The Death of the Middle Ground

One of the many reasons that I loathe Donald Trump is that he is responsible for destroying the political middle ground.

Let’s just say that you think that CNN has become one long rambling op-ed, doesn’t give enough attention to data and research, and, at its worst, is a form of disaster-porn that is freeloading on the surge in viewership that happens during any natural disaster. If you think that, you have to keep those thoughts to yourself, because a Trump supporter might take those thoughts, make them go viral, and then fuel the “FAKE NEWS” people on the extreme right.

What if you have real concerns that the school closures are having massive, permanent, detrimental impact on the academics and social-emotional life of children? Shhhh. Keep it to yourself, because the other side wants to open schools even in the most dangerous areas of the country, to find a wedge for private schools and vouchers, and is looking for an opportunity to delegitimize the teachers’ unions.

And what if you hear stories about chaos and danger from parents with kids in colleges that are located in low-income urban areas? Or flipping channels, you stumble upon news stories about burnt out neighborhoods in Portland or Kenosha? What if those stories upset you, because innocent residents and business owners have been ruined? Those things just can’t be talked about, because the real issues around policing in urban areas are finally getting their five minutes of attention, and we don’t want to benefit Trump, who has claimed the “law and order” hill.

I’m ornery. If you tell not to talk about something, it just makes me want to talk about it. That’s how I’m wired. But I do recognize that the number one goal is to get that incompetent ass out of White House, so I can keep my mouth shut for a couple of months if that’s necessary. But what if our silence drives people to the Trump-side? If we do get Biden in the White House, can we start talking again or have we been permanently silenced?

UPDATE: Clarification..

So, let’s say I come across a NYT article that I don’t think is true or I think the reporting was shoddy or has some fatal flaw. Now, I think that 95% of what appears in the NYT is totally fine, but let’s just say that the 5% really bugs the crap out of me. I have been hesitant to talk about the 5%, because I’m afraid of that the extreme right will use my comments and distort them, and my comments will lend bolster their belief that 100% of what appears in the NYT is false. 

And others on the left believe that, too. So when we all see that 5% of crap, you can tell that we think it’s crap, because we all shut up and don’t talk about it. Nobody is telling me not to talk about the 5%. I’m just trying to be very, very careful.

51 thoughts on “The Death of the Middle Ground

  1. I object to what you are calling as the “middle ground”. I believe issues are too complicated for there to be a middle in the way I think of it, which is mathematically (even multi-dimensional mathematically). In your list, take some issues that we agree on and some that we don’t and some that I don’t know about.

    To start with what I don’t know — I don’t watch CNN, so I don’t know about the quality of their coverage. I do look in on the Fox news website where I sometimes find things out, mostly by reading slantwise and taking some information with knowledge of the straight out lies (the manipulated photos of the Seattle protests which had me wondering how the images had been obtained until investigation revealed that they had been photoshopped and composited).

    I agree with you on schools — that the discussion of safe opening has been skewed, potentially partially politically, but, I also think by a more extravagant risk adverseness among some who are considering COVID risk independently of all other risks. As an example, I know librarians are listening to data that suggests that books need to be quarantined for more than a week, without stacking, in order to find no detectable COVID on the book. Given all the other things that could be on books, this seems like overkill as a COVID risk, unless we were taking similar steps to avoid norovirus (which is insidious and terrible).

    I disagree with you on the protests which I believe are being portrayed in ways that do not reflect the protests. Am I going to pretend that no property has been destroyed? no. Does it have individual cost, yes (and, I know this personally, having helped paint boarded windows in our International District, which is located adjacent to protest areas). But, is the property destruction widespread? Is it pervasive? And, is it more significant than in any other time of protests and dramatic change? And, how many times are we seeing the same pictures again and again?

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    1. bj said,

      “I disagree with you on the protests which I believe are being portrayed in ways that do not reflect the protests. Am I going to pretend that no property has been destroyed? no. Does it have individual cost, yes (and, I know this personally, having helped paint boarded windows in our International District, which is located adjacent to protest areas). But, is the property destruction widespread? Is it pervasive? And, is it more significant than in any other time of protests and dramatic change?”

