North Carolina Hog Farms Spray Manure Around Black Communities

In eastern North Carolina, residents are battling with one of the state’s largest industries: hog farms. Last week, North Carolina lawmakers passed House Bill 467, which limits the damages that residents could collect against hog farms. The billion-dollar industry is primarily clustered in the eastern part of the state, where hog farms collect billions of gallons of untreated pig feces and urine in what are essentially cesspools, then dispose of the waste by spraying it into the air. Residents living in the area of the spray complain of adverse health effects and odor so bad that it limits their ability to be outdoors.

— source democracynow.org

Culture of the Commons

Interview with Mayo Fuster Morell

Mayo Fuster Morell, responsible for BarCola, a group working on collaborative economy policies within the Barcelona city council, shares her thoughts on how commons-based forms of collaboration can build a more just society.

What is the commons?

Commons is an ethos and an umbrella term which encompasses many practices and transformative changes. The commons emphasises common interests and needs. It includes collaborative production, open and shared resources, collective ownership, as well as empowering and participative forms of political and economic organizing.

It is, though, a very plural concept with very diverse ‘traditions’ and perspectives. Some commons for example, are connected to material resources (pastoral, fields, fishing etc) and others to immaterial ones (knowledge etc).

In the area of knowledge commons, the emphasis is on the conditions of access – open access and the possibility to access resources and intervene in their production without requiring the permission of others. It emphasises knowledge as a public good, a patrimony, and a human right.

Why do you believe we need to return to the idea and practices of the commons?

Commons were present prior to capitalism. But somehow this question implies that the commons is something of the past, not of the present. Is the family, the market, or public space something of the past? Would we pose such a question about these ways of organising ourselves? Commons is an integral part of our present society; not something to recover from the past.

Good point. Perhaps then the question is why is the issue rising up the political agenda?

I think this is partly connected to the democratization of knowledge and engagement that came with the arrival of the Internet. Cyber-scholars such as Yochai Benkler (author of Wealth of Networks), argue that the commons moved from the margins to the center of many economic systems, because of the reduction of costs for collective action due to the widespread adoption of ICT. Others such as Carol Rose (author of The Comedy of the Commons) have shown how internet commons resources become more valuable the more people access them- which undermined former critiques of the commons who argued that they were unsustainable and encouraged free-riders. With the internet, the opposite is true!

Another trajectory that has come to the fore is that of the collective governance of natural resources, in which community governance of a common-owned resources is central. This is the frame of Nobel-prize winner Elinor Ostrom’s school.

Another trajectory we can see is that of defending public services and the resistance to neoliberal enclosure of public institutions, which TNI does a lot of work on.

Yet despite these diverse trajectories, they clearly all point to integral parts of our current system and provide solutions.

Why did digital culture draw so heavily – and continue to have strong – commons-based approaches?

There are many reasons. I would highlight two. The first is the fact that digital culture emerged, in many ways, from counterculture. This story is very well told in a book by Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture. Hippies and psychedelic subcultures were amongst the first to see the utility of the Internet, developing virtual communities. The values of community were very present in these early forms of the internet. In fact, the Internet itself was and could still be conceived as a commons – even it has been increasingly enclosed by corporations allied with authoritarian regimes.

The second reason is the decentralised character of the Internet. This enabled the democratisation of access to the means of cultural production. Today, large parts of the population have access to immense resources of knowledge, along with programs to create and remix that knowledge. The internet also facilitated new forms of distribution of that knowledge, which favoured collaborative and open production. It made an economy based on collaborative and open production and distribution and sharing more efficient than closed, proprietary and product-based modes of the previous industrial era.

What stands out for you as the most interesting concrete projects in the digital commons?

Wikipedia certainly is one. Since its creation in 2001, it has become one of the largest reference websites in the world, with an incredible 70,000 active contributors working on more than 41 million articles in 294 languages. The Free and Open source project, that has enabled people to freely use, copy, study, and change software in any way, and underlies many well-known software systems is another one.

The rise of platform cooperatives such Fairmondo and SMart are also promising developments. Fairmondo is an online marketplace for ethical goods and services, that originated in Germany and has expanded to the UK. It is a cooperative alternative to Amazon and Ebay. SMart is a cooperative that pools services and skills to make them affordable for creative freelancers.

Crowdfunding platforms like Goteo, which are building alternatives to the current financial system are also potentially very significant. Goteo has created a community of over 65,000 people, providing civic crowdfunding and collaboration on citizen initiatives and social, cultural, technological and educational projects.

It seems digital commons movements are integrally linked with culture – both in the way they work and the cultural outputs they are producing. What are the lessons for social movements in general?

I think it’s useful to highlight two great conceptions of culture: culture (with a small ‘c’) and Culture (with a big ‘C’). Culture refers to artistic expression, culture refers to our anthropological nature. Every human activity involves culture, and so with this meaning certainly, commons are connected to culture.

It is perhaps not a surprise that the commons emerged as a predominant organizational form to organize the governance and sustainability of artistic production. These forms of Culture are often based on self-governed modalities, favoring open access, innovation and remix, and putting community needs and creativity first and profitability second.

As I mentioned, one of the first digital areas to favor a more commons organizational form of production was in the area of software production, with the emergence of free and open source projects like Linus or Apache which became the dominant mode of production (larger than proprietary systems) in certain areas of software industry. From there, it was an easy step to move commons-based organization of music, and film, and also encyclopedias and other content subjects, that could benefit from collaborative production. The term free culture refers to this

Now, we see commons production expanded to almost any area of production, including currencies, city landscapes (like urban gardens and orchards), architecture (FabLab), and the open design of cars (Like Wikispeed car) to toys. The early forms of the digital commons have helped inform these newer forms.

Regarding lessons for social movements, I think they can help us expand the conception and practice of participation moving from forms of organizing that require high levels of involvement by a few, super activists towards models based on economies of participation. The key is to integrate participation based on diversity – not only strong contributors, but also allowing for weak and sporadic involvement, and people who can only follow the process and allowing those different types of involvement. Somehow we need to democratize participation in social movements in order to reach and adapt to a larger social base.

What are the key elements that make up a culture of the commons?

Commons are very very diverse, that is something that defines them, as they adapt to local and specific circumstances, and are embedded within the specific community and commoning to which they belong.

I would say these are the great key principles, but not all of them are necessarily present in all the families of commons or specific commons:

Community organizing (openness to engagement)
Self-governance of the community by the creators of the commonly-held value
Open access to the resources created
Ethics of looking beyond profitability to serve social and environmental needs and inclusion

Inclusion is perhaps one of the weakest elements, particularly in the Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS) movement. Studies suggest that only 1.5% of contributors in FLOSS communities are women, while in proprietary closed software production, the proportion is closer 30%. How can FLOSS be a model with such poor gender participation rates? Similarly, communities that manage natural resources, like fishing commons institutions in Albufera, Valencia, restricted women’s participation until very recently. Additionally, commons theorising tends to be very dominated by male authors, who engage very little with feminist theory.

Commons approaches need to do more to embrace more these issues, develop methodologies and highlight and learn from the cases which perform well in terms of gender inclusion. Barcelona en comu, in its attempts to reclaim political institutions for the common good, is one example where feminist wisdom is properly engaged in the commons and seeking to bring about gender equality.

Tell us about what you have been involved in through Barcelona en Comu.

I was on the initial list of people that promoted the launch of Barcelona en comu. This was a citizen platform launched in 2014 in the wake of the popular uprisings that took the squares of many Spanish cities after the financial crisis. The platform for Barcelona en comu was drawn up in a highly participative way, and has sought to put participative democracy and commons-methodologies at the heart of governance.

I am member of Barcelona en Comú and am responsible for BarCola, a group working on collaborative economy policies within the Barcelona city council. Our group has helped organise the project and conference of procomuns.net which is raising popular awareness of commons-based collaborative economic initiatives, providing technical guidelines to communities for building FLOSS technologies and making specific policy recommendations for the Barcelona City Council and for the European Union and other administrations.

Our first international event in March 2016, brought together more than 400 participants to develop 120 policy recommendations for governments.

How is the so-called ‘Shared Economy’ different to the digital commons?

The sharing economy is not different to the digital commons; it just puts more the emphasis on the economical dimension of the commons. However, there has been a wikiwashing of the term, with the media inaccurately using the term sharing economy to refer to the on-demand economy, dominated by firms like Uber and Airbnb.

