Governor Jerry Brown, c1976: an approach to protest

I would be part of the entourage and we’d go to some public event… and there outside the event would be the usual protesters about one thing or another. And I’d find myself trying to get Jerry [Brown, Governor of California] in, and we’re all of us late, “Come on, let’s keep moving,” and then he’d see the protesters and he’d veer off and go over and talk to them.

And we’re rolling our eyes, but here’s how he’d talk to protesters: he’d go over to whoever it looked like was being a spokesman, maybe they had the loudhailer or something, and he’d say “Glad you’re here, what’s on your mind?”

And they would start to say their trip, and he would listen for a bit and he’d say, “I think I got it… let me see if I got it.” And then he would say back to them their stance, often better than they had stated it, and you’d see them just melt. Because the thing that they wanted to have happen was for him to be aware of their position, and to understand it, and he’d just shown that he’d done that.

And they had the further hope that since it was known that Jerry occasionally changed his mind and his policy on things, that not only had he heard their position, he might even adopt it at some point. And so he could always engage and diffuse opposition with the fact that he could be persuaded out of a position that he’d publicly taken.

He was not a good speaker, he was not a charismatic character for the longest time, basically an introvert in public life, and yet that characteristic as much as any other – he did a lot of policy, he was very bright and eventually a very capable politician – but that characteristic I think opened him up to a very successful political career.

Stewart Brand speaking on The Tim Ferris Show #281

Scrapbook: Niall Ferguson on culture, text-for-profit, libraries, search and literacy

Niall Ferguson was speaking at the Long Now Foundation, responding to a question from Stewart Brand about how ads and the profit-motive influenced the nature of search and the internet echo-chamber.

Google and Facebook in particular are platforms driven by user-engagement and time-on-platform (the source of their ad revenue) and as a result tend to give us more of what we like or agree with already, filtering out sources that might challenge our views. 

If you look back on the way the printing press developed, there was a for profit wing that ultimately did finance itself by selling ads, and it evolved into newspapers and magazines.

But that was only a fraction of all the printed content that was out there. Most printed content was accessible free through things called libraries, and libraries were non profit.

Public libraries gradually began to spread in the protestant realms because remember, Protestantism insisted on literacy. A country like mine, Scotland, went from very low literacy to very high literacy because of the reformation. Schools had libraries. Books were regarded as a public good. And this meant that most printed content was not provided by profit making institutions. It was essentially free, and crucially, catalogued in increasingly effective and – I’ll call them objective – ways.

Anybody who’s spent time in one of the great libraries of the world, say the Cambridge University Library, knows that the books are sorted in such a way that you find the book that you’re after, and next to it are books on similar topics. This is an incredibly valuable thing if you’re doing serious research. 

Google is not like that. You may think that Google is like that, but you’re wrong, because that is not how search works…

Niall Ferguson – The Long Now Foundation – Networks and Power