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DATA, INFORMATION AND THE SOURCES THEY COME FROM ARE BECOMING THE DOMINANT ORGANIZING PRINCIPLE OF WEALTH CREATION.

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Written by schuftan@gmai.com   
Saturday, 13 April 2019 22:41

1. Data and information are not the ‘new oil’, but a form of capital much like human, social and intellectual capital --that importantly weighs against human rights (HR). But beware, I read Big Data, and what is yet to come, will accelerate the creative destruction of capitalism as we now know it. As data assume petabyte proportions and processing powers continue their exponential rise, algorithms will deliver superior production, investment and consumption outcomes --not necessarily better for the perspectives of HR… This is not written to depress you, but HR are, for sure going to be victims of this trend. The call is for regulating data-dominant oligopolies and creating much greater public accountability. (Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger)

 

2. The same applies to information and information outlets. We thus also need to make sure that free access to information is available to all (it is a HR!) and that what arrives in poor countries is not that that will benefit the information distributors and disseminators --who have the power to distort it. Instead, information must benefit the public who can certainly decide for themselves. (John Liu)

 

3. We well know that dictatorships manipulate communications with impunity. Also frequently, in many non-dictatorial countries free communication is hampered or held back. For instance, existing laws regulating communications are canceled or ignored, or, the whole communications apparatus is given to a private enterprise to manage and control*. A society that allows slander and false news weakens democratic life. Then come the judges to judge this weakened apparatus, these unscrupulous communicators but, in reality let them off easy so the dictatorships continue unhindered and without any scruples about this. (Pope Francis)

*: Social marketing changes the concept of the global free-thinking-village to one of global-mind-control. It changes people’s behavior, but does not tell them WHY to change their understanding or their actions.

 

TV molds us the way it wants

4. “Fill them with incombustible news!” Hey, do not give the media slippery topics like philosophy that only brings about melancholy. S/he who can have a TV set at home --today affordable to most-- is happier than s/he that attempts to measure the universe or reduce it to an equation. TV tells us what we ought to think**; it drags us so fast to its own conclusions that it leaves us with no time to protest. (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451)

**: Eduardo Galeano was concerned about the spread of surveillance and asked “Is there an eye hidden in the TV remote control?” Milan Kundera …who lived before the smartphone era, told us “Just think about radio and television: Think about how many persons cannot live without their ears and eyes being constantly fed”.

 

5. I have seen countless consultants and experts appearing on TV*** in pitiful news broadcasts and presenting pitiful testimonies in an attempt to ‘disseminate the successes of development’. Not that there are not such, but these news get away with spreading much self-justifying trumpeting. It is up to us to sift through this mountain of propaganda and then set the record straight. (Graham Lowe)

***: TV an other mass media are mainly driven by the search for profit. That translates into mainly going for ratings. If a program promises big audiences, TV executives will air it; if it does not, they will pull it. (Paul Mundy)

 

6. I do not want to talk additionally here about the likewise spread of dubious content by self-appointed ‘internet philosophers… The information we get simply has to be checked against the ideology of where it comes from since much of it comes from the structures that make the rules of the game for everybody in the world. (Fackson Banda) We cannot be caught off guard in the battle for a market share of the public mind. (Kelly O’Neill, UNRISD) We must bypass the editorial control of the media and of the internet space.

 

The political world has lost legitimacy, lost participation and lost young people

7. Politics is being totally separated from culture, research, and intellectualism. The internet has changed the participation in politics. Tweeter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. are much more important than traditional media. Very few people now buy newspapers.

 

8. So, politics jumps from a short period on an item, to another one as soon damage has been controlled. Gone is the ability to follow process. We only follow events and not ideas and this is contaminating the media --and HR is first (and not last!) an idea…

 

The Internet went the wrong way, as far as politics and human rights are concerned

 

9. Instead of becoming an element of participation, the internet has become an element of atomization (if not of narcissism). As a result, debate among people (especially young people), has waned. Users go into the Internet, dialogue with like-minded people, and insult others blocking moral and political connection.

 

10. So, when politics becomes just the solution of a single problem, without a long term and organic vision of the steps that need to be taken, we are being utilitarian, which is a different perspective. The left-right debate, with its largely ideological debate, has disappeared. Why should people then feel passionate about a politics that has basically become an administrative matter for many parties?

 

11. What until the 1990s or so bonded people together were values --including HR values. Today we live in a world where nobody speaks of values (unless you take the market as a value…).

 

12. We must think that there are millions of people in the world engaged at grassroots level, thousands of times more than the World Social Forum. Our challenge is to connect with them. (Roberto Savio) Echoing Gramsci, is it a global political party that should rally masses around and for a common goal? Does this apply to our HR movement as well? Food for thought…

 

Two quick asides about other media

13. Political debates are only reproduced in newspapers buried among tons of advertising. This since the poverty of conceptual contents of much of the press is endemic, particularly because the written press could not survive without its advertisers who are averse to all things political. (Albino Gomez)

 

14. Otherwise, many scientific journals are full of dispensable, repetitive papers captive by the ruling paradigm. Novel and courageous will be for scientists to step out of the paradigm and reneging their imprisonment in it. In health, this will mean stepping out of the biomedical paradigm and becoming an unabashed social and right to health activist.

 

…and then there are the statistics

-The old maxim “If your head is in the oven and your feet are in the refrigerator, the body temperature in your navel is perfect average” (John Sewell) metaphorically explains how one can lie with statistics.

 

15. Beware: Our metric mentality has become internalized and has thus become the compass for our moral and ethical behavior. (Robert Wachter)

 

16. Statistically speaking, humans do not change their minds. Even after the evidence for their beliefs has been totally refuted, people fail to make appropriate revisions in their beliefs. Reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant than it does right now. Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way? Biologically speaking, humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to cooperate. Cooperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups. (New Yorker, 2019)

17. Yes, the manipulative use of statistics and data is very useful to mask reality. But, the clever and selective use of statistical indicators by activists can also empower grassroots organizations to hold government and other powerful actors accountable. The use of ad-hoc surveys, for example, serves as a tool for the process of truth telling; it provides public interest CSOs with credibility. So, collecting certain statistics can play an important role in the struggle for HR. There is thus power in numbers collected for the social good and even slight steps forward in this can contribute to an entire societal wave demanding reform. (Hannah Kapoor)

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

www.claudioschuftan.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

-Social networks give the opportunity to legions of idiots to speak about things they previously only spoke about after a glass of wine in the local bar --but then without harming any community. At the bar, they were quickly shut up, but now they have the same rights as Nobel laureates to voice their opinions in the internet: It is the invasion of the idiots. (Pedro Salmerón Sanginés)

-Our machines now have knowledge we will never understand. We thought knowledge was about finding the order hidden in chaos. We thought it was about simplifying the world. It looks like we were wrong. May really knowing the world require us giving up on understanding it? (David Weinberger)

 

 

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