CounterPoint

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” ― Isaac Asimov

Welcome to the Post-Truth Era

“..the collective postmortem – on the left and right of politics – has focused on a concern with far greater long-term impact: the accidental or deliberate propagation of misinformation via social media.”

Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg, having initially denied that fake news was problematic, now wants us to believe that “we’ve been working on this problem for a long time.” Really? So it is a problem after all?Much has been written about the arrival of a “post-truth” era, in which facts become secondary to feeling; expertise and vision to ersatz emotional connection. Nazi Germany shows that this is not new, but the internet-driven efficiency with which it can be manipulated is.

One of the main drivers of this process is a click-based revenue model, in which algorithms prioritise items in news feeds based on how likely individual users are to “engage with” (ie click on) them – and thus be exposed to more ads. Whether these items contain carefully researched or fabricated material is of no concern to the algos: in fact, false, sensationalist stories that bolster existing prejudices are more likely to draw clicks than sober analyses that challenge assumption. With misinformation being incentivised in this way, who could be surprised when Buzzfeed found a group of young Macedonians copying the most outlandish fabrications to more than 140 specially created pro-Trump websites and sexing up the headlines to gain clicks and go viral on Facebook?

Among the most pernicious myths of our time is that the functioning of the web is neutral and immutable; that it has evolved of its own ethereal logic, like a galaxy, and can’t be changed or stopped.

This is important, because a recent study by the Pew Research Centre found a majority of American adults using Facebook as a source of news (which means Britain is sure to follow). Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been resistant to the notion that his company, social media, or the web in general are undermining democracy (“a pretty crazy idea”), even after dozens of his own staff formed a covert taskforce to address the problem post-election. It’s easy to see why he bridles too, because if he accepts the truth that his algorithms function no more objectively than a human editor, then he bears responsibility for their choices. And once he does that, he allows the equally obvious truth that Facebook, whether it wants to be or not, is now a media organisation and must vouch for the information it disseminates.

The pedlars of fake news are corroding democracy | Andrew Smith

The most interesting question about 2016 is not why the Brexit result and Trump happened, but whether historians will regard both as incidental; whether this will go down as the year democracy revealed itself unworkable in the age of the internet – in which reality, already engaged in a life-or-death struggle with inverted commas, finally gave way to “alt-reality”.

The Cult of Ignorance

In 1980, scientist and writer Isaac Asimov argued in an essay that “there is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been.” That year, the Republican Party stood at the dawn of the Reagan Revolution, which initiated a decades-long conservative groundswell that many pundits say may finally come to an end in November. GOP strategist Steve Schmidt (who has been regretful about choosing Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate in 2008) recently pointed to what he called “intellectual rot” as a primary culprit, and a cult-like devotion to irrationality among a certain segment of the electorate.

There are 200 million Americans who have inhabited schoolrooms at some time in their lives and who will admit that they know how to read… but most decent periodicals believe they are doing amazingly well if they have circulation of half a million. It may be that only 1 per cent—or less—of Americans make a stab at exercising their right to know. And if they try to do anything on that basis they are quite likely to be accused of being elitists.

Nonetheless, the widespread (though hardly universal) availability of free resources on the Internet has made self-education a reality for many people, and certainly for most Americans. But perhaps not even Isaac Asimov could have foreseen the bitter polarization and disinformation campaigns that technology has also enabled. Needless to say, “A Cult of Ignorance” was not one of Asimov’s most popular pieces of writing. First published on January 21, 1980 in Newsweek, the short opinion piece has never been reprinted in any of Asimov’s collections. You can read the essay as a PDF here.

Isaac Asimov Laments the “Cult of Ignorance” in the United States: A Short, Scathing Essay from 1980

Painting of Asimov on his throne by Rowena Morill, via Wikimedia Commons In 1980, scientist and writer Isaac Asimov argued in an essay that “there is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been.”

How the ‘Alt-Right’ Grew From an Obscure Racist Cabal

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups in the US, NPI is one of the four most influential organizations of academic racists in the country. Its companions on that list include the Charles Martel Society, run by NPI’s founder, millionaire publisher William Regnery. Also on the list: the New Century Foundation, which is run by Jared Taylor, one of the founding members of NPI’s board. It’s a small pond, and just about everything you fish out of it has some connection to NPI.

THE TERM “ALT-RIGHT” probably makes you think of Twitter or a dark subreddit, or 4chan, or some social medium occupied by meme-slinging, Trump-supporting, unapologetically bigoted provocateurs. You probably don’t think of a PO box in Whitefish, Montana. In any event, they should be called what they are: Nazis.

But now that clique’s ideas, the ideological tentpoles of the alt-right movement, have swum out into the mainstream.

The National Policy Institute spread the term “alt-right.” It’s a white nationalist think tank (and an academic version of 4chan). The post How the Alt-Right Grew From an Obscure Racist Cabal appeared first on WIRED.

via How the Alt-Right Grew From an Obscure Racist Cabal — WIRED

Anti-Intellectualism and the “Dumbing Down” of America

There is a growing and disturbing trend of anti-intellectual elitism in American culture. It’s the dismissal of science, the arts, and humanities and their replacement by entertainment, self-righteousness, ignorance, and deliberate gullibility.

“Dumbness, to paraphrase the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has been steadily defined downward for several decades, by a combination of heretofore irresistible forces. These include the triumph of video culture over print culture; a disjunction between Americans’ rising level of formal education and their shaky grasp of basic geography, science and history; and the fusion of anti-rationalism with anti-intellectualism.”

We’re creating a world of dummies. Angry dummies who feel they have the right, the authority and the need not only to comment on everything, but to make sure their voice is heard above the rest, and to drag down any opposing views through personal attacks, loud repetition and confrontation.

Anti-Intellectualism and the “Dumbing Down” of America

There is a growing and disturbing trend of anti-intellectual elitism in American culture. It’s the dismissal of science, the arts, and humanities and their replacement by entertainment, self-righteousness, ignorance, and deliberate gullibility.

New Report Reveals How Food Instability Impacts Teens

Approximately 6.8 million young adults between the ages of 10 and 17 are food-insecure, the report points out.

Food insecurity is pushing many low-income teenage girls to exchange sex for food and other goods, the authors explain.

Researchers from the Urban Institute and Feeding America surveyed 193 teenagers in 20 focus groups in ten different communities. In each location and 13 out of 20 focus groups, teenagers discussed using sex to pay for food. The survey included major cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. as well as rural areas in North Carolina and Oregon.

Teens Across America Are Turning to Sex Work for a Devastating Reason

As policymakers have focused on tackling hunger among young children, its devastating impact on teenagers has gone somewhat unacknowledged, according to a new report from the Urban Institute, a think-tank devoted to economic and social issues. Approximately 6.8 million young adults between the ages of 10 and 17 are food-insecure, the report points out.

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