Wednesday, May 2, 2018

List of potential debates.

Time constraints: 7 minute opening each, cross examination, Q&A

Motion: Debating racists is effective
Position: Against

Motion: Context and intent matters for speech that is deemed offensive
Position: For

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Information Operations

The most overwhelmingly powerful weapon in the history of humanity has been constructed, deployed and so few people have yet to realize this. Not only that, but as time progresses, that weapon will only get much stronger and potent.

First to understand the gravity of this, we need to take a look at algorithms. The way algorithms are created today, it's not done by humans. It's done by other algorithms. A programmer creates an algorithm in order to create a bot, and originally, this bot is useless. It then goes through a specific process of being tested, copied, destroyed and through this method, evolves to suit a specific task via repeating these steps.

With this we've been able to create algorithms so complex that creation has outpaced our understanding of them and, because of the nature of business, that information isn't being shared in order to provide a required understanding in the first place.

That's one part of Information Operations and what aids in its precision as well as gives it the ability to escalate to unfathomable potency. The other is the human brain. It's complicated enough to give us a sense of individuality however its deterministic nature and the fact that it adheres to the laws of physics, causes patterns of behavior to emerge.

And from those patterns come various fields of study like psychology. I've illustrated such phenomenon in previous videos as I've been quite interested in understanding the machinations of the human mind, as a layman. I never dreamed people would take it so far as to, not only understand the human brain, but to weaponize a system powerful enough to sway public opinion.

Enter the recent news surrounding Cambridge Analytica. This company, armed with the knowledge of psychology, obtained data of millions of Facebook users and was able to create psychological profiles. Not only that, they constructed a delivery method tailored to that psychology and had a population elect a reality TV star as its President as well as have the UK vote to leave the EU.

How many of you have Steam accounts with games you haven't even bothered playing? That's the power of targeted advertising alone. And with data driven analysis, companies like WalMart can predict something as odd as the rise in demand for strawberry pop tarts,whenever there's a hurricane.

This is different. This is preying on your brain's deterministic nature to make you go out and buy strawberry pop tarts without you even realizing it. Only what they're selling surrenders your freedom to those in power.

And here's the scary part. When individuals are targeting a collective for their own gains, the collective is sure to suffer but not before willfully surrendering to the individual. We won't even realize it. This is what happened with Cambridge Analytica and the highest bidder. And, as time moves forward, the more potent this weapon will become.

Reminiscing on Independence Day, I now realize that an advanced alien civilization would not have to dominate us with giant energy cannons. All they would require is access to our personal information, construct a psychological profile for each of us and have their advanced system deliver information that would cause us to act precisely as they would want us to act. And we'd be all out of Jeff Goldblums.

I wonder what other events might have been influenced with such methods? The Arab Spring perhaps? The only reason we've caught wind of this is due to the scale and lack of humility on the part of Cambridge Analytica. Considering the revelations Snowden brought forth regarding how easy it was to have access to personal data, privacy has become paramount if only to slow down any potential for progress on this front.

Thinking of the possible applications for this turns my stomach having studied and understood how much control over ourselves we actually have at any given time. It's not much and to violate this, influencing other human beings on this scale, is utterly grotesque and completely unethical.

All those engaging in these practices need to be prosecuted and we need to be vigilant of any other attempts in the future. Critical thinking and an understanding of our own machinations would be where I'd start as well as demanding privacy be upheld by one's government. This includes keeping our information safe from prying foreign eyes. But I fear we're just fighting the clock at this point.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Transgender and Ricky Gervais

I've been dealing with a recent back and forth with people regarding Ricky Gervais' special on Netflix called Humanity. The complaint of this vocal minority revolves around content that's present at around the 8 minute mark involving Caitlyn Jenner. People have deemed this particular aspect of his special to be transphobic.

Before we get into this I'm going to explain why there are trans people as well as illustrate some of the hardships trans people face because intelligent design is a myth.

First one needs to have a grasp regarding the difference between biological sex and gender. Think of biological sex as a binary function, with some exceptions and gender as various dials that are tuned into particular settings. For about one percent of the population, what the dials say and what biology is, are in conflict.

What usually manifests from this, is what's known as gender dysphoria. Depending on the person it can come in episodic waves of discomfort, malaise and anxiety or be a constant presence. There are multiple personal accounts on YouTube describing a variety of individual experience on this. It's the direct result of that misalignment regarding gender and biology leaving someone feeling as if they're the opposite sex or somewhere in between.

Living with gender dysphoria is extremely difficult, as well as everything else that comes with that and transitioning. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has trans people amongst its statistics demonstrating that trans men have an attempted suicide rate of 46% and trans women 42%. One thing it also mentions is the desperate need for more research in this area as the rates are astonishing.

It goes on to mention stressors and the rates at which people experiencing these, attempt suicide. Alienation from one's family, poverty, being bullied, being physically or sexually assaulted, being refused treatment... there's just so many. And all of which increases the range of attempted suicide to 50-60%+

The urgency of understanding and providing solutions to this problem is immediate and that should be everyone's goal. Increased funding regarding psychological study, accessible remedies for people transitioning and societal policies that help protect a vulnerable minority.

For some reason though, people are turning their attention to Ricky Gervais and his comedy routine. This, baffles me. For one, all of the stressors I mentioned didn't factor in "attended a comedy performance" or "received an offensive joke on Netflix". Perhaps one would look to expand said psychological studies to include such a statistical impact? Perhaps not though because that's getting a bit silly and doesn't address the problem. At all.

And that's ultimately what I want here. I want a clear, focused and immediate resolution to this problem. First and foremost that requires communicating the problem to other human beings. And I myself, wasn't privy to all this until I had people in my life helping me understand it and making me aware of it. And comedy routines, didn't come up amongst the hardships.

So, we want to provide messaging to the masses and understanding to alleviate some of the social stressors, provide awareness and with that have action taken. So let's go at Ricky Gervais? This is not only way off the mark but it's completely self-defeating and I'll illustrate why.

Ricky Gervais is a comedian but  not only that, a highly successful comedian. Do you know why? Because he took the first step of going on stage and failing. This is something every comedian does. They go on stage and they suck. And the most insane of the lot, go up on stage and do it again. It's a form of real time peer review.

With this process evolves an adeptness at being able to tap into the human emotion of laughter using only the spoken word. This is what makes it an art form and, with every art form, what's taboo is up to the artist. In this case someone who's become incredibly wealthy via the demand of this service. Stating this is not fallacious as this isn't common belief. It's behaviour and emotion driven.

And that's why it's self defeating. What people are essentially fighting. Laughter. Not just any laughter. The laughter that comes from precise delivery of words by a seasoned professional. And everyone who's ever tried to take the position of basically telling people to "stop laughing", find themselves losing that battle. And the reason for this is they're going after an emotion and the people looking to provoke that emotion.

That's the intent and it's far too pure for nuance when in the hands and delivered by a peer reviewed comedian. And to frame it any other way is just going to get people to make the following evaluation. Laughter vs your asinine interpretation of a joke. Laughter will win, every single time. And do you know what loses in all this? The very cause you're trying to fight for.

Because not only are people now still ill informed, they've been told to basically stop laughing, at a comedian. And Ricky even predicted this behaviour to the point where he injected it into his routine. This concept of being offended to the point where you'll try to dictate what constitutes a comedic performance. Yeah, it's in there!

And if you're offended at one thing, there's vast supply of material in this Netflix special that you lot aren't pouncing on. What about the part where he'd invite Hitler to his party over a girl with nut allergies? You all remember Hitler don't you? The guy who revolutionised oven engineering for all humanity and has similar ideas as to some of the people involved in the women's march movement?