      Once a fire starts, it’s very hard to control. Any number of other buildings could be damaged or destroyed, and there’s always the potential for loss of life.

      It goes beyond an individual cost if a business dies and there winds up being a blighted spot in a neighborhood. The more empty storefronts there are (and I see plenty locally even just because of COVID-related economic setbacks without there having been violence) the less opportunity there is in a neighborhood. The combination of COVID shutdowns + repeated violence and lawlessness is absolutely devastating.

      Furthermore, it’s not just property damage. Anybody who tries to stand in the way of looters (like David Dorn, a black retired police captain shot to death in St. Louis) or is just in the wrong place at the wrong time (like the person whose charred body was found in a Minneapolis pawn shop after it was burned by rioters) is potentially in danger. There have been a number of fatal incidents involving protest situations with multiple guns involved on both sides. See, for example, the fatal July shooting in Austin as well as the Aug. shooting in Kenosha involving Kyle Rittenhouse. It’s crazy sometimes reading these incidents and realizing just how many guns were involved.

      There’s also been a lot of protester harassment of motorists and diners. I’ve seen a bunch of clips involving protesters harassing people in my old neighborhood in DC, including protesters heckling people who were just eating ice cream and minding their business. There are clips like that from all over the country. There’s been a lot of obstruction of traffic. As I’m sure you remember, a woman protester was accidentally killed while obstructing I-5. Any of these protests that illegally obstruct traffic are very dangerous, both in terms of creating road hazards and obstructing people dealing with emergencies or just important life business.

      With regard to whether the property damage is “widespread” and “pervasive,” we might equally well ask if police killings of unarmed, peaceful black men are “widespread” and “pervasive.” Is there not some disproportionality between the police killings and the protests, destruction and deaths that have followed? There are a lot of people involved in the protests who seem to have wildly inflated ideas of the numbers of black men killed by police and how frequently this happens. And this has had some rather dire consequences regarding black men themselves–exaggerated ideas of the dangers of arrest lead to people violently resisting arrest which in turn leads to police shootings, which has all too often led to vigilanteism. There’s been a lot of freelance vigilante violence. See for example, 8-year-old Secoreia Turner, who was fatally shot in Atlanta by protesters near the Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks was fatally shot by police.) It’s been a vicious cycle. It also took 4 shootings and 2 deaths before CHAZ/CHOP in Seattle was shut down.

      “And, is it more significant than in any other time of protests and dramatic change?”

      The closest analogous situation I can think of is the late 1960s riots, which were devastating for many US cities. There’s been nothing comparable in my lifetime.

      I personally feel that there’s been more than enough violence and bloodshed this year. This isn’t just anecdotal–shootings and murder are significantly up in major cities throughout the US. This isn’t just political violence–for a variety of reasons, people are a lot less inhibited about shootings and murder than they were a year ago.

      https://www.axios.com/murder-homicide-rate-coronavirus-ea3bdbd2-a548-46e5-adff-0f8f41608ed9.html

      A lot more lives are being lost in the current homicide spike than would be saved even if all police killings suddenly stopped. (The total number of Americans killed by police is about 1,000 a year, many of which killings involve white victims and/or are quite justified.)

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  2. So, reading your “middle” I can see ideas where I don’t think your middle is a middle (from my looking at the data). I do think that we are in a time where nuanced, data driven discussion is difficult. I do think that is at least partially because we have no partners with whom to have those discussions, about, say, what the size of a stimulus check should be right now. But I do worry that we won’t have those discussions even when we are not in the battle against ignorance (i.e when there is no one altering NWS maps with sharpies). So, there I see a big agreement, both that we need to have those discussions, and that we are worried that we won’t because the political landscape has been altered.

    I’m inclined to believe that it will take a takeover of government by non-Trumpians (and, right now the Republican party is the party of Trump) before we can move forward. That means, for example, that the non-Trump supporting Republicans are going to have to abandon their party and vote for the party they disapprove of (say, AOC’s party, if that’s what they fear) in the hopes that they can moderate the Democratic party. The Republican party has been taken over by Trump (and the anti-trade, isolationist, anti-immigrant, white supremacist, racist views he represents). Has the democratic party been taken over by the views those Republicans might fear (high taxes, anti-business, anti-police, . . .)? I don’t think so, but, I’m not a Republican.

