Prelude: The Good Old Daze
Our ancestors, a term I’ve been using quite a lot and perhaps overusing, would go about their daily lives with the provisions, “Never discuss politics” and “Never discuss religion,” or some combination of the two concepts.
These operating models were deployed at work, social, and pseudo-social gatherings. Sometimes, they were even operated within family units. For example, I nearly never heard the political beliefs of anyone born prior to 1930. Perhaps people might make comment on current political events, they may even lean towards a barely perceptible editorial comment, but the display of opinion lacked real substance. Largely, people (in my life) only commented with a form of mild displeasure and mostly nonverbally, such as a “sigh” or, a “tsk.” This was in the face of major political and sociopolitical change and events. Events such as the emergence of counter cultures, equal rights movements, multiple assassinations, and even the resignation of a sitting U.S. president, not even those massive changes inspired them to create hills to die on. Unlike today, where we are encouraged to create them constantly.
In fact, the people from the generation born before 1910, never spoke of political things at all. They did not discuss current politics, they never talked about elections, and they never discussed any candidate they supported, or mentioned who they voted for. In fact, asking them for whom they voted was taken as an insult. If you asked, they would clearly and abruptly state that it was none of your business.
Note: this is merely a personal observation and not meant to taken as a standard experience template, or a unified definition of historical record. There will be a lot more of that personal inference ahead.
The reason for this was fairly transparent and simple:
- Politics talk leads to arguments.
- Arguments lead to ill will.
- Ill will is bad for business.
In fact, they believed “why risk even tipping one’s hand towards a particular political polarity or other?” Odds are, considering a person’s given family origins, professional trajectory, and geographical sphere, it was fairly simple and safe to make assumptions and predictions about an individual’s political characteristics and simply carry on without any sort discussion at all.
They truly lived by the motto “the less said, the better.” I saw it firsthand for the first 25-30 years of my everyday waking life.
That all having been said, I do not idealize any of this, or see any of this as a good thing. In fact, the insular nature of sociopolitical conditions that I mentioned above significantly contributed to discrimination, fostered a lack of education, diminished political awareness, and helped to enable what was a fundamentally fetid and corrupt political system. A system by which enacted the “work of the people” quite literally for only a certian economic and racial class. Of which belonged only upper middle class (and higher) property owning white males. Everyone else got the remains of the spoils, if they were fortunate. So there will be no call-to-action from me to “return to the good old timey daze,” nor will I invite us all to pine for a bygone age when “things were better and simpler.”
POaaS – Political Opinion As A Service
Things began to shift and really not very subtly. After WWII, news publishers learned quickly that by giving politics, editorial opinion, and by reporting on current political events, people paid attention. People paying attention to their content was at the core of their business model. A prime directive to be successful, in fact.
As people responded, read, watched, and listened to political news mediums, these news mediums responded in an escalating manner accordingly. They reported more frequently and upon a wider array of issues. But, the key concept is that they were primarily reporting in a one-to-many form. A “read-only” mode of one-way communications; news and media generated content and we consumed it. This seems normal, especially for the years I’m considering here, 1938 until about 1995.
By 1995 (and really earlier) came about the advent of the common person publishing words upon commonly available platforms. News groups, bulletin boards, and directly to the web through the form of weblogs. All of which offered opinion platforms with the ability to have dialog in a two-way format. One could publish a statement, opinion, or belief and then others could comment, and so forth. This is what is known as a “conversation.” Conversations were happening all over the place, especially after 9/11. For the first time, on a large scale, news and politics began to be a two-way form of communication; now we’re no longer one-to-many on a one-way channel, we’ve migrated to many-to-many upon multiple two-way channels.
Prior to 1995, most people relied on real world conversations, letters to the editor, or perhaps to a smaller extent, called into radio programs where the host held conversation. In other words, the system, by design, kept people quiet… literally.
The dawn of twitter and facebook ushered in an broader era of push button, nearly automatic, and simple publication and conversation about all things, particularly political events, political behaviors, and the utterances of public political figures. This enabled groups to form, theories to take hold, and fostered considerable global momentum as more users entered these platforms. By “ushered in” I should really say that they kicked down the social dams and we were quite literally overwhelmed with the availability of opinion. In fact, they provided opinion as a service.
By 2015 (some may say earlier) the dynamic began to change. Twitter, based on my limited observations, held steady with the daily suffering of argument, and for the most part remains the same today, save for a few editorial controls and one missing former US president (I might need to edit this soon). Facebook however, has made several monumental changes to the way they presented information to us, how we interacted with one another, and helped us create reality distortion fields around ourselves. They fully migrated towards “Political Opinion As A Service” and promptly monetized it.
At that time, there were very few controls present. People regularly engaged in racist, terrifyingly abusive, and insanely toxic behaviors. There was bullying, racism, and all of the inglorious facets of human communication scraped from the bowels of the most base human mental states and it cascaded across our daily lives like a massive, overwhelming, and uncontrollable tsunami. Which primarily persists to this day.
We became so accustomed to adversarial dialog, that we absolutely began to pick hills to die on. They can range from personal choices, affiliations to things, and perhaps by merely stating that “I like chocolate ice cream,” we would expect and be provided with a fretful argument to the death. Again, this condition is also largely still the same today.
Many people operate in much the same manner as people who have experienced emotional and physical trauma. They are quick to flare into anger, they make negative assumptions automatically, they assume the worst at all times and it informs their interactions with one another to this day.
Everything Is Politics
Since 2015, we were conditioned to engage with others in an adversarial manner. Facebook reshuffled the deck in real-time in order to show to us the posts and comments on posts, from individuals and groups, that would more than likely generate engagement from us, and we all literally fell for that deception hook, line, and sinker.
Today, there is no personal opinion left. They are all presented, discussed, and disposed of as a political polarity. Everything, even the most mundane thing, is now a political position that can trigger hostile engagement, enable a hand-wringing, clothing renting, battle to the bitter end argument. We’ve ended relationships, friendships, and abandoned family members as a result.
Everything, every single position, on every topic signals an indication as to the extent of an individual’s virtue, value, and measure. Should disagreement happen, it is taken as a personal attack and we fight on, incessantly and nearly without end.
This is not to say that agreement is a condition that is of primary importance. I do not posit that, “if we could all see one another’s views, seek common ground, and strive for understanding, we’d all be better.” In fact, disagreement is useful, helpful, and is essential to normal human communication. But, many of us have forgotten how to do it.
The trouble is, and social media exploits this extensively, all opinions are not in fact equal. We may be equally important as human individuals, but our thoughts are not always equally important.
Social media relegates all opinions as not only equal, but equally available in the same format, in the manner in which they choose to represent it. They represent it in the way in which benefits themselves. This deceives us into believing that we’re seeing an accurate snapshot of reality, and validates our reality distortions, pretty much on a second to second basis. That part has not, you guessed it, changed either.
What has changed is, due to foul, repugnant, and hateful language from one group, or another, if you post “I hate my car,” you stand a very good chance of becoming silenced, by an automated process that lacks context (more on that later) even if only temporarily.
So let’s think about that for a moment. A group of basically terrible people, sent Zuckerberg before congress, so facebook responded by automating the enforcement of “community standards” and each group who falls victim to automation moderation, blames the other group for that revolting development in our social communications model.
Meanwhile facebook still happily feeds you content that is specifically ordered to provoke you to engage for as long and as often as possible.
The worst part: We all know this as a universal and essential truth and we do it anyway. Again, and again.
This is an important hallmark of an abusive relationship.
I’m not here to provide any sort of alternative. I’m not advocating any action beyond context awareness. Contextual awareness is critical for our experience, our own betterment, and provides us with a pathway to a non-destructive relationship with one another.
As well, the problem did not begin with facebook, nor twitter, nor did it even begin with each one of us. Therefore, it stands to reason, that no action we take as individuals, or collectively will staunch the black stench of consternation that is political dialog today, in the most predominant and prevalent form it takes today, social media.
In fact, if we were to come to some magical consensus and thwart the advertising machines that enable our constant state of argument, it still will not change the nature of these publicly traded companies whom are duty bound to return shareholder value.
The very best we can hope for, at this point, is that some newer and more insipidly subtle form of exchange becomes predominant in our everyday lives. This is inevitable and inescapable.
I wish that I could say that I have a magical solution in hand, but I do not. There are alternatives, of course, but they are focused upon special and niche interest groups, not very interesting to most of us. There is the alternative to “unplug” and detach from social media, for many that’s a viable and highly functional option.
But, they are building the next platform aren’t they. See you on the metaverse?
Keep your eyes peeled.