T2B12: The Production of Misery


What with fake news and some people thinking the elections have obviously been stolen and others thinking the election was the most secure election in the history of the United States, we have never had a bigger problem of trust. Not just in the US. What’s trustworthy and what’s gaslighting? There are two ways of approaching this question:

  1. Decide on what to trust. That could be science or statistics, the Bible or Bitcoin, but the general idea is that some methods of producing knowledge are more trustworthy than others.

  2. Decide on whom to trust. There’s an entire field called virtue epistemology which looks at the intellectual virtues that a trustworthy person is likely to possess. Truthfulness, sincerety, humility, open-mindedness etc.

Either way, the problem of trust is recursive: who or what certifies the honesty or sincerety of the person conveying the news? Who certifies the certifier?

This article has some interesting ideas on 2 above, i.e., whom to trust and for what reasons.

Photo by Fabian Gieske on Unsplash

The Production of Misery

I keep saying that we live in the era of cognitive capitalism where the production of thoughts and emotions for profit is central to the capitalist enterprise. What else is Facebook besides a gigantic harvester of greed, desire and anger?

Cognitive capitalism produces more than anger or desire, it produces wellbeing and its opposite - illbeing. A new paper out just this week shows the shocking divergence in happiness between college educated people and those without college degrees over the years (in the US). It’s no surprise that the key variable is college education - after all the production of degrees is one of the central acts of the knowledge economy. Now I want to remind you once again of the difference between white voters with a college degree and those without (from the UVA Democracy Initiative):

The 19 point difference in support for Biden between college educated vs degreeless white voters neatly mirrors the diverging happiness statistics.

Interesting question: why isn’t the same pattern observed among voters of color without a college degree?

Probably because they don’t have a Trump - a politician of color who says he’s going to drain the swamp for them. Not that it’s ever been done. Though I can see a future Hispanic Republican politician making gains on exactly those grounds. Less likely with African Americans in my view, but you never know.

Anyway, the bad news for our collective wellbeing is that Trump and co’s self interest lies in keeping the unhappiness as it is or making it worse - if it goes away, the voting patterns change; similarly it’s in Marc Zuckerberg’s interest to keep unhappy people unhappy. Cognitive capitalism has a positive feedback loop (positive only in a technical sense of positive feedback loops; it’s a negative outcome from a moral perspective) in expanding the bucket of misery.

Not gonna change anytime soon.