The cover of the September/October 2018 issue of MIT Technology Review has – Technology is threatening our democracy. How do we save it? and The “neuropolitics” consultants who hack voter’s brains. If you have been in any of our TOV Center discussions over the past few years, this isn’t “breaking news.” We have been talking about the pressing need for Americans to develop skills required to make clear distinctions between “free speech” and “weaponized memes.”
The authors of the articles in this issue of MIT Technology Review provide some very good information about how to make those distinctions and develop the skills to protect yourself and your loved ones. Below are a few quotes:
The problem is that when we encounter opposing views in the age and context of social media, it’s not like reading them in a newspaper while sitting alone. It’s like hearing them from the opposing team while sitting with our fellow fans in a football stadium. Online, we’re connected with our communities, and we seek approval from our like-minded peers. We bond with our team by yelling at the fans of the other one. In sociology terms, we strengthen our feeling of “in-group” belonging by increasing our distance from and tension with the “out-group” — us versus them. Our cognitive universe isn’t an echo chamber, but our social one is. This is why the various projects for fact-checking claims in the news, while valuable, don’t convince people. Belonging is stronger than facts. (page 15)
Whatever Russia may have done, domestic actors in the United States and Western Europe have been eager, and much bigger, participants in using digital platforms to spread viral misinformation.
Even the free-for-all environment in which these digital platforms have operated for so long can be seen as a symptom of the broader problem, a world in which the powerful have few restraints on their actions while everyone else gets squeezed. Real wages in the US and Europe are stuck and have been for decades while corporate profits have stayed high and taxes on the rich have fallen. Young people juggle multiple, often mediocre jobs, yet find it increasingly hard to take the traditional wealth-building step of buying their own home — unless they already come from privilege and inherit large sums.
If digital connectivity provided the spark, it ignited because the kindling was already everywhere. The way forward is not to cultivate nostalgia for the old world information gatekeepers or for the idealism of the Arab Spring. It’s to figure out how our institutions, our checks and balances, and our societal safeguards should function in the 21st century — not just for digital technologies but for politics and the economy in general. This responsibility isn’t on Russia, or solely on Facebook or Google or Twitter. It’s on us. (page 16)
No, big tech didn’t make us polarized (but it sure helps). (page 17)
As I said in the title of this blog -- Belonging is stronger than facts! Humans are genetic memetic social creatures that are hardwired “to belong” because humans depend on other humans for their very existence from conception to death. We need others and -- consciously and subconsciously -- seek out groups that will accept us – and so do our children.
One thing every parent can depend on is that if their child does not feel that she or he belongs, someone or some group out there will pay attention to your child, accept your child and satisfy your child’s genetic need to belong – even if it kills them.
The greatest challenge we face today is creating new options for Americans “to belong.” We at the TOV Center believe that we have the meme building blocks to create them.
● Some come from ancient wisdom from our Christian and Jewish faith traditions that teach values that “Protect and Preserve lives, Make Lives more Functional and Increase the Quality of Life for All People” – and that “all people are made in the image of the Creator.”
● Others come from one of the most treasured documents in our history, the Declaration of Independence -- “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
● And the foundational document of the US Government and Justice System is The Constitution is another very important source -- “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Let’s make America a place where American citizens know they belong!
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