Turi Munthe is the founder of Parlia, the encyclopedia of opinion. Turi is a media entrepreneur, venture partner, former journalist, author, and political analyst who is on a mission to empower civil discourse by mapping the entirety of the worlds opinions on one platform. So far, they have 5,000 members who have voted over 150,000 times 1500 opinions and 5,000 arguments all aimed at helping each other understand one another better on the issues most important to our time.
And who better to discover how the world thinks, than this founder who has dogged bullets in the middle east and attacks of his ideas in the board room. He began his career writing for magazines like The Economist, The Nation, & The TLS, published a Reader on Saddam Hussein, covered the 2nd Gulf War as a journalist, and eventually launched the Beirut Review of Books, a joint venture with the Lebanese Daily Star and The International Herald Tribune.
In 2007, he jumped into the tech game as cofounder of Demotix which was as a grassroots news wire, providing freelance reporters and photojournalists around the world with a platform to share their stories and images with the world’s media. Demotix won numerous awards for innovation in media both in the US and UK, and built a giant network of 75,000 photojournalists around the world before selling to Bill Gates’ Corbis Corporation in 2012.
Additionally, he sits on the board of GEDI, the largest newspaper publisher in Italy, and has been a trustee of Index on Censorship and The Bureau for Investigative Journalism. His podcast On Opinion is part of The Democracy Group, a network of podcasts that examines what’s broken in our democracy and how we can work together to fix it.
This article is sourced from the Evolve Podcast. Listen or subscribe below.
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Want hear about another tech founder restoring trust on the internet? - Listen to Episode 054 with Sebastiaan van der Lans, Founder of WordProof & Chairman of the Trusted Web Foundation. Sebastiaan is an open source nerd who won Europe’s Blockchains for Social Good contest in 2020 for his innovative dutch startup that is on a mission to restore trust in the internet through transparency and accountability via blockchain timestamping.
We need to figure out a way of breaking in the us and them. We need to figure out a way of reminding ourselves that human beings are a super organism that we need. To evolve, we need opposite sides to make a beautiful game that we need of this tremendous multiplicity of opinions to take us forward. If we exclude that possibility, not only do we end up with the end of science and the end of democracy but we also end up with the end of personal growth. We evolve by reminding ourselves that we are considerably bigger together than alone.
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Turi Munthe Interview
Turi Munthe: [00:00:00] So the fact that our parents impact our beliefs, our cultural media impacts our beliefs. And actually we carry some of our beliefs in our very bodies. It hopefully take some of the sting away from the outrage that you feel when you meet somebody who has very different opinions from you, because the truth is. We can't really help our opinions that much. our core, deep sort of approach that we can't change most likely. And therefore, if we can't change it in ourselves, we've got to be a lot more tolerant of people who we disagree with, who also can't change it in themselves.
Brandon Stover: [00:00:54] Hey, everyone. Welcome to evolve. I'm Brandon Stover and today's guest is a media entrepreneur venture partner, former journalist author, and political analyst, who is on a mission To empower civil discourse by mapping the entirety of the world's opinions on one platform. So far, they have 5,000 members who have voted over 150,000 times on 1500 opinions and 5,000 arguments All aimed at helping each other, understand one another better on the issues most important to our time and who better to discover how the world thinks then this founder, who is Dodge bullets in the middle east and attacks on his ideas in the boardroom.
He began his career writing for magazines like the economist, the nation, and the TLS published a reader on Saddam Hussein covered the second Gulf war as a journalist and eventually launched the bay root review of books, a joint venture with the Lebanese daily star and the international Herald Tribune.
But in 2007, he jumped into the tech game as co-founder of demodex, which was a grassroots Newswire providing freelance reporters and photo journalists around the world with a platform to share their stories and images with the world's media. Demodex won numerous awards for innovation in both media, in the us and UK, and built a giant network of over 75,000 photo journalists around the world Before selling to bill gates, his Corbus corporation in 2012. Additionally, he sits on the boards of open democracy, the new humanitarian and the signals network, and has been a trustee of index of censorship and the bureau for investigative journalism. Today's guest is Terry Munich, founder of Parlier, the encyclopedia of opinion before becoming a tech entrepreneur Taree had a 20 year career in journalism where he traveled around the world, writing for the British and us press on middle Eastern politics and lecturing on new media.
During that time, he found it a few small startups and started understanding why business was well-suited for solving problems at scale.
Turi Munthe: [00:02:48] Brandon. I should say how grateful I am to be on this podcast with you amongst such an amazingly stellar cast of guests that you've previously had as a privilege to be talking to you. So thank you. So I studied medieval history and Arabic at universities. I was really interested in the context of sort of the birth of Islam. I was really interested in that early part of history. And then of course, as soon as I graduated, I graduated in 1999. Working as a publisher writing for the newspapers, not very long thereafter, nine 11 took place 2001 year and a half after.
And from a quite genteel. Engagement career in regional studies and literature, et cetera, around the middle east, obviously suddenly I became the most important political sphere around, so I was pulled into politics there and adored it suddenly that immediate engagement in what the world was doing, being able to put, to use some of my language skills and the travel that I put in be done in the region sort of pulled me accidentally into agendas.
And I started life as a publisher publishing quite dry academic books about regional studies that the Ottomans in Yemen the the the settlement of, Jerusalem by the Arabs in the seventh and eighth centuries, et cetera, and suddenly was pulled into hard politics, which I adored because of its immediacy. So I started writing for the newspapers, then book reviews, opinion, columns about radicalization in the region about what was going on in Israel, Palestine, et cetera. And then sort of add edged more into that with proper journalism, proper war, war journalism. I went to Iraq in 2003 just after the occupation invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, the aftermath of this fraudulent claim that he had weapons of mass destruction.
But nevertheless, very sincere humanitarian interventionist instinct to get rid of a man who was a monstrous tyrant for 25 million heirarchies. So it was there for awhile, had the most extraordinary time. Then came back to the UK to build a something that we called the Beirut review of books.
I did it with my oldest friend from university that we were, the hubris here is just terrible. And perhaps hubris is sort of the underline leitmotif of my, of all my work. But Yeah, we wanted to compete with the London review of books, the New York review of books, the LA review of books. What doing, what we realized was that what we felt was that there was global focus on a part of the world, which basically nobody understood.
There was no way of translating the middle east sophisticatedly into English. You had neo-cons at the time who had a one absurd, simplistic reductive view of the region. You had the hard left that had a completely different simplistic reductive view of the region. When we thought there's gotta be a way of treating the middle east with the same degree of sophistication and intelligence and curiosity and detail as we treat everywhere else.
But it's been such a combustible volatile region with such strong emotions left, right. And center that it sort of evaded that sophisticated analysis. So, you know, age 26, 27, We founded this magazine in conjunction with The biggest English language, newspaper in Lebanon called the daily star and found ourselves in partnership with the Herald Tribune.
Now the New York times, international New York times publishing articles on everything from Quranic, et cetera, cetera, through to, you know, detailed political studies of what was going on in the bath party and in Syria, for example. So that was, that was fascinating. I really enjoy doing that. And then moved into think tank work.
I was then hired to run the middle east program for the world's oldest defense think tank called Russi the Royal United services Institute, which for your American listeners, you can kind of imagine it's a beautiful building on white hall, opposite Downing street, 18th century banqueting hall and endless kernels and rear admirals wandering around in the military uniform or three piece suits sort of dribbling down their ties.
A very, very old fashioned place founded by the duke of Wellington. So that was, that was hilarious. I found it very frustrating. So much conversation with ambassadors, not enough conversation with with practitioners. I think that's probably one of the problems of lots of policy work is that you end up talking at very high level where the people who with people who actually can't necessarily get things done.
Brandon Stover: [00:07:08] Yeah. So was this, what started to draw you to business instead of it being, somebody that's thinking about these issues, but becoming a practitioner and seeing business as the best way to do that. I mean, your first successful startup demodex was a grassroots Newswire, which, became a giant network of seventy-five thousand photo journalists around the world.
What was it that said? Okay. Business is the best solution for the problems that I'm seeing.
Turi Munthe: [00:07:36] great. Great question, Brandon. And actually it still wasn't. I still had that still quite hadn't hit me by that point. So at this point I'd tried journalism. I'd been a publisher, an editor in policy. At a certain point, I thought I should go into academia. So I got a wonderful scholarship to NYU. In fact, to study anthropology of religion, to understand, try and understand why radicalization took place, why, how politics and religion merge.
In some ways I did that for a year and realized it was way too slow. And it said that point that I realized, okay, none of these things are giving me the kind of immediacy that I need, nor are they having the scale of impact that or that I needed. Top, academics of course can change the way the world thinks I was never going to be one of those.
I suddenly realized I was more of a producer than a creative that I could help other people to do really interesting things at scale. And so left NYU halfway through the PhD to my shame, but immense relief came back to the UK and started getting involved in entrepreneurship in peculiar places.
So I joined a friend of mine trying to set up businesses in Afghanistan as a classic sort of trade, not aid approach to to the world. I then tried to set up a huge biofuels plantation in Ghana in west Africa with the view that rather than exporting oil from Nigeria and elsewhere, importing it into these countries, there was a possibility of sort of leapfrogging this tremendous dependency on fossil fuels and going straight to biofuels as an alternative.
Totally misguided. Exactly not the way to go turns out that solar is absolutely better off than biofuels for this kind of stuff. But this was, you know, 15 years ago.
Brandon Stover: [00:09:16] How did your time? A little bit
Turi Munthe: [00:09:17] A little bit ahead of my time and wrong, like people who are ahead of that time can be often. But but yeah, again, trying to work out how you build a business, which works at scale and does good by virtue of existing.
And so that was the idea that a local biofuels plantation for Ghana, which would have massively reduced our dependence on external fossil fuels created a local industry. We graded huge amounts of employment to build it out across the country anyway, did that for about a year, year and a half realized that it was not going to work.
My backers in the, in this instance were non non-supportive. And it was a hard slog. And at that point realized that I wanted to go back to my first and I suppose really only love which is media. And that's when I pulled another poor friend into building demotic.
We were in the beginning of sort of web 2.0, this is 2007, 2008. The news industry had been decimated by their arrival of Google and Facebook and the arrival of Craigslist, which took all classified advertising, which had been the domain and a huge revenue driver for media companies all over the world. It was the first massive dent that disintermediation made on these old fashioned businesses.
Suddenly people realized that they could advertise li advertise direct to the person who was going to buy it without having to go through the media company. So this was a moment of crisis for the news industry. And at the same time, suddenly starting to get a sense that the internet was going to create a possibility for everybody to have a voice, everybody to contribute to global discourse.
And so what we tried to do is to build from the bottom up a kind of associated press or writers, but for everybody, for the little guy rather than a top-down approach to news gathering, which usually has people who look a lot like me and you, white men from developed countries being sent out across the world to go and discover what's going on there.
We, we thought let's build a platform to allow local people to tell local stories to a global audience. So I wanted to build the associated press for it from the bottom up. It turns out that launching a startup in 2008 in the teeth of the credit crunch was a really painful business. So we were able, only were able to raise a little bit of money.
But what we did do was to build rather than do the whole print and video and audio and everything else, we built up and network of photographers and photo journalists, really in every single country in the world. By the time we sold the company, we were 75,000 people. But we built up the biggest network of photo journalists around on a very simple premise that you photographer and Bamako, Mali would see a crash on the streets or would witness a protest or whatever it might be.
You'd upload your photos to DeMar ticks. We'd verify them and then send them around to all the big news publications around the world from the New York times through to the south China morning post and all the big TV companies as well. That's what we did.
when I first started the business a lot of people said, we'll just build it as a non-profit. You should build it as a it's an NGO. It's a perfect NGO. It's exactly the kind of thing that open society foundations, which would Saraj would fund because you're, you're helping democratize. People's voices. You're giving a voice to people who don't traditionally have one. My view then was, yes, that's true.
But if we can build this in such a way that we have an equal relationship between me, the provider of the platform and you, the provider of the photography, there's no, there's not that imbalance, which non-profits can often. Slip into which I've always found slightly problematic. I worked in nonprofits as an intern during my time at university, and sometimes they do tremendous work. And and I've also worked on the boards of a number of nonprofits, particularly in the free speech space. And they do tremendous work, but to really hit scale, I felt this has to be a business. This has to be a quid pro quo, which is valuable for everybody, for me, because I'm growing this giant network of contributors and feeding imagery and eventually video into these big broadcasters and news publications.
