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Rage against the Algorithm
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Author:  Interbane [ Tue Nov 03, 2020 7:16 am ]
Post subject:  Rage against the Algorithm

There's increasing attention on the true culprit of polarization and division, which are the algorithms that control our social media feeds. I'd like to discuss this at length, but I'll start by posting links to content worth digesting.

An article in Scientific American on how our biases are tapped.

The Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma.

The Story of Usseries by the comic Wait but Why. The name might be misleading, it's cerebral. Parts 3, 4, and 5 deal more with the issue I'm talking about, but parts 1 and 2 have some fantastic foundational concepts.

I think this is one of the greatest short term existential threats we face. In part because at no time while you're browsing social media do the alarms ever trigger in your mind. It doesn't feel like harm is being done.

The rabbit holes so many people around me are falling into are best fought with a friend holding a flashlight. But it takes superhuman tact, since the enemy behind the curtain is a supercomputer AI. Not that I'm implying intent or malevolence, just a lot of processing power.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Sun Nov 08, 2020 4:32 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Rage against the Algorithm

So, that's a funny title. Since the point of the algorithm is to foster rage. Well, not exactly, but people are more likely to pound away at the keyboard well past 11 if they are confronting malevolent stupidity than if they are intrigued by something they would like to think about together.

I got really sucked in at first. It was exhilarating to explain progressive Christianity to people who only know the Franklin Graham type. People whose views of religion were shaped by 911 and Charlie Hebdo and Christopher Hitchens. I spent a lot of earnest hours on other sites before arriving, more or less calmed down, at Booktalk. But I also saw some really unhealthy social dynamics. And had a nagging feeling that the conversation was not a conversation.

Maybe we have made some progress, but there are still so many opportunities for going down a rabbit hole. I have friends from high school who routinely post on FB that the MSM lies constantly and that the Ukraine scandal was a mess of cherry-picking to try to create a scandal where nothing really happened. The phone call was perfect, yadda yadda.

And beneath it all lurks the Algorithm. In an ecology based on grabbing people's attention, the seduction of knowing what your neighbor doesn't hear about, and standing for values that are under attack by dark forces, is going to pull in a lot of what Eric Hoffer referred to, in "The True Believer," with a chapter called "And slime they had for mortar." What are the chances of a friend with a flashlight making a difference when a person has come to want to be "in the know"?

Author:  Interbane [ Mon Nov 09, 2020 9:33 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Rage against the Algorithm

Harry wrote:
What are the chances of a friend with a flashlight making a difference when a person has come to want to be "in the know"?


Many people won't engage deeply enough. I have a few acquaintances like that. However, I have a few more that are often taken aback when I point things out. Obvious things like the precise timline for Ukraine events, and how many various entities wanted Shokin removed. The only way this works is playing information roulette, sitting side by side with laptops and digging deep into any point of disagreement. I've learned stuff I didn't know in this manner as well, and some of what I believed has been moderated.

Debating on a forum like this is far different, and more difficult. People can cherry pick what they reply to, and ignore the rest.

Author:  Robert Tulip [ Tue Nov 10, 2020 1:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Rage against the Algorithm

Harry Marks wrote:
So, that's a funny title. Since the point of the algorithm is to foster rage.
There is a Wikipedia page on the political views of the 90s rock band Rage Against The Machine, illustrating the mechanical nature of the empire. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political ... he_Machine The social media algorithm has become the apotheosis of the cynical capitalist machine, despite piles of irony somehow, since social media enables a fake rage based on emotion rather than evidence, purely to make money.
Harry Marks wrote:
people are more likely to pound away at the keyboard well past 11 if they are confronting malevolent stupidity than if they are intrigued by something they would like to think about together.
This theme of collaborative thinking reflects the philosophical tradition of dialectic, epitomised in Plato’s Dialogues. A respectful conversation back and forth between differing perspectives deepens shared understanding.
Harry Marks wrote:
I got really sucked in at first. It was exhilarating to explain progressive Christianity to people who only know the Franklin Graham type. People whose views of religion were shaped by 911 and Charlie Hebdo and Christopher Hitchens. I spent a lot of earnest hours on other sites before arriving, more or less calmed down, at Booktalk. But I also saw some really unhealthy social dynamics. And had a nagging feeling that the conversation was not a conversation.
A conversation may require openness to conversion. That means a willingness to change one’s opinion based on new information and reasoned argument.
Harry Marks wrote:
Maybe we have made some progress, but there are still so many opportunities for going down a rabbit hole. I have friends from high school who routinely post on FB that the MSM lies constantly and that the Ukraine scandal was a mess of cherry-picking to try to create a scandal where nothing really happened. The phone call was perfect, yadda yadda.
Thinking is susceptible to gossip and confirmation bias.
Harry Marks wrote:
And beneath it all lurks the Algorithm. In an ecology based on grabbing people's attention, the seduction of knowing what your neighbor doesn't hear about, and standing for values that are under attack by dark forces, is going to pull in a lot of what Eric Hoffer referred to, in "The True Believer," with a chapter called "And slime they had for mortar." What are the chances of a friend with a flashlight making a difference when a person has come to want to be "in the know"?
I have a pdf of The True Believer, and have previously suggested it as a Booktalk nonfiction selection.
Quote:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_True_Believer
The True Believer: Thoughts On The Nature Of Mass Movements is a non-fiction book authored by American philosopher Eric Hoffer. Published in 1951, it depicts a variety of arguments in terms of applied world history and social psychology to explain why mass movements arise to challenge the status quo. Hoffer discusses the sense of individual identity and the holding to particular ideals that can lead to fanaticism among both leaders and followers. Summary of the book is at https://lifeclub.org/books/the-true-bel ... ew-summary

Author:  Cattleman [ Tue Nov 10, 2020 8:50 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Rage against the Algorithm

This may be a bit off topic, but I think the band Rage Against the Machine took their name, rather their name was inspired by, the Dylan Thomas poem, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," which includes the line "Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

Author:  Interbane [ Tue Nov 10, 2020 9:01 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Rage against the Algorithm

The Biden administration is looking to curb disinformation spreading on facebook:

https://www.businessinsider.com/biden-b ... ck-2020-11

An interesting takeaway from some of the sources I posted above is that there isn't any sign of overt agenda other than making money. Social media feeds are optimized for engagement, utilizing a ton of data on how fast we swipe, how long we look at a post(tallied in milliseconds), whether or not we click through, etc. And AI engines parse all this data and tinker with our feeds nonstop, constantly learning in a cyclical fashion how to increase the engagement/advertisement ratio.

A side effect of this engagement optimization is that, as emotional creatures, we're drawn to sensation. It turns out, fake news spreads up to 6 times faster than real news, as a byproduct of our emotions. Fake news has a form of sensationalism that reality can't compete with I guess. Perhaps real news is far too boring.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Tue Nov 10, 2020 4:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Rage against the Algorithm

Interbane wrote:
Harry wrote:
What are the chances of a friend with a flashlight making a difference when a person has come to want to be "in the know"?


Many people won't engage deeply enough. I have a few acquaintances like that. However, I have a few more that are often taken aback when I point things out. Obvious things like the precise timeline for Ukraine events, and how many various entities wanted Shokin removed. The only way this works is playing information roulette, sitting side by side with laptops and digging deep into any point of disagreement. I've learned stuff I didn't know in this manner as well, and some of what I believed has been moderated.

I am charmed by your experience. It means that you are both willing to follow the truth and question the surface, "spin" versions. I would like to believe most of us Americans prefer truth over error. And since much of the buy-in by real conspiracists is to get some social acceptance and belonging, that same motivation to get the truth has been skewed toward whatever reinforces the prejudices of their social group. So, if you find the people who are willing to, at least on one issue and at least for a time, put truth first, that kind of deep dive sounds promising. The person is getting social reinforcement on an open-ended basis.

I ran into a reference on Facebook (I am back on FB after they showed some willingness to exercise restraint on baseless smears) this week to an article out of MIT's Technology Review that aligns well with what you have experienced.

https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/0 ... l-be-kind/

Interbane wrote:
Debating on a forum like this is far different, and more difficult. People can cherry pick what they reply to, and ignore the rest.
Well, people on these kinds of forums (I don't mind butchering Latin) are often here to spout their view, not to seek truth and understanding. We can usually tell which people are at least in principle open to learning.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Tue Nov 10, 2020 5:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Rage against the Algorithm

Robert Tulip wrote:
Harry Marks wrote:
people are more likely to pound away at the keyboard well past 11 if they are confronting malevolent stupidity than if they are intrigued by something they would like to think about together.
This theme of collaborative thinking reflects the philosophical tradition of dialectic, epitomised in Plato’s Dialogues. A respectful conversation back and forth between differing perspectives deepens shared understanding.
Absolutely. But, oddly enough, one does not have to read Plato very long before realizing that much of the Socratic nature of the dialogues is fake. Plato puts words in the mouth of the person Socrates is debating, and the result is mostly just a spin job to sell Plato's views. I don't want to take away from his brilliance or deny the innovative approach Socrates took. I just think it is amusing that the archetypal example of this approach was not, as far as we can tell, really about respectful conversation between differing perspectives or about deepening shared understanding.

Robert Tulip wrote:
A conversation may require openness to conversion. That means a willingness to change one’s opinion based on new information and reasoned argument.
I recently listened to Brene Brown's "Dare to Lead" (while exercising - love audiiobooks :yes: ) and she observed that trust has been demonstrated to require steady consistency of behavior over many, many small choices. I agree there is a fundamental requirement of a willingness in principle to change one's opinion based on new information and reasoning, but over the long haul it doesn't matter so much that you change your views as that you demonstrate that the other person is heard (respectfully). I am quite open to hearing perspectives I am very unlikely to ever adopt much of, and freely confess that I learn a lot of interesting stuff that way.

Robert Tulip wrote:
I have a pdf of The True Believer, and have previously suggested it as a Booktalk nonfiction selection.
Though I read it long ago, I would enjoy the chance to read it again, with a group.

Author:  Interbane [ Wed Nov 11, 2020 9:00 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Rage against the Algorithm

KS wrote:
I am charmed by your experience. It means that you are both willing to follow the truth and question the surface, "spin" versions. I would like to believe most of us Americans prefer truth over error. And since much of the buy-in by real conspiracists is to get some social acceptance and belonging, that same motivation to get the truth has been skewed toward whatever reinforces the prejudices of their social group. So, if you find the people who are willing to, at least on one issue and at least for a time, put truth first, that kind of deep dive sounds promising. The person is getting social reinforcement on an open-ended basis.


Sometimes I wonder what amount of untruth(or cognitive dissonance?) people are willing to accept. I think that large swaths of belief within someone's worldview can withstand a decent amount of dissonance. Sort of like the slow buildup of contrary evidence in a scientific paradigm before it changes, there usually isn't any single piece of evidence or argument that changes minds. Rather, it's constant exposure to reasonable criticism. Sometimes there is a straw that breaks the camel's back, but I think more often it's gradual. Unfortunately, it's also uncommon for webs of belief to change at all. With respect to social media, I think the social groups keep people from being exposed to enough reasonable criticism to meet the critical mass of contrary evidence. And the feeling of social acceptance and belonging prevent people from seeking or accepting it, as you mention.

A few recent conversations I've had reminded me of inner turmoil I had perhaps two decades ago, when I first joined booktalk. I remember plenty of conversation with a personality named MadArchitect, and he was frustratingly brilliant. It wasn't any one thing he said, but over time, after calling me out repeatedly, he helped me identify when I was defending a belief based on emotion rather than reason. Naturally, most any belief is defended with a mixture of the two, but sometimes it's held together more by emotion than reason. The epiphany was that it hurts to admit when a belief is held together more by emotion than reason. In a sense, the emotion is a shield as well as a glue for that belief.

One of my friends was mentioning voter fraud, and how he believed it was happening. He kept mentioning the chain of custody, and gave quite a few examples of where he thought there could be issues. I pointed out a few safeguards that prevented the issues. We went back and forth for a time, and he kept returning to his summary argument - complex chains of custody are complex and exploitable, and when combined with votes popping up in the middle of the night, it's suspicious. I agreed, but suggested that after having gone through the details, he's still holding onto his summary argument because of feeling rather than reason.

The crucible test, I mentioned, was to consider instantly and wholeheartedly changing his mind. If there was a pang of some mysterious, hard to identify, negative emotion... as if something is lost or he's committing some sort of minor betrayal to something nebulous, then emotion is obviously involved in that belief. And if the scaffolding of reason was systematically removed through our conversation, then emotion could be the only thing holding him to that belief. Often when emotion is recognized as a shield, a person can then see through that shield to contemplate whether the glue for that belief is reason or emotion. A glimpse into metacognition. In my experience, that's often just the seed for change, and only germinates when many such seeds are planted across the swath.

Sorry for the long train of through. I've always been curious about the emotion of belief. It's so maddeningly difficult to recognize and identify and describe.

RT wrote:
I recently listened to Brene Brown's "Dare to Lead" (while exercising - love audiiobooks :yes: )


I'm addicted to audiobooks. I listen to them for hours per day. Driving, exercising, manual labor, while building stuff, etc. I'm an introvert, so I have a lot more alone-time style activities than social.

Author:  geo [ Thu Nov 12, 2020 8:28 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Rage against the Algorithm

Robert Tulip wrote:
I have a pdf of The True Believer, and have previously suggested it as a Booktalk nonfiction selection.
Quote:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_True_Believer

I read The True Believer some years ago and I would read it again.

One of Hoffer's more salient points is that those who latch on to a mass movement have lost faith in themselves as autonomous individuals. They will latch on to any movement for the hope of finding purpose in their lives (and of course finding a tribe to join). There must be an algorithm in our brains that makes such belonging imperative, more important than truth itself. I would suppose that the social algorithms mentioned by Interbane offer memes so tantalizing that they short-circuit our ability to think critically.

Author:  Interbane [ Fri Nov 13, 2020 9:16 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Rage against the Algorithm

geo wrote:
They will latch on to any movement for the hope of finding purpose in their lives (and of course finding a tribe to join).


Any sort of social engagement will lead us into one tribe or another. It's just how we work. I think it's more gradual in most cases than merely latching on, but the end result is the same.

Here's an abstract from a blog page I recommend. They have quite a few posts related to this discussion:

Humans evolved in the context of intense intergroup competition, and groups comprised of loyal members more often succeeded than those that were not. Therefore, selective pressures have consistently sculpted human minds to be "tribal," and group loyalty and concomitant cognitive biases likely exist in all groups. Modern politics is one of the most salient forms of modern coalitional conflict and elicits substantial cognitive biases. Given the common evolutionary history of liberals and conservatives, there is little reason to expect pro-tribe biases to be higher on one side of the political spectrum than the other. We call this the evolutionarily plausible null hypothesis and recent research has supported it. In a recent meta-analysis, liberals and conservatives showed similar levels of partisan bias, and a number of pro-tribe cognitive tendencies often ascribed to conservatives (e.g., intolerance toward dissimilar others) have been found in similar degrees in liberals. We conclude that tribal bias is a natural and nearly ineradicable feature of human cognition, and that no group—not even one’s own—is immune.

One's desire for autonomy is fighting directly against this bias, similar in ways to those who fight to stay at their target weight with all the available food sources around them.

geo wrote:
One of Hoffer's more salient points is that those who latch on to a mass movement have lost faith in themselves as autonomous individuals.


When we fall into the position of holding and defending portions of a groupthink ideology, it has the same feeling as fighting for a cause. We can still hold only those portions we agree with, but we're still within the group's spectrum. Even within tribes, there is drama and disagreement. I don't think it's so much losing faith in oneself, as it is allowing some of your identity to be defined by the group.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Sat Dec 12, 2020 9:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Rage against the Algorithm

Interbane wrote:
Sometimes I wonder what amount of untruth(or cognitive dissonance?) people are willing to accept. I think that large swaths of belief within someone's worldview can withstand a decent amount of dissonance. Sort of like the slow buildup of contrary evidence in a scientific paradigm before it changes, there usually isn't any single piece of evidence or argument that changes minds. Rather, it's constant exposure to reasonable criticism.
As I recall, Kuhn took it even further than this, noting that the new scholars got on with the new paradigm but the old ones stuck to theirs until they died. Obviously that isn't 100 percent, but I have known a few scholars and the momentum embodied in their research skills is formidable. They find it very, very difficult to think about the world with a different set of questions.

In my own life I find I tolerate tremendous dissonance. I may conclude that so-and-so at work is a jerk, but there is more profit in finding the levers to get so-and-so to cooperate than in collecting examples to prove my case against them. One track of my mind is convinced that civilization is at stake if we don't all quit carbonizing the atmosphere, but another track is busy accommodating my wife and other near ones, who are not as clear on this point. I am in awe, actually, of people who are able to act single-mindedly on their convictions.
Interbane wrote:
Unfortunately, it's also uncommon for webs of belief to change at all. With respect to social media, I think the social groups keep people from being exposed to enough reasonable criticism to meet the critical mass of contrary evidence. And the feeling of social acceptance and belonging prevent people from seeking or accepting it, as you mention.
The feedback loops between central media and social media are moving way beyond our experience and ability to predict. People have had the ability to search out sources they resonate with for a long time now. But the rate of exponential expansion of a hot take or meme is just not something we know how to reckon with.

And you are not wrong about the algorithms. I guess we all need to start questioning any one-sided narratives we hear, as part of the resistance to motivated reasoning and the tyranny of the flaming echo chambers. But riddle me this: how well would a website do that specialized in giving both sides of controversies? Real Clear Politics, which Ant likes, is about the only one I know who does this, and they don't do it in a very thoughtful way. Just a flame thrower from one wing and then another flame thrower from the other wing. I do appreciate the thoughtful conservative voices on the NY Times Op-ed, but I would never hear what the MAGA crowd thinks by reading them.

Interbane wrote:
A few recent conversations I've had reminded me of inner turmoil I had perhaps two decades ago, when I first joined booktalk. I remember plenty of conversation with a personality named MadArchitect, and he was frustratingly brilliant. It wasn't any one thing he said, but over time, after calling me out repeatedly, he helped me identify when I was defending a belief based on emotion rather than reason. Naturally, most any belief is defended with a mixture of the two, but sometimes it's held together more by emotion than reason. The epiphany was that it hurts to admit when a belief is held together more by emotion than reason. In a sense, the emotion is a shield as well as a glue for that belief.
So you are saying that if I recognize that my belief is based mainly on emotion, and defended mainly by emotion, I should question it extra heavily and look for motivated reasoning in my ways of justifying it to myself? That actually makes sense to me. Now I am curious what beliefs you were defending for emotional reasons against MadArchitect's acid skepticism.

Interbane wrote:
The crucible test, I mentioned, was to consider instantly and wholeheartedly changing his mind. If there was a pang of some mysterious, hard to identify, negative emotion... as if something is lost or he's committing some sort of minor betrayal to something nebulous, then emotion is obviously involved in that belief. And if the scaffolding of reason was systematically removed through our conversation, then emotion could be the only thing holding him to that belief. Often when emotion is recognized as a shield, a person can then see through that shield to contemplate whether the glue for that belief is reason or emotion. A glimpse into metacognition. In my experience, that's often just the seed for change, and only germinates when many such seeds are planted across the swath.

There is a very large Facebook group, open only by invitation, for people who are going through "deconstruction" of literalist, evangelical Christianity. Or have gone through it. It is chock full of clergy and ex-clergy members. Schools of theology are notorious for cutting off literalism at the knees, and trying to reconstruct something more solid in its wake. The sense of betrayal is real and tangible, and many find it devastating to face.

Remember that, as with Kuhn's scientific paradigms, the cognitive structures are there to do things. They are there for purposes that often have very little to do with their truth or lack thereof. In the case of clergy members, it might include reassuring dying people, and reminding parents that their children will get less crazy when their pre-frontal cortex finishes filling in, and all kinds of such tricky social problems. There is an old saying in the church that "Love without Truth is mush, but Truth without Love is mush." These tensions, these antinomies, are the stuff of living, and for some people they are easier to negotiate without having to be correct about everything from a rational perspective.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Sat Dec 12, 2020 9:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Rage against the Algorithm

Interbane wrote:
Any sort of social engagement will lead us into one tribe or another. It's just how we work. I think it's more gradual in most cases than merely latching on, but the end result is the same.

ethicalpsychology.com wrote:
Given the common evolutionary history of liberals and conservatives, there is little reason to expect pro-tribe biases to be higher on one side of the political spectrum than the other. We call this the evolutionarily plausible null hypothesis and recent research has supported it. In a recent meta-analysis, liberals and conservatives showed similar levels of partisan bias, and a number of pro-tribe cognitive tendencies often ascribed to conservatives (e.g., intolerance toward dissimilar others) have been found in similar degrees in liberals. We conclude that tribal bias is a natural and nearly ineradicable feature of human cognition, and that no group—not even one’s own—is immune.
One theory kicking around is that the problem is we don't get out enough anymore (Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone" is apparently the touchstone of this line of sociology and poli sci) and don't have a variety of groups, weakly selected, to adjust to. Our crazy uncle at Thanksgiving may be the only time we listen to the other perspectives. I remember the Lion's Club and the Masons and the Boy Scouts and the roller rink being major socializing venues. Not that anybody talked politics much at those, but at least you encountered some people who are Catholics and some who are Jewish and some who are (gasp) secular humanists, and you could occasionally get a discussion going about the President.

Interbane wrote:
One's desire for autonomy is fighting directly against this bias, similar in ways to those who fight to stay at their target weight with all the available food sources around them.
That's a really insightful observation. It was not so long ago that we could not afford to alienate those who saw the world differently, because of all the neighborly mutual dependence. Now our autonomy instincts, long held in check by interdependence, are free to run amuck.

Interbane wrote:
geo wrote:
One of Hoffer's more salient points is that those who latch on to a mass movement have lost faith in themselves as autonomous individuals.
When we fall into the position of holding and defending portions of a groupthink ideology, it has the same feeling as fighting for a cause. We can still hold only those portions we agree with, but we're still within the group's spectrum. Even within tribes, there is drama and disagreement. I don't think it's so much losing faith in oneself, as it is allowing some of your identity to be defined by the group.
Might be a distinction without a difference. I am convinced there are a lot of people out there who just want a set of answers they can resonate with, and loud insistence that their answers are the right answers might satisfy the need much more readily than cool, dispassionate rational processing.

Author:  Harry Marks [ Thu Jan 14, 2021 9:21 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Rage against the Algorithm

There's an interesting op-ed piece about how "influencers," mainly using Facebook groups, generated a lot of conspiracy mongering and calls to violence. I think there is more to the issue than the algorithms.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/14/opin ... right.html

People's response to confrontational attitudes, our programming to turn our attention to any kind of trouble and strife, has to be considered part of the process. Build a better mindtrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.

Author:  Interbane [ Thu Jan 14, 2021 10:48 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Rage against the Algorithm

Harry wrote:
In my own life I find I tolerate tremendous dissonance. I may conclude that so-and-so at work is a jerk, but there is more profit in finding the levers to get so-and-so to cooperate than in collecting examples to prove my case against them. One track of my mind is convinced that civilization is at stake if we don't all quit carbonizing the atmosphere, but another track is busy accommodating my wife and other near ones, who are not as clear on this point. I am in awe, actually, of people who are able to act single-mindedly on their convictions.


Unfortunately, a large number of people act single-mindedly on their convictions. If your tolerance of dissonance was something that could be taught, perhaps I wouldn’t be so worried.

Quote:
But riddle me this: how well would a website do that specialized in giving both sides of controversies?


They wouldn’t do well, which is entirely the point. It feels much better to have your emotions stoked by reading an article that confirms your strongest emotional beliefs without naysayers ruining the buzz.

Quote:
So you are saying that if I recognize that my belief is based mainly on emotion, and defended mainly by emotion, I should question it extra heavily and look for motivated reasoning in my ways of justifying it to myself? That actually makes sense to me. Now I am curious what beliefs you were defending for emotional reasons against MadArchitect's acid skepticism.


The beliefs themselves were dry and pedantic, but I held them strongly. The one I remember most clearly, and the one I didn’t release until after Madarchitect vanished, was that we could somehow “know” objective reality with certainty. Not all of it, but just a few epistemologically foundational locations. I realized I was defending it emotionally because in the moment I considered that I could possible be wrong, I felt that deep cognitive regret that's often felt but hard to explain. The feeling is similar to when you bite your tongue and admit you're wrong. It's not exactly regret, not exactly discomfort, and not exactly embarrassment. It's some indefinable and lightweight combination of the three, mixed with a "grounding" effect, like a buzzkill. It's one of those emotions that I don't think you're supposed to be aware of. The emotions pulling the strings of thought are subtle, and such a familiar piece of the machinery of cognition that it's difficult to recognize it as a unique component.

Quote:
One theory kicking around is that the problem is we don't get out enough anymore (Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone" is apparently the touchstone of this line of sociology and poli sci) and don't have a variety of groups, weakly selected, to adjust to. Our crazy uncle at Thanksgiving may be the only time we listen to the other perspectives. I remember the Lion's Club and the Masons and the Boy Scouts and the roller rink being major socializing venues. Not that anybody talked politics much at those, but at least you encountered some people who are Catholics and some who are Jewish and some who are (gasp) secular humanists, and you could occasionally get a discussion going about the President.


I would agree with that. We are no longer “forced” into mixing pots in order to socialize. Finding a group of exclusively like-minded individuals is easy with technology.

Quote:
There's an interesting op-ed piece about how "influencers," mainly using Facebook groups, generated a lot of conspiracy mongering and calls to violence. I think there is more to the issue than the algorithms.


Absolutely. The algorithms are meaningless without taking into account the way they interact with human psychology. In fact, it’s that interaction that is the issue. We can’t change human psychology, but we can change algorithms. Thus the thrust of my rage. Algorithms that are tailored over decades to optimize engagement are sinister. It’s an artificially brilliant supercomputer with the lone goal of capturing and keeping an individual’s attention. The fact that our attention is best captured by trouble and strife and confirmation, etc., is not the fault of the supercomputer. It merely uses the tools that work best for cognitive capture.

Here’s an excerpt from the article you linked:

Facebook’s algorithms have coaxed many Americans into sharing more extreme views on the platform — rewarding them with likes and shares for posts on subjects like election fraud conspiracies, Covid-19 denialism and anti-vaccination rhetoric. We reviewed the public post histories for dozens of active Facebook users in these spaces. Many, like Mr. McGee, transformed seemingly overnight. A decade ago, their online personas looked nothing like their presences today.

Your average Joe isn’t going to join a fringe group unless they feel strongly about the ideas held by the fringe. The polarization must occur first, at least in part. Obviously there are exceptions, such as curiosity or peer pressure. But the vast majority would join because they’ve already been cognitively captured.

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