Niall Ferguson The Square and the Tower

Niall Ferguson “The Square and the Tower”

There is the Square and the Tower; both are networks. The tower is the intellectual elite and the square is the general public in this metaphor. Ferguson’s findings are that there is a continuum of hierarchical structures as well as social networks. History repeats itself in many ways with the social media of today. Hierarchically organized family prevail, but then social networks are empowered to challenge the hierarchical order within each era.

We do in fact flip between the Org Chart of a company and the Network of Family in our own lives, according Niall Ferguson.

Think about Google as a crawler of the internet network that looks at the credibility of website: starting with sites such as BBC.co.uk and flows outwardly from there. History is hierarchical in the hands of government. History is typically written by the victors. So it should be looked at through the diaries of the leaders of the past and how they leveraged networks to achieve their ends (Nazism and Communism in particular).

Niall Ferguson had to become a Network Scientist to Write this Book: it’s anthropology, engineering, interdisciplinary. But networks inherently are around the idea that birds of a feather flock together: we congregate into clusters. We drink the cool-aid.

Social Media Today

List of social network enablers ie. the technology that crazy uncles have used throughout history:

GuttenburgPrintingPress, CarolusNewspaper, NiepcePhotography, MacconiRadio, FarnsworthTelevision, Silicon ValleySocial Media

Global Community is Not Great:

Luther was wrong to believe that if everyone had a copy of the Bible, everything would be amazing according to Ferguson. The network is not a happy community; they start to polarize. Martin Luther -> social networks. Luther thought that we would get the priesthood of citizens. We don’t get a happy network, we get a viral tumult of ideas, according to Niall Ferguson. The polarization in the US; its Conservatives and Liberals is partly a function of networks.

  1. The point is that technology is not that big of a leap; Martin Luther certainly was an innovative thinker. But we wouldn’t know it if he didn’t have a printing press.
  2. Facebook is a Smaller World Phenomenon: things spread more rapidly: the reformation spreads faster than in the renaissance, for example;
  3. Things Go Viral: is about the structure of the network. The network is as important as the meme.
    Witch crazes spread virally, equally crazy ideas go viral. To deny there are witches = you are a witch would be an example of social pathology then and now. A cognitive error that is shareworthy (like it or not).
  4. Networks never sleep: they are complex system. Networks are bad at defense: the KGB penetrated the UK government in the 60s for example.
  5. Networks are not equal: there are few nodes that are equal. We can graph who knew who, it would be some of you are better connected than others.
  6. The Nazi and Bolshevik Parties should be studied to see ‘how were those networks structured.’ We need to understand Fascism and Communism from a networked perspective, according to Ferguson.
  7. The Power has moved from Washington to Silicon Valley> the Chinese have figured out how to extend it’s position; they can monitor and respond and has extensive collective behaviour: how do you align with a social credit score.

We need a new Guide for Totalitarianism:

China believe the world is going well ahead: there are constraints. They have the largest bourgeoisie in history in China: they can’t alter the needs of bourgeois: you desire property rights; and it can be arbitraged but Ferguson is going to watch for the Bourgeois revolution in China but so is Xi JinPing!

The Importance of Counter-Factual:

Counter-Factual should be explicit in history. The Hillary Clinton presidency would have meant gridlock and angry Alt right reactionaries, calls for impeachment and a Trump TV Network….

Populists don’t last long: it doesn’t deliver benefits to core supporters. And the president will fail to deliver according to Ferguson. Populism -> is not dead in Europe. Muslim’s will be 20% of Europe in the mid-21st century. Ferguson implies that there will be cultural conflicts as a result….

Attacking conspiracy theorists as a credible Historian is very difficult. Again, Ferguson is worried about his street credibility. The power of the Freemasons is smaller because it shows that they didn’t manage to prevent certain events from occurring. If you can’t have private conferences then you are not intellectually free, according to Ferguson.

The social mobility at the bottom of the pyramid. Basic Income is not a patch. The distribution of the medicaid is not going to work according to Ferguson. Distribution of spending is inefficient where as UBI might work.

China’s economic expansion: The US and China could still go to war. The Chinese don’t really care about a trade war. One Welt and one Asia. Chinese Welt-Politik is a reality, according to Ferguson.

US is susceptible to a cyber-attack: it’s a known fact: how large of a disruption could that be? Preparations must be made, according to Ferguson.

Ferguson on Trump and Advertising, FacePalm!

  • Ferguson is wrong on Trump and he knows it but must protect his credibility amongst fellow academics. Facebook and Twitter are what caused Trump to win? Doubtful that Facebook was as significant a factor as he thinks: and as the book implies. Why not? Because the +75,000 votes across the many counties that Trump won in the swing states were spread out and you have to assume that all 75,000 changed from Hilary to Trump because of something their crazy uncle wrote on their feed to inspire them into the Trump camp.
  • Ferguson claims that Trump would never have won without Facebook sharing and advertising? This is a totally clueless claim, from someone who probably hasn’t advertised on Facebook, because the power of Facebook advertising to shift opinion is overstated….earned media is perhaps a term Ferguson is not familiar with at all.
  • Facebook is not the cat’s meow solution for advertising effectively, it’s an improvement but not a gold standard in 2016 or ’18. For example, if you see an ad on Facebook for Coca-Cola BUT you were thinking of buying a Coca-Cola before that ad; how do we really know the ad caused the Coca-Cola purchase after the fact? We don’t. Same if you didn’t want a Coca-Cola, saw the ad and then went and bought a Coca-Cola, the ad may have changed your mind subconsciously or consciously or maybe something else happened between the ad exposure and the decision to buy Coca-Cola! We can’t know either way unfortunately. If we could, the person who invented that technology would be a billionaire in very short order**. The same problem applies with an ad for Trump or Brexit, Facebook facilitates echo-chambers where people are already interested in Trump or Coca-Cola or Brexit. It doesn’t mean Facebook shaped that interest; it only means that Facebook is trying to generate revenue off of advertisers who don’t know which people will convert but will spend the money to get awareness at least as a baseline. Facebook is trying to convince social scientists that their platform is amazing because it captures data better than a billboard but it’s not the cat’s meow. Human beings consistently screw up your marketing experiment by having agency.
  • What’s interesting with Ferguson is that over the course of the book tour, every interviewer wants his thoughts on Trump. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Ferguson is disingenuous because he is evidently preoccupied with what other people think of him and his klout amongst academics would be damaged if he said anything positive about Trump’s ability to tap into the Square. And most people are emotional rather than rational in politics because they are passionate without reasoning very much. Academia is so partisan that people aren’t intellectually free to explore counter-arguments in some sense. In these interviews, Ferguson goes for “Trump is the devil, now let’s get drinks in the history department!” Of course, even anything I write here could be misconstrued. I’m a political scientist, trying to maintain objectivity and independence. Oh, and I am not an American citizen so I have no say.
  • **Zuckerberg is a billionaire because eye balls are valuable in and of themselves. Advertising does work BUT only rarely. All you need is 1 person out of 1000 to get an Return on your investment in some situations. There are definitely examples of direct marketing where you see a product on Facebook and then order it immediately in the moment, but that’s very very rare 0.01% of the time. Despite the rarity, advertisers spend billions on platforms like Facebook because there are many eyeballs visiting that site ie. brand awareness is mixed in with direct marketing.