Dan Mogulof: All right, we’re just about to get started. Again, there’re index cards in the back. We’ll may take questions in the middle. But if you have questions now write them down, hold them up in the air while we’re going. Mia back there will have cards in her hand and be standing on one side or the other. And without further ado, my name is Dan Mogulof. I work here on campus in the Office of Communications and Public Affairs and really delighted to be joined tonight by New Yorker reporter and author Andrew Marantz and Chancellor Carol Christ and Ed Wasserman who is the dean of our Graduate School of Journalism.
I should note that we first met Andrew, Chancellor Christ and I, two years ago. When that was our year of living dangerously here at Berkeley during the free speech circus that was kicked off with the aborted Milo Yiannopoulos event in January 2017. And then continued to burn at a low rate until that fall when Mr. Yiannopoulos said he’d coming back to campus with the who’s who of conservative speakers. Something that proved to be false or a sham at best. But prior to that Andrew had asked to be embedded with us. And Chancellor Christ made what many thought was a pretty risky decision, but resulted in probably one of the best pieces of journalism at what actually happened here and raise some issues that will be talking about having to do with free speech, which were addressed directly and also tangentially in the book.
I really want to start tonight at just talking to Andrew, just talking a little bit about the book. Obviously, it just came out. I know you can’t tip too much. When I first talked to Andrew, after reading the book, I said, it brought to mind Colin Powell. And he asked why and I said, I recalled that line when Colin Powell was asked how he was sleeping before the war in Iraq and he said, “Like a baby, I wake up every two hours screaming.” And that’s how it’s been since I’ve read the book. That might not be the best sales pitch. But it is that disturbing and expansive. So Andrew, it’s a huge subject and about internet and the democracy in journalism. How did you get to it? What drew you to it?
Andrew Marantz: Yeah, it was multiple subjects in one in a way. Because I was interested in what the internet was doing to us, psychologically, socially, societally, politically. Before there was such a thing as Donald Trump, political candidate, it was just… I was looking at click bait entrepreneurs and what was happening to the degradation and coarsening of just media and social media and what happens if social media becomes purely Darwinian, in the sense that there’s this idea of fitness that I play around with in the book. There’s fit in the sense of what’s fit to print, but what’s fit to print only means something if there are people making that decision. If it’s just algorithms making that decision, then fitness becomes more of a survival of the fittest thing. And that seemed like a pretty dangerous thing for a democracy that relies on popular public opinion as James Madison said.
So I started looking at that. And then Trump came down the escalator. And then there was this whole thing that I was like, “Well … ” There was immediately the chorus of he can’t win, he won’t win. We’re on this inevitable arc of history that leads inexorably toward progress. And that had two effects on my life; one was that I made a lot of bets and made a lot of money and two was that I …
Dan Mogulof: Wait. What kind of bets?
Andrew Marantz: He is going to win.
Dan Mogulof: Wow.
Andrew Marantz: And two was that I didn’t collect on most of them because I felt too bad. But the second one was that I started looking at the rest of the internet that was not my own filter bubble, which it turns out, you can just actually find if you look for it. And it was incredibly disturbing and scary and full of misinformation and full of open bigotry and full of covert bigotry and full of all kinds of stuff that nobody really seemed to have a clear handle on. And that everybody was ignoring because it was beneath the dignity of serious people to look at it, which in a sense, it is beneath the dignity of anyone to look at it. On the other hand, we got to look at unpleasant stuff sometimes.
So I started doing two kinds of embedding. One with the social media companies who were setting up this system that I thought was bound to fail this blithely, recklessly, idealistic system that just said, “We’re going to put all this freedom and all this speech into a giant bucket, and we’ll just let the marketplace of ideas sort it out and ultimately it will read down to the good,” which didn’t seem to me like a great idea. And then also with the gatecrashers, I call them the people who were using these systems for their malign intentions. And weirdly, they let me hang out with them, even though I was pretty clear about not liking them very much. And I spent three years hanging out with them and seeing what they do up close. And a lot of it was scary. And some of it was actually just darkly comic and pathetic and vivid. And I just felt that we had to tell the story in detail of what these people do behind closed doors that just looking at their online personas wasn’t enough. Not that I’m a pure masochist but I did think it was worth it to actually spend lots of hours with them, because the way they present themselves online is not the whole picture of who they are.
Dan Mogulof: So who are they? So you’re you talk about throughout the book, all right, all flight. They all seem to be largely male disaffected. And I had to wonder, who are the people? What was your impression of being with them and to what extent are they a cause or symptom?
Andrew Marantz: Both. I mean, I think they’re mostly a symptom. But they’re also a cause in the sense that they can take fringe noxious ideas and propel them into the mainstream with shocking effectiveness. Like I would sit … So one of the people that … I basically would try to track every noxious meme I could find. And meme I mean, in the Richard Dawkins sense of any infectious idea. I would try to track those back to their source whenever I could and find the person and say, “Can I sit in your living room?” So for instance, one guy in Orange County, California, I spent a lot of time in his living room, watching him just take pre-election, for example, he would decide, “I want to make it less likely that people will vote for Hillary and more likely that people will vote for Trump. So I’m going to create subliminal association between Hillary and disease. And so I’m just going to put out memes that make it look like she’s frail and sick and disgusting.”
And I would ask him, “Why are you choosing that?” And he would say, “Well, I have all these more substantive critiques of her. But they’re not as engineered to go viral and back to the Darwinian fitness thing.” The way that the architecture of the social internet is built, it’s built around emotional engagement. So disgust and fear and alarm are emotions that make people click and share whether it’s sharing out of agreement or sharing out of disagreement, a brow furrowing concern over one’s relationship to Saudi Arabia or something is not engineered to do that.
So I would just watch him start a periscope video on his iPad, and say, “Okay, let’s get a couple thousand people in here to think about what hashtag we should use.” They’d pick a good viral hashtag, they’d get that hashtag trending on Twitter. This would all just be happening right in front of me. And then the hashtag would trend on Twitter and he’d say, “Okay, I need to make sure Matt Drudge sees this.” So it gets on the Drudge Report. From there, it’s going to get on Hannity. From there, it’s going to get on CNN, and then it’s going to be in the newspaper. And he had reverse engineered the entire media matrix, as he called it to the point where I would then wake up the next morning and read the newspaper, and it would have his fingerprints on it in a way that I wouldn’t have believed was possible if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. And this is not a guy whose fingerprints you want on the national discourse.
But there it is. There’s nothing in our laws and our constitution that says that the national discourse will be handled well, will be handled effectively. We’ll get to this but all the liberties in the constitution that pertain to this are negative liberty is not positive ones. So you just… That naive faith that the techno-utopians had or that we all I think tacitly sometimes have that the marketplace of ideas will sort it out. I was watching the marketplace of ideas at work and it was not being sorted out. So I just felt like somebody has to document how this is happening. Because that faith that we have that the system is going to basically function and self-correct is just totally misplaced.
Dan Mogulof: So just a couple more questions. I want to open it up and bring in Dean Wasserman, and Chancellor Christ. What was your conclusion? I mean, how afraid should we be? I mean some of what’s here is really profoundly disturbing but I kept bouncing back and forth between some isolated coops but then I think of this line from one of the New York Times reviews. And she writes in this review, “As disturbing as these specific stories are would fill me with a creeping sense of dread were parts of anti-social that incisively described how a Darwinian information environment has degraded to the point where it now selects for people who can command the most attention with the fewest scruples. Marantz meets a 60 year old quote, surly racist, with 25000 subscribers on YouTube, who in another era might have been relegated to muttering on his front porch.” And so I don’t know to laugh to smile to shake that off and think it’s a passing phenomenon or see it as a direct mortal threat to democracy. What did you fall out?
Andrew Marantz: I think it’s both. I think it’s a grave and mortal threat to democracy that is also laughable and pathetic. This is my closest I can come to a sales pitches is the thing you said about being kept awake at night. It is also weirdly darkly funny and narratively … It’s like it’s scenes. It’s not just me yelling about how terrible these things are for 400 pages. It’s me showing you how terrible they are in a darkly comic way which doesn’t make the problem less grave. But I think it does help us see the specific ways we’ve gotten into it and therefore some specific ways we can imagine our way out. I found myself in this bizarre position recently of finding hope in an analogy to climate change, which is never something I thought I would say. But purely in this sense, in the sense that we all know that climate change is the existential threat of our time.
But we also know that we weren’t fated to arrive at a place where the earth was warming at a catastrophic rate. It’s because of what we did. And therefore it can be undone. And it doesn’t mean that I have faith in us to undo it. But we know what we would need to do to undo it. So I think we’re starting to get there with our informational crisis. I think it’s just as naughty a problem. And I think it is almost equally catastrophic. Because after all, we can’t make progress on things like climate change if we can’t talk to each other and elect non-demagogues to higher office and all that stuff. But even though it’s just as naughty a problem, I think that means that it’s a knot that we tied which we can therefore untie. It’s not just … Again, the problem with these inevitability metaphors and these arc of history metaphors, is they presuppose that this was just where we were always fated to end up or that if we just tough it out we’ll be fated to end up somewhere nicer and easier and better. I don’t think fate has anything to do with it.
Dan Mogulof: One more question for me before I bring Chancellor Christ into the conversation. I was surprised by the extent to which you indicted the Silicon Valley ethos and the tech utopians as you call them.
Andrew Marantz: Yeah, it’s getting me in trouble this week. This is the West Coast leg of my tour.
Dan Mogulof: You’ve been cut off your Google account.
Andrew Marantz: Yeah. No, not quite that. But I went into one of their private clubs in San Francisco last night, and I got some dirty looks. But-
Ed Wasserman: I think you’re among friends here.
Andrew Marantz: Yeah. I know.
Dan Mogulof: But what was your takeaway from them? You talked a little bit about your impressions of these people who are using social media were on the edges the white supremacist, all the rest of the anti-Semites who you really explore and spend a lot of time with in the book. But the people at the other end of the spectrum what was your conclusion about them? Was it naiveté, was it a blind rush for profits, drinking their own Kool Aid? What were your conclusions about that group?
Andrew Marantz: It was very much all three of those; greed, naiveté, drinking their own Kool Aid. Those are the big three. And I think they were all part of the same blend that led us … If you, let’s say, hypothetically are like a guy who went to Harvard for a couple semesters, took a few computer engineering classes and then dropped out, just hypothetically, the lesson you would pick up through cultural osmosis would be arc of history, American exceptionalism, free speech, good marketplace of ideas, everything will work itself out. If you don’t go deeper than that, and think about the problems inherent in those ideas. And then let’s say again, hypothetically, you start the biggest forum for public discourse that’s ever been known in human history, hypothetically. You’re not going to build into it the proper safeguards that are required to make sure that things don’t go haywire.
So one of the analogies I draw in the book is to a party. If you start a party in a warehouse, right? You’re not doing everything that all the people in the warehouse are doing. You’re just the host, right? So if somebody starts lighting a couch on fire or something you’re not the person lighting the couch on fire. You might strongly disapprove of the person lighting the couch on fire and feel very concerned and have a deeply, furrowed brow on your face. But you set the conditions that made that possible. You did or didn’t have a policy at the door of who was going to get carded. You made the lighting choices, you made the music choices, you chose not to have a functional PA system at the party so that if somebody does start lighting a couch on fire, there’s some way to quickly alert everyone, “Hey, guys, there’s a couch on fire. We need to do something about this.” You just opened the doors and said, “The marketplace will figure it out.” And if you’re wrong, which in the case of our current real timeline, they were wrong. It’s not really clear what you can do once it’s too late. And you have authoritarians installed in 10 major democracies and all the rest of it.
Dan Mogulof: Carol, so I know you’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the world around the campus and this era of political polarization and hate speech and anger has been impacting the university and the student body. I’m interested in your own impressions of the book and just for Andrew, what questions that came to your mind after reading through it.
Carol Christ: Well, the question I’ve been dying to ask you is what the thing that surprised me about the book is how nihilistic and punk and really without convictions, how pathetic a lot of these people were that they were really basically driven by a desire for followers and notoriety rather than the horrible convictions that they said. Was that your take on it? Because that’s certainly what I took from the book. And that was actually as troubling to me as the virus of these hate sites.
Andrew Marantz: Yeah. I think you’re right. There’s a spectrum in the book from sincere ideologues to, as you say, nihilists who don’t really seem to have any ideological agenda, but seemed to have just a pure self-interest. Or even self-interest is maybe generous, because all they want is attention, but it can be negative attention. It doesn’t really seem to matter to them. So both of those areas existed within the taxonomy. And I agree, it’s hard to see which one is worse. Because say what you will about the tenets of National Socialism, at least it’s an ethos. You can you can work with an ideology, it’s hard to know how to work with a nihilist.
But I think, again, and I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves into the John Stuart Mill stuff. But I think this is one of the things that Mill didn’t quite anticipate that there could be people who are not trying to sharpen your argument or counter your argument with a better argument, but who really are not interested in arguments at all and who aren’t interested in logic at all.
Carol Christ: Well, what’s interesting to me about Mill, because I’ve been thinking a lot about the marketplace of ideas recently, and why that doesn’t work currently, that metaphor. And I think to think of the marketplace of ideas has to be a marketplace, there has to be a single place that all ideas come to. And that’s simply not true of the world on the internet, that there are these self-contained communities. And that’s the question that I always ask myself, “Okay, I know these crazy folks are out there. But it doesn’t impinge on my lived world.”
