I am fascinated by the movement of our society towards polarized political views, especially when the viewpoints from one pole are may not be internally self-consistent, but are consistent in being against the views from the other pole. If there is evil – which there must be if there is good – our human minds prefer to take the evil as external. In the absence of an ongoing foreign conflict to supply pre-packaged, off-the-shelf villains, we may seize on the expedient of making bad guys out of each other.
I recently found a very enlightening study in Nature.
Examining political content, we find that Reddit underwent a significant polarization event around the 2016 US presidential election. Contrary to conventional wisdom, however, individual-level polarization is rare; the system-level shift in 2016 was disproportionately driven by the arrival of new users. Political polarization on Reddit is unrelated to previous activity on the platform and is instead temporally aligned with external events. We also observe a stark ideological asymmetry, with the sharp increase in polarization in 2016 being entirely attributable to changes in right-wing activity.Isaac Waller & Ashton Anderson, Quantifying social organization and political polarization platforms.
As Winston Churchill observed, the veils of the future are lifted one by one, and mortals must act from day to day. For starters, it is reasonable to anticipate that the future will be like the present, only longer.
For humankind, there are some currents whose direction seems sobering. The compelling collective focus of the moment is the viral pandemic. At the beginning of 2022, the description "COVID Nineteen" is ironic and oxymoronic. One remark in recent news seems to put it rather well: we need to "learn to live with COVID." The national and world economies are lurching along, encouraged by massive injections of currency. The disruptions in discretionary spending and global supply chains have non-economic causes in tangible health threats, however, which will not go away with increases in the money supply. Meanwhile, the distribution of added assets and spending power is not even across all classes and sectors of society, or from one moment to another, inevitably leading to disparities and increased pain for some, certainly without the predictability and security that the humble and the mighty both crave.
This is to say nothing of climate change, which many very responsible and well-informed people say is a greater, though less immediate, threat than the virus.
– Is there a bright side to all of the circumstances of our society and planet? – I see bright moments and events. What lies ahead? – I don't know the future, any more than anyone else does.
My own life is much more under my own control than the affairs of the planet, and is going well. Last year was an overwhelming one for me much of the time, between my own (over-) ambition, some unfortunate combinations of external circumstances, and an apparent decline in my overall functional status. The health issue is now resolved, and external circumstances will be no more or less under my control than they have been. This leaves me with my own ambitions to shape. I am feeling comfortable and happy with the prospects.
– And, for the present, I will revert to wearing a mask in public indoor spaces. It's not a big deal, and it's the responsible thing to do.
© 2022 Paul Nordberg