Is State Protection a Threat to Liberal Democracy? | Quillette

Source: Is State Protection a Threat to Liberal Democracy? | Quillette, by Ross Stitt

If the development of liberal democracy over the centuries has been a story of citizens making demands on the state—for personal safety, freedom, political power, welfare—what does our new age of insecurity mean for the next chapter? What will citizens want more of from their governments going forward? The obvious answer is protection—protection from terrorists, pandemics, extreme climatic events, economic hardship, and war. And today’s high maintenance citizens, products of a culture of market consumerism, will not be backward in demanding that protection.

In order to provide physical and economic protection to its citizens, a liberal democratic state must transgress core liberal tenets like privacy, freedom, and respect for private property. … Democratic politics is the process by which these trade-offs are negotiated. They have evolved over time.

The crucial question is whether or not the dramatic change in the nature and level of threats over the last 20 years, capped off by the shock of the dual COVID-19 crises, will trigger a revolutionary shift in those trade-offs and a transformation of the citizen/state relationship.

Artificial Personas and Public Discourse | Schneier on Security

Source: Artificial Personas and Public Discourse | Schneier on Security, by Bruce Schneier

it’s time to confront the weird and insidious ways in which technology is warping politics. One of the biggest threats on the horizon: artificial personas are coming, and they’re poised to take over political debate. The risk arises from two separate threads coming together: artificial intelligence-driven text generation and social media chatbots. These computer-generated “people” will drown out actual human discussions on the Internet.

Text-generation software is already good enough to fool most people most of the time. It’s writing news stories, particularly in sports and finance. It’s talking with customers on merchant websites.

Over the years, algorithmic bots have evolved to have personas. They have fake names, fake bios, and fake photos — sometimes generated by AI. Instead of endlessly spewing propaganda, they post only occasionally.

Combine these two trends and you have the recipe for nonhuman chatter to overwhelm actual political speech.

About a fifth of all tweets about the 2016 presidential election were published by bots, according to one estimate, as were about a third of all tweets about that year’s Brexit vote. An Oxford Internet Institute report from last year found evidence of bots being used to spread propaganda in 50 countries.

In 2017, the Federal Communications Commission had an online public-commenting period for its plans to repeal net neutrality. A staggering 22 million comments were received. Many of them — maybe half — were fake, using stolen identities.

The most important lesson from the 2016 election about misinformation isn’t that misinformation occurred; it is how cheap and easy misinforming people was. … Our future will consist of boisterous political debate, mostly bots arguing with other bots. This is not what we think of when we laud the marketplace of ideas, or any democratic political process. Democracy requires two things to function properly: information and agency. Artificial personas can starve people of both.

Don’t Give White Nationalists the Post-9/11 Treatment | The Atlantic

Source: Don’t Give White Nationalists the Post-9/11 Treatment | The Atlantic, by Max Abrahms

What is the optimal response to terrorism? Regardless of the type of terrorist threat, domestic or international, counterterrorism must always strive to achieve two crosscutting goals. The first is to neutralize existing terrorists. And the second is to do it in way that doesn’t generate new ones in the process. Whereas underreaction fails at the former, overreaction tends to fail at the latter. The key to achieving this tricky balance is to aggressively go after only legitimate terrorists, lest we inadvertently spawn future ones.

To this end, law enforcement must develop a subtle understanding of what constitutes extremism, and a thick skin. As a term, extremism is used sloppily to denote both a person’s political goals and the methods used to achieve them. There’s an important difference, though, between rooting for extreme ends and using extreme means to realize them. Chat rooms are full of people expressing sundry offensive—even reprehensible—political visions. The smart counterterrorist swallows hard and leaves them alone. But it’s interdiction time the moment the prospect of violence is even mentioned as a way forward.

Improving the Mechanics of Government

Source: How to Salvage Congress | The Atlantic, by U.S. Representative Mike Gallagher (WI-R)

I have come to believe that the problem is not the people. The problem is a defective process and a power structure that, whichever party is in charge, funnels all power to leadership and stifles debate and initiative within the ranks.