Yeah, maybe that needs addressing before you have a bit of a go at Ricky. Not sure the swastika goes really well with pink. Goes great with ovens though!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Jessica Jones Season 2: A review

I'm really happy that Jessica Jones got another season to add to the first. That doesn't mean that there isn't room for improvement in this latest addition. After a hiatus, having multiple Marvel series on the table now, this by far, is the best out of all. There will be spoilers.

I've found the others to be lacking and the key component that's missing, is character development. This, fortunately, isn't something that Jessica Jones suffers much from however there were certain characters in this season that I felt were made to fit the story rather than having the story fit them.

First, lets just go through what they got right. The story for Jessica Jones is phenomenal and Krysten Ritter carries the lead. No matter the range, setting; she knows exactly how to portray a character. She takes into consideration the character's frame of mind and is able to illustrate this in performance. At a certain point, you can see her showing off a lighter Jessica Jones who's younger and has a wider range of affection and can even smile. Attention to detail like this is what helps sell someone like Jessica Jones. So top notch performance and direction on this one.

Janet McTeer takes the role of Jessica's mother and it was not an easy one, considering the calibre required to play someone with the unfortunate burden of suffering from homicidal rages. Janet depicts this role beautifully and executed it to the point where I'm annoyed I haven't seen her in any of the other shows I've watched. Going from caring mother to unhinged murderer seems so seamless for her as an actress. And she makes you believe the war that's being waged within the machination of her mind.

Carrie-Anne Moss reprises her role as Jeri Hogarth and has her own story arc in this instalment, which she carries beautifully. Her character is put through her own paces, having to deal with a death sentence of ALS, betrayal from Inez, another supporting character acted flawlessly by Leah Gibson as well as her partners pressuring her to retire. It's not "hey, my mom's back from the dead but happens to be a psychotic killer at times" but it's still up there. Another fantastic presentation here.

And that's the thing ultimately with this cast. There are no weak players as far as I can tell. The story itself however, has some room for improvement.

The two characters I'd say had a rough time of it were Trish Walker, played by Rachel Taylor and Malcolm Ducasse, played by Eka Darville. The way they're presented all seems matter-of-fact. Both are either at neutral or meltdown status when it comes to situations and reactions. There's no feeling of development in regards to their emotional state and as a result, the actions that follow.

It felt as if someone was saying "I need the story to go here" and then picked option Malcolm or Trish. Things felt forced, especially with Trish who had a rather important role to play though the entire arc. I never saw her properly developed to the point where her fall from grace felt credible nor her motivations for finally killing Jessica's mother.

I think what needed to happen with Trish was more of a play on her past. At a certain point she confronts her statutory rapist and the impact of this event should have been illustrated as a trigger for her character's motivations. Such a trauma must have a lasting effect on someone and I didn't really see that front and centre.

That's a motivation right there for her to want to be stronger to the point of wanting to seek out Jessica's powers. Or the motivation of having ultimate control, something that she's never really felt because of her past with her mother and especially after being put in the hands of a statutory rapist. One could also illustrate the weight on her psyche by having changes of behaviour after confronting her rapist only to feel once again, helpless.

Seeing Jessica cope and even take on the role of a heroine could also weigh her down as she would have been through far worse in Trish' eyes, giving her a bit of resentment. And finally, in order to put Trish at odds and get to the point where she'd kill Jessica's mother, there would need to be more there as well. Perhaps an altercation between both mothers where Trish's mom gets injured defending her daughter and motivating her not to let Jessica, someone she cares about, fall in harm's way.

Ultimately, Jessica Jones is still the best out of the entire Netflix Marvel series. I'm only bringing up these flaws as a form of constructive criticism in the hopes of ensuring the show's longevity as I really enjoy the character, setting and vibe. I want to see a good show be great as well as close to flawless as possible. They have the cast and direction for it, now it just needs a bit of thought regarding certain components of the writing.

It's definitely a series I'd recommend to everyone and I look forward to season 3.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Platforming vs Interviewing

Lately, Megyn Kelly has been under fire for deciding to have Alex Jones on for an interview. This has brought the discussion of platforming individuals with reprehensible opinions to the forefront of our discourse.

The argument that a good number of people, as well as some of the victims of Sandy Hook, have made is that having Alex Jones on a mainstream show, is an unforgivable offence. Alex Jones' position on Sandy Hook is that it never happened and that it was a government fabrication to push an agenda.

Alex Jones, creator of Inowars, has used this kind of preposterous agitprop and has gained an audience on YouTube to the tune of 2 million people. The argument people are reaching for is that by "platforming" this madman, it will somehow make this problem worse. This is not completely unreasonable however, their position is not supported by what cognitive science has produced.

Studies show that information, when consumed with limited biases, is likely to stick, to the point where any future corrections, will be met by resistance. Here's an example of such a study by Wilkes and Leatherbarrow from 1988. They presented subjects with news reports regarding a warehouse fire, informing them that a closet full of paint cans and gas cylinders were the cause. They were then supplied with a correction stating that the closet was, in fact, empty. When the subjects were asked to then explain what caused the fire, they mentioned that it was the paint cans in the closet. This is even when they acknowledged the correction. Their conclusions were statistically at parity with those who did not see the correction at all.

What this shows is that our brains are incredibly susceptible to first impressions and initial information. Knowing this, the position that Megyn Kelly should not interview Alex Jones, becomes untenable.

Having recently watched her interview with Vladimir Putin, it's crystal clear that she is in no way a softball interviewer. Whilst moderating an economic event in St Petersburg, she did not shy away from questioning Putin, in front of hundreds of people, regarding Russian involvement with hacking. This should put to rest any doubt in someone's mind of her capabilities regarding the interviewing process.

It would be far more effective if people's first impressions of Alex Jones would be left in the hands of Megyn Kelly vs letting people discover Alex Jones with their own devices. Unless she completely abandons what was seen in her interview with Putin, there is absolutely no way anyone will see Alex Jones in a good light.   And that should be the ultimate goal.

Someone like Alex Jones, having an audience to the tune of 2 million people, should give everyone pause. The level of misinformation that he and his ilk are producing is a serious problem and, trying to tackle this with current methods of debunking, ineffective as I've demonstrated in my backfire effect video. Having someone like Megyn Kelly, who doesn't even shy away in front of an audience, whilst questioning someone like Putin, is extremely valuable in the landscape of misinformation.

 The only instance where someone is effectively platformed is when that individual has free reign to spout whatever factually deficient nonsense they believe in, unchallenged,  A great example of this would be the Rubin Report with Dave Rubin. Another would be learning institutes and their subgroups inviting people like Lauren Southern on, who uses blogs as her sources for her "informed opinions". Only in these and similar cases, is the argument against platforming, a valid one.

Recognising these differences and being aware of what helps or harms one's cause, is the only way people will be able to curb bad ideas in this information age. In this case, Megyn Kelly is providing a unique service which I fear will be stifled and ultimately lead us in the same predicament as before, regardless of good intentions. People need to stop actively using the word "platforming" as blanket excuse to prevent anyone with terrible ideas from speaking but instead, encourage them to speak as long as their intellectually bankrupt ideas are challenged by someone as adept as Megyn Kelly. To do otherwise, is self defeating.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Cultural Marxism

There's been a term that's been thrown my way a few times now, which is cultural Marxism. The thing is, it never really flowed with the conversation I was having at the time. So, I decided to look deeper into the term and its origins. Boy what I found was a shocker!

Cultural Marxism on its own doesn't really have any proper definition until you actually look into the individual that popularised it. William S. Lind is this person, who, back in the 1980s, created one of the most ridiculous conspiracy theories I've ever heard of. Unpacking this in its entirety, just two seemingly simple words, requires a history lesson. So here we go.

See, Bill(William S Lind), holding a masters degree in history, decided that the best course of action to push his narrative, was to re-write it. Taking a rather innocent philosophical position such as critical theory, he, accompanied by Paul Weyrich, concocted this story that a group of individuals fleeing Germany, re-established their teaching practices in New York with the intention of destroying traditional western culture. The concept of a culture war, was born and was a entirely a product of alternative right wing history.

Terms like multiculturalism and political correctness became synonymous with Cultural marxism. in the circles of paleoconservatives. The fact that the architects trying to undermine Christian religious values, were Jewish, really appealed to them. And that's the thing. This culture war was no more than old men seeing their antiquated belief system becoming obsolete. So they created a boogieman that skulks in the shadows, looking to influence culture with a monstrous weapon. Philosophy.

Now who would these Jewish invaders use to undermine Christian tradition & values according to Bill? A coalition of blacks, students, feminist women and homosexuals of course. For someone who fantasises about what would have happened if the South won the civil war, I could see how those individuals could be terrifying. Especially if those society was looking to treat as equals were actually pawns in a Jewish plot to overthrow "western values".

Of course, an intellectually bankrupt conspiracy theory, such as this one, would be right up Pat Buchanan's alley. Someone with a history of bigoted behaviour would no doubt find solace in the idea that his traditional values were not being left behind because they were antiquated, but because of some nefarious scheme. This is a man who basically wrote love letters to Hitler in the form of his book "Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War" and his blog piece "Did Hitler Want War?". He even went as far as to say Anders Breivik, a mass murdering psychopath that bought into this nonsense, "may be right".

Andrew Breitbart is yet another one of these individuals who latched onto this crazy cultural Marxism conspiracy theory and his legacy,, has been pushing the idea of a culture war ever since. He called this his one great epiphany as to what happened to the country.

Everything I've seen today from these individuals and others stems from the original musings of a madman. Just question someone on their position in regards to their use of the term "cultural Marxism" and they'll respond with "Just look at the Frankfurt School" as if this is some truth that should be glaringly apparent to anyone. They'll use terms like "culture war", "counter culture", "multiculturalism", "warrior" and "taking the red pill", which ironically seems to be what they're using as a gateway drug to this tripe.

People are essentially fighting a war vs an enemy that doesn't exist. Instead of dealing with each individual aspect of progressive ideas, they've packaged it all into the form of a pill they will eagerly swallow to be able to incarnate a figment of their imagination as the sole cause threatening their traditional values.

These people aren't "woke", they're in a cult. And they'll do practically anything in order to defeat what they consider a loss to their non-existent culture war. Personally, I think it's time they consider alternate medication. History lesson's over. It's time to put away the Kool-Aid

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Backfire Effect

Recently, I've been trying to wrap my head around how polarised discussions have become. For some reason, while taking part in current political discussions, one is left perplexed at certain opinions people hold especially when their positions are demonstrably flawed.

In looking into this phenomenon, I stumbled on David McRaney. Journalist, author and part time cookie monster. He's the reason I have a better understanding of cognitive science as he does a podcast dealing with the various topics within that category. I highly recommend his 3 part series on the backfire effect as I will be summarising a lot of what's covered in order to give my impressions on its impact in current discourse.

So what is the backfire effect?  It's a psychological phenomenon where, when one is presented with evidence counter to one's position, that evidence will be ignored and ones beliefs in their position will become stronger. This is not always the case but it does affect the majority of people. So much so that we're seeing a drastic polarisation when it comes to the political landscape.

Lets take climate change for example. We have myriad scientific studies supporting the fact that climate change is real and that it is man made. However, because individuals have politicised the counter narrative that it's a hoax or simply not caused by us, people have adopted that narrative as truth. In fact, scientists have become quite active in debunking claims that are providing a counter narrative via misinterpreted studies or outright lies, with little to no effect.

Keeping climate change as an example, one of the political options people want to use to curb man made climate change is a carbon tax. Now what if I were to tell you that in a previous instance the introduction of a carbon tax led to doubling energy costs for individuals in Australia? Take note of what's going on in your head when presented with this information. Are you willing to examine alternatives or are you still focused on making the carbon tax work?

Neuroscience has started to tackle this phenomenon. A recent paper published in Nature by Jonas Kaplan, Sarah Gimbel and Sam Harris(yes that Sam Harris) shows how the brain deals with politicised information vs non-politicised information. When political beliefs are challenged, the brain responds by activating our emotional centres that deal with threats as well as the centres that deal with personal identity.

There's a misconception that the less educated and/or intelligent you are, the more susceptible you will be to these types of cognitive biases. This is simply not the case. In fact, intelligence seems to make things worse. The reason is, that when challenged and because of the phenomenon such as the backfire effect, the more intelligent person will have an easier time forging excuses for their narrative than someone who is less intelligent.

In fact, what occurs is something called motivated reasoning and motivated scepticism. We'll seek out information or weave a narrative to confirm our beliefs and, once this is achieved to our satisfaction, we'll stop looking. Rarely will we go out of our way to seek arguments and evidence against our beliefs. Couple that with the backfire effect when presented with evidence that demonstrably contradicts a held belief and you have the current political climate.

So now that you are aware of the backfire effect, the real question that remains is, what do we do to combat it in our every day discourse? Short answer is we're still working on it. There doesn't seem to be a concrete way as of yet to try to get individuals to be mindful of their own biases and correct for it. David McRaney explained in his podcast that removing a falsehood would be like severing the leg off a table. If it is not replaced with something to stabilise one's identity, the brain simply can't deal with that kind of instability.

Now I like that idea but I'm not sure exactly how to go about using this in discourse or debate. Knowing what I know now about how the majority of people perceive matters they identify with, I'm not even sure debate and discourse is even productive. It's possible that the entire exercise is just mental masturbation without the mess. And the problem has only become so noticeable due to our ability to fuel our biases via social media.

At this point I tried turning my attention to people who have gone through the process of changing their minds when it came to their core beliefs and identity. One individual I focused on in particular was Leah Remini. Leah Remini recently came out with a series called Scientology the Aftermath. It deals with her and other individual's struggles within the church and what led to their eventual departure. One theme that kept coming up, was family.

See the church has this policy where, whenever someone starts doing things against the church's wishes, they will be labelled a suppressive  person. If this happens, any and all contact with that individual, despite your relationship with them, is to be severed, even if you are related. For those like Leah, who have strong family values, it seems to have caused a rift between those two identity markers which eventually led  her, and others, to leaving the church. Now there are myriad other practices within the church that have a negative effect but ultimately, this seemed to be the one thing that kept surfacing.

I believe that this may be one of the keys that encourages introspection and gets people to ultimately change their minds. Think of a person's identity as something holding multiple components. Things like family, career, political affiliation, recreational activity; all help fill up the void of what comprises our personhood. Each person has this kind of identity map and any outside influences that try to attack those components will be susceptible to something like the backfire effect. Other things, like food preferences or trivialities, tend not to fall into the core components of one's identity map and are therefore a lot more malleable.

Change seems to occur when one of the core components comes into conflict with another. In that instance, the stronger component seems to be able to defeat the other, removing the proverbial table leg. In the case of Leah, and others in her situation, they were faced with a choice between the church and family. Only then did she start seeking out stories relevant to the church's abhorrent behaviours and adopted them as fact.

Perhaps in the case of debate and discourse one needs to put themselves in a situation where those components come into conflict. For instance, in regards to climate change, press the issue that the next generation and one's own offspring will have to face struggles that only the most unfortunate among us have had to deal with. Maybe then someone will be less likely to reject facts and start taking them seriously.

Otherwise our very nature could be what leads us straight into situations that could have been avoided. Realising that we're not so smart is the first step.