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    1. The point of this post is that there is room for reasonable people to talk about these issues and even disagree, but things have become so partisan that reasonable people aren’t having these conversations, because they are fearful of giving fuel to the crazy/extreme people. These conversations are happening, but in whispers and DMs, instead of in public. Worrisome.

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      1. “My family” basically means making money to buy a hedge against chaos. There’s no reason not to work as I can’t do anything else I’d want to do.

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      2. I wholeheartedly agree with this characterization, which I sometimes say is to make as few topics about ideology as I can. And I also agree that we are in an ideologically divided time which makes it difficult to talk about solutions.

        I just don’t like to talk about middles because we can lazily default to the idea that the middle is between to points when it shouldn’t be.

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      3. Nobody with money or a government job better shoot me. Thanks to the reigning ethos of capitalism, my wife’s lawyer would clean them out on compensatory damages before even getting to the punitive.

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      4. bj said, “I just don’t like to talk about middles because we can lazily default to the idea that the middle is between to points when it shouldn’t be.”

        I also don’t like the “middle” phrasing.

        It’s more a question of honesty.

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  3. I don’t really blame Donald Trump for it: I actually blame social media and Donald Trump. I only check twitter once a day, maybe now, because I saw journalists I respect saying the most ridiculous things, mostly about random other people or other journalists. And it was all infighting. I’m not interested in all these people’s opinions anymore. I’m starting to wonder why I ever was interested. Maybe the news is enough. I find the NYTimes and even CNN a bastion of calm compared to Twitter. I find that thoughtfully written articles are one thing (and I think most of your blog posts, like this one, are thoughtful). But the hot takes, the scoring points…it leads to nothing, or nothing good, in my current opinion. Too many people should have locked accounts or a therapist.

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      1. Yes, that’s me, too, a highly curated feed and open blocking If anyone shows up in my feed being obnoxious. But, I’m not using Twitter professionally. I do occasionally get skewed information, but I try to research those more broadly.

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  4. Funny you should mention this. Yesterday, while I was prepping my meals for the week ahead and scanning Facebook, I ended up in an argument with a relative (and all her right-wing followers). I used to think of her as a reasonable and intelligent person, but she’s gone way off the deep end into conspiracy theories. Anyway, she posted a graphic meme on “blue” vs. “red” voters, that claimed all kinds of nonsense and failed on several informal logical fallacies. I called her on it, and it was on. I thought maybe there was hope when she asked me where I got my news (lots of mainstream sources, plus C-Span, PRS, NPR, and labor-oriented periodicals I subscribe to, mentioned that I read a lot of nonfiction books). Nope. I was told “that’s your problem.” Yeah. My problem is that I read legitimate, reputable news sources, because they’re all liars and fake news. Only QAnon, various whacko YouTubers, and latter-day John Bircher-type folks can be trusted to “tell the truth.”

    So. It’s one thing to disagree, using actual facts, statistics, studies, histories, etc.—but there is no “middle ground” with a person who disputes consensus reality. It really is to that point. I see this descent into madness as a means for…people who feel they have very little control over their lives to attempt to grasp some control. Having the “REAL knowledge”, the inside scoop. And the more bizarre, the more it must be true, the more the “elites” are “hiding” the truth. All the anti-vaxxer stuff really took off when more people started having a hard time affording medical care. I see the move toward bizarre conspiracy theories having a similar motivation—education and experience get downgraded in the minds of some people, because they no longer see it as something they can participate in.

    In order to have any form of “middle ground”, it has to be mutual. Reciprocal. Participatory.

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    1. I agree with you. This is no longer about differences over values or policies. This is about differences over what is real and what is not.

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      1. Wendy wrote, “I agree with you. This is no longer about differences over values or policies. This is about differences over what is real and what is not.”

        It really doesn’t help when reporters (standing in front of burning buildings) are accompanied by chyrons saying that the protest is “mostly peaceful.”

        The term “mostly peaceful” needs to die. By that standard, Charlottesville was “mostly peaceful.”

