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Fundamentally Transformed

Bitter and I were talking this morning about how this doesn’t feel like the same country as it was a decade ago. It’s easy to blame Obama, given his penchant for trolling middle America, but I think the problem goes deeper than that. It’s easy to blame Cable News and Talk Radio, but those all existed for several decades, and it didn’t make people all that much nastier. Some might argue that it’s the result of the self-esteem generation coming of age, but I don’t think things get this bad this quickly with generational turnover.

Early on in the Trump phenomena, I read “It’s like the comment sections of the Internet came alive and decided to run for President.” I think that in a strange way that is actually true, because what I blame for the divisiveness and nastiness in today’s society is Social Media. Mark Zuckerberg is probably just as much to blame as Barack Obama. The Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory is indisputably true. The polite term for this is the Online Disinhibition Effect. We’ve been dealing with this for longer than Twitter and Facebook have been around too, but what Twitter and Facebook do far better than any other predecessor is making it possible to keep in touch with your circles of friends, neighbors, co-workers and relatives without the need for face-to-face interaction.

Face-to-face you will probably be far more inclined to soften your views somewhat, and respond to non-verbal cues of the people on the other side of the conversation. They’ll also have a better read. The reason I think our politics is getting nasty is that we’re interacting with people face-to-face less, and online more. Almost everyone has an extreme view or two, and a many folks aren’t afraid to share it, rough edges in full view, to all their friends on Facebook. I think it’d probably go a long way to fixing political discourse, among other things, if we got off social media and started talking to people in person more often.

25 Responses to “Fundamentally Transformed”

  1. Some person says:

    I blame trash like the Daily Show as part of the problem. The most obnoxious liberals I’ve known all get their opinions straight from the Daily Show and Colbert. The entire show is taken straight out of Alinsky’s rule to ridicule your enemy. I believe it has caused considerable divisiveness and coarsening in political dialogue in this country.

    • Stephen says:

      Liberals have been highly effective at this. It seems like the whole liberal stance is “only old bitter white people who are totally uncool and watch the uncool FOX news would ever vote for a Republican. So don’t bother your young and hip head with political concepts — just vote a D and be cool!”

      And yet that works.

    • Sebastian says:

      I don’t think those shows have enough cultural influence to get the rhetoric this universally bad. The Daily Show never honestly had that big an audience.

      • Patrick says:

        The Daily Show had an audience with those who are now old enough to gather, massage and dispense media information to the masses. That is what we like to call “a force multiplier”.

        John Stewart was funny, smart, witty and fashionable for college students. I doubt there was a single media-studies (journo, etc.) who did not have themselves glued to the Daily Show most nights. His show ran long enough to shape an entire generation of heads.

        I’ve had conversations with friendly journalists who grew up on the Daily Show. They sneer and laugh at conservatives reflexively. When challenged on just why they do so, they have no answers. They fall back on the tropes they learned, even when they knew them to be untrue.

        Media and peer pressure aimed at college undergrads is a force multiplier. It pays off long-term. The fact conservatives haven’t caught that yet never ceases to confound me.

        • Sebastian says:

          Conservatives are shut out of mass media, for the most part. I also think GOP politicians are afraid to use humor. That’s one thing Trump does, if you watch one of his rallies. Trump isn’t as good at it as Stewart is, though. Trump is very clumsy.

    • CRCarlin says:

      Very good point.

  2. AnOregonian says:

    I don’t know about all of that, some of my worst experiences have been in person, and they have been with people you don’t normally associate with being on social media (ie. OLD people).

    The single most shocking experience was I’ve actually had in person a little old lady, probably late 60s early 70s, tell me that she hopes my children are killed in the next mass shooting. And mind you, this isn’t during some heated exchange, this was loudly-‘whispered’ in my ear out of the blue while I was having a civil discussion about gun control with our state rep.

    While that was the single worst experience, it’s hardly the only one I’ve had, and the common theme in my neck of the woods is almost always the boomer generation being abrasive and even threatening violence despite being in person. In stark contrast is the social media pioneers of GenX, who do in my experience soften their tact in person.
    (I’ll acknowledge a lack of GenY engagement in local politics in my area, so my anecdotal sampling is incomplete)

    • Sebastian says:

      I didn’t get into it in this article, but I do agree that social media has “broken” a lot of the baby boomer generation. Most of us GenXers have been interacting with people online for a lot longer, so we developed ways to cope. But the reason I didn’t bring that issue up is because you can find examples in all generations of the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. Throw in a dose of special snowflake for the millennials.

  3. Stephen says:

    Totally agree. To me, the problem with social networks is the lack of filtering.

    I think the point of social networks is to bring back the community like we used to have when we all lived in smaller communities (or tribes or whatever) where you knew everybody and stayed up on what everybody was doing. i.e. walking down the street you exchange a few words with about everybody. But you filtered those words — you avoided politics with those who you know you can’t affect, and don’t mentioned gun rights with those you know are opposed. Or at least approach the topics gently based on the reaction you expect.

    Since most of us don’t use distribution groups with social media, everybody sees everything we feel. i.e. my liberal college teaching/anti-gun aunt whom I love and (mostly) respect takes deep offense at my NRA friendly posts and we have a bitter exchange. Before social media no one around her dared bring up pro-gun views, and she had no idea anyone could hold them.

    I think we’re still in a transitional stage where we learn more about how to handle social media (for me I don’t post many politics anymore) but yeah — probably dialogue is changed forever. The Jeffersonian marketplace of ideas is a full contact sport with no safe spaces (if you’re doing it right).

    • Sebastian says:

      I always do the soft sell on social media, when I talk about politics at all, which is rare. I had a cousin who was murdered after an argument, and his mother is sensitive to the gun issue, so I will usually block her if I do a gun friendly post. I’ll never convince her anyway. But I do not block her on posts of me being at the club or shooting matches. That’s just part of who I am and the things I enjoy.

      I also have a small number of people in my “Friends” group who cannot handle even the soft sale and aren’t thinkers. So I block them from even soft sell posts with political content. There’s no point in arguing with people who don’t think.

      I have a very liberal former coworker on Facebook who believes “No dicks in the ladies room” constitutes hate. Not a soft sell. Then you find other friends who agree with it, and of course know other people they know who disagree, and who they’d never call a hate monger to their face. This is how it all beings (or maybe ends).

      • Arnie says:

        ” There’s no point in arguing with people who don’t think.”

        Amen to that! I’m starting to slowly and painfully learn how true your statement is. So many of my political adversaries do not think through the quality or consequences of their positions, and even refuse to do so no matter how graciously I appeal to them, that I find I have wasted precious moments from my remaining days on earth accomplishing nothing. To grossly paraphrase the Apostle Paul, “From now on, I am turning to the humble who are willing to think.” I have stopped pontificating on Facebook and only email or text info to people who I think will give my assertions due consideration, and respond intelligently. Life is too short to waste talking to the wall.

        I will hang your quote on my wall to remind me to make wise use of my limited remaining time.

        You are a blessing, sir!

        – Arnie

    • Bitter says:

      The topic of filtering for polite society is even offensive to quite a few now. I was just telling Sebastian that even though we associate the Millennials with being special snowflakes, it’s the later Boomers and early Xers who used the language. I think many have embraced it themselves to some degree.

      I’ve seen people nearly lose their sh*t over being told things like it’s a good idea to clean up their public Facebook page to be approachable and relatively non-controversial if they expect strangers who could judge them in a job interview-type way will be viewing it. They get outraged that they can’t be themselves. Highlighting that we were just talking about the public view that a non-friend would see doesn’t help.

  4. NotClauswitz says:

    It’s the no-filter Boomers who are mainly behind this. The rank-and-file Academic kids are too, but they are just doing what they are told by older Boomers.

  5. Chas says:

    It’s bizarre to read a left slanted news story and then see the comments section railing against it. The MSM has been really out of touch for some time now.

