What Makes an Echo Chamber

Lately, I have heard frequent reference to the dreaded echo chamber. The term seems to be universally pejorative, and the close-minded saps who would inhabit such a place are judged harshly.

I’m wary of an insult that is broadly used, and in what appears to be a one-sided manner. I’d like to feel the boundaries of this one a bit.

I have, on many occasions, participated in what I’ll call a fan club. Here are some of them:

Amiga User’s Group: A meeting of people who own Commadore’s Amiga Personal Computer, and want to share their insights in computing, their reasons for preferring Amiga, share software, play games together, and generally socialize with other Amiga Users. Often, it was a circle jerk about how the Amiga was the best computer and everyone else was ignorant.

Lightwave User’s Group: A meeting of 3D animators who use the NewTek Lightwave software, and want to share insights in 3D modelling, rigging, preferences for modelling tools and methods, and other 3D animation topics. Often, it’s a circle jerk about how Lightwave has hands-down the best modelling tools, and a pretty darn good renderer.

Software Development Group: A meeting of software developers who use the same tools (generally the same language, and Integrated Development Environment) to develop software and like to circle-jerk about their software development tools, share ideas on how software should be made, propose standards and conventions, and show off each other’s work.

Anime Fan Groups: People who love Japanese animation.

Role Playing Groups: People who love Dungeons & Dragons and other role playing games (I was also into GURPS, Car Wars, Cyberpunk, and Paranoia) and often board games.

The “Echo Chamber” insults seem to revolve around Social and Political topics.

My questions to the crowd are these (although you should feel free to share any insights you like):

1. What boundaries separate a permissible echo chamber from an impermissible one?

2. What obligation do people have to avoid being part of an echo chamber?

3. What justification do people have for intervening or breaking up an echo chamber? Is there a moral imperative? Is it spite?

4. Based on 1-3, why are echo chambers seen in a strictly negative light?

Education Reform

Hypothicans are concerned that their children will not be equipped to participate in the economy of the future. Many ideas are discussed in Hypothica, and many are at odds.

Below is a breakdown of a typical hypothican education, which lasts 12 years. There is some variation between schools and some student/parent choice in curriculum. Years represent 1 hour per day for a year.

20 years of language skills (reading, writing, literature, poetry)
8 years of history & culture
4 years of art & design
4 years of music & performance
8 years of math & abstract logic
6 years of natural science (chemistry, physics, biology, environments)
2 years of applied sciences (materials, engineering, medicine)
2 years of social studies (sociology, psychology, government)
2 years of trade studies (carpentries, electricity, auto shop)
1 years of personal skills (7 habits, home ec, personal finance)
1 years of business skills (sales, accounting, logistics, hr)
8 years of physical education & health

One prevailing idea is that Hypothica’s existing education is good, but the world is more complicated, and therefore students need more time in classes. The existing school day is 6 hours long, and a school year is 180 days. Some hypothicans are calling for 8 hours of school per day, and eliminating breaks in the school year. As an added bonus, this will coincide better with parent schedules.

Another prevailing idea is that practical skills are not emphasized enough, and trade skills, business skills, and personal skills should be emphasized to fast-track the more accessible careers and emphasize student’s role in society and the economy. These people like the 6 hour day, but want more abstract and recreational topics — language, art, music, science, and math — scaled down so that job skills receive more time.

Although 25% of Hypothicans go to college, another prevailing idea is that all Hypothicans should expect to attend post-secondary instruction, and that mandatory education should focus on preparing students for college. These people want education to be more abstract and creative, with the expectation that more people will be prepared for higher education.

Another idea is that too many people are worried about jobs, and that school should emphasize culture, history, civics, and ethics. They worry that teaching students to worry about jobs has made them too competitive, and they are becoming bad citizens. They believe that more civic-minded people will make a better kind of economy, although jobs and the economy shouldn’t even be the primary concern.

Another idea is that the biggest threat is that students might disengage from school as there is more and more to learn. They want to emphasize subjects like art, music, and sports to keep kids engaged. They also think kids should start specializing in career subjects at a younger age, with less general education as the core curriculum has become increasingly unwieldly and doesn’t provide universal benefit.

As a hypothican, do you take one of these positions, or do you have other thoughts?

