We can manage political polarization in our society better.
Social media is transforming our global society in powerful ways. The perception of increased social density has created a crucible of conflict where social interactions happen at vastly accelerated pace and scale. Meanwhile, algorithms decide who we are likely to interact with, and when, and with what content.
The human brain did not evolve to cope with such a challenging social environment. Mental and emotional health seems to have become weakened, and researchers suggest that our empathy for those in an out-group is much weaker. The profound existential stresses brought force from these new social technologies, and their effect on our brains, is changing our culture, and contributing to polarization.
How should we react to these developments in order to ensure that the fabric of society remains strong? Do we need a ‘Digital Geneva Conventions’ or modern ‘Treaty of Westphalia’ for online memetic warfare? How might we mitigate the risk of imminent global outbreaks of sectarianism, or even cold civil war?
The Cultural Peace Principles aim to make and collect suggestions on how we can make fair, just, and impartial rules above conflict to preserve good faith and societal cohesion, and to help support a future détente between a multitude of memetic tribes.
Our Suggested Principles
Self Determination & Political Franchise. Allow people to enjoy their own communities with their own subcultures. Don’t stop or invade other people’s conversations.
Equality of Opportunity. End de-monetisation and the removal of economic franchise. No-one may be ‘outlawed’ without due process.
Immunity from Partiality. Termination of Employment on ‘moral grounds’ must reach a threshold of being legally prosecutable / indictable.
Freedom from Assault. Personal attacks including doxxing, threats to employment, and threats to people’s families are unacceptable. Everyone has a right to privacy, and a private life.
Freedom from Political Discrimination. End prejudice in employment, education, or housing, including based on political affiliation.
Judicial Reporting Embargo. Court cases for alleged crimes of a sexual nature should not be reported until a verdict is reached. No-one should be judged in the court of human opinion, and no jurist today can reasonably be expected to successfully avoid contact with news and influence from the opinions of others.
Statute of Limitations. Cultural expectations and rules are changing rapidly. Conduct, jokes, writings, etc older than ten years, or made before the age of 21, are not to be counted against someone, unless the matter has been judged in criminal court.
Freedom from Secret Exclusion. No-one should ever be in doubt as to whether or not they are able to express themselves in a way that is meaningful for them. ‘Shadowbanning’ people is unacceptable.
Transparency of Judgment. The specific reasoning behind decisions or predictions that affect the capabilities or reputation of people and organizations, must be made accessible, transparent, and explainable in plain language.
Freedom of Consciousness. Technology must not be used to manipulate people’s behavior or impressions of reality.
Self Determination & Political Franchise.
Allow people to enjoy their own communities with their own subcultures. Don’t stop or invade other people’s conversations.
People have a natural right to form their own communities. People who share certain characteristics and perspectives require a degree of separation in order to build and sustain subcultures. Being part of a group can make it much easier to coordinate with others, and be build networks based on trust.
One should allow others to possess, maintain, and defend their own private spaces. One should not petition for private spaces or private conversations to be shut down, simply because one dislikes a non-violent ideology, or the content of their communication, unless they are actively breaking the rule of law.
One should not be judged based upon who one happens to follow or is connected to. Merely following someone’s tweets or retweeting a single statement, etc should not be taken as a tacit endorsement of someone else’s character or beliefs. Some folks like to culture a broad set of inputs, or may respect someone’s professional achievements without necessarily agreeing with their values.
Similarly, a network or group should not be judged by the actions of a small minority within it, unless the larger group is explicitly shown to approve of those actions. Works featuring challenging material from a historical perspective should not be excised, particularly if the context is within education. Furthermore, large tech companies are deliberately censoring (or down-throttling) information that they feel is dangerous or misleading, without being sufficiently transparent as to what they have censored. On-device content moderation may soon mean that even a file or link sent directly to you from a friend may be harmonized once it reaches your location.
Who are they to say what info qualifies? If one starts censoring one thing ‘for the common good’, it’s a very slippery slope towards censoring almost anything potentially controversial or objectionable to someone, somewhere. Not only does this prevent subcultures, minority beliefs, and internet sleuths from coalescing, but it may also prevent justified whistleblowing of scandalous truths, as well as the innovation of new ideas, which are naturally avant-garde before they are accepted by the mainstream.
All public spaces, including schools, hospitals, and corporate and academic campuses, especially those that take public funding, should remain an impartial commons without any partisan allegiance. Online discussions must be designated as public spaces, where rules and expectations that would apply in a street are enforced, and only those same rules.
Online discussion platforms must be held to the same standards, as they have an effective monopoly on opinion forming. This is especially important in the case of banning of political parties and politicians from online platforms.
Peace requires allowing people to form their own communities and conversations.
Equality of Opportunity.
End de-monetisation and the removal of economic franchise. No-one may be ‘outlawed’ without due process.
We live in a deeply inter-connected world, where so many aspects of our daily lives depend upon apps, online shopping, and mobile payments. Modern life is dependent on being able to make convenient payments and access online services, and to receive legitimate payment for honest work.
Payment processors today have immense power. They can use their influence to force others to comply with their wishes, at an implied risk of losing access to the payments network, or a downgrade of service. This means that payment processors can single-handedly strongarm other players into doing their bidding for them.
Today, we are seeing secondary payment processors kicking people off their platforms, despite them doing nothing illegal, and perhaps nothing explicitly against their terms of service either. Generally, there is very little opportunity for an appeal or management escalation. This may cost people their entire livelihoods, taking food from their families and creating a very uncertain future.
Boycotts are justifiable on an individual level, but not on a corporate level, e.g. a business boycotting or refusing service to an individual without very good reason. It is also unacceptable on a mob level, e.g. using threats to cause economic damage, by forcing extra security costs, or to pressure a business or local government to stop trading with a third party. Such an escalation is less of a boycott, and closer to making someone an Economic Outlaw, or even perpetrating a Digital Kristallnacht. Modern life depends on banking, and many today banks will refuse to process an application if one does not have a cellphone. Increasingly, lacking social media networks may similarly lock people out by default also.
Furthermore, tools such as alleging copyright infringement may be used to suppress unfavorable news, hold people to digital ransom, or appropriation of revenue. Online flash mobs may even cause content to be demonetised simply for commenting on it. This can lead to the deletion of associated email accounts, along with the channel, greatly amplifying the economic and social damage, and amplifying the chilling effects.
Websites may also be de-listed by search engines and domain registrars, so that content becomes invisible, or your computer no longer knows which server to connect to go when you type the web address, or that services are not provided in a neutral way. The rules are often arbitrary, and not explicit. Even computer code deemed ‘hateful’ can be disappeared overnight.
It seems these days that competing with Silicon Valley would require building a whole entire parallel internet and banking system. It is unacceptable to demonetise content in order to economically disenfranchise voices that one may not agree with or finds suspect, or to place a surcharge on service access to certain consumers and not others, perhaps based on their political affiliations. Our digital payment networks and revenue mechanisms must be scrupulously non-partisan if we are to build a fair and just society.
Moreover, goods that were one sold as a product are now increasingly packaged into subscription services. Whilst this adds some conveniences, it also removes the natural right to use ones own property ones own way. Companies are deciding to cut people off and revoke access to things that they have paid for, perhaps simply because they don’t like someone’s apparent behaviour, even if it’s on a unrelated platform. Chilling effects may be amplified by insisting on extended ID verification checks for users posting ‘questionable content’.
Meanwhile, evidence is mounting that companies have been changing the list price of goods or availability of credit for some users, based upon completely non-transparent mechanisms which are highly prone to abuse.
Democratic franchise is important, but economic franchise is essential. Modern life is impossible without secure access to payment networks. We cannot allow people to become outlawed from the engines of the economy, simply because of their politics. Just as many states developed a separation of church and state, we must ensure that money and ideology are kept separate also.
Bank Neutrality is essential, especially in a world where social media companies are becoming de facto megabanks. In fact, the next stage in payments will bring many of the world’s biggest companies together. Banning policies these days are often capricious and unexplained. Getting kicked off this platform could cause absolute economic disenfranchisement.
If a business is a monopoly or part of a cartel (i.e. it's practically impossible for the average person to avoid it, or that avoiding it would inflict a large penalty in terms of resources such as money or time) then it shouldn't be allowed to discriminate based on ethnicity, age, or political or sexual orientation.
Moreover, there is a meaningful difference between a private company and a corporation. If a venture has a public corporate charter, is open to the general public and use the commons for commercial transactions, if it is publicly traded, then one must engage with the public on a general basis, without discrimination. Private business transactions involving one-on-one contracts, membership clubs, consultations, occur on private property exclusively. That's why private country clubs are allowed for example to be discriminating in terms of their membership, and individuals can choose to enter into contractual relationships using whatever criteria of discrimination they prefer, similarly to how ones has the right to refuse entrance or interaction with anyone with in regards to your home. But if one is open to the General Public and business relies upon custom from random strangers wandering in, one cannot be discriminatory.
If people feel that they are being cheated of a fair and equitable life, they will lose hope in the future for them and their children, and instead grow in frustration (NSFW), resentment, and destroyed livelihoods. Governmental and economic gatekeepers must not use their power and influence to support partisan interests. Boycotts must be made on an individual basis as a personal act of conscience, not at corporate or jurisdictional scale.
If people cannot possess bank accounts and credit cards, if they are refused service on account of their political beliefs, you back them into a corner. They have nothing left to lose, and all options become permissible simply in order to survive and take care of their families.
Peace requires allowing people to participate freely in economic society.
