Transcript for Outrage 018 – Why Building a Resilient Culture is Essential for Democracy – David Troy

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[00:00:00]: David Beckemeyer: Welcome to Outrage Overload. A science podcast about outrage and lowering the temperature. This is episode 18.

[00:01:00]: David Beckemeyer: The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, commonly known as the nine 11 Commission was set up on November 27th, 2002, to investigate all aspects of the September 11th attacks, the deadliest terrorist attack in world history. The nine 11 Commission concluded that the most important failure was one of imagination.

****: We

****: Clip: knew what we had to do as a nation to respond, and we did. But it’s also fair to say that on that September day we were unprepared. We did not grasp the magnitude of a threat that had been gathering over a considerable period of time. As we detail in our report, this was a failure of policy management capability, and above all, a failure of imagination.

[00:02:00]: David Beckemeyer: Nobody imagined hijackers would intentionally crash, thus killing themselves. Nobody imagined that hijackers would use commercial aircraft as weapons.

****: It turns out there were quite a few data points suggesting this kind of attack, but there was a failure to connect the dots. It takes a special kind of person to see these kinds of connections and make predictions or assessments about them. Our guest today is that sort of person. Dave Troy is a serial entrepreneur, turned investigative journalist that I’ve known for decades.

****: He is a visionary thinker who examines complex issues through unique lens. Dave offers a big picture perspective employing a systems and network approach to understanding the roots and consequences of disinformation, polarization, and other threats to democracy. In an era where disinformation and polarization can undermine the very foundations of democracy, it is crucial to go beyond surface level analysis and address the underlying cultural factors that perpetuate these influences.

[00:03:00]: Dave Troy sheds light on the concept of cultural depletion of phenomenon that hampers our ability to build a society that can support the informed democracy we aspire to. By examining the interconnectedness of information, relationships, and social divisions, we’ll uncover the profound consequences in our collective wellbeing.

****: Listen in as we embark on a journey seeking innovative strategies and cultural solutions to build a better informed society and safeguard the future of our

****: David Troy: democracy.

[00:04:00]: David Beckemeyer: One of the tie-ins back to the sort of outrage, disinformation sort of, um, theme of, of the podcast. I mean, disinformation isn’t the biggest piece, but a lot of outrage. Media is disinformation. Sure. Um, so it comes up a lot, but it seems like that’s one of the tie-ins that there’s, you know, in, in order for this to affect, you have to weaken the west and, and you can weaken the west by sort of get them fighting amongst themselves like, like we do here in the US in particular.

****: Indeed. You know, and there that’s, that’s something that is not in our best interest. And, and, and I, and I’m saying it’s, you know, we’re guilty on the left and the right on this. This is not a, a, a partisans position. Sure. You know, the snarky left, you know, is sort of how we get some of these people on the very conservative.

****: Right. So, um, you know, We need to quit being snarky and, and, uh, the right needs to quit being outraged.

****: David Troy: Yeah, for sure. And I think that part of the problem is that, um, you know, we kind of assume that we’re operating within sort of a normal, you know, political paradigm where, you know, we, you know, goodness will prevail if one party beats the other and everything’s gonna be okay.

[00:05:00]: I would argue that, you know, that is true when businesses, when it’s business as usual and like, People are being reasonable. Like, you know, you want to prevail and you want to have your team win and all of that. When you have these kinds of more metaphysical, you know, and jet geopolitical things going on, I feel like people need to leave that frame a little bit and focus more on creating the conditions that make democracy possible.

****: And by that I mean you really can’t have a totally alienated and factionalized society and have a functional democracy. You know, you just, there are only certain temperatures, if you will, within which a society will support a democracy. And right now we’ve got our, our set, our society set on boil. And you know, you cannot.

****: Do anything when things are said on Boil. Now, has this happened before at different times? Yeah. You know, obviously it has, but um, you know, I think we need to be more cognizant about, there’s really multiple tasks at hand here that isn’t just a political task. We also have a huge societal task on our hands, both in terms of.

