Why Technology Changes Who We Trust

Trust is the foundation of all human connections. From brief encounters to intimate relationships, it governs almost every interaction we have with each other. I trust my housemates not to go into my room without asking, I trust the bank to keep my money safe and I trust the pilot of my plane to fly safely to the destination.

Rachel Botsman describes trust as “a confident relationship with the unknown.” The bridge that allows us to cross from a position of certainty to one of uncertainty and move forward in our lives.

Throughout history, trust has been the glue that allowed people to live together and flourish in cooperative societies. An absence, loss or betrayal of trust could spark violent and deadly consequences.

In recent decades the world has witnessed a radical shift in trust. We might be losing faith in global institutions and political leaders but simultaneously millions of people are renting their homes to complete strangers on Air BnB, exchanging digital currencies like bitcoin or finding themselves trusting bots for help online. Botsman describes this shift as a new age of ‘distributed trust.’

Instead of a vertical relationship where trust flows upwards from individuals to hierarchical institutions, experts, authorities and regulators, today trust increasingly flows horizontally from individuals to networks, peers, friends, colleagues and fellow users.

If we are to benefit from this radical shift and not see a collapse of our institutions, we must understand the mechanics of how trust is built, managed, lost, and repaired in the digital age. To explain this new world, Botsman provides a detailed map of this uncharted landscape and explores what’s next for humanity.

Watch below:

And for a more detailed account listen here: https://play.acast.com/s/intelligencesquared/rachelbotsmanandhelenlewisontechnologyandtrust

 

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Identity Politics: Commonality or Common Enemy?

(Image: Patrick Record)

From the Trans Rights Movement to the rise of the ‘White Right’, identity has become a powerful force in modern politics.

The shift away from broad based party politics to a more tribal system divided along lines of race, gender and sexual orientation is generally described as the rise of Identity Politics.

Peter Franklin has also labeled the phenomenon as “Cultural Marxism” – a merger of Marxist economic theory with postmodernist philosophy. The former contests control over the means of production (i.e. industry, agriculture, etc) in order to overturn hierarchies of class;  while the latter contests control over the means of social construction (language, identity etc) in order to overturn hierarchies of privilege and power.

Cultural Marxists are those who believe that from the beginning of time, everything from language to morality has been constructed by and for, a tiny elite (white men). Society has internalised the structural misogyny and racism embedded in these historical institutions to the point that they see it as ‘normal.’

Given this inequality, many members of marginalised groups say that identity politics is not a choice. History has shoehorned women and minorities into an oppressive and violent social system which was designed to exclude and oppress them. The expansion of gender pronouns, fight for equal pay and emergence of identity based politics is about reclaiming and redistributing social power in a more equitable way.

Most people would accept that it is perfectly legitimate for groups to organise under one banner to fight imbalances of power. However Jonathan Haidt argues that it depends what type of identity politics is adopted. There are two main strands, the first is commonality identity politics. During the 1960’s, civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King fought racial injustice by appealing to the common humanity of all people. ‘I have a dream’ was underpinned by the idea that humanity is one family and that Blacks were being excluded and denied equal dignity.

The second version is common enemy identity politics. This is the idea of uniting groups based on a belief that there is one group that is the root of all evil. Haidt suggests this is a dangerous strain of identity politics which has become more potent in recent years, as rather than using group identity to absorb marginalised groups into a common whole, it uses group identity to pit society’s groups against each other.

Opinions are divided as to whether identity politics today is causing more harm than good. What’s certain is that identity is not going away. And it would be a mistake to think the solution to easing social tensions lies in surgically removing identity from the heart of politics. Instead we should work to ensure groups can communicate with one another and air disagreements within a framework that cultivates a commitment to the common whole rather than a hostility to a common enemy. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Selfie: How We Became So Self Obsessed

We live in strange times. A generation of selfies and self harm. We create edited online personas of people seemingly living perfect lives. Yet behind the screens insecurity, vanity and depression are the defining characteristics of our culture.

