Insightful newsletter of Drishtikone: Issue #258 - Are we being represented?
Democracy hinges on our voice and our representation. When those who do not have the mandate start to decide for us, we need push back. For, without representation, there is no Democracy!
“Death is the true inspiring genius, or the muse of philosophy, wherefore Socrates has defined the latter as θανάτου μελέτη. Indeed without death men would scarcely philosophise.” ― Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Vol. 1
When Henry VIII was about to die, even his doctors refrained from telling him his real state. It was treason to predict a King’s death you see.
Henry VIII had changed the entire country’s Church and made himself as the leader of the Church of England, just because the pope would not annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon who could not give him a male heir.
A country which was hitherto deeply Catholic was turned around overnight into a new direction. And it was not just a benign change. Many were put to death if they were found to be Catholic. Catholicism was not tolerated anymore.
That is how monarchies work.
Democracy, was however, a different type of system. Where people elected their representatives and through them created laws that governed them. No laws which were anti-thetical to the society would be in place.
Actual implementation, however, is not utopian. It has many flaws. But even the most flawed democracy is better than the rule by a Henry VIII or a Kim Jong-un.
At the center of democracy is our voice. And Representation.
With the new big-techs setting up humongous monopolies that hack at the root of our voice and expression, we need to ask the questions - Are we being represented? And, its corollary - Is democracy safe?
If not, then what is the way?
Let us explore these questions in a serious way
Want to sincerely thank Ajitji for his valuable contribution to Drishtikone! Thank you so much again, sir. 🙏
Publishers or platforms?
There is a very important debate going on about the social media companies. Are they in the business of providing a platform or are they publishers? The difference between the two types is in how they handle the content. Here is a set of definition. (Source)
Platform: a company or technology that enables communication and distribution of information.
Publisher: a company or person that qurates and distributes content.
Just as in other cases, in this scenario also these companies have been lying through their teeth and cheating everyone. They say one thing in front of the legislators and another to the courts. With complete impunity!
Facebook has long had the same public response when questioned about its disruption of the news industry: it is a tech platform, not a publisher or a media company. But in a small courtroom in California’s Redwood City on Monday, attorneys for the social media company presented a different message from the one executives have made to Congress, in interviews and in speeches: Facebook, they repeatedly argued, is a publisher, and a company that makes editorial decisions, which are protected by the first amendment. (Source)
When they were cornered in a fraud case, they came out with the truth to get out of it.
The suit, filed by an app startup, alleges that Mark Zuckerberg developed a “malicious and fraudulent scheme” to exploit users’ personal data and force rival companies out of business. Facebook, meanwhile, is arguing that its decisions about “what not to publish” should be protected because it is a “publisher”. (Source)
When they act as a publisher, they voice an opinion. They are setting the direction of the society’s morality in some way by pointing to what is “right” and what is “wrong.”
For example, in the case of ban of previous US President Donald Trump, their intrinsic narrative was that Trump was wrong, but those who instigated the race riots were “right.”
In that sense, they are setting up rules, norms and even de-facto laws in many countries. But is that democratic?
For, in a democracy, the right to set up rules, laws, and norms is up to the public which delegates it to its representatives.
Democracy and Representation
Representation, as opposed to entitlement (unlike a monarchy or dictatorship) is the basis of laws.
Are these social media companies our representatives?
Before we go into this question, let us understand the characteristics and meaning of representation in the first place.
Are characteristics of representatives relevant in representation and should they mirror those in society? By arguing that representation includes both a “making present” and an “acting for,” Pitkin (1967) suggests that it does not matter greatly who represents, as long as the ideas and preferences are represented. Representation in her view is not about the representative, for example, being a woman, but rather about the representative capturing relatively accurately whatever ideas and preferences the women constituent has that relate to policies.
Who are the representatives?
how are they selected - election or professional success or family?
what is the outcome of the decision-making process?
to what extent do different types of representations matter for decision acceptance among the citizens?
Let us dig deeper into what is representation.
What do we mean by representation?
Hanna Pitkin, one of the foremost American political theorist and winner of the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science "for her groundbreaking theoretical work, predominantly on the problem of representation," defined representation in terms of how people’s voices, opinions, and perspectives are brought to the table by the representative.
