Monday, January 25, 2016

The Netflix effect: Why do we pay for TV but not for newspapers?

Consumer pressure is moving TV from a free-to-view, ad-funded model to subscription services like Netflix.

Consumer pressure is moving newspapers from a paid-for model towards a free-to-view ad-funded model like the Guardian. Why?

I suggest it's because the newspapers don't have one, all-you-can-eat service like Netflix has for TV. They are still fighting each other rather than the common foe. The common foe is not  other newspapers. It's everything else that attracts a reader's eyeballs.

Here in the UK, I don't want to shelter behind the Times' paywall because, unfortunately for Rupert, I don't value the Times that much and it doesn't have all my favourite columnists. I have yet to become a £5-a-month donor to the Guardian for much the same reasons.

Newspapers should stop fighting each other and shelter together behind a common paywall. My one subscription should buy me access to the whole shelf. That way, the Guardian reader who secretly likes Boris Johnson would be able to indulge. He may even prefer the Telegraph's cricket coverage. Or he might like to read all the cricket journalists, just to check he hasn't missed a single description of a despondent Aussie.

A besandalled Jeremy by day, our treacherous reader might harbour a secret nighttime lust for the Sun's Jane Moore and the FT's Gillian Tett, one after the other. He might be, in short, eclectic, thoughtful, independent, and a lover of good writing.

The money would go into a central pot and be allocated to individual papers on a per-click basis. That way, a columnist would earn her corn not by marrying the proprietor but by writing well. Radical.

Which would be really nice, and would save our beloved British press from their whole lemmings-cliffs/Charge-of-the-Light-Brigade/We're-doomed!-Doomed-I-tell-you! thing.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The shifting sources of morality

I am finding Steven Pinker's book to be the gift that keeps on giving. He asks the question about the sources of our moral thinking, and notes that they change over time. This effects society. His descriptions of the sources of morality are complex but for my purposes I can just look at three:
Communal sharing; the idea that members of a group share things fairly with each other
Authority ranking: the idea that authority figures can tell us what to do in certain circumstances
Equality matching: being fair to all (a further development of this is Market Pricing, giving everything a cost.)

The trend through history has been a change in moral basis from Communal Sharing to Authority Ranking to Equality Matching. Look at the last two particularly. The sorts of morality that come from  Authority Ranking are these (the authority being God, King, or government, for example):

Sabbath Keeping
Lese Majeste

Ie: harm is not obviously done to others in these acts but authority is defied.

The sorts of morality that come from Equality matching are these:

Where people are clearly harmed by the actions of others.

Several things come from this:
1. People whose moral basis is mostly equality matching (who are usually liberals) and people whose basis is both of those (who are usually conservatives) are both fully functioning moral beings, using their moral capacities as best they can, but plugged into different outlets.

2. It is possible to see a flow in history from one source of morality to another, or from a mixed set of sources to just one.

3. This explains the loss felt by conservatives as a background of Christian authority fades.

4. But it is striking how much the Hebrew prophets, and Christ himself, and the apostles stressed equality matching over authority ranking:
-- 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice'
-- circumcision and uncircumcision are nothing: what matters is faith working through love'
-- Love God, love your neighbour: on that hangs all the Law and the Prophets
-- 'live a life of love'
-- religion that is pure is this.. Help the widows and orphans in their distress and keep yourself unpolluted by the world.

5. The Christian faith does believe in submission to authority, to God, to government, to leadership but it is nothing like as obsessed with authority ranking as many distortions of the faith over the centuries: see Christ's criticism of the Pharisees; or what many forms of Islam look like to Christian observers -- legalistic and power and control obsessed.

6. E Stanley JOnes urged us to 'baptise' history rather than fight it. It can be argued that the changes in moral source as people mix more and learn more are not something we should resist as Christians, so much as allow us to re-interprets our own faith, and then join the conversation.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The best satire

Satire should, like a polished razor keen
Wound with a touch that's scarcely felt or seen

Mary Wortley Montague, quoted in Pinker p766.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Inner demons

Coming to an end of Stephen Pinker's wonderfully stimulating book The better angels of our nature.
Pinker summarises what he calls our 'inner demons' thus:

'Neither academic psychology nor conventional wisdom is anywhere close to a complete understanding of what makes us tick ... It seems to me that a small number of quirks in our cognitive and emotional makeup give rise to a substantial proportion of avoidable human misery.' (P688). He lists five on this same page.

Below I have contrasted these with the Beatitudes, as taught by Christ, perhaps indicating that if we could truly follow Christ, much of the violence in human society could be lessened (which, as Pinker demonstrates, has happened and is a long trend in the human story)

-- Overconfident of success in a fight, underestimating how bloody it will be
Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, the peacemakers

-- Striving for dominance and likely to get into fights for it, to the loss of all
As above.

-- Seeking revenge by minimizing the hurt we caused and emphasising the hurt our opponents caused; and seeking perfect justice rather than compromise.
Blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

-- overcoming a distaste for violence and acquiring a taste for it
Blessed are the pure in heart; blessed are the peacemakers,

--publicly supporting a belief even if we harbour private doubts because the rest of the crowd supports it.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are you when all people hate you and revile your name as evil because of me.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Psychopaths, humanity, and the criminal law

According to Stephen Pinker:

Psychopaths make up 1-3 percent of the adult male population [depending on definition] ... [They]  are liars and bullies from the time they are children, show no capacity for sympathy or remorse, make up 20 to 30 percent of violent criminals and commit half the serious crimes. They also perpetrate non-violent crimes ... The regions of the brain that handle social emotions, especially the amygdala and orbital cortex, are relatively shrunken or unresponsive in psychopaths, though they may show no other signs of pathology.' (Pinker, p 615.)

If this is true (and that a diseased brain causes a person to be a psychopath, rather than the other way around and rather than the whole thing being a lot more complicated), what does this mean for the criminal law and justice?

I wonder it means, at least, that our prisons should be humane places. We may have to deprive certain individuals of their liberty, but perhaps that is the extent of society's remit to punish and protect?