where algorithms we can’t fully understand claim to foresee the future

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Intro

A handful of sci-fi writers possess the remarkable ability to almost empirically predict the future, and more often than not, it’s their grim visions which come to haunt us in the present. In “Brave New World”, Huxley foresaw the dangers of genetic engineering before it even became a thing. The legendary writer understood the hypnotising effect of mass consumerism, as well as the perils of humanity’s urges to “program” a society towards perfection, relying on numbers, data, and seemingly rational, utilitarian calculations, on so-called objectivity. …

A critical reflection on the case study of Poland

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Amid growing political divisions in liberal democracies, the term political polarisation has flooded media discourses, no longer explicitly referring to partisan cleavages in American politics but extending to the European sphere. As observed by the European Parliament – commissioned study from 2019, most of our knowledge on polarisation revolves around “studies of affluent countries in the Northern and Western regions” of Europe (Jenkins & Fletcher, 2019: 40). This paper aims to correct this imbalance by discussing the case study of Poland.

The author understands polarisation as a state or process whereby political attitudes move to ideological extremes (DiMaggio, Evans and Bryson, 1996). The focus is on divisions within Polish society through the lens of social media. First, the ‘echo chamber’ (Sunstein, 2017) debates are discussed against the empirics of online political engagement among Polish Facebook users. Secondly, alternative drivers of polarisation in Poland are weighed against the role of social media – particularly ideological extremism, and what Skitka (2010) calls moral political preferences. The final section considers the implications of online fragmentation and polarisation for Polish democracy. …

The news industry’s saviour, or the final nail in the coffin?

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Introduction

Legacy media continue to struggle in the era of digitization dominated by technology giants such as Google, Apple and Facebook. As the world, driven by innovation and technology, continues to change in increasingly unpredictable ways, and most importantly continues to digitize, print revenues which once made up the bulk of news organisation’s earnings are dropping sharply, and in some cases ceasing to exist (Statista Research Department, 2019).

In 2016 for instance, The Independent, once widely read by British citizens travelling to work on the tube or the bus, abandoned its print newspaper edition (BBC, 2016). Meanwhile, in the United States, weekly newspaper print circulation has declined from its peak of 60 million in 1994, to the figure of 35 million in 2018 which includes both print and digital circulation (McLellan & Miles, 2018). Furthermore, advertising revenue which newspapers once relied on is drying up because massive technology companies can target audiences more efficiently than ever, microtargeting individuals directly through their social media platforms. Technology giants like Facebook and Google can offer advertisers lower rates than newspapers, and benefit from more virtual space and reach. The online advertising marketplace can be referred to as a ‘winner takes all’ arena where legacy media are squeezed out from enjoying the financial benefits that once sustained their business models. …

a battle looms over abortion, women’s rights, and democracy

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A spark has been lit in Poland. Or better — hundreds of thousands of sparks, most of them female and furious. Following a ruling of the legally dubious Constitutional Tribunal which set the legal precedent for effectively banning abortion in the country, tsunami-like waves of protesters keep flooding and spreading in the country’s streets, a massive show of resistance against a government under massive pressure. Friday’s demonstrations in Warsaw ended — quite literally — on the doorstep of the man behind every major political decision in the country, a fitting analogy to the country’s mid-term future, itself hinging on a doorstep of sorts, but which one? …

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Studies of populism have revealed the slippery nature of this concept. Academics disagree on whether populism is a political strategy (Bennett, 2019), the essence of politics (Laclau, 2018), or indeed an ideology (Mudde & Kaltwasser, 2017). This widespread confusion has permeated media discourses on populism and helps explain why The Guardian and other Western outlets often refer to PiS as a populist party while Polish news outlets typically label it as conservative, nationalist, without explicit reference to populism. Likewise, a glance at the party’s Wikipedia page in English reveals the terms “right-wing populist”, while the Polish section defines the party’s identity as “conservative” “interventionist” or even “Christian democratic”. …

Why you love punk and heavy metal, while I can’t stand both.

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Every year around late March, when spring announces its imminent arrival, I find myself returning to one song. Call it a ritual of sorts, a yearly fixture in my calendar. I’m awoken- earlier than usual- by bright beams of sun and proceed to turn on my speakers, soon to be filled with the vocals of John Lennon and psychedelic vibe of The Beatles. I light a cigarette on my balcony, take a drag and start singing along… Here comes the sun, here comes the sun. As the song, along with its feel-good factor fades away, I want more, for here’s a song I never get bored of. But why? Like, why is that exactly? Is my brain associating it with the incoming pleasures of spring, or the serotonin provider that is the sun? Are the chord progressions striking a chord with my brain chemistry in some mysterious way? Or do I owe the enjoyment of this song to hearing it played at home when I was very young? Perhaps I’ve revealed the determinants of my own musical preferences: sense of environment, melody, memory. But doesn’t taste mean something far more complex and intricate than three words and three factors can explain? For most of us, there’s more to it.

A message to Trump and Xi on their Coronavirus squabble

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As the world continues to grapple with what feels like a surreal, unprecedented crisis, a spat between two of the world’s most powerful men leading two of the largest economies rages on. Or maybe that’s wrongly worded, for the conflict isn’t — for now, at least — a strictly personal one. Long before Trumps’ trade war with China, analysts warned of brewing friction between a fading American superpower holding onto its influence, and a rising, ambitious China willing to step into the vacuum. And that’s perhaps the central geopolitical reality we’ll be facing for the next — who knows — 50 years. But now is not the time for blame games, political chess pumping and propaganda. …

why the film’s best picture win represents an important cultural shift

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It only took some ninety years or so of Academy Awards history for a foreign language film to finally win the coveted “Best Picture” prize at the Oscars. But here we are, and as they say, better late than never. Following widespread criticism for giving the award to “Green Book” last year, whilst overlooking two masterpieces of modern filmmaking — Afonso Cuaron’s intimate “Roma” and the witty film “The Favourite” by Greek director Jorgos Lanthimos — it’s tempting to see Parasite’s win as a vindication of sorts by the Academy, an inevitable and necessary response to criticism. …

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As of today, it appears that I’m quite well known, not just in Iran. Would you believe me if I told you I began my career working in construction? The year was 1970, and I was thirteen at the time. The work was rough and tiring, born out of necessity and desperation. It hardened me to the core, and I needed hardening for what lay in my path ahead: the endless horrors of war which would end up becoming my entire life. The deafening sound of bombs not heard by the corpses surrounding me on the battlefield. I can still hear shells piercing through my eardrums, despite being dead! Oh, if only someone told me then that one day, I’d become my country’s most beloved son. That one day, if only for a few milliseconds in global history, I’d be the world’s most famous man! A preposterous prediction. Would I have fantasized about the idea? Yes, but who wouldn’t? And would I have believed in the truthfulness of this prophecy? Absolutely not. But little does it matter now, it’s in the past. On this day, I don’t have to believe, for I can witness the headlines in foreign news, I can see through the cracks of my coffin. I can smell blood and revenge. The sea of people at my funeral, at once a sad and endearing sight. If they could hear me, I’d speak to them: “Do not cry, my brothers, do not mourn me. For I am not a corpse. …

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If there’s one thing to note from history, it is that nothing unites a people quite like a common enemy. In post-war Poland, the enemy was the Soviet Union. Yes, there were those who collaborated with the Russians, some out of fear, others out of cold calculation. But for the most part, when a nation is under foreign control, its culture is pacified and its people are humiliated, the seeds of patriotism and nationalism are sown, resistance soon emerges and often prevails, even though the process can sometimes take decades if not centuries. This is very much a psychological mechanism, because no one likes bowing to authority, especially when that authority is foreign and doesn’t speak your language: A kid might resent his mother for controlling and punishing him, but that resentment is far stronger if the punishment comes from his step-father. So the kid conspires with his brother to get rid of the stepfather, much like the nation works together to overthrow a foreign invader.

But when that national, united resistance prevails in its fight against foreign control, when the nation is at last ‘free’, a new problem emerges, namely: What to do next? Suddenly, ideological differences, formerly masked by a shared focus and passion to be free of the enemy, reappear. In the household, the cruel stepfather is gone and life moves on but the kids begin to grow apart. In the country, rival factions emerge, political parties broadly reflecting public views and interests, with sharply defined red lines and positions: Disputes and disagreements arise: “should the rich pay more in taxes?” “Should we join the E.U?” “Is gay marriage a threat to traditional values?” and so on. Over time, the early, mundane disagreements morph into fundamental differences in values and principles outlooks on life. The language and rhetoric sharpens, name-calling and accusations are thrown: “You’re a communist!” “You’re a traitor!” “You’re a dictator!”, the rift keeps widening, along increasingly partisan lines. Suddenly, the enemy is not seen across the border, but across the lawn. …

About

Olivier Sorgho

Writer from Poland & Burkina-Faso. I cover Politics and Society

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