Thursday, November 17, 2016

Uncertain Health in an Insecure World – 98

“Best and Worst of Times”

In every era, writers portray the reality of modern life through fiction. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) did this in his sweeping novels, giving the world and subsequent generations a glimpse into mid-19th century Victorian Britain. Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) wrote plays and short stories that were social commentaries and sharp critiques of a feudal Romanov Russia. No strangers to pathos and irony, their protagonists and bit players written lives reflected their times.

So too has it been this year, in most dramatic fashion.

In June, the 52% pro-Brexit referendum vote transformed the face of European immigration, trade, law, science and business. Bloodless exits, whether “soft” or “hard”, create and kill many jobs, and change millions of lives.

Last week, with just 47% of the presidential vote, Donald J. Trump transformed the U.S. electoral map and the ground rules of American politics.

These two surprising events were not simply about change.

While wildly unpredictable, by and through the will of The People, these events became binding upon their governments.

While peaceful, through neither war nor coup d’ état, the outcomes are being described as revolutionary.

While the leaders and forces at work differed in many ways, these sentinel events grew out of popular movements, whether reasoned or misguided.

And while these two jurisdictions operate different democracies, the administrative course of the related policy, regulatory and procedural sequelae will massively impact their governments for decades.

Historians relate these two eruptions to pent up emotions – people longing to feel “great again” – pining for the gilded eras of The British Empire and broad-shouldered American Determinism. In those days these two countries were indeed “great”, uniquely projecting their military might and commercial power across the known world.

But now the globe is flat, and nine countries have deployed nuclear weapons (above).

Britain and America were victors in two World Wars, and allies against aggression, totalitarianism and genocide. Their post-Nazi refugee scientists ushered in the atomic age, discovered new drugs & vaccines, and pierced Earth’s atmosphere.

But since those good old days, and absent a 21st century cataclysm – a world war, revolution, depression or nuclear detonation – to wipe the slate clean, incremental innovation begins to feel… well, unsatisfying.

Transformation – peaceful or otherwise – is a much more potent stimulus to the masses, especially when incrementalism feels like two steps forward, one step back. Transformation can also be framed as a rallying cry against a common enemy.

But when the adrenaline rush ends, and real change crashes back to Earth, it falls to the least innovative and most risk-averse among us – the bureaucrats – to plod the path forward and quietly attend to their chores.

Absent a pressing political or military upheaval, the masses have wed an easily adopted and widely accessible mate – hand held technology. Statista projects there will be 4.8B humans using mobile phones in 2017! What is the first thing you do in the morning? Tell the truth…

The constant, unfiltered, seductive whir of social media was the Enigma machine of Brexit and Trump-ism.

Not to be confused with New York’s CA Technologies that powered CNN’s fail fast election analytics, Cambridge Analytica (above) crunched big data into “psychographic" profiles of voters for both of these winning campaigns. Cambridge Analytica is a U.S. subsidiary of the British behavioral research firm SCL Group Ltd. that worked with the Leavers in the Brexit vote. The company is partly funded by Robert Mercer (below), the computer scientist co-CEO of the secretive quant hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies.

In the months leading up to the final U.S. presidential vote, Cambridge Analytica also crunched Donald Trump’s numbers and by the election eve, their models predicted a 50% chance of victory when CNN's poll of polls had him down 4-6%. While political pundits and other predictive models were blowing it BIG at the BBC and CNN, Trump’s 3 AM tweets were winning hearts and bending minds. While Hillary’s email words were being redacted and refuted, spin machines and influencers were dashing her hopes & dreams and converting his big data into votes.

Cambridge Analytica’s motto, “We know what you want before you want it…” is both clever and chilling.

Whether dreaming of walls or glass ceilings, or having nightmares about terrorists or refugees, in the deep dark recesses of voters’ brains something began resonating.

Neuroscience can always explain what we humans do, but it cannot defend it. 

The neo-cortex is the unique home of human creativity and intellect. Great literature evokes a higher consciousness. Dickens makes us sad, and Chekhov brings us to tears.

But the hind brain is the deep seat of behavioral psychology. Before conscious thought occurs, fearful cues trigger fight or flight reflexes. We remain or leave. Such Pavlovian stimuli make us drool…

The edgy rant of Chicago-based blogger David Wong (below and at, who ripped Clinton voters for ignoring years of blue collar suffering and decline in rural America, now rings true – “Are you assholes listening now?

We in the city Square can now hear the “Others” voices.

And we all need to listen more carefully going forward. 

1 comment:

  1. I like the part where you say you are doing this to give back but I would assume by all the comments that this is working for you as well.