Self-Deleting Criticism

You've heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's when your present belief about a future event becomes an indirect cause of the future event.

In this presidential campaign the media has been engaging in something called “self-deleting criticism.” The Republican candidate does or says something that for previous candidates would be disqualifying. The journalist goes on at length about how awful it is. On the televised segment, they laugh in disbelief and nudge each other in the ribs. And then they say, “but for some reason the normal rules don't apply to Trump.”

And then, they utter the classic line, “Well, we'll have to leave it there.”

Whatever criticism they've leveled is deleted. It's as though they've said nothing.

Unfortunately at some point self-deleting criticism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

Where’s Twitter’s Aksimet?

Why doesn't Twitter have something like WordPress's Akismet? Akismet is a plugin that filters spam by combining information about spam captured on all participating sites. It uses that information to generate rules to block future spam. I know that bad actors can easily create new Twitter accounts, but should also be easy for a large group of people to tag them in real time.

And I'd imagine if you can create an algorithm that can predict what you'd like to buy, surely an algorithm could be created to identify both hate speech and the speaker based on a few online real-time gestures. Identifying these storms of attacks, like the ones against Leslie Jones, is not too different from identifying the events that Twitter wants to sell advertising against.

Twitter valued being unfiltered at a certain point, but now the stream is quite polluted.

 

Test Your Strength

test-strength

Sometimes there’s just a little glint of something in the sand. A quotation is brought in to the stream of the conversation and it’s meant to provide support for some point being put across in an answer to an interviewer’s question.

In Tim Bradshaw’s Financial Times interview with Larry Harvey, one of the founders of Burning Man, it’s the moment when he pulls Milton Friedman into the conversation. The question has to do with whether or not ideas from Burning Man have entered the larger culture. Harvey responds:

I’d like to mischievously quote Milton Friedman. He said change only happens in a crisis, and then that actions that are undertaken depend on the ideas that are just lying around.

I don’t know the origin of the quote or whether it’s accurate or not. While I didn’t have much use for the rest of the article, I did find the Friedman quote intriguing. On the one hand we could make the case that the ideas we find lying around are the result of some historical process and therefore predetermined by their predecessors. The other case is that these ideas are lying around for a variety of reasons. Some are bought and paid for, others are the result of conspiracy theories, some are just random trends. Probably the truth lies somewhere between the two. As I look around me at the ideas lying around, that one seems to fit the bill.

When we consider Friedman’s idea about crisis and action and apply it to global warming, we run into a problem of scale. According to Friedman, action occurs when we perceive the crisis. As the crisis reveals itself, we humans look to the ideas lying around and hope to find something that might serve to blunt its force. Global warming is a large wave overwhelming the biosphere. While it may not be possible to pinpoint the exact moment this wave began gathering its force, certainly it’s a trans-generational event. The patenting of the steam engine (1781) serves as a useful marker of global warming’s beginning.

Objects of this size and complexity have been given the name hyperobjects by philosopher Timothy Morton. Even our ability to directly detect the crisis is limited. We require a global network of sensors, computer climate models and a good measure of inference. The size and momentum of the global warming wave begs the question as to whether the ideas we might find lying around could possibly counter something of this size.

We look for an idea to counter strength with strength. We might believe through the use of leverage, physics and ingenuity we can create a force sufficient to provide an answer. Our instinct tells us that size and momentum of global warming must be overmastered.

In addition to the word “hyperobjects” Timothy Morton also has given us an idea of the value of “hypocrisy, weakness and lameness.” When confronted with something as large and powerful as global warming, perhaps we should take a different tack. Dinosaurs were the most powerful animals on earth during another global climate event. Strength didn’t result in survival. Perhaps as we look at the ideas lying around, we shouldn’t assume that it’s strength that will get us out of this crisis. To evade the power of a hyperobject, we may need to reverse our instincts and get small.

The Trumpian Wager

This presidential election will test the maxim that there's no such thing as bad publicity. The Republican candidate is operating on the theory that policy and issues don't matter. If the candidate can dominate the news cycle, meaning that he is the topic of more televised conversations than his opponent, he will win the election. He believes he's doing very well, and by his measure, he is. He dominates the national news every day and every night. He's all anyone can talk about. He's confident he can continue to dominate every news cycle between now and the election. Every voter in the country will have heard his name more than any other. No one has ever run a presidential campaign on that theory.

The reason the Republican candidate doesn't need to know any policy is because he only uses a single measure for his relative success or failure each day. If he's the lead story on a majority of national and cable newscasts, then he's won the day. He's quite right in saying that people will be writing books about his campaign. Critics of his methods miss the point. The more outrage they express, night after night, the more he believes he's winning.

The wager he's making is that the winner of the election will be the candidate who has the best ratings.

 

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