Andrew Marantz: Right. And that’s true. That’s a product of filter bubbles and silos and echo chambers and all that. It’s also we’re aware of the echo chamber effect, but it happens in a much more micro way. I mean, each person’s feed is literally algorithmically personalized, such that we have these broad echo chambers, the Fox News and MSNBC thing, but Fox News and MSNBC are very doley targeted. They’re like macro targeted. When we talk about micro targeting it’s based on thousands of daily inputs that each user is giving the system. So it’s even more specific and more pernicious than echo chambers.
So yeah. I definitely agree that it’s hard. So I spent time with people who were as the book goes on, especially post Charlottesville, because it’s chronological. Post Charlottesville, you get some really sincere ideologues and people who are just very red pilled on the JQ as they say. Red pill is a metaphor for the matrix when you have taken… It’s something you see in Alice in Wonderland. It’s something you see in Plato’s cave. It’s this allegory that you have taken this pill that shows you the truth. But the truth that they are seeing is, it can be hardcore misogyny, it can be any number of… It can be anything. But a lot of the people that I was talking to post Charlottesville their red pill experience was realizing how Jews are perniciously controlling the world and all this stuff that I was like, “This is so old fashioned. Like you guys are really not innovating in your prejudice very much.”
I was surprised. When I went into it, I didn’t expect to be dealing with the really old, just Protocols of the Elders of Zion stuff, essentially. And I was surprised at the degree to which… I mean, one question that people asked me while I was doing it is like, “How does it feel particularly as a white guy to be embedded in these worlds?” And what I eventually started saying was a lot of these people don’t think I’m white.
Dan Mogulof: Because you’re Jewish.
Andrew Marantz: Yeah. They think of me … I mean, white is the people they want to align themselves with to create a white ethno state that is manifestly not me.
Dan Mogulof: So let me ask you a question. Is there an analog on the other side of the political spectrum? Is there something inherent to all of this that align these ideologies, white supremacy, white nationalism, anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny, that these are the groups that are taking advantage of all that the internet offers in terms of access to each other and creating networks and destroying norms, or is there another side that you elected not to look at?
Andrew Marantz: Yeah, I don’t think there’s really an analogous mirror image on the left. I think there are jerks on the left and people who issue violent threats on the left. There is certainly misogyny and racism on the left. But I don’t think it’s the same. I mean, the way I think of it is, this country was built on, in addition to lots of lofty ideals, it was built on a pretty solid foundation of white supremacy. And that has always been used by what has been called the political right or the political reactionaries or whatever I mean, in the aftermath of the Civil War, and the run up to the Civil War. And there’s always been this valence to it. Which is not to say that there can’t be lovely people on the right who are really nice and get along and play little league with people of all races.
I don’t mean to be glib about it, I don’t think that that means that if you are registered Republican, that means that you’re a bad person or a racist or something. But the underlying foundational structure of this country has always been, what it’s been and it’s always taken on a certain political valence, the names of the parties have flipped, and all that stuff. And there’s all kinds of specious, Dinesh D’Souza arguments about how democrats are the real racists and all this stuff. But the fact is, it’s always had one valence. Now I definitely think there is a book to be written about the far left. But it wouldn’t be this book. It wouldn’t just be like all the proper nouns are flipped and you get the same experience.
Dan Mogulof: Right. And I want to bring you in at this point, because one of the things that you know, that I took away as a former journalist was just what a price we’ve paid for the collapse of the Fifth Estate are journalistic norms in so many areas. And I’ll read you this quote, from 2011 that’s in the book. And you might guess who it’s from. After considerable deliberation, reflection, I have decided not to pursue the presidency. However, I will not shy away from expressing the opinions that so many of you share, yet don’t have a medium through which to articulate. That was Donald Trump in 2011.
Andrew Marantz: And the idea is that he wanted to express and articulate where Barack Obama was born in Kenya. I mean, specifically, that was the idea in which he …
Dan Mogulof: And in 2011, one could argue that the gatekeepers were at least maybe more in place, or there were more of them. And part of what helped facilitate his rise in his election was this it’s almost I mean, the premonition that he had of his. And so what your take was on the book.
Ed Wasserman: I admired the book a lot. And you have to say, Andrew, you made it look easy. Because you are a very good writer and a very imaginative writer. It’s easy to read the book without fully understanding and appreciating how much reporting went into it. And so my hat is off to you. I found the book disturbing, both in the ways you intended and made in some of the ways you didn’t intend. Because I’m not sure that you weren’t succumbing to a certain amount of self-presentation and hype coming from the people you were talking about. They claim an awful lot of impact. I’m not sure I see that. I think that Donald Trump owed a lot more to Fox News than he did to the entirety of the people that the population that you sampled.
And I don’t think the indispensability of gatekeepers, is a thing entirely in the past. I mean to me, I’m puzzled. The question I have is, which is more durable, the existence of this vicious, murderous right wing that’s out there propagating discredited doctrines and training in the forest of Michigan. Is that more durable? Is it the belief on the left that that right wing exists? Is that fiction, which we carried with us and you, to your credit quote David Duke being called on the Sally Jessie Raphael and these other daytime talk shows in the 1980s. And David Duke would never made any… never dissembled as far as racism and as horrible as politics. So, I guess what I’m curious about and what I challenge you with, I suppose, is whether you captured a moment or the moment?
And when I look at the way the book ends with this dissolution of some of the most interesting and colorful and eloquent people that you got, I think friends with, because they were interesting people, they were fun to hang out with. And they were very, very enchanting in their own way in transing perhaps. They seem to be falling apart. That moment of social presence and social efficacy, seem to have basically climaxed with the Trump election for which they really had very little to do in my view. I don’t think they got Donald Trump elected. And to your credit again, you presented as Carol noted, there is a punky element of flamboyant people who dressed funny and made up code as they went along and had no consistent or coherent political line at all. And the half of them were Jewish. And you had that population of people and alongside the ones with the swastikas on their eyelids and all the rest of it, who are really scary.
So what you really had is in response to the amazing capabilities that the internet had put in everybody’s pockets. You had this cultural upheaval, which took many, many forms, not exclusively, or not even primarily political forms. They had to do with contesting the form of culture, contesting cultural values, contesting just aesthetics. There were great many things that were being contested at the same time, and it would be difficult to assign to them a primacy of political. Now I’ll stop at a moment, but I would like you also at some point to talk about that Breitbart quote, which you quoted several times, which is so interesting. The quote was, “Politics is downstream from culture,” is that effectively. And I thought about that and I said, “Wow.” It really rocked me back and I started thinking about it. I said, “Wait a minute. Is it really? Are the people who vote really voting pursuant to a cultural predilection, or are they voting because public policy has failed them, and they’re promised things the government was supposed to do, they haven’t delivered on? Are they not reacting to a much more traditional notion of political gain and political advantage than they are simply knee-jerking a response to a cultural predilection that they may or may not have?”
