The internet is changing civil wars, and will change them further

In The New New Civil Wars, a poli sci paper included in this year's Annual Review of Political Science, UCSD political scientist Barbara F. Walter describes the profound ways in which civil conflicts have been transformed by the internet, and makes some shrewd guesses at what changes are yet to come. Read the rest

America's institutions can preserve liberty, but they're also pretty good at destroying it

As trumpism metastasizes, I've taken some comfort in the American system of checks and balances, especially the independent judiciary and the strong Constitutional tradition, which lets impact litigators like EFF and ACLU leverage the courts to overturn the executive branch; I've seen this work many times with EFF and other civil liberties organizations. Read the rest

You know who else invested in infrastructure? Autobahn spending was key to Hitler's consolidation of power

In Highway to Hitler, Nico Voigtländer (UCLA) and Hans‐Joachim Voth (University of Zurich)'s 2014 paper analyzing the impact of the massive infrastructure investment in creating the Autobahn, the authors conclude that the major spending project was key to Hitler's consolidation of power. Read the rest

How LSD microdosing made a mega difference in one woman's mood, marriage, and life

Ayelet Waldman is a novelist, non fiction author, and former federal public defender. Her latest book is called A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life. I interviewed her this morning.

Why did you start microdosing?

I started microdosing because I was profoundly and dangerously depressed. I have a mood disorder and for many, many years my medication worked great. I took it, I did what my doctor told me and everything was fine. But at some point my medication stopped working. I tried all sorts of different things. And nothing helped. I was getting worse and worse and more and more full of despair and more and more full of rage and more and more unstable and I became suicidal. I started doing things like googling the effects of maternal suicide on children and I was so terrified that I was going to do something to myself, that I was going to hurt myself, that I decided to do something drastic and something that some people might think is crazy -- I decided to try microdosing with L.S.D.

Did it work?

Oh absolutely. It worked for sure. It's sub-perceptual. In fact, if I told you right now, "Hey Mark, I slipped a microdose of LSD. in your coffee," you wouldn't even know the difference. The effect for me was instantaneous. My depression lifted right away. The book is called A Really Good Day because at the end of that very first day, I looked back and I thought, "that was a really good day." It wasn't like everything was perfect. Read the rest

Around the world, old, rural voters count more than young people in cities

In The Value of a Vote: Malapportionment in Comparative Perspective, published in the British Journal of Political Science, two scholars from the University of Minnesota Department of Political Science document more than 20 industrial democracies where the votes of rural citizens -- who skew older and more conservative than their urban counterparts -- carry more weight than city-dwellers' votes. Read the rest

Department of Energy tells Trump they will not name climate policy personnel

The Department of Energy has rebuffed Donald Trump's demand for the names of employees and contractors involved in shaping and executing government climate policy -- which was widely viewed as a prelude to a politicized purge, to be carried out by Trump's climate-denying DoE leadership. Read the rest

Could America Ever Become a Direct Democracy?

Today we travel to a future where America has converted to a direct democracy. Everybody votes on everything!

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In this episode we explore the U.S. states that have direct democracy systems in place today, how to apply that model to the whole country, how to even gather all those votes, and what could go so, so very wrong with this idea.

Illustration by Matt Lubchansky.

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When Firms Become Persons and Persons Become Firms: outstanding lecture

UC Berkeley Political Scientist Wendy Brown came to the London School of Economics last week to discuss her book Undoing the Demos, and her lecture (MP3) is literally the best discussion of how and why human rights are being taken away from humans and given to corporations. Read the rest

Cognitive Democracy: networked-based decision making as an alternative to markets and "nudging"

Henry Farrell (George Washington University) and Cosma Rohilla Shalizi (Carnegie-Mellon/The Santa Fe Institute) have just posted a paper, "Cognitive Democracy," to Crooked Timber. Farrell and Shalizi argue that neither the "libertarian paternalist" idea of "nudging" people to good choices, nor the market-based approach of letting price signals steer our decisions produce the best possible outcome for all. They see, in the Internet, a means by which knowledge about the world can be shared widely and usefully, to help democracies function as systems for producing good outcomes for everyone.

Yet at first glance, this interchange of perspectives looks ugly: it is partisan, rancorous and vexatious, and people seem to never change their minds. This leads some on the left to argue that we need to replace traditional democratic forms with ones that involve genuine deliberation, where people will strive to be open-minded, and to transcend their interests. These aspirations are hopelessly utopian. Such impartiality can only be achieved fleetingly at best, and clashes of interest and perception are intrinsic to democratic politics.

Here, we concur with Jack Knight and Jim Johnson’s important recent book (2011), which argues that politics is a response to the problem of diversity. Actors with differing—- indeed conflicting—- interests and perceptions find that their fates are bound together, and that they must make the best of this. Yet, Knight and Johnson argue, politics is also a matter of seeking to harness diversity so as to generate useful knowledge. They specifically do not argue that democracy requires impartial deliberation.

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