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      2. Yes, you can be standing in front of a burning building and still have a mostly peaceful protest. Mostly peaceful is a qualitative measure, but numbers, like the number of protestors, the number who engaged in violence can let us assess whether it was “mostly peaceful”. A reason for those chyrons is that there is a default to finding the violence. People standing quietly with signs aren’t as interesting as burning buildings and thus the fire attracts cameras.

        Also, after attending to the Fox coverage of the Seattle protests, I have become wary of taking images of destruction at face value. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/fox-news-runs-digitally-altered-images-in-coverage-of-seattles-protests-capitol-hill-autonomous-zone/

        (note Fox illustrated an article about Seattle with an image of Minneapolis, leading to residents wondering where that burning building might be).

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    2. I wonder if largish numbers of people aren’t going to wind up close to unemployable because of this. It’s almost as good as a facial tattoo for announcing that you aren’t likely to follow procedure.

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    3. Oh, yeah. I’ve come across those delusional people, too. Not often, and it’s usually on social media, but enough to make me wonder whether or not these people ever attended a school.

      I do self-censor, because I’m worried that these people can’t handle the “I agree with 95% and disagree with 5%” type of arguments.

      Jonah said that he got into a two hour conversation online with some guy that was arguing that people need to arm themselves and take policing into their own hands, because the cops have stopped doing their jobs.

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      1. Laura said, “I’ve come across those delusional people, too. Not often, and it’s usually on social media, but enough to make me wonder whether or not these people ever attended a school.”

        They all went to school.

        Not having a normal, in-person community is making everybody weirder.

        “Jonah said that he got into a two hour conversation online with some guy that was arguing that people need to arm themselves and take policing into their own hands, because the cops have stopped doing their jobs.”

        People both on left and right have been embracing that logic, with very predictable results.

        And yes, that’s what you get if the police aren’t in control of the situation.

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      2. Yes. There’s a pretty clear “Let me to what I want or I’ll actively undermine the community that pays me.” It’s the kind of thing that is destroying the ability to run local governments. I don’t know what to do about it besides not give in to extortion and work for political change. Mostly, what I want to see if very strong affirmative action in police departments, not as a way to redress historical inequalities, but to improve the police.

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  5. There are always more than two sides to any issue. Life isn’t as neat as theory.

    People who are unhappy are not “keeping it to themselves.” Not admitting that there are problems leads to a public image of not caring about problems. From the outside, it looks the same.

    The collapse of the media has been a long-running debacle. It’s best understood that it has always been entertainment. When the national media companies were bought (captured?) by a few corporate behemoths, real news vanished. (It didn’t help that rounds of cost cutting over the last 20 years led to the firing or laying off of all the experienced reporters and writers.)

    Cell phones on the ground get the first videos, in contrast to the days when news teams had the resources to report live from the scene.

    People do have some Weird Beliefs out there. I was trying to figure out what Qanon is yesterday. I still don’t know what it is, but the top cited post on Reddit’s Qanon damage page was from a man who claimed the theories his father spouted from Qanon were like the biblical prophecies his father had been following for years. Maybe the internet is allowing people with odd beliefs to find each other. However, followers aren’t necessarily taking things seriously. My son follows Flat Earthers online, because he finds them bizarre.

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  6. I think Laura is correct, that the left has worked hard to shut down discussion. I’m skeptical that Trump is the reason for it, but even if he were, there’s no reason to believe that the left is going to start letting Amy Wax teach again, or apologize to and reinstate Greg Patton (just for instance). The only way free discussion could be restored would be with the collapse of leftist institutions, which seems unlikely in my lifetime. Then again, who could have imagined in 1950 how inconsequential the National Council of Churches would become, or who could have imagined in 1990 how many revered periodical publications would disappear. And of course, lack of free discussion means bad decisions, which may hasten the decline of the least free institutions, which at present would mean universities.

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    1. Poor, poor Amy Wax. For saying that the black students in her first year classes were all unqualified morons who didn’t belong at Penn she was brutally punished by being retained on the faculty and being assigned to teach a different class. The horror, the horror!

      Honestly, the “punishment” (and I would hesitate to even call it that) was a reasonable response to a statement which was way out of line and amounted to professional misconduct.

