Category: Democracy in America

Against Epistocracy: Why ‘Rule of the Informed’ Will Not Fix Democracy, Pt. II

This is second part of a two-part essay on “epistocracy,” defined by political philosopher and Georgetown University professor Jason Brennan as a system where the most politically-informed citizens have the most voting power. You can read the first part here.

There’s a lot of evidence that the United States isn’t nearly as democratic as it likes to think it is. Continue reading “Against Epistocracy: Why ‘Rule of the Informed’ Will Not Fix Democracy, Pt. II”

Against Epistocracy: Why ‘Rule of the Informed’ Will Not Fix Democracy, Pt. I

Western democracies haven’t had the best track record as of late. The United Kingdom shot itself in the foot by voting to withdraw from the European Union in 2016, which would’ve gone down as the year’s most egregious self-inflicted wound if the United States hadn’t outdone them three months later with the election of Donald Trump. Alternative für Deutschland, Front national and Partij voor de Vrijheid—right-wing populist parties, all of them—are as popular as they’ve ever been in Germany, France and the Netherlands. The global resurgence of far-right politics is profoundly disturbing, and it suggests that resentment, if not rage, is starting to appeal more to voters than reason. If these movements continue to gain ground, it might mean that democracy’s best days are behind it.

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Data to the People: to Challenge Google, Nationalize Bing

Every Google search leaves you on the losing end of a simple, painless transaction. Unless you’re the tape-over-the-webcam type, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about your place in the twenty-first century barter economy, but the billionaire playboy who runs your search engine isn’t the President of a charity. In exchange for your quiet acquiescence, you get access to the largest store of knowledge in human history: fully searchable, at a price unknown, under the all-seeing eyes of Sergey Brin and Larry Page.

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Silicon Valley’s Libertarian Solution is Regulation

When the news broke that Cambridge Analytica had harvested and shared the private Facebook data of over 50 million Americans to support Trump’s 2016 campaign, the proverbial shit hit the fan. Shrill headlines decrying ‘The Data that Turned the World Upside Down’ raced throughout the social media giant’s own networks, and the public erupted in fury. To make matters worse, this shocking news came on the back of a seemingly continuous stream of tech related scandals – from privacy concerns to Russian bots – over the past year.

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Keep Silicon Valley out of Health

On April 10, Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of Congress on how Facebook manages user data, defending his company against accusations of privacy violations. In light of this scandal, Facebook quietly dropped a plan with hospitals and health organizations to receive anonymized patient hospital records in a data sharing program that included Stanford’s own medical school. The data would be anonymized before being shared to avoid privacy violations, but Facebook planned to deanonymize the data, ostensibly to look out for users’ health. This planned invasion of privacy exemplifies the dangers of Silicon Valley’s move into the healthcare industry.  If Silicon Valley tech giants become omnipresent forces in the healthcare industry, like Facebook is for social media or Amazon for e-commerce, they would be able to manipulate the decisions we make regarding our bodies, or even eliminate the possibility of freely making those choices. This is a violation of our human right to bodily autonomy, which demands that we be able to freely make choices about our bodies and that no one else make such choices without our consent.

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You Don’t have to Watch the Oscars

A common theory of eternal damnation is that of the personal hell— a uniquely tailored punishment for each sinner to eke out the most possible suffering. It’s a theme that’s animated pop culture for centuries, from The Divine Comedy to The Good Place. I’m not sure I quite believe in personal hells, but if they exist, I know what lies down there for me: An endless stream of awards shows, of self-congratulatory speeches segueing into misbegotten tributes segueing into maudlin performances then back into those same damned speeches about the power of cinema or how wonderful the music industry is.
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The Decay of ‘Real News’

The conventional wisdom goes that there are two types of news: fake and real. The fake kind is an upstart, a scammy provocation designed by Macedonian teens and conservative operatives to infiltrate our social media feeds, suckering gullible baby-boomers into believing misinformation about George Soros funding Jade Helm antifa operatives as commanded by Hillary Clinton. The real kind is an old, august tradition, a centuries-long chain of journalistic integrity and devotion to bold truth-telling and upholding the principles of a free society. It’s a binary— the New York Times on the end of the real, InfoWars on the end of the fake.

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The Rise of China and America’s Demo-Crisis

 Fear of China runs deep in the American psyche, as particularly evident during the recent 19th Party Congress. The New York Times declared with typical American hubris, ‘Seven Men Now Run China’ and ‘China Enshrines ‘Xi Jinping Thought,’ Elevating Leader to Mao-like status.’ These sensationalist headlines obscure a worrying truth: China now functions better politically than America.

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Religion: The Elephant in the Room

The platitude “Do not discuss religion or politics at the dinner table” is so ingrained into the American psyche that we rarely discuss religion in a serious manner. This hesitation is understandable given the current political and cultural climate. Whenever we do hear about religion, it’s usually in the unpalatable form of a Fox News diatribe against Muslims, or an aggressive attack on faith by Richard Dawkins. Perhaps in reaction to such tongue-lashing, respect for religion has been conflated with a fear of religion, or at least an unwillingness to discuss it. According to a Pew Research Center survey on religion in everyday life, roughly half of American adults rarely or never discuss religion outside their immediate family. Given that religion continues to play – for better or for worse – such a large cultural and political role, it is a shame that we relegate the conversation to the media’s all too often simplistic narrative. We owe much of what we take for granted in the modern world to questioning religious dogma and practices. So on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant reformation, it is worth examining how censuring and debating religion in the past resulted in profoundly positive changes.

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Populism is Bigger than Trump

Liberals have descended into a simplistic sensationalism. To many Stanford students, Trump’s rise meant no less than the apocalypse and even created a whole new vocabulary of post-truth, PC culture and fake-news. But, to make matters worse, this was far from an American apocalypse. In fact, Trump’s election caused a wave of Western democracies to fall to the disastrous forces of populism like dominos. This ‘apocalypse’ stretched across the European continent with far right-wing parties and movements espousing nationalistic, anti-immigration rhetoric making great progress in France, Britain, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Switzerland and even Austria just a couple of weeks ago. Slightly more sophisticated and level-headed accounts do not hold Trump himself responsible for the trend, but implicate greater forces of discontent associated with globalization. From this perspective, Trump was one of the first figures to vocalize the piling grievances of ‘globalization’s losers.’

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