The Two Clashing Meanings of ‘Free Speech’

Source: The Two Clashing Meanings of ‘Free Speech’

there is a more fundamental conflict between two, very different concepts of free speech at stake. The conflict between what the ancient Greeks called isegoria, on the one hand, and parrhesia, on the other, is as old as democracy itself. Today, both terms are often translated as “freedom of speech,” but their meanings were and are importantly distinct. In ancient Athens, isegoria described the equal right of citizens to participate in public debate in the democratic assembly; parrhesia, the license to say what one pleased, how and when one pleased, and to whom.

isegoria was fundamentally about equality, not freedom. … Its competitor, parrhesia, was more expansive. … The practitioner of parrhesia (or parrhesiastes) was, quite literally, a “say-it-all.”

If isegoria was fundamentally about equality, then, parrhesia was about liberty in the sense of license—not a right, but rather an unstable privilege enjoyed at the pleasure of the powerful.

the genius of the First Amendment lies in bringing isegoria and parrhesia together, by securing the equal right and liberty of citizens not simply to “exercise their reason” but to speak their minds. It does so because the alternative is to allow the powers-that-happen-to-be to grant that liberty as a license to some individuals while denying it to others.

When the rights of all become the privilege of a few, neither liberty nor equality can last.

Alignment of Incentives

Capitalism is Moloch. But democracy is also Moloch. Both are intense competitions. Both are going to be won by people trying to win the competition, not people trying to be nice and do the right thing. In both, we expect that winning the competition will have something to do with being good – capitalists win partly by making good products, candidates win partly by making good policy. But both systems have equally deep misalignments that can’t be eliminated just by filling them with nice people.

Source: Contra Robinson On Public Food | Slate Star Codex, by Scott Alexander

Continue reading Alignment of Incentives

Facebook Can’t Cope With the World It’s Created

Source: Facebook Can’t Cope With the World It’s Created – Foreign Policy, by Christina Larson

Asia is now Facebook’s biggest user base. … it’s become clear that the attitudes and policies the Menlo Park-based company adopted when it was primarily a U.S. social network are inadequate, or even perilous, when applied in authoritarian states, fragile democracies, or nations with deep ethnic divisions.

Because Cambodia is a small market of 16 million people, testing a new feature there may have seemed like a perfectly reasonable choice to an engineering product team. But when your product is not sneakers or toasters, but the single most important way that people in that country receive news and information, it bears a different kind of consideration.

“Move fast and break things” was Facebook’s mantra for developers until 2014, signaling the twin totems of speed and aggression that animate many programmers and venture capitalists in the U.S. tech industry. Yet it’s a lot less appealing when the things being broken are people.

Today’s biggest threat to democracy isn’t fake news—it’s selective facts

Source: Today’s biggest threat to democracy isn’t fake news—it’s selective facts

Can you believe everything you read if you’re not reading everything?

Selective facts are “true” facts that only tells us part of the story, and they influence our views on every issue from gun control to Islamic terrorism to free trade. … Selective facts are worse than outright fake news because they’re pervasive and harder to question than clearly false statements.

news has to engage us for us to read it. Selective facts occur because news and social media companies focus predominantly on their readers’ interests. Media organizations maximize readership and increase profits by creating and sharing content that their readers want to read. … The publisher and social media algorithms learn what the audience wants to hear, gives it them, and the selective cycle continues.

this coverage imbalance leads to a deep empathy gap across countries and religions. It’s especially hard to have empathy in either population when the content you read consistently heralds your side as the victim and ignores extreme actions by your own members.

Just because you think you’re a well-reasoned person doesn’t mean you haven’t accidentally cocooned yourself in an algorithmic bubble. If your goal is to make good decisions for your family, your community, or your country, you must consciously work to get a representative set of facts.