      If this three year old example is the best you can do regarding free expression in academia being suppressed then one would legitimately conclude that this is no problem at all.

      You would appear to be taking the position that free speech means that people should be able to say what they want when they want without anyone else expressing the slightest disapproval. Surely there must be *some* situation when people should be subject to disapprobation for what they say?

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      1. Amy Wax allies. Are those the folk who are put in charge of the summer internship social program and invite the interns home for a discussion of the position that America/the firm/the company would be better off if there were more white people and fewer non-white people? And then a many of the summer interns chose other companies and spread the word. And then the dinner party host claims victimhood when the company decides that he will never be in charge of the summer intern program again?

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    1. “I think Laura is correct, that the left has worked hard to shut down discussion”

      I wasn’t quite saying that.

      So, let’s say I come across a NYT article that I don’t think is true or I think the reporting was shoddy or has some fatal flaw. Now, I think that 95% of what appears in the NYT is totally fine, but let’s just say that the 5% really bugs the crap out of me. I have been hesitant to talk about the 5%, because I’m afraid of that the extreme right will use my comments, distort them, and my comments will lend bolster their belief that 100% of what appears in the NYT is false.

      And others on the left believe that, too. So when we all see that 5% of crap, you can tell that we think it’s crap, because we all shut up and don’t talk about it. Nobody is telling me not to talk about the 5%. I’m just trying to be very, very careful.

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      1. But many on the left will, for example, speak up and insist that Amy Wax hasn’t been censored, because she is allowed to teach some upper level classes, although she has been publicly and visibly banned from teaching first year classes. Or that Erika Christakis may have been treated as a pariah by the administration, but she wasn’t actually fired, so she wasn’t really harmed at all. And these are the same people who screech about microaggressions. I mean, why is this blog private? Fear of Trump?

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      2. I had never heard of the Amy Wax case, so I had to look it up. I would never, ever publicly comment on what grades any specific ethnic group of my students received – that was really unprofessional of her, and I’m not surprised she was punished for that alone. (Also, not “getting” to teach big first-year classes but instead being allowed to only teach small upper levels is not a punishment in academia – it’s usually a reward.)

        I don’t read twitter except to look at the tweets Laura links too, and every once in a while I’ll search it for someone. But I think Twitter giving the president an immediate voice in everyone’s ear/on everyone’s phone has had horrible effects. It’s like when in Russia the state-run radio station was on in every room in the dormitory.

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  7. So – disavowing any knowledge or ability to intelligently comment on Trump or specifically American issues (not my president, not my country, I don’t get to vote there).

    My perspective is that intelligent commentary/discussion – drawing people from different backgrounds to discuss issues of importance – is disappearing from social media all over the world. People, by and large, find their own echo chambers and stick there. If there’s an opinion that you find challenging (for whatever reason – social, political, religious, etc) there’s either a dogpile of negative commentary to drive that person away, or you unfriend that person and migrate to a social grouping more in tune with your philosophy.

    Here in NZ we have the opposite problem to the Trump situation – where it’s unacceptable to criticize *anything* about Jacinda Adern and her government’s approach to Covid and (by extension) to any other part of her political record. It may be less objectionable than the Trump-follower scenario, but it’s just as bad for democracy.

    Totally unscientific, but this is why I think that polls are becoming increasingly unreliable – people have learned to *not* tell the truth about their opinions to anyone. It’s only in the anonymous safety of the ballot box that they can express their choices.

    I find that intolerance of ‘difference’ (political, religious, social) is growing as this social media migration to ‘safe bubbles’ continues. After all – if all of your information comes through this filter, and no one challenges your views, then you must be right [sarc alert].

    Very, very few people actually look at the news they receive – and wonder what the bias is. [My background is History – and it’s the first thing we were taught in evaluating any resource is ‘what’s the bias’]

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    1. I think the main I think Trump is doing to damage democracy is trying to make it harder to vote for people who are not likely to vote for him and encouraging his followers to drive into cities with guns. I don’t know what is happening in New Zealand besides few people dying a COVID in the whole country than have died of it in my small city.

