The two books differ in how they describe the source of the dystopia. It's been a while so please excuse any inaccuracies - in 1984 the world is controlled by authoritarian governments through fear, misinformation, and endless distractions, whereas in Brave New World the world is controlled by an authoritarian government through mind-numbing pleasure and shallow entertainment. The governments in these books both rely on citizens being reduced to their lowest common denominator. I think people during the cold war could most easily imagine, and thus be most afraid of, a world that resembled 1984. The book I mentioned in the beginning of this post argues the view that we should have actually been more worried about a world more closely resembling Brave New World.
Today we are constantly fed a mind-numbing amount (mis)information that we also simultaneously look for because it makes us feel better. Unfortunately, this media barrage also robs us of our attention and ability to critically think about important issues affecting our society. If anyone is interested in reading a book written before the age of social media (published 1985) and exploring these ideas, I highly recommend this one.
Really though we don't need to go to fiction to see what is happening in society. We just need to go to Ancient Rome. "Bread and circuses" was a tactic used by the patricians (elites) to keep the plebeians (masses) appeased. Give people a minimum standard of living so they can continue to live, and distract them from injustices and corruption through entertainment.
Lesson of course is all technologies have up sides and down sides, but we rarely ever discuss the down sides.
Example: let's make watch faces that glow in the dark by painting them on with radium-based paint! (Which was a real thing: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radium_Girls)
Up side: everyone can now read their watches in the dark! Hooray! An instantly clear improvement.
Down side: radium is, well, radioactive, so the workers painting the watch faces slowly start having their bones rot and their jaws fall off. It takes a decade for the link to be recognized between these symptoms and unsafe procedures for handling radium-based paint. Nobody really knows how many of the workers employed handling such paint eventually died from related illnesses.
This kind of reminds me how I felt when I was reading both those books. I had already seen all the memes about 1984 not being an instruction manual, and it left me kind of confused, because the direction the west is moving towards doesn't really resemble what was described in the book (at least, not yet). Then I read Brave New World and it certainly read like something more relevant to our current situation. Both are horrifying stories though, and it pains me that US, a nation that once prided itself for being 'free' has 2 conflicting mainstream ideologies, both of which call for a bigger government in an attempt to oppress the other side.
I have often wondered if we aren't a bit inoculated by 1984. "Red scare" and all that, and much of Orwell's work (1984, Animal Farm) was an obvious swipe at the Soviet Union and the like. Apple's first TV ad played on it. We're on the lookout for Orwellian things because we wouldn't want that, now, would we?
Poor ol' Brave New World, OTOH, never got much press. I mean, amongst my middle-aged crowd I don't know too many that have actually read it, but we all read 1984 in high school. So whereas we're all on the lookout for oppressive government actions, we kind of ignore the influences of other aspects of our lives.
This sort of thing makes us _look_ dumber compared to the era of print media but maybe together and on average we were always this dumb in the first place but now we just see it better.
Context is important; your friends in the pub know when you are joking, or not entirely serious, or making a rhetorical point, or playing devils advocate, or are referencing an earlier conversation, or telling an inside joke, or have just misunderstood something. Random strangers on Twitter read everything as an unequivocal statement. And respond accordingly.
When the internet exploded that "average" was still glued to the TV and nerdy wasn't cool. Even in the 2000s you still had to run a PC to attach which is still a bar to hurdle.
Today though we now have a generation that has grown up with internet enabled devices as a default feature in their phones, consoles, TVs or other formally "dumb" boxes. Now _everyone_ is online and perhaps that is just what we're seeing here as the bar for internet access has completely vanished.
Perceiving white males to be hard done by is amusing
I guess the poster of that never even considered the white males in former industrial regions. Or worse, considered that they deserved to lose their livelihoods because of their race and gender being "wrong". It's that kind of smug attitude that lead directly to Trump and Brexit.
This reminds me of a story that Clay Shirky told about how one of his students/coworkers wanted to announce the breakup of her engagement. She carefully configured her settings on the FB, then changed her relationship status. But even so everyone knew in real time and she was deluged with questions and messages.
