “advertising” and it wants you to buy a Ford.
Anyway, the problem with conspiracy theories is they are unfalsifiable; no amount of evidence will ever convince a conspiracy theorist that he is wrong, for all evidence is just further proof of how nefariously “they” are constructing the conspiracy.
Then Nichols gets into some interesting matter on the difference between stereotypes and generalizations, which segues nicely into a tangent I’d like to discuss, but it probably deserves its own post. To summarize:
Sometimes experts know things that contradict other people’s political (or religious) beliefs… If an “expert” finding or field accords with established liberal values, EG, the implicit association test found that “everyone is a little bit racist,” which liberals already believed, then there is an easy mesh between what the academics believe and the rest of their social class.
If their findings contradict conservative/low-class values, EG, when professors assert that evolution is true and “those low-class Bible-thumpers in Oklahoma are wrong,” sure, they might have a lot of people who disagree with them, but those people aren’t part of their own social class/the upper class, and so not a problem. If anything, high class folks love such finding, because it gives them a chance to talk about how much better they are than those low-class people (though such class conflict is obviously poisonous in a democracy where those low-class people can still vote to Fuck You and Your Global Warming, Too.)
But if the findings contradict high-class/liberal politics, then the experts have a real problem. EG, if that same evolution professor turns around and says, “By the way, race is definitely biologically real, and there are statistical differences in average IQ between the races,” now he’s contradicting the political values of his own class/the upper class, and that becomes a social issue and he is likely to get Watsoned.
Jordan Peterson isn’t unpopular or “silenced” so much as he is disliked by upper class folks and liked by “losers” and low class folks, despite the fact that he is basically an intellectual guy and isn’t peddling a low-class product. Likewise, Fox News is just as much part of The Media as NPR, (if anything, it’s much more of the Media) but NPR is higher class than Fox, and Fox doesn’t like feeling like its opinions are being judged along this class axis.
For better or for worse (mostly worse) class politics and political/religious beliefs strongly affect our opinions of “experts,” especially those who say things we disagree with.
But back to Nichols: Dunning-Kruger effect, fake cultural literacy, and too many people at college. Nichols is a professor and has seen college students up close and personal, and has a low opinion of most of them. The massive expansion of upper education has not resulted in a better-educated, smarter populace, he argues, but a populace armed with expensive certificates that show the sat around a college for 4 years without learning much of anything. Unfortunately, beyond a certain level, there isn’t a lot that more school can do to increase people’s basic aptitudes.
Colleges get money by attracting students, which incentivises them to hand out degrees like candy–in other words, students are being lied to about their abilities and college degrees are fast becoming the participation trophies for the not very bright.
Nichols has little sympathy for modern students:
Today, by contrast, students explode over imagined slights that are not even remotely int eh same category as fighting for civil rights or being sent to war. Students now build majestic Everests from the smallest molehills, and they descend into hysteria over pranks and hoaxes. In the midst of it all, the students are learning that emotions and volume can always defeat reason and substance, thus building about themselves fortresses that no future teacher, expert, or intellectual will ever be able to breach.
At Yale in 2015, for example, a house master’s wife had the temerity to tell minority students to ignore Halloween costumes they thought offensive. This provoked a campus wide temper tantrum that included professors being shouted down by screaming student. “In your position as master,” one student howled in a professor’s face, “it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students… Do you understand that?!”
Quietly, the professor said, “No, I don’t agree with that,” and the student unloaded on him:
“Then why the [expletive] did you accept the position?! Who the [expletive] hired you?! You should step down! If that is what you think about being a master you should step down! It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here. You are not doing that!” [emphasis added]
Yale, instead of disciplining students in violation of their own norms of academic discourse, apologized to the tantrum throwers. The house master eventually resigned from his residential post…
To faculty everywhere, the lesson was obvious: the campus of a top university is not a place for intellectual exploration. It is a luxury home, rented for four to six years, nine months at a time, by children of the elite who may shout at faculty as if they’re berating clumsy maids in a colonial mansion.
The incident Nichols cites (and similar ones elsewhere,) are not just matters of college students being dumb or entitled, but explicitly racial conflicts. The demand for “safe spaces” is easy to ridicule on the grounds that students are emotional babies, but this misses the point: students are carving out territory for themselves on explicitly racial lines, often by violence.
Nichols, though, either does not notice the racial aspect of modern campus conflicts or does not want to admit publicly to doing so.
Nichols moves on to blame TV, especially CNN, talk radio, and the internet for dumbing down the quality of discourse by overwhelming us with a deluge of more information than we can possibly process.
Referring back to Auerswald and The Code Economy, if automation creates a bifurcation in industries, replacing a moderately-priced, moderately available product with a stream of cheap, low-quality product on the one hand and a trickle of expensive, high-quality products on the other, good-quality journalism has been replaced with a flood of low-quality crap. The high-quality end is still working itself out.
Accessing the Internet can actually make people dumber than if they had never engaged a subject at all. The very act of searching for information makes people think they’ve learned something,when in fact they’re more likely to be immersed in yet more data they do not understand. …
When a group of experimental psychologists at Yale investigated how people use the internet, they found that “people who search for information on the Web emerge from the process with an inflated sense of how much they know–even regarding topic that are unrelated to the ones they Googled.” …
How can exposure to so much information fail to produce at least some kind of increased baseline of knowledge, if only by electronic osmosis? How can people read so much yet retain so little? The answer is simple: few people are actually reading what they find.
As a University College of London (UCL) study found, people don’t actually read the articles they encounter during a search on the Internet. Instead, they glance at the top line or the first few sentences and then move on. Internet users, the researchers noted, “Are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed, there are signs that new forms of ‘reading’ are emerging as users ‘power browse’ horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.”
The internet’s demands for instant updates, for whatever headlines generate the most clicks (and thus advertising revenue), has upset the balance of speed vs. expertise in the newsroom. No longer have reporters any incentive to spend long hours carefully writing a well-researched story when such stories pay less than clickbait headlines about racist pet costumes and celebrity tweets.
I realize it seems churlish to complain about the feast of news and information brought to us by the Information Age, but I’m going to complain anyway. Changes in journalism, like the increased access to the Internet and to college education, have unexpectedly corrosive effects on the relationship between laypeople and experts. Instead of making people better informed, much of what passes for news in the twenty-first century often leaves laypeople–and sometimes experts–even more confused and ornery.
Experts face a vexing challenge: there’s more news available, and yet people seem less informed, a trend that goes back at least a quarter century. Paradoxically, it is a problem that is worsening rather than dissipating. …
As long ago as 1990, for example, a study conducted by the Pew Trust warned that disengagement from important public questions was actually worse among people under thirty, the group that should have been most receptive to then-emerging sources of information like cable television and electronic media. This was a distinct change in American civic culture, as the Pew study noted:
“Over most of the past five decades younger members of the public have been at least as well informed as older people. In 1990, that is no longer the case. … “
Those respondents are now themselves middle-aged, and their children are faring no better.
If you were 30 in 1990, you were born in 1960, to parents who were between the ages of 20 and 40 years old, that is, born between 1920 and 1940.
Fertility for the 1920-1940 cohort was strongly dysgenic. So was the 1940-50 cohort. The 1900-1919 cohort at least had the Flynn Effect on their side, but later cohorts just look like an advertisement for idiocracy.
Nichols ends with a plea that voters respect experts (and that experts, in turn, be humble and polite to voters.) After all, modern society is too complicated for any of us to be experts on everything. If we don’t pay attention to expert advice, he warns, modern society is bound to end in ignorant goo.
The logical inconsistency is that Nichols believes in democracy at all–he thinks democracy can be saved if ignorant people vote within a range of options as defined by experts like himself, eg, “What vaccine options are best?” rather than “Should we have vaccines at all?”
The problem, then, is that whoever controls the experts (or controls which expert opinions people hear) controls the limits of policy debates. This leads to people arguing over experts, which leads right back where we are today. As long as there are politics, “expertise” will be politicized, eg:
Look at any court case in which both sides bring in their own “expert” witnesses. Both experts testify to the effect that their side is correct. Then the jury is left to vote on which side had more believable experts. This is like best case scenario voting, and the fact that the voters are dumb and don’t understand what the experts are saying and are obviously being mislead in many cases is still a huge problem.
If politics is the problem, then perhaps getting rid of politics is the solution. Just have a bunch of Singapores run by Lee Kwan Yews, let folks like Nichols advise them, and let the common people “vote with their feet” by moving to the best states.
