Frances Haugen, the former data engineer for Facebook who disclosed internal documents from the social media giant to the United States Securities & Exchange Commission and the Wall Street Journal, says that current algorithmic standards on social media harms young people.
I don’t think I’m alone in my expression of the colloquialism, “duh!”
It’s been known for some time excessive time spent on digital social media platforms actually increases depression in teenagers as well as further pushes unrealistic body images onto young girls. Did we really need a “whistleblower” to get us all hyped up about these facts? What Miss Haugen is doing is not so much whistleblowing as it is just calling out the elephant in the room. If Miss Haugen was actually revealing something dangerous to the status quo, would she really be called before Congress for discussion? Or would she be marked for prosecution and driven into hiding in a foreign embassy, awaiting the protection of any institution willing to shelter enemies of an empire?
Perhaps the reason why our officials in the United States Congress are so eager to prop up Frances Haugen as a hero is because the ruling oligarchy want to seize social media’s power over political discourse as Glenn Greenwald so eloquently put in his commentary on the matter. One question that each American citizen should be asking is, when did these technology giants become the gate-keepers to political speech? Here’s another novel concept particularly for these younger generations: perhaps we are all spending a little too much time in digital environments and not enough time in the real world spending real time with other people in the physical space (do not throw the pandemic at me – our issues around too much screen time began prior to this pandemic). How about we actually make efforts to understand each other by talking things out rather than hitting the “block” button every time we’re exposed to a different opinion?
Nine members of the Democratic Party expressed sentiments in the form of a written letter to the Speaker of the House against lower drug pricing in the $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill currently making its way through the United States Congress.
The justification for maintaining current drug pricing is supposedly to maintain our innovation in industry which surpasses that of the European market. A concerned citizen could look at who is providing big donations to those nine representatives.
“The statements of US government officials and industry representatives imply that the US market is paying for the development of most new drugs. There is ample evidence that domestic profits in several countries that have price or profit control cover research and development expenditures. For example, in Canada, domestic sales on average are about 10 times the research and development costs. In the United Kingdom, the pharmaceutical industry invests more of its revenues from domestic sales in research and development than do companies in the United States. Statements by US government officials and industry representatives also imply that the United States is becoming a dominant source of innovation because of its lack of drug price regulation. From a purely theoretical standpoint, these statements are troubling because they imply a country-specific source of innovation. The industry is private, however, not government owned, and operates in a worldwide market. It is also doubtful that pure price considerations would affect where a drug was developed, and more strategic considerations such as the availability of drug-specific research resources and infrastructure in a particular country may be a more important consideration.”
“Literally every single piece of media within the last decade has been a reboot of a pre-existing cult classic TV series or movie and it’s so vapid and soulless, unlike the original media these reboots are based off. And as a movie-goer, I am so tired of the endless cycle. What happened to creative creators with new stories to tell and characters to love (Suitably Bored, 2021)?”
How did Hollywood become so stale, stagnant, and boring?
Hollywood has become a stagnant puddle of ideas the last 10 years, as evident by them constantly scraping the bottom of the barrel and bringing back beloved cult classic franchises from the archives of the dead. Most if not all of these franchises or one-shot movies were not intended to have multi-million dollar reboots or start a new billion-dollar franchise. And let’s be honest with ourselves here as the movie-going public, has any of the reboots we got from Hollywood in the last 10 years bought anything new or interesting to the table? No. Do these movies have the same heart and creativity that the originals had when they were released? No. Are these reboots intended to be shameless cash grabs on nostalgia and the glory days of Hollywood? Yes.
Honesty and consistency are two of the rarest qualities in a human except for, I suppose, a consistent tendency for laziness. It takes effort to actually follow through with something you’ve said and telling the truth can be scary especially when you’re unsure what the truth is.
I think I know a thing or two about laziness being an incredibly lazy person myself. I often attempt to justify my laziness through my lack of physical coordination and proclivities against any sort of athletic activities (ironic given my height). However; humans did not evolve for stationary movement, it is a sign of our modern prosperity that so many humans have the luxury of remaining in their homes communicating on our various electronic computing devices. Many of us in developed countries now need reminders to stand up and move. We also need to remind ourselves to go out and interact with people in-person – in the physical space.
It can be difficult to transmit a sense of empathy over electronic screens through text communications. Even across video-sharing platforms there are still barriers between people – you have an incredibly limited view of what you see around the other person, you cannot smell their environment (your sense of smell is most closely connected to memory), and you cannot touch the other the person (an incredibly important factor in forging connections). The ease at which we can “block” people from our lives is also problematic regarding community-building and maintaining lasting connections. One cannot block a person in real life. IRL, you must deal with a person and all their flaws. Fortunately, the fun part about flaws is that everybody has some; no one is alone in that regard. Perhaps our flaws can be a point of connection in the physical space – let’s all get together and talk about our flaws! 🙂
I value honesty and authenticity above anything else in another person but it seems like, the further we go into a more digital environment, the more rare those qualities become in people. On the world wide web, everyone is crafting an image – a façade – to project to whatever sub-community of which they’re a part. The people putting their real selves out their for the world are drowned out by the people wearing masks and trying to fit into something.
If you want to understand other people, first you must understand yourself, both of which can be a great undertaking.
Today, members of the Capitol Police give testimony (Live Coverage: House Panel Holds First Hearing on Jan. 6 Probe, The Hill Staff, 7/27/2021) in the House of Representatives regarding their experience during the insurrection that occurred on January sixth of this year. Their recollections from that day are vivid and horrifying, they even describe the insurrectionists as domestic terrorists (which I think is an honest description). I think any reasonable person would describe the events of January 6, 2021, as nothing short of a rebellion against the United States government. However, there are still people who would describe the rebels as American patriots while describing the police officers as traitors.
How did Americans become this polarized?
The two majority political parties have seen growing polarization over the past two decades with over a third of voters from each of the parties showing stark (Staff Report, Pew Research, 2021) differences in political opinions. The linked article above shows differences in opinions on voting rights, an arguably staple issue. Only 38% of Republican Party voters favor automatic voter registration of American adults compared to 82% of Democratic Party voters; the same percentage of Republican Party voters are in favor of early voting compared to 84% of Democratic Party voters. Support for differing positions is growing more and more stark within each party.
I think this polarization is tied to two different phenomena in 21st century America. First, the balkanized news media ecosystem in which we find ourselves swimming amid the many electronics screens that dominate our households. We have so many choices of news and commentary channels that we are increasingly retreating into our own ideological bubbles and shutting out any opposing view points. It’s imperative that individuals make efforts to search for sources of information outside of their own ideology (assuming self-awareness of one’s own ideology which can also be difficult to achieve).
The elimination of the Fairness Doctrine (WikiPedia, accessed 7/27/2021) is another contributing factor to political polarization. Repealed in 1987, the Fairness Doctrine (Victor Pickard, The Washington Post, 2021) mandated radio and television broadcasters to present opposing views of allegedly controversial issues to the American public operating under the justification that, because there were so few news broadcasters, a mandate was required to maintain a diversity of opinions (correctly assuming that news media has an significant impact on the political opinions of American voters). The conservative argument to this in the era of digital media is that there are so many outlets for news & commentary today that a government mandate on media organizations is no longer necessary. However, this assumption fails to explain how a handful of companies control (Ashley Lutz, Business Insider, 2012) the legacy media (established news sources like CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, etc.). The fact that more Americans are capable of accessing a plethora of news stations today is beside the point of contention regarding who owns most of those news stations. The digital era presents Americans with more opportunities in news but most of the money still resides with legacy media (not to mention the political parties that influence respective news stations with their war chests). In other words, the laissez faire argument falls flat as usual – Americans cannot rely on private organizations to police themselves or forgo opportunities for profit in pursuit of a public interest. There is also the issue surrounding the advent of digital social media. Platforms like YouTube and Facebook have become primary players in so-called alternative news media but they are technically not broadcaster themselves, not subject to traditional regulations over periodic content.
The second phenomenon that has fueled polarization is the growing influence of money in political processes. American elections have been growing more expensive through our history. Since the start of this century, every national congressional and presidential election has topped (OpenSecrets, accessed 7/27/2021) billions of dollars. A specific Supreme Court case (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Oyez, accessed July 27, 2021) has only exacerbated the issue with election spending growing exponentially since 2010. Concern over large financial interests in elections is nothing new. The first attempt to regulate financial expenditures on elections was the Tillman Act of 1907 (WikiPedia, accessed 7/27/2021). The act, signed by President Theodore Roosevelt prohibited corporations from spending money from their own treasuries on specific election campaigns. Obviously, the Supreme Court of the United States has taken the nation in a different direction since then. Today, independent organizations can spend unlimited amounts of money advocating for a specific political candidate which ensures that people with more money are able to crowd the media air waves with advertisements, effectively shutting out less fortunate voices. I think advocacy for limits on campaign spending by independent organizations could be argued for using the Equal Protection Clause as justification but I’m not a lawyer.
The corrupting influence (OpenSecrets, accessed 7/27/2021) of capitalism on democratic-republicanism is obvious at this point in our history. Donations of $2,500 or more from individual people (large donations) make up the bulk of expenditures to political candidates, donations $200 or less (small donations) make up barely over 10% of all political expenditures. Health insurance companies, for instance, donate (OpenSecrets, accessed 7/27/2021) millions of dollars every cycle to political campaigns. This fact could be one factor in why the United States is the only industrialized country on the planet that does not guarantee a universal healthcare policy to its citizens despite a majority (Bradley Jones, Pew Research, 2020) of Americans supporting universal healthcare.
Oligarchic Intrusion, Apathy, Polarization
The high costs of elections coupled with the overwhelming influence of money in politics has led to a majority of Americans abdicating the civic responsibility of voting (Drew Desilver, Pew Research, 2020) under the justification that votes do not matter as much as in past generations, leaving the democratic to the more ideologically charged activists who are less likely to make strategic compromises with their political opponents. The 2016 elections saw 56% of the voting population turning up on Election Day – that percentage was a slight increase from 2012 but lower than the record year of 2008 when 58% of voters cast a ballot. It’s easy to cast blame onto these apathetic citizens, shrugging them off as lazy and irresponsible, but I think the more significant question is why these citizens feel so disconnected from their own government – from their democratic process. Half the nation feels so disconnected from democracy – from the republic – they don’t know where to turn to make their voice heard and, when large groups of people feel disenchanted, disaffected, and desperate, violence is more common.
I spent five years in a university under the assumption that a college degree was all I needed for a decent life as an adult but I feel as if I gained more life experience in the work force outside of the official academia sphere. This general feeling of dissatisfaction is not uncommon among college graduates and it doesn’t help that the cost of college tuition has more than doubled in the last thirty years (Bill McCarthy, PolitiFact, 2019). 58% of Americans say that college is worth current costs and 72% of Americans are in support of free tuition at public colleges and universities (Staff Report, American Public Media-Research Lab, 2019). So about half of Americans do not think college degrees are worth their price and a super majority of Americans are in support of making colleges cheaper in some capacity. I’m with the super majority who wants cheaper college.
Thinking back on my time in American schools, it’s difficult to credit any of that time with any practical knowledge of adult life. Perhaps the biggest contribution schools made to my professional development was knowledge of how to research information and how to distinguish between different sources of information. Practical specifics like job applications, tax documents, and rental agreements I learned on my own after I left the public school system. I think this is an issue worthy of our collective attention. Schools need to place more emphasis on the practical specifics of life especially junior high & high schools. A high school student should be able to navigate the fundamentals of independent living the day that he/she graduates. Basically, high school should be what college is now.
I think there are two primary strategies for reforming American education. The first strategy is to increase funding for public schools allowing for more opportunities for a wider variety of students as well as mandating free tuition for all citizen applicants and increasing pay for teachers. Taking the emphasis off test-taking and giving each student a more hands-on approach with a more personalized curriculum. The second strategy is basically the opposite approach, to decrease funding for public education forcing schools to re-organize and reallocate their budgets and strip down their curriculums with the intention of rebuilding public schools from necessities. Whereas the former strategy is a more Keynesian approach to public education, the latter strategy is a more laissez faire approach to public education.
A separate issue with American education is not the schools themselves but the civil society in which they exist. I think a particular attitude has developed in the American consciousness around educational institutions: that the institutions are beyond criticism with the belief that a college degree is the only way to to make one’s life “successful.” While I agree that more education can only be an improvement to a person’s life, I do not believe that institutions should hold a monopoly on education; a school and an education are two different things. A good education begins with parents and/or family fostering an inquisitive mindset into children. One idea my mother drilled into me in childhood was to never be afraid to ask a question. I think this invoked a curious nature within me about what kinds of questions to ask which people. Curiosity towards the world around you as well as curiosity regarding how the world has been is necessary for an informed populace. Parents need to be more active in their children’s development and push them to ask questions, perhaps even challenge their teachers.
I do not believe that any one institution (be it educational, governmental, etc.) deserves a people’s absolute and unwavering trust. Any person is susceptible to corruption and, by extension, any institution is susceptible to corruption. It is healthy to question any decision especially if it comes from a position of authority. Wirelessly connected computers and the world wide web have increased access to information on a scale never before seen in human history but despite that, I fear humans are becoming even more ideologically reclusive. It’s as if too many choices in news media is causing people to retreat into their own comforts and biases further balkanizing the political landscape. There must be ways for communities (and the broader society) to foster curiosity and encourage people to step out of their comfort zones. My advice for now, to anyone reading this, is simply to watch less and read more.
