Stephen Fry Identifies the Cognitive Biases That Make Trump Tick

Months after the election, much of the electorate is still trying to figure out what makes Trump/Trumpism tick. Everyone has a theory--frankly too many theories to rehearse right here. But we'll give you the take of Stephen Fry, a regular presence on our site.

In the animated clip above from Pindex, Fry attributes the Trump's political ascendance and style to three cognitive biases, or three deviations from rational judgment, which lead people to draw illogical conclusions about other people or situations. They are, as follows:

At minimum, Fry's primer offers a quick introduction to the world of cognitive biases and their social impact. At most, it makes some sense of America's unexpected detour into Trumpism. I suspect that Fry's speculations only scratch the surface of a much more complicated answer--an answer that historians can sort out in the decades to come. And Fry's solutions--the ways he suggests combatting these cognitive biases--will need some more expert analysis too.

For anyone interested, the video below highlights 12 cognitive biases we regularly encounter in our daily lives:

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Free Online Philosophy Courses 

Frederick Douglass’s Fiery 1852 Speech, “The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro,” Read by James Earl Jones

Every year on this day, Frederick Douglass’s fiery, uncompromising 1852 speech, “The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro,” gets a new hearing, and takes on added resonance in the context of contemporary politics. It has never ceased to speak directly to those for whom the celebrations can seem like a hollow mockery of freedom and independence. The American holiday commemorates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence—next to the Constitution, the U.S.A.’s most cherished founding document, and a text, for all its rhetorical elegance, which cannot escape the irony that it was written by a slaveholder for an emerging slave nation.

Slavery had always been a contentious subject among the colonists. And yet the American Revolution was a war waged for the full freedom and enfranchisement of only a very few white men of property. Not only were black people excluded from the nation’s freedoms, but so too were conquered Native American nations, and in great part, poor white men and women who could not vote—though they were not chained in perpetual servitude as human chattel, with little hope of liberty for themselves or their descendants.

Douglass gave the speech in Rochester, NY, seventy-six years after the first July 4th and at a time when the country was riven with irreconcilable tensions between abolitionists, free-soilers, and the slaveholding South. The Compromise of 1850 and the Fugitive Slave Act—at least, in hindsight—made the impending Civil War all but inevitable. The speech reveals the celebration as a sham for those who were or had been enslaved, and who could not consider themselves American citizens regardless of their status (as Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney would affirm five years later.)

Just above, you can hear a powerful reading of Douglass’s speech by James Earl Jones, delivered as part of Howard Zinn’s Voices of a People’s History of the United States. Read an excerpt of the speech below.

What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is a constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes that would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.

Douglass’s speech condemned the “scorching irony” of American independence even after the Civil War, as racist terrorism and Jim Crow destroyed the promise of Reconstruction. In our present time, writes Pulitzer Prize-winning author and professor Isabel Wilkerson, amidst the rash of high profile police killings and an ensuing lack of justice, events “have forced us to confront our place in a country where we were enslaved for far longer than we have been free. Forced us to face the dispiriting erosion that we have witnessed in recent years—from the birther assaults on a sitting black president to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act that we had believed was carved in granite.” We might add to this list the resumption of the failed "War on Drugs" and the federal government's announcements that it would do little to safeguard civil rights nor to investigate and prosecute the surge of white supremacist violence.

And yet the "self evident" mythology of American freedom and equality—and of American innocence—remains potent and seductive to many people in the country. As the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute put it a few days ago, “The birth of the United States was unique because it was a nation founded not on blood or ethnicity, but on ideas.” To this ahistorical fiction, which manages to erase the founders' own statements on race, the colonization of indigenous lands, and even the bloody Revolutionary War in its strangely desperate zeal to sweep the past away, Douglass would reply: “The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”

Hear other readings of the speech by Morgan Freeman, here, and by Danny Glover, here.

via Boing Boing

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Set List for the Band Playing at Trump’s Climate Retreat Speech: From “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” to “Burning Down the House”

Today the United States joined two other countries in refusing to take part in the Paris climate accord. Syria and Nicaragua. What great company to be in.

Before Trump made his announcement in the Rose Garden, the White House had a band warm up the crowd. Later, McSweeney's sarcastically published their setlist. Burning Down the House. It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine). I Melt With You. Coal Miner's Daughter. Find all 14 tracks below.

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Animations Show the Melting Arctic Sea Ice, and What the Earth Would Look Like When All of the Ice Melts

It's no secret that climate change has been taking a toll on the Arctic. But it's one thing to read about it, another thing to see it in action. Above you can watch an animation narrated by NASA's cryospheric scientist Dr. Walt Meier. Documenting changes between 1984 and 2016, the animation lets you see the Arctic sea ice shrinking. As the important perennial sea ice diminishes, the remaining ice cover "almost looks gelatinous as it pulses through the seasons." For anyone interested, an updated version of this visualization can be downloaded in HD here.

If you're curious what this could all lead to--well, you can also watch a harrowing video that models what would happen when all the ice melts and the seas rise some 216 feet. It isn't pretty. The video below is based on the 2013 National Geographic story, "What the World Would Look Like if All the Ice Melted."

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“Calling Bullshit”: Watch Lectures for the College Course Designed to Combat the BS in our Information Age

This past January, we highlighted a syllabus for a tentative course called "Calling Bullshit," designed by two professors at the University of Washington, Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West.

