creativity seems related to IQ in that more people with higher IQs are likely to be creative or if you take people who are noted for their creativity there’s a high probability that they’ll have a higher IQ but there’s more to it than IQ and and what what creativity seems to be associated with then again depends on whether or not on how you define creativity because you could define it as the sum total of creative achievements that you’ve made in your life which would be the actual production of say artifacts of one form or another performances or inventions or artworks or or what-have-you we’ll go over the dimensions in the middle in a minute or you could also define it as the proclivity to engage in creative thought and I think we’ll start with that first so what does it mean to think creatively it’s it’s sort of like it’s something like this you imagine that I toss you out an idea and there’s some probability that when I toss you that idea that that will trigger off other ideas in your imagination so you can think about it as a threshold issue if you’re not very creative I’ll throw you an idea and hardly any other ideals will be triggered and the ones that will be triggered are going to be very closely associated with that initial idea so let’s say I toss each of you an idea and I asked you to think tell me the first thing that comes to mind okay so what we would see first is that the first thing that comes to mind for you the first thing that comes to mind in life in all likelihood we’d be shared by many of you okay so then you can think about that as a common response right and so that’s a less creative response and then there’ll be some things that come to mind for you that are that they’re so idiosyncratic that you’re the only person that thinks that and no one can understand it well that’s also not exactly creative because the thing that you for something to be creative it has to be novel and useful at the same time that’s sort of a rough definition creative something creative is novel and useful and obviously you know there’s a there’s a certain amount of judgment that goes along with that clearly but if it’s too novel then no one else can understand it and it’s unlikely to be useful so there’s there’s a there’s a range of convenience so anyways if you want to decide if something’s creative like what we would do for I could say to you okay in the next three minutes I want you to write down all the uses you can think of for a brick so okay so someone tell me a use for a brick breaking windows yes okay what else can use a brick for build a wall it’s very small wall haha a wall for ant and what else paperweight okay okay well so you get the idea you’re not feeling very wealthy today obviously but so so you see that so if we gathered your responses say I said you have to think of 20 items that 20 things that that you could do with a brick then a bunch of the things that you thought would be the same and some people would come up with something different like yours was reasonably different than what about using it as a pumice stone for your feet but someone else might have come up with that but it’s it’s a good creative response because it’s unexpected and it you could actually do it you know so anyway so you’ll get a graph of probability of response right and the more probable the less creative roughly speaking it’s not the only criteria though because you also have to look at utility so if I said okay you’ve got three minutes to write down as many uses as you can think of for a brick I would score that in a variety of ways the first thing I would do is just figure out how many uses you generated that’s called fluency and we could also do that I could just say write down as many words as you can begin with the letter S in three minutes or that begin with the letter C or four-letter words that begin with the letter D no I can I can constrain it and if I counted how many words you generated if I had an IQ measure and I had a measure of how many words you generated IQ plus the number of words that you generated would be a better predictor of your creativity than just IQ so there’s a fluency element that’s in and so that’s something like the rate at which you can produce say verbal ideas and one of the things we do know about about the creativity dimension of openness is that it is associated with fluency and it’s also associated with originality and originality would be how improbable your use was compared to the uses generated by other people so so anyway so you can think of you get thrown an idea and there’s some probability that that will Co activate other ideas and if it co activates many other ideas that’s like fluency and if it co activates ideas that are quite distant from the original idea something like that and you could you could track distance by comparing it to to probability that other people have generated it then that’s also another indication of creativity so they have to be unlikely many unlikely responses that are useful that’s what creativity is roughly speaking and then you can fractionated into different dimensions so that’s creative thinking but then creative achievement would be the ability to take those original ideas and then actually to implement them in the world and that’s obviously much more different than merely being creative and so and then what creativity is depends on which of those measurement routes that you take now I develop the questionnaire it’s one of my students Shelley Carson about Jesus just about 30 years ago now 20 years ago I guess called the creative achievement questionnaire and I’ll show you that here and I’ll show you some of the things that are interesting about it you know you hear very frequently people say things like everyone’s creative it’s like that’s wrong okay it’s wrong it’s just as wrong as saying that everyone’s extroverted first of all you have to be pretty damn smart to be creative because otherwise you’re just going to get to where other people have already got and that’s not creative by definition so so being fast and being out there at the front of things really makes a difference and then you also have to have these divergent thinking capabilities and that’s part of your trait structure and creative people are really different than non creative people you know partly because for example they’re highly motivated to do creative things and to experience novelty in – and – and to chase down aesthetic experiences in to attend movies and to read fiction and to go to museums and to enjoy poetry and and and to enjoy music that’s not conventional music for example these aren’t trivial differences and so and so it’s a real it’s a real missed statement to make the proposition that everyone’s creative it’s just simply not the case it’s a matter of wishful thinking it’s like saying that everyone is intelligent it’s like well if everyone is intelligent then then the term loses all of its meaning because any term that you can apply to every member of a category has absolutely no meaning now that doesn’t and you know the other thing you want to be thinking about here is that