Computers may have ruined my literary attention span. I used to devour books in my childhood but, since I discovered the World Wide Web, I’ve not been as much of a reader of books; I read a lot of news articles and journals but physical books have sadly been fading out of my life. I would like to reverse this trend.
One of my favorite things to do in a quixotic rediscovery of books is coffee shop camping – simply go in to a coffee shop with a book, order a coffee, sit at a corner table, and lose yourself in your book for a couple of hours. Obviously there are a few safety measures to take when coffee shop camping during a pandemic (bring a mask and perhaps a bottle of hand sanitizer and keep a reasonable distance from other people). If the shop is too crowded, maybe turn around, and come back another day. You may find coffee shop camping to be incredibly rewarding for your mind.
My latest literary endeavor is a secondary source of American history, The Elusive Republic: Political Economy in Jeffersonian America by Drew R. McCoy Ph.D of Clark University. At its core, it’s a book about the philosophical foundations of America’s Founding Fathers as well as that generation of people. McCoy references many familiar names such as Samuel Adams, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Adam Smith and describes common ideas from that time period revolving around Britain’s apparent corruption and a growing necessity for the colonies in America to break away from the empire. The ideal was for the colonies to become a model for “republican virtue” on the world as well as a trading source of raw, agricultural materials for the rest of the world – an ideal that I think still has merit for modern humans.
The philosophy behind the republican ideal of an agrarian republic is an interesting theory on the development of human civilizations and describes stages through which civilization advance. These philosophical “stages of civilization” are:
Whereas hunting is the most simple form of civilization and commerce is the most complex, hunting is also referred to as the “rudest” stage of civilization. The republican ideal and a prevailing theory in colonial America preached that the agricultural stage of civilization was the most ideal for liberty because it was the stage of civilization that was most conducive to the human propensity for productivity (the Protestant work ethic) and allowed for the greatest degree of happiness in individual citizens. These supposed stages of civilization was a part of an Enlightenment-era effort to apply a scientific process to human sociology.
This supposed scientific method for sociology largely comes from the French philosophe Montesquieu and his French and Scottish contemporaries including:
Claude Adrien Helvétius,
Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Baron de l’Aulne,
Henry Home, Lord Kames,
Adam Smith FRSA.
The dilemma amongst purveyors of classic republican theory in colonial America was how to maintain virtuous simplicity throughout the republic’s cultural zeitgeist in an effort to prolong the agricultural stage of civilization, staving off the corrupting influences of the later stage of civilization. This dilemma provided republicans with a convenient justification for westward expansion to provide a surplus of land to “virtuous republicans” looking to establish homesteads for their ideal America.
Is it accurate to classify 21st century America as in a post-industrial stage of social development?
The classic republican ideal for early America revolved around financial independence for each citizen through land ownership. We have to remember that citizenship and civil rights were limited to a select group of people in 17th century America but the ideal was fairly progressive for the time considering it was a divergence from the strict gentry and titled nobility of the old European societies. The ideal was for “virtuous citizens” to become land owners and establish themselves as productive members of society through industrious farming. The antithesis of this ideal was that settlers might become disconnected from the rest of the nation and devolve into a lower stage of civilization in their isolation. The republican solution to this antithesis was to expand public infrastructure to keep frontiersmen connected to the fledgling republic’s internal markets.
Is it possible to maintain the classic, republican ideal for an agrarian republic but with a large post-industrial economic sector?
Reading about 17th century America, I’m noticing similar concerns to the issues that plague 21st century America – worries over large populations of unemployed, skepticism towards immigration and fears over emigration, concern for future generations and changing trends, etc. The predominant political debates seemed to be over the preservation of the agricultural sector versus the growth of the manufacturing sector with the democratic-republicans (Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, etc.) on one side and the federalists (Alexander Hamilton, Robert Morris, etc.) on the other; the fear being that an excessive manufacturing sector would lead to “superfluous luxuries” and ultimately “corruption in government” and “effeminacy in citizens.”
How often do we hear politicians today chastise the population on accusations of degeneracy and a lack of personal responsibility and “masculine values?” It’s funny how history tends to repeat itself.
