Posts Tagged ‘Muslims’

The Response to Obama’s Prime-time Address After the Mass Shooting in San Bernadino

September 1, 2017

This post is based largely on the groundbreaking book by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz “Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Reveals About Who we Really Are.” On December 2, 2015 in San Bernadino, California Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik entered a meeting of Farook’s coworkers armed with semiautomatic pistols and semiautomatic rifles and murdered fourteen people. Literally minutes after the media first reported one of the shooter’s Muslim-sounding name, a disturbing number of Californians had decided what they wanted to do with Muslims: kill them.

The top Google search in California at the time was “kill Muslims” with about the same frequency that they searched for “martini recipe,” “migraine symptoms,” and “Cowboys roster.” In the days following the attack, for every American concerned with “Islamophobia” another was searching for “kill Muslems.” Hate searches were approximately 20% of all searches before the attack, more than half of all search volume about Muslims became hateful in the hours that followed it.

These search data can inform us how difficult it can be to calm the rage. Four days after the shooting, then-president Obama gave a prime-time address to the country. He wanted to reassure Americans that the government could both stop terrorism and, perhaps more important, quiet the dangerous Islamophobia.

Obama spoke of the importance of inclusion and tolerance in powerful and moving rhetoric. The Los Angeles Times praised Obama for “[warning] against allowing fear to cloud our judgment.” The New York times called the speech both “tough” and “calming.” The website Think Progress praised it as “a necessary tool of good governance, geared towards saving the lives of Muslim Americans.” Obama’s speech was judged a major success.

But was it? Google search data did not support such a conclusion. Seth examined the data together with Evan Soltas. In the speech the president said, “It is the responsibility of all American—of every faith—to reject discrimination.” But searches calling Muslims “terrorists,” “bad,” “violent,” and “evil” doubled during and shortly after the speech. President Obama also said, “It is our responsibility to reject religious tests on who we admit into this country.” But negative searches about Syrian refugees, a mostly Muslim group then desperately looking for a safe haven, rose 60%, while searches asking how to help Syrian refugees dropped 35%. Obama asked Americans to “not forget that freedom is more powerful than fear.” Still searches for “kill Muslims” tripled during the speech. Just about every negative search Seth and Soltas could think to test regarding Muslims shot up during and after Obama’s speech, and just about every positive search hey could think to test declined.

So instead to calming the angry mob, as people thought he was doing, the internet data told us that Obama actually inflamed it. Seth writes, “Things that we think are working can have the exact opposite effect from the one we expect. Sometimes we need internet data to correct our instinct to pat ourselves on the back.”

So what can be done to quell this particular form of hatred so virulent in America? We’ll try to address this in the next post.

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Thinking About Politics

July 11, 2017

This is the ninth post in the series The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (Unabridged), written by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach. Thinking About Politics is a chapter in this book.

HM remembers when the Affordable Care Act was being debated, a woman was asked what she thought about it. She remarked that she was strongly in favor of it. However, when she was asked about Obamacare, she said that she was strongly against it. Such is the state of politics in the United States. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation in April 2013, found that more than 40% of Americans were not even aware that the Affordable Care Act was Law (12% thought it had been repealed by Congress—it hadn’t.)

Drs. Sloman and Fernbach write that public opinion is more extreme than people’s understanding justifies. Americans who most strongly justified military intervention in the Ukraine in 2014 were the ones least able to identify Ukraine’s location on a map. A survey out of Oklahoma State University’s Department of Agricultural Economics asked consumers whether the labeling of foods produced with genetic engineering should be mandatory. 80% of the respondents thought that it should. But 80% also approved of a law stating that there should be mandatory labels on foods containing DNA. They believe that people have the right to know if their food has DNA. So these respondents thought that all meats, vegetables, and grains should be labeled “BEWARE HAS DNA.” But we would all die if we avoided foods that contain DNA.

We all need to appreciate how little we understand. The authors write, “Taken to its extreme, the failure to appreciate how little we understand combined with community support, can ignite really dangerous mechanisms. You don’t have to know much history to know how societies can become caldrons in an attempt to create a uniform ideology, boiling away independent thinking and political opposition through propaganda and terror. Socrates died because of a desire for ancient Athenians to rid themselves of contaminated thinking. So did Jesus at the hands of the Romans. This is why the first crusades were launched to free Jerusalem of the infidel, and why the Spanish Inquisition drove Jews and Muslims to convert to Christianity or leave Spain between 1492 and 1501. The twentieth century was shaped by the demons of ideological purity, from Stalin’s purges, executions, and mass killings to Mao’s Great Leap Forward: the herding of millions of people into agricultural communes and industrial working groups, with the result than many starved. And we haven’t even mentioned the incarcerations and death camps of Nazi Germany.”

The authors write, “Proponents of political positions often cast policies that most people see as consequentialist in values-based terms in order to hide their ignorance, prevent moderation of opinion, and block compromise. They note the health care debate as a perfect example of this. Most people just want the best health care for the most people at the most affordable price. This is what the national conversation should be about how to achieve this. But this might be technical and boring. So politicians and interest groups make it about sacred values. One side asks whether the government should be making decisions about our health care, focusing the audience on the importance of limited government. The other side asks whether everybody in the country deserves decent health care, focusing on the value of generosity and preventing harm to others. The authors say that both sides are missing the point. All of us should have similar values: we want to be healthy, we want others to be healthy, and we want doctors and other medical professionals to be compensated, but we don’t want to pay too much. The health care debate should not be about basic values, because in most people’s minds basic values are not the issue. The issue is the best way to achieve the best outcomes.

Ideologies and ideologues are the bane of effective government. They constrain alternatives and blind us to obvious solutions. As mentioned in the second post in this series, other advanced countries have effectively addressed the problem of healthy care with a single payer system in which that single payer is the government. There are already proven examples from which to choose. But in the United States, ideology has deemphasized the role of government, and the single payer system is regarded as a radical solution.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.