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The hopeful bits from Haidt’s essay in the Atlantic called Why The Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid :

“Redesigning democracy for the digital age is far beyond my abilities, but I can suggest three categories of reforms––three goals that must be achieved if democracy is to remain viable in the post-Babel era. We must harden democratic institutions so that they can withstand chronic anger and mistrust, reform social media so that it becomes less socially corrosive, and better prepare the next generation for democratic citizenship in this new age.

Harden Democratic Institutions

Political polarization is likely to increase for the foreseeable future. Thus, whatever else we do, we must reform key institutions so that they can continue to function even if levels of anger, misinformation, and violence increase far above those we have today.

For instance, the legislative branch was designed to require compromise, yet Congress, social media, and partisan cable news channels have co-evolved such that any legislator who reaches across the aisle may face outrage within hours from the extreme wing of her party, damaging her fundraising prospects and raising her risk of being primaried in the next election cycle.

Reforms should reduce the outsize influence of angry extremists and make legislators more responsive to the average voter in their district. One example of such a reform is to end closed party primaries, replacing them with a single, nonpartisan, open primary from which the top several candidates advance to a general election that also uses ranked-choice voting. A version of this voting system has already been implemented in Alaska, and it seems to have given Senator Lisa Murkowski more latitude to oppose former President Trump, whose favored candidate would be a threat to Murkowski in a closed Republican primary but is not in an open one.

A second way to harden democratic institutions is to reduce the power of either political party to game the system in its favor, for example by drawing its preferred electoral districts or selecting the officials who will supervise elections. These jobs should all be done in a nonpartisan way. Research on procedural justice shows that when people perceive that a process is fair, they are more likely to accept the legitimacy of a decision that goes against their interests. Just think of the damage already done to the Supreme Court’s legitimacy by the Senate’s Republican leadership when it blocked consideration of Merrick Garland for a seat that opened up nine months before the 2016 election, and then rushed through the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett in 2020. A widely discussed reform would end this political gamesmanship by having justices serve staggered 18-year terms so that each president makes one appointment every two years.

Reform Social Media

A democracy cannot survive if its public squares are places where people fear speaking up and where no stable consensus can be reached. Social media’s empowerment of the far left, the far right, domestic trolls, and foreign agents is creating a system that looks less like democracy and more like rule by the most aggressive.

illustration with 1861 engraving of the arch-heretics from Dante's "Inferno" with two people looking at glowing smartphone screen surrounded by people climbing out of tombs with fires smoking and city wall in background
Illustration by Nicolás Ortega. Source: The Arch Heretics, Gustave Doré, c. 1861.

But it is within our power to reduce social media’s ability to dissolve trust and foment structural stupidity. Reforms should limit the platforms’ amplification of the aggressive fringes while giving more voice to what More in Common calls “the exhausted majority.”

Those who oppose regulation of social media generally focus on the legitimate concern that government-mandated content restrictions will, in practice, devolve into censorship. But the main problem with social media is not that some people post fake or toxic stuff; it’s that fake and outrage-inducing content can now attain a level of reach and influence that was not possible before 2009. The Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen advocates for simple changes to the architecture of the platforms, rather than for massive and ultimately futile efforts to police all content. For example, she has suggested modifying the “Share” function on Facebook so that after any content has been shared twice, the third person in the chain must take the time to copy and paste the content into a new post. Reforms like this are not censorship; they are viewpoint-neutral and content-neutral, and they work equally well in all languages. They don’t stop anyone from saying anything; they just slow the spread of content that is, on average, less likely to be true.

Perhaps the biggest single change that would reduce the toxicity of existing platforms would be user verification as a precondition for gaining the algorithmic amplification that social media offers.

Banks and other industries have “know your customer” rules so that they can’t do business with anonymous clients laundering money from criminal enterprises. Large social-media platforms should be required to do the same. That does not mean users would have to post under their real names; they could still use a pseudonym. It just means that before a platform spreads your words to millions of people, it has an obligation to verify (perhaps through a third party or nonprofit) that you are a real human being, in a particular country, and are old enough to be using the platform. This one change would wipe out most of the hundreds of millions of bots and fake accounts that currently pollute the major platforms. It would also likely reduce the frequency of death threats, rape threats, racist nastiness, and trolling more generally. Research shows that antisocial behavior becomes more common online when people feel that their identity is unknown and untraceable.