What I once may have taken for granted. A father dedicated to my productive growth. Mentally, physically and wholesomely a dad committed to a humble home. As I grew into a mother myself, I began to see beyond the clouds. Not just their reasons for all my woes but rather the dreams they (mom and […]
(I wrote this essay in college and it has been in my Google Drive since. After submitting it to two local newspapers two weeks ago, I finally just came to the conclusion, “fuck it! I’ll publish it myself!” So, here it is.)
The cannabis plant is relatively easy to grow, it can grow almost anywhere on the planet, and humans have neural receptors that respond specifically to cannabinoids (THC and its relative chemicals in the plant). Cannabis possesses multiple medicinal properties as a pain and stress reliever and it seems to be impossible to overdose on it. The fiber from the plant can also be used for multiple industrial and commercial purposes. Why would a government criminalize such a versatile plant?
In the first half of the twentieth century, three legislative acts defined American drug policy: the Harrison Narcotics Act, passed in 1914 under President Woodrow Wilson; the Marijuana Tax Act, passed in 1937 under President Franklin Roosevelt; and the Boggs Act, passed in 1951 under President Harry Truman. The Harrison Narcotics Act and the Marijuana Tax Act were designed to control movement of opium, coca leaf (cocaine), and cannabis products throughout the nation.
The flaws in these acts of legislation involved limitations on medical professionals to assist so-called “non-patients” with addiction troubles and drove a sector of the drug market underground. Medical professionals came out against these two acts of legislation in a plethora of medical journals. The federal government, recognizing an increased national issue with drug addiction, passed the Boggs Act in 1951, which set criminal penalties for drug possession. Naturally, this punitive measure did not help in reducing addiction. On the contrary, it increased drug crime by inadvertently placing more value on black market products. While the Marijuana Tax Act was eventually declared unconstitutional in 1969, it was soon replaced with the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which created categories for different drugs.
Cannabis was placed in the most restrictive category supposedly temporarily while President Richard Nixon commissioned a report on the drug’s level of danger. However; despite the Shafer Commission’s recommendations, President Nixon kept cannabis under the “Schedule 1” classification arguably to push back against the counter-culture that emerged from the 1960’s. In the decades following the Controlled Substances Act, cannabis’ “Schedule 1” classification severely limited scientific research on the plant.
Momentum for reform grew out of citizen-led movements like the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws at smaller government levels. The states of Maine, Oregon, and Alaska were the first to decriminalize (not legalize) cannabis after President Nixon’s Controlled Substances Act.
The past efforts by the United States government to regulate drugs have been about controlling the crop and regulating the behavior of individuals; this does not fostering a safe environment for entrepreneurs. Drug usage is an issue that revolves around a human conditioning for instant gratification, which comes from arguably the strongest part of our brain: the limbic system, which houses our emotions. Governments are not going to rewire human emotions with punitive laws against drug use. A more pragmatic method for dealing with drug use and the issue of addiction is to place it exclusively under the jurisdiction of medical professionals rather than law enforcement agencies. Driving a product into the black market just creates more issues for our society, issues that are more dangerous than the original issue of drug addiction. As a society, we should not be pushing the weakest among us into the arms of violent criminal enterprises, we should be shining a light on the black market with a benevolent domestic policy of liberty and justice for all.
Happy Friday, people. This new year is starting out with a bang, isn’t it? We’ve just witnessed an attempted “rebellion” against our dying empire (a pretty pathetic rebellion at that) and now we have a new strain of this pandemic-causing coronavirus. I guess we can always raise our steins to the next year.
I suppose the next big thing we can look forward to is the day our outgoing moronic president gets kicked out of the White House (only to be replaced by another aging, corporate moron). POSITIVES!
At least we might get some competent disaster relief for this pandemic. I’d be happy with a large stimulus check so I can buy a new computer. The hundreds of billions committed to fighting Covid-19 would be good too.
Of course, every other industrialized nation is still wondering why every American citizen is not guaranteed healthcare but one step at a time I guess.
But enough politics . . .
Instead of dwelling on the negative, we need to at least make an attempt to find whatever it is that makes us smile on this godless planet. Life is what we make it so let’s try and make it a little less shitty. The start of a new year is a good time for self-reflection, it’s a logical place to stop and think within the overall passage of time.
What if we used this new year as a challenge to try and make something? Anything – a fictional story, a memoir, a poem, an anthology of poems, a piece of music, a short film, a documentary, any piece of art that makes you smile.
After all, we’ve got nothing else to do.
Let us use this year to rest, heal, and recover from the previous shit show.