America Might Find Salvation in Satire

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2016 witnessed the election of Donald Trump thanks in a large part to Russian meddling in the American democratic process. One of the most effective things that the Russians did was lie and spread contradictory information to make it hard for people to discern reality. Trump’s marketing skills made use of these Russian efforts to convince people to vote for him (by a very small margin and still lost the popular vote). How do we get out from the propaganda launched by Russia, Trump, and others?

The answer might just be late night comedians. Yes, a country run by a celebrity famous for being born rich will be saved by other rich celebrities. At the very least it’ll be great to see elevated discourse!

This is all to show that there is now proof that the mainstreaming of lies in the Trump era is indeed rotting our brains. It was first thought that one way to prevent the spread of false information would be to flag it by third-party fact checking, but the study cited above showed that that effort did not sufficiently help.

And that’s where the comedians come in. Thus far there have been no studies that have compared cognitive processing of satire with cognitive processing of falsehoods. But there is significant research to show that it may well be true that the best cognitive defense against Trump era falsehoods is satirical comedy. We know, for instance, that those who consume sarcasm are smarter, more creative and better at reading context. All are useful tools to process lies.

What is most interesting is that processing falsehoods and processing certain types of satire appears to follow a very similar cognitive path. In both cases, the brain has to be able to distinguish between what is said and what is true. And in both cases the brain has to reconcile ambiguity, incongruence and the misuse of words. It further has to process tone, context and body language to infer meaning.

We knew back when Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were on Comedy Central that their viewers were among the most informed on issues of any group consuming news. But now the role of satire in informing the public may be even more important — satirists may be the one thing that is keeping analytical thinkers engaged.

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Even Massive Multinationals Support Net Neutrality

Net neutrality is what allows the internet to be what it is, and without it the internet would be pretty much useless. The Trump administration is presently trying to eliminate net neutrality to protect the profits of a very small group of companies. It’s worth noting that the Obama administration also tried this but didn’t go ahead with it

Without net neutrality the internet will undoubtedly suck, for a look at what that will be like check out this article. Net neutrality is awful for individual freedom and it’s also quite awful for profits, which is why today many popular websites and services are speaking out. For example, Netflix will basically be banned for some people and thus will lose their subscriber base.

If you’re an American then you ought to call your local representatives and talk to anybody who will listen about this issue. Today is the day of action. The repeal of net neutrality is censorship under a different name.

Sites across the web will display alerts on their homepages showing “blocked,” “upgrade,” and “spinning wheel of death” pop-ups to demonstrate what the internet would look like without net neutrality, according to advocacy group Battle for the Net. But most of the pop-ups The Verge has seen have been simple banners or static text with links offering more information.

Netflix, Spotify, and Airbnb have all placed banners at the top of their home pages, while Vimeo has an explainer video and graphics made available for download. Other websites, including Facebook and Amazon are participating, but haven’t yet disclosed what form their protests will take. Apple is not on the list of participants.

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Proof Protests Work: Trump’s Cancelled Plans

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‘Protesting it pointless’ is a refrain heard around the world by people who disavow public displays of disaffection. For the most part the idea of protesting being useless comes from the people in power who don’t want to be protested (or even questioned). This is evident when it comes to the thin-skinned president of the United States. President Trump has cancelled his trip to London because he’s worried that people will protest his presence.

He has apparently, in a recent telephone call to the prime minister, declared that he does not want to come if there are to be large-scale protests. The visit, we are told, is on hold.

Some may be surprised by this. From the violence and menace that became features of his ugly campaign, it was easy to assume that he liked a bit of edge at his public appearances. But on those occasions, he knew he would always have the support of far-right thugs and hangers-on who could drown out dissent and, if need be, throw a few punches at protesters, passers-by, anyone who would dare to question him. That intimidation, unprecedented in recent history, would have been more difficult to replicate here; he could hardly bring his street fighters with him. There are only so many seats on Air Force One.

Maybe he didn’t fancy the trip without Theresa there to hold his hand; to keep him strong and stable, as it were. Even he might blanch – all the way from Tango orange to the whitest white – at the idea of skipping through the Downing Street rose garden hand in hand with Phil the spreadsheet Hammond or Boris Johnson.

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Respecting Human Rights When Negotiating Trade Deals

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Donald Trump ran a campaign that championed the need to renegotiate the North American Free trade Agreement (NAFTA) to better help Americans. Trump’s erratic behaviour means we won’t know if NAFTA will ever be renegotiated, however the need to talk about trade in a new lens is needed (of course, we have no idea what Trump would want to change in NAFTA). Ed Broadbent has been calling for Canada to put people first when discussing trade with other countries, including NAFTA. Historically, trade deals (NAFTA, WTO, CETA, etc.) have the sole goal of making companies richer at the cost of environmental protections and human rights. This has sent global civilization on a race to the bottom.

Broadbent argues this does not need to be the case; we can use trade deals to help people and the environment.

The coming renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement and the possibility of a trade and investment deal with China should not be occasions to replicate past errors. Rather, they should be used as an opportunity to address this serious democratic deficit. While job losses and the shift of income from wages to profits have been in part due to technological change, the latest report of the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook notes that global competition has also produced a drop in the share of labour income in middle-class jobs in advanced economies as well as a drop in the workers’ share of income within developing countries. Together with the decline of unions, such competition has contributed to the marked rise in inequality within most countries around the world.

In renegotiating NAFTA and pursuing trade talks with China, Canada should avoid, not repeat, the errors of past trade agreements. Why should agreements provide effective enforcement mechanisms to protect the property rights of corporations but deny the human rights of workers? Why should we protect the one per cent at the expense of the majority?

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The Trump Forest

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There’s a new forest growing and it’s spreading over the entire world – and you can help spread it. Trump Forest is more of an idea than a physical place, but it’s all about the physical. President Trump’s ignorance around climate change is apparent and will have disastrous impacts on the planet. As a result of this some enterprising New Zealanders decided to grow resistance to Trump – literally. The idea is to plant as many trees as needed to counteract Trump’s ignorance.

Trump Forest’s tagline is “where ignorance grows trees.” The original plan was to plant a tree for every time President Trump said the words “climate change,” but it quickly became apparent that this wouldn’t grow a forest: Trump has long refused to say the words, and, last week, the U.S. Department of Energy was barred from using the phrase “climate change,” along with “emissions reduction” and “Paris Agreement.”

Human civilization currently emits about 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. To avoid extreme climate change, where the average global temperature would rise by 4°C, emissions need to be reduced to 22 gigatons (or 22 billion tons) by 2050.

Researchers at Oxford University estimate that, if pursued at scale, reforestation and afforestation could sequester as much as 5.5 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere per year. So while planting trees is not enough to reverse climate change, it is a low-cost and effective act of resistance when coupled with other climate action efforts.

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