Marijuana in US Politics, 2016

I was attempting to clarify the policy differences candidates in the upcoming primary. While reading sundry sources, I came across a marijuana activist who was “definitely voting for Cruz.” That caught my attention, because his rationale surprised me. He was an ex-Sheriff who was against the criminalization of Marijuana because he had seen so many people’s lives destroyed — he had been complicit, even — because of a minor lapse in judgment that had little social impact. He had personally spoken with Ted Cruz, he claimed, on many occasions and Cruz had promised him that he would decriminalize marijuana use at the federal level.

Perplexed, I decided to look into the candidate’s Marijuana platforms. The landscape was very different than I imagined. In short:

Clinton: For re-classifying Marijuana as a schedule 2 controlled substance, instead of schedule 1. (bizarrely, she also wants to stop arresting people for breaking the law)

Sanders: For eliminating all federal control on marijuana (or federally legalizing it?)

Trump: For eliminating all federal control on marijuana (let the states decide. At one point was for legalizing all drugs for all purposes including recreation, but more reserved today).

Cruz: For eliminating all federal control on marijuana (let the states decide, personally opposed, would down-vote in Texas)

Rubio: Ambiguously for eliminating all federal control on marijuana (let the states decide, personally opposed, still wants it criminalized)

Bush: For eliminating all federal control on marijuana (let the states decide, but has personally been VERY against loosening marijuana controls in Florida)

The part of this that genuinely surprised me is that Hillary Clinton appears to be the most anti-Marijuana candidate in the 2016 Presidential election.

The other part that struck me as odd is that regardless of who becomes president, Congress will hypothetically be holding back marijuana reform, and marijuana reform appears to be positively supported by both parties.

So, the question I pose today, is what role should the federal government have in this regard? What change do you think we will see in the coming presidential term?

Hypothica’s Renovated Economic Strategy

Hypothica is a country of 50 million people. They have agriculture, mining, manufacture, and are capable of some self-sufficiency. However, as part of a global economy, Hypothica’s undeveloped economic policy has led to a quality of life that lags neighboring countries.

The people of Hypothica have been somewhat jealous of citizens in neighboring countries, and have started to perceive Hypothica’s own economy as broken. Being a representational Democracy, they overturn old leadership with new leaders who have ideas on how to make the economy work better. You are among these leaders.

Hypothican’s want you to find policies related to the below topics to help stimulate Hypothica’s economy and bring more wealth, at every socioeconomic level, with some emphasis on expanding the middle class.

  • Tax — Some Hypothicans want higher taxes to fund development projects, and others want low taxes to keep businesses competitive.
  • Law — Hypothica has some laws, including copyright, patent, and industry trade group protections, which limit competition. Many Hypothicans support these, and many oppose.
  • Globalized Labor — Some of Hypothica’s businesses outsource labor to countries with comparatively predatory labor conditions where that labor can be done very cheaply. Existing law neither protects nor prohibits this.
  • Immigration — both in terms of those who do lowly jobs that Hypothicans resist, and educated immigrants who bring talent to the country. There is some concern that immigrants are indentured or denied normal labor protections and consequently compete in their labor markets at a much lower price than natives.
  • Imports — Hypothica doesn’t have all the natural resources it needs, Hypothicans enjoy produce that won’t grow there naturally, and a lot of technology is produced much cheaper in countries with predatory labor conditions.
  • Exports — Hypothica wants its goods to be competitive in the global market.
  • Infrastructure — Hypothica has mediocre infrastructure in terms of transport, power, and water.
  • Education — Hypothica’s education is not perceived as economically competitive with neighboring countries.
  • Support Programs — Some Hypothicans want government support programs that allow Hypothicans lower on the socioeconomic scale to develop more valuable job skills.
  • Other Economic Areas — Hypothicans are also interested in areas of economic policy which have received less attention in the past.

Hypothicans want everything carefully evaluated from the ground up, and a comprehensive economic strategy. What new ideas do you bring to the other leaders? What new ideas and old ideas will you oppose? What “status quo” will you support? Hypothicans are predominantly interested in economic results, and have a sufficiently varied interest in ethics and foreign relationships that prioritizing tangential topics will be seen as a failure to live up to campaign promises.