The question raised among many of my colleagues in language and communications is how to deal with the social media. As one colleague put it, we used to warn students that drugs and alcohol can make you stupid, but they never had the overall effect that the social media has had on the human mind.
This Internet and the World Wide Web were invented by professors who saw the unlimited benefits that instant digital communications would have for the creation, refinement, and dissemination of knowledge. For a couple of decades, those expectations were in the process of being realized. However, from the outset there were people who used comment sections and the social media for malignant purposes. Students of communication recognized that the these people detracted from honest communication, like farts at a gourmet banquet, but were regarded as manageable among people educated and literate enough to see the warped and twisted personalities they are.
The alarm bells began to ring when Obama was elected president. The kind of racism which seemed diminished, if not vanquished, by the civil rights movement re-emerged with a furor. In the country at large, racism had come to be regarded as a defect of mind and morality that few people would admit to, but electing a black man as president of the United States was more than those possessed by lingering racist tendencies could handle. The worst kind of racist reactions began to be displayed on the Internet. The racist expressions proliferated. People who would keep their racist feelings private and subdued began to feel encouraged to give them full voice.
Anti-black racism, anti-semitism, and all the other forms of hatred, prejudice, and malice became a staple of electronic communication. The hate squads realized that electronic media could affect and shape the way society thought and reacted. Some countries with predatory and domination motives, in fact, sponsor and train hate squads to attack people and ideas that interfere with their designs. An example is the Russian-backed trolls who have gone after a Finnish journalist. While hackers who get into government and corporate documents receive the most consternation among cyber security experts, those forces who influence, shape, and even control the minds of vulnerable people are more dominant and threatening.
Cases of bullying among school age childlreln and among adults involving internet posts have resulted in numerous suicides. The internet has become a huge force in the human environment through computers, tablets, and cell phones. Many people devote the better part of their day to being online, so that the Internet becomes a major influence in their communication and thinking, in fact a dominant part of their consciousness. My colleagues who are still active professors note that the occupation of students with Internet sites is a formidable impediment to the development of critical intelligence. Students are so caught up in the blizzard of information that they are dysfunctional about separating accurate, verifiable information from the misinformation and disinformation. Cable news, talk radio, "reality:" television, and tabloid journalism have created a population that has lost the capability of critical thinking, of distinguishing between truth and falsehood. In fact, many people no longer care and simply fit into the trends of their electronic environment with no regard for what is intellectually and morally defensible.
The softening of the mass mentality is no more evident than in the rise of Donald Trump. As personal attacks, false information, and appeals to ignorance and resentment fog the communications atmosphere, people fall back on primitive instincts. A large part of trump's appeal is that he is a billionaire (some have questioned that) and seems to be successful in exploiting business for wealth and power. Just as during the democratic revolution that overthrew feudalism in the Old World, there were people who thought their best options were to cower behind the aristocracy and curry its good will and hoped-for largesse for their survival and well-being. They chose lives of unquestioning subservience and class ranking over independence, equality, and the integrity of the self. They chose to remain ignorant and biddable to the whims of their chosen masters. Their model of social organization is the class rankings of the dog pack and the chicken flock, not the equal society of free yeomen.
Global corporations are reversions to the feudal system in which a very few people control the wealth and, therefore, exercise the power over the masses. While people resent the inequality and the lack of good jobs, they still support the forces that create that inequality and push the middle class into poverty as means of control. Donald Trump can get away with inane bragging, with flagrant lies, with unforgivable insults and abuse, but his supporters remain unfazed because he appears as the alpha dog who can lead the pack. His plans are incoherent, unfeasible, and stridently antidemocratic, but his pack seems to have no destination to which it wishes to be led. It seems happy to merely join in the juvenile, unthinking belligerence that comprises Trump's campaign.
Trump is the quintessential example of arrested development. His ideas, his vocabulary, and his total demeanor is on the level of a grade school bully. He seems incapable of dealing with facts or to reason cogently. There will always be such cases of arrested development, we can suppose, so the real question is what happened to so many American people that they would choose him as a leader. They answer is a massive intellectual and moral failure, the loss of ability and desire to apprehend facts and analyze the causes of the trends that affect us. The popular media has softened their minds to the point that they are impressed only with the most boisterous yapping in the dog pack.
The political divide in America is no longer a matter of conservative versus liberal. It is now a matter of the informed and educated versus the mindless and anti-intellectual. Our founders, particularly Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, saw the future of our democracy invested heavily in education and means of productive discourse. As communities developed throughout the nation, the first effort in their establishment was providing schools. The political dialogue of the past quarter century or so has trended more toward demeaning and interfering with public education, with denying the place of science and the arts in a viable national life, and with attacking liberalism as the vector of equality, opportunity, and justice for all. We have regressed to open racism and violence toward others is advocated and practice in the electronic media, so many people think it is now permissible and desirable. Since the 1980s, America has taken giant steps backward in economic equality, productive education, and democratic rule.
We often read George Orwell's 1984, as a warning about Soviet style totalitarianism. We neglected its portrayal of how the electronic media could invade our lives as a means to monitor, influence, and control us. We did not pay attention to the idea that large corporations are bureaucracies, too, and that their impulse is to eliminate competition and establish monopolies which will be unchallenged in what they produce and how they treat people, customers and employees alike.
We have not paid attention to the dismantling of an informed democratic society that has made Donald Trump possible. Many prefer to bury their heads in their cell phones and tablets and let the totalitarian forces take over their minds. That is what troubles my colleagues in language and communication. So many people have surrendered their minds to the electronic dog packs.
News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com
Sunday, June 5, 2016
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