Hanna Pitkin (1967) provides, perhaps, one of the most straightforward definitions: to represent is simply to “make present again.” On this definition, political representation is the activity of making citizens’ voices, opinions, and perspectives “present” in public policy making processes. Political representation occurs when political actors speak, advocate, symbolize, and act on the behalf of others in the political arena. In short, political representation is a kind of political assistance. (Source)
Representation means different things to different people. So it is important to understand where is one “coming from” when one talks about representation? So Pitkins offered four different views of representation. (Source)
Formalistic Representation: The institutional arrangements that precede and initiate representation. Formal representation has two dimensions: authorization and accountability.
Symbolic Representation: The ways that a representative “stands for” the represented — that is, the meaning that a representative has for those being represented.
Descriptive Representation: The extent to which a representative resembles those being represented.
Substantive Representation: The activity of representatives—that is, the actions taken on behalf of, in the interest of, as an agent of, and as a substitute for the represented.
Many people talk about representation in their own way and in a democracy it is extremely critical to understand which perspective one invokes when s/he discusses the central components of a democracy. Representation being the most central, non-negotiable element.
With these four views in hand - you can set out to assess what is happening in India, for example.
The Islamic Topi debate, for example, is so shallow that it does not even fall within these definitions. At best, it could be a “descriptive representation.” The constant questioning by the media regarding selecting a Muslim representative for a constituency by BJP, shows that they are invoking the “descriptive representation.”
When, however, the Modi government brings in Triple Talak, they are invoking the “substantive representation.”
In the US, the liberals are pushing for more “descriptive representation” at the cost of substantive representation as well.
Representation matters, and it is hard to trust a government that doesn’t look anything like you -- especially when neither national party is trying particularly hard to change it. The sad reality is that 71 percent of elected officials are men, 90 percent are white, and 65 percent are white men. (Source)
This is a slippery slope.
For, the call for descriptive representation will not stop at just the gender or race differentiation. It will go to sexual orientation, religious differentiation, language differentiation and further on.
Once we start dividing the governance structure based on the differentiation in the society in terms of who “looks like whom” or “has sexual orientation like whom” we will not unite the society but divide it.
The more we focus on the divisions and empower those characteristics, the more acute centrifugal force they acquire to have their own say.
Getting consensus on things becomes that much more difficult.
Pitkin’s writings back the point that descriptive representation is not as important as having a representative who captures the concerns, ideas and preferences of the different segments and takes that into the legislative process. By arguing that representation includes both a “making present” and an “acting for,” Pitkin (1967) suggests that it does not matter greatly who represents, as long as the ideas and preferences are represented. Representation in her view is not about the representative, for example, being a woman, but rather about the representative capturing relatively accurately whatever ideas and preferences the women constituent has that relate to policies. (Source)
And, that is critical.
For, the essence of democracy is not as much as having every “type” of group sending a person in the parliament or Congress, but ensuring the voices of the people make their way to the legislative halls.
This same question has been raised several times and Arif Mohammad Khan addressed this question from Barkha Dutt in a way that fully aligns with Hanna Pitkin’s stance. (It stars from 21.00 onwards)
By asking for descriptive representation as opposed to substantive representation, we are assuming that a representative cannot and rather should not represent the interests of others. Which becomes an unmanageable problem in a democracy! Every constituency will have hundreds of different ways to differentiate - language, caste, religion, gender, sexual orientation etc - and multiple categories within them. How many representatives can go from one constituency? Only ONE!
So, if one takes Barkha Dutt’s asinine ask further, then every representative will only representative one slice out of thousands of different groups.
That is why it is a slippery slope. For, there is no end to playing up the differences and the divide in a society.
In such a scenario of multi-cultural and multi-interest societies, we now have ubiquitous technology platforms that have their own bias to play up some groups and push others down, only in the name of “respect for diversity.” How irony dies.
Just see this interesting assertion of a journalist on how the Google search results were being doctored in the run-up to the 2020 US Presidential elections. Right after that, everything was back to normal.
What I’ve learned is that the shenanigans they pulled pre-election have changed to some extent. For example, before the election and shortly thereafter, the number one listing on searches for “NOQ Report” wasn’t noqreport.com as it clearly should be. Instead, they had the website listed in the middle of the page under “Media-Bias Fact Check” and the Wikipedia page for “List of fake news websites.” The latter was especially odd since NOQ Report is not on the list. Search today and things are back to normal with our website at the top and various listings for our podcast below. The same can be said about other conservative news sites like Breitbart, The Gateway Pundit, and 100 Percent Fed Up which all suffered from Google’s manipulated search results before the election but are now back to normal with Joe Biden in the White House. (Source)
In India, you will see small sites being on the first page of Google search on a political topic but portals like Opindia and Swarajyamag being left out. In fact, if one needs to find information on any topic, the first two pages of search results are always full of a certain type of narrative. If for example, I had typed “Mandi system in India” now, I would only get protest and negative information. The first article is from Hindustan Times titled In Punjab, the centrality of the mandi system and second is from New Indian Express titled “How Farmers view the existing Mandi system” Both discuss Mandi system as something that should not be changed.
Go to the Tools -> Any Time -> Custom Range and the time range and see what happens.
The first article that shows is from “The Hindu - BusinessLine” titled “From farm mandi to bigger things” and the first line in that article is The aggregation of produce and storage facilities needs to improve, with private sector involvement.
So you see how the narrative changes? One cannot get a “balanced view” from Google on a topic that is current in nature. Google search endorses only one type of ideological narrative. Something that JD Rucker talked about
These applications - Social media, Search platforms and news - are not platforms or simply data reporting purveyors anymore. They are into ‘publishing” and that too into the task of ideological hit-jobs. The search narrative difference on Mandi system in India is an algorithmical hit-job!
So the question that needs to be asked is how can these platforms and media in general decide on our behalf?
How can it tell us what is “right” and what is “wrong”? Have we not, in a democracy elected our representatives and a government based on those representatives who legislate laws and run the country?
Are the courts not deciding the things that are aligned to the laws and the constitution that we all agreed on via our representatives?
Then who the bloody heck is media to decide? What is their representational character?
This is an important question that Yuri Bezemenov asks in this lecture. (We carried the complete video yesterday in our newsletter - Issue #257 - Swastika and the Aryan Christ)
As technology gets more and more advanced, the media houses are becoming more sophisticated. They are now planning to use cutting-edge technology to create tools of more disruptive nature in terms of propaganda. (Source)
BBC has Juicer. The Juicer takes news content, automatically tags it, then provides a fully-featured API to access this content and data.
Reuters is using the News Tracer tool that can track down breaking news.
Obviously, as we learned recently in our newsletter - BBC and Reuters were on the payroll of MI-6 (Read Issue #254 - The Perfect Espionage Strategy!)
New York Times has The New York Times Research and Development Lab (Source), which has a few research areas like Computer Vision (“uncovering hidden stories in photos, videos and live coverage”), Photogrammetry (“creating immersive 3D environments using 2D photographs”), Spatial Computing (“exploring new storytelling formats in 3D and augmented reality”), media Transmission (“Developing faster methods of getting photos and videos back from the field”), NLP (“Building tools to extract knowledge from our 168 year archive”), and Misinformation (“giving readers ways to distinguish credible news from misinformation”).
Anyone who has followed the news on India from New York Times knows that if they had a few chimps sent to do reporting, they would have turned out to be more accurate. So, their “fact-check” avatar is riddled with self-committed crimes.
But that is the story in most places. Those who are known as purveyors of fake news are the ones who show up as “fact-checkers.” Quite like Alt-News in India.
So what is the way?
Straighten News reporting
The problem is not that people have varied ideological traps. They do. The issue is that they peddle them as facts. They aren’t. They are opinions.
Opinions have their place in journalism. This newsletter is also a set of opinions. We try to be objective but to say we are not sharing opinions will be a lie.
But the reporting has been bastardized via ideological narratives deciding on what to report and what not to.
The News Agencies like Reuters and in India like PTI have been found to peddle narratives and lies.
And, that is where the integrity of news is lost.
The real crux of future news industry is not in creating new media and new portals and fact-checkers et al. But in setting up a robust news reporting technology platform.
And, that news reporting technology platform powered by Artificial Intelligence, block-chain and big data technologies will have to be as sacrosanct as the Election Commission.
For, it is as integral to the democracy in India. Without correct information, there is no democracy. Representation in the realm of opinions and analyses is being brought about by the many applications like blogs, newsletters, podcasts, and Youtube channels.
What is missing is the underlying reporting layer. And, undermining that is akin to undermining elections. In both the cases, what is at stake is representation.
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Super-fast Highway construction: Highway construction on a record-breaking spree. Despite the pandemic, highway construction in April-January this fiscal rose to 30 km/day, from 28 km/day in 2019-20. In the past, it was only in 2018-19 that the pace of building of highways touched the 30 km/day mark. The February-March period of the current fiscal is seen witnessing even speedier construction.
video corner: Last Nomads of Everest
At the height of 4000 meters is the Nurkum village. Villagers do cow husbandry - this is the story of the people in that Sherpa village as they strive hard to maintain their traditions and life.
Check this award-winning documentary out.
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