“Our minds can be hijacked” Part 4: the death of nuance and humility

This article follows Parts 12 and 3 of a four part commentary on The Guardian’s article “Our minds can be hijacked”.

Narcissism is in, humility is out. Social media and the coddled generation have cultivated a culture of blaming others for their own failings and perceived injustices.

Politics is downstream from culture. Politics has taken over discourse over the Internet as a reaction to the social media cultural shift.

Facebook and Twitter eventually coax people to choose a side, even if they are pragmatic and nuanced in their views. As a result, we see the political divisiveness that is Brexit versus Remain, and Trump versus anti-Trump.

That means privileging what is sensational over what is nuanced, appealing to emotion, anger and outrage. The news media is increasingly working in service to tech companies, Williams adds, and must play by the rules of the attention economy to “sensationalise, bait and entertain in order to survive”.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s stunning electoral victory, many were quick to question the role of so-called “fake news” on Facebook, Russian-created Twitter bots or the data-centric targeting efforts that companies such as Cambridge Analytica used to sway voters. But Williams sees those factors as symptoms of a deeper problem.

It is not just shady or bad actors who were exploiting the internet to change public opinion. The attention economy itself is set up to promote a phenomenon like Trump, who is masterly at grabbing and retaining the attention of supporters and critics alike, often by exploiting or creating outrage.

Lewis’ article deserves some meta-analysis again. While he has given credit to Trump for being persuasive, he failed to recognize that the allegations and resulting anti-Trump outrage were fabricated using the same sensationalist tactics.

You can attribute Trump’s “stunning” victory to outrage culture the same way you can attribute these “stunning” accusations of fake news and Russian interference to outrage culture. It appears only one side can be right, the other side must be completely wrong, and there is no in-between.

He concludes the article conceding this possible lack of introspection:

“Will we be able to recognise it, if and when it happens?” Williams replies. “And if we can’t, then how do we know it hasn’t happened already?”

It is clear that social media is an extension of a high school lifestyle, in that it encourages the formation of cliques and increases the likelihood of being in an “echo chamber”. Being constantly bombarded with positive feedback only if you share the same opinion within the clique, coupled with the filtered feeds that further shield you from opposing opinions, results in being conditioned to immediately dismiss opposing opinions as if they were outright nonsense.

People are losing their ability to listen, empathize and negotiate. Those outside of the clique are shunned and mocked. This is the disturbing trend of anti-social behavior that social media cultivates.

To borrow a line from Scott Adams, we now live in a society where facts don’t matter and persuasion is king. For example, the postmodern deconstruction of science and biology, a movement rooted entirely on censoring millennia of scientific research and progress, has infiltrated one side of the political spectrum and maintains its relevancy through social media. It fights off rational opposition with ostracism and mockery: if you’re not with them, you’re a racist, transphobic, bigot!  Its “echo chamber” is insulated enough that it has its own established set of “facts” that conveniently separates itself from science or masquerades itself as science.  It has planted its seeds firmly in academia and media, branched out into politics, and reaffirms itself in the public psyche through social media.

What’s in store for the future in a society perpetually living in high school? How does nuance and humility revive from the dead, particularly if the walls within these “echo chambers” are becoming stronger?

The longer that social media is en vogue, the closer we need a “hard reset”. It is a complex problem that probably deserves another series of articles.

In short, restoring humility requires the necessity of a humble lifestyle. The sense of entitlement needs to be opposed by a sense of struggle and personal responsibility.  We will get to that point once this debt-fueled economy eventually unravels.  It will lead to an economic depression, which inevitably may lead to conflict if the “echo chambers” are still stifling communication between opposing sides.

However, if everyone can recognize the perils of social media and treats it as any other vice to be avoided, the anti-social trend may come to an end peacefully.

In the current cultural climate where facts don’t matter, revealing the science behind Facebook’s psychological dangers won’t cut it.

We will have to wait until Facebook dies like any other high school fad.  It will die when the kids consider it “lame”.

If you ask me, maintaining a narcissistic, self-absorbed, fake-celebrity image for the sake of accumulating superficial “likes” from hundreds of “friends” you barely know seems pretty lame already.

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