“For me as an editor, there is a compelling case for engaging with poverty. Increasing education and literacy is related to increasing the size of my readership. Our main audiences are indeed drawn from the middle classes, business and policymakers. But these groups cannot live in isolation. The welfare of the many is in the interests of the people who read the Daily Star.”
So says Mahfuz Anam, Editor and Publisher of The Daily Star newspaper in Bangladesh. I quoted him in my presentation to the orientation workshop for Media Fellows on Poverty and Development, held in Colombo on 24 September 2016.
Alas, many media gatekeepers in Sri Lanka and across South Asia don’t share Anam’s broad view. I can still remember talking to a Singaporean manager of one of Sri Lanka’s first private TV stations in the late 1990s. He was interested in international development related TV content, he told me, “but not depressing and miserable stuff about poverty – our viewers don’t want that!”
Most media, in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, have narrowly defined poverty negatively. Those media that occasionally allows some coverage of poverty mostly skim a few selected issues, doing fleeting reporting on obvious topics like street children, beggars or poverty reduction assistance from the government. The complexity of poverty and under-development is hardly investigated or captured in the media.
Even when an exceptional journalist ventures into exploring these issues in some depth and detail, their media products also often inadvertently contain society’s widespread stereotyping on poverty and inequality. For example:
Black and white images are used when colour is easily available (as if the poor live in B&W).
Focus is mostly or entirely on the rural poor (never mind many poor people now live in cities and towns).
Under this, 20 competitively selected journalists – drawn from print, broadcast and web media outlets in Sinhala, Tamil and English languages – are to be given a better understanding of the many dimensions of poverty.
These Media Fellows will have the opportunity to research and produce a story of their choice in depth and detail, but on the understanding that their media outlet will carry their story. Along the way, they will benefit from face-to-face interactions with senior journalists and development researchers, and also receive a grant to cover their field visit costs.
I am part of the five member expert panel guiding these Media Fellows. Others on the panel are senior journalist and political commentator Kusal Perera; Chief Editor of Daily Express newspaper Hana Ibrahim; Chief Editor of Echelon biz magazine Shamindra Kulamannage; and Consultant Editor of Sudar Oli newspaper, Arun Arokianathan.
At the orientation workshop, Shamindra Kulamannage and I both made presentations on media coverage of poverty. Mine was a broad-sweep exploration of the topic, with many examples and insights from having been in media and development spheres for over 25 years.
For some, drones still conjure images of death and destruction – that has been their most widely reported use. But that reality is fast changing. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being used for many peaceful purposes, from newsgathering and post-disaster assessments to goods delivery and smart farming.
Drones come in various shapes and sizes: as miniature fixed-wing airplanes or, more commonly, quadcopters and other multi-bladed small helicopters. All types are getting simpler, cheaper and more versatile.
Unlike radio-controlled model aircraft, which aviation hobbyists have used for decades, UAVs are equipped with an autopilot using GPS and a camera controlled by the autopilot. These battery operated flying machines can be manually controlled or pre-programmed for an entire, low altitude flight.
In this week’s Ravaya column (in Sinhala, appearing in the print issue of 25 Sep 2016), I survey the many civilian applications of drones – and the legal, ethical and technical challenges they pose.
Drones are already being used in Sri Lanka by photographers, TV journalists and political parties but few seem to respect public safety or privacy of individuals.
I quote Sanjana Hattotuwa, a researcher and activist on ICTs, who in August 2016 conducted Sri Lanka’s first workshop on drone journalism which I attended. I agree with his view: drones are here to stay, and are going to be used in many applications. So the sooner we sort out public safety and privacy concerns, the better for all.
Themed as ‘Uncovering Asia’ it is organized jointly by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN), Centre for Investigative Journalism in Nepal, and the German foundation Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (2016.uncoveringasia.org).
Founded in 2003, GIJN is the world’s leading international association of investigative reporters’ and their organizations. Its membership includes more than 100 non-profits and NGOs in 45 countries. They are committed to expanding and supporting quality investigative journalism worldwide. This is done through sponsoring global and regional conferences, including the every-two-year Global Investigative Journalism Conference. GIJN also does training, links journalists together worldwide, and promotes best practices in investigative and data journalism.
For three days in Kathmandu, reporters from across Asia and beyond – including several from Sri Lanka – will swap stories, cheer each other, and take stock of their particular craft.
It is true that all good journalism should be investigative as well as reflective. Journalism urges its practitioners to follow the money and power — two factors that often lead to excesses and abuses.
At the same time, investigative journalism (IJ) is actually a specialized genre of the profession of journalism. It is where reporters deeply investigate a single topic of public interest — such as serious crimes, political corruption, or corporate wrongdoing. In recent years, probing environmental crimes, human smuggling, and sporting match fixing have joined IJ’s traditional topics.
Investigative journalists may spend months or years researching and preparing a report (or documentary). They would consult eye witnesses, subject experts and lawyers to get their story exactly right. In some cases, they would also have to withstand extreme pressures exerted by the party being probed.
This process is illustrated in the Academy award winning Hollywood movie ‘Spotlight’ (2015). It is based on The Boston Globe‘s investigative coverage of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The movie reconstructs how a small team systematically amassed and analyzed evidence for months before going public.
Nosing Not Easy
Investigative journalism is not for the faint-hearted. But it epitomizes, perhaps more than anything else, the public interest value of an independent media.
In mature democracies, freedom of expression and media freedoms are constitutionally guaranteed and respected in practice (well, most of the time). That creates an enabling environment for whistle-blowers and journalists to probe various stories in the public interest.
Many Asian investigative journalists don’t have that luxury. They persist amidst uncaring (or repressive) governments, intimidating wielders of authority, unpredictable judicial mechanisms and unsupportive publishers. They often risk their jobs, and sometimes life and limb, in going after investigative stories.
Yet, as participants and speakers in Delhi confirmed, and those converging in Kathmandu this week will no doubt demonstrate, investigative journalism prevails. It even thrives when indefatigable journalists are backed by exceptionally courageous publishers.
As capital and information flows have become globalized, so has investigative journalism. Today, illicit money, narcotics, exotic animals and illegal immigrants crisscross political borders all the time. Journalists following such stories simply have to step beyond their own territories to get the bigger picture.
Here, international networking helps like-nosed journalists. The Delhi conference showcased the Panama Papers experience as reaffirming the value of cross-border collaboration.
Panama Papers involved a giant “leak” of more than 11.5 million financial and legal records exposing an intricate system that enables crime, corruption and wrongdoing, all hidden behind secretive offshore companies.
This biggest act of whistle blowing in history contained information on some 214,488 offshore entities. The documents had all been created by Panamanian law firm and corporate service provider Mossack-Fonseca since the 1970s.
A German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, originally received the leaked data. Because of its massive volume, it turned to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), a Washington-anchored but globally distributed network of journalists from over 60 countries who collaborate in probing cross-border crimes, corruption and the accountability of power.
Coordinated by ICIJ, journalists from 107 media organizations in 80 countries analyzed the Panama Papers. They were sworn to secrecy and worked on a collective embargo. Within that framework, each one was free to pursue local angles on their own.
After more than one year of analysis and verifications, the news stories were first published on 3 April 2016 simultaneously in participating newspapers worldwide. At the same time, ICIJ also released on its website 150 documents themselves (the rest being released progressively).
Registering offshore business entities per se is not illegal in some countries. Yet, reporters sifting through the records found that some offshore companies have been used for illegal purposes like fraud, tax evasion and stashing away money looted by dictators and their cronies.
In Delhi, reporters from India, Indonesia and Malaysia described how they went after Panama leaks information connected to their countries. For example, Ritu Sarin, Executive Editor (News and Investigation) of the Indian Express said she and two dozen colleagues worked for eight months before publishing a series of exposes linking some politicians and celebrities to offshore companies.
Listening to them, I once again wondered why ICIJ’s sole contact in Sri Lanka (and his respected newspaper) never carried a single word about Panama Leaks. That, despite nearly two dozen Lankan names coming to light.
Some of our other mainstream media splashed the Lankan names associated with Panama Papers (often mixing it up with earlier Offshore Leaks), but there has been little follow-up. In this vacuum, it was left to civic media platforms like Groundviews.org and data-savvy bloggers like Yudhanjaya Wijeratne (http://icaruswept.com) to do some intelligent probing. Their efforts are salutary but inadequate.
