Friday, June 11, 2021

"Moral Licensing" and "Value Signaling" as a path to de-polarization and "Truthiness"

Builing Bridges, not walls...

Build Bridges, not walls
Claude Monet, National Art Gallery, Washington DC,
December 2008, Photo copyright @unitedstatesian

Basic truth/facts which are accepted by the majority of the population seem to be rare. The path to reaching the common ground is more indirect than might be expected 

The direct route would be for journalists on both sides to form a kind of consensus commission. A multi-partisan group could work together to publish a "wiki" of agreed facts from the previous week's events. They could complement these posts with lists of contested facts on parts they do not agree on and links to their supporting evidence. 

In my opinion, the road to true change would also require the creation of one or two new parties, but I will leave that for a future post :-) 

However, these dry, unemotional facts would only solve a small part of the problem and I argue that it starts with two key concepts becoming part of colloquial language.... The solution lies in making Moral licensing & Value signaling part of the daily vocabulary: 

Moral licensing is a term I first heard in 2016 from the author Malcolm Gladwell. He used it in an interview to explain the swing from electing Obama, the first black president, to T****, an openly racist president.

Gladwell expounded on the idea in his first Revisionist History podcast (season 1, episode 1). I also found this short article which explains the idea well and gives tips to combat it in ourselves.

The clearest single example would be the person who goes to the gym and burns 300 calories in exercise and then they reward themselves with a latte and a brownie that have 800 calories! 

Value signaling, as explained by Angela Duckworth and Stephen Dubner in the "No stupid questions" podcast is when a person does something to signal their support for an idea, but that signal has no real effect on the issue. Examples of this would be when people put up black squares in their Instagram accounts in support of Black Lives Matter, however, they did nothing of real substance. Another example would be people anti-abortion advocates who vote for Republicans with the hope that it will solve the problem of unwanted births when it is actually achieved the opposite.

Why are these two concepts so powerful?

Trust, shared backgrounds, equality of opportunity, and a common set of morals are traits that have shown to be good indicators of societal well-being.  Facts and the "truth" are dry, boring, and easily malleable or ignored when you feel divided. Give me a policy idea and I will find facts, figures, graphs, etc to support that idea. The key lies in working towards common goals with a group of people you trust and where you think you will get a fair shake.

How does this work?

Let's say that a common value in the US is respect for the police. There are many issues to improve, but I would say that at least 90+% of Unitedstatesian (American ;-) voters are saddened by the sight of a police officer being dragged down the stairs and beaten by a flagpole bearing the American flag, as seen on January sixth. Likewise, the same number would be saddened to see a police officer killed by looters stealing sneakers in the #BLM protests.

Now, if you can't use moral licensing to justify these heinous acts to defend your side, then the next step is to find a solution to the problem. If value signaling is understood to be a useless waste of time, then you are left looking for real solutions. 

Will this solve all national problems and bring people together singing "We are the world?" No. But it will at least get people working towards common goals with a modicum of respect.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Bad slogans: How to create a slogan and not shoot yourself in the foot.

 #BlackLivesMatter #DefundThePolice #GlobalWarming #ClimateChange #MeToo#BeBest?

#GenerationTouch  @yipiyipiyeah

How to create a good slogan?

When making slogans, people need to be very careful because language is important and the message can be easily twisted. 

Rule #1: Do NOT make the slogan too specific. 

A good example is #GlobalWarming which only spoke to one part of the global environmental problem. As time went on, proponents saw that the slogan was too narrow and it did not get across a complicated issue with many causes and a varied outcome. Global warming was replaced with #ClimateChange which is a much better slogan, but people who do not understand the issue are still stuck on the "warming" part and use snowstorms as faulty reasoning to ignore the science. An entire generation was lost because of a wrongly formulated slogan.

Rule #2: Do not make it divisive. 

The #BLM slogan is both too specific and divisive. The idea is obviously "Black lives matter Too"... but this was lost in translation. The movement would have been very different if they had started with the slogan #AllLivesMatter. However, now it is too late because this slogan has been taken by the other side which has misunderstood the meaning. The #BLM movement could formally come out to claim the #AllLivesMatter slogan and retire the old one; however, like global warming, the damage is done for a generation.

Rule#3: Do not attack any group, come from a place of support.

#DefundThePolice is probably one of the worst slogans ever. It attacks a group, it is divisive, and it is confusing. It would be much better to have an uplifting slogan that everyone could embrace. I am just spitballing here, but how about #RebuildThePolice, #MakePolicingBetter, #PoliceReformNow, #SaferPolicing??? Any ideas? Leave them in the comments.

The current slogan makes people think that there will be no police and that most people want to live in total anarchy. The issue should be framed in a way that helps the police get better training, appropriate funding when needed, and that you do not send an armed person into situations that either is overkill -- like dealing with a mentally unstable person urinating in public -- or underprepared -- having a single cop pull over suspects and have to deal with them alone. 

I will not do a complete post on this topic, but there are other ways to deal with these problems. The police will be happy if they do not have to deal with the mentally ill homeless and be able to focus on training for dealing with violent criminals. And traffic stops should not be one officer alone. Spain is not perfect, but they do well-planned random roadblocks. Cars are funneled through a blockade with multiple police in an overwhelming force. This almost guarantees that there is no violence, dangerous car chases, etc.

Rule#4: If it is not working, change it as soon as possible!

#MeToo is an example of a slogan that followed the rules mentioned above and was extremely viral and surprisingly effective in a very short period. Spain, unfortunately, did not follow these rules and they have created the slogan #ViolenciaDeGenero (Gender Violence). The slogan has hurt more than helped the cause. It has made men (all men) the bad guys and pitted the sexes against each other. This has opened the door to right-wing parties like Vox to defend the majority of men who are honest and non-violent and a lot of women who do not like to be portrayed as weak and defenseless.

How to solve this problem? Women's rights groups should accept the fact that the campaign was misdirected and to look for a non-divisive campaign slogan like #MeToo. "Violence" should be made clear that it can be psychological as well as physical. It should be clear that this is not a gender issue (Yes, more women are killed by men than women by me, but many more men are killed by men and some men are killed by women... this is a too-zoomed-in view of the problem. More men speed, but driving safety campaigns do not pit the sexes against each other). Women's rights groups should learn from the other side and include violence against the elderly, children, bullying, etc... all under one banner/slogan.

Rule#5: Don't be too bland.

Exhibit A: #BeBest. What was that all about?

In conclusion, if you want to start a movement or a trending hashtag, be very careful before moving ahead because you may do more damage to your cause than good. 

Have a great day! And feel free to leave constructive comments that help people create effective slogans :-)

PD. Maybe slogans should first be launched with catchy images. #GenerationTouch (#TouchGeneration) is clear in this graffiti, but without the image? 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Indoctrination Generation

Beach on the border between Jaffo and Tel-Aviv.
Muslim Women co-existing with Jewish women
 in Bikini on the beach in summer.

Dear citizens of the world,

The past couple of weeks here in Israel have been stressful but not as bad as it is shown on the media:

First of all, the stabbing attacks have been in and around Jerusalem mostly. Secondly, most of the targets are police, military and Orthodox Jews. Living in Tel-Aviv means being in a bubble and immune to the crazy side; however is does not make you immune from the stress.

Life goes on but you second guess each choice to go out, you are more aware of your surroundings, any young Israeli Arabs are watched as if they could make you the next headline.  Plans for a Friday dinner in Jerusalem have been put off indefinitely and the last hike in the mountains near the city was cancelled as well.

All in all, these flare-ups of confrontation between Bibi and the Palestinians is not what worry me. The threat comes from the lack of a long-term plan to resolve the issues and work towards peace. There does not even appear to be hope of peace. Even worse is the feeling that things will get worse before they get better.

Short term: I am sure that the attacks will slowly become more organized, more deadly and more explosive. Random knife attacks will morph into bombings similar to past intifadas... thus fueling a larger cycle of reprisals that could spiral out of control. (Note: The day after writing this post Hamas has called for bombings "Hamas media outlets have started to call for the replacement of stabbing attacks with vehicular terror attacks." ynetnews)

Long term: The indoctrination of young people on both sides of the dispute means that we are doomed to see fighting continue for a long time. True lasting peace will only come when both sides (especially the extreme 10%) educate their children differently.

Both sides are guilty of indoctrinating the next generation, but in different ways. This video I took in the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem in August (2015) is a good example.

Temple Mount...Source of the conflict...or just an excuse?

The current unrest is supposedly connected to the fear that the status quo will change on the temple mount. However, tourist visits are limited to only a couple hours a day and many days the access is closed. Security, controlled by Israelis, is very, very tight. The actual day-to-day activities are controlled by Muslims. And, even though it is the number-one holy place for Jews, the Orthodox Jews are not usually allowed to visit. And if they do, there is usually only one or two and they are flanked by a huge team of police and security guards that make sure there are no incidents caused by the Jewish visitor.