don’t be thinking that creativity is such a good thing
it’s a high-risk high-return strategy
so if you’re creative you just try this there’s creative people in this room man
you guys are going to have a hell of a time monetizing your creativity
it’s virtually impossible it’s really really difficult because first of all
let’s say you make an original product you think the world will beat a pathway to your door if you build a better mousetrap it’s like that’s complete rubbish it isn’t it isn’t true in the least
if you make a good creative product you’ve probably solved about 5% of your problem because then you have marketing which is insanely difficult and then you have sales and then you have customer support and then you have to build an organization
and you have to if it’s really novel you have to tell people what the hell the thing is
you know we built this future authoring program or anything with it so it’s available for people online how do you market that no one knows what that is and that’s a real problem if you wrote a book well then you have the problem that another million people have also written a book but if you produce something that’s completely new and doesn’t have a category people can’t search for it online how are they going to find it so you just have and then you have pricing problems and it’s really unbelievably difficult to produce something creative and then monetize it and even worse if you’re the creative person let’s say you have a spectacular invention you’ve got no money right you’ve got no customers those are big problems and so maybe you go and you find a venture capitalist we start with family and friends because that’s how it works you raise money for your product you raise money from your family and friends that’s assuming you have family and friends that have some money and that they’re going to give it to you and most people aren’t in that situation so it’s a terrible barrier right off the bat
and then of course you’re putting your family and friends at substantial financial risk because the probability that your stupid idea is going to make money is a virtually zero even if it’s a really brilliant idea and so then let’s say well you get past family and friends and you get venture capitalist capitalists involved because that’s often the next step or an angel investor that’s there’s their steps in building a business family and friends angel investor that’s some rich guy that you happen to meet some manner in some way who’s who’s into this sort of thing and is willing to provide you with some money to get your checked off the ground well how much of your product is that person going to take well most of it most of it and then if you get a venture and no wonder because you know you don’t have any money how are you going to bargain for control over your product he’ll just say well do you want the money or not and if your answer is no then he’ll go and do something else with his money it’s not like there’s no shortage of things that you can do with your money there’s a million things you can do with it so you’re not in a great bargaining position and then if you get venture capitalists involved they’ll take another big chunk and maybe if they’re not very straight with you they’ll just throw you out because maybe by that point in the company’s development you’re nothing but a pain in the neck because what do you know about marketing and sales and customer service and building an organization and running a business like you don’t have a clue so why do they need you so even if you’re successful at generating a new idea and you put it into a business the probability that you as the originator of the of the idea are going to make some money from it is very very low so don’t be thinking that creativity is such a is such a something you would want to curse yourself with now you know it’s not all bad because it opens up avenues of experience for creative people that aren’t available to people who aren’t creative but it definitely is a high-risk high-return strategy you know so the overwhelming probability is that you will fail but a small proportion of creative people succeed spectacularly and so it’s like a lottery in some sense you’re probably going to lose but if you don’t lose you could win big and that keeps a lot of creative people going but also they don’t really have much choice in it because if you’re a creative person you’re like a fruit tree that’s that’s bearing fruit so you don’t really have you can suppress it but it’s very bad for you you know the creative people I’ve worked with is if they’re not creative they’re miserable so they have to do it but and then you know there’s real joy and pleasure in it and and the end and end and psychological utility but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s an intelligent it’s certainly not a conservative strategy for moving forward through life so and you know whenever I talk to people who are creative and you guys should listen to this because I know what I’m talking about if you happen to be creative if you’re songwriter are another kind of musician or an artist or or any of the other number of things that you might be find a way to make money and then practice your craft on the side because you will starve to death otherwise now some for some of you that won’t be true but it’s a tiny minority your best bet is to find a job that will keep body