The reason both of these situations are so jarring is because everyone instantly sees this information, where as previously it took a lot longer to filter through the social graph.
It seems reasonable to believe that the person misrepresenting is often aware of the context and is disingenuous in their representation. And if not I am not sure why we are giving the stage to people with poor comprehension skills and a correspondingly violent temper.
This sums it up. Also worth taking into account the abuse of anonymity. Some people would not speak in the same way to some people in front of that given person or relatives.
The article seems in a very indirect way to make argument that violent reaction to and ostracizing of people that hold opposing opinions is ok when you hold the correct opinions and not when you don’t, and I strongly believe all sides should be held to the same standard of discourse.
I'm having trouble seeing how you got this impression.
Maybe I should just accept that this a case study and every case study does not present a balanced analysis. It will seek to provide one example of a problem and it is up to you to generalize.
- When people on the left suggest that a black (or any other) individual has anything other than a statistically non-zero percent chance of being shot unarmed by a police officer. When people on the left say that there is a racial disparity in police shootings, when an honest evaluation of population size, population representation in violent crime, and population representation in police fatalities indicates that is not at all the case.
- When people on the left accuse industries such as engineering for having racist/sexist hiring practices, simply by evaluating the demographics of the workforce...completely ignoring the available pool of applicants.
- When people on the left accuse individuals like Jordan Peterson for "denying trans people's right to humanity," simply for his questioning the prospect of a government-mandated, forced usage of desired pronouns (what would be the first instance of government compelled speech in the western world).
- When people on the left claim that 1 out of 3 women get raped on college campuses by constantly attempting to redefine rape, and that our entire societal structure is set up in such a manner that can be described as a "rape culture."
- When people on the left can talk about a 23% disparity in pay between men and women when the countless studies controlling for job type and performance bring the pay gap to non-existence.
I absolutely despise conservatism, and I have never voted Republican, but to say that the American Left cannot be represented by a climate where it's okay to be "non-factual" is insane. The American Left is increasingly dominated by emotionally charged statements about privilege and marginalized communities, rape cultures, toxic masculinity, cultural appropriation, micro aggressions, safe spaces, victimization and outrage. It's no coincidence that "facts don't care about your feelings" is literally the tagline of the outspoken figure on the right, Ben Shapiro.
Though, Steve Pinker as far as I know really isn't a "liberal", so this article is somewhat guilty of the same tribalism. I'm not familiar with Ben Norton, but casual Googlings makes me wonder what exactly makes him "lefty". And, to be honest, tribalism-oriented cheerleading and spin are not something new to social media.
Whether the dominant social media forms exasperates this tribalism though is a good question to me (one this article doesn't really answer). Part of the reason I dislike Facebook and Twitter is that it seems like the form is not designed with nuance and depth in mind. It's all quick status updates or tweets, likes, follows, quick dopamine hits.
10 years ago, there was a strong long-form social media circle (blogs). These were not entirely free from dramas or tribalism, granted, but the format seemed to allow for more slices of political viewpoints than just two. At the very least, in the blogosphere, there wasn't the pure monetary incentives to create "clickbait". Which these days in Facebook / Twitter land, not only includes the usual celebrity fluff and bait miracle-cures and shock stories etc., but tribal oriented junk too ranging from "news" with a tribal framework, to outright falsehoods.
Of course some of the things in Damore's memo are easily questioned. But that's not the problem. The problem is that his memo, which is well within the mainstream of accepted modern psychology/sociology was treated like the Nazi manifesto. If it can be easily questioned, then easily question it rather than censor it. And there's no need to put the national spotlight on this poor schlub to try to ruin his life, even if I totally support Google's right to fire him.
There will always be some fringe elements, everyone has a crazy uncle/aunt, but I do not believe for a second that anything close to the majority is crazy so the desired way to advocate an action is through agreement in the democratic process. If you can't convince and compromise maybe your opinion is not the right on balance for society.
What I am suggesting is an effort to protect the democratic process and that we do not let any group use extrajudicial measures to enforce an action. Anyone that treats it as war needs to see that this has consequences and should not be celebrated.
There's enough nuance and detail that I think cliff notes would likely just mangle the points made. One related thing I would observe is that there are plenty of level headed articles that try to view things impartially and without bias or prejudice. Yet these articles seem to rarely gain traction and visibility in social media, which is where those all so valuable clicks derive from.
 - http://csweb.brookings.edu/content/research/essays/2014/bad-...
On all sides, sure, but saying that "violent reaction to opposing views" isn't necessarily the result of holding "extreme opinions" seems a bit oxymoronic. Or what exactly do you mean by "violent reaction"?
It's not "I believe that fair taxation, transparent government and high standard public services" that is the extreme, abnormal opinion—it's "because you don't, you should be sent to death camp".
In a society where the norm is to value individual security, liberty and bodily inviolability, "violent reaction to opposing views" is necessarily preceded by an extreme opinion. Maybe that opinion only exists in a brief, heated moment, and it's certainly not limited to extremists, but extreme nonetheless.
The biggest problem with social media is that it massively amplifies radical (and, often ignorant or misguided) opinions. This especially disturbs me, because I sort of helped cause it. As a kid, I wanted the more radical, fringe perspectives to have greater influence in the mainstream. But, in an age when content is free (I.e. paid for by ads), the loudest and most extreme make the most money.
Now, I cringe. There’s little discussion, dialogue, or dialectic - less prefrontal cortex and lots more amygdala and limbic. And, if we think of the PFC as what makes us most human, most intelligent - then yes, we dumb.
But, don’t lose hope. There are still plenty of moderate and reasonable people out there. It’s just that they’re not normally the raucous, crass ones. A rule of thumb for me is to shun the loudest most aggressive voices, because they almost always know very little.
When a person feels their opinions are appreciated, they tend to try and play nicer with others. When a person feels their opinion is ignored and silenced, they tend to radicalize and hold increasingly flamboyant opinions.
Compare how hot topic the copyright was when studios insisted they'll get to enforce whatever they lobbied into the laws and won't hear the internets' crowd, and how milder it is today when they had to cave eventually and decrease expectations for entitlement. Even if not many things actually changed.
I believe these groups are aware that they are fighting for an action through rhetoric that use factual statements that can easily be shown to be incorrect. Further, it seems like they believe better facts supporting their view could be found if their actions were implemented because they insist so much that their subjective truth should be respected to the same degree as real facts that disagree with their subjective truth.
My interpretation is that the awareness of their factual problems is what motivated these groups to develop a pattern of violent intolerance towards anyone that questions it, as people that do not agree with the action would otherwise outnumber them in the discourse and make it harder to implement the action.
There seem to be a synergy between alt-right and social justice warriors in particular, as both narratives need an antagonistic other that justifies why it is ok to be violently intolerant towards anyone that questions their view.
Both groups are pretty sure that the core of their beliefs is valid. Maybe fact A is false and fact B is overblown but sum(A, B, C) is still a vector in the direction of their faith. So debunking their statements won't lead anywhere.
You are much better off agreeing to disagree and trying to discuss a middle ground. But that's not what happens in modern society.
Alt-right and social-justice warriors both have a hard time rejecting objections from people with the right identities. If we created tools that helped crowdsource finding issues in their action and then identifying persons in the crowd with the right identities to highlight those we would be on the right path.
If the crowd in addition to this approach advertisers on the platforms they use to further their message, then we would also reduce their capability to scream loudly.
No leaders, no celebrities, no talking heads.
I have quit social media and not been able to find the words to express what made me leave, I will now just quote this.
I don't want to seem harsh, but unfortunately it seems warranted. Perhaps you have a poor familiarity with his work, and with the landscape of political thought, and intellectual culture in general.
Or perhaps you are the type of increasingly common individual that this piece is concerned about... an overly tribalistic individual for whom empirical reality conforms to politics.
