Oversight

There is psychological evidence that people tend to behave more morally when they know, or when they believe, someone is watching them. When observers are present, people’s worst antisocial tendencies tend to be mitigated to some degree. There is also evidence from religious studies, that show belief in a moral god who has infinite access to your deepest motives enhances the effect from more “secular” oversight from experiences like instinctively braking when you see a cop on the highway.

On the other end, there is a lot of benefit to all manner of people and organizations being able to have oversight — from a boss supervising an employee, to a client evaluating an agency, to law enforcement surveilling suspects and surveillance more broadly. Observation is the key to experimentation under the scientific method, and a surveyor prepares land for development. The feedback loops that result from being able to see how a plan, theory, or hypothesis work out in the real world allow the original assumptions to be validated or adjusted, accordingly.

The government is an organization that operates largely in an oversight capacity. The executive branch runs departments that broadly oversee the nation’s transportation, military, national security, diplomacy, law enforcement, justice system, budget, economy and fiscal policy, education policy, energy grid, and stockpile of nuclear weapons — among much else. In a federalized system of 50 states under a larger national banner, many regional and local differences add to the complexity of the policy and enforcement concerns, and the difficulty of managing both a large population and vast land mass.

Conversely, if you believe no one is watching, you are more likely to commit corruption or crime. If someone thinks they can get away with it, they are much more likely to try and grab an opportunity. The growing scale and speed of modern society tends to exacerbate the feeling that “no one is watching,” making it seem like it matters less if small rules are broken here or there — an effect which can continue to snowball into crimes of greater and greater severity.

Related concepts:

  • God
  • the watchful eye — annuit coeptis
  • the Oversight Committee
  • the rule of law / spirit of laws
  • surveillance
  • night watchman state
  • police brutality
  • transparency
  • “Hell is other people”
  • Eye of Sauron
  • the peanut gallery
  • hecklers
  • hall monitors
  • judges
  • supervisors
  • parents
  • overseers
  • vantage points
  • command view
  • crow’s nest

Sources and Media Outlets

I try to be choosy about my news, yet also read widely. I make it a habit to routinely consult sources outside the US, and to mix up the types of media ownership to avoid a monolithic class view.

Other habits: try to corroborate stories amongst multiple publications; evaluate the credibility of authors and references; read source material; do my own calculations; consult public data when available; go back further into history to understand the trajectory of preceding events; keep listening for new information on the subject. Adjust my views based on new incoming information, if warranted.

Having worked in media for most of my career, I have a lot of practice evaluating the quality and veracity of reporting. Cross-referencing comes second nature. I’ve studied the media industry as a professional imperative and understand a bit about its ownership structures and its history, both technical and economic. As a political philosophy buff, I’m aware of the great importance of a free press to our democratic republic.

NameCountryFundingYear foundedAgeLink
The GuardianUKPrivate1821200https://www.theguardian.com/
The EconomistUKPrivate1843178https://www.economist.com/
Scientific AmericanUSPrivate1845176https://www.nature.com/
Associated PressUSNonprofit1846175https://apnews.com/
The New York TimesUSPrivate1851170https://www.nytimes.com/
ReutersUSPrivate1851170https://www.reuters.com/
The Daily TelegraphUKPrivate1855166https://www.telegraph.co.uk/
The AtlanticUSPrivate1857164https://www.theatlantic.com/
NatureUSPrivate1869152https://www.nature.com/
The Washington PostUSPrivate1877144https://www.washingtonpost.com/
LA TimesUSPrivate1881140https://www.latimes.com/
Financial TimesUKPrivate1888133https://www.ft.com/
The New RepublicUSPrivate1914107https://newrepublic.com/
BBCUKPublic192299https://www.bbc.com/news
TimeUSPrivate192398https://time.com/
The New YorkerUSPrivate192596https://www.newyorker.com/
CBCCanadaPublic193685https://www.cbc.ca/news/world
SpiegelEUPrivate194774https://www.spiegel.de/international/
Radio Free EuropeEUPublic194972https://www.rferl.org/
New ScientistUKPrivate195665https://www.newscientist.com/
Rolling StoneUSPrivate196754https://www.gregpalast.com/
PBSUSPublic196952https://www.pbs.org/
Foreign PolicyUSPrivate197051https://www.euronews.com/
NPRUSPublic197051https://www.npr.org/
C-SPANUSPublic197942https://www.c-span.org/
CNNUSPrivate198041https://www.cnn.com/
The IndependentUKPrivate198635https://www.independent.co.uk/us
Sky NewsUKPrivate198635https://news.sky.com/
Greg PalastUSIndependent197645https://www.gregpalast.com/
EuronewsEUPrivate199328https://www.euronews.com/
MSNBCUSPrivate199625https://www.msnbc.com/
VoxUSPrivate200516https://www.vox.com/
PoliticoUSPrivate200714https://www.politico.com/
BellingcatEUIndependent20147https://www.bellingcat.com/
Gaslit NationUSCrowdfunding20156https://www.patreon.com/m/1844970/posts
AxiosUSPrivate20174https://www.axios.com/
Just SecurityUSAcademic20174https://www.justsecurity.org/
The ConversationalistUSNonprofit20192https://conversationalist.org/

