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Anger Management: Democracy For the 21st Century

with
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
02.02.17
60 min
60hertz

This is exciting, we will start a new podcast, and this podcast will be shaped around the discussion which will be going on on 60pages and via the initiative Disrupt Democracy on Medium: Karin and I will be talking to thinkers and scientist from Harvard and MIT for the next few months to come up with clues and ideas about how we got here and what we might do to get out of this dilemma. Karin and I are in the USA at the moment, she is from Sweden where she used to work for Aftonbladet as the editor of the opinion page, I am on a leave of absence from my job as a columnist for Der Spiegel, we are both fellows of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. This conversation here is the beginning, we set out what we want to do, cover questions of populism, the relationship between capital and labor, the progressive dilemma, the progressive alternative. She says she is the pragmatist and I am the utopian. I am not sure about that. And I would not even see this two opposing sides. I think both are relevant and necessary. But, please, judge for yourself.

Trump is the Revenge of the Nineties

with
Josh Simon
Georg Diez
07.12.16
60 min
60hertz

Josh has brought some beers. It is Sunday evening, he has some papers due soon, he has a cold, he has one hour to talk about the lessons from Trump. We sit in the deserted building of the Department of Government. I have been really looking forward to this conversation. Josh is one of those people you rarely meet even at a place like Harvard. He is young, he has a sharp intellect and a keen understanding of how to use it. He is all about politics, but not in the way that would make you feel that you know what he is going to say. He has a clear set of things he believes, I think, but he is also formulating his views as he goes along. He is a truly exciting voice in the desolate landscape of political thinking. Because this is what it is all about: How to revive the practise of left and liberal thinking. In the face of Trump. But also in the tradition of what the politics of rights and respect could be like for the 21st century.

The Triumph of Arab Porn

with
Youssef Rakha
Georg Diez
15.11.16
60 min
60hertz

Masturbation is as central to the Arab Spring as it is to Arab Porn, states Youssef Rakha, inventive, intriguing novelist from Cairo, in his essay “Arab Porn”. He wrote the text for 60pages after a workshop in Cairo in the fall of 2015 – the implications of what he has to say about the nature of political protests, their narcissistic way of turning a common cause into a vanity project, the irresponsibility of a lot of the people involved, but mainly the understanding that this is what politics should look like, a mass of people on the street or on Tahrir Square, presumably with very little plan of what to do with the notion of power: This all has a strange resonance today, after the failure of a liberal approach to politics which led to a US president Trump. You can learn from the future of democracy by studying the authoritarian past, sadly. Listen to what Youssef has to say.

The Trump Puzzle

with
Georg Diez
Karin Pettersson
01.11.16
60 min
60hertz

One week to go, and still, the question is: What does this mean? Apart from the fact that Donald Trump is a racist, a sexist, a liar and a very dangerous person who would possibly or not destroy democracy in the US and thus with further consequences in other parts of the world as well. Is he part of a larger trend, away from a democratic consensus even in so called democratic countries? Is he a force of a larger authoritarian trend? Illiberal democracies and undemocratic liberalism, as Yascha Mounk calls it? And where does that leave Europe, where we are from, Karin and me, Sweden and Germany? We are in this privileged spot for a specific time, Harvard for one year. But we will return. Time will move on. What will be then? What will we be? Who will we be? Karin and I sat down at the Coop bookstore at Harvard Yard on a particularily crisp and clear sunny morning. Karin is a journalist like me, in charge of the opinion page of the Aftonbladet in Stockholm and a former politician for the Swedish Social Democrats. She is no longer a member.

On Refugees

with
Aman Sethi
27.10.16
60 min
60hertz

When the Indian writer Aman Sethi first talked to me about the refugees, he had a very different perspective: He said, think of the people who come to Europe not as weak, don’t fall into the trap of making them dependent upon your help, your jugdement, your jurisdiction for that matter – think of them as strong and self-reliant, as humans who chose to leave the place they called home and come to this country, a brave and uniquely individual decision. One year later, the discourse is different. It is, in Germany and in other countries, a profoundly anti-human-rights discourse, it is the preperation for a post-democratic regime which relies on keeping the people called refugees outside. Aman called them musafir, the wanderer. He has been here forever.

What's a Mistake?

Georg Diez about seeing a country sink
12.09.16
3 min
Post

I called my friend Aman Sethi the other day, he was in New Delhi, I was in Cambridge, he had just gotten up, I was about to go to bed, we said hello on skype and recorded what we talked about for 60hz – and it felt good to be so far away and think about this mad mad year that has passed. Just that day I had read another of the many many articles about why Merkel has to go and how the mood in the country has changed and why it was a mistake a year ago to let the refugees in.
In this text, like in the others I read, I tend to skip them, actually, because they all sound alike, there was no argument why it was a mistake. There was no explanation of the alternatives at that time, there was no discussion about the fundamentals or principals of what Merkel did or what the alternatives might have been. She acted to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe. But this is something that does not count for much these days it seems.
What was important, it seems, and what is important, is politics. To turn a problem into politics, you have to forget the problem and just talk about what other people in the political sphere say about the reasons, the consequences, but preferably the failures and mistakes of others. Some call this spin, but that was a while ago. Today it is reality which is replaced by rhetoric.
The problem with that kind of approach – or journalism, for that matter – is the profound inabilty to formulate any guiding principle for how things should be. Actually, this is the whole purpose of the endeavour. Talk about who said what in order not to talk about guilt and responsability.
The role of the press in this context strikes me as reckless. What is this obsession of parts of the Berlin establishment to get rid of that woman that they listened to like schoolboys for such a long time? They chose to ignore that the country is doing fine one year into the brave decision to let the refugees in. There is no crisis, but they need one, so they talk about it without touching reality.
It seems that the campaign against Angela Merkel is a primarily destructive journalism not based on reality but resentment. Merkel’s mistake is not a mistake in an objective sense, it cannot be, it does not have to be. The mistake is not even a mistake. It just needs to be called one. The mistake serves its purpose like a discursive poison.
A country like Germany with so little balance and confidence, a country so insecure about who it is and what it wants to be, a country with such a long tradition in obedience will have problems to adjust to this new situation if it only relies on the capacities of the people they consider Germans – if the large part of the population with different background, stories, perspectives are shut out, this would the most catastrophic consequence, the beginning of really fundamental change in the way this country works.
Aman was helpful. It was good to talk to him. Listen to what he had to say, Monday, 7 pm Berlin time, on Berlin Community Radio.

DISCREET

with
Agustina Woodgate
Armen Avanessian
Alexander Martos
09.07.16
60 min
60hertz

DISCREET is a new kind of intelligence agency that is currently under development. Between June 22 and July 11, 2016—during the 9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art. Paranoia, Terror, Anxiety and Safety are discussed by the founding agents as well as it’s basic mission statement, its goals, strategies, and actions for an open-source secret service organization. DISCREET seeks to respond to the massive increase of means available to entities worldwide not under democratic control. 

A diffusion tensor image of Dr. Meshi's white matter fiber tracts. The colors indicate the direction of the fibers

The art of the contemporary 7

Marie-France Rafael about "social media and social rewards"
27.06.16
10 min
Post

INT. DAY. SOMEWHERE IN BERLIN MITTE – DAR MESHI (CENTER FOR COGNITIVE NEUROSCIENCE BERLIN)

M

How would you describe your neuroscience research with social media?

Dar Meshi

In general, I study how social information gets processed in the brain and how that information motivates us to act and make decisions in the real world. More specifically, I am interested in how we value reputational information, and how we manage our reputation online using social media platforms.

M

How has social media changed our social interactions?

DAR MESHI

Well, all social interaction as we evolved used to be face-to-face, meaning you had a given physical context, with body movements, facial expressions, etc. Then with the written letter, the telephone, and now with the Internet and social media, technology has provided various new ways for people to communicate. Interestingly, social media platforms allow for people to obtain more frequent social rewards and in much higher quantities, than the face-to-face social contexts that we evolved in. Furthermore, on social media, this physical social context I mentioned is missing.

M

What studies have you done?

DAR MESHI

I’ve given people reputation-related social rewards, like compliments, and examined how their brain’s response is linked to their social media use. I found that the more sensitive people’s brains are to social rewards, the more intensely they use Facebook. I’ve also looked at the functional connectivity of the brain in relation to how much self-related information people are sharing on Facebook. Both of these studies capitalized on measures of social media use to examine brain function.

M

In reverse, could one deduce that the brain structure or function changes in response to social media use?

DAR MESHI

That’s a great question. I can tell you that no study has yet examined this. We simply don’t know yet if or how the brain is responding to social media use and if this response is good, bad or inconsequential.

To note, there are some scientists out there who warn that the Internet and social media can affect our brain in a very negative way. But again, in reality there haven’t been any performed studies yet.

M

You mentioned “capitalizing on measures of social media use”, what do you mean by this?

DAR MESHI

Contemporary research hasn’t focused on finding the effects of social media use on the brain, we’ve more focused on using measures of social media use to better understand the brain. What scientists can do is use behaviors on social media as a proxy for a real-world social behavior; meaning, we relate the behavior on social media to a brain measure, substituting it for the real world behavior in order to understand the brain from that aspect.

M

Could you maybe give an example?

DAR MESHI

 In your everyday life you have a social network – not an online social network but a real world network of your friends and family. If I interviewed you, we could figure out the size of your social network and your place within it (are you a hub, a connector between hubs, etc.). In 2010, a study did exactly this and assessed the size of the real-world social network of a bunch of people and then looked at their brain structure. This research demonstrated that a region of the brain called the amygdala positively correlates with social network size across individuals. So the bigger your real-world social network, the bigger your amygdala is and vice versa. These days you (and many others) also have a social network on Facebook, and researchers can use your online network as a proxy for your real-world social network. In 2012, some other researchers did the same experiment that I just described, but they also examined online social network size — the number of Facebook friends — and related it to brain structure. These researchers found the exact same relationship with the amygdala — the bigger your online social network the bigger your amygdala. This is just one example of how scientists can actually use social media measures as a proxy for real-world behavioral measures, and you can imagine how useful social media data could be if there were no easy way to measure something in the real world. We can just substitute the social media measure.

M

And do you think that a person having a lot of friends on Facebook is actually also the same as having a big real world social network? Or couldn’t it just be the exact opposite, meaning that in the real world, this person is more of a loner?

DAR MESHI

Absolutely. That type of person, with a small real-world social network but large online social network, definitely exists. The research isn’t affected too much by individuals like this because scientists use a large number of participants for statistical reasons, but no neuroscience study has yet examined these specific types of individuals. Social media certainly allows you to be social in a way that the real world doesn’t afford you to be. Social media is more controlled and there are aspects that favor more relaxed communication compared than face-to-face interactions, like having more time to respond when communicating on social media, etc.

M

But do you think that social media is influencing our real world social networks, meaning that we are becoming more “social” or “sociable”?

DAR MESHI

That’s a really good question. There’s a professor at Oxford, Robin Dunbar, who put forth a theory called the “social brain hypothesis” in the late 90’s. Dunbar noticed that human brain size is relatively large compared to other primates, so he theorized that this was to manage our complex social interactions. He demonstrated that across species, primate brain size positively correlates with the size of their social group; meaning that the bigger a species’ brain, the bigger the average size of a social group with that species. In humans the group size was around 150. This is the average number of individuals that our brain has capacity to interact with.

M

And are online social networks changing Dunbar’s number?

DAR MESHI

Actually, Dunbar just recently put out a paper demonstrating that social networks don’t.

M

You were explaining that “the brain has capacity for” social interaction? What exactly do you mean by that?

DAR MESHI

Social cognition is highly taxing for the brain. It is very cognitively complex and requires a lot of energy and resources. So this was a major factor driving our brain size during evolution, i.e. the group size grew with the brain size.

M

Earlier you mentioned “social rewards”, what do you mean by this and how do you see the connection to social cognition?

DAR MESHI

To explain, I’ll first talk about rewards in general. Back in the 60’s two researchers from Canada, Olds and Milner, did an experiment: they placed a rat in a box with a button and nothing else, letting the animal explore the box. On average the animal hit the button 25 times an hour. Then Olds and Milner put an electrode somewhere in the rat’s brain that was hooked up to the button and a battery, providing an electric charge directly to the brain of the rat whenever the button was pressed. Olds and Milner measured how many times the animal hit the button and observed that the rat would press the button more or less depending on where the electrode was placed in the brain. The idea is that if the animal pressed the button less than 25 times an hour, they didn’t like the stimulation in that region of the brain, and if they pressed the button more than 25 times an hour, they found the stimulation pleasurable or rewarding. There were certain regions in the brain where the animal only hit the button 4 times an hour, so they concluded that stimulating this region of the brain wasn’t pleasurable. Yet in other brain regions the animal hit the button much more. One place in particular was very rewarding and the animal pressed the button up to 7000 times an hour. This was when the electrode was placed in the “median forebrain bundle”, which connects the ventral tegmental area of the midbrain to the striatum with dopamine neurons. Olds and Milner had discovered the reward system of the brain. Since the 1960’s we found out that anytime we obtain something we value, this area activates (like when we gain money, or when we take certain drugs, or when we have sex, etc.). It’s basically a neural circuit for motivation to obtain all these things. Then in 2008, a researcher named Keise Izuma and his colleagues did a study demonstrating that positive social interactions, like when someone gives a person a compliment, activate this circuit as well. People find social connection and gains in reputation rewarding.

M

Would you then say that social media, like Facebook and other platforms, activate this social reward system?

DAR MESHI

Yes, the first study to definitively show this was just published. Lauren Sherman and her colleagues at UCLA gave people Instagram “likes” in the MRI scanner. Their analysis showed that the more likes someone received, the more activation was observed in their reward system. So we can definitely say now that social media is a source for social rewards.

M

So basically the reward system in the real world or in social media is the same, right?

DAR MESHI

Yes, even though it’s a “virtual” world it’s a place for real social rewards, i.e. you’re having real interactions and people are actually spending time on social media to obtain these social rewards. People are even interrupting their real-world social interactions to interact online, on social media platforms. Whether these rewards on social media actually have any real value is another question though.

M

Would you say that social media is a kind of contemporary loophole, where people can easily get their social rewards, without taking too many risks? And is this a symptom of our contemporary time?

DAR MESHI

Yes, I think that social media provide easy access to social rewards, but I’m not so sure that people aren’t taking risks. If someone posts something controversial, they might receive negative feedback and their reputation might take a hit. Also, even though using social media is an accepted norm in our contemporary society, how far you’re willing to accept the use of social media varies between individuals. For example, one person may think it’s acceptable to pull out their phone at dinner, take a picture of their meal, and post it online for their social network to see. Another person may find this behavior rude. So using social media is not without its risks. Of note though, social media have definitely altered the social norm landscape for some and it will be interesting to see how these norms evolve as new social media technologies continue to enter our contemporary lives.

M

Lets widen a little your example of the dinner situation and talk about the role this person has? I mean how would you describe this person, as a consumer or as a producer of social media, or as a “prosumer” – to use a term by the futurist Alvin Toffler that one encounters now often in the field of contemporary art?

DAR MESHI

Yeah, I definitely agree with Toffler on this point. If you’re posting on social media and also reading other’s posts, you’re a prosumer. To me, it’s interesting that these behaviors are socially motivated. I’m really looking forward to disentangling the drive to produce for one’s social network from the drive to consume information from one’s social network.

TIERE QUÄLEN

15.06.16
3 min
Post

Wenn ich beispielsweise beim Essen Fliege denke, denke ich oft scheiss Fliege oder ich denke an nichts oder ich denke, Fliege. Vor allem denke ich an ein lästiges, krabbeliges, herumfliegendes, beschissenes scheiss Insekt, das mich mit tausenden Augen anglotzt. Von irgendwo fliegt sie mich laut an, jetzt setzt sie sich auf mich, es kitzelt, lenkt mich ab, wiederum andere Fliegen kommen nachts mich zu stechen. Eine Klasse von Ungeziefer deren Platz ich in meiner kleinen Welt nicht erkennen kann. Sind das Lebewesen, Geschöpfe Gottes, Dinger für die man Gefühle haben kann? Was für Gefühle sollen das sein? Wenn man ihren Körper mikroskopisch vergrössert, sehen sie wie Monster aus und wären sehr bedrohlich, nein nein, in Wirklichkeit sind sie zu klein um sie niedlich zu finden. Man erkennt nicht, wie sie sich umeinander kümmern, zärtlich miteinander sind, irgendwie zusammen halten, ob sie sich voneinander unterscheiden. Die Fliege hat nichts von einem Hundebaby, Kaninchen oder süssen Lamm oder den hübschen, sanften, intelligenten, bedrohten Bienen.

Vor mir liegen und strampeln mit ihren vielen, kleinen, harten, schwarzen Beinen hilflos mehrere Fliegen. Ich will einer aufhelfen, halte ihr, um sie aufzurichten damit sie weglaufen kann, meinen Finger hin um dann vielleicht neben sie einen winzigen Tropfen Wasser zu platzieren, einen Krümel Brot oder Fleisch oder Zucker zu legen, das Fenster zu öffnen, gerade diese eine nicht mit dem Insekten Spray zu besprühen das sie in wenigen Sekunden vergiften würde. Doch dann tu ich es doch. Der Fenstersims ist wie nach einer Schlacht auf offenem Feld übersät mit toten, fast toten, in unterschiedlicher Intensität strampelnden, um ihr Leben strampelnden, sich wie verrückt auf ihrem Rücken liegend herum wirbelnden Fliegen. Sie liegen im fahlen, gleichgültigen auf sie durch das Fenster fallenden Licht und verrecken weil sie seit Stunden oder Tagen in diesem Raum gefangen sind, vor Hunger oder Erschöpfung oder weil ich sie vergiftet habe. Ein paar noch flugfähige Fliegen fliegen träge und benommen ein Stück über die Leichen bis sie gegen das Fenster, die Wand knallen. Die, die nicht mehr fliegen können, laufen über die sterbenden, die toten Fliegen, keine kümmert sich um die andere, keine greift mich an, keine fliegt weg, alle die noch leben, bleiben genau hier. Ich öffne das Fenster aber keine fliegt hinaus. Ich setze mich wieder und esse weiter.

Skytale Skype Skynet

with
Paul Feigelfeld
13.06.16
60 min
60hertz

This lecture by Paul Feigelfeld – held during the Utopian Union Berlin Summit on June 10, 2016 – examines the defining role of cryptology, control, and centralization in its technological development. From the earliest known coded communications to the massive intelligence campaigns today, what has to be analyzed are the infrastructures, power mechanisms, epistemological and formal foundations of our present reality. What becomes clear is contrary to what many believe: Communication and media have never been more material and less transparent than today. From rare earth minerals and its new technocolonized geopolitics, to the climatic effects and territorial paradoxes of data centers or the metaphor of cloud computing and the advent of true ubiquity and technorganisms, both theory and art have to develop new approaches that the talk wants to give first impacts for.

Anger Management: Democracy For the 21st Century

with
Karin Pettersson
Georg Diez
02.02.17
60 min

Trump is the Revenge of the Nineties

with
Josh Simon
Georg Diez
07.12.16
60 min

The Triumph of Arab Porn

with
Youssef Rakha
Georg Diez
15.11.16
60 min

The Trump Puzzle

with
Georg Diez
Karin Pettersson
01.11.16
60 min

On Refugees

with
Aman Sethi
27.10.16
60 min

What's a Mistake?

Georg Diez about seeing a country sink
12.09.16
3 min

DISCREET

with
Agustina Woodgate
Armen Avanessian
Alexander Martos
09.07.16
60 min

The art of the contemporary 7

Marie-France Rafael about "social media and social rewards"
27.06.16
10 min

TIERE QUÄLEN

15.06.16
3 min

Skytale Skype Skynet

with
Paul Feigelfeld
13.06.16
60 min