In any case, the growing evidence that social media is damaging democracy is sufficient to warrant greater oversight by a regulatory body, such as the Federal Communications Commission or the Federal Trade Commission. One of the first orders of business should be compelling the platforms to share their data and their algorithms with academic researchers.

Prepare the Next Generation

The members of Gen Z––those born in and after 1997––bear none of the blame for the mess we are in, but they are going to inherit it, and the preliminary signs are that older generations have prevented them from learning how to handle it.

Childhood has become more tightly circumscribed in recent generations––with less opportunity for free, unstructured play; less unsupervised time outside; more time online. Whatever else the effects of these shifts, they have likely impeded the development of abilities needed for effective self-governance for many young adults. Unsupervised free play is nature’s way of teaching young mammals the skills they’ll need as adults, which for humans include the ability to cooperate, make and enforce rules, compromise, adjudicate conflicts, and accept defeat. A brilliant 2015 essay by the economist Steven Horwitz argued that free play prepares children for the “art of association” that Alexis de Tocqueville said was the key to the vibrancy of American democracy; he also argued that its loss posed “a serious threat to liberal societies.” A generation prevented from learning these social skills, Horwitz warned, would habitually appeal to authorities to resolve disputes and would suffer from a “coarsening of social interaction” that would “create a world of more conflict and violence.”

And while social media has eroded the art of association throughout society, it may be leaving its deepest and most enduring marks on adolescents. A surge in rates of anxiety, depression, and self-harm among American teens began suddenly in the early 2010s. (The same thing happened to Canadian and British teens, at the same time.) The cause is not known, but the timing points to social media as a substantial contributor—the surge began just as the large majority of American teens became daily users of the major platforms. Correlational and experimental studies back up the connection to depression and anxiety, as do reports from young people themselves, and from Facebook’s own research, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Depression makes people less likely to want to engage with new people, ideas, and experiences. Anxiety makes new things seem more threatening. As these conditions have risen and as the lessons on nuanced social behavior learned through free play have been delayed, tolerance for diverse viewpoints and the ability to work out disputes have diminished among many young people. For example, university communities that could tolerate a range of speakers as recently as 2010 arguably began to lose that ability in subsequent years, as Gen Z began to arrive on campus. Attempts to disinvite visiting speakers rose. Students did not just say that they disagreed with visiting speakers; some said that those lectures would be dangerous, emotionally devastating, a form of violence. Because rates of teen depression and anxiety have continued to rise into the 2020s, we should expect these views to continue in the generations to follow, and indeed to become more severe.

The most important change we can make to reduce the damaging effects of social media on children is to delay entry until they have passed through puberty. Congress should update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which unwisely set the age of so-called internet adulthood (the age at which companies can collect personal information from children without parental consent) at 13 back in 1998, while making little provision for effective enforcement. The age should be raised to at least 16, and companies should be held responsible for enforcing it.

More generally, to prepare the members of the next generation for post-Babel democracy, perhaps the most important thing we can do is let them out to play. Stop starving children of the experiences they most need to become good citizens: free play in mixed-age groups of children with minimal adult supervision. Every state should follow the lead of Utah, Oklahoma, and Texas and pass a version of the Free-Range Parenting Law that helps assure parents that they will not be investigated for neglect if their 8- or 9-year-old children are spotted playing in a park. With such laws in place, schools, educators, and public-health authorities should then encourage parents to let their kids walk to school and play in groups outside, just as more kids used to do.”

Stepping outside one’s moral matrix is a difficult endeavour.

Breaking down some of the CRT dodges and rhetorical flourishes you will probably run into if you get to discuss CRT with a believer.

  More fact finding today – It is interesting the amount of discomfort I’ve felt while reading passages like this.  We’ve all been inculcated, to one degree or another, on how important ‘Diversity’ is in our society, yet have we foregrounded the wrong concept?  The pursuit of excellence though, if everyone has the same chance to pursue excellence, should be higher priority.

