Category Archives: Freedom

Understanding Freedom: Freedom & Power

© Robert Orwell Hand – (Reprinted with Permission) https://understandingthings.net/2019/07/04/understanding-freedom-part-1-freedom-and-power/

Americans like to say, “It’s a free country,” especially when someone expresses a desire to do something that might be frowned upon. The reality, however, is that freedom in America, or anywhere else, belongs only to those with the power to enjoy it. Continue reading Understanding Freedom: Freedom & Power

The Will to Doubt: Summary of Bertrand Russell’s “Free Thought and Official Propaganda”

Conway Hall Entrance

Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, London, WC1R 4RL

What is wanted is not the will-to-believe, but the wish to find out, which is its exact opposite. ~ Bertrand Russell

In 1922 Bertrand Russell delivered his Conway Memorial Lecture, “Free Thought and Official Propaganda,” to the South Place Ethical Society, the oldest surviving freethought
organization in the world and the only remaining ethical society in the United Kingdom. Continue reading The Will to Doubt: Summary of Bertrand Russell’s “Free Thought and Official Propaganda”

What is Social Cooling?

Social cooling refers to the idea that if “you feel you are being watched, you change your behavior.” And the massive amounts of data being collected, especially online, is exaggerating this effect. This may limit our desire to speak or think freely thus bringing about chilling effects on society—in other words, “social cooling.”

Here’s a summary of how this works:

1.  Your data is collected and scored. Then data brokers use algorithms to reveal thousands of private details about you—friends and acquaintances, religious and political beliefs, educational background, sexual orientation, reading habits, personality traits and flaws, economic stability,  etc. This derived data is protected as corporate free speech.

2. Your digital reputation may affect your opportunities. Facebook posts may affect job chances of getting or losing a job, bad friends may affect the rate of your loan, etc. These effects are independent of whether the data is good or bad.

3. People start changing their behavior to get better scores which have disparate outcomes. Social Cooling describes the negative side effects of trying to be reputable online. Some of the negative effects are:

a) Conformity – you may hesitate to click on a link because you fear being tracked. This is self-censoring, which has a chilling effect. You fear choosing freely.

b) Risk-aversion –  When physicians are scored, those who try to help sicker patients have lower scores than those who avoid such patients because sicker patients have higher mortality rates.

c) Social rigidity – Our digital reputations limit our will to protest. For instance, Chinese citizens have begun to get “social credit scores,” which score how well-behaved they are. Such social pressure is a powerful form of control.

4) As your weaknesses are mapped, you become increasingly transparent. This leads to self-censorship, conformity, risk-aversion, and social rigidity becoming normal. No longer is data a matter of simple credit scores.

All of this leads to questions like: When we become more well-behaved, do we also become less human? What does freedom mean in a world where surveillance is the dominant business model? Are we undermining our creative economy because people fear non-conformity? Can minority views still inform us?

5) The solution? Pollution of our social environment is invisible to most people, just like air pollution and climate change once were. So we begin by increasing awareness.  But we should act quickly, as data mining and the secrets it reveals is increasing exponentially.

(Example – I have an advanced degree. This simple piece of data predicts that: I’m unlikely to be a Republican; I know the difference between the journalistic standards of the New York Times or the Washington Post and those of Fox “News,” Breitbart, etc.; I don’t believe in alien abductions or faked moon landings; I know that evolution and climate change are true beyond any reasonable doubt; I’m less likely to be religious; I probably don’t drive a truck; etc. All that from just one bit of data, and some of those inferences might be mistaken. Imagine what else others know—or think they know—about you and me?)

6) Conclusion 

a) Data is not the new gold, it is the new oil, and it damages the social environment.

b) Privacy is the right to be imperfect, even when judged by algorithms.

c) Privacy is the right to be human.

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My resource for this brief summary is https://www.socialcooling.com/index.html. The site has this note: “Feel free to re-use content, it’s all under a CC-BY 4.0 License.”

Who Owns the Media?

Almost all media that citizens of the United States are exposed to comes from the same six sources. And when a few of the world’s wealthiest corporations control all of the news and commentary, only limited political perspectives will be disseminated. The United States, according to the 2016 World Press Freedom Report Index of Reporters Without Borders, ranks as only the 41st freest press in the world. (The USA has slipped to #48 in the 2019 rankings.) The US ranks behind Namibia, Surinam, Tonga, and Slovenia and just ahead of Botswana, Niger, Romania, and Haiti.

NOTE:  I had an infographic to show this but it kept getting removed.