The problem with this solution is that “exit” doesn’t exist in the modern world in any meaningful way, and there are significant reasons why ordinary people oppose open borders.
Conclusion: 3/5 stars. It’s not a terrible book, and Nichols has plenty of good points, but “Americans are dumb” isn’t exactly fresh territory and much has already been written on the subject.
Leaving aside the issues of “Did Logan Paul actually do anything wrong?” and “Is changing YouTube’s policies actually in Game Theorist’s interests?” Game Theorist makes a good point: while YouTube might want to say, for PR reasons, that it is doing something about big, bad, controversial videos like Logan Paul’s, it also makes money off those same videos. YouTube–like many other parts of the internet–is primarily click driven. (Few of us are paying money for programs on YouTube Red.) YouTube wants views, and controversy drives views.
That doesn’t mean YouTube wants just any content–a reputation for having a bunch of pornography would probably have a damaging effect on channels aimed at small children, as their parents would click elsewhere. But aside from the actual corpse, Logan’s video wasn’t the sort of thing that would drive away small viewers–they’d get bored of the boring non-cartoons talking to the camera long before the suicide even came up.
Logan Paul actually managed to hit a very sweet spot: controversial enough to draw in visitors (tons of them) but not so controversial that he’d drive away other visitors.
In case you’ve forgotten the controversy in a fog of other controversies, LP’s video about accidentally finding a suicide in the Suicide Forest was initially well-received, racking up thousands of likes and views before someone got offended and started up the outrage machine. Once the outrage machine got going, public sentiment turned on a dime and LP was suddenly the subject of a full two or three days of Twitter hate. The hate, of course, got YouTube more views. LP took down the video and posted an apology–which generated more attention. Major media outlets were now covering the story. Even Tablet managed to quickly come up with an article: Want a New Years Resolution? Don’t be Like Logan Paul.
And it worked. I passed up Tablet’s regular article on Trump and Bagels and Culture, but I clicked on that article about Logan Paul because I wanted to know what on earth Tablet had to say about LP, a YouTuber whom, 24 hours prior, I had never heard of.
And the more respectable (or at least highly-trafficked) news outlets picked up the story, the higher Logan’s videos rose on the YouTube charts. And as more people watched more of LP’s other videos, they found more things to be offended at. For example, once he ran through the streets of Japan holding a fish. A FISH, I tell you. He waved this fish at people and was generally very annoying.
I don’t like LP’s style of humor, but I’m not getting worked up over a guy waving a fish around.
So understand this: you are in an outrage machine. The purpose of the outrage machine is to drive traffic, which makes clicks, which result in ad revenue. There are probably whole websites (Huffpo, CNN) that derive a significant percent of their profits from hate-clicks–that is, intentionally posting incendiary garbage not because they believe it or think it is just or true or appeals to their base, but because they can get people to click on it in sheer shock or outrage.
Your emotions–your “emotional labor” as the SJWs call it–is being turned into someone else’s dollars.
And the result is a country that is increasingly polarized. Increasingly outraged. Increasingly exhausted.
Step back for a moment. Take a deep breath. Get some fresh air. Ask yourself, “Does this really matter? Am I actually helping anyone? Will I remember this in a week?”
I’d blame the SJWs for the outrage machine–and really, they are good running it–but I think it started with CNN and “24 hour news.” You have to do something to fill that time. Then came Fox News, which was like CNN, but more controversial in order to lure viewers away from the more established channel. Now we have the interplay of Facebook, Twitter, HuffPo, online newspapers, YouTube, etc–driven largely by automated algorithms designed to maximized clicks–even hate clicks.
The Logan Paul controversy is just one example out of thousands, but let’s take a moment and think about whether it really mattered. Some guy whose job description is “makes videos of his life and posts them on YouTube” was already shooting a video about his camping trip when he happened upon a dead body. He filmed the body, called the police, canceled his camping trip, downed a few cups of sake while talking about how shaken he was, and ended the video with a plea that people seek help and not commit suicide.
In between these events was laughter–I interpret it as nervous laughter in an obviously distressed person. Other people interpret this as mocking. Even if you think LP was mocking the deceased, I think you should be more concerned that Japan has a “Suicide Forest” in the first place.
Let’s look at a similar case: When three year old Alan Kurdi drowned, the photograph of his dead body appeared on websites and newspapers around the world–earning thousands of dollars for the photographers and news agencies. Politicans then used little Alan’s death to push particular political agendas–Hillary Clinton even talked about Alan Kurdi’s death in one of the 2016 election debates. Alan Kurdi’s death was extremely profitable for everyone making money off the photograph, but no one got offended over this.
Why is it acceptable for photographers and media agencies to make money off a three year old boy who drowned because his father was a negligent fuck who didn’t put a life vest on him*, but not acceptable for Logan Paul to make money off a guy who chose to kill himself and then leave his body hanging in public where any random person could find it?
Let’s take a more explicitly political case. Remember when Bill Clinton and Janet Reno sent 130 heavily armed INS agents to the home of child refugee Elian Gonzalez’s relatives** so they could kick him out of the US and send him back to Cuba?
Now Imagine Donald Trump sending SWAT teams after sobbing children. How would people react?
The outrage machine functions because people think it is good. It convinces people that it is casting light on terrible problems that need correcting. People are getting offended at things that they wouldn’t have if the outrage machine hadn’t told them to. You think you are serving justice. In reality, you are mad at a man for filming a dead guy and running around Japan with a fish. Jackass did worse, and it was on MTV for two years. Game Theorist wants more consequences for people like Logan Paul, but he doesn’t realize that anyone can get offended at just about anything. His videos have graphic descriptions of small children being murdered (in videogame contexts, like Five Nights at Freddy’s or “What would happen if the babies in Mario Cart were involved in real car crashes at racing speeds?”) I don’t find this “family friendly.” Sometimes I (*gasp*) turn off his videos as a result. Does that mean I want a Twitter mob to come destroy his livelihood? No. It means a Twitter mob could destroy his livelihood.
For that matter, as Game Theorist himself notes, the algorithm itself rewards and amplifies outrage–meaning that people are incentivised to create completely false outrage against innocent people. Punishing one group of people more because the algorithm encourages bad behavior in other people is cruel and does not solve the problem. Changing the algorithm would solve the problem, but the algorithm is what makes YouTube money.
In reality, the outrage machine is pulling the country apart–and I don’t know about you, but I live here. My stuff is here; my loved ones are here.
The outrage machine must stop.
*I remember once riding in an airplane with my father. As the flight crew explained that in the case of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, you should secure your own mask before assisting your neighbors, his response was a very vocal “Hell no, I’m saving my kid first.” Maybe not the best idea, but the sentiment is sound.
**When the boat Elian Gonzalez and his family were riding in capsized, his mother and her boyfriend put him in an inner tube, saving his life even though they drowned.
EvX: Today we have an Anonymous Guest Post on the History of the Russia Conspiracy Hysteria. (Your normally scheduled anthropology will resume next Friday):
2011: Liberals get excited about Arab Spring. They love the idea of overthrowing dictators and replacing governments across the Middle East with democracies. They largely don’t realize that these democracies will be fundamentalist Islamic states.
Note that ISIS is also fighting against Assad, putting the US effectively on the ISIS side here. US support flowed to Syrian rebel forces, which may have included ISIS. ISIS is on the side of democracy and multiculturalism, after all.
Russia, meanwhile, is becoming more of a problem for the US Middle East agenda because of its support for Assad. In 2013, this comes to a head with the alleged Assad chemical weapons attack. Everyone gets very upset about chemical weapons and mad at the Russians for supporting Assad. Many calls for regime change in Syria were made. ISIS is also gaining power, and Russia is intervening directly against them. We can’t have Russia bombing ISIS, can we?
As a result, around 2013 Russia started to gain much more prominence as “our” enemy. This is about when I started to see the “Wikileaks is a Russian operation” and “ZeroHedge is Russian propaganda” memes, although there are archives of this theory from as early as 2011–Streetwise Professor: Peas in a PoD: Occupy, RT, and Zero Hedge.
There is, of course, negligible evidence for either of these theories, but that didn’t stop them from spreading. Many hackers have come from Russia over the years, and Russia was surely happy about many of Wikileaks’ releases, but that does not mean that they’re receiving money or orders from Russia.
In 2014, Russia held the Olympics, and around that time there was a lot of publicity about how Russia does not allow gay marriage. Surely only an evil country could prohibit it. Needless to say, I saw little said about Saudi Arabia’s position on gay marriage.
Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and sanctions were introduced against Russia. Most likely the annexation was opposed because this would mean that Crimean gays would not be able to get married any time soon.
[EvX: I think Anon is being sarcastic here and does actually understand geostrategy.]
The combination of Russian interference in opposition to ISIS plus the annexation of Crimea was just too much for liberals and cuckservatives still opposed to “Soviet” influence, and various aggressive statements toward Russia began to come from Hillary and members of Congress.
Trump enters the presidential race in 2015, and he wonders why we’re opposing Russian actions against ISIS. Why are we taking agressive stands that could lead to war with Russia? What’s in it for Americans?
Obviously could only mean that Trump was a Russian agent. And who would a Russian agent work with but Russian hackers and the Russian Wikileaks agency?
Wikileaks released the DNC emails in July 2016, and they released the Podesta emails shortly before the election. Since Americans were known to not have any access to any of the leaked information, it could only have come from Russian government hackers.
Liberals have assumed that any contacts between the Trump team and Russian diplomats prior to the election were related to illegal coordination to influence or “hack” the election. Never mind that communication between presidential campaigns and foreign diplomats is not uncommon–CNN Politics: Obama Takes Campaign Trail Overseas.
Following the election, Trump associate Flynn might have said to the Russians that the sanctions could possibly be reexamined at some point, thus obviously severely interfering with US diplomatic relations. Of course this statement has been worthy of an extensive FBI investigation.
Most recently we have the “leak” of classified information from Trump to Russia, in which Trump told the Russians to be on the lookout for ISIS bombs smuggled onto planes in laptops. Apparently this is very bad because it’s important for ISIS to successfully bomb Russian civilian planes if they feel like it.
Let’s sum up this logic:
Russia is bad because they oppose US efforts to install Islamic fundamentalist governments in the Middle East, because they oppose gay marriage, and because taking Crimea is basically the same as Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
Russia is full of hackers. Assange is a Russian agent since he publishes information leaked from the US. Trump is a Russian agent since he opposes war with Russia.
Russians hacked the DNC and Podesta at Trump’s request and gave the information to Wikileaks. Flynn interfered with US diplomacy. Trump is giving US secrets to Russia.
Note the strength of this narrative despite its very flimsy evidence. Investigations into Trump’s “Russian connections” can continue endlessly so long as people believe in them.
What is up with these people? Where did they come from?
While SJWs and progressives are well at home in academia, you don’t see a lot of explicit antifa support in the typical edition of Yale Magazine (though I am sure you can find it if you look hard enough.)
Honestly, I feel like we’re dealing with a completely alien, a-American ideology that has infected America, not through the universities, but some other mechanism.
Way back in the day, I read Satrapi’s Persepolis, and Satrapi (or one of her characters) claimed Bakunin was “the anarchist,” so naturally I read Bakunin, found him insightful, and attempted to find like-minded people online.
Unfortunately, the anarchist communities I found were infested with violent communists who seemed unclear on the principle of not coercing others, so I left. I was pretty busy those days so I didn’t give it too much thought; I figured perhaps weird ideologies just attracted a lot of crazy people.
I understand people who don’t like coercion or just don’t like other people telling them what to do. There are plenty of old-fashioned freedom-loving, libertarian-minded folks in my own family, after all.
This “anti-fascist” business, though, feels entirely alien. After all, how can you be “anti-fascist” in a country that has never had a significant fascist presence? You might as well call yourself anti-malaria.
Maybe there are organized fascist parties in Europe for anti-fascists to attack. I’m not European so I don’t really know, but I hear that dynamic is more of a thing over there. But over here, what boogeyman are they forced to invent to justify their existence? The Republicans?
No matter what your politics, you have to admit that’s some pretty bad linguistic creep.
Anyway, sorry this post is kind of late. Things have been really busy around here lately. (Whoops, looks like Thursday’s post went up before this one!)
>which side you’re on probably has a lot to do with whether or not the government marched in and burned down your great-great-great-grandparents’ farm in 1864
I don’t think so.
Lower and middle class whites in various factory towns in the North and West are generally not huge fans of the government (especially since the government has decided to ethnically cleanse them from their neighborhoods via proxy racial warfare.)
It has more to do with whether you/your friends and loved ones are in a government-affiliated career field or community (the military and law enforcement are somewhat excluded, though the more intellectual parts of the military like the NSA lean left.)…
I think this is really a teething problem. The internet is still too new for systems to have evolved. Just a few years ago Wikipedia was really unreliable but it has improved a lot. A teenager managed to insert his name into several pages stating that he was a company executive although he wasn’t. Now its much harder to do this sort of thing.
Its easy to see the negative aspects and miss the positive ones as well. What has become increasingly obvious, thanks to alternative news sites and social media, is how much the current mainstream media that we have relied on for so long often in fact are misleading us by misrepresenting what is really going on. A good example of this was seen in coverage of the migrant crisis in Europe. The migrants were overwhelmingly fit young men, but the MSM chose to publish pictures of the few small children and women who were among them, giving a hugely distorted picture of what was really going on. The MSM’s “politically correct” agenda has been to a degree exposed and undermined by video evidence that circulates on youtube. …
Now the earth was corrupt in GNON’s sight and was full of violence. So GNON said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks, and make it immune to Twitter, Facebook, and cable TV. I am going to bring a deluge of information, unending news, tweets, and endless status updates on the earth to distract all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it, until they fade from existence.
…modernity is selecting for those who resist modernity.
The “rural purge” in American TV was the cancellation, between 1969 and 1972, of “everything with a tree in it.” Wikipedia lists 26 shows that were purged, everything from Lassie to Gunsmoke to Red Skelton. Some of these shows were probably declining anyway and would have been cancelled sooner or later, but most, like Hee Haw (#16 in the ratings), or Red Skelton (#7) were doing quite well.
According to Wikipedia, CBS’s original plans called for Gunsmoke–a TV and radio success since 1952–to be canceled at the end of the 1970-71 season, but Gunsmoke kept defying them by doing things like coming in #5 and #4 in the Nielsen Ratings; it didn’t get canceled until the end of the 1974/5 season, when it came in #28.
The entire cast was stunned by the cancellation, as they were unaware that CBS was considering it. According to Arness, “We didn’t do a final, wrap-up show. We finished the 20th year, we all expected to go on for another season, or two or three. The (network) never told anybody they were thinking of canceling.” The cast and crew read the news in the trade papers.
Gunsmoke was replaced with Rhoda and Phyllis. Rhoda did well for two seasons; then it cratered. By season 5, it had sunk to #43 and was cancelled. Phyllis made it for an impressive two whole seasons, ending at #40.
If ratings didn’t drive the purge, then what did?
Advertisers wanted TV shows that appealed to young people with money to spend and tastes to shape, not old people whose tastes and incomes were already fixed. (The same dynamic that lead tobacco companies to try to market cigarettes to children.) Everything that appealed to the wrong demographics–old people, rural people, poor people–got the axe. They were replaced with “relevant”show like All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and the Brady Bunch Comedy Hour, which everyone agreed was awful.
Amusingly, Congress–which tends to be full of old people–was upset about all of its favorite shows getting cancelled and replaced with programs aimed at 20-something single women and hippies. According to Wik:
The backlash from the purge prompted CBS to commission, perhaps somewhat facetiously, a rural family drama for its Fall 1972 schedule, but the network scheduled it in what it thought would be a death slot against popular series The Flip Wilson Show and The Mod Squad, allegedly hoping the show would underperform and head to a quick cancellation. Instead, The Waltons went on to run for nine seasons, reaching as high as second in the Nielsens and finishing in the top 30 for seven of its nine years on air.
Mary Tyler Moore only lasted for 7 seasons.
I suspect something similar happened in the late 80s/early 90s as the grittiness of our degraded cities, reflected in shows like Taxi, Sesame Street, and Welcome Back Kotter, began to distress watchers instead of inspire them, and networks began focusing on suburban comedies like The Cosby Show and Full House, but I have yet to find any articles on the subject. (This trend may have reversed again once Giulliani cleaned up NYC, resulting in shows like Seinfeld and Friends.)
“If you aren’t a liberal when you’re young, you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative when you’re old, you have no brains.” — Variously misattributed
While I wouldn’t describe younger me as a total idiot, there are certainly a great many things that I know now that I didn’t know back when Joe Camel ads were a thing or when I attended candle lit vigils for Darfur. That’s part of growing up and getting older: hopefully you learn something.
What happens when most TV programming for 40 or 50 years is intended to appeal primarily to people who don’t yet know much about the world?
It took quite a bit of rumination to come up with something better than “obviously they have trouble telling when the wool is being pulled over their eyes,” and “small children tend not to notice the pattern of kids’ TV shows making the black character the smartest one.” (I’d make a list except I don’t care that much, but I’ll note that even LazyTown, an Icelandic TV show, does it.)
So the non-obvious effect: People massively over-estimate the percent of the country that agrees with liberal values, and then are shocked by reality.
Basically, TV–a few cable stations excepted–functions like a great big liberal bubble.
27% of Americans–20% of Democrats and 44% of Republicans–favor deporting illegal immigrants. 39% of Americans favor amending the Constitution to end birthright citizenship; 41% believe immigrants are, on net, a burden.
17% believe the Bundy-led militia takeover of a building in Oregon was just.
44% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 don’t know which country America gained its independence from. (Also, while 85% of men know the answer, only 69% of women managed the same feat.)
57% of Americans see the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern pride, rather than racism; 43% oppose removing the Confederate flag from government buildings.
31% of Americans believe it is immoral to be transgender; 59% believe trans people should use the bathroom that corresponds to their birth gender.
If your perception of “normal” is based on the sitcoms you see on TV, chances are good that virtually all of these stats are surprising, because they don’t feature many young Earth creationists who fly the Confederate flag and want to start WWIII with Russia.
But given the structure of our electoral system–Republicans pick a candidate; Democrats pick a candidate; everyone gets together and we vote for the Republican or the Democrat–there’s a very good chance that about half the time, the president will actually agree with a variety of the positions listed above (except he’s pretty much guaranteed to know who we fought in the Revolution.) If you think that’s an absolutely horrible outcome, I recommend either advocating for massively changing the structure of the electoral system, or investigating some form of Neocameralism.
One of the more amusing experiences of the past few months has been watching people–both Democrats and Republicans–express outrage, shock, and confusion at Donald Trump’s success. Who could have predicted that “kick out illegal immigrants” might attract more voters than “Let’s all die in a war with Russia”? (Clearly not anyone paid to understand which issues appeal to voters.)
“It’s time we punched the Russians in the nose.”–Presidential candidate Gov. John Kasich
“Not only would I be prepared to do it, I would do it,” blurted Christie: … Yes, we would shoot down the planes of Russian pilots if in fact they were stupid enough to think that this president was the same feckless weakling … we have in the Oval Office … right now.”
Carly Fiorina would impose a no-fly zone and not even talk to Putin until we’ve conducted “military exercises in the Baltic States”
There are a lot of people who would describe Trump as “literally Hitler” (which seems a little unfair to a guy whose daughter is Orthodox Jewish,) for wanting to deport illegal immigrants, temporarily halt Muslim immigration, and create some kind of Muslim registry, at least until we have fewer incidents like the San Bernardino Christmas Party shooting.
But on the scale of human suffering, I guarantee that a war with Russia would be far, far worse, and yet no one is protesting against that possibility, screaming that those candidates are going to start WWIII, nor even mildly concerned that the “mainstream” Republican candidates are so completely off their rockers, they make Trump look like a pacifist. (Here the Rand Paul supporters would like to point out that their candidate is also sane.)
Perhaps political commentators have become accustomed to Republicans starting wars and the threat of nuclear armageddon. Killing foreigners is a normal part of the Republican agenda–but trying to keep them out of the country? That’s completely novel. (Or at least, we haven’t done it since the 20s.)
Or perhaps people are mad because Trump is vocally anti-liberal and garners much of his support from people who hate liberals, and liberals had not realized just how many people really hate them.
Liberals must not get out very much.
I didn’t actually intend this to turn into a Trump post, but the subject is popular thee days. Had I written this in 2004, I’d have discussed the two young women I had just spoken with who swore up and down that George Bush couldn’t win reelection because “no one likes him.”
(As always, this blog makes no official political endorsements.)