Manipulating System 1

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman looks at the mental shortcuts we take and the ways in which these shortcuts mislead us. In doing so, he describes two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is quick, intuitive and emotional while System 2 is slower, more deliberative and more logical. Both systems have their place, but System one tends to dominate and is relatively easy to manipulate.

AC Grayling argues that this has happened, both in the Brexit referendum and the Trump election.

What Kahneman and other researchers have empirically confirmed in their work is that the majority of people are ‘System One’ or ‘quick’ thinkers in that they make decisions on impulse, feeling, emotion, and first impressions, rather than ‘System Two’ or ‘slow’ thinkers who seek information, analyse it, and weigh arguments in order to come to decisions. System One thinkers can be captured by slogans, statements dramatised to the point of falsehood, and even downright lies, because they will not check the validity of what is said, but instead will mistrust System Two thinkers whose lengthier arguments and appeals to data are often regarded as efforts to bamboozle and mislead.

Grayling goes on to say:

A senior BBC news editor told me that there was fierce debate among his colleagues about how they were reporting the Brexit referendum campaigns. They were conscious that that the Leave campaign, in particular, was putting out highly doubtful if not downright dishonest statements either very late or very early in the day in order to have them reported in morning news programmes, knowing that fact checking and the need to modify or retract misleading statements would only come later in the day, by which time the statements would have done their work with System One audiences.

And the media often compounds this problem by seeking a balance that (unintentionally) results in false equivalence.

I’m not sure what the solution to all of this is – or even if there is one – but surely it starts with more teaching and use of critical thinking and a better use of journalistic resources so that untrue and misleading claims can be quickly and effectively debunked.

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corsendonk Politico reports that the Belgian beer culture was added on Wednesday to UNESCO’s cultural heritage list for being deep-rooted in the country with breweries, beer tasting associations, museums and events in every province of Belgium.

“It is the unparalleled diversity of the art of brewing and the intensity of the beer culture, as a part of our daily lives and at festivals in our country, that make this beer culture a part of the identity and the cultural heritage of the entire country,” a statement from the culture ministers from the French, German, and Dutch speaking communities of Belgium said.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel called upon people to visit the country to taste the beers.

With 214 breweries (PDF) in the country, visitors may find it best to extend their stay.

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Who was taking back control?

Politico has picked up a story from the Independent which reports that The Sun registered as an official Leave campaign group and spent nearly £100,000 pushing for Brexit.

[T]he Sun was a vocal proponent of Brexit, as was Murdoch, who, when asked why he didn’t like the EU, said: “That’s easy. When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.”

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Quote of the Day: Understanding the right

But let’s be clear here. Trump and Farage do not understand the working class. They come from immensely privileged backgrounds, have spent little time studying the real problems workers have, and make no effort to identify genuine circumstances where the people might be right and elites wrong. Instead, they are just narcissists who found a ready market for their bigotry thanks to helpful socioeconomic conditions, a complicit media and cognitive biases among voters.

Chris Dillow

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OSPAT: The Open Source POWER Availability Tool

Here’s handy. If you are using Linux on the IBM Power architecture, the Open Source POWER Availability Tool (OSPAT) allows you to search multiple distributions for available packages.

[T]he specialty of OSPAT is that it only returns POWER package results, it does not return x86 packages in the search results. Thus, the user doesn’t have to drill deep into the search results to find the POWER packages. Also, the search results display the results across multiple distributions, helping POWER users determine whether certain packages have equivalency across multiple distributions.

Click here if you want to take a look.

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Quote of the Day: Not all change is progress

As neo-tribalism replaces neoliberalism, you must forget about the old checks and balances democracies erected to govern complicated societies. You must be sure to respect the “will of the people” in its unmediated rawness. You must be surer still that you are a part of “the people”. For, if you are not, you can find yourself an “enemy of the people” just by carrying on as you did before.

Nick Cohen

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38 Worthless Promises

Vote Leave Watch has helpfully assembled a list (via) of all the false promises the Brexit campaigners are now trying to duck out of.

Every one of the Leave campaign’s claims was worthless. Every one of their promises was obvious nonsense. And a BMG poll suggests that people are beginning to realise this.

Referenda can look superficially appealing, but by trying to reduce a complex or divisive issue into a simple yes/no question, they can cause confusion and uncertainty. Often, this leads to people voting on the the question they would like to answer rather than the question being asked, which allows the whole process to be hijacked by fringe groups (UKIP turning the Brexit vote into a ballot on immigration, for example).

Low turnouts, as is also often the case, also skew the results away from the balance of public opinion and towards the minority with the most enthusiastic supporters.

There are cases in which a referendum is justified, but these are rare and should be treated as exceptional and they certainly have no place in resolving internal party disputes.

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I have a bad feeling about this

In France, François Fillon is the centre right candidate for next year’s presidential election having beaten Alain Juppé by 67% of the votes against 33%. Given the rising tide of populism in both Europe and the US, this is more than a little concerning.

French elections have two rounds of voting. If no-one wins 50% of the vote in the first round, there is a run-off between the two leading candidates to decide the winner. With the French left in disarray (again), the polls point to the run-off being between tne centre-right candidate (Fillion) and and the FN’s Marine Le Pen.

The issue here is that Fillon is an outspoken Thatcherite who wants to take on the unions, shrink the public sector, abolish the 35 hour working week, and generally tip the French economy on it’s head.

As The Economist points out:

Plenty of voters on the left deeply dislike both Mr Fillon’s economic and social policies. Already Libération, a left-leaning newspaper, has splashed a photo montage blending his face with that of Thatcher on the front page. The country’s biggest union has warned that it will be on the streets if the centre-right wins. During the primary, Mr Juppé spoke darkly of the “brutality” of Mr Fillon’s economic programme. After his primary win, one Socialist deputy called it “violent and dangerous”.

The worry here is that in the second round of voting, left-leaning voters are going to find themselves being asked to support the Thatcherite in order to keep out the fascist. Faced with that choice, it is conceivable that many of them will stay at home instead.

And the US has just shown us how that turns out.

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The 14 Features of Fascism

Way back in 1995, Umberto Eco wrote an essay for the The New York Review of Books on Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. The full article is worth a read, but if you find yourself pushed for time or motivation, Open Culture has an easy to digest summary:

While Eco is firm in claiming “There was only one Nazism,” he says, “the fascist game can be played in many forms, and the name of the game does not change.” Eco reduces the qualities of what he calls “Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism” down to 14 “typical” features. “These features,” writes the novelist and semiotician, “cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.”

  1. The cult of tradition. “One has only to look at the syllabus of every fascist movement to find the major traditionalist thinkers. The Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements.”
  2. The rejection of modernism. “The Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, is seen as the beginning of modern depravity. In this sense Ur-Fascism can be defined as irrationalism.”
  3. The cult of action for action’s sake. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation.”
  4. Disagreement is treason. “The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge.”
  5. Fear of difference. “The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”
  6. Appeal to social frustration. “One of the most typical features of the historical fascism was the appeal to a frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups.”
  7. The obsession with a plot. “The followers must feel besieged. The easiest way to solve the plot is the appeal to xenophobia.”
  8. The enemy is both strong and weak. “By a continuous shifting of rhetorical focus, the enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak.”
  9. Pacifism is trafficking with the enemy. “For Ur-Fascism there is no struggle for life but, rather, life is lived for struggle.”
  10. Contempt for the weak. “Elitism is a typical aspect of any reactionary ideology.”
  11. Everybody is educated to become a hero. “In Ur-Fascist ideology, heroism is the norm. This cult of heroism is strictly linked with the cult of death.”
  12. Machismo and weaponry. “Machismo implies both disdain for women and intolerance and condemnation of nonstandard sexual habits, from chastity to homosexuality.”
  13. Selective populism. “There is in our future a TV or Internet populism, in which the emotional response of a selected group of citizens can be presented and accepted as the Voice of the People.”
  14. Ur-Fascism speaks Newspeak. “All the Nazi or Fascist schoolbooks made use of an impoverished vocabulary, and an elementary syntax, in order to limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning.”

The full article expands on this list – a lot – and is well worth a read.

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Quote of the Day: On Satire

By its very definition, satire is concerned not with identity or social standing, but behavior. Specifically, satire is a literary device designed to expose and mock human vice and folly. Accordingly, it is not satirists’ job to ensure the behavior being attacked is being perpetrated only by the highest members of society. Instead, satirists expose and explain all of humanity’s failings with humor.

Gladstone on The Limitations of Punching Up

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