The course--also sometimes called "Calling Bullshit in the Age of Big Data"--ended up being offered this spring. And now you can see how it unfolded in the classroom. The 10 video lectures from the class are available online. Watch them above, or at this YouTube playlist. Also find them housed in our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

According to The Seattle Times, the course "achieved the academic version of a chart-topping pop single: At the UW [University of Washington], it reached its 160-student capacity shortly after registration opened this spring." And now colleges "in Canada, France, Portugal, England and Australia have contacted the professors about teaching a version of the course this fall."

The course itself was premised on this basic idea: "Bullshit is everywhere, and we've had enough. We want to teach people to detect and defuse bullshit wherever it may arise."

A longer overview of the course appears below. It was cited in our original post. And it's worth highlighting again:

The world is awash in bullshit. Politicians are unconstrained by facts. Science is conducted by press release. Higher education rewards bullshit over analytic thought. Startup culture elevates bullshit to high art. Advertisers wink conspiratorially and invite us to join them in seeing through all the bullshit — and take advantage of our lowered guard to bombard us with bullshit of the second order. The majority of administrative activity, whether in private business or the public sphere, seems to be little more than a sophisticated exercise in the combinatorial reassembly of bullshit.

We’re sick of it. It’s time to do something, and as educators, one constructive thing we know how to do is to teach people. So, the aim of this course is to help students navigate the bullshit-rich modern environment by identifying bullshit, seeing through it, and combating it with effective analysis and argument.

What do we mean, exactly, by the term bullshit? As a first approximation, bullshit is language, statistical figures, data graphics, and other forms of presentation intended to persuade by impressing and overwhelming a reader or listener, with a blatant disregard for truth and logical coherence.

While bullshit may reach its apogee in the political domain, this is not a course on political bullshit. Instead, we will focus on bullshit that comes clad in the trappings of scholarly discourse. Traditionally, such highbrow nonsense has come couched in big words and fancy rhetoric, but more and more we see it presented instead in the guise of big data and fancy algorithms — and these quantitative, statistical, and computational forms of bullshit are those that we will be addressing in the present course….

Our aim in this course is to teach you how to think critically about the data and models that constitute evidence in the social and natural sciences.

If you're interested in watching the course, get started with Lecture 1: Introduction to Bullshit.

To learn more about the course, please visit this website.

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The First 100 Days of Fascist Germany: A New Online Project from Emory University

From Emory University comes The First 100 Days of Fascist Germany, an attempt to document online what happened on each day--from January 30, 1933 through May 9, 1933--when Hitler was named Reichskanzler of Germany.

As you can perhaps imagine, the motivation for the project isn't entirely divorced from current events. The grad students behind The First 100 Days explain:

During the highly contentious political climate in this country, the terms “fascism” and “Nazi Germany” have been tossed around quite freely by both sides of the political spectrum. As a response to this and in an effort to provide some clarity of what fascism in Nazi Germany actually looked like, we at the Emory University German Department initiated a research project that aims to document the first 100 days of National Socialism- from the day that Adolf Hitler was named Reichskanzler on January 30, 1933 until May 9, 1933.

They continue:

The general plan for our project is that our research team will work its way through the 100 days, investigating and documenting the events of each day and then posting the findings on a daily basis for public consumption.

As the daily calendar shows, Hitler didn't waste a lot of time. By Day 51, Dachau--one of the first concentration camps--opened and received its first prisoners, notes Emory News. By Day 60, all new stories critical of the government were censored. And, by Day 88, the press expelled from its ranks all Marxists and Jews. That was just the beginning.

Meanwhile, on Day 88 over here, Trump's initiatives (some relatively innocuous, some alarming) have met civil, judicial and political resistance, or collapsed under their own weight. The concern of January has given way to comedy in April. So far, it's more farce than fascism:

But don't get complacent, terror might be the operative word in May.

You can learn more about Emory's historical project here.

via John McMurtrie

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Artist is Creating a Parthenon Made of 100,000 Banned Books: A Monument to Democracy & Intellectual Freedom

With the rise of Far Right candidates in Europe and in America, along with creeping dictatorship in Turkey and authoritarianism in the Philippines, the idea of democracy and freedom of speech feels under threat more than ever. While we don’t talk about political solutions here on Open Culture, we do believe in the power of art to illuminate.

Argentine artist Marta Minujín is creating a large-scale artwork called The Parthenon of Books that will be constructed on Friedrichsplatz in Kassel, Germany, and will be constructed from as many as 100,000 banned books from all over the world.

The location has been chosen for its historical importance. In 1933, the Nazis burned two-thousand books there during the so-called “Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist” (Campaign against the Un-German Spirit), destroying books by Communists, Jews, and pacifists, along with any others deemed un-German.

Minujín chose the Parthenon—one of the great structures of Ancient Greece—for its continuing symbolism of the enduring power of democracy throughout the ages.

When it comes to materials, she using a list of 100,000 books that have been, or still are, banned in countries across the world, going all the way back to the year 1500. You can browse that list here, but for less eye-strain, try this shorter list of 170 or so titles. New titles can be suggested for the project here.

Some of the books that have been banned over the years include Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince (banned in Argentina), Lewis Carroll's Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (banned in China), and Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead (banned in Canada).

Minujín constructed a similar Parthenon in 1983 after the fall of her country’s dictatorship. The original El Partenón de libros featured the books that the former government had banned, and, at the end of the installation, Minujín let the public take what they wanted home. (She will be allowing the same thing to happen this time.)

Her people, as she says in the video above, didn’t know what democracy was after years of military rule. We might be on the opposite side of the spectrum: we won’t know what democracy is until we lose it.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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