Posts Tagged 'echo chambers'

Two Remedies for Bad Thinking and other Bad Habits

Bad thinking is usually due to bad habits rather than to lack of ability.

This includes bad habits such as acting without thinking; accepting a “fact” or idea without independent verification; and taking in  news, ideas and interpretations only from sources with a  perspective that reinforces your own,  rather than differing from your perspectives or questioning them.

Such bad habits are correctable, and that’s encouraging.  However, if habits are deeply engrained they are hard to change.  Any habit can only weaken and leave if there is a will – motivated by an internal desire.

For deeply engrained habits, even a strong motivation isn’t enough for change.  A deeply engrained habit is no longer a habit, but an internal imperative which must be obeyed and can’t be ignored.  Such habits can become essential parts of individual and group identity.

There is hope, though, from at least two approaches.  Both of these approaches are methods to train the mind and produce clearer, broader thinking.

The first method is:  Regular exposure to other people one can respect, who have different ideas and behaviors, which they express and model well.  Having a motivation and an opportunity for exposure to new and different ideas and behaviors can begin to change even long-held habits of thinking.

The second method is less familiar to most people:  If people take up the regular habit of transcending – experiencing the silent, unbounded source of their own mind and being, then  life-restricting habits can begin to weaken.   There is plenty of evidence over the last several thousand years that this can actually work.  More recently, neurological, physiological, and other sociological evidence supports this approach.

Combine these two remedies – regular transcending and regular exposure to honest people with different perspectives – and even the most intractable bad habits will begin to loosen.

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Sharing Truth to Change the Game

My previous post referred to Tom Atlee’s piece on “Changing the Game” of polarized politics by giving citizens established ways to talk directly to each other.   In order to bridge gaps that now seem impossible to cross, there need to be extremely basic agreements on our shared goals, and how to know whose ideas are really on track for achieving those goals.

Ideally, more and more citizens will think about this type of question:

What do we all share?  What is most basic to all of us?

For me, it means asking:

What do I love most?

What do I love most that is not just about me and mine, but really universal?

The simple and pretty abstract answer that popped up for me:

Truth, Beauty, and Synergy

Truth and Beauty can be thought of as highly personal and relative – until we find common ideas that are so deep that most of us can agree on them, most of the time.

Synergy is living and working together, creatively and with satisfaction. It is the magic of connecting deeply to create a greater whole, where the sum is greater than the parts.

Connecting deeply means:  Transcending individual egos, and transcending group egos.

It means caring intensely about the whole, while also caring about the integrity of our individual interests.

It means unconditional love, freedom from narrow, ‘must-have’ goals, and letting go of bias.

It means suspending judgment long enough to really listen to another point of view, and to care enough about living together in the same community, and on the same planet.

Transcending our egos doesn’t mean suppressing or ignoring them.  But rather, it’s about expanding our boundaries.   If we really believe that from many we are One Nation, then acting like one nation doesn’t involve vilifying each other, nor only talking and not listening with openness.

Transcendence is mostly an ideal.  And yet it is possible to be closer, or further, from that ideal.

How can we tell who is close and who is far, from the ideal?

There are several ways that help us shake off the well-funded exhortations of narrow interests:

  • Follow the money.
  • Follow the fame, that brings money and influence.
  • Follow the trail of encouragements for disrespect, denigration, ridicule, arrogance, and hostility.
  • Follow the trail of encouragements that separate “We the People” into “Us and Them”

Look at who is funding the research, or funding the campaign, or most actively spreading the “news” and the “evidence”.   Who is actively promoting divisiveness who is also gaining the most:  Extraordinary wealth, fame and influence?

Look also more closely at the arguments and at the evidence.

Are they based on reason and objectively obtained and verified evidence?  Are independent and unbiased sources agreeing that the evidence is sound and conclusive?   Or are the arguments and evidence we’re paying attention to coming only from sources that are supporting the same point of view?

Power to the extremes

There have been times when political Power was able to find a center much closer to the middle.   It was still politics and not perfect; but it now seems a lot better than polarized paralysis.

Power in the extremes makes us collectively less and less intelligent, and unable to act effectively.   But it also creates a tremendous tension that can be harnessed for good.  Yet harnessing that which is powerful enough to destroy us is dangerous and daunting.