and soul together and parse off some time that you can pursue your creative things because then well as a long term strategy you medium to long term strategy it’s a better one but it’s got incredibly difficult for people musicians for example it’s incredibly difficult for new musicians to monetize their their craft even if they’re really really good at it so it’s it’s well so anyway so don’t be so I say well everyone’s not everyone’s not creative and everybody goes oh that’s terrible it’s like it’s not so terrible it’s not something it’s not self-evident that you would curse someone with high levels of creativity so alright so here’s how our creative achievement questionnaire works what we did essentially was we thought up how many domains there are in which you might be creative and this is remember when you’re designing a questionnaire you want to be over-inclusive because the statistics will take care of it right so you can you can take a big area of potential you can take a large area and aim your questionnaire at it and you can do statistics post talk to see if you’re covering the area if the things that you’re measuring are nicely correlated they’re this you know there’s something about them that’s similar if they’re not correlated then maybe you’re measuring two different things and you can get rid of one of them that’s fine so we did start with a pretty wide rage we thought okay well what domains can you be creative in visual arts painting in sculpture then we had experts sort of rank order levels of achievement within those domains and so if you are a painter you can 0 gives you I have no training or recognised talent in this area okay so you really want to keep an eye on the zeros alright so then I have taken lessons people have commented on my talents I have won a prize my work is being critiqued in national publications alright so you get you get you get at zero to seven points but you can indicate more than know maybe that’s happened to you more than once so and what happens this is interesting is that higher you are up this hierarchy the more likely it is that those things have happened to you more than once and that’s that’s another example of this weird thing called the Pareto principle or prices law which is that it’s sort of as good things happen to you the probability that more good things will happen increases right so because once you’re famous people give you all sorts of opportunities to do other things right so your your success doesn’t go like this goes like this zero zero zero skyrocket that’s how it works but getting from zero getting from zero to one if you’re starting a business the hardest customer you’ll ever get is your first one and then the second hardest one will be your second one it’s virtually impossible to get a first customer because they’re going to say to you first of all you’re going to be selling to people who are basically conservative and they’re not going to be evaluate they’re not going to be willing or able to evaluate whether your damn product is good for anything and so they’ll say well who are your other customers and if your answer to that is well we don’t have any it’s like well then what they’re going to be the first one no because people don’t stick their necks out at all not a bit ever and so unless you’re well established in the market especially if you’re dealing with a big company you can just bloody well forget it it’s like a three year sales cycle anyways it’s rigged because big corporations move very very slowly and you might be able to find a small company that doesn’t have much money who would be willing to use your stupid product for nothing if you’re really nice to them and you can get one customer that way it’s very very difficult and so you’ll you’ll end up you know and what do you think the royalty just out of curiosity so I’ve written a book it’s going to be published by penguin Random House and in January what do you think the royalty is for an author on a book so you make something creative you get a percentage of the sale what do you think the percentage is just out of curiosity yes yeah it’s like 5% so think about that so that means that you make your thing and 95% of it belongs to someone else and that’s that things are going quite well for you and it doesn’t really matter what you manufacture or produce that’s about what you can expect sales marketing distribution it eats it all up so it’s all well anyways you need to know these things because they’re not self-evident okay so seems to be working well by itself all right so let’s take a look well how else can you have creative achievement well you can be a musician I have no training or recognize Talent recordings of my composition have been sold publicly that’s the top end my composition has been copyright and recorded critiqued in the local population publication I have composed an original piece of music well let’s try this how many of you have composed an original piece of music wow there’s lots of creative people in here that’s very impressive so there must be 10 or 11 people in here oh that’s cool so how about your copies composition has been copyrighted how about it’s been the recordings have been sold publicly and actually sold how many people – two okay well so what you can see is there’s a rapid drop-off in the number of people who say yes how many of you fit into category zero I have no training a recognised talent in this area yeah okay okay zero is the median score on all of these median is the score that’s the most likely for people to have or it’s different than the mean median score is zero so what’s the median score and the entire creative achievement questionnaire zero you you add up all over all thirteen domains the most typical score is zero so that’s how creative people are there’s zero creative not at all yes well the thing is you could say that people have people all people are creative and that all people could generate ideas but the issue isn’t whether or not you can generate ideas it’s whether or not you can generate ideas that are different from the ideas that other people generate that’s the critical issue because it mean it depends on how you define it you could you well the novelty is a huge part of it but that’s it that sort of built into the definition of creative it has to be novel and useful and if your idea that you generate is the same as the idea that a bunch of other people have it’s not it’s an idea fair enough and if you define creativity that way then everyone’s creative but it’s a foolish way of defining creativity because everyone does it
