2021-01-17

When, Why and How People Change Their Minds

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by Neil Godfrey

I especially loved these words towards the end of the same podcast — I cannot pinpoint a single “straw that broke the back” of my religious beliefs; I look back instead at a series of moments that led me towards atheism. One can also understand why it is so easy to demonize those on “the other side” of a political or religious fence and from there begin to appreciate what it takes for our minds to change.

People are not perfect Bayesian reasoners as much as we would like to aspire to be. People do not have a set of priors that are well delineated and then collect new data and update them according to Bayes’s formula, that’s not what people do. But that doesn’t mean that people don’t change their minds, people change their minds all the time.

soft landing

1:29:48.7 SC: What often happens is something that can be very familiar to physicists who know about phase transitions, the thing that causes someone to change their mind might not be, and in fact, rarely is the straw that broke the camel’s back. There can be a little thing that they get, the little piece of information and experience, whatever it is, that is associated in time with the moment they change their mind. But the actual cause of them changing their mind is a set of many, many things stretching back in time, okay? You have a person with an opinion, with a belief, a credence in a certain proposition, and they get data that is against that proposition, and data in the very broadest sense, it’s not like they’re being physicists, but they get information, experiences, new stories, conversations with friends, that cause them to think about that particular proposition, and then they don’t change their mind immediately, ’cause that’s not how people work, but that has an effect on them. Even if the effect is invisible at the level of their actual beliefs in propositions, hearing that thing can nevertheless affect them at a deeper level.

1:30:56.8 SC: And if they hear something else, and something else, and something else over a period of time, they can eventually be led to change their mind without it ever being possible to associate the reason for that change with a particular piece of information that they got. Not to mention the fact that often, this data in a very, very broad sense is not data. In other words, the thing that is causing people to change their minds is not some piece of information or some rational argument, but something much more visceral, something much more emotional. Realizing that this person who is a member of a group that they have hated and denigrated for years, they meet a member of that group and become friends with them, suddenly maybe their minds change, right? You are against gay people getting married and then you have a child who turns out to be gay and wants to get married, maybe you change your mind, right? For no especially good reason epistemically, rationally, but you realize that, “I wasn’t really that devoted to that opinion in the first place.”

1:31:55.4 SC: There are many ways to change people’s minds, and it really does happen, and all of this is just to say it’s worth trying. It’s not worth trying reaching out to the extremists, to the crazies, but there are plenty of people who are not like that. There are plenty of people who are just not that devoted. And those people might not be wedded to the views that they very readily profess to believe in right now. This is part of the challenge of democracy, those people count, just as much as the most informed voters count. And of course, there are hyper-informed voters who are extremists on both sides, so it’s not just a matter of information levels, but there are people who are, in principle and in practice, reachable and people who are not, and we should try to reach the ones who are reachable. And again, I would give that advice to the other side as well, if the other side thinks that they wanna reach some people who are on the opposite side, they can try to reach me and I’m here to be reached, right?

1:32:54.6 SC: Change takes time. Often it is not a matter of marshaling better arguments, it’s just setting a good example, providing people with a soft landing. One of the hardest things about changing your mind politically is that it is associated with a million other things in your life, your friendship networks, your families, etcetera, your beliefs about many different things. The joke we had back in George W. Bush’s days, I think Michael Berube was the first person who’ve made this joke, but the joke was, “Well, yeah, I was a life-long Democrat but then 9/11 happened, and now I’m outraged about Chappaquiddick.” The point is, for those of you young people out here, Chappaquiddick was this scandal where Ted Kennedy was in an automobile accident and Mary Jo Kopechne, a woman who was in the car with him, and he plunged into the river and she died, she drowned and he was able to swim to shore, and survived obviously, and continued in the Senate. And Republicans were outraged though, this was like a terrible thing, and Democrats made excuses for it.

1:33:57.7 SC: And the joke being that once you change your tribal political affiliation, your opinion about this historical event changes along with it, because these are connected to each other. And so, I wanna mention this in the opposite way also, so not just that all of these other opinions will change along with you if you do change your mind about something, but that in order to get someone to change their mind, you have to make it seem reasonable for them to live in a whole another world, right? For them to live in a world where a whole set of beliefs are no longer taken for granted in a certain way. That’s what it means by offering a soft landing.

Anthony Pinn

1:34:33.9 SC: One of the very first podcast I did was with Tony Pinn, who was an atheist theologian, who reaches out to black communities and tries to spread the good word of atheism to them. And one of the points he made over and over again is that black people are very religious in part because atheism does not provide them with a soft landing. You can make a rational argument that God doesn’t exist, but they need to figure out a way to live their lives and in the lives of many black communities, religion plays an important role, and if you simply say, “Well, we’re not gonna replace that role, you gotta learn to live with it,” then they’re not gonna be persuaded to go along with you. So part of persuading the other side and reaching out to it is making them feel welcome. And again, I get it if this seems hard to do, if you just want these people to be punished and they don’t deserve it, etcetera, etcetera, I get that, but that’s gonna make living in a democracy harder for all of us, if that’s the attitude we all take.

The key takeaway point makes the third point here the one to think about the most:

 


Applying Bayesian Reasoning to Trump’s Claims of Election Fraud

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by Neil Godfrey

From the transcript of Sean Carroll’s Mindscape program, 129| Solo: Democracy in America [h/t Bob Moore]

0:15:13.8 SC: . . . . the idea that the election was stolen was made by a whole bunch of partisan actors, but it was also, I think, importantly, taken up as something worth considering, even if not necessarily true, by various contrarian, centrist pundits, right?

