In Love With Ourselves

"It seems like just yesterday I was at the White House staying in the Lincoln bedroom, and everything was wonderful."

These were the words of former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland to a group of teenagers in early July. Rowland was trying to explain his downward trajectory from one of the Republican Party's favored political "stars" to standing in line for toilet paper in a federal prison.

He described his "sense of entitlement" as a political persona. "Before you know it, you're doing things you never thought you'd do in the past. ... Then you send that message to others."

The former governor no doubt got the message from those who influenced him in his rise to power, including the president himself. "I can't tell you how important it is to have people who hold office who deliver," President Bush glowed about Rowland during the Connecticut Republican Committee Lunch in April 2002. "[O]ne of the jobs of a governor is to help restore faith in the political process of a particular state. And the best way to defeat cynicism is to accomplish things on behalf of everybody ... to rise above the traditional noise that tends to dominate the political scene and perform."

"Performing" indeed. The governor put on a great act as a public servant -- that is, until he had to resign from office in 2004 amid an embarrassing investigation into rampant corruption and influence peddling.

Rowland's myopic perception of endless omnipotence could be described as wholly narcissistic. But he is not alone. Building a public persona in America often amounts to a narcissistic exercise on the grandest of scales.

Narcissism is clinically defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) as a "pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy." Although just about any person can possess certain narcissistic tendencies, the disorder can't technically be diagnosed until five out of nine criteria are met:

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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