Immunity from Partiality.
Termination of Employment on ‘moral grounds’ must reach a threshold of being legally prosecutable / indictable.
We live in a world where what is moral or acceptable is changing very quickly, and may differ greatly between different groups. Secular moralities are being felt very keenly by many people. As political polarization continues, some moralities may even verge on totalitarian.
In a world of very different moral assumptions, we need to refuse to attack the livelihoods of those who we disagree with, through understanding that such tit-for-tat economic violence simply makes paupers of us all. An increasingly used tactic is to put pressure on the employers of a disliked person to fire them, and creating irate supporters of that person, thereby metastasizing a small conflict into a much larger one.
To attack a person’s livelihood is to attack their spouse and dependents, innocent parties. We must tolerate those that we disagree with, confronting their arguments, but leaving the person and their family and livelihoods intact, unless they have been justly prosecuted in a court of law.
Employers should commit to not release people on subjective, non-judicial ‘moral’ grounds because of intimidation. Should they happen to do so, the public should hold them accountable for their lack of compassion and resolve to safeguard their employees.
Peace requires enabling people to build a secure career built upon honest work.
Freedom from Assault.
Personal attacks including doxxing, threats to employment, and threats to people’s families are unacceptable. Everyone has a right to privacy, and a private life.
Our interconnected world makes it easier to injure people’s privacy than ever. We live in a digital panopticon, where everyone is potentially always watching what we say or write online. Somebody’s smartphone is potentially recording any minor altercation, to be broadcast to millions.
Social media blurs the boundaries between virtual and physical realms, and makes potentially public figures out of private individuals, especially with the omnipresent danger of being doxxed, and the implied threat that the leak of private information creates.
The Cultural Conflict is following people offline, into the real world. Political Violence has become a normal way to keep political opposition out of the running. People’s private family lives are increasingly being invaded, as they are hounded during everyday activities, or their property invaded by mobs and arsonists, with altercations becoming increasingly violent. One day, an incident like this will go to far, and innocent people killed. The aftermath of such an incident may lead to profound, ongoing civil unrest.
Peace requires that we respect the right to a private life, free from assault or intimidation.
Freedom from Political Discrimination.
End prejudice in employment, education, or housing, including based on political affiliation.
Industries are very strongly segregated by political affiliation. This means that it can be extremely challenging to enter or maintain a career in a certain sector if one’s political alignment does not fit. Over time, this effect tends to increase further, as minorities will leave, and thus the predominant ideologies concentrate. This risks the creation of something like a soft caste system, whereby people are kept out of certain professions by default.
Academia is one of the most polarised sectors, in some colleges having more than a 100:1 ratio of polarization. Academia is considered to be a nest that the future elite are nurtured within. Academic departments (particularly within the humanities), are often institutionally prejudiced against anyone who does not follow postmodernist values. This reinforces structural inequities by locking underprivileged traditional people out of access to higher education.
If one group in society is frustrated by not feeling welcome, or even heretical, within an academic environment, this will inevitably create immense resentment. This may be one reason why many people today who are less likely to be welcome in such an environment trust experts less than ever.
As most of science comes from the academic world, the public trust is science is being weakened. The scientific community is increasingly prone to partisan bias and a preference for political correctness over accuracy. This contributes to anti-intellectual feelings in society.
Having certain perceived political affiliations may make it difficult to access housing, education, and employment in certain areas, preventing people from participating in a city’s cultural core, and in joining the property ladder. Most industrialised nations forbid discrimination in housing, education, and employment based on ethnicity, and it may be necessary for political orientation to become a protected characteristic also.
Peace requires ensuring equality of access to the pillars upon which a successful life is built.
Judicial Reporting Embargo.
Court cases for alleged crimes of a sexual nature should not be reported upon until a verdict is reached. No-one should be judged in the court of human opinion, and no jurist today can reasonably be expected to successfully avoid contact with news and influence from the opinions of others.
Today, journalists are increasingly acting more as activists rather than reporters. Hearsay and accusations should never be used to convict someone in a court of public opinion regardless of any legal judgment. Such cases create a ‘scissor issue’ which threatens to rupture society further, as two extremely indignant groups move to defend their preferred position.
In the past, when a juror in a case was obliged to avoid paying attention to the news, not reading the newspaper or watching TV would be enough. Today with so much of our news coming from social media, news is almost inescapable. This is particularly important in a time when even lawyers representing defendants as part of due process are being targeted for career destruction in sensitive cases.
Media reporting of sensitive cases prior to or pending judgment is damaging to the process of justice, and it is also damaging to our society and innocent people. Media coverage should be embargoed until a legal judgment has been declared. If further litigants are inspired to come forward they may then do so, but not before a judgment on the first matter has been settled. Lynching someone’s reputation is unacceptable.