People absorb culture like sponges. Every time we open our phones we internalize the competitive game of likes, retweets and follows as we strive to reach the false cultural concept of the — “perfect self” —  (why did I only get 12 likes on my last post?! I’m better that that!) and when we don’t receive positive, dopamine fueled feedback we hate ourselves for failing. Hence the recent spikes in self-harm, body dysmorphia, eating disorders and suicide can be attributed to this damaging culture of ‘social perfectionism.’

This is the argument of a brilliant new book by author Will Storr who traces our story of self obsession back to Ancient Greece and Aristotle. Storr describes how the Greek concept of “selfhood” was heavily based on individual self improvement and through the persistence of personal will one could obtain the optimal level of spiritual, mental, physical, and material being.

Fetishizing the self permeated the Western conscience ever since. Storr decides to live with monks in a secluded monastic settlement, enrolls in the infamous California retreat centre named the Esalen Institute where the “self-esteem” movement is said to have been born and finally stays with the tech evangelist entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley to try and piece together how the modern self was formed and how we can survive it.

This is a phenomenal exploration of Western culture and through Storr’s blend of interviews, personal reflection and analysis the book reads like a Louis Theroux documentary. There are times when chapters can feel verbose and Storr spends a third of the book discussing the Esalen Institute and the libertarian movement’s impact on the social and political direction of the 20th century. Yet it’s a book that has stuck with me a month after reading and opened my mind to the extent our motivations and opinions of ourselves are products of a deeply individualistic culture of perfectionism.  I can’t recommend it enough.

 

Selfie ohoto

Why Storytellers are the Most Powerful People on Earth

Our entire lives are governed by stories. From the idea that certain pieces of paper are worth “$20” to the belief that to live a good life one must follow their passions, the stories we believe shape the course of our lives.

Humans have harnessed this power to co-operate in large numbers and create ordered communities governed by a common set of beliefs and inter-subjective reality. The most obvious example of this is global capitalism. We universally are told to believe in a system of ‘credit’ and that by imagining coins and paper as having real value they can be exchanged for tangible goods. We are also told to believe in brands called “Google” and “Starbucks”, countries called “France” and “India” – beliefs that have such an overarching influence on our lives we tend to forget they are the product of human storytelling rather than scientifically discovered objective facts.

As individuals we are bound hand and foot by these inter-subjective realities. If you wish to disagree and not believe in money or government you won’t get very far. The only way to break free from such entrenched beliefs is to convince people on a mass scale to think differently. The most common way of doing this is by telling new stories.

From Jesus to Karl Marx, compelling storytellers have been able to shape and influence the direction of human history. Hundreds of millions of lives have been affected both for the good and bad by the beliefs and ideas of certain individuals.

It can be disorientating to think just how powerful these stories are. Yet it’s crucially important and relevant that we begin to understand the story of planet earth we are all apart of.  In the face of global challenges such as climate change, artificial intelligence and nuclear weaponry in the hands of man-children, most people feel they are at best unimportant extras in this precarious story of the twenty first century’s fragile fight for its collective future.

Powerlessness is also a result of the ruthless individualism and isolation which is at the heart of our fundamentalist beliefs in the modern economic system. The most powerful way we can counter these feelings and pave the way for change is to begin to tell better and more optimistic stories about what the future for humans could look like.

It won’t be the politicians, the engineers nor the scientists who will solve the crises the world faces today but the storytellers who give them the reasons why.

 

Why You Shouldn’t Be A Blogger

A beautiful short on the internal struggle of every creative.

 

Thinking you’re not good enough is something nearly every writer experiences. From thinking ‘what’s the point’ to ‘I’m just not talented enough’ , overcoming our internal doubts is often half the creative process.