Now, Panama Leaks have just been followed up by Bahamas Leaks on September 22. The data is available online, for any nosy professional or citizen journalist to follow up. How many will go after it?
Given Sri Lanka’s alarming journalism deficit, investigative reporting can no longer be left to those trained in the craft and their outlets.
In May 2016, the major new study on the media sector I edited titled Rebuilding Public Trust:An Assessment of the Media Industry and Profession in Sri Lanka, noted:
“The new government faces the daunting task of healing the wounds of a civil war which lasted over a quarter of a century and left a deep rift in the Lankan media that is now highly polarised along ethnic, religious and political lines. At the same time, the country’s media industry and profession face their own internal crises arising from an overbearing state, unpredictable market forces, rapid technological advancements and a gradual erosion of public trust.”
The report quoted Dr Ranga Kalansooriya, who worked in the print media (Sinhala and English) and later served as Director General of Sri Lanka Press Institute, as saying:
“The ethnically non-diverse newsrooms of both sides have further fuelled the polarisation of society on ethnic lines, and this phenomenon has led the media in serving its own clientele with ‘what it wants to know’ than ‘what it needs to know’.”
This is precisely what the One Sri Lanka Journalism Fellowship Program (OSLJF) has addressed, in its own small way. An initiative of InterNews, an international media development organisation, OSLJF was a platform which has brought together Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim working journalists from across the country to conceptualize and produce stories that explored issues affecting all ordinary Lankans.
From December 2015 to September 2016, some 30 full-time or freelance journalists reporting for the country’s mainstream media were supported to engage in field-based, multi-sourced stories on social, economic and political topics of public interest. They worked in multi-ethnic teams, mentored by senior Lankan journalists drawn from the media industry who gave training sessions to strengthen the skills and broaden the horizons of this group of early and mid-career journalists.
As the project ends, the participating journalists, mentors and administrators came together at an event in Colombo on 20 September 2016 to share experiences and impressions. This was more than a mere award ceremony – it also sought to explore how the learnings can be institutionalized within the country’s mainstream and new media outlets.
I was asked to host the event, and also to moderate a panel of key media stakeholders. As a former journalist who remains a columnist, blogger and media researcher, I was happy to accept this as I am committed to building a BETTER MEDIA in Sri Lanka.
Here are my opening remarks for the panel:
“If you don’t like the news … go out and make some of your own!” So said Wes (‘Scoop’) Nisker, the US author, radio commentator and comedian who used that line as the title of a 1994 book.
Instead of just grumbling about imperfections in the media, more and more people are using digital technologies and the web to become their own reporters, commentators and publishers.
Rise of citizen journalism and digital media start-ups are evidence of this.
BUT we cannot ignore mainstream media (MSM) in our part of the world. MSM – especially and radio broadcasters — still have vast reach and they influence public perceptions and opinions. It is VITAL to improve their professionalism and ethical conduct.
In discussing the Future of Journalism in the Digital Age today, we want to look at BOTH the mainstream media AND new media initiatives using web/digital technologies.
BOTTOMLINE: How to uphold timeless values in journalism: Accuracy, Balance, Credibility and promotion of PUBLIC INTEREST?
I posed five broad questions to get our panelists thinking:
What can be done to revitalize declining quality and outreach of mainstream media?
Why do we have so little innovation in our media? What are the limiting factors?
What is the ideal mix and balance of mainstream and new media for Lanka?
Can media with accuracy, balance and ethics survive in our limited market? If so, how?
What can government, professionals and civil society to do to nurture a better media?
In this week’s Ravaya column (in Sinhala, appearing in the print issue of 18 Sep 2016), I discuss new forms of media repression being practised by governments in South Asia.
The inspiration comes from my participation in the Asia Media Conference organized by the Hawaii-based East-West Center in New Delhi, India, from September 8 to 11, 2016. Themed “South Asia Looking East”, it drew over 350 participants from across Asia and the United States.
Speeches and discussions showed how governments are more concerned about international media rights watch groups tracking the imprisonment and physical harassment of media and journalists. So their tactics of repression have changed to unleash bureaucratic and legal harassment on untamed and unbowed journalists. And also to pressurising advertisers to withdraw.
Basically this is governments trying to break the spirit and commercial viability of free media instead of breaking the bones of outspoken journalists. And it does have a chilling effect…
In this column, I focus on two glaring examples that were widely discussed at the Delhi conference.
In recent months, leading Bangladeshi editor Mahfuz Anam has been sued simultaneously across the country in 68 cases of defamation and 18 cases of sedition – all by supporters of the ruling party. Anam was one of six exceptional journalists honoured during the Delhi conference “for their personal courage in the face of threats, violence and harassment”.
In August, an announcement was made on the impending suspension of regional publication of Himal Southasian, a pioneering magazine promoting ‘cross-border journalism’ in the South Asian region. The reason was given as “due to non-cooperation by regulatory state agencies in Nepal that has made it impossible to continue operations after 29 years of publication”.
Bureaucracy is pervasive across South Asia, and when they implement commands of their political masters, they become formidable threats to media freedom and freedom of expression. Media rights watch groups, please note.
On September 11, I took part in a breakout session that discussed media innovation in Asia and the United States. While my fellow panelists spoke mainly about digital media innovation of their media outlet or media sector, I opted to survey the bigger picture: what does innovation really mean when media is under siege, and how can the media sector switch from such ‘innovation under duress’ to regular market or product innovation?
Here are my remarks, cleaned up and somewhat expanded:
Innovation has been going on in media from the beginning. Faced with major challenges from advancing technologies and changing demography, innovation is now an imperative for market survival.
We can discuss this at different levels: product innovation, process innovation and systemic innovation. I like to add another kind for our discussion: innovation for physical survival.
With forces social and market Darwinism constantly at work, you might ask, shouldn’t the most adaptable and nimble players survive – while others perish?
Yes and No. Sometimes the odds against independent and progressive media organisations are disproportionately high – they should not be left to fend for themselves. This is where media consumers and public spirited groups need to step in.
Let me explain with a couple of examples from South Asia.
They say necessity is the mother of invention or innovation. I would argue that tyranny – from the state and/or extremist groups – provides another strong impetus for innovation in the media.
In Nepal, all media came under strict control when King Gyanendra assumed total control in February 2005. Among other draconian measures, he suspended press freedom, imposing a blanket ban on private or community broadcasters carrying news, thus making it a monopoly of state broadcasters.
The army told broadcasters that the stations were free to carry music, but not news or current affairs. Soldiers were sent to radio and TV stations to ensure compliance.
When the king’s siege of democracy continued for weeks and months, some media started defying censorship – they joined human rights activists and civil society groups in a mass movement for political reforms, including the restoration of parliamentary democracy.
Some of Nepal’s many community radio stations found creative ways of defying censorship. One station started singing the news – after all, there was no state control over music and entertainment! Another one in central Nepal went outside their studio, set up an impromptu news desk on the roadside, and read the news to passers-by every evening at 6 pm.
The unwavering resolve of these and other media groups and pro-democracy activists led to the restoration of parliamentary democracy in April 2006 and the subsequent abolition of the Nepali monarchy.
My second example is from Sri Lanka where I live and work.
In June 2012, Sri Lanka was one of 16 countries named by the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression for “attacks against journalists during coverage of street protests and demonstrations, such as arbitrary arrests and detention, verbal and physical attacks, confiscation or destruction of equipment, as well as killings.”
Threats of attacks and actual incidents of physical violence in recent years led to a climate of fear and widespread self-censorship among journalists in Sri Lanka. This is slowly changing now, but old habits die hard.
At the height of media repression by the former regime, we saw some of our media innovating simply for physical survival. One strategy was using satire and parody – which became important forms of political commentary, sometimes the only ones that were possible without evoking violent reprisals.
What I wrote then, while still in the thick of crackdown, is worth recalling:
“For sure, serious journalism can’t be fully outsourced to satirists and stand-up comics. But comedy and political satire can play a key role in critiquing politicians, businessmen and others whose actions impact the public.
“There is another dimension to political satire and caricature that isn’t widely appreciated in liberal democracies where freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed.
“In immature democracies and autocracies, critical journalists and their editors take many risks in the line of work. When direct criticism becomes highly hazardous, satire and parody become important — and sometimes the only – ways for journalists get around draconian laws, stifling media regulations or trigger-happy goon squads…
“Little wonder, then, that some of Sri Lanka’s sharpest commentary is found in satire columns and cartoons. Much of what passes for political analysis is actually gossip.”
For years, cartoonists and political satirists fulfilled a deeply felt need in Sri Lanka for the media to check the various concentrations of power — in political, military, corporate and religious domains.
They still continue to perform an important role, but there is more space today for journalists and editors to report things as they are, and to comment on the key stories of the day.
During the past decade, we have also seen the rise of citizen journalism and vibrant blogospheres in the local languages of Sinhala and Tamil. Their advantage during the dark years was that they were too numerous and scattered for the repressive state to go after each one (We do know, however, that electronic surveillance was attempted with Chinese technical assistance.)
Of course, Sri Lanka’s media still face formidable challenges that threaten their market survival.
A new assessment of Sri Lanka’s media, which I edited earlier this year, noted: “The economic sustainability of media houses and businesses remains a major challenge. The mainstream media as a whole is struggling to retain its consumer base. Several factors have contributed to this. Many media houses have been slow in integrating digital tools and web-based platforms. As a result, there is a growing gulf between media’s production models and their audiences’ consumption patterns.”
Innovation and imagination are essential for our media to break out of 20th century mindsets and evolve new ways of content generation and consumption. There are some promising new initiatives to watch, even as much of the mainstream continues business as usual – albeit with diminishing circulations and shrinking audience shares.
Innovate or perish still applies to our media. We are glad, however, that we no longer have to innovate just to stay safe from goon squads.
On September 11, I moderated a plenary session on Right to Information (RTI) in South Asia: Staying the Course on a Bumpy Road.
It tried to distill key lessons in RTI implementation from India and Pakistan, especially for the benefit of Sri Lanka that has recently adopted its RTI law. Such lessons could also benefit other countries currently advocating their own RTI laws.
Here is the synopsis I wrote for the panel:
Right to Information (RTI) in South Asia:
Staying the Course on a Bumpy Road
In June 2016, Sri Lanka’s Parliament unanimously passed a Right to Information (RTI) Act, making the island nation the 108th country to have a RTI or freedom of information (FOI) law. That leaves only Bhutan in South Asia without such a law, according to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) in New Delhi.
Sri Lanka’s RTI law was preceded by over two decades of sustained advocacy by journalists, social activists and progressive lawyers. But the struggle is far from over. The island nation now faces the daunting task of ‘walking the talk’ on RTI, which involves a total reorientation of government and active engagement by citizens. As other South Asian countries know only too well, proper RTI implementation requires political will, administrative support and sufficient funds.
This panel is an attempt to address the following key questions:
How do India and Pakistan fare in terms of implementing their RTI laws?
What challenges did they face in the early days of RTI implementation?
What roles did government, civil society and media play in RTI process?
What key lessons and cautions can their experiences offer to Sri Lanka?
Can South Asia’s RTI experience offer hope for other countries pursuing RTI laws of their own?
In this session, experienced RTI activists from India and Pakistan will join a Sri Lankan policymaker in surveying the challenges of openness and transparency through RTI.
Dr Ranga Kalansooriya, Director General, Department of Information, Ministry of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media, Government of Sri Lanka
Mr Venkatesh Nayak, RTI activist; Programme Coordinator, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), New Delhi
Ms Maleeha Hamid SIDDIQUI, Senior Sub-Editor and Reporter, Dawn, Karachi, Pakistan
Moderator: Mr Nalaka Gunawardene, Science writer and media researcher who is secretary of the RTI Advisory Task Force of Ministry of Mass Media, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s first Science and Technology for Society (STS) Forum took place from 7 to 10 September in Colombo. Organized by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Research, it was one of the largest gatherings of its kind to be hosted by Sri Lanka.
Modelled on Japan’s well known annual STS forums, the event was attended by over 750 participants coming from 24 countries – among them local and foreign scientists, inventors, science managers, science communicators and students.
