The reason we hold truth in such respect is because we have so little opportunity to get familiar with it.
– Mark Twain
The internet is the worst thing that has ever happened to civil discourse in this country.
Before the internet, political disagreements were hostile. Everyone believed the other side was wrong. No matter the argument presented, regardless of its basis in fact, it was almost impossible to sway the other side to one’s viewpoint.
With the internet, political disagreements have become toxic and destructive. The partisanship, the arguments, the daily slander – they have all escalated out of the realm of sanity. There are literally fights going on the streets. Sure, we’ve seen it before, but never with this level of ferocity.
The internet is to blame. Why?
We look to Marcus Aurelius, who tells us, “Of each particular thing, ask: ‘What is it in itself, in its own construction?”
The internet does not exist as anything more than various forms of technology strung together. The worlds created by it are constructs. They are virtual worlds, not real ones.
Given that the internet itself is not human, our interaction with it only serves to depersonalize the communication it allegedly facilitates. In point of fact, interpersonal communication has eroded since the internet became ubiquitous.
With depersonalization comes dehumanization. We now see the Other as more inhuman than ever before, because we now longer see him face-to-face, or eye-to-eye.
All we see are the Other’s words, taken out of context, printed, reprinted, disseminated, distorted, and reworked to fit an agenda. No different perhaps than traditional print media, except now the misinformation is created and distributed instantaneously. With each successive iteration, the original text, subtext, and context are stripped away. In the end, there is no there, there.
The Other’s actions now appear on a tiny screen, edited, clipped, repeated over and over, altered, mashed-up, restructured and redesigned to fit an agenda. David Milch eloquently characterized what the media did to us on 9/11. “It assaulted the collective sensibility…with fear-mongering images, a deliberate…habituation of the viewing public to the shaping of human experience in distorted forms”.
Exactly. The human experience of direct civil discourse has become irreparably distorted by the internet.
Worse, fringe elements that never had a voice now have one. While everyone may be entitled to their opinion, the irrational and insane ones now have equal stature. The Village Idiot now has a megaphone and he’s screaming at us from the center of town. Even worse, he can scream with complete anonymity. He’s an expert because he says he is….and if what he says fits the agenda of another nutter, a voice that should be ignored suddenly has power.
Finally, and regrettably, the internet provides us with what we truly want – not to have to think for ourselves. If we seek to argue a point, all we need do is troll cyberspace until we find the a truth we agree with, and cite it. There! It’s true because this website says so! It’s true because aforementioned Village Idiot has a flashy website – which provides a multi-generational derivation of an already derivative piece of text or film.
The only way to reverse this course is simple.
Engage your neighbor face-to-face.
Look into his eyes.
You stand as a sentinel to your own mind. If you only allow those thoughts to enter it that you know to be 100% true, then you have the basis from which you can argue a point. Anything that is less than 100% true is, by definition, false.
If it’s false, then shut up…and seek out the Truth.