Planned obsolescence: conspiracy fact, not conspiracy theory

Full transcription below

One of my very earliest wibblettes, back in 2007, was a simple rant about the very topic that ‘Veritasium’ expounds here. I’ve touched on the subject several times since (for instance in 2011, when I asked the question “Hey, clever people, can you design to last?“; I’m still waiting on an answer to that that isn’t “No, because we have to ‘design for the dump’ or civilization will collapse”… /eyeroll).

We really do, desperately, need to get off this ‘stuff’ treadmill. But before we can even think about doing that, we need to open our eyes to the fact that it exists. Veritasium sheds some light on the matter:

Veritasium: This is a video about things, like cars, phones and lightbulbs; and an actual conspiracy that made them worse. This video was sponsored by NordVPN; more about them at the end of the video. I am outside Livermore Fire Station #6; and in here, they have the longest continuously-on lightbulb in the world. It has been on for 120 years, since 1901. It’s not even connected to a light switch — but it does have a back-up battery and generator. So, the big question is: how has this lightbulb lasted so long? It was manufactured by hand not long after commercial lightbulbs were first invented, and yet it has been running for over a million hours; way longer than any lightbulb today is meant to last.

A while back, a friend of mine told me this story: that someone had invented a lightbulb that would last forever — years ago; but they never sold it because an everlasting lightbulb makes for a terrible business model. I mean, you would never have any repeat customers and eventually you would run out of people to sell lightbulbs to. I thought this story sounded ridiculous. If you could make an everlasting lightbulb, then everyone would buy your lightbulb over the competitors’: and so you could charge really high prices, make a lot of money — even if demand would eventually dry up. I just couldn’t imagine that we had better lightbulbs in the past, and then intentionally made them worse. But it turns out I was wrong. At least, sort of.

Inventing a viable electric light was hard. I mean, this is the typical incandescent design, which just involves passing electric current through a material, making it so hot that it glows. You know, less than 5% of the electrical energy comes out as light; the other 95% is released as heat. So, these are really ‘heat bulbs’ which give off a little bit of light as a by-product. You know, the temperature of the filament can get up to 2800 Kelvin. That is half as hot as the surface of the sun. At temperatures like those, most materials melt; and if they don’t melt, they burn. Which is why in the 1840s, Warren De la Rue came up with the idea of putting the filament in a vacuum bulb so there’s no oxygen to react with. By 1879, Thomas Edison had made a bulb with a cotton thread filament that lasted 14 hours. Other inventors created bulbs with platinum filaments or other carbonized materials; and, gradually, the lifespan of bulbs increased. The filaments changed from carbon to tungsten, which has a very high melting point; and by the early 1920s, average bulb lifetimes were approaching 2000 hours, with some lasting 2500 hours. But this is when lifetimes stopped getting longer, and started getting shorter.

In Geneva, Switzerland, just before Christmas 1924, there was a secret meeting of top executives from the world’s leading lightbulb companies: Philips, International General Electric, Tokyo Electric, Osram from Germany and the UK’s Associated Electric, among others. They formed what became known as the Phoebus cartel, named after Phoebus, the Greek god of light. There, all these companies agreed to work together to help each other: by controlling the world’s supply of lightbulbs. In the early days of the electrical industry, there had been lots of different small lightbulb manufacturers; but, by now, they had largely been consolidated into these big corporations, each dominant in a particular part of the world. The biggest threat they all faced was from longer lasting lightbulbs. For example, in 1923, Osram sold 63 million lightbulbs: but the following year they sold only 28 million. Lightbulbs were lasting too long, eating into sales. So, all the companies in the cartel agreed to reduce the lifespan of their bulbs to 1000 hours, cutting the existing average almost in half.

But how could each company ensure that the other companies would actually follow the rules and make shorter lasting lightbulbs? After all, it would be in each of their individual interests to make a better product to out-sell the others. Well, to enforce the thousand-hour limit, each of the manufacturers had to send in sample bulbs from their factories, and they were tested on big test stands like this one. If a bulb lasted significantly longer than a thousand hours, then the company was fined. If a bulb lasted longer than three thousand hours? Well, the fine was 200 Swiss Francs for every thousand bulbs sold; and there are records of these fines being issued to companies. But, how do you make a worse lightbulb in the first place? Well, the same engineers who had previously been tasked with extending the lifespan now had to find ways to decrease it. So they tried different materials, different shaped filaments and thinner connections: and if you look at the data, they were successful. Ever since the formation of the cartel, the lifespan of lightbulbs steadily decreased so that by 1934 the average lifespan was just 1205 hours. And just as they had planned, sales increased for cartel members by 25% in the four years after 1926. And even though the cost of components came down, the cartel kept prices virtually unchanged, so they increased their profit margins.

So, did people know that the lightbulb companies were conspiring together to make their products worse? No. The Phoebus cartel claimed that its purpose was to increase standardization and efficiency of lightbulbs; I mean, they did establish this screw thread as standard: you can find it on virtually all lightbulbs around the world now. But all evidence points to the cartel’s being motivated by profits and increased sales, not by what was best for consumers.

So, one of the reasons this lightbulb has lasted so long is because it was made before the cartel era. Another reason is because the filament has always been run at low power, just four or five Watts. It was meant to be a night light for the fire station, to provide just enough light so that firemen wouldn’t run into things at night. And the fact that it was always on reduced the thermal cycling of the filament and components, limiting the stress caused by thermal expansion and contraction. The Phoebus cartel was initially planned to last at least until 1955, but it fell apart in the 1930s. It was already struggling due to outside competition and non-compliance amongst some of its members, but the outbreak of World War Two is really what finished it off. So, this cartel was dead; but its methods survive to this day. There are lots of companies out there that intentionally shorten the lifespan of their products. It’s a tactic known now as ‘planned obsolescence’.

This was actually the subject of Casey Neistat’s first viral video, all the way back in 2003:

Ryan: Thank you for calling Apple; my name name’s Ryan, may I have your first name, please?

Casey: Casey.

Ryan: All right, what seems to be the issue today?

Casey: I have an iPod that I bought about 18 months ago, and the battery is dead on it?

Ryan: Mmhm? 18 months? OK, it’s passed its year, which basically means, there’ll be a charge of $255, plus a mailing fee to send it to us to refurb it, to correct it. But at that price, you know, you might as well go get a new one.

Veritasium: This video got millions of views in a time before YouTube or social media, and it spawned a class action lawsuit which Apple settled out of court. But it didn’t stop the company from practising planned obsolescence. After an iOS update in 2017, users of older iPhones found apps loading significantly slower, or the device shutting down altogether. Apple said they’d throttled performance to protect the battery of older devices and increase their longevity. Of course, that wouldn’t be an issue if the battery were replaceable. In a series of lawsuits that concluded in 2020, Apple was fined, or reached settlements to pay, hundreds of millions of dollars. Undoubtedly, this amount pales in comparison to the extra revenue they generate by limiting the lifespan of their products.

But some would argue that planned obsolescence isn’t just about greed, but that it’s also good for everyone. During the Great Depression in the 1930s, when as much as a quarter of Americans were out of work, an American real estate broker, Bernard London, proposed mandatory planned obsolescence as a way to get people back to work and lift America out of the Depression. He wrote, “I would have the government assign a lease of life to shoes, and homes, and machines when they are first created, and they would be sold and used within the term of their existence, definitely known by the consumer”. After the allotted time had expired, these things would be legally ‘dead’, and would be controlled by the duly appointed governmental agency and destroyed if there is widespread unemployment. Now, this might sound like a wild fringe idea; but people were clearly afraid of being put out of work by technological progress and products that were too good.

There was even a popular Oscar-nominated film about it. This is ‘The Man in the White Suit‘, from 1951. It’s about a scientist who invents the perfect fibre; it won’t stain, or break, or fray….

Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinness): I think I’ve succeeded in the co-polymerisation of amino acid residues and carbohydrate molecules; both containing ionic groups. It’s really perfectly simple.

Veritasium: The Academy Award nomination was for best screenplay: I kid you not. Anyway, everyone is initially excited about our hero’s scientific discovery: he makes a suit out of the thread, and it has to be white because the fibre is so stain-resistant it can’t even be dyed. But this is when trouble strikes: the factory owners realize they won’t be able to sell as much of this thread because it’s so durable; and the workers worry it’ll put them out of a job.

Ignorant old washerwoman: Why can’t you scientists leave things alone? What about my bit of washing when there’s no washing to do?

Veritasium: This is when you get the climactic scene where factory workers and factory owners team up to chase down the scientist to destroy him and his invention. And believe it or not, this movie may have been inspired by real events. In the 1940s, the synthetic fibre nylon replaced silk in stockings, and it was so durable that the products became an overnight sensation. There were literal riots when women tried to get their hands on them. When the manufacturers realized they had made the product too good, they didn’t destroy the fibre; but they did follow the example of the Phoebus cartel: they instructed their engineers and scientists to find ways to weaken the product; to shorten its lifespan so people would have to buy more.

Now, it seems like consumers are finally fighting back against planned obsolescence. In the European Union, and in over 25 states in the US, there’s proposed legislation to enshrine the ‘right to repair’. These laws would force manufacturers to make it easier to repair their products. They would have to provide information and access to parts so you could replace a battery or fix a cracked screen at a third party repair shop without voiding your warranty. So, if the right to repair does become law, does that mean artificial obsolescence will be gone for good? Sadly, no, because there is one last thing manufacturers can use to make their products obsolete, which is you.