And for my contributors, they need to be making money out of this because that's, what's going to come bring them back. So that was the, that was the approach that we took and it was the right approach.
Brandon Stover: [00:13:34] I really think this is important for listeners to understand just why making this a for-profit rather than a nonprofit was the right choice. So can you describe the type of impact that demonic was able to have by being a for-profit.
Turi Munthe: [00:13:46] Not only did we dispersed, millions of dollars revenue to people around the world, but we also we also did. journalistic work that really nobody was able to do.
That was a failed revolution in Iran in 2009. And we had 20, 25 independent photographers on the streets of Tehran when nobody else was there, that a whole bunch of foreign journalists flew over. They were all immediately arrested and sent to jail.
And we had local Iranians on the streets sending us photos and pictures of these protests via via VPN, which was an absolute nightmare because the Iranians throttled the internet, we, we had to anonymize everything. I mean, the whole thing was about us thrilling and exciting. And and moving a moment in my career, being able to do this, we then followed it up.
With the Arab spring, we had so many contributors from across the region. You remember, in 2011 there was this explosion of sort of popular discontent with the patriarchal. Often tyrannical rulers of the Arab middle east which unfortunately in almost all instances, these revolutions failed, but we were there to cover it.
And I remember at a certain point, this made me cry. At a certain point we were sent a batch of images from Bahrain and they were, they were pictures of a giant wall in Managua, the capital, which had scrolled on it. Thank you. Dimatix for the coverage because everybody else had been blocked. All the big news agencies had been refused entry into Bahrain, and we still had local ballerinas in the ground who are secretly and with utmost care sending us images that we were then descending on to mainstream media.
So that was deeply moving. And I think we did. Some really interesting work. I think we did some we did some groundbreaking work in terms of business models, know this distributed network of contributors who were all freelancers, I suppose, on some level it's a bit like the gig economy, but it's the gig economy and media in that way, which really hadn't been pushed out in to that extent, at least before.
So that was glorious and an amazing journey, both from a business perspective, as well as a sort of political and journalistic one. And eventually we sold the company to to Corbus, which was bill gates is big. The second biggest picture agency in the world after Getty images. We sold it to them to sort of lead their news coverage and then I stepped down
Brandon Stover: [00:16:07] Are there any major key lessons from that experience with demodex that would be particularly helpful for first time founders.
Turi Munthe: [00:16:15] If the thing is difficult, do it yourself first, before you hire somebody else to try and do it. This is almost invariably the case with tech founders, they hate sales. So they hire a sales person as fast as they possibly can to outsource their problems.
They're never do that. Learn how to do sales yourself before you hire other people, data with operations, ditto, a little bit with marketing, all these other things, as much as you can, especially if it's a small startup, which you're trying to grow organically, really make sure that you know what you're doing in all of those cases.
So, yeah. Hire slowly again, these are banalities you read the lean startup, you know, all these things hire slowly, fire fast. What else? I suppose, in the context of evolve and in the context of the work that we're all looking at, which is how to really have a social impact as well as build a.
Big valuable company. The thing which interested me is what are the w w where the trade offs are both sides. So take them on techs. As an example, we decided to go as a F for a for-profit model, because we thought we could scale a lot faster. Right. And I also felt that the kind of money that we'd be able to raise would be less political because venture capital only cares about money. All it cares about is that you're improving the business and you're growing in that way. Non-profit donors often have tons of other motives and tons of very explicit interests. So, because we were a media company, the last thing that I wanted was political interests on my. Board or on my cap table, really.
And even if those political interests are non-profit, I felt there might be some issues that, so trade-off, that was all the positives of going for a for-profit model. They're always negatives. And one of the negatives for us was at a certain point, and I can admit this now many years later, but if I had only gone down, if I truly only been a for-profit business at a certain point, it became very clear to me and members of the team that we were making a lot more money, distributing images from the developed world the non developed world.
So to really optimize revenue, I probably should have dropped all coverage that we were doing of exactly what I've just described, Bahrain, Iran, and elsewhere, and really focused on hyper Ratzy stuff. We. Stopped selling any pictures of Iran when Michael Jackson died, he died in the summer of 2009. I think at which point, all the newspapers switched their coverage from covering Iran to covering Michael Jackson.
Couldn't get a picture sold anywhere. And and we, we kept on bumping into this. We had these extraordinary guys who are taking photos of the Somali Al-Shabaab militia in Mogadishu, extraordinary pictures. They all came in on one day. And on the same day, one of our regular contributors went to green park, which is this beautiful park next to Buckingham palace in London and took pictures of a man on a bench with a Pelican.
Those Pelikan pictures. We sold to every single newspaper in the UK. There's picked those pictures of the, except for the guardian. Those pictures of from Mogadishu, they continue to gather, you know, cyber dust, somewhere on the, on the, on the internet. We never sold them. So there is a trade-off there.
And at a certain point, I think I was probably counting my shareholders at least a little bit because I didn't optimize exclusively for revenue. I optimize for brand, I optimize for position. I optimize for the work that I wanted us to be doing. Our ultimate sale was also dependent on the fact that we did have this great brand and we're doing great coverage at a global level.
But if I just been focusing on optimizing revenue, it would have been I, I would probably have to go down a slightly different route. So there are pros and cons to either whichever model you go. And if you are, if you do in a sense, have, as let's do a kind of double bottom line. It's it's a, it's a tricky one.
We can't, we can't just go. Shareholder value is the only thing that counts. There are stakeholders involved as well, but Hey, maybe when I'm feeling optimistic, I feel like, you know, maybe late 21st century capitalism starts taking more accounts of stakeholders. Anyway.
Brandon Stover: [00:20:20] Well, thank you for showing that to, it gives a good picture and tee up for describing what's going to happen with Parley to your new venture. So describe to listeners what occurred in 2016, that sparked the idea for Parlier.
Turi Munthe: [00:20:36] what did not happen in 2016, Brandon? So here in the UK some of your American listeners will remember we had this little thing called Brexit. So Britain had been part of the European union for some time. We've always had a fractious relationship with it in part because In part, because of we blame Europe for so many of the ills, which are built and made and perpetuated at home, and it's, it's a useful external scapegoat.
And so we had this brutal referendum, which really pulled the country, really pulled the country apart in some level, the end of the play out of this referendum was 52% of voters voted to leave the European union against 48% who wanted to stay. And this, it was not a, a gentle spectrum of opinion.
What happened here was a very, very brutal split between people who wanted to stay and people who wanted to remain there was no kind of in between either you or one side or another, you were red or you were blue. And that gave me. Visceral sense of something which happens in the U S every four years when you have your presidential elections and really people do violently sort into these two camps of Democrat and Republican, but of course, in the U S in 2016, it was not a standard election.
It was Hillary Clinton, the first woman to stand for election as president versus Donald Trump, who is by no conceivable means a sort of a, a standard candidate. And of course, the polarization which you guys saw on the U S in the U S between these two, between these two sides was I think probably a level of violence and brutality and hatred that you really had.
At least in my, in my political lifetime, I'd never seen in the U S even go Bush, didn't have that degree of violence and very sort of vitriol. What I think hit me in 2016 was that political consensus, at least in the two countries, which I spent the most time thinking about political consensus is, was absolutely shot.
It may have been shot long before. I just hadn't noticed it metropolitan overeducated elite in the way that, you know, many of us are. I had a completely different reading of the political situation, both in the UK and the U S both these results came as a brutal wake-up call and surprise to me. And and it made me realize one that we were in extremely polarized times and two, that there was a real failure to translate a failure, to understand all sides.
Of these opinions. I was at first outraged by the results of both the Brexit referendum. I was a remainer. I wanted the UK to stay inside Europe. And of course by the U S election, I was a very fervent Hillary supporter had I had, I been able to and very anti-Trump. So I was outraged at first and then what I w that outrage tenderness, since the mortification and mortification that I had been so far from the pulse of politics to not have any inkling that these things were happening.
So in a sense, some kind of meltdown. And then and then I asked myself what it is that we might be able to do about it. One there's brutal polarization to this complete incapacity to have heard, to have listened. So even realized that there was another side. And I'm somebody who spends, you know, way too much from my day reading and consuming news media of all types.
I'm obsessed with it, as many of us are. So that was this key realization was that we have polarization to fix. And we've got this fundamental issue around being able to hear alternative opinions. The third thing that hit me after, you know, nine months of a Brexit referendum, where every single day, that thousands of words spelt on this particular issue and then following the U S election, which was exactly the same thing.
I relentless avalanche of words about these, about the election was that actually there was only three, four arguments. On either side of the Brexit referendum, there are only three, four real reasons why people would vote Trump or people would vote Hillary. And suddenly it occurred to me that there was such a tremendous waste of intellectual effort and journalism and conversation around these issues.
We weren't getting to the actual nub of what was going on. We must have spilled billions of words on both these issues. It suddenly occurred to me that the thing was not more content explaining what the arguments were.
It was more platforms helping you to hear the other side. That was the thinking and what it prompted in my sort of perennially hubristic and slightly delusional and self-important mind was if there's a limited number of opinions, about something as complex as Brexit, a limited number of arguments for voting Hillary or for voting Donald.
There's a limited number of arguments for everything. And if that's the case, one should be able to build an encyclopedia of opinions. We should be able to build a database of all ideas about everything. So that's, if you want my God complex, and that's what we're trying to build with Parlier and encyclopedia a database, a home for all opinions on the internet, in a single place.
Question Record 2
Brandon Stover: [00:25:56] Now why go ahead and do this. What are the implications of having all opinions in one place?
Turi Munthe: [00:26:00] Y pick a subject we should abolish the monarchy. That opinion is articulated. God knows 10,000 times on Reddit. You'll probably find it maybe a hundred thousand times. You'll find it at least a million times on Facebook. And you'll find it 10 million, not to say a hundred million times on Twitter.
It's been made so many times and the same arguments rehash every time over. Never again. What poly-A wants to do is to have that argument once and for it to exist forever. So what we're building is opinion cards upon which people can thrash out these arguments kind of once and for all. So you'll get a poly-A and you'll see an opinion, which says we should abolish the monarchy.
And in that card, you'll have people who will argue for it and people will argue against it. You'll have people arguing for a mixed response to it. You'll have people supplying commentary to it and you'll have people voting on it. That's what polio is trying to do. So here, what we're trying to do is to build a place in which the argument is there once.
And for all, you don't have to go. You don't have to Google a dozen different sites to get a view of, of what they are here. It is in as simple as language as a community builds out for you to be able to make up your mind. And then the idea is, can we help people hear the other sides of these arguments?
Can we help them see them in a single place? See the best stuff bubble up to the surface a little bit like good reads. You know, you have a title of a book and then a bunch of smart people giving great reviews of that book, which helps you decide where you stand on these things. Well, we want to do exactly the same thing for whether we should abolish the Monarch in the UK, whether the electoral college, which I suppose is an equivalent to the U S should also be reform, you know?
So those are political topics. If you want, we're looking at everything through the cultural wars as well is obesity as a disease. How does one understand transgenderism through to sort of, you know, 21st century, fifth century ethics, should a guy pay on pay on the first date? There's infidelity, all that batter thing, et cetera, et cetera, that kind of stuff.
So we want to pull it. We're not, we don't want to be too highfalutin. We don't want to be pompous. We want to be covering complex philosophy. Like we want to be covering, you know, where the pineapple goes on pizza. We want to be covering all these things. But we want to be doing it in a sense. Once and for all.
So that's what we're trying to do with, with, with parties. That's step one, step two. And I'm sorry, we're interested and excited by this is we're not just describing what the arguments are for these various different opinions. We're also sharing how people think about them. So when you come to Parlier, you can vote on opinions.
You can tell us whether you think the monarchy should be abolished or whether it be city is, or isn't a disease. Whether star Trek is better than and star wars and what we do, we collect some demographic information about everybody who's trying to vote.
So that's, I think there's key piece and what we're trying to do with this voting piece, there's all these demographic insights which we share with you. We want to do two things.
The first thing that we want to do is to humanize these opinions, help you realize that these are not just ideas. These are ideas held by large groups of people, large groups of people who think about these issues as seriously as you do, who have as moral and approach to the way they look at the world.
As you do, who are as sincere as you are. When they look at this topic, that's one. But the second thing we want to do is we want to slightly destabilize you. Whenever you come to polio and you vote on something, you Brandon, Europe, millennial man who lives in the U S what we want to do is to show people, show you people who are like you, but disagree with you.
We want to show, so you vote fellas. That monarchy should be abolished. We'll say, Hey, turns out that men like you, millennial men, like you living in the U S turns out that 40% of them disagree with you, or maybe 70% of them disagree with you. You're a contrarion for your demographic. Or even if you're not a contrarion, there are large numbers of people like you, who disagree with you.
We want to challenge your sense of your own tribe. We want to, we want to challenge your own identity. So that's the one thing we want to do, but we also want to expand your identity. So we want to show you people. You're not like who do agree with you. So I want you as a millennial man, living in the U S to relate to see that it turns out that generation X women from Sweden in large part, agree with what your, what with your vote as well.
We want to break open your sense of I'm in my box and other people are outside it. We want you to realize that you have commonalities of interest, commonalities of values commonalities of perspectives on the world with lots and lots and lots of people, you may be surprised to learn about
Brandon Stover: [00:30:44] What do you think the importance is of this identity and opinion tied together? Because right now people try and win arguments a lot of times by dumping out facts on a subject and it rarely ever changes that person's opinion. And I think people forget that we're emotional social animals with beliefs and values that we want to be seen.
Acknowledged, heard, loved all of those things coming up as we're expressing ourselves. And we have to see the other person for who they are before we can actually understand their arguments, let alone their opinions.
Turi Munthe: [00:31:20] you're talking to my heart, not just my head here. I, 100% agree with you. And I also think you're profoundly right here and lots of the research backs you out too. So one, unfortunately we know that there was this very weird backfire effect. Whereas if you throw a fact, which is true at somebody who has a, a country contrary review to yours, it will only reinforce that opinion about whatever it is.
We've seen this for decades now with climate change. It turns out that some of the most very lifting successful climate change deniers are extremely clever people who, because they're great arguing will refute facts.
The most obvious facts accepted by the entirety of the scientific community. They'll push back at them. This backfire effect Israel. So it's you're right. Arguing, purely on rational grounds with somebody, for whom whose, when their opinion is based on values or when they're opinion is based on emotions.
No kind of reason or factors gonna penetrate that. arguing purely on rational grounds does not work because most opinions are post-hoc opinions we make to justify. Beliefs or values that we hold long before we thought of verbalizing them. And that's the fundamental thing that I think we need to get, a hold of in our heads.
It's been as I've got more and more interested in opinions and how opinions have formed. It's been one of the great revelations for me, which is that I am much, much more generous with people whose opinions are different from mine. Once I've realized that my own opinions are to some extent, kind of arbitrary, they're not really mine because all of, most of our opinions are inherited.
They're inherited from our parents. Why is it that the child of Jewish Orthodox parents is going to believe in Judaism, that the child of Hindus will believe in Hinduism, they inherit their beliefs from that. That social context, but one could even go further and say, I am an Jewish atheist.
Yes, of course my Judaism is inherited in a sense by blood, but I could also say that my atheism is also inherited by culture. Am I really so nonconformist when I suppose perhaps not the majority, but at least a very sizable proportion of my friends are atheist and I live in a broadly postcard culture.
So the cultural context in which we are brought up has a tremendous impact on our beliefs. If I'd been brought up in 12th century Persia, I'm sure I'd be, I'd have very different views on the world. So one, we inherited beliefs and they're formed by the cultures around us too. We may also, we may also carry them in our genes to some extent.
There is lots of data that shows that identical twins have a much more likely to share political opinions than even fraternal twins who are themselves much more likely to share political opinions than purely siblings who are themselves more likely to share political opinions than strangers. So there is proof that our political opinions at least are to some extent inheritable actually in our genes.
So once we put all these various things together, the fact that our parents impact our beliefs, our cultural media impacts our beliefs. And actually we carry some of our beliefs in our very bodies. It hopefully take some of the sting away from the outrage that you feel when you meet somebody who has very different opinions from you, because the truth is.
We can't really help our opinions that much. We can do an enormous amount of work to improve our cognitive approaches to the world. But our core, tendencies are a deep sort of approach that we can't change most likely. And therefore, if we can't change it in ourselves, we've got to be a lot more tolerant of people who we disagree with, who also can't change it in themselves.
Brandon Stover: [00:35:31] Thinking about opinions and arguments, having disagreement between another person is quite healthy for our society in terms of moving forward. It's how we work through things and come up with better solutions. When does this turn into polarization and it no longer is that healthy disagreement and how does Parley have fit into the solution against that?
Turi Munthe: [00:35:53] such a great question and such a tricky question, very highest level. I feel that great conversations become bad conversations. When a couple of things happen, two or three big things. The first is if you're not standing shoulder to shoulder, if you're not engaged in the same project as each other, then there's no incentive to have good conversations.
The second key thing is if you don't have the rules of engagement, clearly established. You end up in a whole ton of trouble because it's you're you invariably end up in a situation in which the person who's brought the gun to the knife fight is going to win.
And therefore there's no incentive for anybody to not bring a gun. And the third thing I think I'd say is that good conversations turn bad when there are no umpires, I'm sure there are lots of other things that play into this, but very highest level. Let me touch on each of those three things.
If you and I fervently disagree about healthcare in the U S but both of us profoundly are committed to the idea of a better us society. Then the conversation that we're going to have is going to be great for both of us, it'll be painful, but hopefully it brings us both together. Cause we have the same shared objective.
I've just talked about health care, but really what I'm saying is democracy. If we all profoundly committed to improving whatever state we are, whether it's the UK here or the European union or the U S or wherever it might be, but all of us are really, truly obsessed with trying to improve our country.
Then the political conversations that we have are are going to be great conversations. Why? Because what we're trying to do is we're trying to use the opposite side to better advance our argument, to tease it out better in that kind of way.
And therefore we think of them as this beautiful 18th century British parliamentarian term where the opposition is called the loyal opposition. This idea of the loyal opposition is fundamental to democracy because what it says is that the most important element of a democracy is the, is the side that disagrees with government. We know this, right. We can tell all the non democracies in the world instantly recognizable by their absence of opposition. So actually this beautiful to, and fro between government and opposition between two sides of a political or two or three or 10. Size of a political debate when everybody's faced in the same direction is precisely what improves our politics.
It improves our science as well, right? It's the state straight before the traffic method, I propose something and I then send it through to, you know, a jury of my peers who do everything they can to tear it down. And hopefully we all improve in the process. So that kind of this shoulder to shoulder conversation with a common goal in mind, whether it's better politics or more accurate empirical science that's one.
The second thing is rules, rules of engagement. Now a lot of people talk about civility and the importance of civility, and that has been badly misused as a concept because civility is almost invariably defined by the dominant class. Right? Again, let's go back to 18th century Britain, if you didn't wear a wig.
And if you couldn't speak in long, complicated sentences, With a particular voice dressed in particular clothes, standing in a particular way, ideally with the title behind you, five count pumpers or whatever it might be. You weren't allowed to have a conversation. Those were what the dominant class defined what counted as civil.
And if you were not civil in that way, you were not allowed to partake in the conversation. That is not what I mean by civility. If people want to swear at each other, let them act it and let that be glorious. But it's this idea that you are actually engaged in the same kind of thing, the same kind of argument, which is you are actually committed to try and work out what the truth is. So that's, I think more, more what I mean by civility and civility also touches on that first concept of standing shoulder to shoulder.
There's a implicit in the, in the idea of civility is that we are part of ACV tasks. We're part of a, of a of a common citizenry and that fundamental premise that the people you are arguing with are all part of that shared sever task is critical to any kind of conversation. What that means is you cannot exclude people everybody's included, and there's a sense that the whole is built and improved and is more than. The sum of its parts.
That's the second. And the third thing, especially important today, especially important over the course of last few years, across Europe and in the UK. And very much in the U S is the importance of umpires. You can't run a game without umpires. You can't run a game, you can't run a conversation.
You can't run a democracy unless you trust that the umpires of that game or of that democracy are fair and impartial. So true with American football and cricket, like it's true of politics, who are those umpires they're academics, who you trust are only and objectively interested in the truth. You at least trusted their own objective, the interested in the truth and will not that they're going to find it, but they are absolutely committed to those objective principles.
They are the judiciary that of course are filled with the prejudices and biases of the culture of the day, but are above all things trying to be true to a constitution and to a legal system. That's been established over a long period of time. And there the media, the media that are in a sense, they're the, they're the frontline of this arbitration on some level, they are, you have to trust that they too are profoundly committed to an objective retelling of what is happening around around you.
If you can't trust those umpires, Then there is no incentive to be involved in the game and buy the game. Let's be clear. I mean, democracy, if you don't trust academics, if you don't trust judges, if you don't trust the ballot counters, if you don't trust voting officials, if you don't trust the media to report on what's going on fairly then, and you've got an election that all that matters is winning because you are not involved in a democracy that you think is you're not involved in a game that you think is fair.
And the other guy, the other side's going to cheat too. So the only thing that matters is winning. I think this explains enormously what happened in the aftermath of the 20, 20 election in the U S but let's and the storming of the Capitol and all those Madness's, but let's also remind ourselves that something not entirely dissimilar happened after 2016, after Trump won, there was this huge outpouring on the Democrat side saying Russia stole the election.
There was a sense that actually the umpires had been conned had been fooled. So we both sides do it left and right left and right. Have a tendency to want to blame the umpires and both left and right half to commit to believing in them. And those umpires have to commit and make very explicit, their commitment to be objective for this game to last for the game of democracy to last has a beautiful image.
There's a beautiful notion of the idea of an infinite game. The infinite game is a game that you always play. You play a game of football, and of course you have on pause for that 90 minutes of a game of football. And that's what you want to do, but actually, so that there's a rules and you need somebody to win and somebody to lose the reds, the greens doesn't matter for a 90 minute game.
You can have a winner loser, but actually what you really want is football to exist forever. You can, you want to build the right kind of leads. You want to make sure that they're fair. You want to make sure that people are adequately compensated that everybody can make commercial, that it can make commercial sense, but at the same time, not alienating fans, that the long game of football, the infinite game of football is actually where you have to think systemically about the thing itself.
That's been from football to democracy. The problem with something like 2020, where the storming of the capital, a refusal to accept the electoral results is that it mistakes democracy for a 90 minute game, rather than an infinite game that you want to play forever for that infinite game to work at, you have to commit to the principles of democracy over and over and over again.
Brandon Stover: [00:44:32] So is Parley as a platform fitting in here by. Democratizing that empire to a community, rather than these institutions that we say have the power of information over us. Is it bringing to light everyone's opinions so that we can start to not focus on what are the opinions, but focus on what is that overall goal that we're all trying to reach?
Turi Munthe: [00:45:02] you put it so well, yes, one we're trying to do that. I'm trying to pull, I'm trying to make sure that we are getting as much access to as many ideas as possible. But the other thing that I don't think I want to do in the process is promote this idea, which is again, very banal, but we might, but some of us at least have forgotten it that we evolve, not just as individuals.
But as a society and that societal element is much the most important. There's a very strong argument, which I love made by a French theorist called Daniel Sperber and actually his colleague Hugo Mercier their argument is that actually humans are really bad at arguing in their own heads alone. We've got so many cognitive floors, right? Whether it's confirmation bias or the, you know, the backfire effect or, I mean, we, we selective selection bias with terrible reasoners, we're tribal, we're emotional. We get head up about things. We hate being told we're wrong. We hate being con we hate being argued against et cetera, et cetera.
You know, and for many of us after 18 months of lockdown, we've done a lot of arguing inside our own heads. What Sperber and mercy argue. Is that we've actually evolved not to argue alone, but to argue together, not to think alone, not to ideate, to learn, but ideate in groups. Their argument is that actually, when you bring a bunch of people together, all the cognitive flaws that we that we have confirmation bias and the ones that we've just been talking about, all of those come into their own because a group of, again, this is in the realm of evolutionary psychology, but you know, 10 of us sitting around a campfire with a bit of mammoth steak, 30,000 years ago, trying to work out whether we're going to go north or go south, whether we're going to go and attack the FA the neighboring tribal defend against the neighboring tribe.
It turns out that when we all come together and argue. And we are all shoulder to shoulder and we are all arguing about the same thing. And we are in that sense, a civic tasks, we are civil with each other because we're part of the same group with the same objectives. Suddenly at that point, the fact that I want to go north and you want to go south and that Joey wants to go east and you know, Geraldine wants to go west and we are deeply committed to those ideas.
And we are, we only, I see things in those times and we are, our confirmation bias is switched on and our emotions are switched on and we hate being told that we're wrong and all those others, thanks. It makes us argue better. It actually creates a kind of a crucible of fire to get the best ideas to erupt. So I love this idea that we didn't evolve as individuals. We evolved actually as a super organism. And therefore, of course it talks to the very foundation stone of democracy, which is that we are. Collectively more than we are alone. Not just because we can defend ourselves better, not just because we can divide labor amongst much larger groups of people, but actually because collectively we take better decisions than we do alone. What I want to do with Parlier is is remind people that we are a much smarter group than we are in industry.
Brandon Stover: [00:48:07] well, a major part of Parley is because of It's a crowdsource platform requires building a community online much like Wikipedia or Reddit, and sometimes those communities get. Very much out of hand. It can go off the rails very quickly. So how do you build this strong community taking in these ideals that you have without having the us versus them mentality that sometimes shows up on Twitter and it just goes down a rabbit hole.
Turi Munthe: [00:48:36] So one, we hope that this key design feature, which helps people remind themselves that they exist in a broader series of groups, right?
That they, that people who, who look like them may disagree with them. Very strongly that people who really don't Emma told me, I agree with them. We want, we want to humanize all these ideas and by humanizing these ideas, hopefully we make them more real. Hopefully we make it less easy to throw rocks at in that brutal unconstructive way.
That we've, that exists on so many of the social platforms, but I think that the fundamental thing about it, about a. Platform like Parlier or like Reddit or like Quora or like Wikipedia is not even the tools. It's actually the community. It's the kind of people who come on and it's the kind of shared intent of the people who come on.
So what we really want to do is we want to, especially in these early days, we want to be bringing onto the platform. People who really care about the value of ideas, but who, people who also really interested in this idea of building a a sort of a larger us I'm using that term. It belongs to somebody called Alex Evans.
Who's building literally a nonprofit called larger us, which helps people understand that they're part of a greater commonality than purely either that political tribe or that ethnic tribal, that age demographic or whatever it is. So I think we need to be bringing on those people. We're talking, we bring in, we brought on a lot of debaters people who are sort of, In that very nature, fascinated by the idea of getting to truth through conversation. But we've also brought on and we've gotten philosophy communities on is on Parlier. And and hopefully some of your listeners
Brandon Stover: [00:50:19] there has to be a trust for these people that when they come to this platform, it's going to be one that they're not going to be used. And so what I'm thinking now of is Twitter and the others, large social media platforms, you know, selling data and those sorts of things.
What is the business model behind a portfolio that continues to have trust as a foundation for those users, but also, you know, makes it valuable for you guys as a company.
Turi Munthe: [00:50:45] such a great question. So we will almost certainly roll out some of the standard features of most media companies. Advertising sponsorship, maybe membership, et cetera. But we also will we'll be looking at data. We have already started working with Oxford university around a project on morality.
So we already asking members of Pollyanna to answer some quizzes on morality. It's a lovely project. I'll tell you briefly about it. All of us got Curry. Who's at Oxford. And who's also research director for the kindness organization. He's an amazing man. Has a thesis, which is that in fact, morality is identical all over the world in all societies.
And that morality is just another word for cooperation. And so everything that we do that we think is moral or immoral is in fact, something that we do because we think it is cooperative or uncooperative. what we're doing is we're running a quiz with him, 21 questions around morality which we will then map against the other answers that people are voting against , to see whether there are any interesting correlations there.
Because they think it would be really interesting for them as they understand, try and understand whether they're at what the corridor resolve for. People who think that it's heroism is more important than family, for example, or purity is more important than heroism, whatever it might be, the kind of terms of morality that he's established.
So we think we can do tremendously exciting work at really quite large scale. To understand how it is that people think and how it is that we put our opinions together and what kind of demographic groupings we drop into to try and see if we can map some of the underlying value systems of the human brain and where they come from.
So we absolutely want to be working with those that element of data. But the kind of work that we're doing is impossible to translate into, you know, should we use pink or green wrapping paper for your shampoo, or we can't do that. So we're not going to be able to be properly playing, doing the data, work that, that you say, talk about Twitter or Facebook, et cetera.
We're not gonna be able to, we not only do we not want to, but we also will not be able to do that kind of, that kind of work. And but we do want to be working with big institutions and we do want to be working with research organizations to try and do this much more sort of meta level.
Analysis of global attitudes, because I think it's absolutely fascinating. We think it should be out in the public domain and and we think there's value there. So that's, I imagine where we'll we will be making the base of the bulk of our business model, but I let, let me add something else.
It's also precisely what we want to be sharing back to our users. So unlike Twitter or Facebook that harvest all that data and then repackage it and pushes it on. We want to be sharing that data with all our users. In fact, if you go to palliate now and you vote on anything, you see that it will also tell you, Hey, it turns out that this is how other people voted on this.
It turns out that you can, I've got lots in common where they, you know, a centrist from Somalia rather than a, you know, generation X are from Argentina. We want to be sharing that data back one so that you can understand your opinions in the broader. Context of global attitudes, but two, so that you can also start to understand yourself, this thing that you, so articulately said earlier, which is that in fact, our opinions, we've sort of, we've voiced these opinions.
We verbalize opinions, but actually they often come from somewhere much deeper. We're often arguing about whether there should be a bypass in front of this town or a, or, or which restaurant we should go with our friends. But actually what we're really saying is I need to be heard or I feel like I've been disenfranchised or health.
Mommy never loved me, whatever it might be. So there's, there's we also want to go back into that. And so we're also going to be. Running out lots of surveys and quizzes for you privately. We want to be using big five ocean. So these big old personality tests, that's one of the ones which is really properly well, well established and broadly accepted by the psychological community.
And we want to be developing some of our own to help you understand, you know, your your particular attitudes to religion, for example, your particular attitude to social protest. I mean, your particular attitude to finance. So the role of capitalism in society, whatever it might be, we want, we want to be honing these these quizzes, these surveys, so that we can help all our users and ourselves better understand actually what our own values are.
Brandon Stover: [00:55:17] Yeah, you have a podcast called on your opinion, which you've spoken with dozens of experts around the subject of opinion. What has changed the most about how you understand opinions and act in your everyday life from these people that you've learned from
Turi Munthe: [00:55:32] Brandon is such a great question. And, and yes, it's been the most extraordinary sort of journey of discovery interviewing these brilliant, brilliant people. We've spoken to philosophers, psychologists, social psychologists neuroscientists biologists, all trying to understand what is an opinion, where do they come from?
What makes them, but we've also spoken to lots of people who are trying to bridge this polarization gap who tried to explain where polarization comes from, they've spoken about, you know, the different kinds of polarizations, some of which are good, some of which are bad across, across the U S across the UK.
So yes, it's been it's been just fascinating. I suppose, the, the thing that has really hit me most is something I've already said to you, which is that actually are these things that we hold. So dear are dearly held and deeply believed opinions. Aren't really ours. They are of course, of course, in some level they are because we hold them and they determined in many, in many ways how we live our lives.
But there's also an element of arbitrariness there and realizing that is a tremendous release from the brutal us versus the them, the brutal, winning an argument sort of approach to the ways in which we engage with the world. I'm sort of naturally a sort of centrist agnostic. I'm naturally always sort of confused and excited by ideas that I don't really get or positions that I don't understand.
So I always want to know more, I feel like. It's not quite being one of those people who always agrees with the last thing they've been told. Cause I think I, not that I think I may often disagree with the last thing I've been told, but I'm always interested in trying to understand where it comes from.
What's the underlying motivation there. And so I'm sort of naturally excited by this discovery that our, our ideas emerged from somewhere much deeper in ourselves. Our stomachs, our guts, our souls are deeper consciousnesses than than the ways in which we often imagine ourselves to form opinions.
So that's, I think the biggest piece for me, but second most important discovery really with running on opinion, the podcast is thinking about ways in which we fixed some of this thinking. Of how important it is to remind ourselves that we are all part of the same thing, this shoulder to shoulder piece that I was saying earlier, if that's not there, if that's not present, if we're not playing the infinite game, if we don't understand the importance of bringing everybody into that same civic task, that granting everybody's civility, in a sense, if we don't do that, we are in our hiding the nothing.
And we've seen the speed of political fracture and political polarization over the course of the last few years in both the U S and the UK, but also across Eastern Europe, we've seen the tremendous speed at which populism has taken hold all over. What we thought was stable democracies, whether it's Hungary and Poland in Europe, the rise of populism in France with the Assembla Monterey Chanel.
Similarly in Spain, the rise of populism in the us, the rise of populism all over central and south America. Andy Statia and India populism is in a sense, the greatest threat to democracy, because it's so insidious to it. It's a shadow of democracy. It looks and smells like it could be democratic, but in fact, it's, it's absolute nemesis.
It's the thing which brings down democracy from the inside because what it requires, what populism requires is for one group of people to exclude another group of people from the civic tasks, from inclusion, in what counts as being the people, the idea of populism is often misunderstood. People often think that populism is all about finding an elite and hating upon it.
That's what counselors populist. It's not true. Often there's an attack against the elite, but really what populism is and what, and the reason populism gets its name is because populism is an exercise in determining who counts as the people. I'm just taking the U S as an example. We can do it in the UK, but when Hillary Clinton describes deplorables, she's excluding them from the people when Donald Trump talks about all immigrants is bad on Brays. he's excluding them from the people.
Brandon Stover: [00:59:59] what's the future that you hope to build for your son and daughter?
Turi Munthe: [01:00:03] My goodness. What a question?
What a question, i, sorry. I'm so anxious about the future for my children and how they are and what they're doing at the idea of sort of putting them on across a wider canvas. Freaks me out. what do I hope the world looks like for them? I long for a world, which has got considerably less inequality in it. I long for a world in which there is the kind of equality of opportunity that. We found across large parts of Europe.
I hope that spreads around the world. I hope that we live in a, in a in a truly global civilization where, as I said before, we're able to realize we're all part of something and all shoulder to shoulder and, and trying to improve it, whether it's our local democracies or the state of our nature, the shape of our planet.
While I've got a whole series of ideas of what counts as the good life and what counselors are life well lived. Let me just, just remind myself that that's just one opinion. And one of the amazing things about having kids is that at a certain point, you've got to back away from your idea of what counts as good because they're fully human.
So if I end up with children who are. Sure. None of my political beliefs and values and have a totally different approach to engaging with the, whatever it is, 70, 80, 90 ideas that they may have on the planet then grand and wonderful. It. Wouldn't that be amazing? Well, it means it will have meant that I won't have brainwashed them too badly in that formative years, so yeah.
Who knows? I want to have a party
Brandon Stover: [01:01:34] oh, I love that. I answer Terry. There's a dozen more questions I have for you. But before I get to my last question, is there a call to action you would like to leave our listeners with today?
Turi Munthe: [01:01:45] Thank you for asking. Yes. I would love your listeners to come to Parlier to join, join, join the platform, vote, play, and to be in touch with me with any kind of feedback. It's one of the things that I do you know, with all forms of any kind of business that I engage with, which does something, which I don't like, I try and make an effort to write to them, to tell them just cause I know how tremendously valuable that feedback is.
So it's, it's, it's literally the most valuable feedback. The valuable activity that there is, is when people write you and say your customer service is terrible, or your colors are the wrong shape. And I can't see them on mobile or whatever it might be. So if there's one thing I could ask your listeners is please come to Parlier, which is partly a.com and with anything, please email me the slightest firstname.lastname@example.org.
Every piece of feedback is golden. And then of course, Same thing with the podcast on opinion, which is hopefully everywhere. Again, please get stuck in, I kind of feel like the listeners of your podcast might be interested in some of the things on my podcast and vice versa. So and again, any feedback would be wonderful.
Brandon Stover: [01:02:51] absolutely. Well, we will put all of that in the show notes My last question is how can we push the world to evolve?
Turi Munthe: [01:02:58] We need to figure out a way of breaking in the us and them. We need to figure out a way of reminding ourselves that human beings are a super organism that we need. Left and right to evolve that we need opposite sides to make a beautiful game that we need of this tremendous multiplicity of opinions to take us forward.
If we exclude that possibility, not only do we end up with the end of science and the end of democracy but we also end up with the end of personal growth. we evolve by reminding ourselves that we are considerably bigger together than alone.
Brandon Stover: [01:03:38] Love that Terry, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.
Turi Munthe: [01:03:42] it's been such a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for your brilliant questions.