Finally, the invention of provably false claims in order to gain prestige or support must be subject to stringent prosecution, along with public excoriation. To falsely declare a hate crime is itself a hate crime, and it must be judged as such. Legislators should consider that perhaps the reckless or bad faith creation of false reports, hoaxes, or false copyright strikes, ought to be legislated against as a public order offense.
Peace requires the strict implementation of impartial justice adjudicated in a court of one’s unbiased peers.
Statute of Limitations.
Cultural expectations and rules are changing rapidly. Conduct, jokes, writings, etc older than ten years, or made before the age of 21, are not to be counted against someone, unless the matter has been judged in criminal court.
All of us have said or done things in our younger years that we regret, and that we would prefer to move on from than be remembered. Today, with so many of our private thoughts and conversations in digital form, we live in a virtual panopticon. The practice of using ‘Offence Archaeology’ or ‘Opinion Necromancy’ to dig up dirt on people has become trivial.
Media should be thought of like a time machine; it can take us back to the time and culture in which it was written. But we are the visitor to that realm. We are the stranger. Media, and its creators should only be judged in the context in which it was created.
We should also have faith in others (and ourselves) that people can and will change. That our awareness and beliefs typically refine over time, and that making errors of judgment is a necessary part of growing into being a wiser human being. Acknowledgement of human flaws, along with most people’s intentions to generally act in good faith, even despite errors, invites our forgiveness. If we believe in a world that welcomes social progress, we must allow people time to catch up with it.
Peace requires forgiveness, and respect for the fact that culture changes, and people can change their minds.
Freedom from Secret Exclusion.
No-one should ever be in doubt as to whether or not they are able to express themselves in a way that is meaningful for them. ‘Shadowbanning’ people is unacceptable.
It is an eerie experience to post something and experience no engagement whatsoever. One suspects that one has been shadowbanned so that no-one else sees that content, or its distribution is throttled (de-boosted).
It is not necessary to lie to people to manipulate them. A story that is told truthfully, can still impart greatly different meaning in the mind of the recipient depending on how it is told.
Artificial Intelligence, particularly the generative kind, are likely to amplify these techniques by creating a very plausible deniability for ‘glitches and goofs’ and administrative ‘errors’ that prevent someone from enjoying a service or having a voice. To not be able to prove or know for certain that this has happened deliberately or not, is maddening and Kafkaesque, and may cause people to become ineffective through sheer frustration. This is an extremely dangerous portent for the future of society.
Any policing or ‘curation’ of content, whether done by human or algorithm, must be explicit, accountable, and done for specific reason or purpose. We must not permit a weakening of Freedom of Reach to curtail Freedom of Speech. There must be no secret exclusion created between unknowing parties, i.e. two people not able to communicate, for reasons they did not choose. Applying one’s own preferred filters to content, with agency and awareness, is acceptable. Forcing people into a virtual ghetto with glass walls is not acting towards them in good faith.
Peace requires respecting others enough not to play cruel games with them, or to ostracise them through deceit.
Transparency of Judgment.
The specific reasoning behind decisions or predictions that affect the capabilities or reputation of people and organizations, must be made accessible, transparent, and explainable in plain language.
Algorithms are making snap judgments of people’s content and character, without explaining why, and without any recourse to demand a detailed description, or challenge false impressions.
Online tools offer to rank a potential hire by the sentiment (or contentiousness) of their comments online. These tools typically offer no explanation for how such an estimation is calculated, or what data drove such conclusions, or even what such a score should mean for a vettor.
This threatens to enable bigotry and prejudice through the backdoor, by allowing one to wash one’s hands of being explicitly discriminatory, yet ensuring that only the ‘right sort of people’ pass through the gate. Algorithms, along with those who deploy them, must be held accountable for their use, and that any such use that can affect reputation, access to resources, or livelihood is fully transparent.
Peace requires that algorithms are not used as a tool to launder secret, prejudicial acts.
Freedom of Consciousness.
Technology must not be used to manipulate people’s behavior or impressions of reality. Our minds are sacred sovereign territory.
We are presently headed for a world where our lives are ever more entwined with technology, such as artificial intelligence and social media. Propaganda used to be one-size-fits-all, but today campaigns can be micro-targeted. Repeated barely-noticeable impressions may not only change our opinions on something, but even our mood.
Meanwhile, technology is enabling us to make uncanny impressions about people, or to predict their future behaviors. As technology improves, our minds are likely to become even more deeply invaded.
There is a war ongoing for our minds, not just our loyalties. Our minds cannot become a battlefield to be conquered, nor a testing ground for the worst excesses of psychological manipulation tactics. No non-obvious fake accounts or generated misinformation can be permitted to twist our very perception of reality. The human mind is off limits.
Peace requires respecting the sovereign autonomy of the heart and mind.
What are your thoughts? What do you agree and disagree with? Think something should be changed? Is something missing?
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