[00:06:00]: Sort of, I guess, moderating and tempering the kinds of, you know, disinformation and things that create outrage. But we also have, you know, some very active things that we could be doing within our societal, you know, project that could bring us together. And one of the things that I think, you know, is maybe most overlooked is, you know, let’s, let’s use the, the, the term, the greatest generation.

****: Everybody throws that around because everybody’s like, oh, you know, they fought in World War ii and that was really cool. They did that and gosh, they did so with such, you know, grace and, uh, honor and, and all of that. And, you know, my grandfather was involved in Normandy and whatnot. And so I, I feel that, but at the same time, like.

****: There was also something very practical that came out of that, which was all of these cross-cutting social ties from the people that served together in that war. And you had people who were rich and poor and from different, you know, geographies mixing and, and, uh, getting to know each other and getting to trust each other.

[00:07:00]: And it was that generation. That built all of those social ties that went on to build the 20th century and to create the post-war modern world. And it wasn’t because they were like inherently awesome, it was because they were given an opportunity to do something awesome and to, and to connect with each other in a way that that created something extraordinary.

****: And I just feel like that we have just overlooked that as a, as a process. And so what we have now in terms of how people get to build social ties with each other is this very. You know, kind of, um, uh, you know, fragmented kind of, uh, you know, highly layered kind of class structure type thing where, you know, people treat schools that they go to like brands and they select people and they end up mostly being around people who are very much like them one way or another.

[00:08:00]: Um, and they never really got an opportunity to build deep trust with people who are very different from them. And I just think that’s a huge overlooked opportunity. And it’s so obvious when you articulate it, but until anybody says anything about it, nobody thinks about it. And you know, so I’m not suggesting we like go have another huge world war just for the purposes of social mixing, but maybe we could do some social mixing without a world war.

****: And so, you know, things like national service come to mind. I’m not talking about military service necessarily, although that’s certainly. Fine. Um, but, uh, you know, things like, um, public service of various kinds or, you know, AmeriCorps but made much bigger so that it becomes something a lot of people participate in.

****: Those would be great investments and we’re unlikely to do it because we cannot overcome our political divides enough to agree that that’s worth doing. But I would argue if we don’t do something like that, we’re gonna have a civil war and it’s just a matter of time.

****: David Beckemeyer: Yeah, I certainly, um, yeah, I’ve certainly learned that that’s a, that’s one of been, been, been one of my lessons from just the, the process so far of this podcast has been, you know, that, that we, this sorting that we’ve done is definitely had negative effects.

[00:09:00]: And, you know, there’s sort of the Putnam bowling, you know, the, what is it? Is it Putnam, I think is the guy that wrote the book, did bowling Alone. Yeah. The bowling alone and all that. Mm-hmm. You know, and, and, um, you know, and. You know, we’ve, you hear people all the time saying, I gotta get outta California cause it’s too blue, or I gotta get out of somewhere else cause it’s too red or whatever.

****: And, you know, and we, we really seek this out. And of course now, like you were saying, in, in our online fragmented network of connections, we can, you know, really easily select and, you know, block the people we don’t like and, and keep pruning those, that network down until it’s only people that have some whatever, however far extreme we go.

****: And usually, You know, you, the more you do that, the more extreme you get. Right? Yeah. Because you start seeing more and more people pushing in that direction. Yep. And you know, and we’re, so, we’re doing it in our physical lives. We’re doing it sort of along all these lines and Yeah. You know, and my, my brother talks about this a lot.

****: You know, he served in Vietnam and, you know, that’s it. It was a, a, a, a smaller version of that. But I mean, you got thrown in with, you know, California kid gets thrown in with people from the south and people from the east, you know, the Northeast and everywhere else. And you, you deal with it, you know, and I, I always thought.

[00:10:00]: You know, like a national sports team is almost a little bit like that, right? I mean, throw yourself in, in something like that where you have to figure out these other people and deal with them and, but yeah. You know, it’s, it’s a challenge. I, it’s almost like the more we struggle to get out of, into a more, you know, isolated area, the more we should almost go the other direction.

****: Like, where’s the place? That’s the purples in the country, let’s go

****: David Troy: there. Yeah. And you know, how do you, so a lot of people ask. You know me, like, how do you make a difference in this climate? I mean, it, and I, I often say, you know, you can’t necessarily just vote your way out of this. This is something that you have to do very much at the local level and build connections and start caring about societal structures.

