Inconvenient perspectives

The interpretation of the world within the framework of what we already believe in could jeopardize the stability of essential discussions. It is decisive to start discerning between the evidence and what we believe to be evident, in a context where facts merge with opinions, often deeply rooted. It is interesting to ask ourselves in what measure is misinformation shaping our viewpoint and how could it influence decision-making processes. Nonetheless, is it possible to have a completely factful perspective taking into account that we are emotional beings? How can we balance the factful and the human? Guadalupe Nogués states in Pensar con Otros, ”Our access to reality is imperfect because it is by the means of imperfect tools: our experience is subjective, our senses tell us what happens and our interpretations about the meaning of the events may vary”.

We are in the midst of a binary world, not only characterized by the technological aspect of it but also because of the antagonic dualism that is present in our points of view. Likewise, this fracture conditions the possibility of evaluating a spectrum for the answers to the questions that are relevant to us today. Bombarded with information, it becomes complex to distinguish the signal from the noise. In which way could we possibly align what is and what we consider it to be? Differentiating reason, rationality, and rationalization could be critical when it comes to making decisions collectively that will shape the future

Moreover, today’s abundance of information can paradoxically divert us on the path from data to knowledge, and it can be hard to distinguish the urgent from the important. The dilemma does not rely on the trust that we deposit in our postures, but in how willing we are to doubt them. The idealization of our standpoints can compromise the quest for truth with the purpose of understanding the world. What represents a greater inconvenience: to change perspectives or to live with a biased one?

Subtopics

The following texts delve into the main ideas of each of the subtopics of this edition.

Tribalism

It was not until the Homo Sapiens that, for reasons still under the study of anthropology, something gave our species the singularity that would make it the dominant one. Yuval Noah Harari says in his bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind that “the truly unique feature of our language is not its ability to transmit information about men and lions. Rather, it’s the ability to transmit information about things that do not exist at all“. Harari suggests that myths enabled the Homo Sapiens to imagine things in a collective way, and follows: “The secret was probably the appearance of fiction. Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths”. That which bonded individuals was no longer an exclusively direct link, something inconceivable to other species. The strength of ideas naturalized the arrangement in groups, but at which cost? Did this disposition grow hostility towards those who jeopardized the tribe’s integrity?
More than 200.000 years have passed since Homo Sapiens first existed, which current cognitive features can be attributed to that time’s behaviour? Psychologists Henri Tajfel and John Turner introduced the concept of social identity1, which contextualizes intergroup behaviour and sense of belonging. They state that this concept consists of three elements: categorization, identification and comparison. How flexible is our social identity? What could modify it? What happens when multiple strong social identities coexist? When we identify ourselves with a group, do we waive some parts of our individuality in order to belong? To what extent are we conditioned by the duality between collaboration and competition? When do we form cultural groups and when are we formed by them?
Our ability to converge in collaborative groups is the reason for our success as a species, and we do it in such a natural way that we risk forgetting how notable and complex this behaviour is. The capacity to instantly discern between us and them evolved for the critical reason for detecting danger, and it’s through violence that social animals defend their groups. How do we manifest our brutal nature at the present time? To what extent can we control something that is ingrained in our biology?
During the last decade, the number of violent political conflicts has risen dramatically. According to the UN, there are now 402 of them throughout the world. We are witnessing a global violence peak in 25 years. To what extent are we willing to jeopardize our tribe’s perspective in order to resolve the conflicts in question? Brexit and the current migration crisis expose the adaptive difficulties that are present in us when living with other tribes. The importance given to nationalism in such a globalized world could seem counterintuitive, do the stories we create and give us order conflict with each other?
It is also worth analyzing what gave those who did not identify with any traditional tribes the impulse to stand up and fight for that which made them different. How did the role of minorities change in these last times? Will the strength of the newer tribes change the rules of how we arrange ourselves?
If connecting with others is part of our instinct, it is worth asking how the technological hyperconnectivity in which we live could redefine the reasons for forming tribes. The anthropologist Robin Dunbar proposes that 150 is the cognitive limit of the number of people we can maintain a relationship with, suggesting that our social reach is limited. How does this translate to the virtual world, where identities and belonging have their own rules? What incentives, either visible or not, group us in the realm of ones and zeros?
Specifically, during the last presidential elections in the United States, the analysis provided by the Electome project from the MIT Media Lab2 identified a notable polarization between political supporters on Twitter. Do the algorithms enhance the alienation? If the medium is the message, as Marshall McLuhan said, is it social media that is turning more specific and tribal? Polarization leads to parallel narratives which could be dangerous for global progress, and even more when our reality gives rise to multiple versions of the truth, in this way instilling confusion.
Cultural boundaries, national borders, and our most profound beliefs, are they real or fictitious? In the midst of these discussions, it is worth asking if the arguments are geared towards the what or the whom; it is likely for the rhetoric to be founded by violence or discrimination. How much of our narrative is supported by facts and how much by tribal loyalties? Will tribalism finally strengthen or undermine prosperity in the 21st century?

Effective governance

In violent times, social polarization and irrationalism awaken an expected doubt of the validity and pertinence of ordering systems. Since the moment we are born, we become part of a system composed of a regulatory body that dictates what we can or cannot do and think, whose formation and consolidation is not necessarily aligned with our idiosyncrasy. So could we expect a true representation from any legislating state?
The discussion of what constitutes a “good” or “bad” governance exists since remote times. In many countries, we citizens fail to question the systems before the problems that they carry become too obvious. The leaders of tomorrow live among the members of this group, reason why it becomes important to determine and highlight the problems of the systems. As the British essayist G. K Chesterton mentioned, “It isn't that they can't see the solution. It is that they can't see the problem.”
Nowadays, sizable ideological cracks can be distinguished. How do they arise? Is it inherent to the system? Whether the answer is affirmative or not, questioning the model of the current state seems relevant, one that does not stop the infinite ping-pong between those two known archetypes: left and right, which restrict and prioritize different types of freedoms. Moreover, how genuinely dependent are we on the systems that order us? Could our representatives be the cause of excessive polarization? According to certain experts, public discourse is broken. What are the implications of emotional discourses?
Corruption, misallocation of resources, lack of continuity, are just a few of the defects of governments in the world. Are all these products of bad implementations, and wrong paths and decisions? In many countries, “electoral financing is defined as the original sin of politics”1 (Alconada Mon). This means that even if the politician's intentions are noble, this person would commence its career transgressing the law that would later make us, the citizens, follow. However, in other countries such as the United States, the system of electoral financing falls strictly in the hands of privates. Due to the mere fact of social inequality, the financing of the 100 people who contribute the most is equivalent to that of the last 4.75 million. Given that the first filter of the electorate is determined by a minority that provides the money needed for the campaign, is the system truly representative? Could this be an indicator that we were never fit to govern? If this is part of shared knowledge, how is it that there is so much trust in the democratic system of governance?
Who dictates that democratic governments are the most effective? Plato mentions in Republic that Socrates was decidedly against democracy, that not everyone knows how a country should be effectively managed and therefore, not everyone should be able to vote. Also, at present, several thinkers have expressed their distrust in democracy. One of the various arguments against these systems is the striking and accelerated development of Asian countries, which is why several experts denominate the 21st century as “the Asian century”. What's most interesting, perhaps, is that countries such as Cambodia, China, amongst others, have had for several years, important improvements in social welfare indicators such as the HDI without a traditional democratic government. For this reason, one could begin to wonder if this system is the most suitable for sustained and continuous progress. On the other hand, there are governments like the United Kingdom with State policies specially designed to promote long-term progress. However, considering that its economic growth has been stagnant for ten years, can it be argued that the system is failing, or that priority is given to the important rather than the urgent? What matters the most, the system or the implementation?
Social welfare indicators have shown concrete data of global improvement during the last four decades: according to the World Bank, the number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from 42% in 1981 to 10.7% in 2013. However, even considering the benefits of globalization, a large group of experts infers that this should have brought the absolute eradication of poverty and not just a decrease. Are statistics enough? How reliable is the interpretation that we give them? How is the quality of governance measured?
In terms of continuity, could the alternation between opposing models and the extension of presidential periods be the cause of short-term action policies? “The past is what you remember, what you imagine you remember, what you convince yourself to remember, or what you pretend to remember” mentioned Harold Pinter. One of the human flaws is that we tend to romanticize the past. Could the romanticization of the past be one of the causes of the pendular movements of political models that do not encourage long-term progress?
The state’s weaknesses are well documented and not always lead to effective national decisions. Thus, it seems crucial to question oneself, are the current system and the governance process the best we can achieve? How could it be optimized?
1 The term refers to the methods that are used by political parties to raise funds that allow them to meet their organizational expenses. In particular, electoral campaigns must be financed.

The attention economy

Thanks to the widespread of the internet and social media, the amount of information and stimuli to which we are exposed over time, increases exponentially. To what extent could we say that due to the abundance of information there is a new, redefined economic model in which our attention is the scarce resource?
If attention is the currency of this new economic model, the companies and creators are compelled to optimize their content in order to transmit their message in the least possible time. For instance, TED talks used to last between 18 and 25 minutes, now they last between 12 and 16; nonetheless, the average person spends progressively more time on social media. Therefore, if we are consuming greater amounts of shorter content, in which ways by altering the duration of it are they manipulating our attention? Could it be said that corporations managed to develop tactics to generate not only an attention economy but an addiction economy given that they understand our minds even better than we do? If we consider attention as an asset, which vulnerabilities of human psychology could these companies be exploiting? Anyway, to what extent can we take the role of victims when the final decision is on us? In what measure are the detrimental effects shared responsibility between users and merchants? If we are the ones who decide to be contributors to this model, it is interesting to question what is the cost-benefit of this choice. In what measure do we do it because it is comfortable or because of ignorance?
According to Heather West, senior policy manager at Mozilla, this new model managed to gamify the virtual experience by depicting life as a game and constantly administering incentives that stimulate dopamine production, turning us into addicts. Medium magazine reported that Facebook based their feed display and user interaction model on slot machines. The article also points out how gaming culture instils greed. In parallel, this translates to social media as the obsession to gain presence and popularity. Could we say that there is a dichotomy between our real life and the one that we carry online? To what extent is gamification responsible for our addiction to our virtual lives? Should we consider the risks that imply living in this dichotomy?
Yuval Noah Harari suggests that a principle of the XVIII century founded the bases of social order by establishing that the fundamental authority are the feelings of human beings. That principle was conceived under the premise that human minds are unhackable. Harari questions this by considering that the proposal is neither compatible with today’s scientific discoveries nor with the technology that we have at our disposal. Can corporations know what is best for us? Should corporations, governments, and other entities use technology to manipulate individuals? Taking into account that advancements in biotechnology, as well as artificial intelligence allow us to analyze great volume of data, how can we seize these breakthroughs and juxtapose them with the abundance of information in order to improve decision making?
Is there an intrinsic competition between us and technology that we are not seeing? Is it possible, that by having access to so much diverse information we want to imitate that ability to do the maximum number of things in the least time possible? How do we measure productivity, and why do we relate it to multitasking? What led us to believe that we are able to complete multiple tasks simultaneously? On the one hand, we know that dividing our attention when doing tasks such as driving is extremely hazardous and it is even penalized in many countries. Nonetheless, for other academic tasks such as being in a class where you have to take down notes and listen at the same time, it is essential to divide it. Is it right to divide our attention? If so, amongst what things should it be divided?
Attention is the capacity of directing and maintaining a state of activation for the correct processing of information. Aristoteles was the first one to establish a bond between attention and clarity, which was subsequently deepened by Descartes, concluding that “knowledge consists of clear and differentiated ideas, clarity is achieved precisely by the process of attending”. If knowledge depends on our attention, in what should we invest it in order to generate knowledge and value in the Attention Economy?

*The opinions and ideas presented in these texts were written as triggers to facilitate writing the essay needed to apply to the SABF. They must not be taken as an undeniable truth. In case of disagreeing with some of the ideas, applicants are encouraged to express it in their texts.