Henry Ford released the first mass market car, the Model T, in 1908, and he envisioned it like a workhorse, an affordable tool that wouldn’t wear out; a bit like the everlasting lightbulb. In 1922, Ford said, “We want the man who buys one of our cars never to have to buy another. We never make an improvement that renders any previous model obsolete”. But by 1920, 55% of American families already owned a car. Nearly everyone that could afford one, had one. And that same year, there was a small economic downturn, driving down sales for both Ford and General Motors. In 1921, Dupont, the chemical and paint company, took over the controlling share in General Motors, and they started experimenting with painting cars different colours. Up until then, Henry Ford had said, “you could have whatever colour you like — so long as it’s black”. It took a couple of years of testing, but in 1924, GM released their first cars in different colours, and soon after they introduced a trick that feels very familiar now. Each new year, they would introduce cars in different colours.

The goal wasn’t just to make Ford’s Model T look outdated, but to make their own cars feel outdated every year; encouraging customers to trade in their old cars for shiny new ones. Years later, GM’s head of design, Harley Earl, candidly discussed his role in creating what he called ‘dynamic obsolescence’: “Our big job is to hasten obsolescence. In 1934 the average car ownership span was five years now (which was 1955) it is two years. When it is one year we will have a perfect score.” By the time he said this, General Motors was the most valuable company in the world, and it sold half of all vehicles purchased in the US every year. These days, the world’s most valuable company, Apple, seems to have copied directly out of this play-book. I mean, new styles every year? Check. New special colours every year? Check. Marginal technological improvement? Check. I mean, is this useful innovation, or just a gimmick?

The inspiration for General Motors, and hence for Apple, comes from fashion; where real innovation is all but impossible. So, the only way to make people feel the urgency to get out there and buy is to create styles that last but one season. The trouble then is, you run through these styles too quickly — and then what are you supposed to do? Well, just recycle the styles from a few decades ago. The iPhone also shows this recycling trend. I mean, just look at the way the edges were initially rounded; and then they were squared off; and then they were rounded again; and now they’re squared off. And how much do you want to bet that the iPhone 14 has rounded edges? I think the point is that with design and styling, there is no ‘best,’ there’s only ‘different,’ which is apparently enough to remind us that we don’t have the latest and greatest, and so we have to rush out and keep buying.

The only type of obsolescence we should support is technological. Which brings us back to the lightbulb. You know, in the last 20 years, lightbulbs have gone from incandescent, which was basically unchanged for a hundred years, to compact fluorescent; and now to LED. These use just a tenth the energy and can last anywhere from 10 to 50 times longer. Yeah, that’s pretty bright. So, you’re more likely to sell your house than to have to replace an LED bulb that you’ve installed inside it. So, we’ve finally reached the point of what is essentially an everlasting lightbulb.

[NordVPN advert snipped] So, I want to thank NordVPN for sponsoring Veritasium, and I want to thank you for watching.

… and I want to thank Sonix for making it possible to transcribe this video without it taking me a dozen hours or more!

PS I’ve been reminded, by some visitors who have searched Wibble for the keyword ‘conspiracy’, that I posted a short article last year entitled ‘The Conspiracy Theory Handbook‘: If you’ve got this far and are interested in the topic, you may want to take a look at that. I think you may find it interesting.

Header image adapted from
people sitting on white concrete stairs‘ (?)
by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash

Posted in ... wait, what?, balance, Business, Capitalism, Communication, Core thought, Economics, Phlyarology, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Is “better late than never” always true?

The Question

Is “better late than never” always true, or are there times where never would be the preferred option?

PCGuyIV’s ‘Truthful Tuesday’: June 1st, 2021

After pondering this awhile, I have a problem with this, as it’s not one question, but two. And I think that, to answer it, it’s necessary to focus on the words ‘always’ and ‘never’.

To take the second part first: I think that ‘never’ can never be the ‘preferred option,’ as in ‘one that is deliberately chosen’. One could only ever choose the ‘never’ option if the benefits of doing so were to outweigh the benefits of taking the planned action, and, barring a change in circumstances that might negate the original plan, I cannot think of a single example where that might be true.

Missing the launch window

As PCGuyIV points out in his own answer, ‘late’ implies a deadline. If that is time-critical, failing to meet it can make further action towards the goal pointless, or nonsensical.

Take, for instance, a Mars probe: if its launch window is passed and the rocket is still on the launch pad, the mission has to be postponed — for two years or more — or even scrubbed entirely. While this equates with ‘never’, the option is not one that was chosen in advance; the situation has changed. There will, presumably, have been unavoidable reasons for the delay, despite best efforts to achieve the objective.

Altered circumstances after the event

‘Never’ can also appear to be an ‘option’ if new facts come to light that reveal that the failure to meet the deadline has changed — or, even, possibly, improved — the situation, despite initial conditions that may have suggested action was required. But since this implies a faulty analysis, or misunderstanding, of the conditions leading to the original action plan, the ‘never’ option can never be the preferred choice for that original plan. And such should never be used as an excuse to procrastinate, although sometimes this is exactly what does happen….

So, is “better late than never” always true?

My answer to this is a simple ‘no’. As PCGuyIV says, one has to consider the consequences of not meeting the deadline; but since there are some situations in which being too late can have disastrous results, defying rectification by any action (the Titanic comes to mind), the maxim is not always true.

Delaying action on climate change, for example, is something homo fatuus brutus has been doing now for decades. The “we need more information” mantra has been pushed by many, fuelled largely by vested interests and the merchants of doubt with the intention of maintaining business as usual as long as possible, despite the evidence. While the mantra sounds reasonable, what some demand is 100% certainty, which is totally unreasonable (it’s a science denial technique known as ‘impossible expectations’).

Graph of CO2 mitigation curves at different starting points
(click to embiggen) — blatantly thieved from The Conversation without permission

Coming up to the tail-end of 2014, I asked a question of my own: “Are we ready for 2015?“. It was, of course, rhetorical; but the CO2 mitigation graph above gives a clear answer that: no, we weren’t ready. And now, six-and-a-half years later, we’re still not.

Posted in ... wait, what?, Communication, Core thought, GCD: Global climate disruption, Phlyarology, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

One has to acknowledge that a box exists before being able to think outside it

Full transcription below (after my somewhat self-indulgent preamble).

Paul Handover of ‘Learning from Dogs’ pointed me to this important interview the other day. It stumbles and rambles a bit, but some interesting points are made, especially towards the end where the idea is raised that academia has been subsumed into, and made to serve, the very system that has brought the problem — climate change — about.

For anyone not prepared to sit and watch the full thing for a half hour, I suggest the following:

James Dyke, from about 5 minutes in:

It’s the most fantastic nonsense§ […] another example of the discourses of delay

Wolfgang Knorr, from about 33 minutes in:

We have to realise that no action on climate change will ever happen without broad buy-in by citizens […] turn it on its head; we start with the human system, and the climate system is a kind of a symptom of the crisis

The subject of ‘COP26‘ comes up: well, to me, it says it all that ’26’ is just a single-digit increment. Anyone who truly believes that this one is going to be any different from the twenty-five that led up to it really does have their head planted firmly in the sand. Or, more likely, up their own behind.

I’ve been banging on about these issues for years (one good example is my post ‘Are we ready for 2015?‘, which is very relevant to this topic). I’m no young and charismatic Greta Thunberg; my words vanish almost as soon as they’re written, like drops in the ocean.

This entire subject is what really turned me on to (§) phlyarology, trying to get my head around why the vast majority of homo fatuus brutus behaves in the utterly nonsensical way it does. My conclusion is that it’s about cognitive dissonance and ingrained habit; and that fuels the dual insanities of infinite growth on a finite planet and consumerism. Although I myself have long been resisting the urge to buy new ‘stuff’ — which is, I believe, possibly one of the few rational responses to the problems we face — I only have to look at my 89-year-old mother’s addiction to poring through catalogues and buying things (that then just sit gathering dust): and, not to be a hypocrite, my own addiction to smoking, which I view as a microcosmic example of the harm we’re doing to our home. Because. We. Just. Can’t. Stop. Ourselves.

Anyway… here we go with the transcription I’ve made from the video. (This was done using Sonix; the transcription cost me US$3.07 and about three hours of my time to tidy it up — which is a huge time saving on what it would have cost me had I attempted it manually!)

Dr Alison Green: Hi, and welcome to Scientists Warning TV. Today, I’m really pleased to have with me Dr. James Dyke, a global systems scientist from the University of Exeter, and Dr Wolfgang Knorr, a climate scientist from the University of Lund. Recently, they authored a controversial article that questions the basis of ‘net zero’ which was published in ‘The Conversation’ [Climate scientists: concept of net zero is a dangerous trap] and has gone viral as over one million downloads so far, and counting, I believe. So welcome, James and Wolfgang, thank you for taking the time to talk with me. Wolfgang, I’d like to start with you, if I may, and just ask you, what prompted you to write the paper in the first place? Was there something about net zero that just didn’t stack up for you, well, for all three* of you?

[* The article has three authors; only two are present here: the third is Dr Robert Watson, Emeritus Professor in Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia.]