There are many preconditions that need to be fulfilled, but the common pursuit of excellence would seem to be a goal that would benefit both the individual and society.

 

“On the grassroots level, a multiracial and bipartisan coalition is emerging to do battle against critical race theory. Parents are mobilizing against racially divisive curricula in public schools and employees are increasingly speaking out against Orwellian reeducation in the workplace. When they see what is happening, Americans are naturally outraged that critical race theory promotes three ideas—race essentialism, collective guilt, and neo-segregation—which violate the basic principles of equality and justice. Anecdotally, many Chinese-Americans have told me that having survived the Cultural Revolution in their former country, they refuse to let the same thing happen here. 

In terms of principles, we need to employ our own moral language rather than allow ourselves to be confined by the categories of critical race theory. For example, we often find ourselves debating “diversity.” Diversity as most of us understand it is generally good, all things being equal, but it is of secondary value. We should be talking about and aiming at excellence, a common standard that challenges people of all backgrounds to achieve their potential. On the scale of desirable ends, excellence beats diversity every time.

Similarly, in addition to pointing out the dishonesty of the historical narrative on which critical race theory is predicated, we must promote the true story of America—a story that is honest about injustices in American history, but that places them in the context of our nation’s high ideals and the progress we have made towards realizing them. Genuine American history is rich with stories of achievements and sacrifices that will move the hearts of Americans—in stark contrast to the grim and pessimistic narrative pressed by critical race theorists.

One hears about the battle going on in the US to keep Critical Race Theory out of public institutions.  Rather than relying media soundbites of what CRT is, I figured it was time to go searching for the definition myself.

As with most academic literature sorting through the palavers is a time consuming and often arduous chore, but I’ve found that James Lindsay has done a fair job of contextualizing and explaining what CRT (theory) is and how it operates in society (praxis).

 

This definition is taken from James Lindsay’s website – New Discourses.

“Critical race Theory is a Critical Theory of race. It distinguishes itself explicitly from previous approaches to race and racism, such as the liberal ones characterizing the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s (but not the Black Power movement—see also, black liberationism). For example, in the introduction to the textbook Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, critical race Theory is characterized explicitly in these terms:

The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars engaged in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, setting, group and self-interest, and emotions and the unconscious. Unlike traditional civil rights discourse, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law. (p. 3, emphasis added)

A few salient points stand out in this paragraph. First, critical race Theory is centrally concerned with power, which it holds in higher regard than truth (indeed, it holds the postmodernist position that claims to truth are assertions of power by specific means). Second, it distinguishes itself from “traditional” civil rights and instead favors identity politics (in the radical sense). Third, it is not interested in progress but revolution. Fourth, it calls into question “the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.” That positions critical race Theory as explicitly anti-Western and, in the narrower context in which it arose and mostly applies, anti-American. Critical race Theory favors equity over equality, where equity specifically refers to a particular understanding of social equity theory and not a more generalist notion of fairness. Indeed, it explicitly characterizes the idea of (racial) equality as a kind of conspiracy theory that leads people, especially people of color (double especially BIPOC), to accept the status quo and their systemically oppressed state of affairs (see also, internalized dominance, internalized oppression, and internalized racism, i.e., false consciousness).

Critical race Theory began in critical legal studies in frustration that the legal wins over institutional racism in the 1960s did not more quickly succeed in ending racism (see also, cultural racism and new racism) or repairing disparate outcomes by race (see also, equity). It draws significant input from black scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries, ranging from Frederick Douglass to W. E. B. Du Bois as well as black feminists from the latter part of the 20th century, including bell hooks, Patricia Collins, and, most notably, Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term together with her mentor, Derrick Bell of Harvard Law. The postcolonial French psychoanalyst Frantz Fanon was also a significant influence. There are, of course, many kernels of truth within critical race Theory, or that critical race Theory is built upon, but there is little reason to accept that its analysis is serious or rigorous and less reason to believe that its recommended solutions can ameliorate rather than inflame racial issues in society.