0:16:32.1 SC: . . . . So the answer I would have put forward is, “No. [chuckle] It was never worth taking that kind of claim seriously.” . . . . We like to talk here about being Bayesian, and in fact, it’s almost a cliche in certain corners of the internet talking about being good Bayesians, and what is meant by that is, for a set of propositions like the election was stolen, the election was not stolen. Okay, two propositions mutually exclusive, so you assign prior probabilities or prior credences to these propositions being true. So you might say,

      • “Well, elections are not usually stolen, so the credence I would put on that claim my prior is very, very small.
      • And the credence I would put on it not being stolen is very large.”

So we collect the data that will help us assess which proposition is the more likely. If the data is not what we would expect if X were true, then we revise our estimation that X really did happen. If the data we collect is exactly what we would expect to find if X were true, then we can be confident that X is indeed most likely true.

0:18:51.0 SC: . . . . So in a case like this where a bunch of people are saying, “Oh, there was election fraud, irregularities, the counting was off by this way or that way. It all seems suspicious.” You should ask yourself, “Did I expect that to happen?” The point is that if you expected exactly those claims to be made, even if the underlying proposition that the election was stolen is completely false, then seeing those claims being made provides zero evidence for you to change your credences whatsoever. Okay? So to make that abstract statement a little more down to earth, in the case of the elections being stolen, how likely was it that if Donald Trump did not win the election, that he and his allies would claim the election was stolen independent of whether it was, okay? What was the probability that he was going to say that there were irregularities and it was stolen?

0:20:19.6 SC: Well, a 100%, roughly speaking, 99.999, if you wanna be little bit more meta-physically careful, but they announced ahead of time that they were going to make those claims, right? He had been saying for months that the very idea of voting by mail is irregular and was going to lead to fraud, and they worked very hard to make the process difficult, both to cast votes and then to count them, different states had different ways of counting, certain states were prohibited from counting mail in ballots ahead of time. The Democrats were much more likely to vote by mail than the Republicans were, they slowed down the postal service, trying to make it take longer for mail-in votes to get there. There’s it’s a whole bunch of things going on in prior elections in the primaries, Trump had accused his opponents of rigging the election and stealing votes without any evidence.

0:21:15.3 SC: So your likelihood to function, that you would see these claims rise up even if the underlying proposition was not true, is basically, 100%. And therefore, as a good Bayesian, the fact that people were raising questions about the integrity of the election means nothing. It’s just what you expect to happen.

Oh someone claimed that something’s going on, therefore it’s my job to evaluate it and wait for more evidence to come in.

The data we need to see in order to take the claims of fraud seriously:

If you really want to spend any effort at all taking a claim like this seriously, you have to go beyond that simple thing, “Oh someone claimed that something’s going on, therefore it’s my job to evaluate it and wait for more evidence to come in.”

You should ask further questions, “What else should I expect to be true if this claim was correct?” For example, if the Democrats had somehow been able to get a lot of false ballots, rig elections, you would expect to see certain patterns, like Democrats winning a lot of elections, they had been predicted to lose different cities where or locations more broadly, where the frauds were purported to happen would be ones where anomalously large percentages of people were voting for Biden rather than Trump.

0:22:28.3 SC: In both cases, in both the idea that you would predict Democrats winning elections, they had been predicted lose and places where fraud was alleged to have happened would be anomalously pro-Biden it was the opposite. And you could instantly see that it was the opposite, right after election day.

      • The Democrats lost elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate that they were favored to win.

So they were very bad at packing the ballots, if that’s really what they were trying to do.

      • In cities like Philadelphia where it was alleged that a great voter fraud was taking place, Trump did better in 2020 than he did in 2016.

So right away, without working very hard, you know this is egregious bullshit, there is no duty to think, to take seriously, to spend your time worrying about the likely truth of this outrageous claim, all of which is completely compatible with every evidence, the falsity of which is completely compatible with all the evidence we have.

0:23:32.2 SC: So just to make it dramatic, let me spend a little bit of time here… Let me give you an aside, which is my favorite example of what I mean by this kind of attitude because it is very tricky. You should never, and I’m very happy to admit, you should never assign zero credence to essentially any crazy claim. That would be bad practice as a good Bayesian because if you assign assigned zero credence to any claim, then no amount of new evidence would ever change your mind. Okay? You’re taking the prior probability multiplying it with the likelihood, but at if the prior probability is zero, then it doesn’t matter what the likelihood is, you’re always gonna get zero at the end. And you should be open to the idea that evidence could come in that this outrageous claim is true, that the election was stolen, it’s certainly plausible that such evidence would come in.

0:24:21.9 SC: Now it didn’t, right, when actually they did have their day in court, they were laughed … out of court because they had zero evidence, even all the way up to January 6th when people in Congress were raising a stink about the election not being fair, they still had no evidence. The only claim they could make was that people were upset and people had suspicions, right? Even months later, so there was never any evidence that it was worth taking seriously. But nevertheless, even without that, I do think you should give some credence and therefore you have to do the hard work of saying, “Well, I’m giving it some non-zero credence, but so little that it’s not really worth spending even a minute worrying about it.” That’s a very crucial distinction to draw, and it’s very hard to do.


2021-01-14

But then it got privatized

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by Neil Godfrey

Getty image: from Bari Weiss’s article

We were promised the Internet would be better than democracy. But then it got privatized. Corporations own it. There is no online bill of rights. There is only the frenzy of the mob and fickle choices of a few billionaires.

Please spare me the impoverished argument about the free market and private companies not being bound by the constitution. Barring businesses from using online payment systems; removing companies from the App Store; banning people from social media — these are the equivalent of telling people they can’t open a bank account or start a business or drive down a street. (To my mind, David Sacks, who has spent his career building and funding tech companies, has been articulating this more powerfully than anyone out there. Follow him here.)

That almost every credentialed journalist and liberal public intellectual appears to be cheering on this development because it’s happening to the Bad People is grotesque. They will look like fools much faster than they realize.

Bari Weiss – The Great Unraveling: The old order is dead. What comes next? 

David Sacks: Mend it, don’t end it  . . . .

. . . . .

A Path to Peace

Fortunately, Dorsey and Zuckerberg will get a second chance to sue for peace when they are hauled before the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 17 to discuss how Section 230 could be meaningfully reformed. This could be an important moment for the entire internet and Dorsey and Zuckerberg should meet it by offering the terms of a peace treaty in which they pledge the following:

1. We will protect any speech that is protected under the First Amendment. Rather than trying to improvise our own policies with respect to speech, we will instead focus on operationalizing these First Amendment principles based upon established Supreme Court case law.

2. We will double down on our authenticity rules and procedures. To say anything on our platforms, you must really be who you say you are. We will crack down on impersonation, fake accounts, “sock puppets”, or any kind of foreign interference.

3. We will provide users with the tools they need to curate content for themselves. For instance, we will give users the ability to hide or delete offensive comments to their posts. By having users regulate speech instead of us, it preserves neutrality because all users have an equal opportunity to decide for themselves what speech they do and don’t want to encounter on our platforms. User curation will reduce offensive content, without the need for censorship.

4. We would welcome further guidance from the Supreme Court as to when and how hate speech can be regulated. If the Supreme Court were to define a segment of hate speech not currently covered under the existing First Amendment exceptions and declare it unprotected, then we would regulate that speech on our platforms according to their guidance. But we realize that as the de facto public square, we are better off adopting the First Amendment as our standard than trying to improvise our own, and don’t want to arrogantly substitute our judgment for that of the Court, who has a more than two-century head start on us in grappling with difficult speech issues. The Court’s history shows that there will always be hard cases when applying First Amendment principles, but at least we can all agree on what those principles are.

5. While we are proposing to abide by First Amendment guidelines voluntarily, we understand if you insist on binding our hands by altering the language in Section 230(C)(2) to require it. This will put the First Amendment in its rightful place as the arbiter of acceptable speech in the public square. Once those changes are made, we hope you will agree that the rest of Section 230 has been a boon to online innovation and diversity that is worth keeping in place. To paraphrase Bill Clinton on the subject of affirmative action, “mend it, don’t end it.”

Conclusion

Such a set of proposals could really improve the perception of Facebook and Twitter, in Washington and throughout the United States. In the short run, it will lower the political temperature and tamp down calls for Section 230 repeal. Long term, it will make life as a social media platform so much easier. No more will the C-suites of these companies have to white-knuckle it through every election cycle, worried that some decision they made or didn’t make will get them blamed for the end of democracy. Yes, politicians will still “work the refs,” and ambiguous cases will present themselves, but if the First Amendment always gets the last word, everyone will have to respect that. What is the point of Twitter and Facebook taking so much flak for creating their own standard of protected speech when one already exists that has been chiseled into the granite of American custom, tradition, and law?


2021-01-10

Really Hoping this Professor is Wrong

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by Neil Godfrey

Peter Neumann is in my library (The Strategy of Terrorism, Radicalized, Bluster) and I have briefly referred to his words in earlier posts (Radicalisation and On how to be completely wrong…). I’ve mostly found him to be right, though. Hope he’s wrong about the future, though.


2021-01-04

“Oh my god” sums it up — what relief!

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by Neil Godfrey

I had been following the trial over the past months and got the impression that the judge was scoffing at Assange the whole time. So this has been a very tense day. I was glued to the tweets (from Mary Kostakidis) second by second and have copied them here “as it happened” — they need to be read in reverse order, from the bottom and up to the top. It was a nerve-wracking read in real time, expecting the worst.

 

 

Meanwhile there is a break apparently pending a decision on bail. It’s not over yet, but my god what a wonderful surprise that decision was today!


2020-12-29

Thinking of a Postcapitalist Future in the Midst of the Pandemic

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by Neil Godfrey

Between April and July 2020, as the pandemic’s first wave was surging, the collective stash of the world’s billionaires grew by 28 per cent and many millionaires joined their ranks.
From the Brave New Europe website

Since 2008 and especially the Covid lockdown the IMF has been dramatically changing course and are now advocating increasing taxes on the wealthy and reducing inequality. Why the change of “heart”?

It is not, of course, concern for the billions of people driven into despair that has energised the likes of the IMF and UBS to call for action against breathtaking inequality. Their worry is that so much wealth has been siphoned off by the rich that the spending power remaining in the hands of the many is too feeble to keep demand up and capitalism in reasonable health. Like a lethal virus that rapidly killed off its host, and thus driving itself into extinction, capitalism is undermining itself by impoverishing and disempowering the “little” people.

At this point anyone still interested in a Marxist analysis of where we are now at should read an article from 2018 by the same author – Yanis Varoufakis: Marx predicted our present crisis – and points the way out. I’ll quote one part of that piece where Varoufakis addresses head-on the typical objections to anything that rhymes with Marxism:

On the topic of dystopia, the sceptical reader will perk up: what of the manifesto’s own complicity in legitimising authoritarian regimes and steeling the spirit of gulag guards? Instead of responding defensively, pointing out that no one blames Adam Smith for the excesses of Wall Street, or the New Testament for the Spanish Inquisition, we can speculate how the authors of the manifesto might have answered this charge. I believe that, with the benefit of hindsight, Marx and Engels would confess to an important error in their analysis: insufficient reflexivity. This is to say that they failed to give sufficient thought, and kept a judicious silence, over the impact their own analysis would have on the world they were analysing.

The manifesto told a powerful story in uncompromising language, intended to stir readers from their apathy. What Marx and Engels failed to foresee was that powerful, prescriptive texts have a tendency to procure disciples, believers – a priesthood, even – and that this faithful might use the power bestowed upon them by the manifesto to their own advantage. With it, they might abuse other comrades, build their own power base, gain positions of influence, bed impressionable students, take control of the politburo and imprison anyone who resists them.

Similarly, Marx and Engels failed to estimate the impact of their writing on capitalism itself. To the extent that the manifesto helped fashion the Soviet Union, its eastern European satellites, Castro’s Cuba, Tito’s Yugoslavia and several social democratic governments in the west, would these developments not cause a chain reaction that would frustrate the manifesto’s predictions and analysis? After the Russian revolution and then the second world war, the fear of communism forced capitalist regimes to embrace pension schemes, national health services, even the idea of making the rich pay for poor and petit bourgeois students to attend purpose-built liberal universities. Meanwhile, rabid hostility to the Soviet Union stirred up paranoia and created a climate of fear that proved particularly fertile for figures such as Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot.

I believe that Marx and Engels would have regretted not anticipating the manifesto’s impact on the communist parties it foreshadowed. They would be kicking themselves that they overlooked the kind of dialectic they loved to analyse: how workers’ states would become increasingly totalitarian in their response to capitalist state aggression, and how, in their response to the fear of communism, these capitalist states would grow increasingly civilised.

Blessed, of course, are the authors whose errors result from the power of their words. Even more blessed are those whose errors are self-correcting. In our present day, the workers’ states inspired by the manifesto are almost gone, and the communist parties disbanded or in disarray. Liberated from competition with regimes inspired by the manifesto, globalised capitalism is behaving as if it is determined to create a world best explained by the manifesto.

I highlighted that last sentence: with the collapse of regimes claiming to represent Marxism the capitalist world has felt at liberty to catapult itself into the direction and extreme inequality that Marx and Engels predicted. Then steam power was the technology that was transforming society; today it is artificial intelligence and automation. Back to the BNE article . . .

Today, three companies – BlackRock, Vanguard and State Street – own at least 40 per cent of all American public companies and nearly 90 per cent of those listed in the New York Stock Exchange.

 

Dystopic post-capitalism

Under this dystopic post-capitalism, our techno-feudal lords have the power to manipulate our behaviour at an industrial scale advertisers could never even dream of. Moreover, whereas in years past, extreme poverty hit mostly the unskilled, the rural and the marginalised workers, now it is spreading to white collar professionals, to well-educated people stuck at home or in sectors fast declining, to fading city centres, to artists, musicians and people that used to survive well by doing creative things while doing odd jobs.

If I am right that we are already in the early phase of a spontaneously evolved grim post-capitalism, maybe it is time to start designing, rationally and together, a desirable post-capitalism. But where to begin?

The article Designing a Postcapitalist Future in the Midst of the Pandemic offers some interesting ideas on “where to begin”. (My recent post, No bosses, no wages, no problem began with an explanation that the main text was quoted from a “sci fi” novel but it is actually a serious work that explores alternatives to our current situation. The “sci fi” is merely the “delight” portion of the “teach and delight” method. In the same post I inserted sections from the real company near Seattle on which the ideas are based. So the fiction is “based on a true story”, as they say.)


Tyrannies and Godfathers

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by Neil Godfrey

China’s Communist Party jails a Chinese citizen journalist for four years for reporting a narrative inconsistent with the one the authorities sought to present:

Her live reports and essays were widely shared on social media platforms in February, grabbing the attention of authorities, who have punished eight virus whistle-blowers so far as they try to stamp out criticism of the government’s response to the outbreak.

UK, Australia and the US have acted even more viciously against Julian Assange:

 

Meanwhile in the US, with the acquiescence of the Republican Party —  Trump’s Pardons Show He’s Just a Mob Boss; His Presidency Is a Criminal Enterprise

Trump’s choices made clear he is a crime boss.

Four Blackwater mercenaries who, working for Trump ally Erik Prince murdered Iraqi civilians, were pardoned. But there was no pardon for Jeremy Ridgeway, the soldier-for-hire who pleaded guilty to manslaughter, testified against the others and was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison.

Roger Stone, dirty trickster confidant; former General Michael Flynn, national security adviser who was on the Kremlin payroll; and 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort were pardoned. But Trump didn’t pardon Manafort deputy Rick Gates, who turned state’s evidence and confessed.

