A crash course in the history of money, the birth of Bitcoin, and blockchain technology.
- We've all heard terms like Bitcoin, blockchain, and cryptocurrency being thrown around in the past few years, but what do they mean? Consider this your crash course.
- Experts from across the spectrum of money and tech provide a history of commerce dating back tens of thousands of years, explain what blockchain and Bitcoin are and how they work, and offer insights into the differences between centralized and decentralized systems.
- Because blockchain is incredibly difficult to hack, it has massive implications for elections, banking, shipping, land ownership—any domain where corruption is rampant. While the technology may feel abstract now, programmer Brian Behlendorf compares it to explaining the concept of email to people in 1993. One day, blockchain will be a seamless part of our lives.
As morally sturdy as we may feel, it turns out that humans are natural hypocrites when it comes to passing moral judgment.
- The problem with having a compass as the symbolic representation of morality is that due north is not a fixed point. Liane Young, Boston College associate professor and director of the Morality Lab, explains how context, bias, and tribal affiliation influence us enormously when we pass moral judgments.
- Moral instinct is tainted by cognitive bias. Humans evolved to be more lenient to their in-groups—for example excusing a beloved politician who lines their pockets while lambasting a colleague for the exact same transgression—and to care more about harm done close to them than harm done farther away, for example, to people in another country.
- The challenge for humans in a globalized and polarized world is to become aware of our moral biases and learn to apply morality more objectively. How can we be more rational and less hypocritical about our morals? "I think that clarifying the value that you are consulting for a particular problem is really critical," says Young.
Psychologists W. Keith Campbell, (Ph.D.) and Carolyn Crist explain why narcissists rise to power and how to make sure your support is going to someone making effective, positive change.
- Pathological narcissism is rare. It impacts an estimated 1 percent of the population.
- Narcissism is tied closely to leadership emergence, as narcissists tend to initially be confident, charismatic, and charming. Leadership is a natural goal for narcissists because it feeds their motivational goals of status, power, and attention.
- Psychologists W. Keith Campbell, (Ph.D.) and Carolyn Crist explain why narcissists rise to power.
The term narcissist is commonly used to refer to people who appear to be arrogant or entitled. It's easy to refer to someone who talks a lot about themselves or their accomplishments as a narcissist, but what does the word really mean?
Narcissism is viewed on a spectrum. The trait itself is normally characterized by people scoring near the middle of the spectrum and a few rare individuals at either end.
How do you score narcissism?
The Narcissistic Personality Inventory (referred to by physicians as the NPI) was developed by Robert Raskin and Calvin S. Hall in 1979. Scores on this scale range from 0-40, with the average tending to fall in the low-mid teens, according to Psychology Today.
The difference between pathological narcissism and narcissism is important.
Pathological narcissism (which is actually a personality disorder referred to as narcissistic personality disorder) is rare. It impacts an estimated 1 percent of the population. It is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention/admiration, troubled relationships (because of this), and an astounding lack of empathy for others.
This disorder is suspected when a person's narcissistic traits (listed above) begin to impair their daily functions.
Why do narcissists become leaders?
"Leadership is a natural goal for narcissists because it feeds their motivational goals of status, power, and attention." - Psychology Today
Leadership can be a complex topic to discuss, as the psychology of leadership can be classified in two distinct ways: leadership emergence (the rise to power) and leadership effectiveness (what happens once the person has power).
Narcissists initially appear charming and confident, making them great for leadership emergence.
Narcissism is tied closely to leadership emergence, as narcissists tend to initially be confident, charismatic, and charming (then later perceived as vain or arrogant). However, narcissism may not be great for effective leadership. Once someone rises to power and gains trust, it doesn't always mean they are going to be effective at being a leader to those people.
Many positions are self-elected, and narcissists will jump at this chance.
Education, politics, and businesses are typically set up to allow potential leaders to self-elect and move forward with their own goals. Even when leaders are selected by committees or groups, they may be more inclined to go with a high-visibility, confident, high-profile candidate over someone who exudes leadership qualities in a more muted way.
Many systems favor loud, narcissistic individuals over quiet, effective leaders.
"Sometimes it feels like our systems are set up to select these narcissistic individuals," explain W. Keith Campbell, (Ph.D.) and Carolyn Crist in Psychology Today. "The democratic election process can also feel like a popularity contest, where the biggest ego wins. Even this year, candidates have created polarized followings on social media."
People desire a leader who promises stability and direction during challenging times.
Narcissists who come to power during chaotic and difficult times often quickly gain the support of their followers because they make promises of stability and have a clear direction in mind. The problem with this is that it can lead to detrimental leaders, such as Adolf Hitler. Hitler rose to power during a time when Germany's economy was struggling to recover after the First World War, promising to rebuild and strengthen the country.
Narcissistic leaders may be able to temporarily convince you everything is being handled effectively.
Followers who believe their leader acts in their best interest are more likely to be happy with that leadership. When you have a leader who is repeating over and over that they are making effective, meaningful, positive changes (even if they aren't), people are more inclined to believe it.
"We've seen this over the years at many levels of the government—from the presidential suite all the way down to the local mayor's office," explains Campbell and Crist.
How do we avoid electing and supporting narcissistic, ineffective leaders in the future?
Campbell and Crist have a few ideas about that in their book "The New Science of Narcissism" - the main takeaway being this: "Our best bet is to watch how they act and treat others and then respond accordingly when they look for the next position of power."
The Labour Economics study suggests two potential reasons for the increase: corruption and increased capacity.
The '80s and '90s witnessed a rash of strict sentencing laws. Voters who lived through the rise of violent crime in the '60s and '70s offered full-throated support for such laws. Anxious to woo such voters, legislators hawked tough-on-crime rhetoric and passed ever-punitive legislation, such as Reagan's creation of mandatory minimum sentences through the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.
In hindsight, the consequences are as obvious as they are unsettling. Stricter laws gave judges less latitude in sentencing, and prison populations skyrocketed across the country. By 1990, state prison populations reached 115 percent of their highest capacity. Unable to house their new charges, nor garner equally enthusiastic support for the taxes necessary to fund building new facilities, some states turned to for-profit prison companies to manage the influx. As of 2019, 28 states incarcerate people in for-profit prisons.
Given this history, it's not without irony that a new study published in Labour Economics found privately-run prisons don't help states manage incarceration. The presence of such prisons may actually increase the number of incarcerated individuals as well as their sentence lengths.
Cool hand rebuke
A chart showing prison population rates (per 100,000 people) in 2018. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.
Researchers at Washington State University sought to determine how the availability of private prisons affected rates of incarceration in the United States. To answer that question, they performed a regression analysis on state and individual data from 1989 to 2008. Their analysis revealed a positive correlation.
As the number of private-prison beds increased per capita, so too did sentence lengths and the number of incarcerated people per capita. All told, the increase was 178 prisoners per million population per year. That comes to a taxpayer-funded bill between approximately $2-10 million annually—assuming those additional prisoners are housed in privately-run facilities. When it comes to increased sentence lengths, Gregmar Galinato, a professor in WSU's School of Economic Sciences who co-authored the study, notes that not all crimes are judged equally.
"For crimes like property damage, fraud, or non-violent drug crimes—crimes where judges have more leeway in sentencing—states saw higher sentencing rates and significant increases in sentence lengths when private prisons were established," he said in a release.
The researchers advanced two potential explanations for this interstate discrepancy. The first is good old-fashioned corruption. In states where they operate, for-profit companies can incentivize legislators to push for stricter sentencing laws and bribe judges to inflate sentence lengths.
A haunting modern example is the "Kids for Cash" scandal. In 2007, the Juvenile Law Center began receiving reports that hundreds of Pennsylvania juveniles were being tried and sentenced without defense lawyers present as representation. An investigation revealed that Robert Powell, a co-owner of two private juvenile prisons, was paying off two judges to return guilty verdicts and severe sentences to bolster incarceration at his facilities.
The second explanation is simply the availability of prison beds. As Galinato explains, judges become more hesitant to send non-violent offenders to prison in states where capacity is a concern. However, privately-run prisons reduce such concerns, making it easier for judges to mete out harsher punishments.
Who profits with for-profit prisons?
The Labour Economics study suggests that privately-run prisons do convicts a few favors at the moment of sentencing. However, proponents of private prisons often point to other benefits when making their case. Specifically, they argue that private prisons reduce operating costs, stimulate innovation in the correctional system, and reduce recidivism—the rate at which released prisoners are rearrested and return to prison.
In regard to recidivism, the research is mixed. One study compared roughly 400 former prisoners from Florida, 200 released from private prisons and 200 from state-run facilities. It found the private-prison cohort maintained lower rates of recidivism. However, another Florida study found no significant rate differences. And two other studies—one from Oklahoma and another out of Minnesota, both comparing much larger cohorts than the first Florida study— found that prisoners leaving private prisons had a greater risk of recidivism.
The research is also inconclusive regarding cost savings. A Hamilton Project analysis noted that such comparisons are difficult because private prisons, like all private companies, are not required to release operational details. In comparing what studies were available, the authors estimate the costs to be comparable and that "in practice the primary mechanism for cost saving in private prisons is lower salaries for correctional officers"—about $7,000 less than their public peers. They add that competition-driven innovation is lacking as the three largest firms control nearly the entire market.
"We aren't saying private prisons are bad," Galinato said. "But states need to be careful with them. If your state has previous and regular issues with corruption, I wouldn't be surprised to see laws being more skewed to give longer sentences, for example. If the goal is to reduce the number of incarcerated individuals, increasing the number of private prisons may not be the way to go."
Sharing QAnon disinformation is harming the children devotees purport to help.
- The conspiracy theory, QAnon, is doing more harm than good in the battle to end child trafficking.
- Foster youth expert, Regan Williams, says there are 25-29k missing children every year, not 800k, as marketed by QAnon.
- Real ways to help abused children include donating to nonprofits, taking educational workshops, and becoming a foster parent.
Though Marjorie Taylor Greene is scrubbing her social media conspiracy theory mongering clean after her victory in Georgia's 14th Congressional District's Republican primary, the internet's graveyard is vast. Greene appears to be distancing from her belief in QAnon, an online "movement" founded on the idea that Donald Trump is secretly battling an elite cabal of pedophiles. She went so far to call the secretive Q "a patriot."
Media Matters counts at least 75 current or former GOP congressional candidates that support the QAnon conspiracy theory. Thus far, 600,000 Americans have voted for Q-endorsing candidates. As with "Pizzagate"—the origin myth of QAnon—there have been real-world consequences. Q adherents have been tied to murders and kidnappings. The group also traffics in anti-Semitic rhetoric.
While our president is tied to an actual pedophile ring via his longtime friendship with Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell ("I wish her well"), the QAnon conspiracy theory has been little more than a dangerous distraction. Popular "QAnon researcher" Jordan Sather uses his rhetorical bombast, in a page stolen from Alex Jones, to sell supplements and, I kid you not, pendants that provide "powerful protection from EMFs" (electromagnetic fields).
What's a good conspiracy theory if you can't monetize it?
One group that isn't monetizing anything from QAnon—a group being actively harmed by it—is traumatized children, the very people these clicktivists somehow believe they're helping. Sharing a conspiracy theory on social media is easy. Working to actually help victims of sexual abuse and child trafficking, not so much. In fact, if you want to "do the research," it takes years of hard work, which is why I talked to Regan Williams earlier this week.
Real ways you can help stop child trafficking
Williams is the founder and CEO of Seen and Heard, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that helps foster youth develop character through the performing arts. She's been involved with foster youth for years; I wrote about her work in child trafficking just over a year ago. Tragically, since that time, the situation for these children has only gotten worse, in large part because of QAnon.
Williams says child trafficking is an easy cause to rally people together. Fear is also a powerful unifying force, one that QAnon believers are already primed for via the news they consume. Almost every parent cares about their children, making them the ideal target to solidify groups.
The real problem, she says, is that the youth she works with are falling for these conspiracy theories. Trauma is a particularly powerful tool for indoctrination. If you're a teenager that's been abducted or abused, your trust level is already extremely low. Then you read about a global cabal of powerful men (and a few women) secretly abusing children, and the narrative seems ready-made for your personal history.
When Williams tried to "lovingly and kindly correct" the youth she was working with after learning about the Wayfair conspiracy, the girls' response was, "well, who owns the media?"
"She goes from this small little thing to a QAnon talking point. I've been thinking about why she would believe such a preposterous idea—and there are others; it's not just one student, and they're in in deep. I think that when something horrific happens to you as a child, it's a lot easier to distance yourself from the immediate reality that it was an uncle or a parent or a sibling that hurt you. By detaching from that immediate person, they project it onto Bill Gates or Chrissy Teigen. Then it's not so personal, it's global."
A man wear a shirt with the words Q Anon as he attends a rally for President Donald Trump at the Make America Great Again Rally being held in the Florida State Fair Grounds Expo Hall on July 31, 2018 in Tampa, Florida.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
As Williams mentions, there are over 30,000 kids in foster care in the Los Angeles area alone. It's easy to fall through the cracks. The systems in place aren't perfect; they're certainly underfunded. When you're in a system trying to support you yet isn't capable of doing so, viewing the world as imperfect, and even harmful, becomes the lens through which you see reality. Again, this makes for a perfect indoctrination tool.
One popular QAnon talking point is that 800,000 children are missing. As Williams says, child trafficking experts "don't buy this for a minute." The number makes for a good meme but a poor representation of the problem.
To source better data, Williams turns to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). An important factor when reading data: if a teacher and a caregiver report a missing child to NCIC, that counts as two children, not one, which accounts for some of the fluctuations in numbers. In total, between 25,000 and 29,000 kids go missing every year. Importantly, 94 percent of those children are recovered within four to six weeks.
"They're not documenting the recovery rate. It's not like these numbers are perpetually hanging out there. So this 800,000 number is just ludicrous."
Williams compares what's going on to Black Lives Matter. Blacking out your Instagram profile picture is performative. It signals that you actually care, which is great, but if you're not supporting Black-owned businesses, for example, there are no teeth to your activism.
Of course, blacking out your profile doesn't cause the real-world harm the QAnon virus does. Sharing misinformation is ultimately harmful to the children in need of help. Williams offers the resources below—ranging from donations to nonprofits to educational trainings to becoming a foster parent—for people that actually want to do something to help victims of sexual and physical abuse. They might not make a great Twitter meme, but in the actual world, this support makes all the difference.
To report abuse/neglect, call the child abuse hotline: 800.540.4000 (LA county) / 800.422.4453 (National)
- Support anti-trafficking organizations by donating to Saving Innocence, which runs the continuum of care from rescue to recovery, Zoe, a reputable faith-based organization, and Two Wings, which helps to rehabilitate female survivors
- Nola Brantley offers in-person and online trainings to help combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children
- Rebecca Bender is a trafficking survivor that runs "Myth Busters," which combats conspiracy theory disinformation
- The National Center of Missing and Exploited Children
- Operation Underground Railroad
- Defend Innocence offers tips for parents and caregivers to keep kids safe