Every time a person says something, you can relatively easily trace it to one of three categories: (1) Knowledge, the result of one's education or one's ability to conduct logical/rational investigations (sometimes using mathematics or computing); an example of this is when somebody says "The comet will come back in three years and we need two years to build the new telescope, so we will be able to use the new telescope to observe the comet when she comes back", (2) Experience, the result of one's familiarity and extensive exposure to a particular area; an example is given by somebody saying "I have been building bridges of this type all other the planet, but this one is different due to the nature of the ground here and we might have to review our procedures to build it", (3) personal opinion: not always directly traceable to knowledge or experience but certainly the result of one's entire knowledge, experiences and more generally mental activity put together; an example is when somebody says (in 2015) "I think that we will have human settlement on Mars before we have on the Moon".
When I was a kid, I thought that when exposed to something said by somebody, that it was enough to just try and figure out which of those three cases the claim came under and treat it accordingly. Unfortunately, things are slightly more complicated, but interestingly not much more complicated; and the increase of complexity has an interesting structure.
So here is the thing: in the real world claims still come in with one of those three labels (even though implicitly), but the author of the claim may be lying (or at least distorting their claims ranging from slight omissions to outright lies) due to a set of phenomena: (i) They could have received money (or more generally material gains) from a third party for lying, (ii) They could be giving lip service to a group of people for various reasons (ranging from simple representation of that group, to being literally owned by them), (iii) They could be promoting particular political/religious ideologies (often, having been brainwashed by previous proponents of the said ideologies), (iv) Last but not least, they could just be plain stupid.
By the way, I have always, since I was a child, be amazed by what I refer to as "stupid people" (whom to my young eyes were indistinghuishable from "religious people"). I thought for a long time that their existence was just a fluke and that as I would become older I would notice them less and less. Turn out that they are everywhere, and sometimes in position of power. The thing, as I learnt in my young years, is that our societal systems were never designed to eliminate them (through better, more affordable, learning mechanisms/processes/environments) as they have an important role to play in the process by which some specific people keep their privileges. Anyway, I won't come back to the stupid part, so here is an example were the thing actually looks like a graph :-) : The fall of David Petraeus, the Graph [alseyn.net]
Something I have somehow been doing for a long time is to build this mapping in my mind, focusing on US internal politics and economy. Why the US ? Because they are big, lots of things are happening there, their news coverage is not bad (it's easier to follow some trails over there than in any other country), they are influential in the world (what they do and how they do it matters), and the two areas I focus on are both important and have numerous examples of each phenomenon of the previous paragraph.
So, graph building is actually not very difficult, even though it works better if you have a good memory, as I have. The memory is important because some parts of the graph sometimes reveal themselves at moments you would least expect, and you need to be able to say "Hey... waitaminit, this is the explanation of what that other guy said three months ago. He answered under pressure and didn't realise he was giving a clue away of who is behind this particular claim..." An illustration of the investigation work that occurs when you pay attention is given in this discussion between Peter Ludlow and "Urizenus Sklar" Why is Jeanne Whalen Stonewalling Me on Her WikiLeaks Story? (2010) [alphavilleherald.com], which was, I think, the moment it all started for me; even though the motivation can be traced back to earlier, when I first saw the movie Wag the Dog.
Anyway, something I came to realise is that this graph is significantly less complex than what I would have anticipated. To clarify: I didn't tell myself many years ago to try and understand the graph, as the existence of the graph was not apparent to me at the time, I realised its existence (a bit like a single cell realising that it belongs to something called a body, which has a very specific topology, just by listening/analysing/timing the chemical messages in the blood stream) more recently, at the same time I realised its simplicity. So the graph is not small, it has lots of nodes, but its overall structure is not random and as I said, not very complex.
Before coming back to the structure of the graph, I just want to talk about a particular type of node (which is the funniest to uncover). When Entity A wants to promote Idea B (for instance the oil industry promoting the idea that global warming doesn't actually exist), sometimes they cannot do it themselves, because the conflict of interest would be too damn obvious, so they need to find somebody else to do it. An obvious solution is to pay somebody; not so much a spokesperson on the payroll a particular oil company (still too obvious), but somebody seemingly unrelated, somebody with Knowledge and Experience (since people value those) willing to lie (therefore willing not to say what their Knowledge and Experience would naturally lead them to say) for money. Introducing the university professor whose career is not going anywhere, who, for a small fee (classically a research grant), is willing to go on TV and dispute the findings of his colleagues. Ok no surprise here. Things get more interesting when Entity A, finds somebody, Bob, whom without being paid _actually_ believes Idea B. Then through subtle misdirection can arrange for the cameras to be pointed towards Bob. Sometimes, Bob might not even know about Entity A, or more exactly might not realise that Entity A has an interest into Bob having more TV coverage. In such a situation, when I first digest the information from Bob, I know for a fact that Bob is not lying (meaning I know/feel that he actually believes what he says), and may be tempted to think that the investigation trail stops there. Discovering/realising that Bob is giving lip service to Entity A, is very very difficult, and often relies on somebody from Entity A doing what they might not realise is a mistake (in the sense information leak). Last but not least, this phenomenon is most damaging in Economics and economics policies (but don't even get me started).
Coming back to the graph, as I said, it's not very complex, the most important shaping mechanism is "trails of money" (tm) (or sometimes the promise of it). Also more often that what one might expect, things happen in automatic pilot [recent xkcd], what I am trying to say is that as for the development of an embryo which is more than the accumulation of its cells, human societies are more that the sum of their parts and some phenomena cannot be traced to individual entities but are (emerging) properties of the system itself. For instance, I am highly critical of the idea that somebody or a group of people control the world economy. I do think that we have built a system inherently unstable, which profits a particular kind of people at particular positions of the monetary food chain, I think that the source of instabilities of the system are well documented, I think we could modify the system to correct its flaws, I think that some people use their influence to avoid the system being corrected (often the same people who profit from it), I think that it is going to crash badly at some point, I am not sure that we will learn the lessons from our mistakes after the crash, but I do not think that it is owned/controlled. That being said, some people are in position to affect sub systems in non trivial ways, and sometimes they do, but this should not be interpreted for any thing else than local influence (often with unanticipted side effects of various kinds).
Another very important shape factor is religion. That being said, it is not as interesting as money, mainly because it's predictible, understood, and its supporters are equality predictible and understood. Religion is almost like gravitation: boringly regular, powerful in giving shape, but regular and without surprises.
Interestingly, beside money and religion, I haven't identified any major source of rampant disonesty, and to me this is amazingly great. Our planet is one of the most fucked up place in the solar system but only as the result of two things. Two things with very far reaching consequences, but only two. Not only this says a lot of about species, but I find this very encouraging. Above all knowing that one of the two is about to disappear. So now, one may think "Pascal, you forgot political ideologies". No I haven't. Those are much less powerful than before; take the example of Communist China, on paper they might be a one party system around the communist idea, but no country is more capitalistic than China. What about the other superpower, Russia ? Well, Russia doesn't stand for anything anymore.
In fact, there is a major political ideology, which has become so universal that we might forget that it could possibly not be there in the first place, namely Capitalism. I have no problem with capitalism itself. I have a problem with unregulated capitalism, I have a problem with central banking and fiat currencies, I have a problem with complex tax codes, and I have a problem with people disagreeing with basic income just for the sake of disagreeing, but I have no problem with capitalism itself.
Is there something we can do to avoid being in this mess in the first place ? Eg: is there something we can do so that money can no longer be used to buy what people (endowed with the natural trust we give to them due to their Knowledge and Experience) will say to others, above all when it matters ? I don't think we can, but what we can do is promoting education based on critical thinking, so that a larger part of the population can see the obvious when manipulation is attempted. Something I have learnt to do, for instance, is to ask people who just made a claim that feels fishy "Can you articulate why you think this is true ?" This works *way* better than the "I don't agree with you" which then makes you in position to have to explain why you disagree. The "Can you articulate why you think this is true ?" first of all make them feel like you want to hear more of what they just said so they are happly to oblige, either making them realise that they have no rational basis whatsoever for what they just said, or simply making the bullshit more apparent. I wish journalists could adopt that policy :-)
Anyway, at this point, I have mostly been wondering... How can the graph be used to predict the future: Psychohistory
To be continued...
ps: While being at it, there is something about the US/graph that is bothering me: their middle east foreign policy. The more I think about it and try and find lines of influence, the more I feel that either they have no idea what they are doing, or that there is an hidden variable somewhere, that I do not have access to (and this coming from somebody, myself, who has been watching the daily White House press briefings as well as Pentagon and State Department press briefings for years -- not always reliable sources of truth but certainly reliable sources of clues as where to find it). In the latter case it would be like the impression that there is something somewhere, just beyond my line of sight, but that I haven't seen it yet... This impression has incidentally significantly increased during the Obama administration. I have explanations, of course, but none that is _fully_ satisfactory... Um...