It requires restoring respect, a common sense of what it means to be objective, an understanding that ridicule and divisiveness benefit a tiny few to the loss of nearly all the rest of us.

Divisiveness is occurring in many areas of society where mixing differences can be explosive: Cultures, religions, politics.   Divisiveness among we the people is most easily inflamed by special interests when too many of us are listening to only one channel (special interests are very clever at targeting their messages) and when we are afraid (when life is full of threats and losses), and by our desire to be respected and rewarded by our tribe.

In the political spectrum, there are both Progressives and Conservatives who are true to their deeper human values who do not participate in or support the spread of divisiveness, denigration, and hostility.   They have different opinions, sources of information, and ideas about what is wrong and what to do.  But they do not disrespect and ridicule “the other;” and they are looking for a common way forward.  These are the ones who can help us harness the tension between perspectives to create real and lasting solutions.

Let us be always wary of those who are spreading divisiveness.   Let us be wary of getting most of our information from a single set of channels all funded by the same agenda.   Especially be wary of those who are gaining extraordinary wealth and influence by keeping “We the People” in a state of “Us and Them.”

See Tom Atlee’s post for links to ways that can help.  In the Fall of 2008, Yes! Magazine also ran several related articles on “Purple America.”

Expansion of choices reduces diversity???

I just read an article from The Nation, by Colin Robinson (via Alternet.com):

How Amazon Kills Books and Makes Us Stupid

In summary, Amazon’s dominance of the book market and their intense drive to reduce the costs of books are having these effects:

  • Drastically reducing the number of independent book sellers.
  • Reducing the income of publishers, and especially authors.
  • Making it more and more difficult for authors to produce well-crafted and thoroughly researched books.
  • And reducing cultural diversity by overwhelming customers with choices.

This last point is the most surprising – and sounds the most paradoxical.  How could more diversity of choice reduce cultural diversity?

Embedded in the middle of the article is this explanation:

According to industry statisticians Bowker, just over 172,000 titles were released in 2005. Last year “traditional” output had risen to 288,000 titles, a significant enough increase by itself. But adding what Bowker describes as “self-published” and “micro-niche” books, the total inflates to a staggering 1 million new titles in just twelve months.

“Many would argue that the efflorescence of new publishing that Amazon has encouraged can only be a good thing, that it enriches cultural diversity and expands choice.

“But that picture is not so clear: a number of studies have shown that when people are offered a narrower range of options, their selections are likely to be more diverse than if they are presented with a number of choices so vast as to be overwhelming. In this situation people often respond by retreating into the security of what they already know.

“As Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, explains, ‘When the choice set is larger, people tend to make worse choices. They choose on the basis of what’s easiest to evaluate, rather than what’s important to evaluatethe safe, highly marketed option usually comes out on top.’

Actually, this phenomenon isn’t really the fault of Amazon, but is rather part of the effect of making it easier and cheaper for individuals to create their own content, i.e., to self-publish.   It’s of course not just happening in the world of books, but in all manner of media and content, including newspapers, reporting, editorials, and reviews, film, video, and photography, music, etc..

This is an incredible expansion in creativity and expression; and at the same time, this expansion has clear effects of creating echo-chambers where we, “the masses” who are now “personalized” are clumping together like never before and having less and less thoughtful exposure to ideas beyond those that we ‘naturally’ prefer and seek out.

So these are not new reflections.

But still, what are the answers?   How can we break through this paradox of explosions of expressions and choices that somehow create an implosion of diversity and dialogue?  (Actually, it’s not an implosion of diversity, as much as an explosion into huge and small fragments that appear to have not much to do with each other.)

Somehow the “answers” will have to be the creation of common experiences that invite curiosity, openness, and simple kindness.   Curiosity mixed with kindness can bridge differences, without eliminating differences.

What kind of experiences would these be?

As a designer of social technology, I can only think that, among other things, these experiences have to include radically new ways  a) to manage attention overload without killing serendipity, and b) to discover “content” that is rewarding – even deeply fulfilling – without relying on naturally clumping algorithms like “Show me more like this one” — or “Show me – books, movies, ideas, etc – that other people like who like the same kinds of stuff I like.

Honestly, with algorithms like that, what can you expect other than bigger and bigger clumps?


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