Seeing in person the measures the Israeli authorities take to avoid conflict, I doubt that they would risk taking actions that would lead to war.

Jews visiting the temple mount, surrounded by security forces to avoid any conflicts.

Teaching the love or to hate?

This conflict is so complex that anything written could go on forever, but the goal is to find one part of the problem and work on that.

My solution...have the kids go to school together...share classrooms, teachers, facilities and ideas. What do you think?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Petra - Weekend Escape - Part II

Dear Citizens of the World!

Today, I have decided to take a break from being the target in other people's target practice to post the second set of pics from our weekend in Petra. Seems fitting since Petra holds so much beauty....

This was my favourite spot in Petra. It is a very colourful tomb below and to the left of the Tomb of the Kings.

A detail of the area below the entrance of this tomb.

Ceiling detail...
As promissed I have some tips for your next visit to Petra:

First, choosing the correct time of year is crucial. Winter evening get quite cold at 1000m elevation in a desert. Summer days would be worse.

Second: when making the long treck up behind the tomb of the kings (some of the stairs in the pic above) to see the Treasury from the rim of the canyon, make sure you plan to be at top when you have the right lighting. I went quite early and it was still mostly in the shade.

Third: Plan to stay at least 1.5 to 2 days. There is plenty to visit and it is best to take your time and explore. It is a 5km round trip on foot just to get to the Treasury...

Plus, if you do not stay a night in the hotel, the entrance fee is almost double (100 eauros instead of 55)!

Lastly, don't forget to bring a good camera and a gift of balloons for all the kids asking for handouts.


- The United Statesian

Friday, March 02, 2012

Petra - Weekend Escape - Part I

Dear Citizens of the World,

Living in Israel means being disconnected with most of its neighbors, but Jordan and Israel have quite good relations. Lucky for us, it is possible to cross the border and visit Petra in one long weekend - one day there, 1.5 days to visit and then back to Tel Aviv.

Unfortuntely, our visit to Petra and Wadi Rum were at the end of January when it was very cold and cloudy... but I guess that it is better than 40 degrees (100F) in the summer.

A few shots from our first day at Petra...

Thanks to these two, we were able to get a nice hot tea with mint - great when you are in a desert and it is cloudy and cold!

A wider section of the canyon with fantastic light.

Fantastic texture that looks like dripping paint.

There is plenty of information on visiting Petra, however, in my next post, I will give some tips that I did not find in any of the on-line guides.

- The United Statesian

A parting shot...

Cloudy day in the city at the gates to Petra.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tel Aviv -- Your Beauti-fool!

Father and over-dressed son play on the beach

Dear Citizens of the world!

It has been a rainy January here in Tel Aviv, but February has started out sunny and warm! While friends and family are digging out from snow and sliding down icy roads, we spent Saturday walking along the beaches of Tel Aviv.

Hi Beauti-Fool!

There are plenty of nice beach scenes along the Israeli coast, but I focused on some of the details where city meets the beach. A good example is some of the best grafiti that is simple and too the point.

This grafiti is part of a massive, abandoned...least-taken-advantage-of section of the Tel Aviv coast. How could such valuable terrain go to waste?

Luckily there are some picturesque parts of the city to leave you with a warmer more positive feeling.

Jaffa at sunset...

Main street in Jaffa at twilight just at the end of Shabbat

I hope I have succeeded in making you snow-bunnies jealous ;-)

-The United Statesian


A parting shot...

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Don't Look Down!

Dear Citizens of the world!

Don't look down! Unless you are blind, then you are fine.... or not.

On our way to Petra we stopped in Mitspe Ramon to have a look at Israel's mini-Grand Canyon crater and the fantastic views of the desert from it's edges. To our surprise there was a group of blind people rappelling down the side of the cliff.

OK, They had the help of monitors and volunteers, but still.... rappelling down a cliff has got to be an experience when you don't see where you are going and when you have no idea how far you would fall if you messed up.

Watch that next's a doozy!

The experiment reminded me of my rock climbing class at university in the Alps. The instructor had us climbing up with a blindfold, feeling for the holds and balancing ourselves without being able to see. It was quite a good way to learn to get a "feel" for rock climbing.

I hope to back in that area soon for a hike...who's up for a walk through the Negev Desert? I will leave the rappelling for the experts.

-The United Statesian