Filmmaker and founder of DSLR Guide Simon Cade has unveiled a brilliant short video on overcoming our artistic insecurities and being resilient writers. Shot with the camera looking up at the gloomy grey clouds while handwritten text mirrors the narrator’s dialogue, it is a captivating arrangement which captures the journey of becoming confident and comfortable with your work.

Check out ‘Why You Shouldn’t Be An Artist’ below:

 

 

We’re All Foreigners and We’re All Mad.

Author: Melina Zacharia

 An attempt to link together two quotes of two very different writers:

Jack Kerouac in a Letter to John Clellon Holmes saying,

“All of life is a foreign country”  

and

Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland saying,

“We are all mad here”

 

There are approximately 7,5 billion people in this place we call Earth and not even one of us can really claim that she or he belongs in one place or another. I mean really claim it, putting aside the proud shouts of patriotic clichés of how much of an American, French, English, Greek or German we are. We have a nationality, but what that entails no one can firmly say. A nation can be defined by many factors and “land” is the last of them. Some claim to be “citizens of the world”, well, that doesn’t explain it either. When it comes to claiming territory or declaring a nationality I side with J. Kerouac one that one, when in Letter to John Clellon Holmes he noted “All life is a foreign country”.

 

Trying to break down the meaning of this quote will only result in chasing our tails. The dead don’t answer and I have no intention to bruise my fists banging against the hard soil. The way I can personally interpret it is that one, we all come from everywhere and nowhere. There wasn’t a moment in human history that wasn’t marked by some kind of population mixing, so who is to say which are our true origins. All of life is a foreign country,  as every country is a foreign land as much as our birth land.

 

In 2016 Momondo, an online travel search engine, launched an interesting experiment that was later widely disseminated through social media. They tried to find out how diverse we, as humans are by testing our DNA, they called it “the DNA journey”. Even though the concept was commercial with purely for-profit purposes, a point was made. No one is just one thing, and in that context all life is a foreign country, for no country is our own.

 

Surely, we have things that reflect the “where” of where we come from, small indicators like our language or even our taste in music. Those however are cultural characteristics that were built with the passing of time in each territory. All those features were influenced by things like, the weather, the order between war and peace, population movements but not from a geographic position on the map. The link we feel with a specific territory is purely emotional, and that is what makes us feel as we’re home. The traditions, the way of speaking or even the way of living does differ from place to place, but this fact never stopped us from keep on mixing cultures and traditions.

 

culture-importance

 

Let us make an leap towards another direction as bizarre or even irrelevant as it may seem at first. From “no man’s land” let us to travel to Alice’s Wonderland, “We are all mad here, I am mad you’re mad” says the Cheshire cat. If there is one thing that unites us more than our common roots that might be our common inclination towards madness. Madness doesn’t discriminate in terms of colour or nationality and that is what makes it a constant as firm as gravity.

 

In the books, later transformed in many movies, Alice is afraid to walk in Wonderland as she’ll have to walk amongst mad men. The cat then gives her the naked truth by saying “We’re all mad here”. Right there, the cat sums up the truth about the one thing that no country can claim for its own, our common denominator, madness. Madness as a state of being, as a state of mind, not as a disease. One cannot but admire the timeliness of a phrase that even though taken from a children’s book, written in the 19th century, is more in tune with the reality today as ever.

 

Nowadays, all the big conversations seem to boil down to two things: What is our place of birth and second, are we mad enough to keep tearing each other apart. As if the first would be implicitly connected with the second. But are we truly content with that way of order? Alternatively, try imagine wiping the slate clean and continuing in life with that one truth: “we’re all foreigners and we’re all mad”. Now, this would be an interesting twist in the world narrative, wouldn’t it?

Melina is a writer and has a podcast on discussing ideas and challenging people to be better. You can follow her excellent blog here:

https://cosmonotes.org/ 

Homi Baba: Why We are Still Afflicted by Colonialism Everyday

Author: Anand Bose

Homi Baba is one of the foremost thinkers of Post Colonial Criticism and belongs to the school of thought known as Post Structuralism.

Homi Baba has made intrusions into the philosophy of language where texts become constructs for post colonial criticism. For Baba Colonialism has not been a straight forward clique between the oppressed and the oppressors but an evolving semantic machine marked by psychological anxiety and tension between the oppressor and the oppressor.

Here in this article I would like to articulate some ideas of Homi Baba on Post Colonial Criticism. They are hybridization, mimicry, uncanny, doubling, difference, ambivalence and anxiety. For Baba, a nation is always in the process of evolution and a nation is not a fixed entity.

Hybridization is a process through which cultures interact, mix and develop new cultural and evolutionary tendencies. A common example can be taken is that of the English language. For example Black English has evolved by fusing many dialects of the native black with the colonizer’s English. Indian English has absorbed native English words and has also adopted words borrowed from Indian Language. British English consists of many Gaelic and Latin and French words and therefore if we look at English, it is always going through a process of change or hybridization. Hybrid English is a transnational language and is always adopting new vocabularies into its lexicon. Another common example would be that of Dance and Music. Dance and Music have fused various elements of the Orient and the Occident.

Mimicry refers to the process through which the colonized mimic the language and culture of the Colonialist. Mimicry is a powerful tool, a coping mechanism of the colonized to resist the rule of the colonizer. The white other becomes the subject of my gaze and I adumbrate his or her cultural moorings into my possessive outlook. For the white, the discourse of the Orient has been a fragmented one, a one of bitter misunderstanding. According to Edward Said, the discourse of the orient has been a philosophical and intellectual construct drawn out from occidental narcissism and fantasy.

mimicry colonialism

A lexical meaning of the word uncanny would be something strange, mysterious in an unsettling way. For the white, oriental culture and religion has been marked by the strange or the uncanny. Baba also discusses the problem of migrant cultures. Migrant cultures to the Occident bring into it uncanny elements. Uncanny also represents a misunderstanding of the mass psyche of the colonized. For example let’s take the Blues. Blues a form of Black Music emerged as an uncanny one, a one to show solidarity and protest against the whites. Mahatma Gandhi’s behaviour as a political protester of the English rule was an uncanny one. The British simply could not understand and tolerate the half naked fakir. The occult aspects of the Australian aborigines were ostracised and many were made converts into Christianity.

Doubling as used by Homi Baba refers to the process in which duplicates of the Colonized were created. The colonized were trained in the language and culture of the Colonizer, mainly to suit them for administrative purposes. For example India as a British colony needed a large army of clerks to run their administrative regime. Doubling became a headache for the Colonizer as these doubles soon realized their self worth and started protesting against colonial rule.

Difference is a term taken from Derrida’s Deconstruction. The term incorporates the understanding of semantic binary divide by differing and deferring. Colonialism has marginalized the brown and the black by privileging of the white. This marginalization has been violent and autocratic. There is a conflict between the racially superior self and the racially inferior other. The White self’s Christianity is a racially superior religion than the religion of the Red Indians, Africans and Aborigines. Language has bifurcated texts into binary divides of the self and racial other. For me Colonialism is still an ongoing process. For example let’s look at Native Speakers of English being imported into South East Asian Countries to teach English. A native speaker of English is privileged over whites and browns who are adept in English.

Anxiety as a term used in postcolonial criticism referring to the tension of the colonizer when he is dealing with the colonized. We can use the example of Non Violent struggle against British rule espoused by Mahatma Gandhi. The British simply could not understand what the principle Ahimsa (non-violence) was and used ruthless force to subjugate the peace movement. Their ambivalence and complete lack of understanding of the native people, only strengthened the struggle for independence. Colonial domination was not straight forward but was clearly marked by anxiety and ambivalence.

Anand is a blogger from India who’s blog explores, philosophy, fiction and poetry. You can visit his excellent blog here: