Discover more from From the New World
Meta Politics Transcript: Restoring a Moderate BLM Movement + Reinforcement Distance
Almost a year ago, I predicted that moderate policies of BLM would become dominant despite extremist attempts to misdirect the movement. This came true in public opinion, but not in institutions.
The power rests with the people. This is a core tenet of democracy and is what led me to make multiple predictions almost a year ago today. One of the core ones being that populist movements would outpower attempts to capture them. Of course, this is not perfect. And I made predictions ranging anywhere from the right populous that drove the victory of Donald Trump in 2016 to protests such as black lives matter protests. Of course, public opinion, polls reflected that the nature of the movement of the people who are actually believing in those ideas were vastly in the realm of reform, that they did not believe in the extreme slogans and certainly not the extreme policies and instead opted to do moderate changes, such as demilitarizing the police, prison reform, reducing nonviolent drug prosecution, and improved police training. Those polls still hold up, but we've seen institutions, such as media, universities, or government walk in a completely different direction. This is a stark contradiction to that initial Axiom that the power rests with the people. Those institutions aren't bound by the same laws of democracy. And if we want them to be in the future, then that's going to be a puzzle that we need to solve right here right now.
Hi, hi, welcome, welcome. This is Metapol with me, Cactus, demystifying, politics, media, and culture for all who seek a rational way out.
Welcome back to the show and just a little housekeeping before we get to the meat of it. Once again, I'm asking you to leave some five star reviews on Apple podcasts or whatever podcast app you're using. The reviews do help discovery. It helps more people who are interested in these ideas get to hear about the same topics that we're talking about today.
And on every episode, If it's something valuable for you to listen to, and you can think about that again, after the end of the podcast as well, then please leave a five star review. And if you ask a question, we may answer it on the show in the future. Today on the show, we're talking about the wake of the black lives matter movement, as well as other movements that created protests and other popular movements across recent American history.
But before we get to that, let's talk about the milestone that brought this back up. Of course, you've probably already heard in the news around the world, but Derek Shovan the officer who kneeled on George Floyd's neck has now been sentenced to second degree murder, third degree murder and manslaughter, all three charges that he was charged with.
In my opinion, this was a fairly straightforward case. Ask yourself three questions. Did
a) Shovan go past police procedure in either type or duration, long he continued to be on George Floyd's neck after he was already incapacitated.
b) Does that constitute assault?
c) And was that a major cause of deaths?
In my view, all three of those answers are yes. Now you're free to disagree with me. You're free to point out some of the other factors, including possible political interference in terms of people making public statements about trials and the question of third degree murder, particularly, especially when compared to the other two charges.
But the headline charge is second degree murder. And I think going through those three questions, once again, you can have disagreements, but there's a fairly solid case that this is the correct verdict. It's strange to see some of the exact pundits who are worried about overreactions, had the verdict gone in different direction, reacting with that same sort of indignation after this verdict was handed down. Always have humility, have respect for other possible opinions. And I think ultimately, you can have the case. You can have a good faith attempt in order to reason with it and come with a different opinion. But in the end, I think, and I think a majority of people think that the legal facts of the matter do end in this conviction.
Of course, the story is not just about one person doing an abhorrent act. It's about a broader political consequence and the possible policy changes that can go along with it. I mentioned in the introduction that the general consensus, not just among the left, but also among the right, was that several steps needed to be taken in order to reduce the risk and or to have police officers behave in a more safe manner.
This means things like having more body cameras. It also means demilitarizing the police, reducing the amount of military equipment, ones that are often not effective, especially when dealing with individuals better at police training, including de-escalation training, community policing, which means having police officers who are actually living in the areas where they're also serving, as well as reform on the “war on drugs”, reducing the sentences, or just simply legalizing various drugs, such as marijuana. Those ideas still hold up more or less today with approval numbers in either the high sixties or the low seventies, depending on the source.
After the protests, there was around a 76% disapproval of quote unquote, abolishing the police. And now that's risen slightly to around 81%. So there has been either not much of a change or a slight increase in opposition to the more extreme proposals. This actually matches the initial prediction that I made, which was that extremist activists would not be very effective in changing the broader public opinion.
This in fact was a true prediction. As I just said, the popular opinion, still rests with those center or center left reforms where the prediction fails is the implementation of more extreme ideologies in various corporate settings or in media settings, pushing for a quote unquote diversity trainings that tend to espouse quite frankly, statements that would be considered racist explicitly anywhere else in the world, outside of the United States, and to be fair is also considered racist by many people who are actually in the United States. They also tend to play into the flaw of racial essentialism, which is the belief that race determines who you are. Obviously the implications of that are incredibly dangerous and often actually violate explicitly civil rights law, although espousing those beliefs is not quite stepping over that line, be it repugnant or not. However, the reframing of this in extremist activism has gained more of a foothold.
That being said, it's also important not to overestimate the size of the problem. Joe Biden, for example, has come out repeatedly against violence and while you may still disagree with his policies, it is simply not true that he is as extreme as the more fringe members of his party. You can argue that his party gives cover to them. You can argue that Joe Biden is not doing anything to combat them, but it's simply not useful to pretend that they're all the same.
Not useful unless you're trying to score political points for a different party. And that's certainly not what anyone who's acting in good faith is trying to do when they're addressing this problem. Even if it is less important than for example, the COVID-19 pandemic, there's only so much we can talk about, so we will continue to cover this topic nonetheless. Also it's exactly in the wheelhouse of media manipulation and political dynamics as we will go onto in the future. Of course, I don't particularly like talking about the culture war. I only want to cross that line when it gives us something important that we can learn about democracy, about political systems and about how to engineer movements that are more sustainable and more productive in the long term.
Of course, we've covered some of the properties that result in movements like this gaining power in the past, including ideas like incentive games, including redefining terms, and just the general polarization that has occurred in different institutions. Let's do a brief one sentence summary of each of those ideas.
Incentive games are essentially the structures that go into someone's decision-making. People don't necessarily just make decisions based on their values or based on overall long-term productivity. Instead, they're also thinking about themselves. So when the question is whether to implement some type of corrupt policy in a given company, then if there's going to be more of a benefit to themselves or an avoidance of a consequence to themselves, such as a targeted harassment campaign that are not just used by activists on the left, but also a smaller number on the right then there's going to be an influence on that person's decision-making because they're caring about their own self-interest.
Redefinition of terms” We're going to go into a bit more on this topic and about how specifically it works in disconnected media systems, but essentially redefinition of terms occur when someone misuses a term frequently enough that it is used in order to adopt a different, possibly contradictory, meaning.
This occurs on both the left and the right politically to about equal proportions. The path of it that is more effective in influencing a corporate setting at the very least with evidence that is currently available is the left wing half. This also makes intuitive sense since corporations tend to be organized in major cities, which also tend to be polarized towards the left wing.
And on that final topic, polarization is essentially the drifting apart of people who are on the left and the right in terms of organizing and more and more insular bubbles that are disconnected from people who have different beliefs, as well as other factors, such as geography and social media reinforcing that phenomenon. With all that in mind, I want to introduce a new term that is reinforcement distance.
This isn't always a physical distance. It can be measured in time. It can be measured in the resources it needs to get an answer. But essentially it's the hypothetical distance between doing an action and figuring out whether that action was good or bad, whether it actually accomplished the thing it's set out to do.
This is often something that is critical in, for example, competitive sports. You don't necessarily want to wait for the world championships in order to see whether new strategies that a soccer team or a basketball team is implementing is actually successful in scoring more points. Instead, you want to have practice games and drills that actually test these strategies.
The same occurs in a business, occurs in politics at the very least, it should. However, you see an increasing struggle and actually coming to terms with why a given party wins or loses. This was already occurring in 2016, with many supporters of presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton searching for subjects to blame instead of looking to change policy or change a campaign strategy diagnoses for several problems, including online bots or including Russian interference were plainly factually refuted, yet continued to circulate in various left-wing media channels. Far after abundant disconfirming information was provided. Of course, Donald Trump took this to another level refusing to formally concede until weeks after the result was actually decided and spawning a further movement that continues to reject the validity of the election.
All of this is actually incredibly crippling to the very politicians, parties, and infrastructure that's required to try to win the next election. After all, if you don't know what's gone wrong, then you don't know what to change in order to make a better case. The next time around. And there were certainly plenty of different options for both Clinton and Trump to change many of which Biden, who was the democratic nominee in 2020, actually implemented, including campaigning more in several swing States, such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, as well as focusing more on economic issues such as healthcare.
The extent to which either the democratic or Republican parties course correct is radically less then parties from around the world, whether it be Canada, European nations, Australia, or Asian democracies, there tends to be a drastic shift in one direction or another after a party loses an election, particularly if an election is seen as controversial, as of course, the 2016 one certainly was. While Biden did implement some of these changes and they turned out to be in part beneficial to his overall campaign. This is not necessarily true for the broader democratic “establishment”, either party members, media figures, or fundraisers who continue with many of the same tropes.
Now, what does this have to do with the rise in power and with a disconnect from public opinion in these various corporations? Well, it's simple, the exact same thing that is preventing these parties from moving forward also preventing these corporations from reckoning with simple public opinion. Now, why is this?
Part of it is just a generalized necessity. When you're processing large amounts of information, there needs to be abstractions and sacrifices that increases the time and decreases the accuracy of trying to study certain things after all it's quite intuitive and matching with reality that the more pieces of data that you need to actually factor in the more time you're going to take in order to do it.
That doesn't explain all of it though. These formally conducted public opinion polls are available anywhere online. Just because there's bureaucracy or that there are possible mistakes that are made when trying to factor everything in doesn't mean that there's going to necessarily be a divergence in the exact opposite direction from what people actually want. This is where another factor that I mentioned earlier comes in: polarization. One of my favorite quotes or analogies is from David shore, a former Obama campaign data analyst. He talked about the negative relation between effectiveness of advertisements on the general public and how much the campaign staff actually approved them. This means that the issues that the staff cared about or thought that portrayed Obama in a positive light were also the ones that were least convincing for people who are actually voting in core swing States. Sometimes the most preferred ads would even be negative, meaning that they made voters more likely to vote for Obama's opponent instead of for him.
This effect also occurs in highly polarized environments, such as media companies or corporations writ large. One of the best ways to solve them, however, is to reduce the reinforcement distance. It’s to reduce the time it takes in order to actually understand what actions are popular and what is actually effective. This would run into barriers though, since it would quickly run head on into either organized attempts or simply polarized intuitions that don't want to believe the evidence that they're preconceived opinions are actually incredibly unpopular, even among the exact demographic groups that they may be trying to appeal to.
Moreover, the incentive game still applies. A strong activist movement can put personal pressures, such as harassment or calling for firings against individuals. Even if they're not actually benefiting anyone in the broader population. Once again, this is something that is reconciled with a shorter reinforcement distance. If an employee refutes these extremist ideologies and takes an action that is in line with public opinion, and that is in line with many of those same demographic groups and get immediately rewarded for it by those same people, possibly benefiting the company as well, then there's going to be much less of an incentive overall in order to sacrifice that long term reward and long-term serving the public in exchange for these short term, highly organized consequences from a vast, vast ideological minority of either the population or of those specific groups. This isn't as hard as you might think. One short-term correction might be creating counter movement, organizing, just organizing regular people along those more moderate issues and preventing others from trying to overtake or abuse branding and media control in order to try to pretend that the general public is in favor of something that they're not.
Another thing is provided to us by the More in Common team, which recently did a podcast with Tristan Harris, the Center for Humane Technology on the Your Undivided Attention podcast, shout out to them. They talked about an incredibly important metric in terms of actually reconciling and reducing these reinforcement distances: The difference between perceptions of what people on “other side” believe, either the left or the right, in the United States and what those people actually do believe. One example is that less than 5% of either party believed in using violence to achieve their ends. However, Members of the democratic party and Republican party thought that the opposing party had 30 or 40% people in favor of using violence. This of course can lead to escalated tensions and could lead to a misattribution of where the problem actually comes from. And that is very often what takes place in these corporate settings. Making sure that employees are well aware of the perception gap metrics can actually create an effective way of reducing reinforcement distance by giving them immediate measurable items on many of these topics, simply ask them, make a prediction, make as good of an educated guess as you can on how many people believe in X,Y,Z policy, and then give them the actual number. Tell them if they're right or wrong and ask them to make a better prediction next time. And having that information before making a company decision in one direction or another can already do a lot in order to bring them in line with what they might actually want to be advocating for.
One case study of this happening in quite a serendipitous and fortunate way is with the “super leagues” failure. Essentially, the super league was an attempt to create a different soccer league of essentially the 12 highest earning teams in various European leagues, which typically may only play each other in the Champions League. However soccer is treated in a very different cultural way even than equivalent sports in the United States or Canada. There's an incredibly high emphasis placed on the local connections to many of these different leagues and this kind of blatant, transparent cash grab was something that was reacted to incredibly negatively by various members of the broader population.
Of course this manifested itself in terms of protests and social media posts. So it's easy to question whether this is really a broader manifestation of public opinion or it's a small unrepresentative groups. But when looking at preliminary polling, of course it's inconclusive, of course it will change, all caveats included, this seems to be a broadly agreed upon opinion either by fans of the clubs included in the league or by those who are not. What this shows is that there can be a spontaneous uncoordinated effort, especially among these more popular lines. If they are not misdirected or misrepresented, then the success of a broader, popular movement to actually advocate for those issues that are in alignment with public opinion is actually fairly high.
This was also generally the effect of protests in a vast variety of countries before the current circumstances of polarization of media, of amplified psychological distortions started to apply. This isn't to say that protests were always right or that they're always wrong now, only that some of these minute factors, once shifted, can create a much higher likelihood that those opinions will match up with the issues that are being protested on the ground. What we're looking for is the public control of the popular idea. As we saw, we had a public control over the idea over the culture of soccer in Europe, the same can apply, and often does apply for the idea of democracy or of government.
And usually it takes the form of a self-correcting cycle. Essentially, if policies were put in place that increased circumstances, then you generally got elected. You generally gained political power, and if it didn't, then you would lose political power. And while that may marginally apply today, The effect is much weaker in the United States then in other democratic systems. And you can argue about this on various factors. Should you have different voting systems, such as rank choice voting? Should you have a drastic shift in media ownership or in forms of communication and regulations on those?
However, the core idea in my mind is that the emphasis should be on that self reinforcing structure that veto that the people hold ultimately the most successful power that people have is just to say, if you're doing a bad job, you're fired, not necessarily to work through all the lists of policies and come to a very complicated conclusion.
Of course doing the latter is fine. However, using the short clips of debates that are typically misrepresentations and using incomplete information to do so is often a fool's errand. This isn't to say that people shouldn't be trusted to make decisions. They're perfectly fine and making decisions about their own personal lives, but these are incredibly complicated problems.
The politicians don't even necessarily know what they're doing themselves. They have other people come and write those policies. And so processing all of that information, especially if you have other things to be focused on is not something that should be expected on you. Instead not emphasis on the veto, the emphasis to kick someone out if they're not functioning.
And to implement that more broadly with political parties is the most important effect. In the case of the United States though, the two party system, Democrats and Republicans, who take turns implementing their own types of policy failures is one example of this completely breaking down. Essentially, because there is not sufficient opposition and because of a variety of factors that have been weaponized against third parties, this veto effect has all but disappeared and restoring it, at least in my opinion, is the core step in order to shorten this reinforcement distance in governing.
Finally, the last area in which this term is useful is in the realm of media control and the redefinition of terms. You see this game being played again with Biden, calling welfare “social infrastructure”. Now I don't have a gut reaction to the word welfare, either positive or negative. I think it can be done well and I think it could be done poorly, as is true with infrastructure itself. Why Biden's doing this is because of the preconceived opinions that people have just of the term infrastructure. And by trying to manipulate these terms in order to paint something that is not infrastructure as infrastructure, it's just a simple way in order to try to score popularity points.
This is only possible due to an increased centralized control of media. If the vast majority of media outlets left or right, simply called this out, simply pointed out that this is just a different program. Not necessarily good, not necessarily bad, but just a misuse of the term. Then this would not be successful in the slightest and politicians would generally be disincentivized from ever doing it again since they would be called out for lying or at the very least misrepresenting one policy. This feedback loop, once again, would represent a shorter reinforcement distance, but when you have increased polarization, this starkly increases the reinforcement distance often not having to have politicians account for these distortions whatsoever.
One thing to do is also shorten this with regards to the institution themselves, to create some sort of punishment, whether it be monetary, whether it be a decrease in audience, et cetera, to institutions that are participating in these games. Unfortunately, this is not as simple as a problem as it may seem.
Of course, you can simply ask more people to “cut the cord” to abandon some of the legacy institutions that are most egregious in participating in these failures, either on the left or on the right. However, the alternative is not always there. It's not always well-funded and inertia is always a problem to deal with.
One alternative is to just share knowledge and help more people to recognize the game that is being played. Obviously with something like this, if you actually ask, what are the programs that are being implemented, then it's easy to see the game and you can essentially apply a filter in order to ignore some of these framings that might come out of partisan outlets on either the left or the right. This is even more effective with the games that are being played often on cultural sides, where there are things that are being done that are rebranded as quote unquote anti racism or a quote unquote populism that are simply just tribalism and corruption on both. Once again, the left and the right.
Unfortunately, this is something that is truly ubiquitous. One of the biggest objections to pointing out these categorical errors on both sides is the very valid concern that you should think numerically, that you actually have to measure the severity in which these impacts either side. And I've made those measurements and presented some of those evidence in either previous episodes or this one.
But with this property in partaker, of course you can count out the sheer number of times those appeals are made, but at the current frequency, it's just not possible at the very least on my end, on my own to do a formal measurement, because there is simply too many occurrences on either side, this part of the problem, this part of redefinition of terms. Is in the end, a return to some of the most egregious concepts that were banished aesthetically in the past. We understand why tribalism is poor. However many people may just have an association with the previous instances of tribalism and they have an aesthetic dislike of tribalism for good reason, but they're not necessarily good at recognizing it in other circumstances.
By helping people look at these defining characteristics, helping people understand how these play out in broader political dynamics and why they're self-destructive for democracies. And for the general public. Having that principled understanding is one way to ensure that the redefinition of terms and the lengthening of reinforcement distance is much less harmful.
Of course, you can do that right now in the simplest way possible, simply by hitting share on this podcast, you can tell a friend about some of the ideas, especially someone who would like to listen to the show. And like I said, at the beginning of the show, leave a review, leave a five star review and help us reach more people, people who you might not even know you, who would be interested themselves in what we have to hear.
And if you do any of that as always, thank you.