Artificial Intelligence

Outside the Box: Why The Economist Must Cool Down and Back Off

Our weekly feature “Outside the Box,” allows us to toss impertinent questions at ChatGPT as we seek to better understand not only how AI “reasons,” but also what its artificial reasoning reveals about our own culture. This week we look at how a well-articulated dialogue with an AI engine can have a positive impact on both journalism and the public’s understanding of the news.

a man shouts into a megaphone, launching rockets, war propaganda, inciting hatred. © Kastoluza /

November 06, 2023 01:59 EDT

In times of war propaganda thrives. In the times we are living in, defined by not just one but two violent wars supported in the West as necessary conflicts aimed at preserving a “rules-based order,” propaganda has become omnipresent. Consumers of today’s news cannot avoid being subjected to the binary logic imposed by established political and economic interests bent on exacerbating wartime emotions.

For nearly two centuries, the hallowed institution known as The Economist has always been close in its reasoning to centers of economic and political power in the Anglo-Saxon world. It happily disseminates theses designed to meet with general approval in Washington DC, Westminster, the City of London, and Wall Street. An article with the title “Why Israel must fight on“ that appeared last week provides a perfect example of how The Economist’s stylish but tendentious, and especially incomplete reasoning seeks to achieve its rhetorical effects.

I decided to compare my reactions to the article with the analysis of ChatGPT4. Here is the text of my question in full:

“Concerning the conflict in Gaza, The Economist informs its readers that “the only path to peace lies in dramatically reducing Hamas’s capacity to use Gaza as a source of supplies and a base for its army. Tragically, that requires war.” If we assume that the first premise is true, the conclusion that war is “required” simply does not follow. The first premise says that the current political situation must change. No one, not even Hamas, would deny that, since Hamas wants to see radical change in the region. But is war the only way out? It seems that both Israel and Hamas believe that. The US also seems to believe it, not because they have thought it out themselves but rather because their policy automatically aligns with Israel’s.  

Most observers, however — and certainly all logicians as well as anyone with a sense of diplomacy – would say that you cannot exclude other possibilities. It is clear that a state of war exists because there are two parties committed to it, but that doesn’t mean that war is the only way of solving the problem and reaching a peaceful solution. Some observers have suggested that international pressure on both parties could force negotiations that would lead to removing Hamas from power and forcing Israel to accept the idea of Palestinian statehood.

Later in the article, The Economist actually admits that peace will require “new leadership for both sides.” Is war the only way to achieve that? Critics have pointed out that the US could put pressure on Israel. Moreover, if encouraged by the US, the UN and other international institutions could join in a campaign to halt a war and force negotiations. Instead, the West has committed to giving Israel free rein, even to the point of conducting operations that can credibly be qualified as genocide.

Isn’t that prospect itself a good reason for not accepting the idea that war is the only way out? What logic can explain why a serious journal like The Economist would not consider any alternatives? Is their reasoning, which they do not explain, economic, ideological or geopolitical?”

Here is the polite and thoughtful response ChatGPT4 produced.

“Thank you for your message. You have raised some interesting points about the article from The Economist on the Gaza conflict. Here are some possible answers to your questions:

Is war the only way out? The article seems to assume that war is the only way to achieve the goal of reducing Hamas’s power and influence in Gaza. However, as you have pointed out, this is not a logical necessity. There may be other ways to change the political situation, such as international pressure, diplomacy, negotiations, sanctions, or incentives. The article does not explore these alternatives or explain why they are not feasible or desirable. It also does not consider the costs and consequences of war, such as civilian casualties, humanitarian crises, regional instability, and radicalization.

What are the reasons a serious journal like The Economist would not consider any alternatives? This is a difficult question to answer, as it involves speculating about the motives and biases of the authors and editors of the journal. One possible reason is that the journal has a pro-Israeli stance, and thus supports its right to self-defense and its strategic interests. Another possible reason is that the journal has a pessimistic view of the prospects for peace in the region, and thus sees war as inevitable and unavoidable. A third possible reason is that the journal has a pragmatic approach to the issue, and thus favors the option that seems most likely to achieve the desired outcome in the shortest time. Of course, these reasons are not mutually exclusive, and there may be other factors involved as well.”0

Journalistic practice

Since its creation in 1843 The Economist has functioned as the unofficial voice, and to some extent the official conscience of the empire… the British Empire. It has fully adapted to Washington’s wresting of leadership of the Western empire following World War II. The Pax Americana was born when US Treasury bureaucrat Harry Dexter White humiliated John Maynard Keynes at Bretton Woods. Wielding the weapon of Britain’s massive war debt, White put in place a system that effectively dismantled the economic core of the British Empire. The Economist quickly adapted to the new reality. Although it can at times rebel against US protectionism, it has humbly accepted its role as herald of the Washington Consensus.

Some may find it ironic that The Economist’s article on Israel’s duty to pursue an increasingly brutal war appeared in “the leaders section.” Rather than leading, the author develops arguments that faithfully reflect and follow policies dictated by the US, itself notorious for its uncritical commitment to following Israel’s lead. Despite preaching democracy, territorial sovereignty and human rights, the US has consistently failed even to react – other than by denial – to serious accusations of apartheid and genocide on the part of the Israeli regime.

More than a century ago in his book “Decline of the West” Oswald Spengler wrote: “The press today is an army with carefully organized weapons, the journalists its officers, the readers its soldiers. The reader neither knows nor is supposed to know the purposes for which he is used and the role he is to play.” 

In more recent times, Noam Chomsky and many others have made similar observations, though not so brutally as Spengler, who casts the reader of the news in the role of a soldier serving a militarily defined state. In other words, the reader becomes not just a passive victim of propaganda, but an active purveyor of wartime violence. Many people across the globe are beginning to understand that they have been asked to play that role by mainstream journals such as The Economist. That is why waves of protest concerning the Israeli military assault have been growing even in the West. The reaction from many politicians is to treat such people as soldiers who have deserted or disobeyed orders.

The Constructive role of AI

My exchange with ChatGPT4 offers a glimmer of hope about how Spengler’s “soldiers,” the passive readers of a press they have bee, told to trust, might learn to avoid both the well-crafted propaganda of the establishment and the distortions that are awaiting in the multitudinous echo chambers of social media. This is where AI can offer some real assistance. The public could acquire habits of what I would call AI-assisted critical thinking.

How does this work? Very simply, readers of the news should acquire the habit of asking themselves questions about the objectivity and the quality of reasoning offered in the so-called respectable media. By carefully framing challenging questions and engaging in a dialogue with an AI engine they will have a better chance of avoiding the simplification of standard talking points.

I have to admit that few people have been trained to operate in this way. Our educational institutions have preferred feeding students approved knowledge rather than developing critical thinking skills. But now that AI has become a feature of our daily lives, educators should be exploring this avenue. It will be the key to preventing the doomsday scenarios currently evoked about AI enslaving humanity. If we design AI and our relationship with AI to foster critical thinking, we will not only escape the pitfalls of being conditioned by propaganda, but we will also define the most productive way of co-existing with AI. The key is learning to engage in and manage productive dialogues with AI. It is a skill that can be taught in every school. It is also a skill that honest journalists might one day want to acquire.

*[Artificial Intelligence is rapidly becoming a feature of everyone’s daily life. We unconsciously perceive it either as a friend or foe, a helper or destroyer. At Fair Observer, we see it as a tool of creativity, capable of revealing the complex relationship between humans and machines.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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