Jack Shafer has an interesting column today discussing the conundrum that despite there being more political information available than ever before, Americans seem to know less about the world than they ever have. This corresponds exactly to the principle frequently set out here of The Backlash Era. I will call it Rushfield’s Paradox - that in this era despite more voices than ever being heard, there has never been more uniformity of critical opinion. Never have there been more people declaring as one that Breaking Bad is a masterpiece or The Newsroom a “disaster.” Never have dissenters from these views been less tolerated.
Careful readers will recall I have postulated that this effect is not despite the multiplicity of voices but because of it. At some point, when the din gets so heated (and the character limit so brief), considered give and take gives way to a dictatorship of the loudest, with the victorious side drowning in volume all dissenters.
The Shafer piece, however, forces us to consider how today’s abundance of information and voices doesn’t just end up cutting off the breadth of that conversation, but its depth as well. That is to say, not only are fewer opinions heard, but the ones that are are dumber than ever before.
The problem goes back to another of my running complaints about Generation Yay: their a-historicism and the roots thereof, which go hand in hand with Shafer’s politically ignorant polis. It has previously been proven that no member of today’s up and coming horde has any knowledge of - or any interest in - anything that happened culturally prior to “Boy Meets World” and politically prior to 9-11. (Source material provided upon request).
Without any sense of history, we are of course just a collection of likes and turn-offs. The generation just prior to Generation Yay was at least glib about it, producing a bunch of very bright well spoken bloggers who even if their souls were made of tin foil, were able to articulate their moods terrifyingly well. Today’s new crop of bloggers don’t even do that (with a few exceptions- you know who you are) and are just content to post pictures of stuff they liked when they were 7 with some baby talk scribbled above it.
In the past, I’ve attributed this a-historicism to the availability of lots of forms of present day entertainment. In my day, when you got six or so TV channels and a couple magazines a week in the house, you quickly were forced to look beyond Mike Douglas shows reruns into F-Troop, Family Affair and Green Acres, and thus we learned of our past.
I think however, in political discussion, a version of the same phenomenon has similarly cut off exploration. If you’re a young person interested in current affairs today, go to Twitter, to your Facebook feed, to Snapchat, to whatever illicit sexting tool these people use to communicate, and the conversation is endless. In my day, you had one newspaper editorial page to read and John Chancellor’s commentary segment durning NBC Nightly News. Today, you can wallow forever in an endless flow of opinions, thoughts and information on everything from the government shutdown to George Clooney’s role in Gravity.
The problem is there isn’t an infinite number of things to say about the government shutdown or George Clooney’s role in Gravity. There’s only like 8. Okay, maybe there’s more things to be said for and against each side, but its not an endless number of things. Are there 100 points to be made on each side? 1000? Scanning the arguments today it seems far fewer than that and way way fewer than a zillion.
Which means by definition when you spend endless time in these discussions, you bump pretty quickly against a ceiling and after that it’s just about volume and repetition, which if you want to just have people who share your point of view help assure you that are right and need not challenge yourself is fine. Anyone who has ever been in a Twitter argument can tell you that after a couple back and forths, you’re just repeating the same arguments louder and louder at each other, hoping others will join your side and shout your opponent down, that seeming to be the only road to closure these days.
(Interesting, to continue my sweeping condemnations, Generation Yay also seems similarly not just threatened by people disagreeing with them but genuinely freaked out whenever they encounter it.)
The folks Shafer speaks to in his piece suggest some unappealing solutions - government-funded public affairs programs (instead of just forcing people at gunpoint I suppose to watch C-SPAN), or others say the United States should just go away. This blog has always advocated a simpler solution: a repeal of the first amendment or let everyone seek out the ancient pleasures of shutting the hell up. Really, if everyone would just take one hour out of your day to not offer any opinions, I think we would be amazed how much smarter the nation would become in no time.