Sunday, April 12, 2020

Stray thoughts about the aging mind — glitching, scripting, boxing (and Fox News):

Friends of mine have raised concerns that a mutual friend is showing signs of cognitive deterioration — little lapses and glitches, plus unusual crankiness and dismissiveness. I’m not so sure; he still seems normal enough to me.

But this has led me to wonder about what characterizes the aging mind. Which has further prompted me to wonder about Fox News and its primary audience, oldsters.

Standard signs of an aging mind are mostly about mental glitching — e.g., forgetting this or that. They show up mostly in memory lapses, involving all three of the mind’s cardinal cognitions: perceptions about social space, time, and agency — as in not realizing who or what is where (spatially), when something happens (temporally), or how to get something done (agently).

I see this glitching all around me now, including in myself, but not to serious degrees. Yet I’m also noticing two more signs of aging minds that, to my knowledge, do not figure in standard diagnoses: thought-scripting, and brain-boxing.

As for thought-scripting, oldsters’ thoughts appear to congeal around increasingly set scripts that they run (and voice) over and over. Of course, everybody likes to tell the same story again and again, particularly when reminiscing about good old days. But, if my observations are correct, this goes beyond that. It’s more reactive and programmed, like pushing a button or pulling a lever and out pops a set script, positive or negative. And if it’s an arguable script, it’s unlikely to be changed through argument. As a friend once said, people don’t change as they get older; they just get more so. Perhaps, as people’s arteries harden, so do their scripts. I don’t mean this as necessarily a bad thing — some people run marvelous scripts — just that it may be another sign of the aging mind (including in myself?), a pattern that may become evermore set with advancing age.

What I mean by brain-boxing (or thought-boxing, or mind-boxing) is that an oldster’s thinking about the world gets increasingly boxed within a frame. What they think, and how they think, about the world — their world — gets increasingly fixed, enclosed, boundaried. Their scripts run within that frame, those boundaries. The well-boxed brain rarely goes looking for new ideas and topics to think about; it prefers reassurance and reinforcement about what’s already in the box. It’s another way oldster's become set in their ways. The aging mind may not exhibit brain-washing, but brain-boxing is another story.

In sum, mental glitching, thought scripting, and frame boxing are the three major ways that cognitive deterioration shows up in the aging mind. Of course, there are ways to limit, avoid, and counteract them. Glitching, if it’s serious enough, can be treated with medications and therapies. Scripting and boxing can be side-stepped by thoughtfully making sure to engage in diversified activities, not getting stuck in ruts.

But there are also ways to worsen them.

Which leads to an observation from now-and-then watching Fox News and its prime-time triad, currently Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity (not to mention particular Saturday and Sunday hosts). If you don’t care about letting your mind grow older, faster, then watch Fox News, and only Fox News, all the time. More than any other media source, it seems to work away at thought-scripting and brain-boxing.

For decades I’ve heard conservatives say they are for individualism, whereas liberals and progressives are for collectivism. Yet, Fox News seems to work harder than any other news media at constructing collectivized thinking, indeed a rigid cult-like following. It’s one thing to feed your own political bias, but quite another to let your mind be ‘Pavolv-ed and Potemkin-ed’ into scripted, boxed enchantment (to make an oblique reference to those progenitors of Russian information operations — Ivan Pavlov for his psychological work on reflexive “Pavlovian conditioning,” Grigory Potemkin for his deception and disinformation operations that resulted in “Potemkin villages”).

Of course, running reactive and proactive scripts, and trying to frame and box people’s thinking is occurring all around us in these tribalized times, on both the Left and Right. But I’m sure I’m far from alone in wondering about how Fox News in particular may take hold of aging minds.For example, here’s what another observer found and wrote:
“Dozens who responded to my piece talked about the sad lonely twilight of their parents’ or grandparents’ lives, having been spurned by, or having disowned much of their families over political disagreements. Older people, recent studies have shown, are much more likely to share misleading information online, but the anecdotes I was hearing seemed to indicate this behavior wasn’t limited to the internet. Young parents wrote that they don’t want to bring their children to visit aging Fox-brainers. “The worst is when my children go to spend time with their grandparents and come home with Fox News talking points coming out of their mouths,” one told me. “I have to decontaminate them every time.”” (From

[First posted on my FaceBook page, March 20, 2020]

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Slouching toward cyberocracy — #2:

The previous post was about surveillance capitalism, Shoshanna Zuboff’s concept. Today’s post concerns surveillance electioneering. Yet, here too, the emphasis on surveillance isn’t quite enough, for far more than surveillance is going on.

In this article, NYT columnist Thomas B. Edsall shows how “Trump’s Digital Advantage Is Freaking Out Democratic Strategists: Left and right agree on one point. The president’s re-election campaign is way ahead online.”

The article is largely about “geofencing” — “a technology that creates a virtual geographic boundary, enabling software to trigger a response when a cellphone enters or leaves a particular area — a church, for example, or a stadium, a school or an entire town.”

But geofencing is “just one of the new tools of digital campaigning, a largely unregulated field of political combat in which voters have little or no idea of how they are being manipulated, in which traditional disclosure requirements are inoperative and key actors are anonymous. It is a weapon of choice. Once an area is geofenced, commercial data companies can acquire the mobile phone ID numbers of those within the boundary.”

Other new techniques in this field include “mass personalization, dark patterns, identity resolution technologies, dynamic prospecting, geotargeting strategies, location analytics, geo-behavioural segment, political data cloud, automatic content recognition, dynamic creative optimization” and micro-targeting.

The 2020 Trump campaign remains multiples ahead of the Democrat’s in grasping and applying these new technologies and techniques. Indeed, “Trump rallies are providing a gold mine of data for the 2020 election” according to manager Brad Parscale.

And the Trump campaign gains a further advantage from this asymmetry: “First, when Trump says something, Fox repeats it. When a Democrat says something, The New York Times and the rest of the MSM knock it down if it’s false or debatable.” Thus, “Trump benefits enormously because of the Right’s aligned network of media properties (i.e., Sinclair), Facebook properties, YouTube influencers and bots/sock puppets. This kind of amplification network barely exists for Democrats/progressives.”

Part of what alarms me here is that the powers on the Right are moving forward in these techniques in order to move our society backwards. At this point, I’m quite sure that a 2020 vote for Trump will prove to be a vote for increased cruelty and inequity, mostly by people who would not countenance cruelty and inequity in their personal lives.


 [Re-posted from my Facebook page posts a few weeks aago.]

Cyberocracy is gaining ground, alarmingly: #1

I mostly read about how the information age is affecting particular actors and activities. Here I read how the information age is reshaping everything for everybody, in faster, deeper, darker ways than I’ve fully grasped. Privacy in increasingly a goner, and mass manipulation and herding are becoming ever easier. Liberal democracy is being eroded so extensively that it is already giving way to the rise of illiberal cyberocracy (a concept I fielded in the early 1990s that may be worth revisiting).

In this article, Harvard professor Shoshana Zuboff warns that “You Are Now Remotely Controlled: Surveillance capitalists control the science and the scientists, the secrets and the truth.” Accordingly, “surveillance capitalism” is spreading so rapidly, and so uncontrollably, that while people initially celebrated free new digital services, “now we see that the surveillance capitalists behind those services regard us as the free commodity. We thought that we search Google, but now we understand that Google searches us. We assumed that we use social media to connect, but we learned that connection is how social media uses us. We barely questioned why our new TV or mattress had a privacy policy, but we’ve begun to understand that “privacy” policies are actually surveillance policies.”

One result is a fraught new kind of inequality — “epistemic inequality” — that reflects people’s knowledge and power. People are being massively, unsuspectingly scanned, monitored, manipulated, and maneuvered to such an extent that leading firms, using their “computational factories,” are converting what we have long regarded as privacy into proprietary goods.

A further result is “a new ‘instrumentarian’ power … to manipulate subliminal cues, psychologically target communications, impose default choice architectures, trigger social comparison dynamics and levy rewards and punishments — all of it aimed at remotely tuning, herding and modifying human behavior in the direction of profitable outcomes and always engineered to preserve users’ ignorance.”

Yikes — this has advanced farther and faster than I’ve known, and her suggestions for constraining it do not give me much hope. For as she warns, “surveillance capitalism has turned epistemic inequality into a defining condition of our societies, normalizing information warfare as a chronic feature of our daily reality prosecuted by the very corporations upon which we depend for effective social participation.”


[Re-posted from my Facebook page post a few weeks ago.]

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

New draft on "Whose Story Wins: The Noosphere, Noopolitik, and the Future of Statecraft"

Some of you may be interested in a new draft of our paper on “WHOSE STORY WINS: THE NOÖSPHERE, NOÖPOLITIK, AND THE FUTURE OF STATECRAFT” (Draft, November 2019). John Arquilla is my co-author. It supercedes a 2018 draft I put here back then.

Reading and writing have consumed enormous time and energy (one reason I’ve been so withdrawn from this blog). I had hoped the paper would be published by now. But it looks as though that prospect is still months away, and will involve further revisions and updates that I already want to make for a third round. 

So, for now, I’ve posted this second draft online at the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), just in case matters take even longer. Here's the URL:

You can take a look there. To download, it will ask you to register, but if you don’t want to, just look on the right side for the place to “Download without registration.”


Two decades ago, we proposed noöpolitik as a new concept for adapting American strategy to the information age. We urged strategists to rethink the concept of “information” and recognize that a new realm is emerging that will profoundly affect statecraft: the noösphere, a globe-circling “realm of the mind.” As it expands, conditions will lessen for realpolitik strategies based on material “hard power,” and increase for strategies based on noöpolitik and its preference for ideational “soft power.” Thus, the decisive factor in today’s and tomorrow’s wars of ideas is bound to be “whose story wins” — the essence of noöpolitik. 

This latest discussion of our ideas clarifies the origin, nature, and spread of the noösphere concept, and illuminates how America’s adversaries are deploying dark forms of noöpolitik against us, quite effectively. In addition to proposing better ways for America to fight back, we also find that the future of the noösphere and noöpolitik may depend on what happens to the “global commons” — a construct that has long had strong support in environmental-science and social-activist circles, as well as in military-strategy circles. To improve the prospects for the noösphere and noöpolitik, U.S. policy and strategy should, among other initiatives, treat the global commons as a pivotal issue area, uphold “guarded openness” as a guiding principle, and institute a new requirement for periodic reviews of our nation’s “information posture.”

Here's the hot link: