• 'You Want The Best For This Country, I Respect That': 2 Strangers Find Common Ground

    'You Want The Best For This Country, I Respect That': 2 Strangers Find Common Ground

     

    Israel Baryeshua, 38, and Tiffany Briseño, 35, at their StoryCorps interview in Denver.

    Camila Kerwin/StoryCorps

    This story is part of a new StoryCorps project called One Small Step, which seeks to remind people across the political divide of our shared humanity.

    In a recent interview with StoryCorps, two strangers, Tiffany Briseño, a social liberal, and Israel Baryeshua, who identifies as a conservative, came together to find common ground despite their opposing political views.

    Baryeshua is a single parent of two who says he beat the odds by rising out of poverty in Georgia. Briseño, a mother of three, is concerned about how the divisive climate will affect her multiracial family.

    They found common ground in how they parent their kids to understand the value of hard work.

    "I tell that to my children, Baryeshua said. "It comes from within."

    "And [that is] something that I also convey to my children," Briseño says. "My parents grew up with nothing. My mom didn't have shoes, didn't have food, that kind of thing. And she ... put herself through college as a single parent."

    Baryeshua asks Briseño what her biggest fears are concerning the future.

    "I am just really nervous for my kids," Briseño says. "Like I feel like, right now, everything is just mean and nasty."

    Baryeshua agrees. "Instead of reacting with kindness or compassion, people are quick to react with, I guess, hate."

    Briseño asks if there's one thing he respects about the way she sees the world.

    "No," Baryeshua says, and they share a laugh. He then adds: "I think you said that you want the best for this country. I respect that view, and I agree with that view."

    In return, she tells him that she respects that he's a "hard-working single father" who wants what's best for his children. "I think that that's commendable and common between you and I, for sure," Briseño says.

    Audio produced for Morning Edition by Kerrie Hillman and Mia Warren.

    StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

     

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  • How Facebook Groups sparked a crisis in France

    How Facebook Groups sparked a crisis in France

    The Yellow Vest movement was organized on Facebook — and now it has spilled into the streets

    By

    Over the weekend, violence broke out in France, with more than 280,000 protesters fanning out across the country in what is known as the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) movement. What started as a reaction against a hike in the country’s gasoline tax has metastasized into something uglier. More than 400 people have been injured across some 2,000 rallies, and one person was killed after being run over by a car. In CityLab, Feargus O’Sullivan attempts to describe a rather amorphous protest:

    Unusually, the Yellow Vests is a grassroots mass protest movement with no explicit wider political agenda or links to existing groups. Having organized themselves via social media since May (when the movement was sparked by an online petition), the Yellow Vests have arrived somewhat out of the blue.

    There is also no clear media consensus as to what they are protesting beyond the cost of gas. To some observers, the protesters are primarily angry about what they see as President Emmanuel Macron’s apparent indifference toward tough conditions for working people. To others, the movement is evidence of a middle-class backlash. Meanwhile, it’s not automatically easy to say whether the protest cleaves more to the left or the right.

    What commentators are saying, both inside France and out, is that the movement has been organized primarily on Facebook. The writer Frederic Filloux described some of the group’s methods:

    Two weeks ago, more than 1,500 Yellow Vests-related Facebook events were organized locally, sometimes garnering a quarter of a city’s population. Self-appointed thinkers became national figures, thanks to popular pages and a flurry of Facebook Live. One of them, Maxime Nicolle (107,000 followers), organizes frequent impromptu “lives”, immediately followed by thousands of people. His gospel is a hodgepodge of incoherent demands but he’s now a national voice. His Facebook account, featuring a guillotine, symbol of the French Revolution and the device for death penalty until 1981, was briefly suspended before being reinstated after he put up a more acceptable image. Despite surreals, but always copious lists of claims, these people appear on popular TV shows. Right now in France, traditional TV is trailing a social sphere seen as uncorrupted by the elites, unfiltered, and more authentic.

    Writing for Bloomberg (and quoting a French-language column I couldn’t read myself), Leonid Bershidsky argues that Facebook’s decision to promote posts from groups in the News Feed may have exacerbated the protests.

    There’s nothing democratic about the emergence of Facebook group administrators as spokespeople for what passes for a popular movement. Unlike Macron and French legislators, they are unelected. In a column for Liberation, journalist Vincent Glad suggested that recent changes to the Facebook algorithm – which have prioritized content created by groups over that of pages, including those of traditional media outlets – have provided the mechanism to promote these people. Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg thought he was depoliticizing his platform and focusing on connecting people. That is not what happened.

    “Facebook group admins, whose prerogatives are constantly being increased by Zuckerberg, are the new intermediaries, thriving on the ruins of labor unions, associations or political parties,” Glad wrote.

    The result has been civil unrest with few modern precedents, John Lichfield writes in the Guardian. (He’s lived in the country for 22 years.)

    I have never seen the kind of wanton destruction that surrounded me on some of the smartest streets of Paris on Saturday – such random, hysterical hatred, directed not just towards the riot police but at shrines to the French republic itself such as the Arc de Triomphe. The 12-hour battle went beyond violent protest, beyond rioting, to the point of insurrection, even civil war.

    Reading the coverage, I’m reminded of Renee DiResta’s recent essay “The Digital Maginot Line,” which I first shared here last week. In it, she writes about how liberal democracies have proven more susceptible to the fomenting of violent political outrage than more authoritarian states. She writes about the American case here, but it’s just as easy to translate to the situation in France:

    We are (rightfully) concerned about silencing voices or communities. But our commitment to free expression makes us disproportionately vulnerable in the era of chronic, perpetual information war. Digital combatants know that once speech goes up, we are loathe to moderate it; to retain this asymmetric advantage, they push an all-or-nothing absolutist narrative that moderation is censorship, that spammy distribution tactics and algorithmic amplification are somehow part of the right to free speech.

    We seriously entertain conversations about whether or not bots have the right to free speech, privilege the privacy of fake people, and have Congressional hearings to assuage the wounded egos of YouTube personalities. More authoritarian regimes, by contrast, would simply turn off the internet. An admirable commitment to the principle of free speech in peace time turns into a sucker position against adversarial psy-ops in wartime. We need an understanding of free speech that is hardened against the environment of a continuous warm war on a broken information ecosystem. We need to defend the fundamental value from itself becoming a prop in a malign narrative.

    Think about how the Yellow Vests came about. A political decision was made, and discussed on Facebook. A small group began discussing it in groups. Algorithms and viral sharing mechanics promoted the group posts most likely to get engagement into the News Feed. Over the next few months, the majority of France that uses Facebook saw a darker, angrier reflection of their country in the News Feed than perhaps actually existed. In time, perception became reality. And now Arc de Triomphe is under attack.

    And group posts, you will recall, are one of Facebook’s most highly touted solutions to the social-networks-and-democracy problem.

    Of course, at this point we lack the evidence that Facebook caused the Yellow Vests to organize. But we can say that what we saw over the weekend is consistent with other angry populist movements that we have seen around the world — many of them violent, and many of them organized on social media. And we can predict with some confidence that more such movements will appear in the world’s liberal democracies, with equally unsettling results.

     

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  • Reach out, listen, be patient. Good arguments can stop extremism

    Reach out, listen, be patient. Good arguments can stop extremism

    Walter Sinnott-Armstrong is Chauncey Stillman professor of practical ethics in the Department of Philosophy and the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University in North Carolina. He is co-instructor of the Coursera online course 'Think Again' and author of Think Again: How to Reason and Argue (2018). Edited by Nigel Warburton

    <p>Ann Atwater and C P Ellis, longtime enemies, chaired a 10-day community summit on desegregating Durham schools<em>, </em>‘Save Our Schools’ (SOS). <em>Photo by Jim Thornton, courtesy of The Herald-Sun Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries</em></p>

    Ann Atwater and C P Ellis, longtime enemies, chaired a 10-day community summit on desegregating Durham schools, ‘Save Our Schools’ (SOS). Photo by Jim Thornton, courtesy of The Herald-Sun Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries

    Many of my best friends think that some of my deeply held beliefs about important issues are obviously false or even nonsense. Sometimes, they tell me so to my face. How can we still be friends? Part of the answer is that these friends and I are philosophers, and philosophers learn how to deal with positions on the edge of sanity. In addition, I explain and give arguments for my claims, and they patiently listen and reply with arguments of their own against my – and for their – stances. By exchanging reasons in the form of arguments, we show each other respect and come to understand each other better.  

    Philosophers are weird, so this kind of civil disagreement still might seem impossible among ordinary folk. However, some stories give hope and show how to overcome high barriers.

    One famous example involved Ann Atwater and C P Ellis in my home town of Durham, North Carolina; it is described in Osha Gray Davidson’s book The Best of Enemies (1996) and a forthcoming movie. Atwater was a single, poor, black parent who led Operation Breakthrough, which tried to improve local black neighbourhoods. Ellis was an equally poor but white parent who was proud to be Exalted Cyclops of the local Ku Klux Klan. They could not have started further apart. At first, Ellis brought a gun and henchmen to town meetings in black neighbourhoods. Atwater once lurched toward Ellis with a knife and had to be held back by her friends.

    Despite their mutual hatred, when courts ordered Durham to integrate their public schools, Atwater and Ellis were pressured into co-chairing a charrette – a series of public discussions that lasted eight hours per day for 10 days in July 1971 – about how to implement integration. To plan their ordeal, they met and began by asking questions, answering with reasons, and listening to each other. Atwater asked Ellis why he opposed integration. He replied that mainly he wanted his children to get a good education, but integration would ruin their schools. Atwater was probably tempted to scream at him, call him a racist, and walk off in a huff. But she didn’t. Instead, she listened and said that she also wanted his children – as well as hers – to get a good education. Then Ellis asked Atwater why she worked so hard to improve housing for blacks. She replied that she wanted her friends to have better homes and better lives. He wanted the same for his friends.

    When each listened to the other’s reasons, they realised that they shared the same basic values. Both loved their children and wanted decent lives for their communities. As Ellis later put it: ‘I used to think that Ann Atwater was the meanest black woman I’d ever seen in my life … But, you know, her and I got together one day for an hour or two and talked. And she is trying to help her people like I’m trying to help my people.’ After realising their common ground, they were able to work together to integrate Durham schools peacefully. In large part, they succeeded.

    None of this happened quickly or easily. Their heated discussions lasted 10 long days in the charrette. They could not have afforded to leave their jobs for so long if their employers (including Duke University, where Ellis worked in maintenance) had not granted them time off with pay. They were also exceptional individuals who had strong incentives to work together as well as many personal virtues, including intelligence and patience. Still, such cases prove that sometimes sworn enemies can become close friends and can accomplish a great deal for their communities.

    Why can’t liberals and conservatives do the same today? Admittedly, extremists on both sides of the current political scene often hide in their echo chambers and homogeneous neighbourhoods. They never listen to the other side. When they do venture out, the level of rhetoric on the internet is abysmal. Trolls resort to slogans, name-calling and jokes. When they do bother to give arguments, their arguments often simply justify what suits their feelings and signals tribal alliances.

    The spread of bad arguments is undeniable but not inevitable. Rare but valuable examples such as Atwater and Ellis show us how we can use philosophical tools to reduce political polarisation.

    The first step is to reach out. Philosophers go to conferences to find critics who can help them improve their theories. Similarly, Atwater and Ellis arranged meetings with each other in order to figure out how to work together in the charrette. All of us need to recognise the value of listening carefully and charitably to opponents. Then we need to go to the trouble of talking with those opponents, even if it means leaving our comfortable neighbourhoods or favourite websites.

    Second, we need to ask questions. Since Socrates, philosophers have been known as much for their questions as for their answers. And if Atwater and Ellis had not asked each other questions, they never would have learned that what they both cared about the most was their children and alleviating the frustrations of poverty. By asking the right questions in the right way, we can often discover shared values or at least avoid misunderstanding opponents.

    Third, we need to be patient. Philosophers teach courses for months on a single issue. Similarly, Atwater and Ellis spent 10 days in a public charrette before they finally came to understand and appreciate each other. They also welcomed other members of the community to talk as long as they wanted, just as good teachers include conflicting perspectives and bring all students into the conversation. Today, we need to slow down and fight the tendency to exclude competing views or to interrupt and retort with quick quips and slogans that demean opponents.

    Fourth, we need to give arguments. Philosophers typically recognise that they owe reasons for their claims. Similarly, Atwater and Ellis did not simply announce their positions. They referred to the concrete needs of their children and their communities in order to explain why they held their positions. On controversial issues, neither side is obvious enough to escape demands for evidence and reasons, which are presented in the form of arguments.

    None of these steps is easy or quick, but books and online courses on reasoning – especially in philosophy – are available to teach us how to appreciate and develop arguments. We can also learn through practice by reaching out, asking questions, being patient, and giving arguments in our everyday lives.

    We still cannot reach everyone. Even the best arguments sometimes fall on deaf ears. But we should not generalise hastily to the conclusion that arguments always fail. Moderates are often open to reason on both sides. So are those all-too-rare exemplars who admit that they (like most of us) do not know which position to hold on complex moral and political issues.

    Two lessons emerge. First, we should not give up on trying to reach extremists, such as Atwater and Ellis, despite how hard it is. Second, it is easier to reach moderates, so it usually makes sense to try reasoning with them first. Practising on more receptive audiences can help us improve our arguments as well as our skills in presenting arguments. These lessons will enable us to do our part to shrink the polarisation that stunts our societies and our lives.

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  • This is how we end hyper-partisan politics

    This is how we end hyper-partisan politics

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  • What Do Blue And Red America Have In Common? Craft Breweries — And More

    What Do Blue And Red America Have In Common? Craft Breweries — And More

     

    A customer returns a keg to the Smuttynose Brewery in Hampton, N.H., in 2017.

    Robert F. Bukaty/AP

    The country's cultural divide, as evidenced by Tuesday's elections, is a real one.

    But there are some things that are part of the American experience, whether you're biking across Manhattan or driving a 4x4 through Montana.

    We analyzed 11 touchstones of American life and how common they were in districts that voted Republican and Democratic during this week's elections. Democrats won the most House districts Tuesday, so below we've sorted them from places that are mostly found in Democratic districts to those that are mostly found in districts that voted for Republicans.


     

    Don't see the graphic above? Click here: Where are the Fortune 500 companies?

    The most? 36 in NY 12 (New York City, voted Democratic).

    How many districts don't have any? 255.


     

    Don't see the graphic above? Click here: Where are the Starbucks?

    The most? 138 in NY 12 (New York City, voted Democratic).

    How many districts don't have any? One, as of these data being collected — but a tipster points out on Twitter that OK 12 has since built its only Starbucks.


     

    Don't see the graphic above? Click here: Where are the major sports venues?

    The most? Eight in both MA 07 (near Boston, voted Democratic) and TN 05 (Nashville, Democratic).

    How many districts don't have any? 123.


     

    Don't see the graphic above? Click here: Where are the craft breweries?

    The most? 68 in CO 02 (near Denver, voted Democratic).

    How many districts don't have any? Eight.


     

    Don't see the graphic above? Click here: Where are the Amtrak stations?

    The most? 12 in Montana (at-large district, voted Republican).

    How many districts don't have any? 183.


     

    Don't see the graphic above? Click here: Where are the museums?

    The most? 303 in ME 02 (uncalled race).

    How many districts don't have any? None. (So no excuse not to go to one every once in a while!)


     

    Don't see the graphic above? Click here: Where are the military installations?

    The most? 21 in Alaska (at-large district, voted Republican).

    How many districts don't have any? 157.


     

    Don't see the graphic above? Click here: Where are the state fair grounds?

    The most? Four in Alaska (at-large district, voted Republican).

    How many districts don't have any? 367.


     

    Don't see the graphic above? Click here: Where are the hospitals?

    The most? 77 in both KS 01 (voted Republican) and South Dakota (at-large district, voted Republican).

    How many districts don't have any? None.


     

    Don't see the graphic above? Click here: Where are the mobile home parks?

    The most? 526 in FL 02 (Panama City, Tallahassee suburbs; voted Republican).

    How many districts don't have any? 20.


     

    Don't see the graphic above? Click here: Where are the farms?

    The most? 35,850 in NE 03 (voted Republican).

    How many districts don't have any? 20.

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  • What happens when women win elections

    What happens when women win elections

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