However, as an Anthropology major at a top tier university during the 90s, I can say for a fact that Pinker challenged convention (at my university, at least) and pushed the humanities toward a view that a person’s attributes were more the result of biology than social conditions. He also pushed against the prevailing postmodernist and relativist perspectives, among other things. And, although I haven’t read some of his recent work, nor kept up with his public views, I don’t see how you can say that “The better angels” is liberal, given that it promotes markets and a policing forms of strong government.
Unfortunately, lots of internet content pre-2000, including discussion forums, has disappeared. So, I’m struggling to link to evidence of discussions happening at that time.
By the way, your comment is pretty much ad-hominem, and normally I wouldn’t respond to you. But, because your type of behavior is the actual topic of conversation, I figured it was worth it. I find it amusing that you believe me a liberal ...
Sure. You could define a liberal in a number of ways. One possible definition is someone who is "center-left", generally votes for democrats, supports public provisioning of education, healthcare, welfare, and so forth.
Pinker posted regularly on Twitter during the elections, generally supporting Hillary Clinton and opposing Trump.
In a larger context of liberalism, as opposed to fascism or socialism, again he comes out as a liberal with fairly consistent support for individual rights, in both economic and political realms, although regularly modified by a utilitarian cost-benefit analysis... as is typical of liberals going back to Bentham and JS Mill.
None of what you said about human nature is at odds with his political, economic, and social identification as a liberal. It would've been unusual to find anyone of any era, including the present era, who fully denies the concept of a human nature.
Are there any traits that distinguish humans from anything else? If so, there is a human nature.
>I find it amusing that you believe me a liberal ...
I assumed that you were a member of the radical left, and not a liberal. Anthropology, as a discipline, currently has an overwhelming bias towards this leaning, moreso than nearly any other discipline.
And you weasel out of the discussion when you suddenly shift to put human nature as a whole into question, just to then shift the goal post to an indefinite plurality of 'humans'.
>>Pinker has committed an unspeakable sin, at least by Progressive Liberal standards. He believes the Man is born with certain built in modes of operation, particularly mental operation. Call them instincts if you must. In sure Man has a nature. Human Nature.
>>Progressive Liberals and those even further left are committed to the proposition that all of our so-called nature is learned, and that humans are infinitely plastic. Ergo, we can construct a new kind of human who works for the common good, is never "selfish" and never regards the work of his own hands as his property.
>>Naughty Steven. He believes that humans are basic selfish in the sense of being rationally selfish. That will never, never do. Naughty Steven. Shame!
radical: characterized by departure from tradition; innovative or progressive.
"the city is known for its radical approach to transport policy"
-- advocating or based on thorough or complete political or social change; representing or supporting an extreme or progressive section of a political party.
Sommerville argues that news began to make us dumber when we insisted on having it daily.
Now millions of column inches and airtime hours must be filled with information--every day, every hour, every minute. The news, Sommerville says, becomes the driving force for much of our public culture. News schedules turn politics into a perpetual campaign. News packaging influences the timing, content and perception of government initiatives.
News frenzies make a superstition out of scientific and medical research. News polls and statistics create opinion as much as they gauge it. Lost in the tidal wave of information is our ability to discern truly significant news--and our ability to recognize and participate in true community.
I used to consume news daily, obsessively even when I was younger. I was that addict that used to refresh cnn.com compulsively every few minutes at a stretch. Now, I come to HN and a few other niche sites for 'information' or 'news'. But I no longer visit cnn or NYT as much any more.
Here's an example of what I mean. A couple of days ago I was in a waiting room somewhere and as a result ended up watching a few TV news headlines. Some teacher in Wisconsin assigned her fourth-graders some homework that asked them to provide "3 'good' reasons for slavery and 3 bad reasons", which sparked a predictable uproar:
Unsurprisingly, no one was willing to go on the record to try and defend or even explain the assignment. It's toxic. And yet, I don't think it's racist to try and parse the teacher's intention here (or just ask for a comment from them!) The teacher put "good" in quotes, which is a good clue, and I can certainly come up with "good" (in quotes) reasons for slavery (e.g. cotton-picking is highly labour intensive and there was tremendous demand for raw cotton by the rapidly industrializing cotton industry in England).
That's a far cry from an assignment that says, "provide a persuasive moral basis for the goodness of slavery". But apparently we can't have conversations like this in our society any more, because there's no room for nuance.
As a nerd, like many of you, I like having intellectual conversations with plenty of nuance, in which one gives the people around you plenty of leeway and the benefit of the doubt ("hmm, that sounds a bit racist, but I respect this person - let me ask a question to see what they mean"). It seems to me that the places in which we can have those conversations are increasingly limited. It definitely isn't social media. It's not the workplace. Apparently, it might not be academia, either, although I haven't been in school for a long time and can't speak from personal experience (stories like the one I just shared, though, seem to back up this impression).
We're left with smart, intellectual, nuanced people having hushed conversations in coffee shops or pubs where no one can overhear them, because we're all afraid of how our words might be twisted, misinterpreted, and ganged up on. It's a real shame.
It might be an intellectually stimulating conversation for some, but if it's a conversation only occurring in hushed tones in coffee shops or in private then I think that's probably for the best.
The purpose is not to try to list why the holocaust is good, it isn’t obviously, but I can think of at least two exercises where this is useful for a fourth grade class. 1) to use an extreme example, likely the worst in the world’s history, to make it hard or impossible to find positives is harder to think. 2) to try to better understand the terrible situation and monsters that led to the holocaust. Empathizing with psychopaths is important for society to not repeat issues. So trying to find “good” issues may help understand why such evil was perpetrated.
Of course the framing is extremely important and can’t be understood by OP’s post and likely not by ththe tv headline. But my frustration is that people immediately not only judge, but make their judgements widely known, without an understanding deep enough to judge.
Of course, the assignment could have been a horrible facade over racism. I don’t know. I went to middle school in the south and we had a lot of class work trying to excuse slavery on the side. But just based on the headline, I don’t know. And having a headline of “might be racist” is a waste of time. If I could trust media to investigate and only report if it is racism, then that would be great. But as is, I cannot, and it’s much more likely the purpose is to generate views and ad revenue even though there is no story there.
Thus making us all dumber.
We are in agreement re the media angle. This is clearly "Teacher asks dumb question" not "Teacher brainwashing kids with racist propaganda" and is in no way (inter)national news.
Most educated coastal folks would not use "3 good reasons" in this case, but at least in my experience, in less educated communities in the South it is more likely to be phrased that way. I implicitly assumed that the teacher did not mean "good" pertaining to slavery, but that may be because I grew up in an environment with different colloquialisms than others. Frankly, if I were a sleep deprived teacher just trying to get something done, I could easily see myself making the same mistake and then seriously regretting that it warped my intention.
This is particularly interesting because I think that the use of language in this case actually reinforces the intent people read into the situation. With some people confused as to how this is "racist" because of a different reading of the language in addition to a different moral interpretation around the assignment.
But when I see good in quotations that usually means that it’s not actually good, but someone says it is. So I don’t know if the context is exactly “why does person x think it’s good” but it seems close and let’s you respond and think about something without actually agreeing it is truly good or the instructor recognizing it is good.
An example may be “describe how anchovies are ‘delicious’” although of course anchovies tasting horrible is in no way close to slavery. But might show how you ask the question by actually biasing that anchovies suck but you’re going to say they are delicious for the sake of thought.
If anything putting good in quotes signals that slavery is not good and biased the discussion. For most topics I think that will yield worse results, but slavery is fine to bias students against. I don’t really care if people keep open minds about slavery.
It might be interesting to have an idea of how people could have rationalized slavery as something good and see if the same rationalisation do not persist in our society. But to do so, you have to be able do discuss it, without having the discussion shut down as racist.
Edit: basically what prepend said, since it's much better.
I'm not sure the answers to these questions are as stimulating as people think though. I suspect the real reason behind the question given in the example was that the teacher was oversimplifying the language of the question for his/her students to the point where all nuance was lost ... which suggests they're maybe not ready for it.