These are economies based on collaborative production, but they do not include commons governance, access or an agenda of serving the public interest. A true sharing economy is one that is connected to the community and society and looks to serve the common interest, building more egalitarian relations.

How do we prevent corporations – or other structures of power such military – taking over the digital commons?

At these moment there are in my view three key strategies and goals:

1) Create public commons partnerships. Push for political institutions to be led by commons principles and to support commons-based economic production (such as reinventing public services led by citizens’ participation, what I call commonification). Barcelona en comu is providing a great model for this.

2) Reclaim the economy, and particularly develop an alternative financial system.

3) Confront patriarchy with the commons, in other words embrace freedom and justice for all, not just for a particular privileged subject (men, white, etc) and help foster greater diversity in society.

I think increasing the commons as a matrix within our systems has the greatest potential to develop an alternative to the current capitalist system.

— source tni.org

Most Adults Spend More Time on Their Digital Devices Than They Think

A recent national survey conducted by Common Sense Media, which included nearly 1,800 parents of children aged eight to 18, found that parents spend an average of nine hours and 22 minutes every day in front of various screens—including smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions. Of those, nearly eight hours are for personal use, not work.

Perhaps even more surprising is that 78 percent of parents surveyed believe they are good role models for how to use digital technology. Multimedia are designed to be engaging and habit-forming, so we do not even realize how much time we spend when we heed the siren call of our devices, says Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and author of The Big Disconnect

— source scientificamerican.com

On culture and power

Interview with Ahdaf Soueif

We seem to be entering through a period of contradictions, of dislocating change and crisis, of raised hopes and terrible realities. We have seen the economic crisis questioning the very pillars of neoliberalism yet market fundamentalism has not faltered in its march. We have had inspiring flourishing of social movements yet authoritarian leaders everywhere are rising to the fore. How do you understand this moment?

There’s clearly a struggle taking place on a universal scale between a system that has the world in its clutches, and something new that’s trying to be born. In a sense, this is the story of mankind.

But some elements in our situation are particular to this moment. The first is an awareness of the interconnectedness of the world – in both problems and solutions.

Of course people with interests in the matter have always been aware of the opportunities that different parts of the world present; trade, conquest and migration are all based on that. But now there’s a growing general awareness that the world’s problems need to be solved globally.

Environmental issues are the most obvious examples, but there are many more – the exponential increase of both wealth and poverty and the obscene gap between rich and poor, wars, migration and the movement of capital, and more – and they’re all linked.

We can’t pretend that this awareness is shared by everybody, but it’s shared by enough politicized groups of – on the whole young – people across the world (can we call this ‘the Young Global Collective’?) – to make it now unremarkable for us to see Palestinians, say, sending messages of support to Black activists in the US, or to have seen Occupy using Tahrir iconography.

This awareness needs to grow, to coalesce, and to use its potential to generate ideas and action. For this we need forms of global conferring, decision-making, solidarity and action – like the TNI enterprise.

The second element that’s particular to this moment is that the Internet and related technology seem to hold a promise that global conversations and actions are achievable.

The third element is that the fate of the planet itself is in the balance; this lends acute urgency to the struggle.

On the other hand, the existing power system also sees the issues in global terms – and it is in a better position to create and enact its own global solidarity in pursuit of consolidating and furthering its power. Bilderberg, Davos, G8 are all examples of this.

I think we need to recognise that neoliberalism has not failed. It has not failed its proponents. It understands that it has not delivered its promises to ‘the people’ and that, therefore, it is under attack. But its answer is to find reasons outside itself for this non-delivery (immigrants, shirkers, Terror) and to repeat its promises more emphatically every time it changes its front players.

It plays to the fears of the audience, and it breathes life into the demons in their psyches: jingoism, selfishness, racism, a readiness to embrace violence, etc. The Trump campaign was an example of this.

The system – being old and in power – has its ideas, arguments, discourse and justifications in place. And embedded within it are the power structures with which it protects and continuously justifies and consolidates itself: the governments, the intelligence, police, security and military establishments, the legal and financial systems that underpin them – and the media.

One of the traits I find really attractive and encouraging in the Young Global Collective is how unconstrained it is by old ideologies. It has powerful ideas – and has ethics and natural justice on its side – but these ideas are not yet translated – how could they be? – into one overarching idea that can develop into a coherent system for running the world.

It has not yet found a way to coalesce into a global movement – although we often see bits trying to come together as happened in Cancun and Durban. (My sense is that the Green parties are the most suited to embrace and process the impulses and ideas of the Young Global Collective and forge them into a much-needed vision centred somehow around life, sustainability and human rights).

So what we have now is a situation where the Young Global Collective understands that Neoliberalism is lethally bad for most of the world’s population and for the planet itself. It continually challenges various aspects of Neoliberalism in a variety of ways in different parts of the world: activists take on Big Oil, armaments, dismantling the NHS in the UK, police brutality in the US, austerity in Greece, the BDS campaign takes on the Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine, and so on. Every one of these challenges raises our hopes.

It used to be a received idea that if millions came out onto the streets and stayed there the existing power structures would collapse and space would be created for something new. Exactly what the new thing would be like no-one knew, but everyone had a good idea what it would not be like. And everyone hoped there would be space and time for forms to evolve. Egypt 2011 proved that this was not true. Syria is proving it in even uglier fashion.

The young of the Young Global Collective are to a large extent averse to the structures and practices of power. They – commendably – want to change the world but not to rule it. In other words, most social movements would find it an impossible contradiction to employ, for example, an armed force to defend themselves and spin doctors and PR firms to propagate their ideas.

In the midst of this conflict there are now the emerging armed actors, like Islamic State. They serve the existing system – by purchasing arms, militarizing struggles, normalizing violence and by providing a Terror Monster for the use of fear-mongering politicians and so a justification for increased surveillance of citizens, increased spending on arms, intelligence and security. In a way, we are witnessing an alliance of Neoliberalism and Terror whipping democracies into fascism.

All these are things we need to be – I’m certain many of us are, constantly – thinking about, trying to imagine and image, to represent and to develop and to counter.

The culture of Tahrir square

You had the experience of being part of the movements in Cairo and Egypt that inspired the world. Can you tell us something about the culture of those resistance movements? Is there something of that time that remains today?

What happened in Egypt in January 2011, and so embedded itself in the world’s imagination, was a moment – a climactic moment – in a process that had started years before, and continues today.

I would particularly like to remind us of two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that were set up in the 1990s: al-Nadim Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture, and the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre (HMLC). Both were set up by committed and charismatic professionals: psychiatrist Aida Seif el-Dawla and lawyer Ahmed Seif, who were able to gather around themselves similarly committed and smart teams. Their focus was human rights, and their work revealed the extent to which the abuse of human rights had become a normalised part of how power structures in Egypt are serviced, consolidated and extended.

Both organizations sought to redress and challenge this abuse; al-Nadim treated people who had been tortured, published reports and statistics, and took huge risks campaigning against the Ministry of the Interior and individual officers; HMLC provided people with legal support against a wide spectrum of human rights violations, published information and research papers and sought to take cases to the Constitutional Court and so to change and develop the law itself.

By taking on the Mubarak regime in this way al-Nadim and HMLC started this latest round of resistance and enabled it to take root. The positions they took formed the “personality” of the 2011 revolution.

Both organizations provided their services free, paid their staff in line with Egyptian rates, and were very careful in choosing non-governmental funding sources whose agendas matched their own; this way they avoided the alienation and de-politicization that blights so much NGO work.

Both were clear in that their services were available to everybody regardless of nationality, citizenship, faith, gender, sexual orientation, etc. HMLC, for example, took on the defence of the unpopular and dangerous “gay case”; the Queen Boat. Both were welcoming of refugees.

Their audience – their constituency – was the public both at home and abroad. They implemented a vision of human rights and speaking truth to power as international as well as local concerns. In Australia, I once met a Sudanese writer who told me al-Nadim had saved his life and his marriage.

The first decade of the new century saw a number of initiatives appearing in Egypt, all seeking change and challenging power.

HMLC then opened its doors to new initiatives like the Movement for the Support of the Palestinian Intifada (2000) providing these initiatives with a free safe space, resources, information and advice. Lawyers trained in HMLC established their own NGOs supporting freedom of information and expression, workers’ rights, land rights, personal rights, economic rights, housing rights and others.

There were movements for the independence of the universities and for the independence of the judiciary and movements simply for ‘change’. ‘Kefaya’ was an umbrella movement for social and political change which put sudden and imaginative protests on the streets from 2005 to 2011. The 6 April Youth Movement, which worked to establish links with workers’ protests, managed to create a reasonable cross-country presence with activists in every major town.

