I have been noticing lately that I am upsetting a lot of my friends on Facebook by irrepressibly diving neck-deep into seemingly every one of the most controversial issues of our times without really seeming to change any minds.
At the same time, I find many of these issues to be so consequential and so urgent that I feel they they should not — they must not — go undiscussed. As I seem to have certain talents, I feel some compulsion to employ them in the world.
Alas, I am introverted to the point that what I would consider to be a good day is often so attenuated that a lot of people wouldn’t be able to see it happen. Left to my own devices, I am basically a full-time internet troll. I enjoy little more than having my beliefs challenged in the strongest possible terms and doing the same for others — to a degree that some people find more than a little off-putting.
And so this blog begins to record the unorthodox ravings I cannot contain and give my long-suffering friends a break. I hope you will enjoy it and everyone will learn from it — most of all me.
I am writing from the United States.
The State of the World
Our politics is broken. Our discourse is incoherent. Our civilization is beset by a raft of unprecedented challenges we cannot seem to comprehend, let alone solve. We seem to be losing the ability, even, to determine what is real, not least because ideological partisans have saturated the media and the social web with half-truths and outright lies.
If that’s not too much of a downer for you, read on, for hope is not lost: I believe that a more informed, more rational, more honest discourse is the way to address our shared problems. I hope that the content herein will contribute in some small way to that end.
The State of Play
We’re not dealing with it very well. We’re drowning in media, much of which is lop-sided, manipulated, or willfully deceitful. At the same time, broad swaths of the Western public are attached to their screens as if by wires — CNN lately reported that the average American spends more than 10 hours per day gazing into one or another screen. Alas, this explosion of information, this undrinkable tide, these unnatural modes of life and communication seem to be making us lonely, depressed, isolated — and increasingly radically polarized.
Our discourse communities are becoming incompatible to the extent that our various identity groups may as well be speaking different languages, in large part because the algorithms that populate our various internet media give us more of what we already like, and when we try to move on they perpetually serve us up more extreme versions of the same. Many people now share so few facts, assumptions, and definitions with their neighbors and fellow citizens that productive dialogue across the boundaries of identity is nearly impossible.
The State of Me
I no longer understand how I fit in to all this.
For most of my adult life, I suppose I took most politically liberal assumptions as facially valid, but I don’t feel like I’ve ever been that way for ideological reasons. For example, I don’t approve of well-regulated foreign trade because I am ideologically a globalist who wants to usher in a new world order, but because I observe that it usually cuts costs of traded goods from abroad while creating consumer surplus at home which can be spent on other products and services — done right, it’s a win-win. So I don’t think I’m “a liberal” as much as I think reality has a liberal bias.
And that certainly correlates with what the algorithms think of me. I recently used ProPublica’s browser extension to see what Facebook’s algorithm thinks my politics are; it identifies me as “very liberal.”
And yet, I have been finding that my opinions seem almost as likely to offend my friends who would identify as liberals as those who would identify as conservatives. I seem therefore to be politically homeless, equipped with a set of opinions guaranteed to offend almost anyone on one front or another.
This probably relates in a strong way to the way in which various issues have been horse-traded by various politicians and parties, discourse communities, and identitarian tribes, compounded by the natural and blameless human tendency to put affiliation before truth. For example, if I think that a woman should have the right to bear arms to the abortion clinic, whom should I vote for? These two issues would seem to have absolutely no natural connection, but in this world I can vote only for one or the other.
The Way Out
Our stasis in a state of strife is often because of orthodoxy, and we are not blameless if we fail to account for our biases.
If I’m a Conservative, I am often expected to defend both the right to life and the death penalty, and if I depart from the orthodox views, I am likely to be ridiculed, shamed, or even ostracized by my community and family. The same goes for a Liberal who supports DACA (because children ought not be punished for decisions made by others without their consent) but not DAPA (because consequences must devolve for deliberate transgressions even if there are off-side consequences for people who don’t deserve it). Such a person risks being unjustly blamed and flamed as a racist and a xenophobe despite in fact having sympathy for everyone involved and a cogent legal argument.
That is, for reasons of loyalty and social opprobrium, one may be forced to espouse positions that are fundamentally irreconcilable in order to maintain a livable life and preserve his relationships.
But this prevents us from critically examining our opinions in isolation to see which ones can stand on merit, and which should be left behind in favor of an evolving view of the world. Therefore, we retreat ever deeper into our tribes, increasingly unable to change our minds, no matter what the evidence that we’re wrong, fed a fire-hose of confirmatory evidence by internet filters that don’t care whether our opinions are useful, as long as they drive advertising traffic.
Worse, our dialogue conventions have become completely uncharitable. We not only think our co-disputants are wrong, we think they are wrong because they are evil. If only they shared our facts they inevitably would agree, right? If they don’t agree they must therefore be not only wrong but stupid and ignorant. Often — usually — we do not even listen long enough to find out what it is we’re disagreeing with.
And I suspect that this is often because even we partisans covertly know that support for our own views may be found wanting. We therefore thrust challenge away instead of finding what we can learn from it.
So the solution is to talk honestly and openly, and to question no-one’s beliefs more strongly than our own.
Alas, this is so risky in today’s world that I open this blog anonymously for fear of damage to my reputation should I offend the wrong person.
So let’s do it. Let’s analyze the orthodoxies and see which hold water. Let’s break out of the cage.
The Rules of the Road
I may seek to monetize the site including with a tip jar/ PayPal link and the incorporation of third-party ads. In the case of the latter I disavow any endorsement of their content unless specified otherwise.
I hope to attract comment traffic, because I want you to challenge my beliefs just as I hope to challenge yours.
Therefore comments are open as of now. Depending what happens, I may or may not respond but I will be interested to see what you have to say. If that turns out to be more trouble than it’s worth, it’ll change at any time and without notice, so if you want your content backed up, keep a copy.
Here are the rules: Comments are turned on by default. You must provide a name and email to provide your first comment, but if you have a previously-approved comment on my pages it should post without manual authorization by me. If I think you’re being an incorrigible jerk, you’re out the airlock, and there’s no appeal. So be excellent to each other, and let’s party on.
IMG: Sunrise over Havangsdosen, cc: