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April 15, 2024

How the Internet Is Destroying Itself From Within

By Dan Mulhollen

Recently, a Facebook page I follow asked a question. "What do you ask on a first date?"

I answered "Maddow or Carlson?"

The moderator pulled that reply as inappropriate. But why? Doesn't learning a date's politics matter in all future dates, to say nothing of a possible relationship? My own bias would be for the lesbian with the honest laugh, not the one whose laugh is mocking and snarky (whether or not Carlson is a lesbian is open to conjecture).

That last quip points out what is wrong with politics today -- that neither side has a sense of humor, and that makes civil disagreement impossible. Everyone is an "expert" with every post and any opposing view is taken as an insult. I have nothing but contempt for most of POTUS #45's actions while in office, but realize his stupidly-named Operation Warp Speed has saved countless lives. Many on the far left will not give him that.

There is a growing cynicism in America today -- and the Internet has nurtured that cynicism. Zero tolerance on posts makes as much sense as zero tolerance in law enforcement. There are too many gray areas in life for such rigid thinking. But the Internet is oblivious to that fact.

Comedian Bill Maher has long warned of the perils inherent in political correctness, and while I do not agree with him all the time -- particularly his evangelistic zeal (ironic, no?) against consuming meat -- he is very right here. Restricting what topics are open for discussion limits a healthy exchange of ideas, allowing for some meeting of the minds to be reached.

Of course, this is not a new thing. The period between 1517 and 1648 was marked by particularly nasty religious violence. The U.S. election of 1800 saw both parties convinced the other's winning would ruin the country. The 1960s saw the US get into a war nowadays no one would defend, while many still rally against "dirty hippies." Rush Limbaugh and his ilk's button-pushing neologism -- libtards and feminazis did nothing to promote civil disagreements.

At this point, I must mention that while liberal, my intelligence has never been in question (although some may question my common sense).

But the extremes on both sides have a magnetic draw on many more in the middle, making civility impossible for some people. In his book The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt explains how both sides become intolerant of opposing views, both believing they are on the "side of the angels/the right side of history." That is even more true now due to the Internet.

I did find two omissions in Dr Haidt's book. He did not mention (or read?) Robert Anton Wilson's (1932-2007) entertaining exploration of the human mind Prometheus Rising (A more enjoyable book with enlightening exercises). And while he did mention controversial psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, he did not mention his also controversial cousin, Sacha, whose movies are in themselves psychological experiments. I might also suggest reading a collection of essays by Jacques Barzun (1907-2012) who, if he were ever exhumed and presented to a meeting of great thinkers, would still most likely be the smartest person in the room.

One simple truth remains, we all have triggers. Some liberals are triggered by the suggestion that the old South was a nice place to live, which it was if you happened to be White. Gone With the Wind is a classic American novel and a great film. But Margret Mitchell was the daughter of a Confederate officer, so how could that upbringing not be present in her writing? As for the film, it is amazing that in 1939 Victor Fleming directed both it and The Wizard of Oz -- quite a feat, no?

Some conservatives are triggered by words like "socialism" or "Satanism"). For the former, they ignore that we are talking about Scandinavian-style democratic socialism, not the gruesome Leninist/Maoist communism, where Lenin was quoted as saying "What good is a revolution without firing squads?" As for Satanism, the Church of Satan was founded by Anton LaVey in 1966. LaVay was a former carnival organist. Often carnivals would rent their tents on Saturdays for "girly shows" and for church services Sunday morning. LaVey saw that the same men who were verbally accosting women on Saturday showed up on Sunday praying with their families. He founded his church not to worship Satan, but as a satire of this contradictory piety.

But not all liberals and not all conservatives are so triggered. Sadly, it is the loudest mouths that draw the most attention. The problem is the problem, with its slew of instant experts, unable to see any side but their own. I was recently unfriended on Facebook by a cousin, a conspiracy theorist who disliked my commenting on her unhinged posts. I have no ill-will towards her, and her opinions did help me finish a story I was writing that had hit a sticking point (there is a lesson here about the risks in ticking off writers).

A local newsman once ran a promotion for his show saying that he trusts that he could visit anyone's back yard and have a pleasant conversation with the owner, regardless of political or religious differences over a glass of iced tea; I fear that may now be impossible. The Internet has removed civility. We can no longer, to paraphrase Harper Lee, walk a mile in another person's mind -- nor do the extremes want to. They cannot separate their biases with those of people living through Vietnam and Watergate, let alone those living in the Old South.

And the Internet is itself to blame. Recently a piano teacher posted on YouTube a video showing how to play Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." YouTube pulled that video for copyright infringement. Now Ludwig Van has been dead for close to 200 years and his works long in the public domain. The teacher played the piece herself. Where was the copyright?

For too long the Internet was lazy in watching what was posted. Now it's over-zealous, for fear of offending people or being sued (monetization is a separate issue, but part of the problem), as was the moderator who pulled my "Maddow or Carlson" question, whom I have since chatted with and reached a friendly understanding. Politics does have a place on the Internet, providing we get off our high horses, attacking opposing viewpoints as though on a crusade of the greatest importance. It is that lack of lively, good-humored discussion that is killing the Internet from within.

Article © Dan Mulhollen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2021-05-31
Image(s) are public domain.
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