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    2. ” think that polls are becoming increasingly unreliable – people have learned to *not* tell the truth about their opinions to anyone. It’s only in the anonymous safety of the ballot box that they can express their choices.”

      Yeah, I think that this is true here, too.

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    3. “People, by and large, find their own echo chambers and stick there.”

      Not me, dudettes. People who agree with me make me doubt myself.

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    4. “I find that intolerance of ‘difference’ (political, religious, social) is growing as this social media migration to ‘safe bubbles’ continues. After all – if all of your information comes through this filter, and no one challenges your views, then you must be right [sarc alert].”

      I actually think it’s more complicated than that. I think that pre-social media, we were often in filter bubbles that were somewhat coercive. Without social media, if you are in a community where there is a dominant view, you learn to keep quiet. I mean, you have to live with these people, and you can’t be arguing all the time. I mean, basically, at my family gatherings, we just all agree not to argue. We spend a lot of time talking about beer, dogs, tv, and how my BIL is going to injure himself next (sorry, family joke).

      But with social media, you actually can find people who share your views. You don’t have to feel like an outsider any more. So maybe you become like my friend L from Alabama. She was raised all her life with well-off white professionals who are very conservative and probably racist. Social media brought her to fandom and a whole bunch of new people. In our close-knit sub-group, at least 2 other people were, politically, very conservative. But although L had access to people in her fandom/friend group with the same views as those in her “real-life” community, she has become more and more outspoken in her progressive views. This isn’t about being in a filter bubble, This is about finding people who think ideas you have always been thinking but never had a chance to develop and express.

      One of the reasons I am attracted to parenting and education forums in general and this one specifically is that I find that education issues/debates don’t fall into neat political sides. If you have a kid on the spectrum, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican. You may agree or disagree on some things, but you’re coming from similar experiences that you’re not denying the truth of. And your goal is to find solutions to problems and to hear as many different possible solutions as you can so you can figure out what’s right for you. (And yes, I know about pro-breastfeeding parents and anti-vax parents and acrimonious debates over state testing, but mostly, even if you disagree on one aspect, you can still find common ground on so many others.)

      Perhaps public political discussion would be a lot better if it was more like discussion on parenting and education forums. Or maybe I’m delusional. 😀

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      1. “I think that pre-social media, we were often in filter bubbles that were somewhat coercive.”

        Hoo-boy is that an understatement. Are you sure you’re not Canadian or something?

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      2. My dad always said he wanted to move to Canada, after and before it was fashionable (post-Vietnam, pre-deterioration of US health care system). Does that count? (He was just in love with the Canadian Rockies.)

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      3. “I think that pre-social media, we were often in filter bubbles that were somewhat coercive.”

        I think that the filter bubbles of social media are just as coercive – we just don’t perceive it – because we’ve found our ‘family’ And the coercion consists of exclusion rather than requirement to conform.

        How many people just drop out of the social group, because they’re ‘uncomfortable’ – and migrate to a new one? It’s a heck of a lot easier to do this online, than it is in a small town.

        If you’re not regularly challenged by other people’s opinions/reality in your social groups then I think you (and by this I mean people in general – not anyone specific!) are highly likely to be in a filter bubble and not realize it.

        It’s also hard work to widen our social bubbles and expose ourselves to discomfort in opinions expressed, let alone challenge them (which is a whole magnitude more risky).
        And it tends not to be rewarding – to be perceived as a trouble-maker or a purveyor of uncomfortable opinions at best – or be attacked and excluded (Cancel culture is alive and well) at worst.
        For the vast majority of people sticking to their social media filter bubbles is reality.

        And that’s a big challenge for democracy.

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      4. “the filter bubbles of social media are just as coercive”

        I grew up in the capital city of a southern state. In the mid to late 1980s, I knew of people for whom “rolling fags” — that is, finding people they thought were homosexual men and beating them — was a semi-regular form of weekend recreation. My sixth-grade English teacher, who was Black, male and as far as I can tell was a solid educator, appeared in a talent-show sketch of “The Village Teachers.” He did not return the next year. Nowadays I think he was fired for being, or being thought to be, gay.

        So no, the filter bubbles of social media are not just as coercive.

        (Lest we think that this is a southern problem, I will add that when we lived in a suburb of Chicago my mom was told that no Black people lived in the town because “what if their house caught on fire and the volunteer fire department wouldn’t come?”)

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      5. As Doug writes, I think we underestimate the degree of compulsion in real life. I was 34 years old before anyone felt comfortable enough to tell me that they were gay. An office mate fell in love with the woman she would marry during the time that we shared an office. She was careful enough in talking to me that I worried that she was having an affair with a married man.

        I myself went to bible study (I really can’t remember why, but all the other kids were doing it).

        I used to argue that surface compliance was no big deal to me (in clothes, rules, . . . ). I’d be willing to cover my hair if it was required and it wouldn’t break my spirit. I had no need to dance until my hair covering fell off. But those who do, whose spirit is broken by the rules of their place suffer greatly and find safety in the social bubble of the internet.

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      6. Wendy said, “Perhaps public political discussion would be a lot better if it was more like discussion on parenting and education forums.”

        I think that’s a very good point.

        Jonah Goldberg has talked about how politics has turned into a form of entertainment.

        “Ever since I wrote my book, I’ve been going on about how we watch politics as if it’s a form of entertainment. Your brain changes when you watch entertainment. Or, rather, it unchanges; it reverts back to something closer to its original design.”

        “When you watch entertainment — movies, plays, video games, etc. — you can yell: “kick him again!” or “finish him!” You can cheer when a character you detest suffers beyond all deserving. Most of the time this is cathartic, healthy, humorous, or otherwise harmless — because it’s not real. What happens in the movie theater stays in the movie theater. Now, with Twitter and Facebook, we never really leave the theater, because we’re watching the story unfold everywhere — including New Zealand. But the news is real — or at least it’s supposed to be.”

        https://www.nationalreview.com/g-file/american-political-theatrics-donald-trump/

        As you can imagine, politics-as-entertainment is diametrically opposed to politics-as-problem-solving and is disastrous in any kind of crisis.

        Goldberg also had a piece on Trump and his relationship to professional wrestling that is worth looking at:

        https://www.stltoday.com/opinion/columnists/national/jonah-goldberg-we-re-all-living-in-trump-s-kayfabe-world/article_3510e5df-b3bc-5da2-b276-5ee5b3b904d3.html

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    5. Here in NZ we have the opposite problem to the Trump situation – where it’s unacceptable to criticize *anything* about Jacinda Adern and her government’s approach to Covid and (by extension) to any other part of her political record.

      If you are getting tired of Jacinda just send her to us! I’d welcome the chance to slip her a US passport and birth certificate and give her the opportunity to try her chances on a bigger stage.

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      1. Not getting tired of Jacinda at all!
        But, despite doing well overall, the Covid response hasn’t been perfect (nothing ever is in this Fallen world ;-)], and neither is her general political record pre-Covid.

        Good quality democracy would support reasoned, positive criticism.

        What we’re seeing is that *any* comment that is perceived as ‘negative’ gets the “But Jacinda saved us” response (I’m exaggerating a bit – but you get the picture). Even to the point of journalists getting hate mail, because they dared to question her.

        I’m starting to see almost religious levels of response in many political and social areas. And my Daddy taught me never to debate religion with a true-believer, you have zero chance of convincing them of any reality apart from their own.

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      2. “. But those who do, whose spirit is broken by the rules of their place suffer greatly and find safety in the social bubble of the internet.”

        I think you may be over-estimating the ‘safety’ of the social Internet bubbles. I’m sure that you in the US have the same sad situations of online bullying, followed by self-harm, extreme isolation and suicide attempts, that we’ve seen here in NZ. Particularly with teens – but also older adults who have transgressed the social bubble ‘rules’ in some way.

        I’ve certainly seen people (often women) I know well, who would *never* have said something cruel to someone’s face (although, probably would be catty behind their back), be vitriolic in attacking on online forums.

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    1. Ha! Well, I did exempt the breastfeeding, vax, and testing debates. I guess my point is that you could have a really intense argument with someone about pro/anti vax, but you could still join together over other parenting issues. That is almost impossible now when it comes to political discussion. We can’t find anything to share (despite disagreement) because Trump supporters have a different “reality.”

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