As can be observed in the examples (above and below), critical race Theory begins with a cynical view that race is the predominant structural element of American (and other) societies, and that all analyses of race must incorporate systemic power, which is to say systemic racism. This, it insists, is everywhere, ordinary, permanent, and mostly (and badly) hidden, a kind of racism that is just beneath the surface (see also, code, mask, internalized dominance, internalized oppression, and internalized racism). Indeed, it tends to proceed from Derrick Bell’s assumption that racism has a permanence to it (or, sometimes, is permanent) and thus is not overcome and does not end but instead changes forms to something more subtle and harder to find. A consequence of this belief is that racism does not improve in society or stay the same but actually gets worse by virtue of staying roughly the same while becoming more insidious. One duty of the critical race Theorist is to expose this hidden racism wherever it can be found.

Critical race Theory begins with core presumptions such as that racism is ubiquitous in (American) society and its ordinary state of affairs (rather than an aberration from them). It therefore believes that all interactions across racial difference must account for the influences of structural racism. Under the first core presumption of critical race Theory, the question is not “did racism take place?” but “how did racism manifest in that situation?” for all social phenomena. That is, the racism is presumed to be present and in need of a critical race Theorist to find it and point it out. Critical race Theory does not just presume that society is fundamentally racist in its very structure, but also that it is intrinsically organized upon “anti-Blackness” in particular, leading to seemingly peculiar concepts like “brown privilege,” “brown complicity,” and “brown fragility” alongside the more obvious “white privilege,” “white complicity,” and “white fragility” upon which they are modeled. These posit that white and brown people have a vested interest in anti-Blackness because it affords them privilege, which makes them complicit in white supremacy and too emotionally fragile to cope with challenges to that social order. In other words, it is a conspiracy theory that everyone and, indeed, all of society (independently of the people in it, in a systemic sense) is organized against black people.

As a result of this line of thinking, all people within these systems must be aware of and engage their positionality relative to Theorized racial power dynamics intentionally and at all times (see also, intersectionality). As such, critical race Theory advocates increasing the social significance of racial categories in order to engage in identity politics (see also, identity-first and racism). An example of this assumption being put into action is the Black Lives Matter movement, which springs from the assumption that our police and criminal justice systems are wholly corrupted by systemic racism. Another would be the wide array of nominally “anti-racist” programs and trainings on offer (and mandate) throughout much of our society.

Critical race Theory stands apart from other kinds of Theory in that it is usually written quite clearly and has simple tenets. These include the central theme that racism is ordinary and permeates everything. It therefore needs to be uncovered and addressed using critical methods (see also, critical theory and mask). This is done in the form of Theory being applied to historical texts, societal representation, or current discourses. An example of the first includes Derrick Bell’s Interest-Convergence Thesis, in which he argues that advances have only been made for black people when it has been in white people’s interests to allow them. This is, in fact, listed among the core presuppositions of the Theory. This causes Bell to argue that progress of race relations is largely a myth. This is a radical and empirical (although interpreted with a specific ideological bias) approach to critical race Theory. The critical study of whiteness (see also, whiteness studies) is, in this sense, under the broad umbrella of critical race Theory.

One consequence of this view is that critical race Theory explicitly endorses historical revisionism, as it proceeds from the assumption that history was written by dominant (white) people who have, as a result of their privilege and its influences, not represented it accurately. A contemporary example of this effort is the 1619 Project, which was promoted by the New York Times starting in August 2019, with the explicit agenda of reframing the founding of the United States as a project in maintaining and exploiting slavery (see also, post-traumatic slavery syndrome).

A strongly postmodern approach to critical race Theory also exists, is currently dominant, and owes much to black feminists like bell hooks and Patricia Collins. These scholars sought to understand racism and its connection to gender by taking a “multi-layered” approach, which included some postmodern concepts about experiential knowledge(s) and multiple consciousness (see also, Matrix of Domination). The black feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw was hugely influential as well (and is recognized along with Derrick Bell as the originator of critical race Theory).

Crenshaw is best known for her concept of “intersectionality,” which she describes as “a provisional concept linking contemporary politics with postmodern theory.” Under intersectionality, race, gender, sexuality, and other matters of identity are seen as cultural constructs in keeping with postmodern cultural constructivism, but, in deviation from the radical deconstruction of earlier forms of postmodern thought, oppression on those grounds is seen as objectively real.

