All They Want is Your Clicks

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Alan Jacobs always has intriguing insights, and he's on target about the "respectable" media. We all have heard about the New York Times and other sources of fake news publishing stories based only on Hamas sources. (And if you haven't, read on.) Jacobs observes:

It’s important to remember this: businesses that rely on constant online or televisual engagement — social media platforms, TV news channels, news websites — make bank from our rage. They have every incentive, whether they are aware of it or not, to inflame our passions. (This is why pundits who are always wrong can keep their jobs: they don’t have to be right, they just have to be skilled at stimulating the collective amygdala.) As the intervals of production increase — from hourly to daily to weekly to monthly to annually — the incentives shift away from being merely provocative and towards being more informative. Rage-baiting never disappears altogether, but books aren’t well-suited to it: even the angriest book has to have passages of relative calm, which allows the reader to stop and think — a terrible consequence for the dedicated rage-baiter. 

“We have a responsibility to be informed!” people shout. Well, maybe, though I have in the past made the case for idiocy. But let me waive the point, and say: If you’re reading the news several times a day, you’re not being informed, you’re being stimulated. Try giving yourself a break from it. Look at this stuff at wider intervals, and in between sessions, give yourself time to think and assess.

Jacobs' personal solution: no TV news, no up-to-the-minute news or political websites.

Also of note:

  • Not everyone got the word. Matt Welch explores Who Is—and Isn't—Ready To Change Their Minds About the Gaza Hospital Blast?

    After first the Israeli government and then the United States government issued statements Wednesday, with supporting evidence, that the deadly rocket exploding into the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital parking lot in Gaza on Tuesday did not emanate from Israel, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi gave an expected if telling response.

    "Nobody is buying that narrative in this part of the world," Safadi told NBC. Safadi's predecessor (and also Jordan's former ambassador to Israel), Marwan Muasher, echoed that in an interview with CNN: "The Arab public puts the attack squarely on Israel."

    That's confirmation bias cranked up to 11. But:

    "The only way that people would entertain a different narrative," Jordanian Foreign Minister Safadi told NBC, "is if there is an independent international inquiry into the tragedy that has happened with impeccable evidence that it was not Israel."

    Focus for a moment not on Safadi's understandable if currently unfulfillable desire for an independent international inquiry (such inquests being rather hard to pull off when the host government is holding more than 200 people hostage), but rather on the words only, entertain, and impeccable. It is considered to be a reasonable default position that all Muslims in the region believe the hospital bombing was Israeli "genocide" (as labeled by Hamas), a "hideous war crime" (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas), or "the latest example of Israel [being] devoid of the most basic human values" (President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of NATO member Turkey). Only an unattainable standard of evidence could begin to pry open minds currently snapped shut; until then, let those embassies burn.

    Matt notes that "we just don't believe you is among the most potent of overrides when it comes to assessing factual claims." And, of course, the mainstream media makes it pretty easy to say that, given their track record.

  • For one thing, it doesn't own Boardwalk and Park Place. Jeff Jacoby informs the Boston Globe readership: Amazon is huge, but it’s no monopoly. And he's sounding pretty libertarian:

    There is no more powerful monopolist in America today than the US government.

    Examples of Washington’s monopoly power abound. For instance, only the Bureau of Engraving and Printing may print paper currency and only the US Mint may produce coins for use as legal tender. Through the US Postal Service, the federal government has the exclusive right to deliver (and charge for) first-class mail. The granting of patents and trademarks is another area in which the feds have a monopoly. So is the allocation of broadcast frequencies on the electromagnetic spectrum.

    These government monopolies didn’t always exist — the Pony Express was a private company and private banks used to issue their own paper money — but they are now mandated by law and taken for granted by most Americans. So there is a certain irony in the way federal regulators go after successful companies that are not protected from competition and loudly denounce them for exerting monopolistic control — something the government itself gets away with every day.

    He goes on to debunk the FTC's allegations about Amazon.

  • So why is New Hampshire joining the jihad? Mitchell Scacchi points out that The FTC's Amazon lawsuit New Hampshire joined is a mess of bad economics.

    New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella has joined 16 other state attorneys general in the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) lawsuit alleging that “Amazon is a monopolist” that engages in illegal anti-competitive behavior.

    But a close read of FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan’s suit reveals a confused and ultimately unconvincing case that Amazon a) is a monopoly player and b) has harmed consumers.

    If the FTC prevails in this legal case, it appears likely that consumers and small businesses, including the 4,500 small-to-medium-sized New Hampshire businesses that sell on Amazon and the many thousands of Granite Staters who shop online, will be harmed, not helped.

    Scacchi's article is valuable, like Jacoby's, outlining the lack of merit in the FTC's lawsuit. But I would really like to know why NH joined in this misguided (and, I hope, unsuccessful) effort?

  • Much like Joe himself. Christian Britschgi reviews a recent attempt to drive down the Road to Serfdom: Joe Biden's Plan for 31 Subsidized 'Tech Hubs' Is an Old, Tired Idea That's Doomed To Fail.

    "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" appears to be the idea underlying President Joe Biden's new economic initiative. On Monday, the White House announced the selection of 31 regional "technology hubs" that will spur innovation, manufacturing capacity, and employment with the help of generous federal subsidies.

    Britschgi reviews the sad history of recent similar efforts at "opportunity zones" and "manufacturing hubs", Conclusion:

    It would probably be too much to call Biden's latest gambit crazy, given how previous presidential administrations from both parties have tried similar ideas. Nevertheless, there is a word for trying the same thing that failed over and over again and expecting different results—and it's not smart.

  • An idea with remarkably little going for it. David Friedman wonders: Is There a Right of Self Determination?.

    It is widely believed that there is. I share the underlying moral intuition that people should be free to run their own lives but getting from that to the right of a group to “rule itself” seems to me to confuse a group with an individual. The right of the inhabitants of a territory to set up their own government means the right of some of the inhabitants to set up a government that will rule over all the inhabitants, including the ones that don’t want it. Before independence the inhabitants of the territory were already being ruled — but how free they were before and after independence depends on to what degree their rulers respected their rights not whether they were ruled by people who lived near them or far away.

    In the modern context it is usually assumed that the newly independent government will be a democracy, claimed that that means the people are ruling themselves. Again, that is treating a group as if it was a person. The individual in a democracy, like the individual in a dictatorship, is subject to rules made by other people without his consent. There may be pragmatic arguments in favor of democracy, if only as a way of letting the stronger faction get its way without having to first win a civil war, but I cannot see any moral argument, any reason why having the support of 51% of a group gives you a right to make decisions for the other 49%. And even if one does believe in democracy, in practice the right of self-determination is usually treated as independent of the nature of the government that results. When newly independent countries in the post-war period turned into dictatorships — “one man one vote once” — they remained independent. Their previous ruler didn’t take them back.

    It's an interesting issue, and David has some interesting things to say about it.


Last Modified 2024-01-10 5:54 AM EST