Earlier, Trump pardoned Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor convicted of trying to sell a Senate seat. But there was no pardon for lawyer Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime fixer who confessed to committing felonies at the direction of unindicted co-conspirator “Individual 1,” identified in federal court as Trump.

In true mobster fashion, Trump once referred to Cohen as a “rat” for confessing. He praised Manafort for not “flipping” to testify against him.

The boss takes care of friends and allies if they lie for the boss or keep silent, but does nothing for those who cooperate with law enforcement.

2020-12-28

No bosses, no wages, no problem

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by Neil Godfrey

Yanis Varoufakis

Extract from a “science fiction” novel, understanding that “science fiction is the archaeology of the future” . . .

‘OK, here is how we do things,’ began Kosti’s account of the corporation in which he worked. ‘No one tells anyone what to do. We choose freely the persons or teams that we want to work with and also how much time to devote to competing projects. Everything in our company is in flux. Staff move about, new teams are formed, older projects die, new undertakings are concocted. No bosses to order anyone around. Spontaneous order and personal responsibility overcome the fear of chaos.’

This constant flux was a design feature of corporate life in the Other Now, Kosti explained. When hierarchies are used to match people with particular roles and teams, the result is clumsy, inefficient, oppressive. Status anxiety and the need to satisfy one’s superiors make full transparency impossible. People are kept in the dark about the relative attractiveness or drawbacks of working with particular managers or colleagues, how happy or dysfunctional teams are, how rewarding or boring different projects. Hierarchies simply perpetuate and expand themselves, resulting in a terrible mismatch between a person’s standing and what they actually contribute. Even the hierarchy’s great advantage, of ensuring that all posts are staffed at all times, is a hidden loss.

Under the flat management model, Kosti acknowledged, there are frequent gaps. But the fact that they are observable to all makes them useful. When people notice an empty spot where David’s desk used to be on the sixth floor, and then discover on the company’s intranet that he moved to the fourth floor to work with Tammy, Dick and Harriet, everybody learns something important about the value of the work being done in that nook on the fourth floor. With people voting freely with their feet, an ongoing collective assessment takes place of each project’s relative value. If unpredictability is the price of staff autonomy, it is a small one to pay, Kosti reported.

Pie in the sky? Not so, but a model based on reality:

A $4-billion company with no managers? Can it be?

Global video-game producer says employees can spend 100 percent of their time developing whatever they want. There isn’t even a human resources department. Is this sustainable?

At Google, employees are granted 10 percent of their time to work on any project they like. At Valve, a video-game producer, they have pushed that autonomy to 100 percent of employees’ time. Is such a free-form business model sustainable? 

. . . .

The company prides itself on the fact that there are no bosses, at least in the traditional sense of the word, Varoufakis says in the interview, posted at EconTalk. “It is a bit disconcerting for people who enter Valve, because there is no one there to tell them what to do,” he says. “So it’s a flat management, spontaneous order kind of operation, which creates a very interesting phenomenon from a managerial perspective, and actually from the perspective of people who try to live and work within it.”

‘But surely there must be a hierarchy when it comes to recruitment?’ Costa asked. ‘Surely there are menial tasks that no one would choose to perform?’

‘No, no hierarchy is involved at any level – not even in recruitment or the assignment of shitty chores,’ replied Kosti. New staff are taken on informally, he explained, without the need for a personnel department. If Tammy and David need, say, a graphic designer to work with them but cannot find one within the firm, they post a notice on the intranet announcing themselves as the initial search committee, inviting others to join them if they wish. Once assembled, the impromptu committee places an ad on the company’s public website to solicit applications. The committee then compiles a shortlist and conducts interviews, which anyone in the company is entitled to witness either remotely, via the intranet, or in person. Finally, Tammy, David and the rest of the search team post their recommendation, and anyone who wants to is able to cast a vote either against or in favour of their chosen candidate.

The same process is used, no matter the job, including for secretarial or run-of-the-mill accounting positions for example. New staff are recruited on the understanding that, once in the company, no one can force them to be secretaries or accountants. And indeed, Kosti explained, it is often the case that people recruited for these tasks eventually branch out into more creative roles in a way that no hierarchy would ever allow. But more often than not, perhaps out of a sense of moral obligation, they provide the services for which they were originally employed for sufficiently lengthy periods.

Varoufakis brands this style of anti-management as “anarcho-syndicalism,” but a less academic term for it may be that it is a highly entrepreneurially charged culture. In fact, he notes, compensation is based more on bonuses than actual fixed salary, which is a minimal part of the package. A couple of decades back, John Naisbitt, a business futurist, predicted that businesses would evolve into “confederations of entrepreneurs” — and Valve may be a classic example of such a confederation, or clustering of startups and small ventures.

Teams are ad-hoc, and people voluntarily join with others to collaborate on new projects in which they are interested.

There is no pressure for employees to be at their desks or workstations at any time, but people are expected to fit in and contribute value . . . . 

‘But what about pay?’ Costa was impressed but still incredulous. ‘Surely someone must decide who gets what?’ Continue reading “No bosses, no wages, no problem”


2020-12-22

Why would anyone embrace a nobody as a mythical leader?

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by Neil Godfrey

Speaking of certain debates that surround the Jesus figure I found the following passage by a historian of Luddism quite interesting:

From madamegilflurt.com

One reason for [the impact that Luddism made at the time] was the ubiquity of the name. Previous labor struggles had failed to give rise to a name or an emblem that stuck. Those involved had rarely given themselves a title and were generically labeled by the authorities simply as ‘‘depradators,’’ ‘‘the disaffected,’’ or, more frequently, ‘‘the mob.’’ Yet the machine breakers of 1811–12 were referred to almost from the start as ‘‘Luddites,’’ the name they gave themselves. This self-depiction as the followers of ‘‘Ned Ludd,’’ who was soon promoted to ‘‘General,’’ merits some consideration. After all, the perhaps apocryphal Ned was, at first sight, hardly a heroic figure. An apprentice stocking-frame knitter, he had, the story ran, been criticized for making his hose too loose. He was therefore instructed to ‘‘square his needles,’’ namely to adjust the mechanism of his frame. Ned allegedly took this instruction literally and, with a hammer, flattened the entire workings. Frame breaking certainly characterized the East Midland disturbances in 1811, but the targets were only the ‘‘wide’’ frames that produced ‘‘deceitfully wrought’’ hose, not frames in general. Naming oneself after such a figure at the least indicates a sense of irony and self-deprecation that is remarkable, perhaps reflecting the way in which Burke’s scornful ascription of the common people as ‘‘the swinish multitude’’ was turned into a badge of honor by plebeian radicals in the 1790s. Certainly, in no time Ned acquired a fame that set him above a far more famous local hero:

Chant no more your old rhymes about bold Robin Hood,
His feats I but little admire
I will sing the Atchievements of General Ludd
Now the Hero of Nottinghamshire.*

Robin had famously robbed the rich to give to the poor and defended the weak against arbitrary baronial power. But Ned Ludd epitomized the right of the poor to earn their own livelihood and to defend the customs of their trade against dishonorable capitalist depredators. While Robin, a displaced gentleman, signified paternal protection, Ned Ludd evidenced the sturdy self-reliance of a community prepared to resist for itself the notion that market forces rather than moral values should shape the fate of labor. Ned Ludd was not only a symbol of plebeian resistance; he was an ideological figure as well, one who reflected the deep sense of history that underpinned the customary values of working communities in the manufacturing districts.

* ‘‘General Ludd’s Triumph,’’ sung to the tune ‘‘Poor Jack’’: HO 42/119. This song summarized the aim of the East Midland Luddites, and indeed the aspiration of many other trades, namely that ‘‘full-fashioned work at the old fashioned price’’ should be ‘‘established by Custom and Law.’’ The capitalization of Custom and Law was original and deliberate, signifying the importance of both to artisans everywhere.

(Binfield, xiii-xiv)


Binfield, Kevin. Writings of the Luddites. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015. — h/t Droge, Arthur J. “Jesus and Ned Ludd: What’s in a Name?” Caesar: A Journal for the Critical Study of Religion and Human Values 3 (2009): 5.


 


2020-12-07

The Why and What of WikiLeaks — and the Fear and Self-Censorship Response

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

When WikiLeaks first appeared in 2006 . . . human rights lawyers immediately paid attention. WikiLeaks was publishing important information that had been kept from the public but was essential for human rights accountability.

Julian Assange’s 2006 OKCupid dating profile using the name Harry Harrison:

“WARNING: Want a regular, down to earth guy? Keep moving. I am not the droid you are looking for. Save us both while you still can. Passionate, and often pig headed activist intellectual seeks siren for love affair, children and occasional criminal conspiracy. Such a woman should be spirited and playful, of high intelligence, though not necessarily formally educated, have spunk, class & inner strength and be able to think strategically about the world and the people she cares about.

“I like women from countries that have sustained political turmoil.
Western culture seems to forge women that are valueless and inane. OK. Not only women!

“Although I am pretty intellectually and physically pugnacious I am very protective of women and children.

“I am DANGER, ACHTUNG, and ??????????????!”

“Harry” went on to say he was directing a “consuming, dangerous, human rights project which is, as you might expect, male dominated”. . . . The profile warned: “Do not write to me if you are timid. I am too busy. Write to me if you are brave.”

Investigative journalism depends on leaks

Principled government bureaucrats hand journalists documents when they see wrongdoing because they believe the public ought to know what the government is really up to. Principled corporate employees hand journalists confidential documents, which demonstrate the unlawful or unethical practices of powerful corporations. Whatever the public interest is in the material disclosed, public and private sector whistleblowers can face criminal and civil legal action for ensuring the public has the information we need to hold these powerful interests to account

The imperative to protect journalists’ sources

Protection of journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions for press freedom … Without such protection, sources may be deterred from assisting the press in informing the public on matters of public interest. As a result the vital public-watchdog role of the press may be undermined and the ability of the press to provide accurate and reliable information may be adversely affected. — European Court of Human Rights, ‘Factsheet: Protection of Journalistic Sources’, February 2019 [pdf]

This is why WikiLeaks is so dangerous to those in power with something to hide – and why WikiLeaks must be defended and protected.

The role of Wikileaks

Unfortunately, however, in many places around the world journalists can face prosecution if they refuse to reveal their source.

WikiLeaks’ model provides a practical solution: its anonymous submission system was specifically designed to provide protection to journalists and whistleblowers that the law does not provide, thereby providing greater encouragement to sources to come forward to better enable ‘the vital public-watchdog role of the press’. Together with its robust publication policy, WikiLeaks provides sources better protection and a promise that their material – once verified – will be published. And published with maximum global effect: rather than documents being the preserve of certain elite journalists in the world’s capitals, WikiLeaks makes its information available to journalists, citizen journalists, activists and lawyers the world over.

This is why WikiLeaks is so dangerous to those in power with something to hide – and why WikiLeaks must be defended and protected.

A partial list of significant publications

The classified Guantanamo Bay manual detailing US torture techniques

The Minton report detailing Trafigura’s toxic dump on the Ivory Coast affecting over 100,000 people which the company had suppressed with a gag order in the UK

Collateral Murder, a video showing the US military killing two Reuters employees in Iraq

The Afghan War Diary, then ‘the most significant archive about the reality of war to have ever been released during the course of a war’ [revealing the Australian government lied when it announced the withdrawal of most Australian combat troops from Afghanistan]

The Iraq War Logs – the largest leak in US military history . . . The documents demonstrated there were many thousands more civilian deaths than reported or acknowledged by the US government, as well as the systemic failure to investigate reports of abuse, torture, rape and even murder by Iraqi forces and abuse in US detention facilities. [The Iraq War Logs were used by lawyers in filing a case against the UK before the International Criminal Court.]

Cablegate became known as ‘the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain’ and there is no denying the overwhelming public interest in the material. From Tunisia to Tonga, Canberra to Cairo, and the West Bank to West Papua, WikiLeaks disclosures provided an unprecedented insight into the conduct of diplomacy and revealed corruption, abuse of power and human rights abuse the world over. [For example, WikiLeaks disclosures related to West Papua confirmed what those of us working on human rights there have long known – the Indonesian military is engaging in widespread human rights abuse while on the payroll of the huge US/Australian-run Freeport gold and copper mine – but the existence of these documents makes it much harder for our governments to deny that it is happening.] [A cable was cited before the European Court of Human Rights in a CIA rendition case from Italy.] [WikiLeaks cables were cited by lawyers fighting for the rights of the Chagos Islanders against the British government]

Reports about Sri Lankan military operations against the Tamils and in the groundbreaking documentary No Fire Zone, which led to a UN investigation into war crimes, and were cited by Tamil lawyers in London seeking an arrest warrant for former President Rajapaksa.

All of the above quotations and data is from Jennifer Robinson‘s chapter in A Secret Australia. I have added the links. The dating profile comes from Leigh and Harding’s WikiLeaks

See also: List of material published by WikiLeaks (Wikipedia); for a brief review of WikiLeaks releases relevant to Australia up to early 2011, see Michelle Fahy, with Bill Williams, Sue Wareham and Gerry Schulz, What has WikiLeaks Revealed?, Medical Association for Prevention of War, January 2011. (Cited by Richard Tanter in A Secret Australia)

One would think that the Australian government would be doing something to protect democracy’s and Assange’s interests. One would also think that all journalists and scholars would be going out of their way to make use of the material and the questions it all raises. The following observations are depressing:

Academic self-censorship

Given more than half a century of such apparently successful attempts to displace attention from the actual nature and consequences of US foreign policy and that of its allies, it is surprising how little academics in Australia have directly utilised the documentary evidence provided by WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden, or used the issues raised by them as a stimulus to further inquiry. Displacement on an institutional scale prevails, in part as a result of purposive state action, and partly the consequence of academic self-censorship.18 — Richard Tanter, “WikiLeaks, Australia and Empire”, A Secret Australia, pp. 23 f

18 On self-censorship in academic international relations, see the Forum ‘Censorship in Security Studies’ in the Journal of Global Security Studies, vol. 1, issue 4, November 2016, pp. 323-360, especially Benoît Pelopidas, ‘Nuclear Weapons Scholarship as a Case of Self-Censorship in Security Studies’ and Richard Ned Lebow, ‘Self-Censorship in International Relations and Security Studies’. — pp. 40 f

And giving Assange the last say in this post:

Of course the phenomena that occurs with us, and that we arc able to document in quite a concrete way, simply reflects the corruption of US academia and English-speaking academia more generally in terms of its understanding of international relations, because of its over-proximity to the State Department, in terms of feeder schools, or think-tanks where people aspire to security clearance or they have other forms of proximity to it, or they are scared about being prosecuted, That has been going on for decades. So the description we have of the world is not the description of the world as it actually exists, because our description of the world rests significantly on what academics have been able to do, and what journalists have been able to do. Enormous sections of that are opaque as a result of this type of self-censorship. So we had to produce a book instead. — Julian Assange in Scott Ludlam and Julian Assange, “Despair and Defiance: An Audience with Julian Assange”, A Secret Australia, p. 215


Cronau, Peter, and Felicity Ruby, eds. A Secret Australia: Revealed by the WikiLeaks Exposés. Clayton, Vic.: Monash University Publishing, 2020.

Leigh, David, and Luke Harding. WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy. London: Guardian Books, 2011.

See also:

Brevini, Benedetta, Arne Hintz, and Patrick McCurdy, eds. Beyond WikiLeaks: Implications for the Future of Communications, Journalism and Society. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.


 


2020-12-04

The antidote to George Orwell’s memory hole in 1984

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by Neil Godfrey

Assange now faces 18 charges related to publishing information leaked to WikiLeaks that attract 175 years in jail.2

2 Julian Assange charged under Espionage Act in unprecedented attack on First Amendment

Of the charges, 17 relate to publication, and one to acting to protect the identity of his source. He is not charged with doing anything other than what any journalist might do in the course of their work. . . .

The propaganda campaign to smear the name of Julian Assange has intentionally tried to divert the public from the message, from the information he has made available to all, about how governments lie to and betray their own citizens. So threatened have been the powers that be in the United States by the information released by WikiLeaks that prominent figures and politicians have called for his extrajudicial execution.

So effective has been that smear campaign in the mainstream media that the narrative many held about Assange was changed from him being a ‘truth-telling hero’ to being some sort of ‘evil and perverted traitor’. The facts have been ignored as this contest for a narrative continues. There can be no excuses for the abandonment of Julian Assange by the Australian government and by far too many journalists in the mainstream media.

(Ruby and Cronau, p. x)

A Secret Australia does not address the smear campaigns against Assange; it draws attention to his legacy instead.

For responses to the propaganda campaigns against his person see

Some things Julian Assange as said I do not like at all. I may not even particularly like to get too close to him as a person. But none of that matters. None of that should distract us from the political issue and the contributions Wikileaks has made in the interests of a free society.

Here is a recent discussion about “Wikileaks and its continuing influence on journalism and foreign policy” (on the Late Night Live program) involving several of the contributors to the new publication A Secret Australia.

Mentioned briefly in that discussion were the following four specific innovations Wikileaks introduced to journalism:

1. The Anonymous, Secure Digital Dropbox

When WikiLeaks introduced its dropbox, everything changed – and not just for those who read the news. It immediately put pressure on other journalists and media outlets to start taking the digital security of sources more seriously. . . . 

 

2. Verification Journalism

The use of datasets to figure out ‘What is the story?’ had been around before WikiLeaks, but the online publisher popularised it by having an enormous political impact that was difficult for anyone to ignore.

More to the point, WikiLeaks mainstreamed the concept of providing the full dataset so we could see if what was being reported was true. . . . 

 

3. Global Collaborative Journalism

WikiLeaks has innovated in global publishing as well, introducing a new model for large-scale collaborative global partnerships publishing across many media outlets with many different owners. Historically, media outlets have been competitive with each other – get the story, get it exclusively, and run it before your rival. WikiLeaks completely flipped this thinking. It built an alliance estimated to include at least 89 media partnerships across the world to analyse and publish the US State Department cables. . . . 

 

4. Journalism as a Permanent Record and Archive in the Digital Age

WikiLeaks’ model of journalism offers another benefit in the form of the digital archive.

. . . . One of Julian Assange’s greatest worries has been how easily truth can disappear in the digital age and how easily the historical record can be erased. Newspapers can silently remove news stories from their archival databases, and, with that act, the evidence of history. The story disappears. Evidence of what really happened on that day and place may not exist anywhere else.

The WikiLeaks innovation of not just publishing but keeping a public archive of all its source material supporting its journalistic stories is important. It allows the reader to verify the news story at the time it is published, but it also serves as a kind of failsafe for the future. As long as the archive is kept intact and available, it prevents the history that was reported in the stories based on it from ever being fully erased, even if the stories themselves are taken down by media partners. It is the antidote to George Orwell’s memory hole in 1984 . . . . 

(Dreyfus (in A Secret Australia), pp. 55-61)

Check it out: https://wikileaks.org/


Cronau, Peter, and Felicity Ruby, eds. A Secret Australia: Revealed by the WikiLeaks Exposés. Clayton, Vic.: Monash University Publishing, 2020.


 


2020-11-30

Assange

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by Neil Godfrey


2020-11-26

On Internet Censorship and Mainstream Propaganda, Substance and Image in Domestic and International Political Power

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

I still recall those early days of the internet when it was said to be in some sort of “wild west” stage of development, when we could talk about it being a great democratizing medium . . . but now, in this interview with Glenn Greenwald, the focus is on the new reality of censorship and the forces behind that censorship.

Also of interest: the role of progressives like Bernie Sanders and AOC in the Democratic Party; looking beyond styles to a comparison of what was actually done by the Obama-Biden administration in contrast with Trump’s term; how the different styles have real significance for US power relationships in the world and the perpetuation of wars and harsh treatment of refugees; . . . .

 


2020-11-24

Petition for Australian readers re David McBride

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by Neil Godfrey

Invitation to sign the online petition to Australia’s Attorney-General, Christian Porter. — From change.org:

David McBride (Photo from Sydney Morning Herald)

In light of the Defence Dept releasing the Breton Report on the Afghan Files investigation it is even clearer that the Government did everything they could to muzzle David McBride. Mr McBride reported internally the information contained in the newly released report and was effectively managed out of the Defence Dept. After he informed some journalists of what he knew this Government had him charged and he is facing the possibility of a 50 year prison sentence.. We now know heinous crimes have been committed by a small number of SAS members and they will face criminal trials and hopefully time in prison. The stench of this Australian Government corruption is strong.

The Australian people call on the Attorney General to drop the charges pending against David McBride. Some of us are wondering if the LNP went down this path in order to attempt to protect a current sitting member of Parliament. The Attorney General has already conceded charges against the journalists could not be pursued. It is now time to admit the grave error he made by pursuing David McBride.

It was good to read a piece by Geoffrey Robertson

His conclusion:

I know from my own experience of presiding over a war crimes court just how hard it is for witnesses to come forward if threatened with reprisals – especially from “mates”. This takes even more courage than needs to be shown on a battlefield. Each should be given, because they deserve it, an Order of Australia.