Adams and Parkin: Don’t let angry protestors fool you — Canadians still trust in our democracy

Good nuanced perspective:

Certain truths seem self-evident: We are all created equal. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Our democracy is imploding under the strain of declining trust and increasing polarization.

The first two we should accept, but the characterization of our democracy as nearing collapse does not fit the facts, at least not in Canada. The trends run in the opposite direction: trust in many of our democratic institutions is actually growing, and the gaps between the political left and right are in fact narrowing. This helps put the troubling scenes of gravel-throwing anti-vaccine protestors in context: it is not just that they are a small minority — it is that the protestors and the majority of Canadians are moving in completely opposite directions.

Our regular Environics Institute surveys show that three in four Canadians are satisfied with the way democracy works in this country — a proportion that has held steady over the past 10 years. An equal number are satisfied with the way our political system works, but in this case, satisfaction has risen. Feelings of pride in the Canadian political system and of respect for our political institutions have both also been gradually increasing.

It is true that only a minority of Canadians have a lot of trust in Parliament or in political parties — a degree of healthy skepticism that is neither surprising nor problematic. But over 80 per cent have at least some trust. And the trends again are positive: strong trust in Parliament has risen by 19 points since 2010, including a 10-point increase since the previous survey in 2019. Strong trust in Parliament is now twice as high as it was just seven years ago; weak trust is now almost twice as low. The change in the case of trust in political parties is more modest, but in the same positive direction.

While the anger seen on the campaign trail makes our politics seem highly polarized, this too is a misleading impression. Our research shows that, in many cases, the views about our democracy among those on the left and right of the political spectrum have actually become more similar over the past few years, rather than diverging. And while it goes without saying that the Conservatives draw more support from those on the right and the NDP attracts more of those on the left, the fact is that the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP each draw a majority of their support from those who place themselves in the centre. The electorate is not divided into hostile camps separated by a widening, unbridgeable gulf.

But there is one measure in our survey that has shown a sudden decline: national pride. Almost all of us continue to feel at least some pride in being Canadian, but in our latest survey, this pride is less strongly expressed — a change likely linked to the discovery earlier this year of hundreds of graves of Indigenous children at the sites of former residential schools. Our survey began right after Canada Day, when many Canadians were discussing what these discoveries mean for the country. As these discussions unfolded, flags were lowered to half-mast, and feelings of national pride became more muted.

But this too is more the sign of a healthy democracy than one in crisis. It is reassuring to see that the revelations about residential schools upset our self-image. The shift in the tone of Canada Day from celebration to reflection did not occur only among a handful of political insiders, but among many ordinary citizens as well. This is a sign of a democracy in which minds remain open, and backs are not turned on one another.

As voting day approaches, there is no better time to bring the image we have of our democracy into alignment with the evidence. Angry antimask or antivaccination protestors fuelled by misinformation are currently a security and public health risk, but they are not the tip of a larger iceberg that reflects broader public opinion.

Canada is not the United States, and what has happened there (and elsewhere) does not always foreshadow events here. In a year filled with so much bad news, let’s open the curtains to welcome at least one ray of sunshine.

Source: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2021/09/13/dont-let-angry-protestors-fool-you-canadians-still-trust-in-our-democracy.html

Why A.I. Should Be Afraid of Us: Because benevolent bots are suckers.

Of significance as AI becomes more prevalent. “Road rage” as the new Turing test!

Artificial intelligence is gradually catching up to ours. A.I. algorithms can now consistently beat us at chesspoker and multiplayer video games, generate images of human faces indistinguishable from real oneswrite news articles (not this one!) and even love stories, and drive cars better than most teenagers do.

But A.I. isn’t perfect, yet, if Woebot is any indicator. Woebot, as Karen Brown wrote this week in Science Times, is an A.I.-powered smartphone app that aims to provide low-cost counseling, using dialogue to guide users through the basic techniques of cognitive-behavioral therapy. But many psychologists doubt whether an A.I. algorithm can ever express the kind of empathy required to make interpersonal therapy work.

“These apps really shortchange the essential ingredient that — mounds of evidence show — is what helps in therapy, which is the therapeutic relationship,” Linda Michaels, a Chicago-based therapist who is co-chair of the Psychotherapy Action Network, a professional group, told The Times.

Empathy, of course, is a two-way street, and we humans don’t exhibit a whole lot more of it for bots than bots do for us. Numerous studies have found that when people are placed in a situation where they can cooperate with a benevolent A.I., they are less likely to do so than if the bot were an actual person.

“There seems to be something missing regarding reciprocity,” Ophelia Deroy, a philosopher at Ludwig Maximilian University, in Munich, told me. “We basically would treat a perfect stranger better than A.I.”

In a recent study, Dr. Deroy and her neuroscientist colleagues set out to understand why that is. The researchers paired human subjects with unseen partners, sometimes human and sometimes A.I.; each pair then played a series of classic economic games — Trust, Prisoner’s Dilemma, Chicken and Stag Hunt, as well as one they created called Reciprocity — designed to gauge and reward cooperativeness.

Our lack of reciprocity toward A.I. is commonly assumed to reflect a lack of trust. It’s hyper-rational and unfeeling, after all, surely just out for itself, unlikely to cooperate, so why should we? Dr. Deroy and her colleagues reached a different and perhaps less comforting conclusion. Their study found that people were less likely to cooperate with a bot even when the bot was keen to cooperate. It’s not that we don’t trust the bot, it’s that we do: The bot is guaranteed benevolent, a capital-S sucker, so we exploit it.

That conclusion was borne out by conversations afterward with the study’s participants. “Not only did they tend to not reciprocate the cooperative intentions of the artificial agents,” Dr. Deroy said, “but when they basically betrayed the trust of the bot, they didn’t report guilt, whereas with humans they did.” She added, “You can just ignore the bot and there is no feeling that you have broken any mutual obligation.”

This could have real-world implications. When we think about A.I., we tend to think about the Alexas and Siris of our future world, with whom we might form some sort of faux-intimate relationship. But most of our interactions will be one-time, often wordless encounters. Imagine driving on the highway, and a car wants to merge in front of you. If you notice that the car is driverless, you’ll be far less likely to let it in. And if the A.I. doesn’t account for your bad behavior, an accident could ensue.

“What sustains cooperation in society at any scale is the establishment of certain norms,” Dr. Deroy said. “The social function of guilt is exactly to make people follow social norms that lead them to make compromises, to cooperate with others. And we have not evolved to have social or moral norms for non-sentient creatures and bots.”

That, of course, is half the premise of “Westworld.” (To my surprise Dr. Deroy had not heard of the HBO series.) But a landscape free of guilt could have consequences, she noted: “We are creatures of habit. So what guarantees that the behavior that gets repeated, and where you show less politeness, less moral obligation, less cooperativeness, will not color and contaminate the rest of your behavior when you interact with another human?”

There are similar consequences for A.I., too. “If people treat them badly, they’re programed to learn from what they experience,” she said. “An A.I. that was put on the road and programmed to be benevolent should start to be not that kind to humans, because otherwise it will be stuck in traffic forever.” (That’s the other half of the premise of “Westworld,” basically.)

There we have it: The true Turing test is road rage. When a self-driving car starts honking wildly from behind because you cut it off, you’ll know that humanity has reached the pinnacle of achievement. By then, hopefully, A.I therapy will be sophisticated enough to help driverless cars solve their anger-management issues.

A fear of others in Australia’s ethnically diverse neighbourhoods is affecting mental health

While not captured in the study, suspect that some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric among some Australian politicians may be a contributing factor to lack of trust:

We’re often told to ‘love thy neighbour’ in order to build a more harmonious society, but when it comes to multicultural communities, it seems concerns about ‘others’ are rife – and it’s impacting peoples’ mental health.

A new report by RMIT University has found higher levels of neighbourhood ethnic diversity are associated with poorer mental health outcomes for people living there.

And it appears it’s because they don’t trust each other.

The study, Neighbourhood Ethnic Diversity and Mental Health in Australia, is the first of its kind to empirically examine the effects of ethnic diversity in an area on mental health. It was published this month in the journal Health Economics.

Based on 16 years of data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, up to 2016, it found a lack of trust in ‘others’ is having a negative impact.

