Via Michael J. Coffey. Yes, it can happen here.

Via Michael J. Coffey. Yes, it can happen here.

Originally shared by Yonatan Zunger

This video has been making the rounds on social media, and at first I ignored it because I figured it would just be a piece of propaganda meant to preach to the choir. I was wrong: this is actually an extremely intelligent and informative short film about despotism. (And despite being an American film from 1946, made in the immediate aftermath of WWII, it doesn't give the US any sort of free ride at all – as you'll notice from some of the examples shown silently in the background)

The film begins by reminding you that the forms of democracy alone don't tell you anything; you need to look deeper. The two key indicators it points at are whether respect and power are equally shared across the community, or whether they are concentrated, with only certain people being thought worthy of those. Those two, in turn, are powered by two leading indicators: whether the distribution of economic power and information is shared or isolated. It points at things like farm foreclosures or towns entirely dependent on a single industry, for example, as factors which make a community more susceptible to despotism.

There are some things I would modernize here; for example, it's become clear that the model of centralized versus distributed control of information (which was key in the 20th century) doesn't fully account for some kinds of vulnerability that can show up even when communication is notionally even. (This is tied to the "fake news" problem which everyone is discussing right now, though I think that term misses a great deal of the mark; correctly understanding the nature of the broader problem we are seeing today, which also includes things like filter bubbles and "distributed censorship," is probably one of the most urgent tasks before us in the computing and communications world today)

There's a great deal more in here, and it's quite well-explained; I recommend watching it, and showing it to your kids as well.


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