BLOG Anger in Red America, Blue America

I’m in the process of reading this lengthy piece in The New Yorker (because I’m that kind of person), and found this an exceptional encapsulation of where America — and likely the rest of the world, while we’re at it — sits right now:

Where is all this anger coming from? It’s viral, and Trump is Typhoid Mary. Intellectually and emotionally weakened by years of steadily degraded public discourse, we are now two separate ideological countries, LeftLand and RightLand, speaking different languages, the lines between us down. Not only do our two subcountries reason differently; they draw upon non-intersecting data sets and access entirely different mythological systems. You and I approach a castle. One of us has watched only “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the other only “Game of Thrones.” What is the meaning, to the collective “we,” of yon castle? We have no common basis from which to discuss it. You, the other knight, strike me as bafflingly ignorant, a little unmoored. In the old days, a liberal and a conservative (a “dove” and a “hawk,” say) got their data from one of three nightly news programs, a local paper, and a handful of national magazines, and were thus starting with the same basic facts (even if those facts were questionable, limited, or erroneous). Now each of us constructs a custom informational universe, wittingly (we choose to go to the sources that uphold our existing beliefs and thus flatter us) or unwittingly (our app algorithms do the driving for us). The data we get this way, pre-imprinted with spin and mythos, are intensely one-dimensional. (As a proud knight of LeftLand, I was interested to find that, in RightLand, Vince Foster has still been murdered, Dick Morris is a reliable source, kids are brainwashed “way to the left” by going to college, and Obama may yet be Muslim. I expect that my interviewees found some of my core beliefs equally jaw-dropping.)

What happens when two tribes with their own mythologies and understandings of how the world can and should work struggle to control a single piece of real estate?

Usually, civil war.

One thought on “BLOG Anger in Red America, Blue America

  1. One reason I doubt there will be civil war is that the conclusion that the country is divided into RightLand and LeftLand is a simplistic understanding of the author’s own premises. We are not just isolated into two opposing camps who share no cultural basis. We are fragmented into thousands of opposing camps, which share very little — only what goes viral. Our paranoia all around tempts us to see a monolithic Them conspiring against Us. Sometimes an idea will sweep through the minds of enough people that there is a nearly irresistible impulse to enact certain changes (or prevent them). But most of what people are passionate about (all the many issues and the many varieties of views on them)) never gets to that point.

    Just as one example — there are people who want to outlaw infant circumcision as a barbaric practice to which the ‘victim’ cannot give informed consent. They get very angry about it. Not many others notice, except for religious Jews who see a potential threat to a practice which is crucial to their identity and participation in the covenant. This movement has progressed much farther in Europe than it has here.How many others care much about it? Do the people championing or opposing this idea belong to LeftLand or RightLand?

    How much do young Bernie supporters have in common with Democratic establishment supporters of Hillary? Far less, I think, than most Republicans would suspect. How radical are the tactics Bernie supporters would be willing to use and how radical are the principles they want to see put into law? A very broad spectrum, I would think. And how many think Bernie is a Wall Street stooge propped up to defuse the real revolution? All these are divisions which would have existed even before the internet. It is far more complex now.

    I saw the devolution of the Episcopal Church played out online over a decade ago. First was the shock among church members about how greatly their beliefs differed. Then a polarization into liberal and conservative. Then an embarrassing revelation of the fault lines among the conservatives. One among many: the differing priorities of the Evangelicals and the Anglo-Catholics. And it is crucial to return to the old prayer book isn’t it? Or is it? And which old version? 1922 or the Elizabethan version? Yes, we can modernize some of the language. But your modernized version butchers all the traditional theological points I consider to be most crucial. Etc ad infinitum. Meanwhile, the Liberal side became defined by a rapid increase in the power of the Presiding Bishop and the conferences, to the point of insisting on absolute authority over the parishes and their property. A sort of kinder, gentler Stalinism. This in a denomination which had been notably more decentralized than most of the Protestant mainline.

    Anyway, it’s all complicated. Who would fight whom and with what weapons? Anarchy is more likely than civil war. And that won’t happen. People *would* rebel in unison if someone threatened the functioning of their cell phones. You can’t have high-tech networks in a condition of anarchy.. Sorry, Mr Robot.

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