Can We Talk?

“Can we talk?” was originally propounded by Joan Rivers as humorous/confidential alert, with the certainty that the answer would be “Yes.” In the context of the first age of the internet the question becomes more urgent and admits the answer might well be “No.”

My recent experiences with this blog, Facebook and other social media has given me a closer view of our extreme difficulty in crossing the partisan divide into the other’s inforverses, and actually exchanging ideas. In a later blog, I will reprint comments and my experiences (so far) but for now I’d like to give my overview of what are the impulses, and where they come from.  Not surprisingly, I trace their identity to the underlying subject of my blog: the new information overload made possible and necessary by social media and the harvesting of personal data from our incessant interaction in order to divide and confuse.

“Can we talk?” was originally propounded by Joan Rivers as humorous/confidential alert.
“Yes,” was the certain answer.
In the context of the first age of the internet, the question takes on more urgency, and admits the answer might well be “No.”

So, I can, with the push of a button on my cell phone, bring up literally endless screens of information and opinion, from an unbelievable number of sources. My personal problem is, I simply can’t process it all. If I can take in a headline, I might not even skim the article; if I skim, I might not read; if I read, I might not verify; if I verify, I might not bother to learn the antecedents; if I learn the antecedents, I might not understand the complicated reality of things. And the most the headline/article confirms my own political biases, the more cursory will be the mental investigation.

Trusted mediating institutions used to pre-process my news, and deliver it to me in manageable bites. These institutions — network television, national reputation print source, radio hosts of reputation — have been all but swept away in the flood of lies, truth, prevarication, exaggeration, persuasion called the Internet. There, a gazillion information bits exist, side-by-side in equal measure, without any serious possibility of separating one from another. Cook with partisan politics, professional cynicism, and poisonous, agenda-driven anonymity, it becomes the hot steaming web mess that we know and love today!

In this teeming flood of unvalidated information, we seek safe harbor. And we are met by the “new” mediators — the self-validating bloggers and domestic and foreign meme factories who accord with our own “leanings.” We are by no means innocent bystanders in this breakdown. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, you can find biased research, pre-packaged opinion, facile postings, vicious reputation-bashing disguised as humor, “talking points,” and “facts” based on speculation and/or bad science lurking behind an illusion of objectivity — and “repost” them to your likeminded “friends.” The result — no matter how much truth it may contain — is to create a comforting, individual opinion-world of pseudo-facts for each user, devoid of challenge, and insulated from further exploration. The overwhelming volume of our self-selected feed — reenforced by social media “algorithms” —  seems to corroborate the truth we already know.

It is also evident that many of these opinion bubbles are not “natural” or innocent outgrowths of the current zeitgeist, but —based on the professionalism of their “click-bait” traps— are often centrally-generated by expert online media consultants and hackers to manipulate public and political sentiment, and carried throughout the internet on wings of repostings, comments, twitter wars, and other anonymous feed points. Before they separate in warring camps who can’t even bear to talk with the other, online discussions descend into utterly familiar talking points supplied by the language controllers of each faction along with photos, Pre-packaged opinion pieces, and insult “humor” at high volume over the web.

“Can we talk?” was originally propounded by Joan Rivers as humorous/confidential alert, with the certainty that the answer would be “Yes.” In the context of the first age of the internet the question becomes more fraught, and admits the answer might well be “No.”

This post and all those that precede and follow is based on faith: that if we work hard together, we can find that respectful ground where conversation can take place on current political and cultural topics outside of a narrow array of inputs of our own choosing — no matter what political party or persuasion. Faith that we can, this way, begin to puzzle through the big issues that face us, and now, it seems, paralyze us. This was the faith of the founding fathers in all of us working together, and the hope they had for a robust civic discourse. What my experience has taught me is that we will of course cling to our prejudices: Trumpists will always believe that he’s a great leader; never Trumpers (like myself) will always believe he is destroying democracy. But as we focus our discussions on what to do, perhaps we will get past our shouting and insulting, and get to a more nuanced view of the difficulties and ambiguities of actually governing, instead of feeling. And painful as it is sometimes to get there, I believe there is a sincerity to American political discussions that means we can get to near agreement on many subjects.

I hope to continue the spirit of this blog informational/observational, but not rigid;  humorous, but not vicious; holding sometimes passionate points-of-view, but wanting to learn; and mostly suffused with the recognition that each participant has a legitimate back history that informs their world view and the opinions they share with the world. I will, of course, make mistakes. Please call me out!

And yes, I note the irony: the blog’s very existence is only possible on the internet!

In the spirit of demonstrating my personal grounded reality, my first few blogs featured little windows on my glorious and not-so-glorious youth (which I now reckon is any time between my birth and my 65th year), and how they shaped my world-view. There is a robust Comment section below each blog that allows long form feedback. I hope you will share the elements of your upbringing and history as well: young, old, black, brown or white, republican or democrat.

I hope readers who find something worthwhile will pass on a link to this blog or repost to their friends. Most important, follow my blog to keep the conversation moving. Add your ideas by posting a comment, even a long comment.  I welcome all comers (but please, not flamers).

By the way, I have taken to collecting news articles in special curated magazines on the Flipboard program. These are facts and opinions that interest me and which provide some of the statistical rationale for the concerns I write about. I’m still getting organized on this front, but it’s fun, and I think you might find it informative to check them out.

Metadada ‘Pocalypse Review is a catch-all magazine and media repository for articles that influenced what I am writing or have written… I really try to avoid anything directly about Trump…
OK. It’s the Trump Show is a craven giving in to the daily entertainment spectacle currently running in the United States government. It’s curated news articles about Trump, Trump, Trump. 

Radical Centrism Review is my search to recover an agenda for a dynamic center to our politics
Culture: Wars and Pieces is relating books, movies, music and art to the current state of our social and political structure. 
Let me know what you think!  

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