5 min read

Stories of Status & Violence

Stories of Status & Violence
Telling herself a story

This week we look at how the stories we tell about ourselves shape the collective.

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Research Roundup

We are a story we tell ourselves—sometimes noble, sometimes base. It turns out that societies also tell themselves stories, which go on to share our collective self.

Across 14 million books over the last 125 years, our collective language has undergone a dramatic shift. Since the 1980s, cognitive distortions, reflections of negativity and internalizing disorders, have increased beyond even the levels of the Great Depression and World Wars. This suggests a societal shift towards reflected in our collective language.

Shifts in cultural stories might explain why we read negative motivations into other behaviors when better, simpler explanations are available. For example, Americans consistently overestimate the role of personal beliefs and underestimate the impact of real-world barriers when it comes to voter turnout. This narrative-over-systemic-reality blinds us to the messy complexities of our world.

Evolution has given us a brain that is exquisitely sensitive to these collective stories, for good and bad. Always remember that no story is “true”, we’re just writing towards “less wrong”.

Status & Violence

Our sense of belonging and safety too often depends on making someone else feel less safe.

In the US, as the number of ethnic minority representatives in government grows, so too does white voter turnout, particularly driven by votes against those incumbents. This speaks to a perceived status threat, a sense of losing power that drives greater engagement (but not necessarily more tolerance).

This drive to protect one's place at the top of the hierarchy doesn’t end with political action. In the US and UK, as one minority group grows relative to others in a region (e.g. Asian Americans growing from the 4th to 3rd largest group in California) it becomes much more likely to be the target of hate crimes.

The research on successful multicultural societies has one prescription to overcome the corrosive effects status threat: spend productive time with people that violate your stereotypes. Neither violence nor racial politics are inevitable.

Weekly Indulgence

"If you want an amazing life, you have to give it to someone else."

Watch the Energy Disruptors talk here.

Stage & Screen

  • May 22, Toronto: I'll give the opening keynote for OSC Dialogue 2024: Collective Intelligence: Bias and the promise of diversity
  • May 23, Seoul: remote talk for the Asian Leadership Conference!
  • June 4, London: I'm giving a lecture AI & Women's Health at UCL (more to follow).
  • June 5, Online: Mobilize Women Summit I'll talk about starting my company to end postpartum depression.
  • June 6, London: Come see me do...things...at Dreamforce World Tour.

Find more upcoming talks, interviews, and other events on my Events Page.

If your company, university, or conference just happen to be in one of the above locations and want the "best keynote I've ever heard" (shockingly spoken by multiple audiences last year)?

<<Please support my work: book me for a keynote or briefing!>>

SciFi, Fantasy, & Me

Go back and watch the first season/series of Doom Patrol. The comic and the show are the most wonderful weirdness. I particularly loved Alan Tudyk’s (Firefly) uber-villian who’s fully aware that he’s trapped in a TV show.

Want more scifi weirdness with Tudyk, try Resident Alien—the main character, his mission to destroy earth, and his relationship with the one kid who can see his real form are too much fun. The rest of the series’ story and characters…will give you time to catch up on email.


DALL-E still can't write

When I first encountered ShiftGig, they were a gig economy company focused on supplying a flexible workforce for temporary staffing and hospitality events. If you got a hotdog at the Grateful Dead’s last performance at Soldier Field, it was a ShiftGig employee that put some relish on it. There was no aspiration for sophisticated STEM skills or elite management techniques–just a basic need by large clients to have a flexible labor supply show up on time and in the right uniform. In many ways, this was the very same population I had hoped to reach at Amazon. So, when a call came from their Chief Business Officer, a former colleague from Gild, I was immediately interested.

ShiftGig had reached out to me about being Chief Scientist with dreams of building an AI marketplace to match their ShiftGigglers with their clients. In its early days, ShiftGig saw themselves as an open marketplace with the power to bring people and jobs together, maximizing work flexibility. They quickly found, though, that most of the jobs posted by their large corporate clients were the lowest-skilled and most substitutable. These companies needed a way to externalize the human capital cost while still benefiting from routine labor.

Some of their clients suggested that it would be more convenient if ShiftGig could act as a middleman rather than a marketplace, filling the jobs directly with its own labor force. So, ShiftGig created an app where potential gig workers could sign up and receive basic vetting and training. Those that passed that initial vetting became W2 employees of ShiftGig. Their model was to recruit individuals that had little access to the labor market–struggling single moms, high school drop-outs, and deeply indebted, unemployed college grads–and give them simple, flexible jobs on a gig-to-gig basis. The main criteria for employment was reliability.

ShiftGig isn’t unique; gig economy companies simply exploit externally what Amazon, Google, and Facebook exploit internally: the chasm. Uber and others proselytized the “sharing economy” in their early days, a nostrum for all the unused capacity—cars, rooms, and people—fallow across the economy. It was Kool-Aid sold by philosopher-king-founders. Notice how quickly “sharing” left Uber’s vernacular when they embraced the idea of replacing all of their drivers with autonomous AI cars. The sharing economy went from religion to a trivia question nearly overnight.

Learn what became of Shiftgig when Robot-Proof hits the shelves!

Vivienne L'Ecuyer Ming

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