Dr Wolfgang Knorr: Essentially, I had first contact with the concept of net zero back in 2009 when I co-authored a paper where we make this point, and maybe as one of the first actually, that to stabilize the climate, at some point, we will have to go net zero. At that time, we didn’t have these ambitious climate targets, as we have now, so it wasn’t really on the table at that time, and what we said in that article, and we didn’t call it ‘net zero’, we just talk about compensating any kind of small remaining sources, sometime in the future, by what we call an ‘artificial sink’. And that kind of side remark with that paper, within these, like, 12 years since it has been published, got blown up, now, to this huge topic of ‘net zero’, and that really small kind of artificial sink that we were talking about in that publication back then, now, because of IPCC reports and the logic of us just ramping up our emissions in that time has become huge and it has become basically blown out of any proportions that are sort of logical or… basically, what the IPCC report on meeting the Paris Agreement‘s goal of 1.5 degrees [Celsius] warming was saying that we have to turn our society from one that emits carbon, massively, to one that sucks up carbon from the atmosphere, massively, almost to the same extent.

And that’s really like science fiction. I don’t think anybody ever believed that would be possible; but nobody really wanted to talk about that, that we have very authoritative reports and they create a scenario that is completely unbelievable. Nobody really believes in it, but that thing doesn’t get discussed. But it has very tangible results in policy and in politicians’ statements, and you get the impression that the politicians aren’t really aware of that kind of cognitive dissonance that is created there. But the starting point really is simple scientific observation that we have to balance sources and sinks — and that is actually true. The problem is that we’ve come to a point where it’s not realistic that we can actually do it.

Dr Alison Green: OK, so, it’s almost as if net zero has been invented as something that now has to do all the heavy lifting.

Dr Wolfgang Knorr: Exactly. Exactly.

Dr Alison Green: Now, James, you have, a couple of years ago, produced a short film on the climate crisis, which is really incredibly informative, and I noticed that, in it, at that point, you were saying we’ve tried everything except mitigation, and I wondered how you feel as a global systems scientist, year in, year out, hearing the same rhetoric and then having to hope that the actions will follow and then seeing recently that the pledges have followed, that the pledges have been ramped up: but as everyone says, they’re still pledges. How does it feel, within the scientific community, year in, year out, to be experiencing this and yet just not seeing the necessary actions following through?

Dr James Dyke: It’s a really interesting question. I think the current situation we are in is one of, I think, real peril. I think we’re in a very dangerous situation because we are at risk of slipping into a form of complacency based on some recent announcements of increased ambition. And it’s strange, you know, it seems that many people, normally, would be quite sceptical of political commitments, political promises, we’re all cynics when it comes to not really believing what politicians say; they’ll make a whole series of pledges in order to get elected, and then we just take it for granted that when they’re in office, they don’t necessarily follow through. But now we seem to be in a situation where we are, receiving with open arms the most fantastic, fabulous promises for future technological salvation from our current generation of politicians — and we’re doing that relatively uncritically. So now we can say, or some reports are saying, that we are on course for maybe a little bit above 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century, and then with further ambition, maybe at this new COP26, that’s going to be later this year, we’re going to see warming well below 2 degrees, and, therefore, ‘Paris’ is still within reach. And it’s the most fantastic nonsense. Nobody believes that; no one thinks that we’re on course to limit warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, even with the enormous amounts of negative emissions which are being postulated up and running by the middle of this century.

So something really interesting is going on here. Is it another kind of example of the sort of discourses of delay? Previously it was, “well, the climate’s not warming”, and then, “it was warming, but it’s not warming very much,” or, “it is warming very much, but it’s not us”; “OK, it is us, but there’s nothing to worry about”; “OK, it is us, there’s something to worry about, and we’re going to do something about it”; “OK, we’re going to do something about it — but not now“. Hence, the sort of the mid-century pledges, you know, ‘net zero by 2050’. And I’ve become increasingly worried that that’s actually what is happening. Yes, there has been some increase in ambition in, for example, the United Kingdom, the United States, when you regard or when you compare it to their previous pledges. But it’s still woefully inadequate, and it’s also almost entirely divorced from what’s going on in the rest of the world, where we’re seeing more coal fired power stations being built; more oil and gas exploration; more hydrocarbons that are going to get extracted and burnt; more assumptions that we’re going to have baked-in economic growth and therefore ever-increasing rates of energy and material consumption. So, it’s a weird, weird time where there seems to be this huge disconnect between what’s being presented in the policy context and what seems to be demanded if we are going to avoid climate and ecological disaster.

Dr Alison Green: One of the most interesting things for me has been the very fact that this article has really cut through: one million views, including one from a very famous person. So, Greta has been a real champion of this, and she’s really recognised that there’s a key message in this article that has not been spoken about enough. And so she talks about it as one of the most important and informative texts she’s ever read on the climate and ecological crisis, and she’s tweeted it several times. So, clearly with the younger people, it’s resonated. But I wonder about the scientific community; what kind of reactions have you been getting to this article?

Dr James Dyke: It’s been overwhelmingly positive: so, that’s either been in public, where there’s been lots of kind of supportive tweets and retweets and messages, but then also many supportive messages in private where I’ve got a lot of emails from people I know, people I’ve never met, who kind of congratulate us on the article, but with the sentiment that they’re really glad that somebody has said this at last; that they feel that we’re saying something really important, something that needs to be said; there needs to be maybe a readjustment of this narrative: so that’s been great. And there’s also been some pushback, which isn’t surprising at all. It’s a controversial article. I mean, the title — we don’t write the titles, right? The title was, I mean, editors, subeditors write article titles, and they do that because they’re really good at it, because they generate interest. And it did, because it’s, you know, even the concept is a trap. And that’s been pushed back by some people. And I think there’s some fair discussion about that.

And to what extent is the very idea of net zero dangerous? There’s been some sort of circling of the wagons in academia because a significant section of academia is entirely vested in the notion of net zero, is entirely vested in the way in which we’re producing policy in this kind of existing climate policy system. And it wasn’t very subtle, wasn’t much of a subtext; it pretty much was the argument in our article that that’s fundamentally broken, it’s not working; something radically different needs to happen. And so, if you’ve been spending years or decades of your life working in that system, working really hard, trying to make improvements, trying to do the things you know that need to be done, then I would imagine that kind of criticism is going to be quite hard to take and could be construed as being almost like an attacking, you know, undermining these attempts, undermining our colleagues; and that certainly wasn’t our intention. But I think anything less would have been easy to ignore, it wouldn’t have cut through as much, and the situation that we’re currently in, we urgently need to talk about these things.

Dr Alison Green: Absolutely. I was struck by Katherine Hayhoe‘s response. In fact, it’s a very measured and a very sensible response, and she comments on seeing the provocative title and didn’t think that she’d agree with it, but then she says that she read it carefully, and it turns out, much as I wish I didn’t, I do agree with them, particularly with regard to the difficult truth section at the end. So, it’s clearly surfacing something within scientists themselves, I think, that it’s actually really hard for them to face and to look at. Wolfgang, do you have any thoughts on the responses from the scientific community to the article?

Dr Wolfgang Knorr: I would largely like to second what James has said. One thing that I observed also is that part of the way we wrote it, from a kind of very personal perspective, from a historical perspective, went down very well with some older colleagues, some of them retired already, who really thanked us for rolling this out again; kind of the hopes, and desperation, and the sort of the different emotional stages people have been going through, within 30 years, because that’s about how long the story’s been going on. And that was really, really nice to hear; that you can talk about your feelings as a scientist, the kind of emotional stages you go through in your career, publicly, which is kind of a new thing for many people, it seems like, which I thought was quite nice. Another thing was, there was one attempt on Twitter to, sort of, empirically shoot our hypothesis down. That is, net zero is leading to less ambition. One scientist was looking at the short-term targets of countries and he observed actually that those countries that have these kind of distant net zero targets, they have actually increased their short-term ambition also.

So, at first sight, that would actually look like it contradicts what we’re saying, that net zero is an excuse not to do anything. However, if you look at it a bit more closely, it’s that, for example, these short-term targets aren’t really always kept. Germany, for example, would have failed its own target last year had it not been for the pandemic. And nobody ever talks about these short-term targets; they’re called ‘NDCs’ — who’s ever heard of NDCs? ‘Net zero’ is all over the place nowadays. So, it doesn’t cost anything politically to ramp them up. So, it’s just logical that the countries who come up with these distant goals also ramp [up] their completely cost-free, short-term targets. So, I would actually think that that observation supports our theory. So, that kind of highlights the difficulty of the discussion. And it’s also why it’s probably not being discussed that much, because it kind of evades the simple kind of empirical approaches that we scientists are so used to. You really have to look at the psychology of it and the messaging and the communication between politicians and the public and all this.

Dr Alison Green: OK, I think that’s interesting, just hearing that whole array of responses that you’ve had to this. I want to move on now. So, over the decades, we’ve had warnings and, hard as it is to admit, the warnings clearly aren’t working; we’ve had decades of scientists explaining what needs to happen. And we’ve now got a powerful movement of young people who are basically calling out the failings of governments and the failings, as they see it, for governments to take action. And there’s a sense in which the young people have become the adults in the room because they’re not buying these fantasies about carbon offsets, and they’re not buying the fantasies around net zero, and they’re not buying this notion that the governments have it in hand, when clearly they don’t. So, Wolfgang, just staying with you: do scientists really believe these fantasies? And if they don’t, what does that mean for the Paris Agreement?