Change the Congressional Calendar

Change How We Choose Committee Chairs

Streamline Committee Jurisdiction


Source: America’s Hidden Duopoly | Freakonomics, by Stephen J. Dubner

We all know our political system is “broken” — but what if that’s not true? Some say the Republicans and Democrats constitute a wildly successful industry that has colluded to kill off competition, stifle reform, and drive the country apart.

Having come to the conclusion that the political system operated more like a traditional industry than a public institution, Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter set down their ideas in a Harvard Business School report. It’s called “Why Competition in the Politics Industry Is Failing America.”

It’d be one thing if this large industry were delivering value to its customers — which is supposed to be us, the citizenry. But Gehl and Porter argue the political industry is much better at generating revenue for itself and creating jobs for itself while treating its customers with something close to disdain. … And the numbers back up their argument. Customer satisfaction with the political industry is at historic lows. Fewer than a quarter of Americans currently say they trust the federal government. In terms of popularity, it ranks below every private industry. That includes the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, the airline industry — and, yes, cable TV.

Gehl and Porter identify the “five key inputs to modern political competition: candidates, campaign talent, voter data, idea suppliers, and lobbyists.” Here’s what they write: “Increasingly, most everything required to run a modern campaign and govern is tied to or heavily influenced by one party or the other, including think tanks, voter data, and talent.” … Gehl and Porter argue that the political industry has essentially co-opted the media, which spreads their messages for free.

Perhaps most important, the two parties rig the election system against would-be disrupters. The rules they set allow for partisan primaries, gerrymandered congressional districts, and winner-take-all elections.

What we believe is, we need to create structural reforms that would actually better align the election process and the legislative process with the needs of the average citizen.

the first and probably the single most powerful [electoral reform] is to move to non-partisan, single-ballot primaries. … ranked-choice voting … non-partisan redistricting

changes to the rules around governing. … propose moving away from partisan control of the day-to-day legislating in Congress. And also, of course, in state legislatures as well.

If you take money out of politics without changing the rules of the game, you’ll simply make it cheaper for those using the existing system to get the self-interested results that they want without changing the incentives to actually deliver solutions for the American people. Having said that, we do believe that there are benefits to increasing the power of smaller donors. … For instance: having the government itself match donations from small donors.

We should note: most of the ideas Gehl and Porter are presenting here are not all that novel if you follow election reform even a little bit. Even we poked into a lot of them, a couple years ago, in an episode called “Ten Ideas to Make Politics Less Rotten.” I guess it’s one measure of how successful, and dominant, the political duopoly is that plenty of seemingly sensible people have plenty of seemingly sensible reform ideas that, for the most part, gain very little traction.

There is no middle ground for deep disagreements about facts | Aeon

Source: There is no middle ground for deep disagreements about facts | Aeon, by Klemens Kappel

One particularly pernicious form of disagreement arises when we not only disagree about individuals facts but also disagree about how best to form beliefs about those facts, that is, about how to gather and assess evidence in proper ways. This is deep disagreement, and it’s the form that most societal disagreements take.

Deep disagreements are, in a sense, irresolvable. It is not that Amy is incapable of following Ben’s arguments or is generally insensitive to evidence. Rather, Amy has a set of beliefs that insulates her from the very sort of evidence that would be crucial for showing her to be mistaken. No line of argument or reasoning that Ben could sincerely present to Amy would rationally convince her.

We are used to the idea that respectfully accommodating the views of fellow citizens, whose intelligence and sincerity is not in doubt, requires some degree of moderation on our part. We cannot, it seems, both fully respect others, regard them as intelligent and sincere, and still be fully convinced that we are right and they are completely wrong, unless we simply agree to disagree. But on a societal level we cannot do that, since ultimately some decision must be made.

What is particularly troubling about some societal disagreements is that they concern factual matters that tend to be almost impossible to resolve since there is no agreed-upon method to do so, all while relating to important policy decisions. Generally, theorising about liberal democracy has focused largely on moral and political disagreements, while tacitly assuming that there would be no important factual disagreements to consider. It has been taken for granted that we would eventually agree about the facts, and the democratic processes would concern how we should adjudicate our differences in values and preferences. But this assumption is no longer adequate, if it ever was.