–Our long form analysis of Jordan Peterson, and more specifically the movement that has been created around him, including its ideology, shortcomings, and more
loyalty that extends beyond reason whatthe peterson fans need to understand isthat this type of devotion is partlywhat fuels the unfair criticisms ofpeterson it’s a circle when a publicperson has a huge group of zealousattack dogs who pounce on any critic ofthe movement the movement becomes morefun and attractive to criticise tooutsiders now I’m not saying it shouldbe that way but without question thiskind of cringy fanboy behavior of somany peterson fans is itself what turnspeople off of jordan peterson peopleshouldn’tstrawman peterson people shouldn’tcriticize peterson dishonestly but theadoration of his fans is part of whatfeeds it and you might say oh that’sunfair and I’m agreeing with you I’msaying yeah that is unfair but there aremany peterson fans who would benefitfrom being a little bit more self-awareone of the most disconcerting thingsabout peterson fans is how seriouslythey take themselves something thatopen-minded people with a sort ofhealthy diversity of intellectualinfluences rarely do they rarely takethemselves so seriously most peopleactually learn to become embarrassedabout taking themselves so seriously andthey eventually grow out of it which maybe some peterson fans will do so to bePeterson talks about the importance ofthinking for yourself Peterson givesfans a way of feeling smart withoutactually having to thoroughly study theintellectuals that Peterssites much less the countlessphilosophers with viewpoints thatdirectly contradict Peterson in reallycredible and important ways being aloyal unquestioning Peterson fan doesn’treally demand much of you right it’seasy many in Peterson’s audience arerelying on his interpretations and hisconclusions about philosophical issuesand current events without doing muchthinking on their own and that’s whatgurus do and enable their followers todo
It’s social media in the age of “patriotic trolling” in the Philippines, where the government is waging a campaign to destroy a critic—with a little help from Facebook itself.
The phenomenon, sometimes referred to as “patriotic trolling,” involves the use of targeted harassment and propaganda meant to go viral and to give the impression that there is a groundswell of organic support for the government. Much of the trolling is carried out by true believers, but there is evidence that some governments, including Duterte’s, pay people to execute attacks against opponents. Trolls use all the social media platforms—including Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, in addition to the comments sections of news sites. But in the Philippines, Facebook is dominant.
Ressa exposed herself to this in September 2016, a little more than three months after the election. On a Friday night, a bomb ripped through a night market in Davao City, Duterte’s hometown, killing 14 and injuring dozens more. Within hours, Duterte implemented a nationwide state of emergency. That weekend, the most-read story on Rappler was an archived item about the arrest of a man caught planting an improvised explosive device, also in Davao City. The article had been written six months earlier, and the incident had no connection to the night market bombing—but it was circulating on the same Facebook pages that promoted Duterte’s presidency, and people were commenting on it as if to justify the state of emergency.
.. The Rappler data team had spent months keeping track of the Facebook accounts that were going after critics of Duterte. Now Ressa found herself following the trail of her own critics as well. She identified 26 accounts that were particularly virulent. They were all fake (one account used a photo of a young woman who was actually a Korean pop star) and all followed one another. The 26 accounts were posting nearly the exact same content, which was also appearing on faux-news sites such as Global Friends of Rody Duterte and Pinoy Viral News.
The messages being posted consistently linked back to pro-Duterte pages. Ressa and her team put all these accounts into a database, which grew rapidly as they began automating the collection of information, scraping Facebook pages and other public sites. They took to calling their database the Shark Tank. Today it contains more than 12 million accounts that have created or distributed pro-Duterte messages or fake news. Ressa isn’t sure how many of these accounts are fake
Even in the U.S., where Facebook has been hauled before Congress to explain its role in a Russian disinformation campaign designed to influence the U.S. presidential election, the company doesn’t have a clear answer for how it will stem abuse. It says it will add 10,000 workers worldwide to handle security issues, increase its use of third-party fact-checkers to identify fake news, and coordinate more closely with governments to find sources of misinformation and abuse. But the most challenging questions—such as what happens when the government itself is a bad actor and where to draw the line between free speech and a credible threat of violence—are beyond the scope of these fixes. What stays and what goes from the site is still decided subjectively, often by third-party contractors—many of them stationed, as it happens, in the Philippines, a long-standing outsourcing hub.
Facebook is inherently conflicted. It promises advertisers it will deliver interested and engaged users—and often what is interesting and engaging is salacious, aggressive, or simply false. “I don’t think you can underestimate how much of a role they play in societal discourse,” says Carly Nyst, a London-based consultant on technology and human rights who has studied patriotic trolling around the world. “This is a real moment that they have to take some responsibility. These tools they’ve promised as tools of communication and connection are being abused.”
.. Facebook’s executives say the company isn’t interested in being an arbiter of truth, in part because it doesn’t want to assume the role of censor or be seen as having an editorial opinion that may alienate users. Nonetheless, it’s been under increasing pressure to act. In the Philippines, it began conducting safety workshops in 2016 to educate journalists and nongovernmental organization workers. These cover the basics: an overview of the company’s community standards policies, how to block a harasser, how to report abusive content, how to spot fake accounts and other sources of misinformation. The company has increased the number of Tagalog speakers on its global Community Operations team in an effort to better root out local slurs and other abusive language.
Still, Facebook maintains that an aspect of the problem in the Philippines is simply that the country has come online fast and hasn’t yet learned the emergent rules of the internet. In October the company offered a “Think Before You Share” workshop for Filipino students, which focused on teaching them “digital literacy” skills, including critical thinking, empowerment, kindness, and empathy.
Nyst says this amounts to “suggesting that digital literacy should also encapsulate the ability to distinguish between state-sponsored harassment and fake news and genuine content.” The company, she says, “is taking the position that it is individuals who are at fault for being manipulated by the content that appears on Facebook’s platform.”
.. Rappler was born on Facebook and lives there still—it’s the predominant source of Rappler’s traffic. So Ressa finds herself in an awkward spot. She has avoided rocking the boat, because she worries that one of the most powerful companies in the world could essentially crush her. What if Facebook tweaked the algorithm for the Rappler page, causing traffic to plummet? What if it selectively removed monetization features critical to the site’s success? “There’s absolutely no way we can tell what they’re doing, and they certainly do not like being criticized,” she says. But after more than a year of polite dialogue with Facebook, she grew impatient and frustrated.
In a trip to Washington in early November, she met with several lawmakers, telling them that she believes Facebook is being used by autocrats and repressive regimes to manipulate public opinion and that the platform has become a tool for online hooliganism. She did the same in a speech at a dinner hosted by the National Democratic Institute, where Rappler was presented with an award for “being on the front lines of fighting the global challenge of disinformation and false news.”
As she accepted her award, Ressa recalled that she started as a journalist in the Philippines in 1986, the year of the People Power Revolution, an uprising that ultimately led to the departure of Ferdinand Marcos and the move from authoritarian rule to democracy. Now she’s worried that the pendulum is swinging back and that Facebook is hastening the trend. “They haven’t done anything to deal with the fundamental problem, which is they’re allowing lies to be treated the same way as truth and spreading it,” she says. “Either they’re negligent or they’re complicit in state-sponsored hate.”
.. In November, Facebook announced a new partnership with the Duterte government. As part of its efforts to lay undersea cables around the world, Facebook agreed to team up with the government to work on completing a stretch bypassing the notoriously challenging Luzon Strait, where submarine cables in the past have been damaged by typhoons and earthquakes. Facebook will fund the underwater links to the Philippines and provide a set amount of bandwidth to the government. The government will build cable landing stations and other necessary infrastructure.
That’s the sort of big project Facebook embraces. It’s also testing a solar-powered drone that will beam the internet to sub-Saharan Africa and has a team of engineers working on a brain implant to allow users to type with their minds. To Ressa, Facebook looks like a company that will take on anything, except protecting people like her. —With Sarah Frier and Michael Riley
I can tell the people what it is you’re really trying to say.
Mark Zuckerberg has written an op-ed, and I wish he had not.
It was titled “The Facts About Facebook.” I would give that one tweak. I’d call it “Mark’s Facts About Facebook.”
In a piece for The Wall Street Journal timed to the social networking giant’s 15th anniversary, its once-young, now-not-so-young chief executive and founder tried and tried to persuade readers that they shouldn’t be afraid of what he has wrought.
But the post was essentially the greatest hits that we have heard Mr. Zuckerberg sing for a while now. He focused on the enormous advertising system that powers Facebook, while ignoring almost entirely the news from the last disastrous year, including Russian abuse of the platform, sloppy management of data, recent revelations that the company throws some pretty sharp elbows when it needs to, and more. You kind of get why Mr. Zuckerberg would want to forget it all.
Should I be annoyed by this? One person who favors Mr. Zuckerberg told me no, pointing out that the media is irked when he says nothing and even more bothered when he says something, so he cannot win whatever he does.
.. O.K., so instead of just criticizing, I thought I would help him with his piece, given I do this for a living and he does not, by rewriting his work. Here goes:
MARK WROTE: “Facebook turns 15 next month. When I started Facebook, I wasn’t trying to build a global company. I realized you could find almost anything on the internet — music, books, information — except the thing that matters most: people. So I built a service people could use to connect and learn about each other. Over the years, billions have found this useful, and we’ve built more services that people around the world love and use every day. Recently I’ve heard many questions about our business model, so I want to explain the principles of how we operate.”
KARA TRANSLATES: We old now. We big now. It came from my one really good idea: AOL sucked and I could do better and I did. Now the noise has reached me up on Billionaire Mountain, so I am going to have to pretend that I care.
MARK: “I believe everyone should have a voice and be able to connect. If we’re committed to serving everyone, then we need a service that is affordable to everyone. The best way to do that is to offer services for free, which ads enable us to do.”
KARA: No rich person is going to pay too much for this muffler, um, social media service, and poor people aren’t going to pay us at all because they apparently don’t have money. So everyone will have to endure the ads that we shovel out and stop griping, because free ain’t free, people.
Fusionism was an idea championed most forcefully by Frank Meyer, the longtime literary editor of National Review. He argued that libertarianism — then often called “individualism” — and traditionalism are the twin pillars of conservatism and, more broadly, of a just and free society. The chief obligation of the state is to protect individual liberty, but the chief obligation of the individual is to live virtuously. Coerced virtue is tyrannical: Virtue not freely chosen is not virtuous.
.. But as both a philosophical and a prudential matter, we understand — just as Meyer did to some extent — that freedom is a concept with limits, that each principle must be circumscribed at the extremes by other important principles. A society where literally everything is permitted isn’t free except according to some quasi-Hobbesian or fully Rousseauian or Randian theory about the freedom inherent in a state of nature or an anarcho-capitalist utopia. Some forms of authority must be morally permissible, even to the lover of liberty.
.. Decisions made by others can profoundly affect the ease or difficulty of one’s pursuit of virtue or salvation. If I tell my daughter that her mother and I will not punish her if she uses drugs or ignores her responsibilities, I’m making it harder for her to live a decent, virtuous life. She will have the ultimate choice, but as an authority over her, I can make some choices easier or more difficult.
.. Here’s how I think about it: When presented with a political or philosophical challenge, the conservative, particularly the conservative of the Buckleyan variety, asks two important questions: Does the challenge threaten freedom? Does it hinder the practice of virtue? And he asks the same questions about the proposed response to the challenge.
.. Rothbardians, Randians, and other hyper-individualists are often inmates of their single idea, refusing to temper it with others. “An individualist,” Ayn Rand wrote, “is a man who says: ‘I’ll not run anyone’s life — nor let anyone run mine. I will not rule nor be ruled. I will not be a master nor a slave. I will not sacrifice myself to anyone — nor sacrifice anyone to myself.’” When thoughts are presented in such stark light, all nuance is lost in shadow. It is fine and good to say one will be neither master nor slave, but what about brother or sister, father or son? What about neighbor, friend, or simply fellow citizen? Social solidarity, whether at the intimate level of the family or the broad level of the nation, requires a vastly complex ecosystem of obligations and dependencies that fall to the cutting-room floor when we apply the razor of hyper-individualism.
.. The American tradition, as Tocqueville most famously chronicled, is a stew of both extreme individualism and remarkable associationism. Visitors such as Tocqueville have an easier time seeing this than do native-born Americans themselves. When you grow up in a tradition, that tradition becomes, if not entirely invisible, then certainly recessed into your background assumptions about how the world works.
.. Meyer understood that the strongest metal is an alloy. Steel is stronger than iron because of its blended nature. The Western tradition from antiquity onward was a conversation between two imperatives,
- freedom and order,
- liberty and virtue.
Prior to the Enlightenment, these imperatives were less of a tension and more of a process. Virtue was the way in which one achieved liberty, rightly understood. This conversation, Meyer wrote, was a “dialectic between doctrines which emphasize opposite sides of the same truth.”
.. When intellectuals such as Bozell and Rothbard emphasize one side of the coin, each side appears as a negation of the other. But, in reality, “on neither side is there a purposeful, philosophically founded rejection of the ends the other side proclaims,” Meyer wrote. “Rather, each side emphasizes so strongly the aspect of the great tradition of the West which it sees as decisive that distortion sets in.
.. The place of its goals in the total tradition of the West is lost sight of, and the complementary interdependence of freedom and virtue, of the individual person and political order, is forgotten.”
.. In short, tradition is not a philosophy but the arena in which competing philosophies shape the civilization around them. Libertarians and conservatives, despite all of their disagreements, can find common ground because they share some assumptions that Marxists, Randians, and others do not.
.. The libertarian individualists of the 1960s were more virtue-oriented than they appreciated. The traditionalists of the period were more concerned with freedom than they often let on. And many of the arguments about fusionism amounted to the sorts of squabbles we associate with the faculty lounge; they were so vicious because the stakes were so low.
Meanwhile, the more relevant debate was between populists and elitists. I say “elitists,” not “elites,” because this debate was also fought almost entirely among elites as well.
.. Kendall was an unapologetic majoritarian who believed that the masses were the virtuous citizens of “We the People.” He described himself as an “Appalachians-to-the-Rockies patriot.”
.. Conservatism, and America generally, got through the McCarthy period all right, in large part because elite institutions continued to play their role in constraining and channeling popular uprisings — though, as the 1960s demonstrated, there were also considerable failures. On the right, the competing elite factions disagreed about the extent to which populism should drive conservative political projects, but it was always assumed — if not always stated — that elites in the form of statesmen, intellectuals, etc. would still play an important role in channeling popular passions toward productive ends.
.. That system has largely broken down. The Internet and cable television deserve generous portions of blame, as do our educational system and the media generally. America is not immune to the tendency toward populism when high levels of immigration meet low or nonexistent levels of assimilation. The market itself is part of the problem, too. Division and anger are easily monetized, while moderation and prudence struggle to find a customer base.
.. Talk radio, cable news channels, and various PACs and interest groups have replaced the parties as the main educators of voters and drivers of turnout, and they have done so by stoking partisan anger, often collecting a tidy profit in the process. Much of the conservative movement has become a de facto consultant class for the Republican party, and any effort to provide intellectual correction from a critical distance is deemed an act of betrayal or heresy. What was once a healthy tension has become a kind of co-dependence, and in some instances little more than a racket.
.. Simply put, we live in a populist moment when many of the gatekeepers have either abandoned their posts to join the mob or stand lonely vigil at gates that are no longer needed because the walls are crumbling.
Now he’s talking publicly for the first time. Under pressure from Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg to monetize WhatsApp, he pushed back as Facebook questioned the encryption he’d helped build and laid the groundwork to show targeted ads and facilitate commercial messaging.
Acton also walked away from Facebook a year before his final tranche of stock grants vested. “It was like, okay, well, you want to do these things I don’t want to do,” Acton says. “It’s better if I get out of your way. And I did.” It was perhaps the most expensive moral stand in history. Acton took a screenshot of the stock price on his way out the door—the decision cost him $850 million.
.. “As part of a proposed settlement at the end, [Facebook management] tried to put a nondisclosure agreement in place,” Acton says. “That was part of the reason that I got sort of cold feet in terms of trying to settle with these guys.”
.. That kind of answer masks the kind of issues that just prompted Instagram’s founders to abruptly quit. Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger reportedly chafed at Facebook and Zuckerberg’s heavy hand. Acton’s account of what happened at WhatsApp—and Facebook’s plans for it—provides a rare founder’s-level window into a company that’s at once the global arbiter of privacy standards and the gatekeeper of facts, while also increasingly straying from its entrepreneurial roots.
.. Despite a transfer of several billion dollars, Acton says he never developed a rapport with Zuckerberg. “I couldn’t tell you much about the guy,” he says. In one of their dozen or so meetings, Zuck told Acton unromantically that WhatsApp, which had a stipulated degree of autonomy within the Facebook universe and continued to operate for a while out of its original offices, was “a product group to him, like Instagram.”
.. So Acton didn’t know what to expect when Zuck beckoned him to his office last September, around the time Acton told Facebook brass that he planned to leave. Acton and Koum had a clause in their contract that allowed them to get all their stock, which was being doled out over four years, if Facebook began “implementing monetization initiatives” without their consent.
.. The Facebook-WhatsApp pairing had been a head-scratcher from the start. Facebook has one of the world’s biggest advertising networks; Koum and Acton hated ads. Facebook’s added value for advertisers is how much it knows about its users; WhatsApp’s founders were pro-privacy zealots who felt their vaunted encryption had been integral to their nearly unprecedented global growth.
.. This dissonance frustrated Zuckerberg. Facebook, Acton says, had decided to pursue two ways of making money from WhatsApp. First, by showing targeted ads in WhatsApp’s new Status feature, which Acton felt broke a social compact with its users. “Targeted advertising is what makes me unhappy,” he says. His motto at WhatsApp had been “No ads, no games, no gimmicks”—a direct contrast with a parent company that derived 98% of its revenue from advertising. Another motto had been “Take the time to get it right,” a stark contrast to “Move fast and break things.”
.. Facebook also wanted to sell businesses tools to chat with WhatsApp users. Once businesses were on board, Facebook hoped to sell them analytics tools, too. The challenge was WhatsApp’s watertight end-to-end encryption, which stopped both WhatsApp and Facebook from reading messages.