****: And I would even go further in saying like, you know, there’s a popular quote, which is that culture is upstream of politics. Which is one that, uh, you know, Steve Bannon and Andrew Breitbart abused heavily. Uh, it’s a quote from Antonio Gramsci, the political, the Italian political theorist. But, um, I would go even further and just suggest that like stuff like metaphysics and epistemology are upstream of culture.

[00:11:00]: And I, you know, I know that sounds kind of in inaccessible and fancy or whatever, but all I mean by that is like there’s a great deal of imagination that can be brought to bear in terms of shaping culture. And we have, by and large, because we are so fixated on politics, and I would argue that the American.

****: Obsession with team sports, which isn’t unique to America obviously, but um, is sort of uniquely American and how we have started to think of politics as a kind of a team sport and people watch it with much the same intensity that they do football and, you know, whatever else. Um, There is this zero sum sense that people have with it.

****: And so it’s very, very tempting to just map all of this onto politics. But the, the bottom line is what we’re facing is really cultural deprivation or cultural depletion where we, you know, are not sufficiently building a culture that is able to support the democracy that we, that we want to be. And, um, as a result, nothing is working on our democracy because we’re so freaking paralyzed.

[00:12:00]: It’s just, you know, our, our. Polarized that it’s very difficult to, to really make any kind of progress. And if you look at like the network graphs of Congress over the course of the last 50 years in terms of, you know, votes where parties would, or you know, politicians would cross lines to vote on, vote for other bills that were proposed by the other party, that kind of.

****: Cooperation has almost entirely evaporated over the, especially the course of the last 30 years, really beginning, I would say, with the Newt Gingrich Congress in 1994, where he kind of formalized this as a policy and, um, you know, it is what it is. But I, I just think that, You know, we are never gonna sort of get ourselves out of this hole that we’re in if we just keep digging in the same direction politically.

****: You know, I mean, at the end of the day, we’ve got to reinvent our culture, and we have to decide what we care about as a country. We have to decide what we’re gonna be, what, what? Where we’re gonna take this. And that’s why I say the West really needs a, a deeper vision of what the future looks like. And, you know, obviously America has played a tr tremendous role in, in helping to create that kind of a vision in the past.

[00:13:00]: I don’t know that we have one right now and, um, I think that the, you know, Europe and, and America and, you know, other, other western nations need to get together and figure out where this is all going. And, and then we need to start the cultural projects that are necessary to implement those values. Um, you in a way that that generates, you know, outcomes politically that, uh, are compatible with those values.

****: Because right now, you know, as I say, we’re just on a track to civil war and, uh, it’s, it’s gonna be very costly and very ugly for people.

****: David Beckemeyer: Well, and that’s why Yeah. And I talk a lot about, you know, we, the, the problem is that, that we get what we ask for. You know, it’s the, we met the enemy. I, I say this all the time.

[00:14:00]: Yeah. And the enemy is us, you know, because, you know, like we talk about the, uh, you mentioned the, the politicians don’t vote. Uh, you know, our, it’s very difficult to, to find a politician that is willing to go compromise and go have discussion and debate with anybody on the other side. And if they even bring that up, they can be, you know, chastised by the populace in addition to their own party.

****: Yeah. You know, we are asking ’em not to do that now, like we’re more interested in them winning for our side, then we are interested in them doing something for our community. Yeah. And. And, you know, and, and so, you know, that’s why I’m, I sort of, sort of, this has gotta start with us, you know, we’ve gotta start almost at the bottom and get people to look at this differently and, you know, and obviously I’m out here doing one guy, me, you know, I can change a hundred people’s minds, you know, but, but you know, we’ve gotta do this at scale somehow.

****: And it, because the politicians aren’t gonna lead in this, right? I mean, that’s just not how it works. Um, they’re gonna follow what we ask them to do and tell them to do. And, um, you know, and right now that they’re, they’re letting us down. I mean, they’re not. Doing this leadership. I mean, they’re taking this bait and running with it.

[00:15:00]: David Troy: Yeah. I mean, to some extent this is the game that’s been set up for them to play. So they’re playing it, you know, and I guess that’s just to be expected. But I do think that there, you know, it is possible to create a lot of change, um, in a relatively compact period of time. Um, you know, I know some people will disagree with this assessment, but, um, you know, I think people like Steve Bannon have, uh, done a great deal of harm very quickly.

****: Um, and, uh, you know, he has very purposely along with, you know, people like Alexander Dugan and their compatriots, um, have gone and really gotten at the levers of culture in a very visceral way fairly quickly. Now, granted a lot of this was, you know, you could make an argument that this, all of this, Modern stuff that we’re dealing with now goes back to like the Powell memo in 1971.

****: Um, you know, when Louis Powell put together a memo talking about kind of a right wing takeover plan for the next, you know, 50 years. And yeah, that’s a lot of it goes back to there, but at the same time, just even in the last 10 years, Uh, people like Bannon have, uh, you know, really figured out a lot of the cultural wedges and just pushed on ’em really hard and put a lot of manpower and money and time and whatnot into those cultural wedges.

[00:16:00]: And those are not electoral activities, they’re cultural activities. And, um, I think that in general, the left. Is both under-resourced in that regard. Um, not just financially, but I don’t know that, um, you know, they’ve articulated a clear way to defend against that kind of activity. And, um, you know, and even if they could, it’s not clear.

****: You know exactly how you prevent somebody who’s so hell bent on destruction like Bannon and Dugan from. Being destructive, you know, I mean, it’s, it, it’s so much easier to destroy stuff and to tear stuff apart than it is to create things or to repair things, you know? Yep. And that’s really what we’re dealing with is, is this kind of destructive element.

[00:17:00]: And so, you know, I like to say sometimes that, you know, uh, dealing with a population that has been, uh, victimized by disinformation and distrust and all of these kind of exogenous elements, you know, you can’t fix that just by like, Giving people the truth, you know, that’s like trying to fix a forest fire by pouring water on it after it’s been burned down.

****: You know, it’s not gonna come back. It’s gonna take a generation, and I worry that that’s kind of where we’re at now, is that it’s gonna take a generation for people to kind of recover from this and to, you know, come. Wait for people, you know, like if you could just get Steve Bannon to stop burning things down all the time and being a damn arsonist, things would improve somewhat, you know?

****: Right. Him and Roger Stone. I mean, there’s like a handful of people that are really causing like 80% of the problem. It’s kind of a Pero curve, you know? So, um, I, I feel like there is hope in that regard, and I think that it is possible to create equal and opposite. Cultural change, but again, it’s so much easier to tear things apart than it is to create, you know, new things or to grow new things.

****: And yeah, just

****: David Beckemeyer: like it’s so much easier to do disinformation than it is to do real journalism and research and facts and sort it out. Right. It’s easy just to lie to say anything randomly, right? Yeah. And you could put it in the same font, you could wrap it into cool colors, and it looks just the same when somebody reads it.

[00:18:00]: David Troy: Yeah, and, and unfortunately, you know, what I’ve written about a lot is the fact that, you know, disinformation is really not so much about the information that it contains and trying to like, get people to believe those things. It’s more about the effects that the disinformation has on a target population and, you know, does it create social division?

****: Does it break relationships? Does it cause radicalization? And, you know, that’s generally what the goal of these, of these, you know, information outlets is. And of course, You know, the, the goal of like real journalism isn’t necessarily to do like the opposite of that. It’s more about informing and giving people good information and all of that.

[00:19:00]: It’s not about trying to create effects, it’s just trying to inform. So the fact that you have this one thing, disinformation and fake news and whatever, that’s trying to actively have effects and harm people, and then you, you sort of compare it to a thing that’s, You know, ostensibly it’s opposite, but isn’t actually, it’s opposite in that regard, in that it’s not, it’s not that it’s true, it’s that it’s not trying to harm, you know, and that’s just, it’s so just unintuitive for people to think about because it, as you say, it all comes kind of wrapped in the same kind of clothing, and so you kind of think, oh, well these are just.

****: To the same thing with different care attributes, but they’re really quite different. One is intended to poison you, the other is trying to inform you, um, and, you know, isn’t trying to create negative effects. So anyway, it’s just, it’s a really hard problem, you know.

****: David Beckemeyer: Well, I’m gonna, I’m gonna just talk about one quick thing, then I do want to, uh, uh, I’ll wrap up with that.

****: But, uh, yeah, so, you know, on, on a Facebook political group recently I saw somebody arguing against about, you know, there was, I guess in their school program that. We’re talking about, they were gonna spend some money on information literacy, and that’s a waste of money. Why would we do that? Like, this is how we’re going to be saved is information literacy.

[00:20:00]: You know, this is my pet peeve right now. But, um, yeah. So I know you’ve already touched on it a little bit, but let, let’s go ahead and wrap up with, you know, a couple of the, how to fix it. You know, maybe specific how to fix it, ideas, you know, that, you know, I know you’ve already kind of touched on a few, but maybe you can add, add, add a little bit more to

****: David Troy: that.

****: Yeah. Well, I mean on the topic of information literacy, I think it’s important to recognize too that, that that alone isn’t going to solve the problem. Because like, for example, there was somebody this morning I saw who was talking about how in Finland, Finland has been very successful at educating children about Russian disinformation.

****: And you know, the comment that this finished person had on their, on their Mastodon post was, oh, I wish, you know, Americans would do the same. And. Okay. You know? Yeah, sure. We sh we should think about that. But let’s think about what’s actually being said here. So first off, Finland and Russia have this very complicated cultural history that goes back forever.

[00:21:00]: Um, and there’s a lot of distrust between the two countries. Um, and, uh, you know, you also have, I think in general in Finland, you know, I’ve been there a little bit and I know people there. Uh, it’s a more homogenous kind of culture, uh, and it’s easier to do something like institute a national education program about Russia, especially than it is to do something like that here.

****: And what this, all of this tends to elide is the incredible forceful power of social connection, social isolation, uh, social division, and the idea like in the United States, that we’re just gonna like implement some kind of national. Information curriculum about anything like that’s not happening here.

****: And so same thing is kind of true with, with information literacy. I, I honestly, you know, people also talk about education. And the idea that like people are just uneducated, which is why they’re susceptible to this stuff. If you go to a, you know, let’s say a very deep red place in this country and you sit down and you have a beer with somebody whose job is construction or manufacturing or whatever, you are going to find them to be pretty well educated.

[00:22:00]: They know how to do stuff. They know how to execute projects. They know how to do project management. I know PhDs in Texas who are completely off the deep end information wise, but they’re PhDs. They’re not uneducated people. So I just think that’s really important to keep in mind is that this isn’t about there being some kind of underclass of idiots that needs to be saved.

****: You know, this is about having two different social realities, or at least two different social realities, if not more. Uh, Throughout this country that, you know, we are a very large country. We are mostly empty. Um, and the differences between people in the areas that are less populated and the people in the cities is tremendous.

****: But it isn’t just about education. Um, now you might wish that maybe people had different beliefs or, you know, uh, could be convinced of things that maybe they’re hard to convince of, but it isn’t that they’re stupid or something. It’s not like that their IQs are low, and it’s not like they’re not getting schooling, you know?

[00:23:00]: And it’s not like they’re not capable of doing other things that require education. So I just think that’s kind of a red hering. But all that being said, you know, well, okay, well how do we actually get around this? Well, I do think that like creating more social capital between people of all kinds is generally a good thing to do, and we should strive to do that.

****: I do think that action at the local level is incredibly important. You know, getting more involved with our communities, trying to, you know, you don’t necessarily need to go like seek out people who are totally different from you, but. In-person interaction and we all, you know, it’s not like I master this, I’m just giving advice that I think it’s a good idea.

****: I’m not saying I’m taking it all yet, but, um, you know, uh, this kind of in-person interaction and getting to know your neighbors and becoming more resilient because we know and trust people in our community, even if they’re somewhat different. From us, I think is important. I think that the idea that we can just sort of do all of our interactions online and that this is somehow another, a proxy for real life, I think is just a bad idea.