Dr Wolfgang Knorr: Well, this is really the problem and the strange situation that, in private, we said that in the article, we struggle to name any scientist who would actually have believed even in 2015, not in 2021, that the Paris Agreement was possible, and that we would be able to sort of engineer ourselves out of the problem in the future with some kind of improving technology and all of these things. But they don’t say it. We don’t usually go public with this knowledge, partly because we’re stuck in everyday life; we have to write grant applications, review papers, and teach, and all this stuff. And we’re stuck in this academic world where you’re allowed to say certain things, and then other things are perceived to be activist, and a little bit too political. And so, there is this divide between what’s being said privately and what’s being said in publications and in teaching and so on. And obviously, people like Greta, they’re not bound to that. And one particular thing that has really been a problem for me, and it’s actually been instrumental for me, for the fact that I’ve been moving out of academia more and more myself, is that kind of cognitive dissonance between calling the climate crisis a ‘crisis’, or ’emergency’, and just going on about our daily lives.

And Greta, Greta: she really gets it; she says, even after all these emergency declarations by the UK Parliament, the EU Parliament, local councils and the universities themselves and so on and so on, she just says, “Well, you don’t treat a crisis like a crisis, and, as long as you don’t treat a crisis like a crisis,” that’s what she said in a podcast on Swedish radio, “there is not going to be a solution”. And that really is the adult in the room. And, at the present moment, it’s really hard to swallow that, but, as scientists, we can only learn from her at the moment, and that’s really a terrible situation, as she says herself, that kind of burden put on her, I mean, she’s talking to some US committee recently, it was in The Guardian, she’s talked to the UN, to the EU Parliament, all these things. I mean, and every time she does that, she says, “I shouldn’t be the one doing this, it’s ridiculous!” And that’s really true, and that really has to end. And we made a really small step with this article, hopefully, in that direction, but I think there is a lot more to do. Only the beginning; and I’m a really big fan of Greta, I have to say that, we’ve heard it already. And I can only hope that we as scientists can move in that direction.

Dr Alison Green: I couldn’t agree more. And I think you touched there on academia, and one of the things that has intensely frustrated me over the past couple of years, and particularly since I left academia, is its unwillingness to tackle the difficult problems. And that’s the case whether you’re in academia or whether you’ve left, and so, for example, over seven thousand universities and colleges globally now have declared a climate emergency. But, interestingly, the three-point plan is basically about getting their estates in order. It’s basically about achieving net zero in terms of their operations, but nowhere are they actually looking at what could be seen as their role in perpetuating the crisis. And there are numerous examples where we see in the press, for example, students calling out, say, Cambridge University and others, because they’re still tied to fossil fuels. And there’s been sort of long, tortuous processes where universities have been, you know, they’ve had to sort of grudgingly extricate themselves from those situations. How do you see academia in terms of shouldering its responsibility for its part in arguably perpetuating the crisis?

Dr James Dyke: Academic institutions, just like many institutions, maybe most, nearly all institutions, on the one hand want to say, “It’s a climate and ecological emergency,” and on the other, they want to carry on business as usual. And that’s understandable; if you’re a private company, if you’re a corporation, if you’ve got to generate return, shareholder return on value and things like this, your mission, as an organization, is to generate profits. You might like to think that universities and educational institutions would be a bit more enlightened about what their objective is, but there are still, certainly in the UK higher education sector, some pretty hard bottom lines: student numbers, grant income, league table performance, things like this; a relatively small number of metrics which vice-chancellors and the senior management team are measured by, progress through their career by, that continue to dictate and drive the sector.

And then when you look down there, at where the climate and ecological emergency kind of collides with that, and you can see there’s going to be very, very big problems. Because if you’ve got an institution that’s meant to be increasing numbers, or increasing numbers of students from overseas, or increasing grants — it’s all about more, right? Find me a vice-chancellor who actually wants to decrease the size of their university, decrease student numbers, decrease not just total emissions, but total environmental footprint. And then at the same time as reorient that institution in ways which could provide some of the solutions, some of the new knowledge to lead us out of this potential disaster. And it’s — I don’t know, I mean, I can think of maybe a number of small sort of independent institutions, right; but when it comes to mainstream universities, I don’t think really any have changed their fundamental practices.

Dr Alison Green: Wolfgang, I’m just thinking about that in terms of the responsibility, if you like, the obligations, the duty of care the institutions have to those young students who are going to be starting in autumn on courses that, maybe, will lead to careers that could be obsolete in a few years’ time. Is that something that crosses your radar at all?

Dr Wolfgang Knorr: What I tend to see, being at Lund University, which is very strong in kind of sustainable development studies, and it’s actually one of Europe’s major universities, I think it’s got 30-40 thousand students, and it’s a university that is exceedingly rich, actually, and it kind of has this feeling of being a vanguard in kind of sustainable development studies. And maybe your petroleum engineering example is a good one because it’s so blatantly obvious. But the difficult one might actually come in when you start kind of questioning also the role of sustainability studies. And that is something I have felt quite a lot, being a climate scientist, and it is really there and it’s where it is; it is really this kind of almost obligation to sound positive and solution-oriented, all the time, and not having really much time to kind of sit back and reflect on the situation, which is really forced on you, mainly through grant applications; because grant applications are always about solutions.

So, you have to… in Sweden, you have standard grant applications: you have to list how they will contribute to the sustainable development goals; it’s actually kind of programmed in there. But that actually, in my view, creates some problems because it makes it all, I mean, you have some instruments there, you’ve got models or whatever, and then you have to think about how can that then help the sustainable development goals. But it may not. Modelling [unclear] at all; we might actually rather want to listen to Indigenous people who have lived sustainably for thousands, and even tens of thousands, of years, rather than build models in what might be a waste of time; but I just happen to have models. I work from my computer. There might be not that much money for expeditions or whatever. You know, it’s sometimes it’s completely practical, and you just have to work with what you have, and then you end up in this kind of ivory tower where you talk about something because it was kind of forced on you by grant applications — you can’t even be honest and say I want the money, even though this is not helping sustainable development. [unclear]

Dr Alison Green: There’s a kind of mismatch, isn’t there, between the kinds of problems and things that academics are constrained to focus on by virtue of the way that the systems are set up and what they arguably should be focused on, because it’s almost like a reification of knowledge as opposed to wisdom, which is how Nick Maxwell put it. I just want to move on. The net zero article has made this enormous splash, which is fantastic; it’s got people talking. What would you like to see happen next? What do you think should happen next? What do you want to see happening as a result? Maybe I’ll start with James.

Dr James Dyke: Well, we need to talk about it. So I think we’ve provided a space in which we can reflect on the plausibility, the feasibility, the credibility of some of the plans, some of the pledges and the promises which are being presented to us as solutions, you know, the way out of the current crisis. The danger was that as time progresses, the 1.5 budget becomes smaller and smaller, it’s practically non-existent already, but in a few years, well, it’s effectively gone. Carbon dioxide removal technologies: they’re just going to increase proposed carbon dioxide removal technologies, you know, they’ll just increase the removal term in their simple equations or in their very, very complex models; and they’re just going to lead us towards, you know, towards the cliff edge. So, we urgently need that kind of discussion right now. And we’ve sort of got to stop doing that.

And then we need to face the facts of the matter of where we are right now; the severity of the situation, but then, also, what’s driven us to this place. So, one of the things we’re trying to get at in the article is trying to understand, or unpick, the dysfunctions in this climate policy system; this sort of 30-year history of repeated failure. So net zero is just kind of the latest manifestation of a climate policy system that continually is unable to deliver what we need, which is just mitigation, urgently reducing the amount of fossil fuels. And we can’t do it. The climate policy system can’t do it. Now, opinions about that will differ. I would take a kind of a growth perspective: and the reason it can’t do that is because it’s absolutely baked-in to the assumption of continual economic growth and continual growth in energy material consumption. So it’s no wonder you’re not going to see reductions in emissions, right, because the system is just getting larger over time.

But whichever kind of position you start with, or assumptions, or particular axe you’ve got to grind, this is the thing we need to talk about. And then we need to talk about the role of academia in that: because at the moment, academia and academics are being subsumed into that system whereby you’re only really allowed to say a relatively small number of things within that kind of climate policy system. You’ve got to adhere to an incrementalist, market-based approach, kind of, can’t rock the boat, and also, a strange form of self-censorship where you can’t be ‘doomist’ or defeatist. You’ve got to be continually optimistic and upbeat about all the kind of things that we can fix. So there’s a space. There’s a space which is between, well, acknowledging that there’s something deeply wrong with how we’re producing climate policy and how we’re responding. But it’s also not assuming that we’re doomed.

There’s a middle way. And the middle way is basically to reflect on why we continue to get this thing wrong and then work on that. And we don’t have much time to do it. And you might think that’s an impossible task, or you wouldn’t even know where to begin, but what is incredibly frustrating is that isn’t that one of the jobs that academia should be doing? It should be generating new knowledge and ways of understanding our world; and if we’re not going to do it, who is? It’s not going to be Shell, or BP, or national governments, because they’re all entirely wedded to a business as usual approach. Somehow we need to take back that narrative. We need to rediscover a little bit of bravery and not be afraid of stepping into an area of debate which typically academics have been excluded from, because I think there’s an important role that academics are playing, which is essentially tacit agreement to something which they know, and they do know, is deeply wrong. Maybe we’ll talk about that particular example of dissonance later, but I think that’s where the discussion needs to go next.

Dr Alison Green: I think that’s really interesting. And you’re right; there is a sense in which in academia, academics work in their silos, and it’s long been acknowledged that that’s problematic — and yet they still exist. And so there’s a sense in which the problem belongs with the climate scientists. Whereas in fact, I think what you’re saying is that we need much more of a interdisciplinary/ post-disciplinary kind of approach to this and importantly, to have that conversation. Wolfgang, I’m just going to look to you to [offer] some final words on that particular subject. What do you think needs to happen next?