Because of its postmodern influence, “discourse analysis” is also strong within critical race Theory. This involves a highly interpretive approach to interactions between a white person and a person of color that begins with the assumption that a power imbalance will exist and racism will be present and the person of color will be more able to detect it (see also, position, standpoint epistemology, and close reading).

Another central tenet of critical race theory is the critique of liberalism. This comes as a shock to most American readers who mistakenly identify critical race Theory as something associated with liberals and liberalism, but CRT is openly an anti-liberal theoretical and political project. The liberal approach to anti-racism is to divest race categories of social significance and treat everyone equally. That is, race is to become largely irrelevant and we, as a society, come to see skin color as having no more significance to a person’s worth or abilities than their hair color. This is referred to by critical race Theorists as “colorblindness” and is deemed highly problematic (see also, racism-blindness). A liberal society aims to make sure that everybody is treated equally by ensuring that race, gender, or sexuality does not prevent anyone from accessing any opportunity and then evaluates each individual on their abilities. This is known as “meritocracy,” which is viewed as a highly problematic ideology white people use to maintain their cultural dominance and justify their own white supremacy.

Critical race Theorists reject colorblindness and meritocracy as myths and illusions that allow white people to perpetuate their own privilege by failing to see racism operating beneath the surface of systems (see also, white ignorance). Essentially, they see liberalism as the belief that equality, colorblindness, and meritocracy have already been achieved or enable white people to pretend it has or to be satisfied with a painfully slow incremental change, which is inadequate, while misleading people of color by hiding from them the realities of their oppression (see also, false consciousness).

Critical race Theorists therefore advocate not being colorblind or meritocratic. Instead, they recommend that we all focus on race and racism specifically at all times and prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in hiring and other opportunities. In practice, this often means to run mandatory implicit bias tests and training in workplaces and ensure that more people of racial minorities are represented in any (prestigious) workplace that lacks them.”

Reading a new book called the Coddling of the American Mind by Gregg Lukainoff and Jonathan Haidt.  Just started, but it has been very interesting so far as describes some of the less than ideal strategies we have have for making our way through society.  Some of the maladaptive strategies can be countered through consciously acknowledging the mental track being taken and making conscious effort to change said track.  Of course, it is easier to diagnose these problems in other people (because we are all-good amiright?), but being able to see and react to these tracks in yourself is the end goal (aka cognitive behaviour therapy, CBT).

  1.  Emotional Reasoning: Letting your feelings guide your interpretation of reality.  “I feel depressed; therefore my marriage is not working out.”

     2.  Catastrophizing:  Focusing on the worst possible outcome and seeing it as most likely. “It would be terrible if I failed.”

     3.  Overgeneralizing:  Perceiving a global pattern of negatives on the basis of a single incident. “This generally happens to me.  I seem to fail at a lot of things.”

     4.  Dichotomous Thinking: Viewing events or people in all-or-nothing terms. “I get rejected by everyone,” or “It was a complete waste of time.”

     5.  Mindreading: Assuming that you know what people think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts: “He thinks I’m a loser.”

     6.  Labeling: Assigning global negative traits to yourself or others.  “I’m undesirable,” or “He’s a rotten person.”

     7.  Negative Filtering:  You focus almost exclusively on the negatives and seldom notice the positives.  “Look at all the people who don’t like me.”

     8.  Discounting Positives:  Claiming that the positive things you or others do are trivial, so that you can maintain a negative judgement.  “That’s what wives are supposed to do – so it doesn’t count when she’s nice to me,” or “Those successes were easy, so they don’t matter.”

     9.  Blaming: Focusing on the other person as a source of your negative feelings; you refuse to take responsibility for changing yourself. “She’s to blame for the way I feel now,” or “My parents caused all of my problems.”

 

[…]  It’s easy to see how somebody who habitually things in such ways would develop schemas that revolve around maladaptive core beliefs, which interfere with realistic and adaptive interpretations of social situations.

-The Coddling of the American Mind. p.38

  It has been a good read so far, will keep you updated. :)

 

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