.. For his part, Acton had proposed monetizing WhatsApp through a metered-user model, charging, say, a tenth of a penny after a certain large number of free messages were used up. “You build it once, it runs everywhere in every country,” Acton says. “You don’t need a sophisticated sales force. It’s a very simple business.”
.. Acton’s plan was shot down by Sandberg. “Her words were ‘It won’t scale.’ ”
.. “I called her out one time,” says Acton, who sensed there might be greed at play. “I was like, ‘No, you don’t mean that it won’t scale. You mean it won’t make as much money as . . . ,’ and she kind of hemmed and hawed a little. And we moved on. I think I made my point. . . . They are businesspeople, they are good businesspeople. They just represent a set of business practices, principles and ethics, and policies that I don’t necessarily agree with.”
.. When Acton reached Zuckerberg’s office, a Facebook lawyer was present. Acton made clear that the disagreement—Facebook wanted to make money through ads, and he wanted to make it from high-volume users—meant he could get his full allocation of stock. Facebook’s legal team disagreed, saying that WhatsApp had only been exploring monetization initiatives, not “implementing” them.
.. Zuckerberg, for his part, had a simple message: “He was like, This is probably the last time you’ll ever talk to me.”
.. Acton graduated from Stanford with a bachelor’s in computer science and eventually became one of the first employees at Yahoo in 1996, making millions in the process. His biggest asset from that time at Yahoo: befriending Koum, a Ukrainian immigrant he clicked with over their similar no-nonsense style.
.. WhatsApp, persuading a handful of former Yahoo colleagues to fund a seed round while he took on cofounder status and wound up with a roughly 20% stake.
.. two things sparked Zuckerberg’s mega-offer in early 2014. One was hearing that WhatsApp’s founders had been invited to Google’s Mountain View headquarters for talks, and he did not want to lose them to a competitor.
.. He recalls Zuckerberg being “supportive” of WhatsApp’s plans to roll out end-to-end encryption, even though it would block attempts to harvest user data. If anything, he was “quick to respond” during the discussions. Zuckerberg “was not immediately evaluating ramifications in the long term.”
.. told them that they would have “zero pressure” on monetization for the next five years.
.. Facebook prepared Acton to meet with around a dozen representatives of the European Competition Commission in a teleconference. “I was coached to explain that it would be really difficult to merge or blend data between the two systems,”
.. Later he learned that elsewhere in Facebook, there were “plans and technologies to blend data.” Specifically, Facebook could use the 128-bit string of numbers assigned to each phone as a kind of bridge between accounts. The other method was phone-number matching, or pinpointing Facebook accounts with phone numbers and matching them to WhatsApp accounts with the same phone number.
.. Within 18 months, a new WhatsApp terms of service linked the accounts and made Acton look like a liar. “I think everyone was gambling because they thought that the EU might have forgotten because enough time had passed.” No such luck: Facebook wound up paying a $122 million fine for giving “incorrect or misleading information” to the EU—a cost of doing business
.. Linking these overlapping accounts was a crucial first step toward monetizing WhatsApp. The terms-of-service update would lay the groundwork for how WhatsApp could make money. During the discussions over these changes, Facebook sought “broader rights” to WhatsApp user data, Acton says, but WhatsApp’s founders pushed back, reaching a compromise with Facebook management. A clause about no ads would remain, but Facebook would still link the accounts to present friend suggestions on Facebook and offer its advertising partners better targets for ads on Facebook.
.. By then, three years since the deal, Zuckerberg was growing impatient, Acton says, and he expressed his frustrations at an all-hands meeting for WhatsApp staffers. “The CFO projections, the ten-year outlook—they wanted and needed the WhatsApp revenues to continue to show the growth to Wall Street,”
.. Internally, Facebook had targeted a $10 billion revenue run rate within five years of monetization, but such numbers sounded too high to Acton—and reliant on advertising.
.. Acton had left a management position on Yahoo’s ad division over a decade earlier with frustrations at the Web portal’s so-called “Nascar approach” of putting ad banners all over a Web page. The drive for revenue at the expense of a good product experience “gave me a bad taste in my mouth,” Acton remembers. He was now seeing history repeat.
.. He has supercharged a small messaging app, Signal, run by a security researcher named Moxie Marlinspike with a mission to put users before profit, giving it $50 million and turning it into a foundation. Now he’s working with the same people who built the opensource encryption protocol that is part of Signal and protects WhatsApp’s 1.5 billion users and that also sits as an option on Facebook Messenger, Microsoft’s Skype and Google’s Allo messenger. Essentially, he’s re-creating WhatsApp in the pure, idealized form it started: free messages and calls, with end-to-end encryption and no obligations to ad platforms.