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Conflict, Respect and Social Media
Conflict is the result of different groups having competing needs and it’s unavoidable
The very first effective altruist gathering I went to someone made a remark something like ‘Conflict is the result of different groups having competing needs and it’s unavoidable’. Honestly, up until that remark I was grappling with the utopian/idealistic notion that if only we could fully understand each other, we could all get along and foster a more pluralistic society.
I really enjoy Adam’s content, but I had an internal conflict with this tweet. All I could think about was how I react to people that present incorrect or uninformed opinions, and eventually the extended good will runs out and is replaced by contempt which breeds disrespect.
Epistemically, we cannot know everything. Our knowledge is limited and this limited knowledge informs the decisions we make.
As was remarked at my first EA meetup, conflict is the result of different groups having competing needs, and it’s unavoidable. In a society where political power has become increasingly zero sum, one major competing need is the need to control and dominate the narratives that our political teams use to maintain that power through elections.
Narratives are just another form of mental shortcuts, heuristics, we use everyday. Because we are heavily influenced by the people around us we will (usually, but not always) employ the dominant narratives used by the people we want to fit in with, our social circles.
I’ve been told that social media might be new technology, but to think it might cause severe social division is unfounded because historically all new technologies were criticized. As it relates to mass communications - the same was said about newspaper, television, radio, and email. However, with each form of new technology of mass communications it did take a while for industry standards and oversight to address some problems.
On social media we can see the consequences of convenient tribal narratives as they clash. I’ve talked about social media as a signaling tool in the past, we adopt and push the narratives of our friends because we trust them and want to showcase our belonging… even, sometimes, at the cost of being fully open minded and thoughtful.
Social media incentivizes narratives shrouded in morality and epistemic certainty, and these narratives, especially incorrect information, to spread very quickly. However, social media also allows interactions with those outside of our circle, but typically only the most radical, and when these competing narratives clash people can get nasty because our team needs to be right or we might lose our grasp on the zero-sum power struggle.
Maybe social media isn’t a unique threat to social cohesion. Maybe we as a society will learn adapt to the negative aspects of social media technology. Maybe the permissionless innovation crowd are right in arguing that these are just rehashing of ludditearguments.
However, I still don’t know of a previous communications technology that allowed communities the ability to interact with other communities so easily… Mostly for the worst reasons, I think about ratio’ing, brigading, and in the most extreme cases doxing and harassment.
So, just maybe, AI is that unpredictable trend-bucking black swan technology and maybe we should be cognizant of our own limited knowledge of how exactly this technology will impact human interactions and communication.
This blog is part of a biweekly column I write exploring communication. Thank you so much for taking the time to read, please like and leave a comment if you enjoyed it. My email is always open for critiques, compliments, and questions. Direct inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @alex_pilkington on Twitter.
I think there’s some heavy lifting done in this tweet by the word thoughtful. But in my experience, even someone thoughtful has epistemic blind spots and if they continue pushing an uninformed/incorrect opinion our patience will run out.
I think that’s a big part of how the GOP fell to MAGA
Narratives are the stories and framings we use to talk about issues, current events, etc.
Radio had wave frequency interference that needed to be addressed to name one. The Fairness Doctrine was another attempt to prevent disparate public exposure for any single idea. I can envision someone arguing that these would have resolved themselves naturally, but I would argue that would have come at the cost of necessary expediency.
FWIW—I have a healthy crypto portfolio… I am very much not a luddite