Ed Wasserman: So anyway, that’s a lot to pick you on.
Andrew Marantz: Yeah. I wish I’d written all the things down because there’s about 12 things I want to respond to.
Ed Wasserman: Go for it.
Andrew Marantz: I mean. So let’s try to take them one by one. So politics is downstream from culture. As I note in the book, like all Maxim’s it’s reductive, it also flows in the other direction. But I think that we ignore the influence of culture, on our politics at our peril. I think we ignore the power of what you call militias in the woods of Michigan at our peril. Obviously, I didn’t write about any militias in the woods in Michigan. I wrote about real people with real influence. And I think to your core concern about that these are just fringe people that didn’t have any real influence and didn’t get Trump elected. I don’t see that as realistic and I really think that is a dangerous thing for us to ignore.
Ed Wasserman: Just to interrupt you.
Andrew Marantz: Yeah.
Ed Wasserman: So you think culture explains why districts that went in two consecutive elections, Barack Obama then voted for Donald Trump, did they have a cultural transformation in the meantime?
Andrew Marantz: Yes. Not exclusively, but definitely. I mean, you seem to be pretty supposing that people are rational actors with perfect information and perfect I mean, or that you know … I think culture, we need to understand culture broadly. We can understand culture narrowly meaning the person who is the best talker and the smoothest politician wins every time, which is one of the reasons why I won so many bets because I just have never thought that policy was so exclusively meaningful to people that they wouldn’t just vote for the taller person or the person they’d rather have a beer with or the person who they seen on TV more. I think that perfectly explains why people would vote for Barack Obama and then Donald Trump. Because they’re the most charismatic politicians in the race.
I also think that culture, culture doesn’t just mean what music you like and what food you like. It means something much deeper than that. And one of the underlying preoccupations in the book is with this whole thing that Richard already talks about, about cultural vocabularies. So just to catch people up, Richard [inaudible 00:29:34] is this great, great philosopher of the 20th century. He unfortunately did teach at Stanford for a while, so I don’t know if I’m allowed to bring him up here. But he has this whole notion of vocabularies not as superficial modes of speaking or etiquette, but of really deep constitutive ways of thinking. The Maxim that I attribute to him is to change how we talk is to change who we are.
So, I think that what we underestimate is by thinking of people like David Duke and people like militias and people with swastikas on their eyelids as just so irreducibly fringe that it’s almost embarrassing to bring them up. Now, of course, they’re embarrassing, and of course they’re fringe and of course they’re lunatics. The problem is that it’s not all these things are interrelated, whether use the downstream metaphor, whether you use the webbing metaphor that a pragmatist philosopher wants you to use. It’s no so bifurcated and calcified that we can say, “Well, there’s mainstream politics and there’s fringe politics and the one has nothing to do with the other.” We have always lived in a world where these things have been interpenetrated. And we now especially live in that world because of social media. I just I cannot stress enough.
You bring up Fox News, of course, Fox News is monumentally important. That’s why one of the things That makes these people so powerful and so dangerous is precisely their ability to dictate what is going to be on Fox news that night. Because as I was saying before, the fact that these things are all inter webbed in a media matrix, the fact that there is constantly this metaphor of connection, the fact that we talk about the Overton window, the metaphor of the Overton window is the metaphor of connection, everything-
Dan Mogulof: Stop for a second. So what is the Overton window? Just explain that.
Andrew Marantz: The Overton window is a concept from the political science of the ’90s that says there’s a window of what’s acceptable, and the window can shift. So the example that people like to bring up is the example of same sex marriage. Because that’s a nice, happy, positive example. It shifted in the right direction. But again, like I think what we ignore at our peril is that it can also shift in the wrong direction and like, I’m very resistant to complacent inevitability metaphors that say, the fringe is always going to be there. There will always be a paranoid style in American politics. All we have to do is keep moving forward. I agree with you that we have to deliver policy gains for people in ways that affect their lives on the ground. And I agree with you that a lot of the disaffection that led to Trump had to do with trade policy and jobs and all the rest of it. I don’t mean to be making an analysis that seems to imply that one matters and the other one doesn’t, or that they’re not also interrelated or that racism and economic anxiety don’t compound each other and all that stuff.
I just think that there’s a real danger in slipping into all of one or none of the other. In other words that because people have real, tangible economic grievances, they aren’t also susceptible to really scary open racism, or really scary closed dog whistle racism. And I think what we do when we relegate people like David Duke to the fringes, is we forget that he came very close to winning both a congressional election and a gubernatorial election. Very close. And not in 1952. In 1990. So I don’t have any particular predilection for wanting to heightened … By the way, they’re not my friends. I should make that very clear. I don’t have any appetite to give them more attention than they deserve or to make them seem dark and sexy and nefarious anti-heroes. I did not want to be writing this book at all. I didn’t want to be around them. I didn’t find them dangerous and sexy and cool. I didn’t want to heighten their …
I felt as I made clear in the book, very ethically torn about whether to give them any oxygen at all. The reason I ended up thinking that I had to, is precisely because of social media. Because the things that give Donald Trump the ability to win in 2016, where he couldn’t have won in 2012, or 2000, or 1988, is precisely this idea that fringe things can keep percolating and keep bubbling up on their own through these ungoverned algorithms in ways that they can’t now in the more traditional media. Which brings me to your point about the gatekeepers and whether they have fully gone away. And I guess I don’t think they fully gone away. I think their power has been diminished. But you know, you bring up the example of Fox News. There are human beings there who could be making better decisions.
And so why are they not? Part of it is greed. Part of it is apparently Rupert Murdoch just will never die, and he just will never pass on control to the next generation. But part of it and I haven’t been keeping up with succession so I don’t know what happens next at Fox News, but part of it is that he doesn’t… that Donald Trump ate the Republican Party from the inside. So that is yet another example of how these things are all interrelated. One would have thought, based on any analysis of Fox news from the Roger Ailes era up to June of 2015, that Fox news would have been nothing but an impediment to the rise of Donald Trump. And in fact, they were at the beginning. They threw Megan Kelly in front of that train, and she got run over by the train. And Donald Trump steamrolled them.
Now why was he able to do that? In large part, it was because of disaffection of people who have been left behind by NAFTA and Michigan. But in large part it was because of these toxic memes on social media. I really… I don’t think that we can write those out of the narrative just because they are really gross and make us uncomfortable.
Carol Christ: Do you think this is like Pandora’s Box that now there’s no putting it back? There’s no way of creating the guardrails that were not put up in the first place? Do you think if in 2020, a candidate gets elected who is, I guess it would have to be a democrat because there isn’t going to be a Republican that’s going to run except for Trump, do you think that that’s going to change our politics and change our language [crosstalk 00:35:52] of Trump to this world? I guess you could call it the authoriser and the creation of this far right world?
Andrew Marantz: Definitely. I think it will change a lot. And I think that the good news about the rhodium notion of cultural vocabularies is that much like Overton windows, they can morph and shift in any direction. And so I think Fox News could go back to being the Fox News that we knew, which is another thing that we can add to the list of things that we never thought we would be nostalgic for. I think that these things can go back to being the way they were. I don’t think that the business model of traditional media, of traditional journalism is going to get fixed. So I think that the coarseness and violence and just crassness of the current vocabulary, the frequency of the lying, I think all those things can correct. But I do think there are some bells that can’t be done unrung. And one of them is just that traditional journalism just doesn’t really have a way to pay for itself in the way it did 10 years ago.
But not exclusively, there are still newspapers in the world. But just many fewer of them. But I do think that the vocabulary can shift in any number of directions. It’s just that it’s much easier to, as I said, play on negative emotions than positive ones.
Dan Mogulof: So I’m wondering, and it comes to the world of journalism now in the world of the academy and Chancellor Christ, obviously, in higher education and two of the institutions, they are called out here to get indicted or universities and the journalistic institution. To what degree was that inevitable? Or do you think there were failures along the way where these institutions left main, huge swaths of America, the side didn’t really talk to them didn’t really address their needs? Is that something that we need to take on board here? Do we need to start looking at home in terms of what got this started?
Andrew Marantz: Yeah, so I think that’s it’s really interesting. So I think yes, but I’m ambivalent about how that should be done. In other words, so you know, you remember, right after the election, there was this weird apology letter being the case and out at the New York Times that … This isn’t from the book, but I’m just making me think of it. So there was this thing after the election where the executive editor of the New York Times sent out this letter. That was one of the more bizarre documents I’ve ever read where he said, “We’re really sorry, because our polling seemed to indicate this result, and it was wrong. And we’re also sorry that we didn’t cover Trump voters more, but we did cover them a lot. And you should really keep subscribing to us because we did a really great job in our coverage. But we’re really sorry that we didn’t do a better job in our coverage.” It just said everything at once.
And the reason I’m picking on him, I think he’s a good newspaper editor. But the reason I’m picking on him is that I think that’s a sign of how all these things get conflated and mushed together in our brains. The polling was wrong, therefore, the coverage was wrong. But we need more coverage. But we need to do it better. I don’t think we’ve actually settled on what the right answer is and I think partly because that’s because there are these inherent tensions. One of the ones I do point to in the book is the tension between objectivity and telling the truth. We tend to think that those are generally going to be the same thing. But it turns out that when you’re covering a bigot, a liar, a swarm of trolls, an open racist. And again, add to your point, you might think that all those things are fringe and not worth covering. But they also all described the White House.
Ed Wasserman: Don’t put words in my mouth. I certainly would never suggest they’re not worth covering. I’m talking about the construction you’re put on in the importance in which you’re viewing them with, which I think requires a stronger argument than you mustered in the book. And I don’t know where … Certainly there’s been enough study done of the 2016 election to enable us to draw some conclusions about the effect of social media on the voters. And I have not seen the data to support the contention that they were a major enabling force for the Trump ascendancy. And I question that. I’m not saying they’re civic boom. And I certainly think that the cultural element of that is worth noting.
But Trump did not take over the Republican Party unaided. The Republican Party has been eating itself for the last 40 years. And much of the political tailwind that he was able to benefit from was generated by many others. And certainly fringe politics has been part of the political system. I’m thinking of the Kerry Bush campaign in 2004. Where did swift votes come from? And this was another right wing fantasy that managed to get a tremendous amount of support, managed to discredit the Kerry candidacy, and had nothing to do with social media.
Andrew Marantz: Well, let’s put a button on this and then we’ll do the objectivity versus telling the truth because I think that’s important. I guess what I would say is look this isn’t a book. This isn’t a political science book. It’s not a book that’s marshaling all the available data. What I will say is, first of all, it’s easy to say that any of these things could have swung the election because it was such a close election. If Hillary Clinton had bothered to campaign in Wisconsin, it could have swung the election. So it’s not to say that there is any number of factors could have been decisive.
I think it is beyond question that social media was one of those decisive factors. And one of the reasons that I think that is that I don’t think the questionnaires and polls of asking people where do you get your information are any reliable indicator. Obviously people get their information from TV, and obviously, it’s correlated with age. But again I think part of the problem with those questionnaires is that they presuppose that these things can be ranked in some discreet way that people are even conscious of, and some of the traditional political science that I’m very critical of in the book is this the whole Party decides a notion that there’s a like ranked choice system where people go, “Well, my policy preferences are this and I get my information from this one source. And on Tuesdays, I get my information from this source.”
I don’t think that’s actually meaningful. I think that people form impressions in ways that they’re not entirely conscious of. I don’t think it’s paternalistic, or whatever to say that. I think it’s just the reality of human psychology. I think people make choices. I mean, people were lying to pollsters about who they were going to vote for up until polling day. I just don’t think-
Ed Wasserman: Sure. Listen. You’re not going to find a lot of defense for traditional political science here. But if you were to find out that the overwhelming majority of people that are being claimed as followers of one of your … one of the people you interviewed didn’t vote at all and have no interest in voting. It certainly isn’t …
Andrew Marantz: It wouldn’t affect my analysis at all because what they do is they manipulate media.
Ed Wasserman: Okay, maybe. But you’re operating within a self-enclosed bubble and you’re listening to the echoes off of the inside of that bubble. And what I’m saying is that we’re not making the leap and finding real efficacy and really turning the political conversation or hijacking the American conversation, as your book says. You’ve left me wanting to believe but I’m not quite there. I can certainly see certain areas of policy. Immigration, for example, seems to be very susceptible to the influence from the people you’re talking about. Maybe guns as well.
Andrew Marantz: Well, let’s all go home and watch the most popular primetime hosts on cable news and see if he hasn’t been influenced by fringe politics.
Ed Wasserman: You’re talking about Tucker?
Andrew Marantz: Yes.
Ed Wasserman: Yes. And I just want to say, bow tie. I want a side piece of data — that one of the most disturbing things that really kept me up screaming at night was there was a piece of data and the piece you talked about that they did an analysis of the 2012 election. And they found that if Mitt Romney had won 3% more of the white vote he would have won in a landslide. And you seem to be suggesting, therefore, that the entire purpose of the Republican Party was defined in that 3%.
Andrew Marantz: Not the purpose of the Republican Party. No. The purpose of the Trump campaign.
Ed Wasserman: The purpose of the Trump campaign.
Andrew Marantz: Right.
Ed Wasserman: Absolutely. So it seems we’re talking about very relatively small numbers of people you needed to bring along. I think you actually said the data that in the book said, and it would have been a landslide, even if he had not received a single vote from an African American or a person of color.
Andrew Marantz: Right.
Ed Wasserman: That’s a stunning number, right? And it suggests how much power you need to have, find that 3%. Because what, correct me if I’m wrong, it seems that it would also surprise me in the book, a lot of the people you talk to, were as disaffected from the Republican Party as they were from the Democratic Party.
Dan Mogulof: Right, which also explains the Obama-Trump voter and all that stuff.
Andrew Marantz: Yeah. I guess this is all going back to the point of the matrix envy. I think we’re going to get it wrong if we don’t think about these things as being all interpenetrated and interrelated. I think if we think of the Rust Belt Reagan Republican voters, Reagan democrat voters being one vote and the fringe sympathetic to David Duke voters being another vote, I think we’re just going to be misguided. My point in bringing up the past episodes of David Duke being on Sally Jessie Raphael and all that stuff is that the way these people have influenced is not by getting 50% of Americans to say, “I love David Duke,” and wearing his face on a t-shirt. It’s by surreptitiously slowly and powerfully influencing the national discourse and moving it in the wrong direction. And that is what they were able to do to make Trump electable.
Ed Wasserman: So let me ask you. You brought up a very good question. A point here about the traditional way that journalism covers the character characters the year reporting on. And you say … And this is something we talk about a lot and nobody has a very good solution for it. And I’m very curious to know what yours is. Because you basically point out that certain individuals are racists and lunatics and all the rest. And if you’re reporting on them without pointing out to the reader the character, and the flaws, and what’s so toxic about them, then you’re doing your readers a disservice. This is a bungled.
The question is … But do you understand the setup. We do operate, we do submit to certain disciplines in the way we recite where we gather and recite facts. We are bridling under those restrictions right now. The entire establishment press, mainstream press is appalled by the uses to which they’ve been put thanks to their own self-imposed disciplines. So the question is, what would you do if you’re the editor of the New York Times and you made some good comments about Dean. So what would you be instructing your reporters to do? How would you want them to report differently?
Andrew Marantz: That’s a good question. And I don’t have a good answer. I mean I don’t have a simple answer. I think the reason I bring up those. And this is exactly where I was going to go with the objectivity on one hand and truth on the other. That’s exactly the bind. When it comes to gamer gate, or some story about a troll army, traditional reporters are in a bind. And I feel this sometimes at the New Yorker, too. There’s obviously a hostile, and there’s things that you’re not exactly allowed to say. I bemoan the demise of Gawker in the book because there are certain things where Gawker could just say, army of troll shit heads does shit head thing. That you’re not going to get that headline in the New York Times. But it’s more honest, it’s just less objective.
So I think the first step is to recognize that we can have fundamental tensions that are not necessarily resolvable. I think that tension between being even handed and objective, and on the one hand and telling the truth on the other, sometimes they’re just directly at odds with each other, and you just have to make a choice. And sometimes the way to resolve it is to not run the story. Sometimes the way to resolve it is to get someone else to run the story. You know, if it’s someone who knows the area better or is more directly affected by it, sometimes the answer is to run the story, but make allowances to provide more context. Sometimes it’s as simple as the mechanical layout of a page. One of the headlines that The Times got in trouble for recently Trump urges unity. Do remember this? It was like, his speech was not about urging unity. But he said the word unity in the speech. So it was technically accurate, but it was not really the more salient truth.
And their ultimate excuse for that was just the page wasn’t big enough. So make a bigger page. There are some things where … And I don’t expect people to be perfect. I know that. And I was really trying hard in the book not to be victim blaming and to not lay the problems of America at the feet of the New York Times. I think that’s … Everyone’s favorite pastime on Twitter is to blame everything on the New York Times. And I think it’s woefully short-sighted. I think they’re one of the few functional institutions in the country. But I do think that they’re imperfect. And I think it’s one thing if it’s an isolated mistake, something was overlooked something the headline wasn’t big enough whatever. It’s a daily thing, mistakes get made. But if there’s a fundamental tension at work between even handedness and truth, let’s say. That has to be ironed out at a deeper level. We can’t just keep skating by and not expecting pitfalls to keep arising from that.
Carol Christ: All the way to find the New York Times much more argumentative. Much more point of view in its news articles than it used to be. So I think even though it may, still obviously the dilemma is there, it seems to me it’s moving in the direction that you are suggesting.
Andrew Marantz: Yeah. And I don’t know that … Right. And I don’t know that it should be necessarily. I think largely … Look, this is why I ended up putting this architecture of this cultural vocabulary and this undercurrent of philosophy throughout the book. God knows is not because my book editor asked me to put in more academic philosophy into the book. It was because I do think that if we think of these things without that. We’re in a moment of cultural turmoil, and it’s hard to know which way that militates in every case. And I think the best way to think about it is to think of it as I mean … Roti makes an analogy to paradigm shifts and paradigm shifts in the true Thomas Kuhn philosophy of science sense. When you’re in between paradigms, the technical term for that period is crisis. So we’re in a period of crisis.
It’s not a coincidence, then that our papers of record, our institutions that we look for stability are going to be unstable. And that’s deeply unnerving. But I think it’s unavoidable. And I don’t always know which way they should turn. I think one nice thing they could do is not be so reactive on a day to day basis and form their reactions based on the most recent mistake and overcorrect for that mistake and have pendulum swinging in every direction. But yeah, I think Trump is a problem out of hell for them because they don’t know… What do you? Just call him a different epithet every day? I mean, I don’t know.
Ed Wasserman: I mean, one thing you might do is not make him the center of public life. They have managed to feed his celebrity till, you look at the Washington Post, which is grieving tremendously anti-Trump organization, you pick up their website and 10 out of 15 headlines are Trump’s. They have made him the unique focus of public life. And until you read something like Michael Lewis’s book about the dismantlement of the federal bureaucracy, you’re unaware of just how thoroughly Trump’s people have taken over. And with what consequences. And now, Trump is the focus. And I wonder, now we’re facing a situation where policy, where culture is going to be downstream from politics. And the principal breakpoint, the fault line in American society is going to be with him or against him.
Dan Mogulof: Yeah. So I want to change gears slightly, more than slightly actually, in moving to the area of free speech. Because while it isn’t addressed really explicitly in the book, Andrew, I think it was last Sunday, he wrote op-ed piece got a lot of tension in the New York Times. Clearly, there’s a bit in the book where you’re talking about some of the Silicon Valley mavens, the utopians, the tactical utopians. And you’re right, when social media tools were used to incite hatred, the disruptors and those are the Silicon Valley lords usually responded by saying something vague about free speech. And here you are a few years later in the Op Ed and you say sticks and stones and assault rifles could hurt us, but the internet was surely only a force for progress. No one believes that anymore.
I no longer have any doubt that the brutality that germinates on the internet can leap into the world of flesh and blood. The question is where this leaves us. Noxious speech is causing tangible harm. And that doesn’t sound like the Angela Miranda was here on campus a couple of years ago in terms of how you see free speech, and it seems like you’re moving towards this position, and it was actually represented by two folks here at Berkeley, our law school dean who doesn’t know who could possibly have the power and the wisdom to decide what is hate speech and Professor John Pal who really wants us to understand that, yes, we recognize in many legal and cultural realms, that speech does cause harm. But you seem to be moving down that road like we have to find a way to control it.
Andrew Marantz: Yeah, so I don’t see a contradiction between where I was then and where I am now. I was pretty careful in that piece to make clear that I am not advocating for government restriction on speech.
Dan Mogulof: That’s true.
Andrew Marantz: And when I was here covering the Milo circus, the underlying premise was, this is a public university, therefore, the First Amendment applies, therefore, he has to be able to speak. And the whole conversation was about time, place and manner restrictions on that speech to the extent that they would be levied. So I’m still there. I still think that if somebody was invited to speak at a First Amendment-abiding institution, the current interpretation of U.S. Supreme Court law would dictate that they have to be allowed to speak.
What I’m questioning is whether that should be the interpretation of First Amendment law for time immemorial, or whether we can change our interpretations of laws just like we’ve always changed our interpretations of laws. And what I’m questioning is absolutism as an excuse for paralysis. So, it’s one thing to say that the Second Amendment exists, and therefore, people have a right to bear arms, even though they’re not in a well-regulated militia. It’s another thing to say, every person has a right to every gun without restriction with no safes and with babies in the house, and that’s a different thing. And that has to do with the way we interpret the text of the Constitution.
Now, there are also all kinds of other things that have nothing to do with the First Amendment, because private companies are not bound by the First Amendment. And there’s all kinds of civic action that we can take that would be carrots and not sticks and would be positive rather than negative liberty. So I’m not advocating for prior restraint. I’m not advocating for throwing people in jail for being political dissidents. I’m just saying that because those facts exists, it doesn’t mean that we can’t think harder about all the other stuff.
Carol Christ: Yeah, but it seems to me so profoundly different time is one of the things that is powerful about your book. Just think about the internet as a place for free speech versus thinking about a room. Like what’s protected on the Berkeley campus is any student group can invite, if they have a legitimate reason that that’s related to their the identity of their group, to come speak in a room like this. It’s profoundly different, no matter how awful the garbage is that they say, for somebody to be talking to a room of about 75 people versus being alive on the internet to any community that could form itself in relationship to that speech. So it seems to me, the two issues are somewhat different.
And I just finished reading a really, really interesting a book by Stanley Fish that’s about to be published that is about Free Speech. And he argues that free speech is always political. That it’s not some principle that exists in some pure universe. But it’s always takes meaning from a political context and that free speech itself is you’re only guaranteed the right to not have the government interfere with free speech. There are all kinds of ways in which free speech is limited in a public university. I mean, it’s that’s what time, place, and manner is that behavior in classrooms, behavior in lecture halls, behavior in faculty meetings is highly constrained in other contexts.
Dan Mogulof: So did the book, Carol, make you think we need to be more assertive or take put us heavier fingers on the scales when it comes to how we comment or call out speech this speech that Andrew explored in his book that the white supremacy, have we been too lax and too open, do we need to be more restrictive? Or do you think that those ideals still serve the institution?
Carol Christ: Well, I think those ideals serve the institution well. I’m just involved in some discussion with some students the other day who wanted me to pronounce on any number of issues that I just don’t think that that really serves the freedom of inquiry to which the university is devoted. It’s not that I don’t think other people should do. It’s just that I don’t think institution should necessarily do it.
Andrew Marantz: Yeah, I agree. It sounds like this Stanley Fish book is up my alley, because I agree that the context and the specific framework of any institutional intervention matter a great deal and that … But the main thing I want us to avoid and sounds like this Fish argument also wants to avoid is the notion that because we love and cherish and protect The First Amendment, therefore we must be noninterventionist whenever it comes to any form of speech we don’t like.
Dan Mogulof: So when I want to ask each of you in turn. Having read the book, you wrote the book, obviously.
Andrew Marantz: I’ve read it also.
Dan Mogulof: So what do we do to be to be a little prescriptive? Based on your findings and the experience you had over the last three years, what do we do to salvage democracy? What do we do to salvage truth? What do we do to salvage discourse that we can actually tolerate?
Andrew Marantz: Yeah, I think that … I was just thinking of interjecting a number of jokes. But I think since we’re on the topic of free speech and not being so reflexively noninterventionist about it, I think that … And again, this has nothing to do with the First Amendment really, but I think that the companies that built the internet, now that they have been forced to acknowledge that moving fast and breaking things is not the only thing they can do, and that they can actually take some responsibility, there are a lot of things they can do to … And I want to be clear that when often the discussion is about, “Should they kick off this or that person? Or should they mute this or that form of speech?” I think that’s way too many steps down the causal chain.
I think the biggest changes could come from just revamping the architecture of the algorithms themselves. We’re going to hear big speech from Mark Zuckerberg tomorrow about what he’s going to do about hate speech on Facebook. And my strong suspicion is that it’s going to be about fiddling around at the margins and not about changing the way that Facebook fundamentally makes its money. But I think that that is what really needs to happen.
Dan Mogulof: Carol, do you agree?
Carol Christ: I completely agree. I mean, it’s hard to put guardrails off when they haven’t built them there. But I think that social media platforms can do much more to make it harder for these groups and this hate speech to really flourish on the internet.
Dan Mogulof: Yeah. And I know you’re dubious about the dangers.
Ed Wasserman: You ask big question. What do we do? Where do you start? No, I agree with everything that’s been said here. And I do think the there needs to be a very serious and determined attempt to either dismantle or to wrest control over the world the discourse that’s now being wielded by the platforms. And this came out of nowhere. I mean, nobody was expecting this. Nobody imagined the scale and the thoroughness and the self-reinforcing quality of it. Does not seem to have any internal corrective to it. And I think that requires some pretty audacious public policy response.
I think we have a larger problem of our political culture has really become unhinged. And this was predated the internet. I think certainly it constrains what my people do, people in media because you can’t be blowing the whistle on wrongdoing if nobody’s listening. And there is no response. And newspapers, news orgs can break stories but if there’s no hearings the next day, then you have… And so we have a real destruction of the expectation of agency on the part of the public. The public doesn’t expect to be able to get anything done. And so I think we’re in a major pickle. And I think that part of it is the things otherwise criticizing some of the broader claims that you make on behalf of the people you interview. Obviously, it’s a source, it’s a problem. So, it’s a fight. I think we need to understand this is a long fight. It’s going to be a difficult fight and we’re coming up against the wealthiest and most entrenched forces in the world.
Andrew Marantz: Good point.
Dan Mogulof: So many good have a few questions from the audience now. There’s some good ones here. Just quick review. First, Andrew, what are your conclusions about the role of universities in all of this?
Andrew Marantz: I’m very pro-university.
Carol Christ: Thank you.
Ed Wasserman: We have your vote.
Andrew Marantz: Absolutely. That was a big takeaway from my time here actually.
Ed Wasserman: Is it?
Andrew Marantz: Yeah. Just that there are, even when universities are embattled or going through a challenge, the good ones are much more functional as institutions than most institutions in our country right now. And they have a mission, which is rare for most. I mean, another fundamental culture clash that we’re seeing between the giant Borg social platforms and the more traditional news media is that traditional news media institutions, at least good ones, are mission-driven institutions, as our universities. And social media companies pretend to be but I’m skeptical of that.
Dan Mogulof: Yeah. Next to Trump have to win for these techno hate mongers to have impact.
Andrew Marantz: Yeah, there’s a chicken and egg thing, right? Did they help him win? And then did he helped them maintain? And as Ed points out, a lot of the individuals in the book have a rise and fall narrative. Like a lot of, Milo being one of them, they have this nice tailwind, and then they just crash and burn. And so I don’t think Trump helped the individuals in the book. I think a lot of the individuals in the book hurt themselves by driving themselves into irrelevance. But I worry that they were the front line that had to die off to get the back lines into the Promised Land.
Dan Mogulof: Great. Next: As someone who does not participate in social media, why do so many people fall for fake narratives and conspiracy theories?
Andrew Marantz: Well, you’re safe whoever wrote this. I was doing a thing with Jaron Linear last night and he was interviewing me about the book and he has this thing about why everybody should delete their social media accounts. I told him, I’m a little skeptical of that because I think that it’s the danger is that once you say, “Oh, well, I’m insulated because I deleted my Facebook account,” you discount the extent to which you still live in the world that Facebook created. So it’s like, you might not drive a car, but you still have to deal with pollution.
Carol Christ: Yeah, I think people just love stories of agency. And they love narratives. That’s how we structure the word. And if you can… A good story doesn’t have to be true. But that’s what all fiction is based on.
Andrew Marantz: Exactly.
Carol Christ: And people love story.
Andrew Marantz: Yeah, people talk in the psychology world about Albertan salients and just finding salients in lots of different parts. I mean, it’s the premise of all my favorite movies.
Ed Wasserman: Well, I mean, let’s also remember that people are spending a tremendous amount of time online on things having nothing to do with politics. And in fact, they are their games, their news, their all kinds of communities they are populating. And they don’t have to do with key reelection, Donald Trump. So there’s a fracturing of discourse that’s going on now. And dismantlement of civic culture that’s extremely dangerous, but has no particular beneficiaries in terms of which politicians will get elected as a result.
Dan Mogulof: Here’s the question, I think for all three of you, actually. How can we teach and inform not just students, but the public generally, how to be wary and break out of the filter bubbles that are such a threat to independent thought and action? How do we convince both tech and media generally to alter their systems to break the bubbles they’ve been creating?
Carol Christ: Those are big questions.
Dan Mogulof: Yeah. Got any answers?
Carol Christ: I mean, that I think that’s the enterprise of the teaching enterprise of the university is to teach critical thinking, to teach skepticism, to teach asking about evidence, to try to educate students into about evidence-based argumentation. The question about the broader public is a harder one because the university doesn’t have as many touches on the broader public.
Dan Mogulof: Yeah. Andrew.
Andrew Marantz: Well, this is why I’m obsessed with the Roedean notion about cultural vocabularies. It’s you have to… It’s not an easy task, and it’s probably ultimately not going to be a successful one. But you have to try to create a vocabulary that’s more cohesive, that’s more functional that addresses people’s tangible lived experience.
Dan Mogulof: What do you mean create on the ground? What does that mean?
Andrew Marantz: Well, on the ground, it means, through our sense-making institutions such as journalism, all these institutions that are broken through our movies, through our… This is why another reason why politics is downstream of culture. Because when you have… This is why everybody’s so upset that the most popular movie in America seems to be promoting an Intel rebellion. That matters because people take messages from movies more than they take messages from what the things they’re supposed to take messages from. So I think it’s a long term project of trying to make our cultural vocabulary, coherent and functional, and also actually tangibly meaningful.
Ed Wasserman: Let’s also keep in mind how the internet makes its money. And these dysfunctions that were quite properly deploring are integral to the way in which the internet is structured, the way it’s micro economics. So these filter bubbles and the emotional activating content and the mean all the rest of it, this is all purposeful. There’s a reason why Christchurch YouTube is never explained how much money it made from the Christchurch massacre, from the live footage that went out and certain people downloaded. They made money from that. Now that is disturbing. And let’s start with the hijacking if you like a personal data, and the way in which that data is being bought and sold and traded in a way without compensated the people’s data it is. So there’s a huge challenge which has to do with taking apart with the watchmaker taking apart the watch the internet and looking at impermissible ways in which money is being made.
Andrew Marantz: I’d also just say to add on that in a slightly hopeful direction, which is not usually my stock and trade. There are very, very pernicious business models, and I think social media is one of them, that can change over time. Tobacco, gambling, as a result of a shift in cultural vocabulary. The thing that made the tobacco business model change was not that the business model change, it’s just that they were shamed out of being as successful at it.
Dan Mogulof: So here’s an interesting question. About whether this is happening internationally, or whether this is isolated and confined to the United States, or it’s more predominant here in the United States.
Andrew Marantz: Yeah, I think it is happening internationally. And my wife kept asking me to put in more and more stuff about Europe and other countries. And I just said, “Well, do you really want to help me edit a 900-page book.” And then so, I just had to confine it to America. This is a big enough country. But yeah, I think Saleni, I think Duterte, I think Boris Johnson — I think these things are all essentially just symptoms of the same causes.
Dan Mogulof: So we have come to the end at 7:15 p.m. I know there’s some questions we didn’t get to. I looked at them quickly. I could say many of them are answered in the book. I hate to say.
Andrew Marantz: That’s my favorite answer.
Dan Mogulof: I don’t get any the proceeds. But for those of you can, it’s an exceptional book. And I want to thank Dean Wasserman and Chancellor Christ and in particular, Andrew for coming out and for this excellent evening.
Andrew Marantz: Thanks. It was fun.