Newspeak Dictionary

George Orwell’s 1984 lexicon is a lingua franca of authoritarianism. Newspeak words have the stamp of boots on pavement, and are most likely to be found in the chryons of the OAN Network.

The terse portmanteus are blunt and blocky, like a brutalist architecture vocabulary. Their simplicity indicates appeal to the small-minded masses for easily digested pablum.

Those boots ring out again, from Belarus to Hungary to the United States. It’s a good time to brush up on the brutalism still struggling to take hold.

Newspeak Dictionary

Newspeak termDefinition
anteThe prefix that replaces before
artsemArtificial insemination
bbBig Brother
bellyfeelThe blind, enthusiastic acceptance of an idea
blackwhiteTo accept whatever one is told, regardless of the facts. In the novel, it is described as "...to say that black is white when [the Party says so]" and "...to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary".
crimestopTo rid oneself of unorthodox thoughts that go against Ingsoc's ideology
crimethinkThoughts and concepts that go against Ingsoc, frequently referred to by the standard English “thoughtcrime”, such as liberty, equality, and privacy, and also the criminal act of holding such thoughts
dayorderOrder of the day
depDepartment
doubleplusgoodThe word that replaced Oldspeak words meaning "superlatively good", such as excellent, fabulous, and fantastic
doubleplusungoodThe word that replaced Oldspeak words meaning "superlatively bad", such as terrible and horrible
doublethinkThe act of simultaneously believing two, mutually contradictory ideas
duckspeakAutomatic, vocal support of political orthodoxies
facecrimeA facial expression which reveals that one has committed thoughtcrime
FicdepThe Ministry of Truth's Fiction Department
freeThe absence and the lack of something. "Intellectually free" and "politically free" have been replaced by crimethinkful.
–fulThe suffix for forming an adjective
fullwiseThe word that replaces words such as fully, completely, and totally
goodthinkA synonym for "political orthodoxy" and "a politically orthodox thought" as defined by the Party
goodsexSexual intercourse only for procreation, without any physical pleasure on the part of the woman, and strictly within marriage
goodwiseThe word that replaced well as an adverb
IngsocThe English Socialist Party (i.e. The Party)
joycampLabour camp
malquotedInaccurate representations of the words of Big Brother and of the Party
MiniluvThe Ministry of Love, where the secret police interrogate and torture the enemies of Oceania (torture and brainwashing)
MinipaxThe Ministry of Peace, who wage war for Oceania
MinitrueThe Ministry of Truth, who manufacture consent by way of lies, propaganda, and distorted historical records, while supplying the proles (proletariat) with synthetic culture and entertainment
MiniplentyThe Ministry of Plenty, who keep the population in continual economic hardship (starvation and rationing)
OldspeakStandard English
oldthinkIdeas from the time before the Party's revolution, such as objectivity and rationalism
ownlifeA person's anti-social tendency to enjoy solitude and individualism
plusgoodThe word that replaced Oldspeak words meaning "very good", such as great
plusungoodThe word that replaced "very bad"
PornosecThe pornography production section (Porno sector) of the Ministry of Truth's Fiction Department
prolefeedPopular culture for entertaining Oceania's working class
RecdepThe Ministry of Truth's Records Department, where Winston Smith rewrites historical records so they conform to the Party's agenda
rectifyThe Ministry of Truth's euphemism for manipulating a historical record
refTo refer (to someone or something)
secSector
sexcrimeA sexual immorality, such as fornication, adultery, oral sex, and homosexuality; any sex act that deviates from Party directives to use sex only for procreation
speakwriteA machine that transcribes speech into text
TeledepThe Ministry of Truth's Telecommunications Department
telescreenA two-way television set with which the Party spy upon Oceania's population
thinkpolThe Thought Police, the secret police force of Oceania's government
unpersonAn executed person whose existence is erased from history and memory
upsubAn upwards submission to higher authority
–wiseThe only suffix for forming an adverb
See also:

24 Logical Fallacies

These flaws in rhetorical logic can be observed aplenty in modern political and civil discourse. They are among the easiest types of argument to dispel, because their basic type has been discredited and compiled together with other discarded forms of rational persuasion, to make sure that ensuing generations don’t fall for the same tired old unethical ideas.

