The Age of Stupidity

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Oct 7, 2008
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#1
Posting excerpts from an Atlantic article I thought might make for interesting discussion.

"The dart guns of social media give more power and voice to the political extremes while reducing the power and voice of the moderate majority. The “Hidden Tribes” study, by the pro-democracy group More in Common, surveyed 8,000 Americans in 2017 and 2018 and identified seven groups that shared beliefs and behaviors. The one furthest to the right, known as the “devoted conservatives,” comprised 6 percent of the U.S. population. The group furthest to the left, the “progressive activists,” comprised 8 percent of the population. The progressive activists were by far the most prolific group on social media: 70 percent had shared political content over the previous year. The devoted conservatives followed, at 56 percent.

These two extreme groups are similar in surprising ways. They are the whitest and richest of the seven groups, which suggests that America is being torn apart by a battle between two subsets of the elite who are not representative of the broader society. What’s more, they are the two groups that show the greatest homogeneity in their moral and political attitudes. This uniformity of opinion, the study’s authors speculate, is likely a result of thought-policing on social media: “Those who express sympathy for the views of opposing groups may experience backlash from their own cohort.” In other words, political extremists don’t just shoot darts at their enemies; they spend a lot of their ammunition targeting dissenters or nuanced thinkers on their own team. In this way, social media makes a political system based on compromise grind to a halt."
 
Oct 7, 2008
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#2
"The most pervasive obstacle to good thinking is confirmation bias, which refers to the human tendency to search only for evidence that confirms our preferred beliefs. Even before the advent of social media, search engines were supercharging confirmation bias, making it far easier for people to find evidence for absurd beliefs and conspiracy theories, such as that the Earth is flat and that the U.S. government staged the 9/11 attacks. But social media made things much worse.

The most reliable cure for confirmation bias is interaction with people who don’t share your beliefs. They confront you with counterevidence and counterargument. John Stuart Mill said, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that,” and he urged us to seek out conflicting views “from persons who actually believe them.” People who think differently and are willing to speak up if they disagree with you make you smarter, almost as if they are extensions of your own brain. People who try to silence or intimidate their critics make themselves stupider, almost as if they are shooting darts into their own brain.

I believe, what happened to many of America’s key institutions in the mid-to-late 2010s. They got stupider en masse because social media instilled in their members a chronic fear of getting darted. The shift was most pronounced in universities, scholarly associations, creative industries, and political organizations at every level (national, state, and local), and it was so pervasive that it established new behavioral norms backed by new policies seemingly overnight. The new omnipresence of enhanced-virality social media meant that a single word uttered by a professor, leader, or journalist, even if spoken with positive intent, could lead to a social-media firestorm, triggering an immediate dismissal or a drawn-out investigation by the institution. Participants in our key institutions began self-censoring to an unhealthy degree, holding back critiques of policies and ideas—even those presented in class by their students—that they believed to be ill-supported or wrong.

But when an institution punishes internal dissent, it shoots darts into its own brain.
 
Oct 7, 2008
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"The stupefying process plays out differently on the right and the left because their activist wings subscribe to different narratives with different sacred values. The “Hidden Tribes” study tells us that the “devoted conservatives” score highest on beliefs related to authoritarianism. They share a narrative in which America is eternally under threat from enemies outside and subversives within; they see life as a battle between patriots and traitors. According to the political scientist Karen Stenner, whose work the “Hidden Tribes” study drew upon, they are psychologically different from the larger group of “traditional conservatives” (19 percent of the population), who emphasize order, decorum, and slow rather than radical change.

Only within the devoted conservatives’ narratives do Donald Trump’s speeches make sense, from his campaign’s ominous opening diatribe about Mexican “rapists” to his warning on January 6, 2021: “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

The stupidity on the right is most visible in the many conspiracy theories spreading across right-wing media and now into Congress. “Pizzagate,” QAnon, the belief that vaccines contain microchips, the conviction that Donald Trump won reelection—it’s hard to imagine any of these ideas or belief systems reaching the levels that they have without Facebook and Twitter."
 
Oct 7, 2008
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"The Democrats have also been hit hard by structural stupidity, though in a different way. In the Democratic Party, the struggle between the progressive wing and the more moderate factions is open and ongoing, and often the moderates win. The problem is that the left controls the commanding heights of the culture: universities, news organizations, Hollywood, art museums, advertising, much of Silicon Valley, and the teachers’ unions and teaching colleges that shape K–12 education. And in many of those institutions, dissent has been stifled: When everyone was issued a dart gun in the early 2010s, many left-leaning institutions began shooting themselves in the brain. And unfortunately, those were the brains that inform, instruct, and entertain most of the country.

