What happened in Sweden last night? Memetics won.

What actually happened was Trump watched a “fake” news item on Fox.

Sure Sweden has taken a lot of refugees and immigrants displaced from Islamic cultures, Sure it has it’s share of problems, and surely Islam has it’s own share too. Don’t we all?

But rather than “last night”, the news story was a misrepresentation of a report from 4 or 5 years ago, when journalists were investigating “Sweden as the rape capital of the world.” And not just a misrepresentation, a complete perversion. (a) the story was, Sweden “doesn’t” have a particular problem with rape, and (b)  most of the “problem” immigration has been after the story anyway. Like all statistics, you need to understand how to interpret. Recapped in a recent BBC R4 More or Less.

THAT’s why Trump has taken umbrage against mainstream press, for calling him out. [BTW, if you’ve not seen it, this Jon Sopel documentary on the history of presidents and the WH press corps is a must listen – 99% of it pre-dating Trump, so listen right through. (UK only, you will find YouTube copies of “Documentary: The President and the Press”).]

My main memetic agenda is that bad information spreads better than good, and I’ve been drawing attention to it for 15 years so far. What I hadn’t anticipated was a White House administration getting it’s intel from Fox and Breitbart. The archetypal bad information sources.

Bad information is easy to digest, short attention required, simple apparent logic, snappy presentation style, attractive sound and light shows, …. and easily manipulated to dubious agendas. Obviously good information can benefit from these features too, but there is necessarily more bad than good to start with, and the good generally has some nuance and complexity that needs understanding, and it’s precisely this feature that gets lost in the memetic arms race. Simply bad information spreads better than good.

For any one truth, there are many alternative half-truths, misunderstandings and lies (and ironic gags). By blurring “c”onservative news channels with the alternatives, in media where alternatives spread faster than facts, actual news of reality gets crowded out and alternative facts are mistaken for reality. The alternatives can make you think about the one truth, but are not themselves alternatives to it.

Anyone with a brain knows this. Unfortunately the White House’ brain is missing.

This would be a temporary 4 years glitch were it not for the 15 year agenda I already mentioned – which means all aspects of life are already infected. Not just popular and social media, but even would-be rational, expert professions, from economic and political governance to popular science and science itself. In fact it’s governance – literally cybernetics – of anything, that is infected everywhere. Received wisdom based on flawed understanding of flawed “expertise” is worse that good advice from your grandmother(*).

We all have our fair share of problems, Islam included, but we’d be better at deciding on best actions if we knew good information when we needed it.

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[Post Note : (*) And here Taleb expresses the same view:

Onward and upward.]


Also published on Medium.

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