(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘culture

“The things right in front of us are often the hardest to see”*…

Fake news, like conjuring, plays on our weaknesses — but, as Tim Harford explains, with a little attention, we can fight back…

Why do people — and by “people” I mean “you and I” — accept and spread misinformation? The two obvious explanations are both disheartening. The first is that we are incapable of telling the difference between truth and lies. In this view, politicians and other opinion-formers are such skilled deceivers that we are helpless, or the issues are so complex that they defy understanding, or we lack basic numeracy and critical-thinking skills. The second explanation is that we know the difference and we don’t care. In order to stick close to our political tribe, we reach the conclusions we want to reach.

There is truth in both these explanations. But is there a third account of how we think about the claims we see in the news and on social media — an account that, ironically, has received far too little attention? That account centres on attention itself: it suggests that we fail to distinguish truth from lies not because we can’t and not because we won’t, but because — as with Robbins’s waistcoat — we are simply not giving the matter our focus.

What makes the problem worse is our intuitive overconfidence that we will notice what matters, even if we don’t focus closely. If so, the most insidious and underrated problem in our information ecosystem is that we do not give the right kind of attention to the right things at the right time. We are not paying enough attention to what holds our attention.

The art of stage magic allows us to approach this idea from an unusual angle: Gustav Kuhn’s recent book, Experiencing the Impossible, discusses the psychology of magic tricks.

“All magic can be explained through misdirection alone,” writes Kuhn, a psychologist who runs the Magic Lab at Goldsmiths, University of London. Such a strong claim is debatable, but what is beyond debate is that the control and manipulation of attention are central to stage magic. They are also central to understanding misinformation. The Venn diagram of misinformation, misdirection and magic has overlaps with which to conjure.

[There follows a fascinating unpacking of the relevance of misdirection to to misinformation…]

We retweet misinformation because we don’t think for long enough to see that it is misinformation. We obsess over bold lies, not realising that their entire purpose is to obsess us. We see one thing and assume it is another, even though we are only deceiving ourselves. We will argue in favour of policies that we opposed seconds ago, as long as we can be distracted long enough to flip our political identities in a mirror.

And behind all this is the grand meta-error: we have no intuitive sense that our minds work like this. We fondly imagine ourselves to be sharper, more attentive and more consistent than we truly are. Our own brains conspire in the illusion, filling the vast blind spots with plausible images.

But if you decide to think carefully about the headlines, or the data visualisations that adorn news websites, or the eye-catching statistics that circulate on social media, you may be surprised: statistics aren’t actually stage magic. Many of them are telling us important truths about the world, and those that are lies are usually lies that we can spot without too much trouble.

Pay attention; get some context; ask questions; stop and think. Misinformation doesn’t thrive because we can’t spot the tricks. It thrives because, all too often, we don’t try. We don’t try, because we are confident that we already did…

Simple, but profoundly important, wisdom: “What magic teaches us about misinformation,” from @TimHarford. eminently worth reading in full. (Originally appeared in the Financial Times Magazine, from whence the illustration above.)

Related: the Barnum (or Forer) Effect

Apollo Robbins, world-famous pickpocket and illusionist

###

As we dissect disinformation, we might spare a thought for Oscar Hammerstein; he died on this date in 1919.  As a newly-arrived immigrant to the U.S., Hammerstein worked in a cigar factory, where he discovered ways to automate the rolling process.  He patented his innovation and made a fortune– which he promptly reinvested in his true passions, music and the arts.  Possessed of a sharp sense of design and an equally good acoustical sense, he built and ran theaters and concert halls, becoming one of Americas first great impressarios…  a fact worth honoring, as history tends to overlook “Oscar the First” in favor of his grandson, Oscar Hammerstein II, the gifted librettist/lyricist and partner of Richard Rodgers.

Hammerstein (on left, with cigar) and conductor Cleofonte Campagnini

 source

“The sea hath fish for every man”*…

A few weeks ago, (Roughly) Daily shared the story of The Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ attempt to rebrand invasive Asian Carp as Copi in an attempt to make it a more appealing food. Kane Hsieh, writing in Spencer Wright‘s always-illuminating The Prepared, elaborates on the theme…

… It’s worked in the past: Chilean sea bass (Patagonian toothfish), monkfish (goosefish), and uni (urchin, also called whore’s eggs by American fisherman as recently as 1990) were all successful rebrandings.

Speaking of fish, it’s always a surprise to me how much of what feels like traditional cuisine is actually very modern, accidental, or even engineered. In Japanese cuisine, tuna and salmon rose to their contemporary status only in the 20th century: tuna was a poor man’s fish until post-war Western influence brought a taste for fattier meat, and salmon was an undesirable fish until the 80s when a desperate Norwegian government ran aggressive ad campaigns in Japan

Trash to table: rebranding fish to make them more palletable, from @kane in @the_prepared.

William Camden

###

As we contemplate cuisine, we might recall that it was on this date in 1838 that it rained frogs in London. Indeed, there have been numerous instances on polliwog precipitation in the area, most recently in 1998, when an early morning rain shower in Croydon (South London) was accompanied by hundreds of dead frogs.

A woodcut showing a rain of frogs in Scandanavia, from ‘Prodigiorum ac Ostentorum Chronicon,’ one of the first modern books about strange phenomenon, published in 1557 [source]

Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 30, 2022 at 1:00 am

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”*…

Three considerations of Gary Gerstle‘s important new book, The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order: America and the World in the Free Market Era: First Robert Kuttner ponders why Democratic presidents embraced an economic credo that annihilated their own public philosophy and its appeal to the electorate…

Beginning with the presidency of Jimmy Carter, a succession of Democratic presidents joined Republicans in turning away from the New Deal model of regulated capitalism toward what has come to be known as neoliberalism. The neoliberal credo claims that markets work efficiently and that government attempts to constrain them via regulation and public spending invariably fail, backfire, or are corrupted by politics. As public policy, neoliberalism has relied on deregulation, privatization, weakened trade unions, less progressive taxation, and new trade rules to reduce the capacity of national governments to manage capitalism. These shifts have resulted in widening inequality, diminished economic security, and reduced confidence in the ability of government to aid its citizens.

The Republican embrace of this doctrine is hardly surprising. Given the lessons learned about the necessity of government interventions following the 1929 stock market collapse and the success of the Roosevelt administration as a model for the Democratic Party, the allure of neoliberalism to many Democrats is a puzzle worth exploring.

The term “neoliberalism” itself is confusing, because for at least a century “liberalism” in the United States has meant moderate left, not free-market right. Neoliberalism in its current economic sense draws on the older meaning of liberalism, which is still common in Europe and which holds that free markets are the counterpart of a free and democratic society. That was the claim of classical liberals like Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson.

Only in the twentieth century, after the excesses of robber-baron capitalism, did modern liberals begin supporting extensive government intervention—the use of “Hamiltonian means” to carry out “Jeffersonian ends,” in the 1909 formulation of Herbert Croly, one of the founders of The New Republic. This view defined the ideology of both presidents Roosevelt and was reinforced by the economics of John Maynard Keynes. In Britain, the counterpart in the same era was the “radical liberalism” of social reform put forth by the Liberal prime minister David Lloyd George.

The term neoliberalism also gets muddled because some on the left use it as an all-purpose put-down of conservatism—to the point where one might wonder whether it is just an annoying buzzword. But neoliberalism does have a precise and useful meaning, as a reversion to the verities of classical economics, with government as guardian of unregulated markets…

Free Markets, Besieged Citizens

Brian Kettenring worries (with Gramsci, as quoted in this post’s title above) that the transition to what’s next could be treacherous…

In a contest among global models, one option is the state-authoritarian capitalist model represented by China. A second one would be a neoliberalism retooled for the 21st century. But because neoliberalism has failed on its most central promise (growth) and other important tests (climate, inequality, and race), it is increasingly marginalized, if still persistent in the public imagination and the structures of important national and international institutions. A third option—which seems ascendant—is the ethno-nationalism of Trump, Viktor Orbán, Jair Bolsonaro, and company. The economic track record of ethno-nationalism in power has often proved anti-neo-liberal—especially on trade, but often on public investment, the social safety net, and even industrial policy—but that hasn’t foreclosed tax cutting or deregulation. And while the racialist and exclusionary politics of ethno-nationalism are disqualifying, its record of governance is, with some exceptions, poor.

None of these geopolitical arrangements will serve America or the world well in the third decade of the 21st century. For those who share Gerstle’s critique of neoliberalism, the task is to chart a fourth way that is inclusive, sustainable, and consonant with strong democratic governance and pluralistic societies. At present, this fourth way appears to be the harder road. That said, Rise and Fall offers guidance for how it might still win the day. 

Gerstle reminds us that geopolitics can have unpredictable economic side effects. The war in Ukraine has accelerated inflationary dynamics in the global economy, increasing the price of everything from energy to wheat. It’s too soon to assess the long-term consequences of the Russian invasion. Still, one optimistic reading of the potential by-products of the war might be accelerated investments—at least in Europe—in the green energy sector…

Neoliberalism Is Dying. What Comes Next?

And L. Benjamin Rolsky considers the moral– and spiritual– baggage that it carries…

… A moral code accompanied the neoliberal order to protect itself against its worst excesses and moral failures. Many Americans were perfect matches for neoliberalism’s entrepreneurial politics, its promises of unbridled freedom once remade in the image of homo economicus; many were not. For Gerstle, the neoliberal order produced two interrelated modes of citizenship within the body politic: conservative neo-Victorianism and liberal cosmopolitanism. The former encouraged self-discipline in the name of market austerity and the proverbial Christian family. The latter privileged diversity, self-expression, and socioeconomic mobility. As Gerstle describes, “It celebrated the cultural exchanges and dynamism that increasingly characterized the global cities — London, Paris, New York, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Toronto, and Miami among them — developing under the aegis of the neoliberal order.” This much is most certainly true circa 1975: the beginnings of neoliberalism’s deregulatory ascent.

Within the same moment, however, neoliberalism would also help give birth to additional forms of religiosity including the “Prosperity Gospel,” replete with global communication networks, acts of spiritual exuberance, and larger-than-life television personalities. While this tradition of health and wealth dates back to the late 19th century, it found its domestic stride in the United States within the postindustrial conditions of the neoliberal order in the 1980s and 1990s. The fact that prosperity gospel healer Paula White-Cain has rekindled her relationship with former president Donald Trump’s communications team speaks to the intimate relationship between neoliberal success, political freedom, and spiritual prosperity in American political life — especially in 2022.

The rise and fall of the neoliberal order has curtailed some religious ideals and formulations in the name of neo-Victorian morality, but it also cultivated equally powerful forces that promised to liberate true believers from their respective experiences of spiritual captivity. Until such forces of neoliberal freedom are understood and diagnosed as complex forms of economic captivity themselves, there is no telling how much longer the neoliberal order can remain fractured yet deeply informative of our collective political imaginations…

Religion of the Market: On Gary Gerstle’s “The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order

How neoliberalism rose, fell, and what might replace it: @rkuttnerwrites, @bkettenring, and @LBRolsky on a powerful new book by @glgerstle.

* Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks

###

As we compose our selves for change, we might recall that it was on this date in 1965 that Bob Dylan was booed off stage at the Newport Folk Festival during his first public performance with electric instruments (and a band that included Michael Bloomfield and Al Kooper)… The cat-calling began with his opening number, “Maggie’s Farm,” and continued through three more songs, after which Dylan left the stage. As a peace offering to Pete Seeger and other aggrieved organizers, Dylan returned later to do two acoustic numbers… but the die was cast; thereafter, his career was electrically-powered… and both folk and rock music were forever changed.

source

“On any given day… 5% of Americans will consume a fresh orange, 21% will consume orange juice.”*…

How concentrated and ready-to-pour orange juice– originally a dumping ground for extra oranges– conquered the morning menu…

The staid carton of orange juice has long sat next to tea and coffee at the breakfast table. It’s bright, but somewhat boring, and bears the dubious halo of being something good for you. Few of us give it much thought, other than to recall its oft-trumpeted Vitamin C content.

But processed orange juice as a daily drink, you might be surprised to learn, is a relatively recent arrival. Its present status as a global phenomenon is the creation of 20th-Century marketers, dealing with a whole lot of oranges and nowhere to put them…

How orange juice took over the breakfast table,” from @BBC_Future. [TotH to friend MK.]

USDA

###

As we get sweet, we might recall that it was on this date in 1821 that Spain formally transferred sovereignty over the territory we now know as Florida– the center of the orange juice industry– to the United States. (Spain had, of course, traded Florida to England [for Cuba] in 1763, but had regained it as a product of the Treaty of Versailles in 1783.)

source

Written by (Roughly) Daily

July 17, 2022 at 1:00 am

%d bloggers like this: