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No debate, no democracy
People who complain about the power structure call in aid the notion of democracy and the will of the people. There’s a hazy notion of ‘hey, let’s all get together and do X.’
No chance. Quite obviously the people love to quarrel about the smallest things, as we can see every day on social media.
New technology brings in new modes of action.
On the one hand, the government employs people to monitor and interfere with public discussion and manufacture consent. I’ve seen it personally on Twitter, where some avatar told me bluntly to ‘shut up’ and when I looked at their profile I saw that they had never once initiated a tweet of their own.
On the other hand, it is now possible to set up communications so that you exchange views only with those who think the same way you do. In ancient times the ‘forum’ was the marketplace, where during the shopping counter-currents of opinion, rumour and gossip would flow. Now online it is disappearing, or rather fragmenting into huddled groups.My brother in the US tells me he predicted this 20 years ago.
So it becomes harder to suspend judgement, maintain balance, negotiate compromise. YouTuber Tim Pool talks about this on Russell Brand’s latest episode here:
These days I sometimes skip along the videos because I have an idea of the theme and don’t want to sit through at the program’s pace - I avoid podcasts for the same reason.
But two words popped out of the stream here: ‘hypertribal’ and ‘(closed) loop.’ The segmentation of the forum leads to some poor results.
The first is what Christopher Booker called ‘groupthink.’ On a given issue - say, global warming - someone will take a position, but knowing deep down that the answer is not (or not yet) conclusive, they will shore up their confidence by co-opting others to their view; and then turn on dissenters with increasing vehemence (‘smite the unbeliever!’)
The second is ‘ideological drift.’ Within the chosen chatrooms you can simply shut out awareness of alternative voices, reading seeing and hearing only what fits your worldview and being further encouraged by others. The issue becomes more deeply entrenched in your sense of self. Worse, there may be some ‘bad actors’ who steer the group to extremes and begin to suggest radical, possibly violent courses of action. (I think that can happen at the governmental level too! Have you heard the phrase ‘the Westminster bubble’?)
Society at large has an increasing problem of holding all these subsets together in one fairly safe and reasonable loose unity.
Another reason for that difficulty is that there are commercial opportunities in the fragmentation. Some people can set up their own sects, that most wouldn’t join but within the hundreds of millions available a large and profitable subset can be found. Until the recent Twitterspat between Greta Thunberg and Andrew Tate, I had never heard of the latter, yet he has four million followers!
I wonder whether pundit and cartoonist Scott Adams deliberately chose this strategy when he started a furore about race, saying whites should ‘get the hell away from Black people’ since a poll among the latter said nearly half did not support the proposition that it was ‘okay’ to be white. It’s cost him the syndication of his cartoon strip, and his publisher and agent have pulled out from promoting his books; maybe there is still a living to be made from a coterie of race-resentful fans. Or maybe he has simply accumulated so much money already that he doesn’t need to care who he offends any more.
Anyhow, we all have a challenge: how to rebuild, not consent, but willingness to live and let live, and go along with majority decisions - on matters where a decision is actually needed.
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