This is a good observation and you may well be right, although, I've been surprised by what kids are "ready for" in the past. For example, my son was in grade four last year, and his teacher started reading them The Diary of Ann Frank. My immediate reaction to this news was that I didn't think they were ready to learn about the Holocaust, but I did some research and discovered that, in fact, introducing them at that age isn't a bad decision and can be done well.
In any case, I think that your reaction to my comment actually proves my point. I'm not going to say "ugh, replies like yours are exactly the problem, smcl!" because replies like yours are not. You did not, for example, call me a racist. You engaged with me respectfully, I did the same with you, and now we're having an actual conversation. That's because HN is one of the few places where I think productive conversations like this still happen. By and large, we make a conscious effort to engage with one another respectfully, and to be open-minded and open to persuasion.
Even things like accepting that when someone voices an opinion, it's just that, an opinion. It may not always be entirely thought-out. Far better to react to poorly thought-out opinions (of which I have many, I'm sure) with "here's where you're wrong" in a respectful, persuasive way, than what we see playing out in society at large.
Then again maybe I'm wrong and that's why I'm not a teacher :-)
You are right, that's why I said that the question was poorly asked.
> the teacher was oversimplifying the language of the question for his/her students to the point where all nuance was lost ... which suggests they're maybe not ready for it.
Again you're right, since I'm not from the US, I forgot that the fourth grade is for 10 years-old.
Yikes - not sure how I misread or misunderstood that
If the goal is to teach kids to think, then you want excerises building critical thinking. Even kindergarten is a good time to start critical thinking on hard topics “Why do you think the police shot those people with a hose?” I remember coming up when taking my 1st grader to the MLK museum.
If the goal is indoctrinate kids until it’s “safe” to understand why things are evil and wrong like slavery, then by all means wait until later. I’m not sure what the right age is.
"It economically benefits me" is a "good" reason for slavery? Would we analyze it the same for hired assassin for gang? The latter kills less people. Is "good" in your meaning "egoistical"?
I don't see much space for nuance here and can imagine just about million topics with true moral grey in them.
- Umberto Eco, on Social Media
If I could wave a magic wand, I would introduce friction to sharing media. It is far too easy to share false information. Further, information that bubbles to the top is rife with bias and fortifies a bubble.
Ideas worth experimenting:
1. Make the decision to share more salient. Prompt the sharer with a question that forces a moment of reflection. For instance, "if we replaced the author's name with your own and your reputation were at risk, would you share this?".
2. Replace the crude upvote/downvote mechanism with something more nuanced. Separate upvotes from downvotes. Prompt the voter with a list of reasons why he/she voted accordingly. Make voting history public.
Even better, suffuse everyone with that great skepticism you speak of. Unfortunately, your suggestions are infinitely more practical.
I can finally breathe again.
Now this article is a bit hypocritical as every journalist and news media out there is also on social media and use it as a communication and advertisement channel, just like like everyone else. NYT and co love Facebook and Twitter when it helps them bring in paid customers.
A single widespread dumb idea is more dangerous to democracy than a million dumber localized ideas.
So instead I started listening to a lecture on YouTube and I fell asleep almost instantly.
So then after that I opened that Instagram explore page and was engaged for hours.
Social media is definitely making us dumber. It's 15-60-second hits of all the good parts of everything and that's it.
No context, no substance, just the good stuff.
I see some merits in this article and I agree with certain parts up to a certain point, but the portion I quoted above is actually more troubling to me. There are lots of people who refuse to believe basic, empirically-proven concepts about the world and social media is merely revealing the ignorance of those people. Celebrating it or saying that everyone has a valid opinion (despite that opinion being based on something false) is even more harmful than the conflict spurred by disagreement, in my opinion.
I actually prefer reading twitter via rss. There’s no missing out, and you can organize by topics, user groups, stuff like that.
[tongue firmly in cheek]
It would be nice of there was a limit on how many articles from same domain can be posted on HN. Nytimes articles in my humble opinion are listed here too often. Or a rule that you cannot post paywalled content. It's becoming quite frustrating when you click a nytimes link.