Respondents to the HILDA surveys were asked how often they felt “nervous”, “down”, and “so down in the dumps that nothing could cheer them up”.

Dr Sefa Churchill, a senior research fellow at RMIT who led the study, said coping with difference tends to brings a greater mental load, which “not everyone finds easy or wants to make work”.

“In communities that are quite diverse we tend to see people that are a bit different in different ways, because we do not know them,” he told SBS News.

“It raises some sort of natural anxiety and suspicion about what they are doing because they are ‘different’.

“And that level of anxiety and unsettledness that is associated with this lower levels of trust, tends to hinder mental health.”

That lack of trust was the key factor behind poorer mental health outcomes in diverse communities, he said.

Dr Churchill said it is a natural compulsion to be wary of strangers, and the research shows it is not diversity itself that is the problem, but more likely the lack of trust that often accompanies it.

“If you do not know someone, if someone is different from you, you will not go be willing to go all in, in terms of trust, so from a fundamental perspective as part of nature, trust comes the more you get familiar with someone.”

“Trust is the glue that binds social networks, and social networks and feelings of inclusion are important predictors for mental health and wellbeing.”

But it’s not all bad news for those living in Australia’s ethnic melting pots.

When comparing diverse and homogeneous neighbourhoods which both had similar levels of trust, people living in diverse communities had better mental health outcomes.

“Our analysis considered potential scenarios where we have diverse communities and homogeneous communities both with high levels of trust, and the results actually did suggest if you are in a diverse community with higher levels of trust you tend to have better mental health than insular, homogeneous communities,” Dr Churchill said.

Australia is often touted as one of the most diverse countries in the world, with more than a quarter of residents born overseas.

Mohammad Al-Khafaji, CEO of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia (FECCA) told SBS News: “As in all parts of our society, mental health is a major issue in ethnically diverse communities that desperately needs greater attention”.

“What this study also demonstrates is that programs that promote cultural awareness and understanding make our communities happier and safer.

FECCA has partnered with Mental Health Australia and the National Ethnic Disability Alliance to deliver The Embrace Project – a platform raising awareness of mental health and suicide prevention and providing resources and services for those from culturally and linguistic diverse (CALD) backgrounds.

Mental Health Australia CEO Frank Quinlan told SBS News the project “recognises social isolation and stigma surrounding mental health in culturally and linguistically diverse communities can negatively impact mental health.

It “aims to engage people in CALD communities in a conversation and provide information about what comprises good mental health and where to seek support if needed,” he said.

Dr Churchill says the results of the study show the need for more policies that foster social inclusion and promote awareness of the benefits of diversity. That should help to build trust and reduce the negative effect of diversity on mental health, he said.

“We need to, at the local level, organise programs and events that bring us together, allow us to communicate, allow us to talk, allow us to know each other and go beyond the differences.”

“The fact that you do not know someone and all that, this will build that level of trust.”

Source: A fear of others in Australia’s ethnically diverse neighbourhoods is affecting mental health

US: Low-Income PoCs Still Don’t Trust The Police, But Would Work With Them : NPR

Interesting study with identifying the problem (lack of trust) and opportunity (willing to work together):

While trying to catch a bus to school, Emilio Mayfield, 16, jaywalked. When he didn’t comply with a police officer’s command to get out of the bus lane, a scuffle ensued. Mayfield was struck in the face with a baton and arrested by nine Stockton, Cal. police officers. The arrest was captured on video by a bystander and the video went viral.

A police officer responding to a domestic violence call shot Jamar Clark, 24, in the head as he lay on the ground. He died the next day, sparking weeks of protests. A Minneapolis Police Department internal investigation later cleared the two officers involved in the shooting of any wrongdoing.

Devon Davis crashed his car and was running away from cops when they caught up to him. A witness says officers severely beat Davis in the legs before carrying him away. Police assert that Davis injured his legs in the car crash. Davis sued the city of Pittsburgh and six police officers.

These incidents — which all took place in 2015 — may have been on the minds of residents in these cities when they were asked to participate in a study of their views on the police.

The study, released Wednesday, reveals that while the majority of residents in high-crime, high-poverty areas have a negative view of the police, they also have great respect for the law and are willing to work with law enforcement to make communities safer.

The majority of residents surveyed hold a very negative impression of the police. Less than a third believe that the police respect people’s rights, “treat people with dignity and respect,” and “make fair and impartial decisions in the cases they deal with.” More than half of residents say that “police officers will treat you differently because of your race/ethnicity” and that officers act “based on personal prejudices and biases.” Survey respondents identified as black (66 percent), white (12 percent), and Latino or Hispanic (11 percent). The majority are female (59 percent). Most respondents live in extreme poverty, reporting a total annual income of less than $20,000.

Residents also expressed a firm belief in the law and a willingness to partner with police to improve community safety. Seven in 10 respondents believe that the “law should be strictly obeyed” and that laws benefit the community. More than half agree with the statement “the laws in your community are consistent with your own intuitions about what is right and just.”

And while only 38 percent of respondents say that they feel safe around the police or find them trustworthy (30 percent), they also say they would work with police. More than half are willing to attend a community meeting with police and close to half say they would volunteer their time to help the police solve a crime or find a suspect.low-income_pocs_still_don_t_trust_the_police__but_would_work_with_them___code_switch___npr

The Urban Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., conducted the study in partnership with local organizations in six cities: Birmingham, Alabama; Fort Worth, Texas; Gary, Indiana; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Stockton, California. The focus on households located in the highest crime, lowest income areas — with predominantly residents of color — is a marked departure from most surveys about perception of law enforcement which sample the general population.

Using data from the U.S. Census and crime data provided by police departments in the six cities, researchers identified the areas with the highest concentrations of crime and poverty in each city. Focusing their research in this way allowed them to survey the “people who live in the areas where trust may be weakest, but who may benefit the most from increases in public safety.”

“General population surveys often mask differences between groups,” the authors said. “Those who are white and more affluent are the most likely to respond to general population surveys and tend to have relatively favorable views of the police.” Researchers conducted surveys in person, instead of using the more common methods of mail or phone because residents who are low income, have less education, or are racial or linguistic minorities tend to be underrepresented in phone and mail surveys.

Visible minorities less likely to view police favourably: survey

Not surprising, although it would be interesting to have a breakdown by visible minority group to see if there are significant differences between their confidence in the police (my hypothesis is that Black Canadians, given the prevalence of carding and other practices, would likely have the lowest level of confidence).

The contrast with USA data, however, is striking:

The majority of Canadians view their police forces favourably, but confidence erodes when members of visible minorities are polled, according to a new survey from Angus Reid.

When asked if they have trust in the police and justice system, Canadians said “yes” about most institutions, with only the criminal courts failing to reach a majority of support. Sixty-eight per cent of white people expressed confidence in police while 58 per cent of members of visible minorities did so.

Support for the police and justice system appears to be growing, with a small increase from 2014 and a near-spike from the lows of 2012, when none of the institutions broke 40 per cent support.

Quebec led the way in all categories, with support often more than 10 percentage points higher than in other provinces. Atlantic Canada and British Columbia had the lowest levels of trust.

The survey of 1,505 residents from across the country comes at a time of greater scrutiny of policing. Most recently, Black Lives Matter Toronto staged a sit-in during the Toronto Pride Parade on July 3 to protest against what they argue are discriminatory policing practices targeting black residents in the city.

The results hinted at the frustrations: Of those surveyed, 58 per cent of members of visible minorities trusted the institutions, 10 percentage points lower than white respondents.

While there is a discrepancy between whites and members of visible minorities in Canada, the results are magnified in the United States, where the summer has seen racial tensions simmer in wake of two recent shootings of black men by police. Only 39 per cent of members of visible minorities express confidence in the police, compared with 62 per cent of white residents, a Gallup poll found.

Despite the largely positive Canadian results, the Angus Reid survey also highlighted troubling data about the challenges facing members of visible minorities in the country.

Over a 10-year period, the black inmate population in Canada has surged 60 per cent. In Toronto, where black people make up less than 10 per cent of the population, 41 per cent of youth in child welfare services are black. In Vancouver, close to 60 per cent of people in poverty are members of visible minorities; in Toronto, it’s 62 per cent.

Source: Visible minorities less likely to view police favourably: survey – The Globe and Mail