12 July 2022: Bullrun No. 6; Media manipulation; Spain by train; BJ – I’ll be back; Social media menace; & Other stuff.

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Awake! For, Morning, in the Bowl of Night, has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight
And, Lo, has caught the Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable
Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Cosas de España/Galiza 

Bullrun No. 6: Just before it began, RTVE fingered someone sporting a Go-Pro camera, which just ain’t allowed. As for the run itself, I was going to write it was notable only for the number of falls and tramplings, and for the the fact I hadn’t noticed a single female among the crazed mass of humanity. But then RTVE showed a young woman being sent off to hospital, as one of the 5 correadores injured today. They followed this by honing/homing in on 2 young men who’d had narrow escapes. The 1st, from having his orchestra stalls ripped off:-

And the 2nd, from having a horn in his back and not just his shirt, as he was dragged several metres along the ground at the entrance to the bullring. Both clearly lived with tales to tell:-

Dirty work at the crossroads. Lenox Napier of Business Over Tapas tells us here about Spanish media manipulation. Two Stories: One Narrative.

Spain by train: Here’s the Spain bit from a Times (sponsored?) article on great European train trips. Take your pick of Spain’s most popular destinations: Barcelona, Sevilla, Malaga and Alicante are all doable by train. Even Ibiza and Mallorca can be reached flight-free by ferry. After taking a train to Paris you can avail yourself of the 3.12pm high-speed TGV to Figueres, Girona and Barcelona. This reaches Figueres Vilafant (for the Salvador Dalí museum) at 8.56pm, Girona at 9.13pm and Barcelona Sants at 9.54pm. In Spain, that’s still in time for dinner. From here you could take the 8.30am high-speed AVE to Sevilla (5h 34min) and Malaga (5h 40min, change at Cordoba), or one of the fast EuroMed trains along the coast to Valencia (2h 40min) and Alicante (4h 34min). Then again, you could set sail for Ibiza or Palma de Mallorca on an overnight ferry. Go for it.

My engaging Galician friend, Fran – a nationalist – has complained about being labelled ‘Spanish’ as one of Saturday’s guests. Because – as he frequently points out to me – Galiza non é España.

The UK   

No huge surprise . . . According to allies, Boris Johnson says he hasn’t ruled out making a comeback should his successor’s government collapse,  

Formula 1 supremo Bernie – ‘Mr Putin is a really nice guy’ – Ecclestone has been charged with tax fraud following an investigation into a failure to declare overseas assets of more £400m. I’m guessing that Mr Ecclestone needed to evade taxes because, with a fortune of merely £2.5bn, he was only the 74th richest person in the UK. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, some will say. Anyway, Mr E has issued some sort of retraction of his troublesome statement. But, as is the modern way, this falls rather short of an apology.

The Way of the World 

‘Right wing’ Jordan Peterson isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but below he makes an important contribution to the debate tab out the nefarious consequences of social media – under the headline: Twitter is turning us all insane. We must act now before social media pollutes our world beyond repair. But will a consensus ever be reached on this?


I’ve recently heard the past participle of ‘catch’ as ‘catched’, not ‘caught’. The 1st was from a non-native speaker of English but the 2nd, today, was from a Sky News announcer.

I wonder how long it’ll be before this error becomes the correct form – always preferred, of course, by English toddlers.

Finally  . . .

A couple of amusing comments below an article I read last night about ‘ancient’ office machines that baffle today’s young employees:-

– We got a call from a supplier asking why we’d sent him a fax 12 times. The new employee explained: ‘Every time I sent it, it came out at the bottom’.

– I once worked in an office with a monster photocopier that ran virtually non-stop. Whenever it broke down, the photocopier man would turn up, give it trial run, look at its usage stats then shake his head and say ‘You’ve been using it again. I told you about that last time I was here!’.

For new readers: If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re passing through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there.


Twitter is turning us all insane. We must act now before social media pollutes our world beyond repair: Jordan Peterson, The Telegraph

It is often said that social media is driving us out of our minds, individually and collectively. Is this true? And if so, how and why?

The eminent social psychologist Jonathan Haidt recently wrote a hard-hitting article showing that use of certain forms of social media – particularly by girls just entering adolescence – was directly and causally associated with higher rates of depression and depression-related symptoms since the early-to-mid 2010s.

I had been thinking along broadly similar lines, particularly with regard to Twitter, and how its incentives are structured, compared to those that characterise healthy human interactions. The extent of its harmful pathology has recently been brought home to me as a consequence of those deliberations.

A thought experiment

Imagine, for example, that you learned a particular pattern of communication in your family, one that when used on others triggered a passive or even outright aggressive resistance. 

By definition, the unusual method of communication you had been taught – one that did not generalise well in the broader social environment – would characterise you, at least as far as society is concerned, as “insane”. 

Now, let’s ask: how does Twitter, like that family, differ from the real world in how it requires us to communicate with each other? How does it make us, too, “insane”?

The first way is in the manner in which it bypasses the traditional means for measuring the quality of communication. In the real world, high-volume communication is extremely costly, requiring both hard-to-establish credibility (why otherwise would large numbers of people want to read or listen to you?) and access to the wealth necessary for such communication (either directly through personal accumulation or by proxy, such as a contractual arrangement with a publishing house). Twitter casts these limitations asunder. The consequence of this demolition of potentially vital regulations is multiplied by the fact that Twitter provides universal access to each of its user’s hard-won personal networks.

The second way is how anyone, regardless of competence or social status, can comment to anyone else’s entire network of followers, merely by commenting on something the latter posted. That same commenter therefore can access all those who have chosen to follow not them but the target of their, say, insult and derision without having demonstrated any of the competence necessary to have attracted such attention on their own.

This “democratisation” of communication enables a parasitism completely divorced from competence. It massively inflates noise relative to signal, bypassing all the screening mechanisms that have been so painstakingly developed to shield us from incessant noise in the real world. 

The third way Twitter breaks the norms of standard human interaction is the zero cost – and even potential benefit – it imposes on those who engage in flagrant ethical misconduct. It facilitates the implied moral elevation that accrues to the accuser, who adopts the position of virtuous judge merely by formulating an accusation, however vague, ill-founded and scurrilous.

In the same vein, there is no cost for insults, ad-hominem attacks and provocative statements – incitement, in other words. People can hide behind their anonymity and act, if possible, even more brazenly.

Too often, therefore, the medium stimulates a reactive rage, as it denies to even “competent” users two of the main privileges traditionally granted to them: the presumption of innocence and the right and ability to engage in effective self-defence. 

The mob can say anything at all about you or your thoughts online, despite your hard-earned reputation, and there is nothing you can do about it.

Any member of what can far too easily become a mob can level any accusation no matter how slanderous against anyone at all for any reason and there is little or nothing that the target can do in response. Perhaps most worrisome of all is the fact that this incited rage  bleeds over into the real world. All the impotent anger generated is externalised away from the social network and dispersed. Thus the ambient emotional temperature of general society is raised, degree by degree, to boiling point. 

Malignant narcissism

We know this instinctively, but it would be easy to test. An ambitious PhD student could expose one group to Twitter for half an hour, another, randomly established, to another social media network, and a third (if desired) to a reading task. All study participants could then be assigned, say, a competitive aggression research task to determine if Twitter exposure heightens the proclivity to respond, in kind, with punishment to provocation.

I believe that Twitter’s reward structure, even more than Facebook’s, incentivises malignant narcissism. It enables, and benefits, free-riding and prioritises psychopathic motivation. And it garners disproportionate attention in doing so, capitalising on the attractiveness of outrageous behaviour, while externalising all the associated and inevitable costs to the innocent broader society. This is the psychological equivalent of the tragedy of the commons; the psychological equivalent to pollution of the air we all breathe.

I recently spoke about all this to the author of the article I mentioned above – psychologist Jonathan Haidt – and, on the same email string, to Steven Pinker, the eminent cognitive psychologist.

How did my psychologist colleagues react? 

Haidt noted that Twitter indeed cuts the link between “competence or value-creation and prestige/reward.” Pinker, likewise, observed: “The contrast between Twitter and face-to-face communication is profound. I have been astounded at how some of my students and younger colleagues think nothing of spitting utterly gratuitous and unjustified snark at respected figures in their fields. I have to remind them that they may meet these figures at a conference some day, or that they might be on their tenure or grant review committees. The transition from meetings to Zoom in the past two years may have exacerbated this, but I suspect the main enabler is the sense that their reference group is their Twitter same-age peers, and that they don’t have cues reminding them they’re part of a multi-generational community.” 

Pinker added: “…there [also] seems to be a dynamic of weaponising social justice, so that as our society legitimately expands rights for black people, women, gay people, and transgender people, it simultaneously creates weapons for sociocultural warfare, handing aggressive professionals a moralistic cudgel with which they can demonise their competitors. In this case destructive trolling could also be a side-effect of moral progress. Note that this would be consistent with the appeal of moralistic mobbing among younger generations – in status competition with their seniors, they are disadvantaged along every dimension but one, claimed moral superiority.”

How much are our social media networks — these massively broad-scale social experiments, conducted with radically insufficient knowledge of the underlying psychological dynamics – incentivising narcissism (an idea that particularly appealed to Dr. Haidt)? And how much is too much? 

Here’s an uncomfortable conclusion: it does not take that many free-riders or criminals (or people who simply just don’t care, and would just as soon see everything burn) to radically destabilise complex social organisations. I spoke recently with the journalist Andy Ngo about the anarchist group Antifa, for example, after being informed by some Democrats I was corresponding with that this group “didn’t really exist.” I didn’t know what they meant, until I asked Andy how many truly active Antifa cells he thought existed in the US, and how many active, full-time equivalent “members” each cell might have. He thought 40 and 20. That’s 800. All that damage, from 800 anarchists. That’s the Pareto principle: a small number of agents in any organisation (or its equivalent) pull all the weight. 

It is worth remembering that one per cent of the US population accounts for two thirds of all violent crime (and a minority of that one per cent are repeat offenders). 

Exacerbating polarisation

Have we built “communication” systems that are capable of destabilising our entire society? Haidt believes that it was the “mere” introduction of the retweet and like buttons that facilitated the tit-for-tat sharing of emotionally triggering content; particularly that capable of generating outrage. If a tech innovation that “small” can exacerbate polarisation on a societal scale, how much disruption can these communication technologies taken as a whole create? Enough to bring us down? The mental health data certainly indicate that a major toll has already been taken on female adolescents.

What about the rest of us? What about our social institutions? It seems clear that the potential psychological and sociological harm engendered by the increasingly monopolistic communication enterprises engaging our society are such that we should at least consider a push to conduct research on the matter – with an eye to conceptualising, designing and improving social media sharing platforms that aren’t prima facie insane. And contagiously so.

We must do so before our new – and in some ways miraculous – mass communication systems pollute the social world beyond repair.

One comment

  1. For your amusement:

    From Middlemarch (this is Rosamond and Fred Vincy arguing):

    “Are you beginning to dislike slang, then?” said Rosamond, with mild gravity.
    “Only the wrong sort. All choice of words is slang. It marks a class.”
    “There is correct English: that is not slang.”
    “I beg your pardon: correct English is the slang of prigs who write history and essays. And the strongest slang of all is the slang of poets.”


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