I don’t know about any of you, but lately I’ve been feeling like the world has started to go to hell in a handbasket.
In fairness, this could be because I have recently started to read Twitter again after a long absence, but I suspect that does not adequately explain my feelings.
I feel like I am watching the splitting of social bonds and the norms that held them together; but I worry about overstating it and appearing to be that person wearing a “the end of the world is nigh” board on a bright summer’s day.
The culprit that is blighting my sense of community stability? The internet and social media.
Is it ironic that I am making this observation on the internet and this blog posts to social media? Why yes, it is.
So what’s my gripe with it then?
Well, it seems to me that social media is to our deteriorating social bonds as human industry is to global warming. Both add to the heating up of things and do almost as much damage to human society as they do good.
Let me be clear, I am not a Luddite, but I have begun to fear the power of the social media and internet echo chamber. This article by Birender Ahluwalia lays out a number of the key points of how echo chambers came to be, thanks to human nature, and how they are now even more self-selecting in the social media age. The most worrying statement in the article, I think, is:
…presenting any contrarian information leads to a further entrenching of beliefs.
It’s this accelerated echo chamber of social media that has shone through as underpinning the recent lurches to “illiberal democracy” in long-time “liberal democracies”. Realising this has made me shudder and, after the two most notable examples of Brexit and the US election, I have been spending a large amount of my free time reading about how that came about. This New York Times article would be a good starting point if you wanted an overview.
Prior to these events I would have said that I was relatively apolitical. Not apathetic, just not as aware or engaged in learning and thinking.
The more I have read, the more my existing feelings about what sort of society I want to live in have crystallised. I most certainly do not want to live in an illiberal democracy. I do not want to see a widening gap between the most wealthy and the least. I do not want to see my kids priced out of their own homes, should they choose ownership as an option. I do not want to look at my neighbours in Asia, the Americas or anywhere else as a “threat” to my livelihood. (After all, they have a livelihood to earn too!)
I want our country to face this without ideology, as this statement from the NY Times article, states:
We need better systems for buffering people against disruption, even as we recognize that disruption is inevitable.
Ideology and rhetoric do not work out those ‘better systems’ – pragmatism does. And a willingness amongst the greater population to feel that their fellow citizens (both within the country and within the world) deserve a fair shake at things.
This may, in fact, require a bit of sacrifice. And if there’s one thing people aren’t great at, it’s personal sacrifice for the good of others.
They may be willing to give up stuff for their own greater good – if they’ve figured out that delayed gratification works – but that guy over there? Hmm, that’s a toughie. Is he a good guy? Does he share my values? My faith? (Or non-faith?) Is he inclined to be a bit lazy? Uhhmmm, not so sure about giving up my little bit of paradise for that lazy one! And I made it up from a poor start, so can they! (Only your poor start was forty or fifty years ago when it was still, just, possible to live and save on a single income.)
You get the idea.
But there’s reasonable proof that self-sacrifice for the wider societal good benefits everyone. Lower levels of inequality impact positively on everyone – not just the poorest folk. Check out the list here for some insight.
It turns out I’m still apolitical – but only in regards to not being ideologically connected to any specific political party.
What a political party needs to offer me this election year is evidence based, pragmatic solutions to inequality; not ideological platitudes, not bribes to line my own pocket, not excuses, not “them or us” rhetoric (*lazy* folk or foreigners alike), but an actual answer that will go some way to stalling and reversing the widening gap between the haves and the have nots. I want it for the ‘have nots’ and I want it for myself. I want to live in a liberal democracy that gives a damn about everyone, and has no truck with the divisive echo chamber politics that have reared their ugly head overseas.
And I will no longer sit by silently thinking this to myself but not saying it out loud for fear of offending people or losing friends.