Logical fallacyExplanationExample / Notes
ad hominem attackattacking something about the character of the opposing side, instead of engaging with the argument or offering a critique
ambiguityusing double meanings and language ambiguity to mislead
anecdotalappeal to a personal, individual observation as relates to the topic in questionoften used to dismiss statistical analysis
appeal to authorityusing opinion of authority figure or institution in place of an actual argument
appeal to emotionmanipulating emotional response in lieu of valid argumenta huge part of Donald Trump's playbook
appeal to naturearguing that b/c something is “natural” it is valid / justified / inevitable / good / ideal
bandwagonappealing to popularity as evidence of validationRetort: "When everyone once believed the earth was flat — did that make it true?"
begging the questionwhen conclusion is included in the premiseone form of circular argument (tautology is another)
black or whitepresenting two alternative states as the only options, when more possibilities existvery commonly used by political and media resources as a way to polarize issues
burden of proofclaiming the responsibility lies with someone else to disprove one's claim (& not with the claimant to prove it)
composition/divisionassuming what is true of one part of something must be applied to all parts
fallacy fallacypresuming that a poorly argued claim, or one in which a fallacy has been made, is wrong
false causepresuming that a real or perceived relationship between things implies causation
gambler's fallacyputting a tremendous amount of weight on previous events, believing they will influence future outcomes (even when outcome is random)also a psychological bias
geneticvalue judging based on where something comes from
loaded questionasking a question with an assumption built in, so it can't be answered without appearing guilty
middle groundclaiming a compromise between two extremes must be the truththe media establishment is often guilty of this for a number of reasons: lack of time for thorough inquiry; need for ratings; available field of pundits and wonks; established programming formats, and so on
no true scotsmanmaking an appeal to purity as a way to dismiss relevant criticisms or flaws
personal incredulitysaying that because a concept or argument is difficult to understand, it can't be true
slippery slopearguing that a small change or decision will inevitably lead to larger-than-intended (perhaps even disastrous) consequences rapidly
special pleadingmoving goalpost to create exceptions when a claim is shown to be false
strawmanmisrepresenting someone's argument to make it easier to attack
texas sharpshootercherry-picking data to suit an argument, or finding a pattern to fit a presumptionthe impending era of big data will increase the prevalence of this type of sheister
tu quoqueavoiding having to engage with criticism by criticizing the accuser

Public education makes us all smarter

The state has an interest in educating its citizens. There are a number of reasons a nation could benefit from attending to the education of its citizens, creating a state interest in public education. Many of them are economic, and contribute to the growth of industry and health of communities:

  • More people generating more value increases GDP, compounded over time
  • Increased entrepreneurship
  • Increased innovation, and dynamism in the economy along with it
  • Improved public health and saving cost on health care
  • Longer life spans means more working years at greater seniority levels, contributing a lot of surplus value to the economy
  • Increased incomes provide more free time to contribute to civic life and be informed voters
  • Decreasing the number of “Lost Einsteins” — talented individuals who do not get a chance to shine their lights and contribute their gifts

We all have an interest in investing in the development of our human capital, because it is rational to do so. It will pay many dividends over time, both directly and indirectly.

Numerical superstitions: Our strange relationship with numbers

We have so many mental frames related to numbers, that have been handed down culturally for, in some cases, hundreds and even thousands of years. These numerical superstitions come from myths, some from science, some cultural and historic — and many are universal. They remind us that despite our differences across nations and across time, we human beings still have a lot more in common with one another than we have differences.

  • 1 is the loneliest number… but can also be unity, and the origin of all things
  • 2 is duality ☯️
  • 3’s a crowd
  • 4 is a square; representative of justice | Buddhist Four Noble Truths ⬛
  • 5 is alive
  • 6 is the first perfect number
  • 7 notes in the musical scale 🎼
  • 8 is paradise; lucky in Buddhism 🍀
  • 9 lives 😺
  • 10 is the most perfect number 🔟
  • 11 players in soccer & football ⚽
  • 12 is cosmological: zodiac symbols, stations of the Moon, stations of the Sun | 12 inches in a foot 📏
  • 13 lunar months in the year 🌙
  • 20 bucks 💵
  • 30 pieces of silver 💰
  • 40 days and 40 nights 🚣‍♂️
  • 50 ways to leave your lover | 50 shades of grey
  • 100 year centennial 💯
  • 1000 — millenarianism

I’ll keep adding to the list of numerical superstitions over time…!

War of the Worldviews: Hierarchy vs. Fairness

Hierarchy vs. Fairness is the dominant Manichaean struggle of our age, and perhaps every age before it: shall we structure our society with a strict hierarchical system of highs and lows, with power concentrated at the top? Or shall we have an egalitarian society where truth, justice, and fairness rule the day?

There are a lot of stories, myths, and narratives centered on this question: hierarchy or fairness? Cultural wars and actual wars have been waged — numerous times throughout history.

We are fighting a new incarnation of that war now in our nation, as civil unrest spreads following yet another extrajudicial murder by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin — who knelt on the neck of George Floyd for a jaw-dropping 8 minutes and 46 seconds: 2 minutes and 53 seconds beyond the point where Floyd lost consciousness and 1 minute and 54 seconds past the point fellow officers checked to confirm he had no pulse.

That is a staggeringly long time.

There is simply no credibility to the typical excuse that Chauvin somehow feared for his life — from an unarmed, handcuffed, prone, unconscious, and then lifeless George Floyd. Arrested over an allegedly counterfit $20 bill. Meanwhile Congress appropriates hundreds of billions and even trillions for big business and last I heard, no arrests had been made. Curious.

It starts in childhood

Psychologists like Alice Miller and Darcia Narvaez attribute this troubling mentality — this mentality that exhibits complete disregard for human life — as originating in our child-raising “techniques.” At one time corporal punishment for youth was the rule and not the exception; not uncoincidentally, the Hitler Youth of Germany had been largely raised under the “advice” of Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Shreber who advocated beating babies from a young age so the importance of obedience would be drilled into them early on.

It wasn’t until much later we learned that traumatized and neglected children display severe lesions affecting up to the 30 percent of the areas of the brain responsible for controlling emotions. In other words, “traditional” authoritarian child-rearing in the fundamentalist religion style of “spare the rod, spoil the child” produces emotionally crippled adults — who tend to enact the revenge fantasies of their internal repressed rage as adults later in life. They simply need be provided with an “authorized” scapegoat.

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt

Miller goes on to suggest the psychological survival mechanism of denial employed by abused children to survive their situation leads them to develop the kind of emotional blindness in adulthood that will turn the other way when witnessing violations of another person’s humanity — or may even be induced to carry them out. We’re all familiar with Nazi Adolf Eichmann’s “defense” of why he should be exonerated for behaving like a robotic killer: “I was just following orders.”

Teaching children to be obedient or be emotionally abandoned — whether through physical abuse or emotional abuse or both — is the key to unlocking this mystery of the appeal of hierarchy and authoritarianism which is seeing a resurgence not just in the United States but around the world — especially in Europe as well. Miller calls it “poisonous pedagogy” — not just parents but many other forms of authority indoctrinate youth in this vicious cycle and benefit from the creation of obedient individuals by amassing and maintaining power.

The kicker is we are not supposed to recognize this process — and if we do, we most certainly are not supposed to speak up about it. We are supposed to remain unaware that our deference to authority is merely a construct; a thin veneer over the insecurity of power that hopes desperately to continue wielding absurd moral authority over the masses. This collective and complicitous denial keeps us all locked in the dance of abuser and abused — essentially pretending it isn’t happening all around us including in our own homes.

The Founders advocated fairness

For all the right wing enjoys brandishing the Constitution as fundamental law, they tend to often miss the forest for the trees — that the founding fathers wrote extensively on their views and consideration in constructing a new nation towards the end of the 18th century, and that those views were decidedly against the arbitrary rule of kings and the strict striations of class as seen in the empires of Europe. They sought to get away from the cult of personality paradigm of the divine right of kings, believing that the rule of law should hold sway and that men ought to govern themselves through a political process with enough checks and balances to ensure no single branch or individual could wield too much power over others.

James Madison especially was a big believer in the “wisdom of crowds” to arrive at a better, more morally appropriate solution to legislation and problem solving. Moreover they were extremely uncomfortable with the role of slavery at the founding of the nation, despite being simultaneously apiece with the times and not entirely living up to those professed ideals.

Nevertheless, the role of ideals is to move us forward towards better times; to continually improve our individual and collective characters to get closer to living them out. Taking the founding ideals of fairness and equality as the guiding north star of a new nation and falling short is, in my humble opinion, still leagues farther along than giving in to the indulgent impulse towards supremacy and hierarchy and calling it a day. It’s the essence of progressivism as a vehicle for a narrative of self-growth — as opposed to the narrative hierarchy offers, which is static; dead; inert. There can be no change, no dynamism to a system which defines a priori everyone’s place in society.

Hierarchy is the politics of death.

We must democratize computational skill

We need to bring the fire down from the mountain. We are not on that project — we are still on the opposite project: keeping the wizards behind the curtain.

Too many of the wizards are male, and are busying themselves in playing petty economic and status zero-sum power games instead of recognizing the context they are in — we are all in — as an infinite game in which the enlargement of the participant group to include and, not just reluctantly tolerate, but to avidly welcome women in to the club will massively benefit all the players. 

Then there are the white wizards who create pseudoscientific rationalizations for wasting time obsessing over 18th century racial animus as a massive distraction from having to do the work of creating anything useful or contributing any value to the world. They’ve taken their centuries of evolutionary advantage and painstakingly developed economic pie to split hairs over who ought to be denied a few of the crumbs, as a cheap method of papering over the deep well of collective insecurity and ego fragility precipitated by a lack of meaningful individuation and their failure to create anything useful or contribute any value to the world.

We could be playing this game together. Instead, we furtively dart about in Plato’s Cave imagining we are still living in a world of scarcity, rather than leveling ourselves up to behold the vision of the new world of abundance we have the capacity to create.

Not Ready Player One.

Arguments for an open world

For friends of the Open Society who, like me, would prefer not to block the movement of people, ideas, and trade — some arguments for an open world:

  • Trade agreements are net contributors to economic growth
  • Immigrants are net contributors to economic growth
  • Money spent on the security industrial complex economy has low ROI vs. education, infrastructure, and research spending
  • A diversity of ideas more likely leads to the best outcomes vs. a paucity of ideas
  • Companies with more women leaders are more profitable
  • The more the merrier!

It’s the opposite of tribalism

Philosopher Karl Popper defined an open society as being opposed to a tribal or collectivist society — one driven by magical beliefs and magical thinking. He theorized that because all knowledge is provisional, we should always remain open to alternative points of view that may offer new information and perspectives. Critical thinking is paramount, as individuals are confronted with personal decisions that have no ready-made ritual to apply to their solution.

Values of an open world:

  • cultural and religious pluralism
  • humanitarianism
  • equality
  • political freedom
  • critical thinking in the face of communal group think

Tests are not learning tools

Tests are evaluating tools that can only act as a diagnostic — they offer no improvement in the actual ability of children to learn. In the so-called “real world” we don’t take tests — we solve problems and tackle challenges that (ideally) resonate with us somehow when we manage to solve them.

Unfortunately one of the more important parts of that equation — the passion, and the interest that drives us to ask questions in the first place — is often absent in many a modern life.

In service of stability, in service of family, of practicality, of a grim sort of tradition — for whatever reasons, we find ourselves here. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Moreover, tests are supposedly a heuristic that stands in for “teacher performance.” But there are many quite consequential other factors that affect students’ performance on tests, most of which have nothing to do with the teacher and everything to do with the child and his or her life outside of school.

In other words, judging teacher ability by test scores alone is a very “lossy” way to make a judgment to begin with — and we’ve dramatically increased the number of tests, to the point where there are precious few *other* judgments allowable or possible about our teachers. Plus, we’ve tied test scores to teacher salaries and district funding more broadly — all based on the notion that one very lossy metric is able to tell us everything we need to know about what’s going on in our schools.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Missing from that metric is any factor that accounts for what arguably *is* the most salient predictor of student performance: poverty level. This makes intuitive sense to anyone who’s ever taken a sociology class, or has experience with poverty itself — when you design a feedback loop to punish the poorest students, who already have the most difficult time prioritizing school life over the very real concerns waiting at home, we shouldn’t be surprised that the loop keeps tightening and ensuring the black hole of poverty is harder and harder to escape.

There’s nothing common about the Common Core

The standards for Common Core sailed through reams of political due process in record time, right on a wave of $230 million from Bill Gates — a man who went to an elite private school, and has sent his children to the same type of education. No dogfooding, Bill? If the improvements you’re making to our system are so awesome, why not entrust your own family’s future to the power of the robust American public school system?

Or is it just another thinly veiled form of colonialism, under a new guise — much like Zuckerberg’s boondoggle internet.org. We’re giving our children a better chance at becoming great test takers, much like we’re giving the third world a few tiny drops of Facebook-gated internet. Go us! This is what Great Men do with all that money they fleeced out of the American economy: Give Back. We applauded them as they siphoned it — slack jawed, drooling fanboys — and later lauded them as they gave slivers of it back in exchange for the modern version of the pyramids: your name on an edifice, to live on through the ages and be recognized by future men. This is how one escapes dying — so the story goes.

There’s another story.

You can escape dying in another important way: by living. Just choose to live honestly and openly every day, in every moment, in every moment of decision.