When –after 28 January 2011 – Tahrir – and other locations in Alexandria and other cities – for a period became a liberated space, the culture they created was informed – in its basic principles – by the spirit of the work of the previous decade.

One clear principle was the empowerment of people. Activists taught reading and writing to street children who, for the first time, found a safe space on the street. The Mosireen Film Collective trained anybody who came along to shoot and edit film. Some of the trainees were street children who went on to shoot their own footage with Mosireen equipment. Mosireen documented housing struggles, fishing, industry and legal struggles and amplified people’s voices through them.

‘Let’s Write Our Constitution’ was an initiative set up by Alaa Abd el-Fattah (Ahmed Seif’s son and one of the most prominent figures of the revolution. Now serving five years in prison for protesting) to elicit a new set of constitutional governing principles from ordinary people across the country.

Freedom of information was another principle, with Mosireen, again, acting not only as producer of footage but as collector, archivist, point of exchange and distributor of footage onto mobile phones. By the end of 2011, when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was killing revolutionaries on the streets, this footage was used by activists in the campaign: Kazeboon (‘They Lie’), to expose the lies of the military.

Kazeboon achieved what every grassroots movement aims for: non-ownership. People across the country downloaded footage from mobile phones, acquired or borrowed projectors and set up surprise screenings against walls. This was how everyone came to see the huge gap between the rhetoric of the military and what they were doing on the ground.

Another initiative set up by Alaa Abd el-Fattah – who happens to be a software designer – was ‘Tweet-Nadwa’; a discussion forum run by Twitter rules. This was one of the activities in which technology and game-playing were used to celebrate diversity, tackle difficult topics and bring people together.

The first Tweet-Nadwa brought young people from the Muslim Brotherhood and others who’d left the Brotherhood to talk about their experience with each other and with a wide audience – a meeting that was a ground-breaker for everyone involved. Another was held sitting on the ground in Tahrir, about reforming the police. Applause was not by clapping but by ‘twittering’ your hands in the air. Attracted by the twittering hands more and more people joined the nadwa and the discussion. Tweets were streamed on a large screen.

In Tahrir there was, overall, a rejection of Neoliberal capitalism. There was true altruism, a rooted belief in human rights and a tremendous emphasis on social justice. People understood that their views about how to achieve social justice ranged from centre right to far left, but it was enough that everyone wanted it. For the moment the work of keeping the sit-ins alive, pressing for the removal of Mubarak and then trying to press for transparent, democratic government provided enough common ground for people to work from.

As Tahrir was periodically under attack by security forces, the army and various related thugs, field hospitals very quickly appeared. The organization and efficiency of these cannot be overstated. Entire systems came into being organically to save and treat people. After the attacks they often stayed in place to provide everyone with free medical care. A culture also grew where many physicians who did not come to Tahrir made themselves available to perform emergency surgery – particularly eye surgery – for free at their hospitals and clinics.

And, of course, art was everywhere. From simple pavement drawings by people who suddenly realised they were free to make them, to huge sophisticated murals by graffiti artists that expressed – and created – the collective spirit of Tahrir. Graffiti artists recorded events, made statements, created iconic emblems – The Blue Bra, Nefertiti in a Gas Mask, Angel Ultras, Universal Man – and eventually created massive murals which mined the art of every era of Egypt’s long past to bring its aesthetic and moral force to bear on the present moment.

There’s much more. But I want to close this section with a quote from a young revolutionary, written in December 2011:

Tahrir Square worked because it was inclusive – with every type of Egyptian represented equally. It worked because it was inventive – from the creation of electric and sanitation infrastructure to the daily arrival of new chants and banners. It worked because it was open-source and participatory – so it was unkillable and incorruptible. It worked because it was modern – online communication baffled the government while allowing the revolutionaries to organise efficiently and quickly. It worked because it was peaceful – the first chant that went up when under attack was always ‘Selmeyya! Selmeyya!’. It worked because it was just – not a single attacking (thug) was killed, they were all arrested. It worked because it was communal – everyone in there, to a greater or lesser extent, was putting the good of the people before the individual. It worked because it was unified and focused – Mubarak’s departure was an unbreakable bond. It worked because everyone believed in it. Inclusive, inventive, open-source, modern, peaceful, just, communal, unified and focused. A set of ideals on which to build a national politics.

You ask Is there something of that time that remains today? The answer has to be ‘yes’. Even though thousands of our young people have been killed and thousands have been injured – some without repair; even though tens of thousands are in prison and hundreds of thousands live in trauma.

Even though the country has been through betrayals and massacres, the democratic process has been discredited and the military has established a counter-revolutionary regime more repressive and vicious than any that Egypt has ever known.

Even though there are people who found themselves in the revolution and when it was lost they were lost. Even though there are people who are disillusioned and bitter and people who pretend 2011 was a mass hallucination and people who have gone back to their lives and are trying to forget that the last six years ever happened.

Yet, I would say that everybody who was truly involved in 2011 and who is now working on something – anything, whether they are in Egypt or outside it – is doing work that will one day fuel the next revolutionary wave.

Enough to note the internet news sites like MadaMasr, or al-Badeel, or Yanair and all the people working in them, still providing news, analysis and commentary. The network of legal and practical support for the prisoners – still functioning despite exhaustion. The human rights organizations born of HMLC, still working despite arrests, freezes on assets and smear campaigns. Aida Seif el-Dawla and her colleagues sitting in their office, refusing to close, and facing down 20 security agents just a few weeks ago.

And all of this while arrests disappearances and deaths in prisons and in police stations continue.

Culture and meaning

From your experience in participating in the Arab Spring and then seeing its hopes and aspirations diverted or crushed, how do you see the role of culture in sustaining and one day delivering on those dreams?

It is through culture that we describe the world and what has happened to it and to us in it. We comment on the present, excavate the past and try to imagine a future – or several.

Culture holds up a mirror, criticizes, tries to synthesize; it puts worlds together, opens up feelings, validates them, provides illumination, ideas, respite. Culture is dreaming the dream, it is also enacting it. Culture provides us with the language, the symbols, the imagery to explore, communicate and propose. Without culture no dream is dreamable.

I’d like to give you one tiny, and to me, powerful example of the role of culture creating meaning.

We’ve all seen the ancient Egyptian symbol of the scarab with a disc between its front legs. Well, some artist, thousands of years ago, watched a black beetle lay its eggs in a bit of animal dung. The beetle rolled the dung and rolled it and rolled it till the eggs were encased in a ball of dung at least twice its own size. Then the beetle dug a hole. Then, moving backwards and using its hind legs, it rolled the ball of dung deep into the hole. It then came out of the hole, filled it up and went away.

The artist watched the space where the hole had been until one day, struggling out of the earth, there emerged 15, 20 baby beetles. As they found their feet and shook the dung and the earth off their wings and started to take their first tentative flying leaps the artist saw the new little beetles’ luminous bright blue wings catching the light. Iridescent, sparkling little joyous flickers of sapphire blue against the earth. The Scarab is the dung beetle, the Disc is both the ball of dung and the sun that gives light and life to everything.

For the reader, thousands of years ago, the image of the ‘Scarab holding the Disc’ spoke of ‘becoming’, of transformation and emerging. Just think of all the elements that image brought together, and of the power of what it proposed.

“Culture” is often regarded – and may be presented by political and religious authorities – as being both homogeneous and static, yet we know that there are always fault lines and voices that don’t get a hearing or are suppressed. We also know that well-intentioned external efforts to address harmful or gender-restrictive traditional practices can have the effect of further entrenching them. How, then, can changes happen and be sustained?

I think change happens organically within each community/culture group. The change is for the better – in other words towards more freedom, openness, transparency etc – when people are confident and not defensive. ‘Outside’ intervention should only ever be at the request and according to the demands and guidelines of trusted and authentic ‘inside’ groups. So a feminist group from Somalia, say, wanting to work on feminist issues in Norway, would only do so in partnership with credible, rooted Norwegian groups and within their programme.

A culture of transformation

What does a culture of transformation, democracy and justice look like?

The society we dream of would be one in which no child is born disadvantaged, where basic education and healthcare are free, where people don’t have to worry about survival, where everyone has enough time and resources to fulfill their potential as they see it, where people are truly involved in the decisions that will affect them, where we respect the earth and all natural creatures on it.

I believe that the world needs to be engaged with and run as one unit.

I believe that the processes of democracy unless accompanied by certain safeguards are merely a tool for the system. When people have to make a decision on an issue they need to have all the information that’s relevant to that issue, be able to understand it, and be free of any need or coercion that affects their decision. Without transparency, freedom of information, education and guaranteed human rights there is no democracy.

Finally, this is a statement that I’ve been making for a while, and I would like to make it again here, as particularly relevant to TNI:

“If I could decree a universal education programme, I would make every child in the world learn a brief history of the entire world that focussed on the common ground. It would examine how people perceive their relationship to each other, to the planet, and to the universe, and it would see human history as an ongoing, joint project, where one lot of people picked up where another had left off.”

— source longreads.tni.org

How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail

Have you ever noticed that when you present people with facts that are contrary to their deepest held beliefs they always change their minds? Me neither. In fact, people seem to double down on their beliefs in the teeth of overwhelming evidence against them. The reason is related to the worldview perceived to be under threat by the conflicting data.

Creationists, for example, dispute the evidence for evolution in fossils and DNA because they are concerned about secular forces encroaching on religious faith. Anti-vaxxers distrust big pharma and think that money corrupts medicine, which leads them to believe that vaccines cause autism despite the inconvenient truth that the one and only study claiming such a link was retracted and its lead author accused of fraud. The 9/11 truthers focus on minutiae like the melting point of steel in the World Trade Center buildings that caused their collapse because they think the government lies and conducts “false flag” operations to create a New World Order. Climate deniers study tree rings, ice cores and the ppm of greenhouse gases because they are passionate about freedom, especially that of markets and industries to operate unencumbered by restrictive government regulations. Obama birthers desperately dissected the president’s long-form birth certificate in search of fraud because they believe that the nation’s first African-American president is a socialist bent on destroying the country.

In these examples, proponents’ deepest held worldviews were perceived to be threatened by skeptics, making facts the enemy to be slayed. This power of belief over evidence is the result of two factors: cognitive dissonance and the backfire effect. In the classic 1956 book When Prophecy Fails, psychologist Leon Festinger and his co-authors described what happened to a UFO cult when the mother ship failed to arrive at the appointed time. Instead of admitting error, “members of the group sought frantically to convince the world of their beliefs,” and they made “a series of desperate attempts to erase their rankling dissonance by making prediction after prediction in the hope that one would come true.” Festinger called this cognitive dissonance, or the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts simultaneously.

Two social psychologists, Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson (a former student of Festinger), in their 2007 book Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) document thousands of experiments demonstrating how people spin-doctor facts to fit preconceived beliefs to reduce dissonance. Their metaphor of the “pyramid of choice” places two individuals side by side at the apex of the pyramid and shows how quickly they diverge and end up at the bottom opposite corners of the base as they each stake out a position to defend.

In a series of experiments by Dartmouth College professor Brendan Nyhan and University of Exeter professor Jason Reifler, the researchers identify a related factor they call the backfire effect “in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.” Why? “Because it threatens their worldview or self-concept.” For example, subjects were given fake newspaper articles that confirmed widespread misconceptions, such as that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When subjects were then given a corrective article that WMD were never found, liberals who opposed the war accepted the new article and rejected the old, whereas conservatives who supported the war did the opposite … and more: they reported being even more convinced there were WMD after the correction, arguing that this only proved that Saddam Hussein hid or destroyed them. In fact, Nyhan and Reifler note, among many conservatives “the belief that Iraq possessed WMD immediately before the U.S. invasion persisted long after the Bush administration itself concluded otherwise.”

If corrective facts only make matters worse, what can we do to convince people of the error of their beliefs? From my experience, 1. keep emotions out of the exchange, 2. discuss, don’t attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum), 3. listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately, 4. show respect, 5. acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion, and 6. try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews. These strategies may not always work to change people’s minds, but now that the nation has just been put through a political fact-check wringer, they may help reduce unnecessary divisiveness.

— source scientificamerican.com By Michael Shermer

1 in 5 young people lose sleep over social media

1 in 5 young people regularly wake up in the night to send or check messages on social media, according to new research published today in the Journal of Youth Studies. This night-time activity is making teenagers three times more likely to feel constantly tired at school than their peers who do not log on at night, and could be affecting their happiness and wellbeing. girls much more likely to access their social media accounts during the night than boys.

— source alphagalileo.org