But when the newly viralized social-media platforms gave everyone a dart gun, it was younger progressive activists who did the most shooting, and they aimed a disproportionate number of their darts at these older liberal leaders. Confused and fearful, the leaders rarely challenged the activists or their nonliberal narrative in which life at every institution is an eternal battle among identity groups over a zero-sum pie, and the people on top got there by oppressing the people on the bottom. This new narrative is rigidly egalitarian––focused on equality of outcomes, not of rights or opportunities. It is unconcerned with individual rights.

The universal charge against people who disagree with this narrative is not “traitor”; it is “racist,” “transphobe,” “Karen,” or some related scarlet letter marking the perpetrator as one who hates or harms a marginalized group. The punishment that feels right for such crimes is not execution; it is public shaming and social death.

You can see the stupefaction process most clearly when a person on the left merely points to research that questions or contradicts a favored belief among progressive activists. Someone on Twitter will find a way to associate the dissenter with racism, and others will pile on. For example, in the first week of protests after the killing of George Floyd, some of which included violence, the progressive policy analyst David Shor, then employed by Civis Analytics, tweeted a link to a study showing that violent protests back in the 1960s led to electoral setbacks for the Democrats in nearby counties. Shor was clearly trying to be helpful, but in the ensuing outrage he was accused of “anti-Blackness” and was soon dismissed from his job. (Civis Analytics has denied that the tweet led to Shor’s firing.)"
 

gundysburner

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Jul 25, 2018
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#6
Interesting, thanks for posting.

As suspected, coverage is outsized and overrepresents the extremes on both ends of the political spectrum. And social media does as much to actively stifle discussions versus promoting them.
 
May 4, 2011
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#8
Not that it invalidates it, but this makes sense as the next Haidt project. He's a more mainline leftist and has been eaten up by the progressive wing over his comments about engaging with others and people's fragility when engaging with different ideas, especially on the left.

For those who may not be familiar, he's one of the guys behind "the Coddling of the American Mind". https://www.thecoddling.com/
 

TheMonkey

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Sep 16, 2004
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#9
Interesting, thanks for posting.

As suspected, coverage is outsized and overrepresents the extremes on both ends of the political spectrum. And social media does as much to actively stifle discussions versus promoting them.
I don’t disagree, but 8% and 6% is not an insignificant number of people. That’s roughly 26 & 20 million respectively.
 

TheMonkey

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#12
I've pretty much lived my life thinking that 8-10% on both ends of the political spectrum are fairly radical, and that 80% of people live somewhere in the middle.
OK. That’s all fine. I’m trying to understand your reply in context with my statement. When you do the math factoring in our population, do you feel that is a significant/insignificant number of people?
 
Oct 7, 2008
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#13
OK. That’s all fine. I’m trying to understand your reply in context with my statement. When you do the math factoring in our population, do you feel that is a significant/insignificant number of people?
I'm not sure the percentage matters as they're having an outsized impact on politics and the direction of the country. The left threatens dissenters into silence (I lean left and in the last 6 years the most vitriol I've felt was from liberals whose views I agree with, I just don't agree in exactly the right way. Zero room for nuanced thought or discussion in this group). And then the far right is unfortunately dragging moderate Republicans off a cliff while the far left is all too eager to help push.
 

gundysburner

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Jul 25, 2018
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#14
I'm not sure the percentage matters as they're having an outsized impact on politics and the direction of the country. The left threatens dissenters into silence (I lean left and in the last 6 years the most vitriol I've felt was from liberals whose views I agree with, I just don't agree in exactly the right way. Zero room for nuanced thought or discussion in this group). And then the far right is unfortunately dragging moderate Republicans off a cliff while the far left is all too eager to help push.
Agree. The percentage is likely the same as it's always been, imo, but social media and media coverage OF social media allows them to leverage their voices more than ever.
 

Jostate

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Jun 24, 2005
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#15
I used to think each side has it's entrenched base and politicians fought over the middle Now I've caught on the name of the game is to ignore the middle and rally the extremists. If you can get your base excited enough to turn out you're well on your way.
 

TheMonkey

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#16
I've pretty much lived my life thinking that 8-10% on both ends of the political spectrum are fairly radical, and that 80% of people live somewhere in the middle.
Agree. The percentage is likely the same as it's always been, imo, but social media and media coverage OF social media allows them to leverage their voices more than ever.
It doesn’t appear that’s the case. What I’m reading states that politicians started playing to the polarized fringe, but their rhetoric has drawn more voters to the edges of the political spectrum. This animation only goes through 2014, but you can see it’s not what it has always been.