Future Hindsight is a weekly podcast that aims to spark civic engagement through in-depth conversations with citizen changemakers. American democracy is a living, breathing mechanism whose well-being deserves to be cultivated and protected, and now more than ever, the need to be an engaged citizen is critical. We explore how each of us has the power to shape our society and fulfill our shared civic responsibility.
This episode was recognized by the Asian American Podcasters Association with their Golden Crane Award for Best Interview.
Shoshana Zuboff is a Harvard Professor emerita and the author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. We discuss the creation of a human futures market by surveillance capitalists and the pursuit to replace democratic governance with computational governance by instrumentarian power.
Surveillance Capitalism is the dominant economic logic in our world today. It claims private human experience for the marketplace and turns it into a commodity. Vast amounts of personal data are necessary — often harvested without our knowledge or consent — in order to predict future behavior. Surveillance capitalists create certainties for companies by modifying people’s behavior.
Instrumentarianism seeks to modify, predict, monetize, and control human behavior through the instruments of surveillance capitalism, our digital devices. Having mined all of our data, instrumentarians can tune and herd users into specific actions through triggers and subliminal messaging. It is ultimately a political project intended to install computational governance instead of democratic governance.
Protecting Your Privacy
A myriad of programs and apps can block tracking and scramble your location, making your behavioral data less accessible or even inaccessible. Since instrumentarians gain their power through our use of their devices, limiting internet use and working in-person reduces the power they have over you.
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Shoshana Zuboff is the Charles Edward Wilson Professor Emerita at Harvard Business School and a former Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School. Her masterwork, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, synthesizes years of research and thinking to reveal a world in which technology users are neither customers, employees, nor products. Instead, they are the raw material for new procedures of manufacturing and sales that define an entirely new economic order: a surveillance economy
In the late 1980s, her decade-in-the-making book, In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power, became an instant classic that foresaw how computers would revolutionize the modern workplace. At the dawn of the twenty-first century her influential The Support Economy: Why Corporations Are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Capitalism (with James Maxmin), written before the invention of the iPod or Uber, predicted the rise of digitally-mediated products and services tailored to the individual. It warned of the individual and societal risks if companies failed to alter their approach to capitalism.
You can follow her on Twitter @shoshanazuboff.
Alex Hertel-Fernandez is Associate Professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, and the author of State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States – and the Nation. We discuss the efficacy of controlling state legislatures and implementing public policies to reshape the political terrain.
Capturing State Legislatures
State capture refers to the idea that a set of organizations, businesses, and movements can capture a political office and dictate its agenda, decisions, and resource allocation to benefit their interests. Capturing state legislatures is especially effective because state governments – as opposed to the federal government – have control over significant aspects of our daily lives: taxes, minimum wage, health insurance, and administering elections.
Three powerful conservative organizations, commonly referred to as the troika, work in tandem to capture state legislatures: the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the State Policy Network (SPN), and Americans for Prosperity (AFP). ALEC works with lawmakers directly to pass legislation it often writes and provides. SPN is a network of think tanks that works outside of government, creating reports, legislative testimony, and polling that champion conservative bills often created by ALEC. AFP operates like a political party with national, state, and local offices, all aimed at electing conservative lawmakers around the country.
Public Policy Changes Politics
Public policy can and does change politics. The troika has successfully promoted the adoption of so-called “right-to-work” laws, which weaken labor unions. These laws make it more difficult to unionize, collect dues, and support pro-labor candidates for office. In fact, they are a direct response to the unionization of public sector workers and their successful organizing, specifically the National Education Association in the 1960s-70s. Once anti-labor policies were in effect, it became easier for conservatives to continuously win elections and cement their political power.
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Alexander Hertel-Fernandez is Associate Professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public affairs, where he studies the political economy of the United States, with a focus on the politics of organized interests, especially business and labor, and public policy.
His most recent book, State Capture: How Conservative Activists, Big Businesses, and Wealthy Donors Reshaped the American States—and the Nation, examines how networks of conservative activists, donors, and businesses built organizations to successfully reshape public policy across the states and why progressives failed in similar efforts.
Hertel-Fernandez received his B.A. in political science from Northwestern University and his A.M. and Ph.D. in government and social policy from Harvard University.
You can follow him on Twitter @awh.
Jojo Mehta is the co-founder and director of Ecological Defense Integrity, a non-profit organization working to establish ecocide as a core international crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. We discuss the power of criminalizing ecocide in order to change the behavior of corporate perpetrators.
What is Ecocide?
The crime of ecocide is the “extensive loss, damage, or destruction of ecosystems such that their inhabitants can no longer enjoy life peacefully.” Ecocide happens on a large scale—examples include the ravaging of the Brazilian rainforest, the consequences of widespread fracking, or toxic erosion from strip-mining. Corporations perpetrate almost all ecocide and millions of people are devasted by ecocide’s effects every year. Currently, there is no legal pathway to compel corporations to stop committing ecocide.
The International Criminal Court oversees the prosecution of four crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. During its inception, the crime of ecocide was proposed but never codified thanks to pushback from countries like the US, UK, France, and the Netherlands. All of them hold significant nuclear and fossil fuel interests. Since the ICC operates on a “one nation, one vote” policy, it is conceivable for small nations directly impacted by climate change to work together and criminalize ecocide, even if larger, fossil fuel burning countries oppose it. Criminalizing ecocide on an international level holds the world’s worst polluters to account.
Shifting Public Opinion
Once something is outlawed, social stigma is quick to follow. Banning ecocide internationally, or even publicly considering doing so, leads to a shift in public opinion. As entire cultures become aware and fight against ecocide, many corporations will change their business models to meet public outcry. We already see this phenomenon around the world. Recently, the CEO of Siemens wrote a letter outlining the ways his company became greener but noted his legal duty was to his shareholders. Making ecologically devastating practices illegal will ensure that corporations change their polluting behavior.
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Jojo Mehta is the co-founder and director of Earth Defense Integrity (EDI). EDI’s international team is working with climate- and ecocide-vulnerable states which have the power to propose an Ecocide amendment to the Rome Statute, the governing document of The ICC. The International Criminal Court’s annual Assembly in December is the critical forum for advancing this work. They have accompanied Small Island (“Great Ocean”) Developing State representatives and helped amplify their voices and concerns there for four consecutive years, as the nations most impacted by climate emergency.
You can follow her on Twitter @Jojo_Mehta.
Mila Atmos, a global citizen based in New York City, is the producer and series host of Future Hindsight, a weekly podcast that aims to spark civic engagement through in-depth conversations with citizen changemakers. What most informs Mila's worldview is her belief that American democracy is a living, breathing mechanism whose wellbeing deserves to be cultivated and protected. Mila combines life experiences from living in multiple cultures ranging from Indonesia to Germany to the rural U.S. with her knowledge base in history, economics, and international affairs (B.A.; M.I.A. Columbia University) in creating Future Hindsight.