04 September 2009

Extreme Echo Chamber: Modern Politics and Economy

It sounds insane, and in a way it is. Public opinion, as manifested in economies and politics, is controlled by massively interlocking opinion feedbacks that can swing wildly from one extreme to the other. Witness how quickly one political party can go from dominance to subservience. Watch the economy as it rapidly swings from irrational exuberance to dark despair. What is it about humans that predisposes them to such irrational and chaotic mass shifts in behaviour?

In economics:
... the business cycle is tied to feedback loops involving speculative price movements and other economic activity — and to the talk that these movements incite. A downward movement in stock prices, for example, generates chatter and media response, and reminds people of longstanding pessimistic stories and theories. These stories, newly prominent in their minds, incline them toward gloomy intuitive assessments. As a result, the downward spiral can continue: declining prices cause the stories to spread, causing still more price declines and further reinforcement of the stories.

At some point, of course, the process must end, as when the market falls so low that it becomes enticing, or when new stories emerge. Similarly, an upward movement in stock prices generates its own upward feedback. _NYT_via_Simoleonsense
And in politics and law:
...hundreds of studies from around the world have shown the phenomenon of group polarization in action. For example, after a group discussion, people already supportive of a war become more supportive, people with an initial tendency towards racism become more racist and a group with a slight preference for one job candidate will come out with a much stronger preference.

Naturally this shift towards the extreme has all sorts of implications for government, religion, commerce and the justice system. In fact one of the neatest pieces of real-world group polarization research examines the US legal system. Main and Walker (1973) analysed the decisions of Federal district court judges sitting either alone or in groups of three to see if group discussions were a factor.

In the 1,500 cases where judges sat alone they took an extreme course of action only 30% of the time. However when sitting in a group of 3 this figure more than doubled to 65%. _Psyblog_via_Simoleonsense
It is the rare individual who possesses the moral courage to go against group extremism, and the dominant feedback meme. The classic obedience studies by Milgram illustrated the strong tendency to "go along to get along" that dominates most human group behaviour.

While conventional thinkers worry about giving humans the moral courage to resist an unjust authority, more penetrating thinkers understand the stronger unconscious tyranny of group-think and group-speak.

Once an individual understands the innate nature of human group extremism, it becomes easier to observe this irrationality in action: both in themselves and in others.

Propagandists in the media and in public relations understand this phenomenon all too well. The media echo chamber is becoming something of a trite joke. And it might even be humorous, if not for the tight relationship currently between the media and an increasingly irrational ruling power structure.

When children are raised and educated in such a way that they never grow up, never mature into individuals, never accept responsibility -- the resulting "adults" are said to be psychological neotenates. Perpetual adolescent incompetents, always looking outward to the group for a cue as to how to behave. See them in action in the media, on the courts, in legislatures and voting booths, in the markets . . .

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

An optimistic article is just what we all need in the midst of all this political and economic turmoil. http://www.pressdisplay.com/pressdisplay/showlink.aspx?bookmarkid=5A65A1ZE0QO7&preview=article&linkid=92195518-ade9-4cef-a1d3-d20b8e5ecbfa&pdaffid=ZVFwBG5jk4Kvl9OaBJc5%2bg%3d%3d

Here's one


Friday, 04 September, 2009  

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“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

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