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The immediate response by one of the people who should receive the most blame for stoking a violent constituency over the years. | Source

“As long as people sincerely believe they can change things by voting, they stay calm. They don’t burst into the House chamber. They talk and they organize and they vote. But the opposite is also true if people begin to believe that their democracy is fraudulent, that voting is a charade, that the system is rigged and it’s run in secret by a small group of powerful, dishonest people who are acting in their own interests. Then, God knows what could happen.”

- Tucker Carlson, 1/6/20

What went down yesterday at the U.S. Capitol building was nothing short of terrifying and deeply frustrating. As domestic terrorists broke past security and police — which, to clearly underscore, were puppies compared to the attack dogs brought out over the summer for Black Lives Matter protests — many of us were gravely concerned for the safety of those inside the building. The backlash appears to be growing as even Trump seems to be receding, perhaps to save face before being dishonorably impeached. Many are rightfully blaming Trump and Republican legislators for stoking the fires that led to such violence. …


If you’d rather watch this post…

You may have heard the words “surveillance capitalism” thrown around lately, but it also may not be obvious what that means. We’re going to briefly explain what surveillance capitalism is, and reflect back on what that means for our lives.

This theory is based off of a book of the same name by Shoshana Zuboff, professor at the Harvard Business school. She motivates this theory by talking a lot about Google, and how they became the first company to tap into this new form of profit-making.

Reinvesting for Customers

But first, it may be useful to do a quick refresher on how industrial capitalism works. We can take the example of a car factory… The factory and equipment are the “means of production.” Workers labor in the factory to make a product. Generally, industrial capitalists have an incentive to improve productivity, whether that’s through better workers or equipment. So the goal of capitalists is to make profit, that is, extra money beyond just the costs of labor, materials and upkeep, so they can have surplus to reinvest into their means of production, making the factory or products better. Capitalists want to improve their products so they can compete in a market and maintain dominance. There is also an incentive to keep worker wages low so profits are high, but we’ll leave that for another video. Examples of pioneers in industrial capitalism are the Ford Motor Company and General Motors — their innovation of the assembly line greatly improved productivity. …


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Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a 2018 Congressional hearing on privacy (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images | Source)

It has been a tragic saga, for people who are familiar with the ways that social media platforms and companies operate, to watch government regulatory sessions with Big Tech companies. For many young people, this began with U.S. lawmakers’ questioning in Congressional hearings; sessions that revealed the lack of understanding of social media by, frankly, elder legislators. However, for those of us who study modern technology and the way that it has mutated capitalism into an entirely new beast, the frustrations with how lawyers, government officials, and any who engage in mainstream regulatory discourse, continue and intensify.

This is primarily because regulators seem to not have an understanding of the actual imperatives guiding Big Tech. While they aim at Antitrust, they tip their hand in journals like the New York Times and say that the case is harder to make than they expected. They fail to realize, because they are not versed in deep understanding of the paradigms that guide Big Tech, why their case is so hard. Companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and the like, have not been motivated by user products for over a decade. They are focused on data and prediction products. The disconnect between this older understanding of how capitalism has worked, and how Shoshanna Zuboff’s appropriately named “surveillance capitalism” works currently is ruining any chance of actually reigning in Big Tech. There is an urgent need for deeper understandings of surveillance capitalism and its imperatives in order to truly reveal the danger Big Tech poses to all of us, and move towards substantive regulation. …


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A photo of now-Justice Amy Coney-Barrett’s swearing in at her first confirmation hearing. | Source, originally Erin Schaff/Pool via REUTERS

Last night’s ceremonies ushering in new Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney-Barrett are drawing parallel ire and adoration from distinct sides of the partisan aisle. Fox has a slew of stories that paint Republicans as the innocent victims of Democratic hate and anger, while sites like Huffington Post condemn the decision as rushed and note the zero Senate Democrats who voted in favor of the decision. As is to be expected, opinion is severely split along partisan lines, and has been for months.

Central to arguments for now-Justice Coney-Barrett is the idea that she is a professional champion of impartial justice. The notion spans across right-wing media, and was captured in her own confirmation remarks last night. But how valid is this argument? The question has implications far beyond one justice’s nomination, and answers should arguably reshape how many think of judicial systems entirely. …


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Our realities are fractured, and we are unwilling to even give an audience to the other side. | Source

For the almost six months past, the world has been living through the nightmare of the coronavirus pandemic. This is news to nobody. Around the world, in so-called free democracies, authoritarian countries, in small towns, big cities, and likely in isolated communities we don’t know about, everybody knows that COVID-19 is a problem.

However, there is intense disagreement about what comes next: why the pandemic arose, what we are to do, who is to blame, or even if it is over yet. Now more than ever, some of us are being alerted to the enormous slew of misinformation surrounding the virus that the WHO thought was important enough to classify as an “infodemic” on par with the actual virus. I can speak to the U.S. side of the equation because it is the one I’m most acquainted with. Some think that the virus is a Chinese or Democrat hoax designed to make Trump look bad. Others think that it was caused by 5G cell towers. Some say we shouldn’t wear masks because they make it easier to catch the virus, or keep more of it on your face. People who were forced to accept its existence now say it’s over. …


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A visualization of political social networks from research by Bakshy, Messing, and Adamic. | Source

In Chris Wylie’s tell-all book, Mindf*ck, detailing his work at Cambridge Analytica, he gives a frank account of how the company used psychographic manipulation to sway portions of the U.S. voting public. Particularly, when seeding discord in vulnerable populations, they preyed on the psychology of identity to build their angry army. Wylie explains that Steve Bannon — then Vice President of Cambridge Analytica — wanted to target racial bias in vulnerable voters, and used the tools to push narratives of “racial realism,” opposed to political correctness, in a way that inoculated the victims against rational critique.

This framing effect of political correctness as an identity threat catalyzed a “boomerang” effect in people where counternarratives would actually strengthen, not weaken, the prior bias or belief… In this way, if you could frame racialized views through the lens of identity prior to exposure to a counternarrative, that counternarrative would be interpreted as an attack on identity instead. (pp. …


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Information technology and its interactions with our psychology have dramatically changed the underlying processes of democracy. Will we be able to adapt? | Source

We don’t often think about it, but our brains are all very different from one another. At the end of the day, sure, we mostly have the same brain regions, there are statistical correlations that show commonality of the interconnections between regions, and people can be grouped similarly by personality. But if we’re really honest about people’s psychology, it becomes apparent that we all have different strange things that trigger us: I have a personality that sees some authority as threatening; I know friends who love order and organization to the point of driving their behavior. Our differing brains lead us to interpret the world in different ways. …


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Apparently, a landscape in Provence, France. When in doubt, use a random landscape photo. | Source

We live in times where truth is not a given. The age of information ushered in such a deluge of opinions, reports, and supposed-facts that we are no longer able to keep up. Perhaps some of the most diligent can stay on top of the infinitely-expending pile of things we’re supposed to know about in our daily lives, but most of us are simply humbled by its enormity. Amidst so much information that is supposedly all equally crucial, it is no surprise that truth has become a rare commodity. Some of the best methods that humanity has developed to systematically discover truths — namely, science and its methods — require time, discipline, and training. …


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We may someday be able to be like this gray penguin, but if we are a brown penguin, the odds are not in our favor. | Source

In times that we feel a distinct lack of confidence — that we may as well simply sit and wallow away because there is no way that we would be the subject of something bold or great — we are apt to put all of the blame on ourselves. We are lazy, stupid, undeserving, weird, and the list likely gets more creative from there. …


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My palms are already sweating. | Source

Many of us (myself included) may be feeling in these times of crisis that we have retreated from our usual bolder selves, and become, to a degree, less confident. After all, how can someone be taking bold steps when so much is on the line? The usual confidence that accompanies job changes, undertaking new projects, asking out a crush, speaking your mind, can now seem silly, frivolous, or too costly given the circumstances.

Though, is this the right way to think about it? Could there be any arguments for the idea that these are the times in which we should be having the most confidence? For all we know, this could nearly be the end of organized human civilization. There is a global pandemic, creeping authoritarianism from the hegemonic ruler of the Western empire, genocidal neglect worldwide in the wake of a killer virus, an ever impending climate crisis, civil unrest in Lebanon, typical authoritarianism from the main competitor for hegemonic rule from the East, among other things. If it were foretold that these were our last months of life, would we not be more bold and systematically tackle our bucket lists? …

About

Nick Rabb

PhD student in Computer Science and Cognitive Science at Tufts University, organizer with Sunrise Movement and MA Peace Action. Philosophy nerd.

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