Vi Hart on positive feedback driving polarization

Vi Hart’s interesting comments on the dynamics of political polarization, following the release of an innocuous video:

I wonder what made those commenters think we have opposite views; surely it couldn’t just be that I suggest people consider the consequences of their words and actions. My working theory is that other markers have placed me on the opposite side of a cultural divide that they feel exists, and they are in the habit of demonizing the people they’ve put on this side of their imaginary divide with whatever moral outrage sounds irreproachable to them. It’s a rather common tool in the rhetorical toolset, because it’s easy to make the perceived good outweigh the perceived harm if you add fear to the equation.

Many groups have grown their numbers through this feedback loop: have a charismatic leader convince people there’s a big risk that group x will do y, therefore it seems worth the cost of being divisive with those who think that risk is not worth acting on, and that divisiveness cuts out those who think that risk is lower, which then increases the perceived risk, which lowers the cost of being increasingly divisive, and so on.

The above feedback loop works great when the divide cuts off a trust of the institutions of science, or glorifies a distrust of data. It breaks the feedback loop if you act on science’s best knowledge of the risk, which trends towards staying constant, rather than perceived risk, which can easily grow exponentially, especially when someone is stoking your fear and distrust.

If a group believes that there’s too much risk in trusting outsiders about where the real risk and harm are, then, well, of course I’ll get distrustful people afraid that my mathematical views on risk/benefit are in danger of creating a fascist state. The risk/benefit calculation demands it be so.

3 thoughts on “Vi Hart on positive feedback driving polarization”

  1. Dear Tom

    I love your blog and thank you for writing up all this cool stuff.

    I created the following CLD for polarization and am really unsettled by it. Can you find the point where the many positive feedback loops can be balanced or broken?

    Thanks, and cheers,
    Luzi.

    ____________________
    Attempts to debunk the lies = A FUNCTION OF( Outrage by Opposition)
    ~
    ~ |

    Support by Fans = A FUNCTION OF( Attempts to debunk the lies,Lying,Supporting media success\
    )
    ~
    ~ |

    Conflict Potential = A FUNCTION OF( Outrage by Opposition,Support by Fans)
    ~
    ~ |

    Lying = A FUNCTION OF( Outrage by Opposition,Support by Fans)
    ~
    ~ |

    Opposition media success = A FUNCTION OF( Outrage by Opposition)
    ~
    ~ |

    Outrage by Opposition = A FUNCTION OF( Lying,Opposition media success)
    ~
    ~ |

    Overall Media Success = A FUNCTION OF( Opposition media success,Supporting media success\
    )
    ~
    ~ |

    Supporting media success = A FUNCTION OF( Support by Fans)
    ~
    ~ |

    ********************************************************
    .Control
    ********************************************************~
    Simulation Control Parameters
    |

    FINAL TIME = 100
    ~ Month
    ~ The final time for the simulation.
    |

    INITIAL TIME = 0
    ~ Month
    ~ The initial time for the simulation.
    |

    SAVEPER =
    TIME STEP
    ~ Month [0,?]
    ~ The frequency with which output is stored.
    |

    TIME STEP = 1
    ~ Month [0,?]
    ~ The time step for the simulation.
    |

    \\\—/// Sketch information – do not modify anything except names
    V300 Do not put anything below this section – it will be ignored
    *View 1
    $255-0-255,0,Times New Roman|12||0-0-0|0-0-0|0-0-255|-1–1–1|-1–1–1|96,96,110,0
    10,1,Lying,458,259,19,11,8,3,0,0,0,0,0,0
    10,2,Support by Fans,580,336,53,11,8,3,0,0,0,0,0,0
    10,3,Outrage by Opposition,359,339,36,19,8,3,0,0,0,0,0,0
    1,4,1,2,1,0,43,0,2,192,0,-1–1–1,|12||0-0-0,1|(477,315)|
    1,5,1,3,1,0,43,0,2,192,0,-1–1–1,|12||0-0-0,1|(428,320)|
    1,6,2,1,1,0,43,0,2,64,0,-1–1–1,|12||0-0-0,1|(598,195)|
    1,7,3,1,1,0,43,0,2,64,0,-1–1–1,|12||0-0-0,1|(300,211)|
    12,8,2,365,254,23,23,4,3,0,0,-1,0,0,0
    12,9,2,545,263,23,23,5,3,0,0,-1,0,0,0
    10,10,Conflict Potential,461,373,54,11,8,3,0,0,0,0,0,0
    1,11,3,10,1,0,43,0,2,192,0,-1–1–1,|12||0-0-0,1|(390,367)|
    1,12,2,10,1,0,43,0,2,128,0,-1–1–1,|12||0-0-0,1|(539,364)|
    10,13,Opposition media success,255,433,57,19,8,3,0,0,0,0,0,0
    1,14,3,13,1,0,43,0,2,192,0,-1–1–1,|12||0-0-0,1|(267,371)|
    1,15,13,3,1,0,43,0,2,64,0,-1–1–1,|12||0-0-0,1|(335,428)|
    10,16,Supporting media success,672,423,56,19,8,3,0,0,0,0,0,0
    1,17,2,16,1,0,43,0,2,192,0,-1–1–1,|12||0-0-0,1|(665,370)|
    1,18,16,2,1,0,43,0,2,64,0,-1–1–1,|12||0-0-0,1|(586,400)|
    10,19,Overall Media Success,457,505,46,19,8,3,0,0,0,0,0,0
    1,20,13,19,1,0,43,0,2,192,0,-1–1–1,|12||0-0-0,1|(344,497)|
    1,21,16,19,1,0,43,0,2,192,0,-1–1–1,|12||0-0-0,1|(580,499)|
    12,22,2,309,387,23,23,5,3,0,0,-1,0,0,0
    12,23,2,619,378,23,23,4,3,0,0,-1,0,0,0
    10,24,Attempts to debunk the lies,455,95,48,19,8,3,0,0,0,0,0,0
    1,25,3,24,1,0,43,0,2,192,0,-1–1–1,|12||0-0-0,1|(239,212)|
    1,26,24,2,1,0,43,0,2,192,0,-1–1–1,|12||0-0-0,1|(646,284)|
    12,27,2,456,145,23,23,4,3,0,0,-1,0,0,0

  2. Dear Luzi
    Thank you for the very nice and clear, but rather pessimistic model . In search of a balancing loop I suggest to look at the positive causal dependence from “attempts to debunk the lies” to “support by fans”. This link is a short cut, neglecting any power of evidence.

    I suggest a new variable “success in debunking lies” with causal inputs from “attempts to debunk the lies” and from another new variable “evidence”. “Success in debunking lies” is linked to “support by fans”, maybe to other variables. This leads to the balancing loop we are looking for.

    Of course one can argue about the power of data and facts in these days. But I think the link is there, however weak it ma be.

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