  6. RAH says:

    Actually I have been watching the anger for many years. I do not blame social media. I have been commenting on blogs for over decade and comments are often toxic. So Facebook is just carrying over the same toxicity. But the anger is more than that. I have been worried for sometime that we no longer can talk rationally to each other It has been true for anti gun people . But now we can’t even agree on the same fact

    So the real worry is the time for talking is over and time for violence instead. So is the civil war coming . Yeah I think so. The big problem is we are lurching that way and we will probably lose and it will be worse.

    • Sebastian says:

      At least fighting a civil war requires getting off social media and leaving the house :)

      • RAH says:

        If yelling on social media satisfies the anger, then fine. But it does not. Still toxic comments are better that shooting at each other. The speed of the pepper spray defense indicates to me that many of these people are prepared for the violence of these idiot protesters.

      • Publius says:

        Drones.

  7. RAH says:

    The NYT Times has an article on the anger over trade. Which popped up because of Trump. Trump is right that these trade deals seemed to have eliminated a lot of jobs that we never go back.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/30/business/economy/trade-donald-trump-bernie-sanders.html?_r=0

    This anger is because some people , a lot of them older, have been pushed to the wall economically and have no where left.

    Many are choosing suicide But some are hitting back. There was an old man that was being fined by the city council for zoning and health issue and he had no money which was why he lived in the bad conditions But he owned the property He could not pay the fines so he took a gun to the city council meeting and shot the mayor. I understood that decision.

    I have been watching these incidents increase and think the breaking point for many is coming. Trump is a symptom of that.

  8. Zundfolge says:

    Its bigger than all that. Go back and re-read Gibbon’s “History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”.

    We’re clearly in the later stages of collapse of an Empire (yes, I know we’re not actually an Empire but it still fits).

    Western Civilization itself is committing suicide right before our very eyes and has been since the beginning of the 20th Century.

  9. persiflage says:

    We are not witnessing the suicide of Western Civilization, just the predictable self-destruction of the “Blue Model” of most western governments. They have had their hundred years social experiment, now it’s clear it doesn’t work and it’s over.

    To reestablish a constitutional republic in the US will require, for starters, that the 20% of the population that really wants to live as free adults enthusiastically evangelicize concepts such as freedom and individual agency, and their benefits to human thriving. Because there’s another 20% of the population that is enthusiastically working toward full-sale socialism, by lying about its alleged collective benefits.

  10. Matthew Carberry says:

    There’s been a conflation of “saying things politely and intelligently” with “self-censorship.” It’s packaged as “straight-talk” or “truth-telling” but it’s really just intellectual laziness and inability to form a coherent argument. That’s coupled with the juvenile mentality of people who are in it “for the lulz.” Trolling to get a rise out of people because it “shows psychological dominance” or some such BS. Again, the refuge of those without a defined personal philosophy nor the ability to explicate nor intelligently defend it. Bargain-basement Neitszche wanna-be’s playing “Alpha” games poorly.

  11. Arnie says:

    On the other hand, face-to-face has not always ended that well either:

    May 22, 1856, in the United States Congress, Representative Preston Brooks attacked Senator Charles Sumner with a walking cane in retaliation for a speech given by Sumner two days earlier. The beating nearly killed Sumner and it drew a sharply polarized response from the American public on the subject of the expansion of slavery in the United States. It has been considered symbolic of the “breakdown of reasoned discourse”[1] that eventually led to the American Civil War.

  12. dustydog says:

    Common wisdom says that ~ 50 super-rich donors fund political candidates. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Soros, the Kochs, etc. All the contributions from everyone else are insignificant. So the question is – what has changed about those movers and shakers that has changed the political discourse?

    Those rich people are much more elderly than they were just 8 years ago. Trump is 69, Hillary is 68, Bernie 74. A reasonable person can find evidence of senility for all 3. They are appealing to people older than them.

    I submit for your consideration that the difference is that the people controlling the money and the dialog are brain-damaged by age-related mental disease.

    Rich people living much longer than they did 25, 20, 15, 8 years ago is the problem.

    • Ian Argent says:

      Don’t conflate increases in average lifespan with increase at the end of life – even now it’s mostly driven by decrease in infant mortality.

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