Dr Wolfgang Knorr: I think we need some kind of wake up process, and that should probably start with a redirection of the current discussion and it really goes back to the question, what progress is? At the moment what it looks like, it’s almost like a situation where you have a patient that has three doctors, and they can’t agree on the cure. And the patient get sicker, and sicker, and sicker. And now the doctors can agree, OK, you get this, the blue pill. And that’s ‘progress’. At the moment, we’re kind of thinking that’s progress. But we have all these pledges and we have more and more pledges, and we’re ramping up the ambition, but the CO2 in the atmosphere gets higher and higher. We’re going closer and closer to the cliff edge, as James is saying.

So, we have to get out of this current, almost fake, optimism we have. We need a much more adult conversation about climate change and not being too jubilant about, you know, it’s not that these these new pledges are bad, but we should not get carried away, which is not an adult conversation. But what we should really do is look at the situation, note the fact that every year CO2 levels and greenhouse gas levels rise in the atmosphere: it’s getting worse, not better. And we can only start sort of saying, OK, we made progress once CO2 levels in the atmosphere go down. And that’s a really, really long way to go, and we have to acknowledge that.

And the other thing is, as you just said, we need to look at the blocks to action and why we’re not doing it. And that, for example, I could think of a very practical suggestion: we need to reform the IPCC, because the IPCC structure is: physical system first, then mitigation, and then adaptation kind of separate. And there is so much energy put in understanding the physical system and the glaciers and the sea level rise, and then impacts on ecosystem, all that. There’s a minuscule amount of work getting invested into the reflection of why our system doesn’t perform. We just say, OK, we need political will and then you’ll sort it all out. But that’s not true. There is a very incredibly complex system of different actors there that has to be navigated, it’s hellishly complex; for example, we have to realize that no action on climate change will ever happen without broad buy-in by citizens, and that’s not even discussed. So, reform of the IPCC could actually be a starting point, and then we turn it all on its head; we start with the human system and then the climate system is kind of a symptom of the crisis. That would be my suggestion.

Dr James Dyke: But that’s really interesting, right? Because it’s no surprise that the IPCC has evolved like that, because by putting so much emphasis on trying to understand climate sensitivity by trying to, I mean, there’s continual papers which are all about determining how big the budget is: it’s smaller, it’s larger, it’s smaller, it’s larger. And that’s the only thing that policymakers seem to want. You know, how much time can they buy in order to be able to do the decarbonisation? And absolutely no critical reflection on the drivers that have brought us to the place.

And also, maybe one of the big mistakes the IPCC had was including the kind of potential mitigation scenarios which were all about economic assumptions, and assumptions about how societies are meant to function. And we kind of mentioned that in the article. You know, they’re the sort of IPCC scenarios or the kind of modelling scenarios that the IPCC use are all based on a really, really narrow perspective or an interpretation of how societies are meant to act. And, if anything, you can understand them as effectively ruling out the kind of large-scale rapid response, which is the only thing that’s going to get us out of the mess, right?

So, it’s a sort of a toxic system which has evolved, which has kind of captured academia, captured academics, subsumed us entirely in this system, which, I mean, I don’t want to sound conspiratorial about it, but a system that’s almost been designed in order to stop doing the effective action because it will only ever allow incremental market-based change; it will only essentially accept a solution which perpetuates business as usual, continual economic growth. And that could be a recipe for disaster, right?

Dr Alison Green: Absolutely. Well, I feel a bit silly saying it; I mean, here’s hoping it doesn’t. But, look at where we are, you know, the situation does look pretty desperate, and it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that people like Greta are shouting from the rooftops. And it’s quite humbling, I think, for all of us to see her and all of those young people doing that, I mean, we’re all parents, well, the three of us here are parents. Okay, so that’s possibly not the most optimistic note to end on, but it’s been really interesting talking with you both, so thank you both so much for your time.

This video (‘The Net Zero Trap‘) has a CC BY-ND 2.0 license, which appears to prohibit publication of ‘transformations’ of the content, although the Creative Commons website says that ‘merely changing the format never creates a derivative’ — so, that’s my defence here: I haven’t created a derivative, I’ve just changed the format, from audio to text; and in the process made it accessible to the deaf community, who would otherwise be excluded. Here’s hoping you think it was time well spent.

Header image adapted from
silver tabby cat in brown cardboard box
by mary rabbit on Unsplash

Posted in ... wait, what?, Climate, Communication, Core thought, Education, Environment, GCD: Global climate disruption, Phlyarology, Science | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Vsauce on ‘The Future of Reasoning’

Vsauce‘ is a YouTube channel with ~17 million subscribers, one that I’ve followed for some time now; it features a huge amount of thought-provoking content. Its main host, Michael Stevens (@tweetsauce), has been quiet for some time, but he recently surfaced again with this latest offering; and it’s as thought-provoking as all his previous ones.

I used Sonix to help transcribe it (which, at a rough guess, saved me at least a couple of days’ work — it’s over 4,000 words — to be honest, I wouldn’t even have begun to do it without machine assistance; thirty minutes is just too much). I did so, and post it here, without permission — I did request that, via tweet and email, but I didn’t get a response; unsurprising, as Michael has ~1.2 million followers on Twitter, and my message will have been drowned.

I’ve been looking into the copyright rules regarding transcriptions lately (more about that here). One thing I’ve learned is that it’s no defence to make a disclaimer like “these aren’t my words, they’re all Michael’s, no copyright infringement intended.” I offer the transcription here as a service to society (especially the deaf community). I do hope Michael won’t object. And I hope that you find this video as interesting as I did.

Hey! Vsauce; Michael here.

Where is your mind? Is it in your head? I mean, that’s where your brain is, and your brain helps you remember and plan and make judgments and solve problems. But you also remember and plan with phones and notes and calendars, and you make judgments and solve problems with all sorts of things. You know, when you think about it, the brain is really just a wet lump of fat and protein, no firmer than a blob of tofu. But the mind is huge. It’s an ever expanding organ of tissue and wood and stone and steel and people, because of communication.

Communication allows us to even make other people extensions of our minds. We can access their memories and perceptions and knowledge by simply asking: or not. I don’t need to learn how to fix a car and practice medicine and vulcanize rubber or remember everything. Other people are doing that for me, just as I do things for them. We are a species of individuals, that is also one big, interdependent, lumbering growth, a frantic blur of flesh and concrete, a ‘technosapien’ powered by imaginations and passions made real by a hallowed faculty we call ‘reason’. Reason, it is said, guides us to truer knowledge and better decisions. It’s allowed us to increase life expectancy, suffer less, work together better, and it’s bound to take us further and higher until the end of time. Or is it? The organ we use to reason takes millions of years to evolve, but the fruits of reason grow rapidly and are ever accelerating.

Over the next four decades, we are expected to build the equivalent of another New York City every month; and more concrete was installed in the last two decades outside the United States than the US installed during the entire twentieth century. This growth means that quality of life around the world is rising. It means that electricity, manufactured goods, food, comfort and transportation are all becoming more common and accessible. But there are hints that reason and logic are struggling against the complexity of it all, against our growing dependence on the things we’ve built and their unintended consequences.

Nearly every part of life as we know it today, involves or relies on a process that releases molecules with lopsided electrical charges. This property causes them to absorb and re-emit thermal radiation, pinging it around so that it escapes into space more slowly. Having more warmer parcels of air means stronger weather events. They can’t be pinned to any particular extreme storm, but they make extreme storms in general more extreme and frequent. What’s at stake isn’t just bad weather, it’s disaster. It’s: more lives lost, more property lost. It’s more droughts, more hunger, more famine, more people needing refuge and an even greater reliance on the very things that caused the problem in the first place. In total, we release about 51 billion tons of such gases every year and we need to release zero.

But how do you rethink everything? Who gets to direct the costs and trade-offs? How do you achieve collaboration between nearly every local and national government when what works in one place won’t work everywhere, when decisions affect jobs in one place and food in another, when not just things need to be rethought, but also habits and traditions and values. How do you achieve consensus when a problem isn’t obvious to the senses, is far away in space and time, requires solutions that affect people in different ways and, as a product of science, always carries some uncertainty?

The philosopher Timothy Morton calls something so massively distributed in time and space and so viscous, so sticky, that it adheres to all that touch it a ‘hyper object’. Every civilization that grows at the speed of reason must at some point face hyper objects. In fact, the fact that we still haven’t found evidence of intelligent life beyond Earth has been brought up as evidence that some sort of ‘Great Filter’ might exist that few civilizations manage to get past. That a hyper object like our impact on the planet might be such a Great Filter is not a new idea. What it might take to solve it is the topic of Bill Gates’s ‘How to Avoid a Climate Disaster’. And I decided to do this video in partnership with him and his team because the way we deal with hyper objects reveals a lot about the mind. It’s easy and common to think that we would all be better off if everyone was just more rational, right? But what if reasoning wasn’t built for what we’ve become?

Let’s begin by looking at behavioral inertia. Behavioural inertia is the tendency to keep doing what you’re already doing: status quo bias. It can be a frustrating bias if you desire change, but its origin isn’t a flaw. If an organism has managed to survive long enough to reproduce and provide and care for its offspring, then the state of its world was sufficient for its genes to spread; that’s all it takes to persist. The types of organisms we see around us will naturally be those that managed to persist and didn’t, after reaching that point, rock the boat too much. So behavioral inertia can help slow down the accumulation of unintended consequences, and the loss of ideas that work, but it can also slow down innovation and adaptation.

If the environmental impacts of our society were more immediate and un-ignorable, it wouldn’t be so tempting to apply this inertial brake. But emissions are invisible and their consequences aren’t immediate or local. They impact future people — and people far away, those who are different from us, poorer than us, people we will never meet. This may be one of the first challenges advancing civilizations face; wielding not just the power of technology and distributed cognition, but also the responsibilities. Extending the mind is really cool, but whether or not a species can extend their empathy might be a great filter. Surely, reasoning will allow us to do that, right?

Well, what is reasoning? Well, reasoning is a way of making inferences. An inference is a piece of new information extracted from the information you already have. We make inferences all the time; every living thing does. For example, we don’t have measuring tape tentacles that shoot from our eyes, and what actually enters our brain is just a 2D image. But nonetheless, our brains can infer depth by attending to cues like stereopsis, occultation, perspective, parallax, size. Now, when this happens, we accept it as ‘reality’. We aren’t aware of the visual processing that made it possible — and we don’t have to be. If, however, we do consciously consider why a certain conclusion was reached, well then, boom: that’s ‘reasoning’.

Reasoning is the process of making inferences, not automatically and instinctively, but by looking at facts and seeing what conclusions they support. When Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth to within a percentage or two of the value accepted today, he didn’t do it by measuring the Earth, and he didn’t just perceive it as self-evident. No, he inferred it from what he knew about shadows and how long it took camels to move. Stories like that make it easy to believe that reasoning evolved because it supercharged our cognitive abilities. I mean, it clearly moves us towards truer conclusions, better decisions and knowledge no other species could infer. Attempts to describe the rules of good, orderly reason became logic and mathematics; concepts so general and abstract that while we were still animals, armed with them we were no longer beasts.

But that’s the rub, isn’t it? If reasoning is so great, why are we the only species with such a sophisticated grasp of it? And, if its purpose is truth and good judgment, why don’t we all agree on everything? It’s tempting to think that disagreements happen because, well, I am being rational, but those who disagree with me are being irrational; if only people would just use logic and reason. What’s happened to the world? Well, that’s a fair complaint if you’re arguing over logic puzzles; but the world is not a logic puzzle. This, however, is one:

Paul is looking at Mary. Mary is looking at Peter. Paul is married. Peter is unmarried. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person? ‘Yes’, ‘no’ or ‘not enough information to decide’? Think about it.

The answer is: yes. You may have thought there’s no way to know because we don’t know if Mary is married. But look, she either is or she isn’t. And if she is, well, then she, a married person, is looking at Peter, an unmarried person. If she isn’t, then Paul, a married person, is looking at her: an unmarried person. So, no matter what Mary’s deal is, the answer will be yes. When people get this puzzle wrong and the correct answer is explained to them, they almost always immediately see why it’s right — and change their mind.

Life is not always like that. Let’s take a look at a logical syllogism. All elephants are awesome. Michael is an elephant. Therefore Michael is awesome. The conclusion is logically valid; it follows from the assumptions. But are the assumptions true? No, I am not an elephant. Also, this premise is subjective. I mean; what does it mean to be awesome? Can we measure it with an awesome-ometer?

So you can see why when analyzing something like our impact on the planet, logic can only be a partial tool. If some people have more to lose than others, who gets to decide which assumptions are fair? Still, though, it would seem that reasoning should be able to help here. If each of us would just attend only to the facts, surely we’d all recognize the same reasonable approach. Problem is; that’s not how reasoning works. Since the scientific study of human reasoning began about 100 years ago, it has been found, again and again, that not only are we bad at reasoning, lazy and biased, but we actually seem almost programmed to be bad; like the flaws are intentional.

In an episode of Mind Field, I once used a magician to pull off a little experiment. He asked people to look at two faces and choose which of the two they would prefer to work with, placing their preferences in one pile and those they rejected into another. Then the pile of people they picked were shown again, and each person was asked to provide a reason for why they chose that person. But, with a little sleight of hand, the magician managed to sneak in some of the faces they had just rejected. Amazingly, the majority of people didn’t even notice the trick. Not only that, they were able to effortlessly explain the reasons behind their choice: a choice they never actually made. Remembering faces you’ve only seen briefly isn’t the easiest thing to do; but other studies have shown that even if the task involves answering questions about one’s political beliefs — things we would seemingly have a firmer grasp on — nearly half of participants will fail to notice that the answers they gave have been reversed when they’re later asked to explain them. Point is, we seem practically built to give reasons for whatever we think we must and not the reasons we actually used to reach a conclusion.

What if we don’t even use reasons to reach conclusions? Well, let’s talk about intuitions. Our brains have evolved over millions of years to react to the world around us in brilliant ways, with little to no input from us. For example, when you notice that someone is upset, you don’t consciously think, ‘hmm, OK, so, ah, well their eyebrows were kind of in that position and their speech seems curt, their posture is…’ — these are all reasons to conclude that they are upset. No. Instead, the belief that they may be upset was just apparent. You intuited it, you know it without exactly knowing how you came to know it. The mood recognizing parts of your brain operate in a way that is opaque to your awareness. But if someone asks you, ‘Why do you think they’re upset?’ you can nonetheless produce all sorts of reasons. Some may have actually been the ones your brain attended to; but they’re all just guesses.Instead of using reasoning to come to conclusions, we use conclusions to come to reasons. Now, to be fair, we can go the other way. We love puzzles and when we don’t have a strong intuition either way, we can sit down and mull over various reasons to think one thing or another. Our love of puzzles suggests that reasoning has a survival value: organisms that found it pleasurable would be more likely to use it. But when we reason alone, even when we have no motivation to reach any particular conclusion, we still exhibit deep biases that seem less like mistakes and more like features. For example, it’s been shown that between two otherwise similar products, people will prefer to buy the one with more functions, even if they don’t want those functions, never plan to use them and think they’re all pointless and overly complicated. Why? Well, it might be that we find such decisions easier to justify to others; we won’t wind up being potentially embarrassed when someone asks why we didn’t get the product with more functions. Well, after decades of findings like this, Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber began to hypothesize that reasoning didn’t evolve to help us make better decisions, but instead to help us be social.

Humans inhabit a cognitive niche on this planet. We aren’t strong or sharp or hidden or venomous; instead, our advantage comes from cognition: reasoning and co-operation. We can plan hunts, build traps and engage in co-ordinated strategies that can be tested and modified on the fly; not by millennia of evolution. Reason allows us to do those things. It’s hard to convince people that your intuitions are true, but if you can give reasons for them, it’s a whole heck of a lot easier to convince people that you’re right. Being able to argue over what the best thing to do is is vital when it comes to co-ordinating action. Reasons also allow us to justify ourselves in the eyes of others to explain who we are and express the kinds of reasons we like, what others can expect from us, and what we will likely expect from them. This ‘social theory of reasoning’ helps explain why two people can earnestly and rationally arrive at two different views. They each have their own unique brain and values and dispositions and experiences, and those are what drove their thinking. The reasons they give may or may not be the real reasons they came to their conclusions, but it’s the best anyone can do. The social theory also explains why people tend to give such weak reasons for their beliefs at first or when their intended audience doesn’t need much convincing.

It would be a waste of time and cognitive resources to construct grand-slam reasons for everything I said, and did, and thought — when it wasn’t necessary. Instead, I can offload some of that work to other people. For example, if I say I want to have lunch at ‘ABC Burgers’, while my friend might respond, “Ah, no thanks, I had burgers yesterday,” and I might reply back, “Oh, well, that’s no problem: they also have hot dogs and great salads.” But if my friend said, “Nah, no thanks, I’m trying to spend less money eating out this month”, I could reply, “Oh, well, ABC Burgers is really cheap and I’ve got a coupon.” Now, what’s going on here is that I’m providing reasons only as my friend presses for them. If they press harder and harder, my reasons will become better and better until either I win them over, or we come to some different, more harmonious decision.

So, when people appear to be lazy reasoners or to have bad reasons or none at all, it’s usually just the case that they’re using reason as it evolved to function: socially. It starts off weak, improving if others push it and always tailoring its work to the intended audience. The social theory of reasoning can even explain the existence of biases that otherwise make little sense: for example, it would seem that in coming to conclusions about the world, it would behoove an organism to pay particular attention to information that went against what it believed. I mean, that way they would be able to adjust their beliefs, making them truer, more general and more complete. To a certain extent, that is what happens, but not always. When someone does their own research, they often come to the very conclusion they wanted in the first place.

This is called ‘confirmation bias’: our tendency to look for, prefer and interpret information so that it confirms what we already think. It frustrates our ability to accept new inconvenient data and is a problem for the intellectualist view of reason. If reason is for finding truth and making better decisions, why would it have this major weakness? Well, because the social theory says, reasoning is a group activity. Let’s say that I think Option A is true and the best; and you think option B is true and the best. Well, if we both researched both options and sifted through reasons in support of both options, we would both have twice the work to do than we would if, instead, I simply came up with reasons for why I was right, and you attend to reasons for why you were right. The confirmation bias at least halves the cognitive work that must be done.

Now, sometimes a lone reasoner will have a bad idea, or a decent idea with some bad parts. The reasons they have to justify for, and argue for it, will be sufficient for them and those who intuitively agree; but they may be weak. However, subjected to deliberation, put forth into the machine of collective thought, it can be evaluated and judged; not by one mind or a group of minds thinking alike, but by something very special: the crowd.

Humans have long known of the wisdom of the crowds, the phenomenon by which a collection of many people can process information into a conclusion better than any one person could do alone. It’s why we don’t trust big decisions to a single person, no matter how educated or powerful they are. Instead, we ask a group of people to deliberate; to reason together. In this way, the biases and errors of each is smoothed out and the decision wiser. In a famous example, it’s been repeatedly shown that if you ask a bunch of people to guess how many jellybeans are in a jar, you’ll find that the average of all their answers is closer to the real number than any one individual was alone. What happens is that although some people may guess a number that is, like, way too big, that mistake is balanced out by the fact that others will inevitably guess a number that is way too small. Altogether, their disagreement evens out into spectacular accuracy.

We have now arrived at the problem. Reasoning evolved to be used socially, where many different perspectives had to all deliberate towards a common conclusion. Such contexts are becoming less and less common and it is becoming easier and easier to simply be a lone reasoner, justifying only a particular viewpoint without doing the harder work of deliberating and acting.

The Internet gives voices to more perspectives than ever before in our history; but it also makes it easy to disengage from accountability and to find places where everyone believes what you do. Furthermore, because of technology, we confront more issues more rapidly than ever before that we are expected to have opinions about. And the growing complexity and specialization of the modern world makes it difficult for each of us to have well-informed, prepared reasons for the accelerating accretion of intuitions we must form.

In response, we look for people who can defend our intuitions for us. The reasons they give don’t have to be good; just good enough that we can feel like justification exists. In the past, unconvincing reasons had to be painted on sandwich boards, but now the democratization of communication means that even unpopular, unconvincing, nonsensical ideas can be presented with the same trust inducing typefaces and professional look as common ones. People can challenge the weak reasons of others, show them to be contradictory and produce better reasons for their side; but to what end? It’s all preparation for a debate that never comes. We each play a very small role in deciding how society is run, even if a good faith discussion between a representative slice of America came to a resolution, if nothing can come of it, why not just throw shade and sick burns or revel in the pleasure of reasoning by treating everything like a big, giant puzzle? It’s easy to think that it doesn’t matter because, after all, those in charge, the brilliant scientists and powerful billionaires will surely come to the rescue; some giant techno salvation is surely on the horizon.

Perhaps it is. But everything we know about reason suggests that those implementing it should be held accountable by as many different perspectives as possible. Leaders could lead deliberations and be elected for their ability to moderate social reasoning — but that’s boring. Why lead when you could follow? Look at what some people believe and generate reasons for why they’re right — and they’ll love it.

Of course, the hard work, the real work, the work that truly elevates us on this planet is not in telling people that they’re right, but in trying to convince others, and, in doing so, use reason as it evolved to be used. The future of reason may in fact be the past of reason. In practice, what does all this look like? Well, some researchers have gone so far as to recommend national deliberation days, where citizens celebrate by literally joining small groups and talking through their opinions and comparing reasons. Tests of such strategies have shown that a return to the small, targeted discussions our reasoning abilities evolved to excel in leaves all participants with a greater understanding of not just what they believe and why, but about decisions that could actually be made and actions that could be taken. Others have gone even further, recommending that the future of reason at its best is the construction of a ‘lottocracy’: a form of government where decisions are made not by elected leaders but by people literally chosen at random. We decide the fate of a person this way. Why not the fate of the people?

What if decisions were made, not by politicians alone, but at least occasionally by groups of actual citizens representing differences in thought, not just geography, who were brought together and paid for their time to learn from experts and then deliberate on an assigned issue until a conclusion was reached, or at the least, a recommendation. Instead of being motivated by re-election, money, attention and power, individuals chosen at random would have only their conscience to guide them. Special interests and corporations wouldn’t be able to cozy up to those likely to be elected, because if any one of us could someday serve, they’d have to cozy up to and protect — all of us. Instead of the learning and deliberation being done by people you will never meet with offices and buildings you can’t access, gradually, over time, more and more of your very own neighbors would have had the honor. People chosen at random would obviously lack the same celebrity status and mandate that elected leaders cultivate and achieve. And iconic figures we relate to aren’t bad; but our understanding of reasoning is making it more and more clear that we evolved not to leave the thinking up to a few great minds, but to the authority of the great mind, the lumbering organ of thought that is everyone and everything.

This is, in fact, how democracy first worked. Lotteries were used to fill many political positions in ancient Athens. Aristotle explained that the appointment of magistrates by lot is thought to be democratic and the election of them is oligarchic. An oligarchy is government by only a small number of people. Look, regardless of how reason is brought back to its social roots, if we can build more and better arenas for deliberation and use them to apply reason properly to hyper objects like the impact of our emissions on the planet, we’ll have taught one heck of a lesson to people a hundred — a thousand years in the future. I like to think that although widening participation will be difficult, it might provide us with a kind of existential security. The impact of emissions on our planet is not going to be the last hyper object we face. If we can do a good job with it, maybe, far in the future when our civilization has advanced to the point at which. I don’t know, people can be quantumly recreated or something, they’ll look back at our time, and say, “Hey, let’s bring them all back to life. We could use the co-operative abilities they had then.”

Ultimately, the old saying that history is the great teacher isn’t a bad guide. We will all someday be teachers ourselves because, someday, we will all be history. We will, someday, be the ancients; and we can choose what that will mean.

And, as always, thanks for watching.

Michael Stevens AKA ‘Vsauce’
Posted in ... wait, what?, balance, Biodiversity, Communication, Computers and Internet, consciousness, Core thought, crowdsourcing, Environment, GCD: Global climate disruption, Phlyarology, Strategy | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Protected: Towel Day 2021 Quiz Answers (see clues in the 2020 quiz for the password)

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Happy Towel Day 2021!

Following on from the Hitchhiker’s Guide Trivia Quiz I did for Towel Day 2020, here’s another to celebrate Towel Day, 25May2021!

The answers will be published later on today (at 22:10:10 UTC) in a password-protected post (here). You can find clues to the password by reading the four posts in the 2020 quiz.

Q1: Who invented the pan-galactic gargle blaster?

Q2: In which year was fit the second repeated through a time warp on the Home Service?

Q3: How did Trin Tragula’s wife berate him, 38 times a day?

Q4: What alias did Zaphod Beeblebrox adopt when he went to a party in Islington?

Q5: What are the names of the Golgafrinchan-descendants who escape the destruction of Planet Earth?

Q6: What has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation?

Q7: Which division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation is the only part to show a consistent profit in recent years?

Q8: How long did Ford Prefect originally intend to stay on the Earth?

Q9: What dessert does Arthur leave unfinished when they leave Milliways?

Q10: How many suns does Magrathea have?

Q11: Who was Marvin’s first and only true friend?

Q12: What are the names of the mice who make a deal with Zaphod Beeblebrox?

Q13: How many legs does an Arcturan Megadonkey have?

Q14: What does the skipper of the Golgafrincham ‘B’ ark believe that one is never alone with?

Q15: Who is the custodian of the Total Perspective Vortex?

Q16: What three things are said, by most of the people engaged in such matters, to be the basis of the attitude that a disproportionate obsession with purely academic or abstract matters indicates a retreat from the problems of real life?

Q17: Marvin works out that he can electrocute himself. How?

Q18: In the rankings of intelligent beings on the Earth, where does the human race place?

Q19: The history of warfare is divided into three phases. What are they?

Q20: What can be harmful if swallowed in large quantities?

Q21: How often are coffee and biscuits served aboard the Trans-stellar Spacelines ship that Ford and Zaphod find in the derelict spaceport?

Q22: What are the initials of the author of the very worst poetry of all?

Q23: What was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’?

Q24: What is the name of the Heart of Gold’s shipboard computer?

Q25: Who tells 41% of the stories of Zaphod Beeblebrox’s journey to the Frogstar?

Q26: What is the designation of the leader of the ‘avian perverts’?

Q27: How do Ford and Arthur flag down a logically non-existent spaceship?

Q28: How does Arthur save the Heart of Gold from the Magrathean missiles?

Q29: How long would Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz be able to survive with no ill effects at sea depths of up to 1000 feet?

Q30: What is one of the most important statements of Trillian’s life?

Q31: How many arms does Zaphod have?

Q32: How long has Slartibartfast been asleep?

Q33: What is the favourite pastime of the hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings known as ‘mice’?

Q34: What is the most totally evil place in the galaxy?

Q35: When Trillian, Zaphod and Marvin are eaten by the Haggunenon Admiral in the form of a Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, how did they escape?

Q36: Who accuses Arthur of having as much grasp of multi-temporal causality as a concussed bee?

Q37: Dentrassi cooks always welcome hitchhikers; partly because they like the company, but mostly because… what?

Q38: The only accurate account of Zaphod’s journey to the Frogstar is locked in a trunk in the attic of Zaphod’s favourite mother, whose name is…?

Q39: On what planet did two hundred and thirty-nine thousand lightly fried eggs fall the first time the Heart of Gold crossed the galaxy?

Q40: How does the Hitchhiker’s Guide characterise the mere idea of someone falling from a cold and mysterious cave 13 miles above ground level onto, say, the back of an extremely large passing bird?

Q41: Which race invented the aerosol deodorant before the wheel?

Q42: What does Ford offer the barman as payment for six pints of beer?

Post your score in the comments :)

Share and enjoy!

Postscript: A friend mentioned the text adventure game. On a hunch, I went looking and found it online. I died in 26 turns with a paltry score of 10/400. Can you do better? :)

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Get my eBook for FREE, Towel Day 2021

Grab your towel, froods!

Although it has nothing at all to do with The Hitchhiker’s Guide…

On 25May2021§ my eBook is available totally FREE!

Just click on this link right here to get it.

If you don’t have a Kindle,
don’t worry, you can use
the Kindle app
Kindle for PC


If you feel that you owe me something (you don’t),
could I ask you please for a review on amazon and/or goodreads?

Reviews of ‘The Eclectic’

If your sense of humour is like mine, you will roar with laughter at some of these gems. The Eclectic is a collection of poems and short stories that take a gentle but firm poke at reality. For example, the trickle-down effect is examined in a goblet-shaped poem, which correctly identifies the main reason our world is in trouble. One hilarious story tells you exactly what had happened to the Titanic, and why. Or you might be interested in the REAL story of King Arthur. I can recommend the productions of a delightfully twisted mind.

Bob Rich on Goodreads 🌠🌠🌠🌠🌠

After you read this wonderful collection of stories, poems and dreams, you will be asking this incredibly original deep thinker to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) without delay! Fantastic stuff!

Rick on amazon 🌠🌠🌠🌠🌠

(If you should happen to land on this page on some other day,
leave a comment below or contact me
and I’ll schedule another free day, just for you!)

§ The small print: 00:00 to 23:59 Pacific Time — check here for your time zone!

Posted in ... wait, what?, Fantasy, Phlyarology, Science Fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A thorny issue: transcripts and intellectual property

The story so far

Forty-two§ days ago, I wibbled about the upcoming Towel Day, in a post that featured a video interview of Richard Dawkins talking about Douglas Adams — and the transcript I’d (laboriously) made of it. Goldie left a comment that set me on a path investigating machine transcription. My first foray was a bit of a flop (firstborns are often throwaways, eh, Bish?), but the second was a success.

But then I hit what seemed to be a roadblock. The tool I’d been using (Sonix) offers transcription directly from YouTube videos. However, when entering the link to a video, it put up a message that said: ‘Please make sure that you have permission from the copyright owner — which made me stop and think.

For many years now, I’ve tried to ensure that any imagery that I use on my blog is in the public domain, or that I have permission to use it; I’ve always sought to respect copyright. But it hadn’t occurred to me, until now, that transcription could be infringing copyright.

So, I did a little digging. (Disclaimer: IANAL!)

In many countries, when a person creates an original work that is fixed in a physical medium, they automatically own copyright to the work. As the copyright owner, they have the exclusive right to use the work. Most of the time, only the copyright owner can say whether someone else has permissions to use the work.

YouTube Help on Copyright

YouTube is owned by Alphabet (Google), and based in the US. Sonix is also US-based. I’m in the UK, which has different laws. Though the Internet spans the world, the various regional laws haven’t really gotten up to speed on that reality; legislation always lags behind technology. ‘Fair use‘ (US) and ‘Fair dealing‘ (UK) would seem to me to be inapplicable, mainly because it’s necessary to transcribe the entirety of the work in question.

The accessibility argument: helping disabled people

I’m not just thinking of myself, here; it seems to me that this legal barrier to content accessibility clearly impacts all deaf people, unfairly denying them access to it.

The Digital Media Law Project threw me a few bones:

Fair use will not permit you to merely copy another’s work and profit from it, but when your use contributes to society by continuing the public discourse or creating a new work in the process, fair use may protect you.


A use that transforms the original work in some way is more likely to be a fair use;
A non-profit use is more likely to be considered a fair use than a for-profit use


Add something new or beneficial (don’t just copy it — improve it!)

Digital Media Law Project

… but they also had a couple of brickbats:

A shorter excerpt is more likely to be a fair use than a long one; and
A use that cannot act as a replacement for the original work is more likely to be a fair use than one that can serve as a replacement.

Digital Media Law Project

The website suggests that ‘helping disabled people’ can constitute an exception to copyright. In the case of transcriptions, making content accessible to those who are deaf would seem to be an obvious contribution to society.

The UK government’s ‘helping disabled people’ exceptions as described by the Intellectual Property Office appear, at first glance, to be appropriate. However, one of the restrictions on when these exceptions can be relied upon is ‘accessible copies cannot be made, communicated, made available, distributed or lent to a person that is not a disabled person under these exceptions‘ — and that alone would prohibit creating a transcription and then publishing it on a blog, as that would make it available to those who aren’t deaf.

Hoping that they’d say something like “this is an issue that we’re aware of and there is [insert name of campaign to change the law here] who you could approach for assistance,” I contacted the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) and the National Deaf Children’s Society. They came back to me: but all they were able to really do was confirm that the act of transcribing was not itself a problem, the issue was the act of publishing the words.

The RNID does have a page listing various campaigns, though none of them address this particular issue. At the foot of that page, though, there is a link to the ‘APPG’:

I might drop these guys a link to this post and see what they say.

A loophole?

YouTube enables the publisher to forbid embedding of the content in another site. Can it be argued that by publishing a video without choosing that option, the publisher grants implicit licence to copy the work? I consulted YouTube’s advice on the subject, but couldn’t find an answer to that — and, in any case, there’s a clear Disclaimer: The information presented here is not legal advice. We give it for informational purposes. If you need legal advice, you should get in touch with an attorney. Yeah, good luck with that, me.

Seeking permission is a fruitless endeavour

As I read it, the law is pretty clear: I have to gain permission from the copyright holder each and every time I (or indeed you) want to publish a transcript of another’s content. This is fraught with difficulty: it’s almost impossible to determine from whom one needs that permission; and even when one can determine that, there’s rarely a way of making contact to ask the question.

As an example, Michael Stevens (AKA ‘Vsauce‘) recently published a video on YouTube entitled ‘The Future of Reasoning‘. I found it fascinating, and immediately thought of publishing it on my blog — along with a transcription, naturally. But Michael isn’t easy to contact. He offers his Twitter handle (@tweetsauce); I tweeted him, but no response (unsurprising, as he has over 1.2 million Twitter followers). I sent an email to the address he offers ‘for business enquiries’ (with some trepidation, as it felt like an abuse of trust given that my enquiry isn’t a business proposition). So far, no response to that, either.

What’s crystal clear is that the only winners here are the intellectual property lawyers.

Following Alice into the rabbit hole to Wonderland

It seems to me that the only recourse I have is to declare the law an ass that needs to wake up to current technological reality, flout it, and justify my actions (to myself, at least) on the grounds that accessibility needs outweigh the need to respect copyright — especially as my intent is to assist public discourse, and I’m certainly not seeking to profit from my efforts. I can’t believe that anyone would really object; after all, I’m helping to get their words ‘out there’.

And it’s not as though my teeny tiny blog audience (that’s you, by the way, if you’re still reading this) will have any impact, in any event.


§ Actually, it was 39 days ago today; I plead poetic license. Heads up: Towel Day is on Tuesday!

‡ I’ve since tried a transcript from a YouTube video again using Sonix; and, that time, I wasn’t presented with a warning to get the copyright holder’s permission. Strange. I got in touch with Sonix, and they’ve confirmed that although they do make a copy of the video on their system, this is not actually published anywhere — and so, I believe, there’s no copyright issue there. They do offer a link to the copy (and the associated transcript); but if you don’t publish that link, search engine crawlers shouldn’t be able to find it.

Header image adapted from
shallow focus photo of man writing on printing paper
by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Posted in ... wait, what?, balance, Communication, Computers and Internet, Core thought, Education, Ludditis, Phlyarology | Tagged , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Happy World Bee Day!!! 🐝

This is a timely and important post. Bees are crucial to our survival. And our society does not value them as it should: instead, it supports the vendors of the toxins and environmentally unfriendly practices that are killing them wholesale, driving them to extinction. And when they are gone: we all die. It’s as simple as that.

Filosofa's Word

This is a re-post of the one I wrote last year for World Bee Day, but some of you haven’t yet seen it, others may have forgotten it, and it says everything I would say if I wrote a whole new post.  Today is World Bee Day and I cannot think of another species that deserves its own day of celebration more than bees!  Quite literally, our lives depend on bees, and the bee population has been in serious decline for years now.  Be kind … plant some bee-friendly flowers this week as a special treat for these fuzzy little guys, k?  And PLEASE … keep the chemicals out of the garden, the yard, and anywhere else you might be tempted to use them.

Bee-1While every critter, every plant has its place in the ecosystem on planet earth, there is perhaps none more important than the bee.  Bees and other…

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Posted in ... wait, what?, balance, Biodiversity, Core thought, Education, Environment, Phlyarology, Reblogs, Strategy | Tagged | 9 Comments

The clock is ticking

Those who think that the threat to the democratic ‘experiment’ in the USA was resolved by the ousting of the former guy had better think again. The wheels are clearly in motion to steal the next elections, too. (The first video clip in this post needs to go viral; visit it, like and comment to increase its profile in the YouTube algorithm!)

The Mind of Brosephus

I’m guessing that you’ve seen this video by now. If not, take a few minutes to listen or you can read the article about it that was posted on Mother Jones. Here’s a snippet to digest.

The leaked video reveals the extent to which Heritage is leading a massive campaign to draft and pass model legislation restricting voting access, which has been swiftly adopted this year in the battleground states of Georgia, Florida, Arizona, and Iowa. It’s no coincidence that so many GOP-controlled states are rushing to pass similar pieces of legislation in such a short period of time. 

Republican legislators claim they’re tightening up election procedures to address (unfounded) concerns about fraud in the 2020 election. But what’s really behind this effort is a group of conservative Washington insiders who have been pushing these same kinds of voting restrictions for decades, with the explicit aim of helping Republicans…

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Posted in ... wait, what?, Communication, Core thought, memetics, News and politics, Reblogs | Tagged | 27 Comments