I was keynote speaker during the session on ‘Using Social Media for Discussing Science Topics’. I used it to highlight how social media have become both a boon and bane for scientific information and thinking in Sri Lanka. This is due to peddlers of pseudo-science, anti-science and superstition being faster and better to adopt social media platforms than actual scientists, science educators and science communicators.
Sri Lanka takes justified pride in its high literacy levels and equally high coverage of vaccination against infectious diseases. But we cannot claim to have a high level of scientific literacy. If we did, it would not be so easy for far-fetched conspiracy theories to spread rapidly even among educated persons. Social media tools have ‘turbo-charged’ the spread of associated myths, superstitions and conspiracy theories!
I cautioned: “Unless we make scientific literacy an integral part of everyone’s lives, ambitious state policies and programmes to modernize the nation could well be jeopardized. Progress can be undermined — or even reversed — by extremist forces of tribalism, feudalism and ultra-nationalism that thrive in a society that lacks the ability to think critically.”
It is not a case of all doom and gloom. I cited examples of private individuals creatively using social media to bust myths and critique all ‘sacred cows’ in Lankan society – including religions and military. These voluntary efforts contrast with much of the mainstream media cynically making money from substantial advertising from black magic industries that hoodwink and swindle the public.
My PowerPoint presentation:
Video recording of our full session:
The scoping note I wrote for our session:
Session: Using Social Media for Discussing Science Topics
With 30 per cent of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people regularly using the Internet, web-based social media platforms have become an important part of the public sphere where myriad conversations are unfolding on all sorts of topics and issues. Facebook is the most popular social media outlet in Sri Lanka, with 3.5 million users, but other niche platforms like Twitter, YouTube and Instagram are also gaining ground. Meanwhile, the Sinhala and Tamil blogospheres continue to provide space for discussions ranging from prosaic to profound. Marketers, political parties and activist groups have discovered that being active in social media is to their advantage.
Some science and technology related topics also get discussed in this cacophony, but given the scattered nature of conversations, it is impossible to grasp the full, bigger picture. For example, some individuals or entities involved in water management, climate advocacy, mental health support groups and data-driven development (SDG framework) are active in Sri Lanka’s social media platforms. But who is listening, and what influence – if any – are these often fleeting conservations having on individual lifestyles or public policies?
Is there a danger that self-selecting thematic groups using social media are creating for themselves ‘echo chambers’ – a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an “enclosed” system, where different or competing views are dismissed, disallowed, or under-represented?
Even if this is sometimes the case, can scientists and science communicators afford to ignore social media altogether? For now, it appears that pseudo-science and anti-science sentiments – some of it rooted in ultra-nationalism or conspiracy theories — dominate many Lankan social media exchanges. The keynote speaker once described this as Lankan society permanently suspending disbelief. How and where can the counter-narratives be promoted on behalf of evidenced based, rational discussions? Is this a hopeless task in the face of irrationality engulfing wider Lankan society? Or can progressive and creative use of social media help turn the tide in favour of reason?
This panel would explore these questions with local examples drawn from various fields of science and skeptical enquiry.
Sri Lanka’s first Science and Technology for Society (STS) Forum took place from 7 to 10 September in Colombo. Organized by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Research, it is one of the largest gatherings of its kind to be hosted by Sri Lanka.
What sets STS Forums apart is that they are not merely events where scientists talk to each other. That surely will happen, but there will be many more voices and, hopefully, much broader conversations.
As Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson, American astrophysicist, cosmologist and science communicator, says, “Scientific literacy is an intellectual vaccine against the claims of charlatans who would exploit ignorance.”
Sri Lanka takes justified pride in its high literacy levels and equally high coverage of vaccination against infectious diseases. But we cannot claim to have a high level of scientific literacy.
A healthy dose of scepticism is essential to safeguard ourselves from superstitions, political claims and increasingly sophisticated – but often dishonest – product advertising. That’s what scientific literacy builds inside our minds.
I argue that unless we make scientific literacy an integral part of everyone’s lives, ambitious state policies and programmes to modernize the nation could well be jeopardized. Progress can be undermined — or even reversed — by extremist forces of tribalism, feudalism and ultra-nationalism that thrive in a society that lacks the ability to think critically.