[00:24:00]: And um, yeah. You know, I mean, I feel like as you said, you know, it’s so easy to like block people. Online that you don’t agree with. But you know, you don’t really do that in real life most of the time. Sometimes you do, but most of the time the way that we got around this in the past was there was the old maxim of, you know, you don’t talk about religion and politics over dinner.

****: You know, and polite people knew to like, there were certain things maybe you don’t get into, or if you do touch on it, you do. So with a great deal of respect and circumspection, you know, And, um, I just feel like that, you know, a lot of those kinds of basic, you know, how to live, how to, how to be in harmony in a plural, pluralistic democracy.

****: We’ve just kind of gotten out of the habit and a lot of people have benefited from us getting out of that. Um, and I don’t know how exactly we’re gonna, you know, move beyond this. And as I say, it may take another generation that’s like sick of all of this to like come up with some kind of a better vision for the future and then move towards it.

****: But, uh, This that we’re doing right now is not working, so we gotta come up with something else.

[00:25:00]: David Beckemeyer: Right? Yeah. And it’s, you know, and so much of it is, it’s so much harder to dehumanize people when you’ve spent time with them, you know? Yeah. Uh, and, and you see that they’re real people and it’s so much easier.

****: Just on the other side of it, it’s so much easy to dehumanize, you know, you’re being fed all this stuff that tells you how awful they are, and they’re evil and, yep. All these things, online targets or whatever else. Yeah, yeah. And online, it’s super easy to believe it. You know, at this point you don’t, you don’t have that, you don’t have any other context to, to, of dealing with that person, except maybe on this political page or something.

****: In, in any, anyway, it’s, it’s just, I think that’s, that’s a big piece of it. It’s just, and that’s a big piece of what I try to get people to think about is humanize the, the, your adversaries, you know,

****: David Troy: Yeah. And to be honest, I mean, you know, because we are in such a precarious position and because you know, right now the divide between left and right feels very much like, you know, some kind of existential battle between like woke system and fascism.

[00:26:00]: People on both sides feel really alienated and they feel like that there’s some kind of existential, um, You know, there’s this psychologist who studies cults, Robert j Lifton, um, who talks about the dispensation of the other, um, as being a key feature of cults where basically you’re willing to say, I don’t care if those people live or die.

****: Um, and, uh, we’re at that point. You know, people are very much willing to, uh, sacrifice their fellow man if it means that, you know, they can avoid this political fate that they think is, is going to, you know, spell the end of civilization or something. So you, it’s understandable, but we gotta move past this.

****: This is, this is not a healthy pathway forward. Right.

****: David Beckemeyer: All right. Well, Dave and Troy, uh, thank you so much for, for making the time to be on the podcast. I think that was great. Um, so is there a website or something you wanna send people to?

****: David Troy: Yeah, sure. So, uh, I am posting links to all of my different

[00:27:00]: Um, so you can go check that out. Um, I write. Monthly column for the Washington Spectator called The Wide Angle, uh, which you can find with Google easily enough. Um, and I have a podcast of my own called Dave Troy Presents, where we talk about a lot of these kinds of topics. Um, also disinformation and, you know, a lot of the geopolitics behind a lot of this.

****: So look forward to, you know, having you guys check it, check out, uh, the other podcast that I have there.

****: David Beckemeyer: Awesome. Yeah. And that podcast goes really deep. Um, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s a little longer format It does than here. And you go, you go pretty deep on things over there.

****: David Troy: Yep. Absolutely. So again, thank you for having me, David.

****: I really appreciate it.

****: David Beckemeyer: That is it for this episode in the Outrage Overload Podcast. For everything we talked about on this episode, visit outrage Before we go, I have a quick favor to ask. You know, reviews mean the world to us podcasters. They help us reach more listeners and continue bringing you thought provoking content.

[00:28:00]: So if you have a moment, I’d be thrilled if you could head over to pod and leave a review. I’ve made it super easy for you. Just visit pod overload, and let me know what you think of the show. There’s also a link in the show notes. I read every review and your feedback truly matters.

****: And until next time, stay curious.

****: David: Stay kind.

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