Have we just seen the End Game of US Capitalism and Democracy with the Republican Party not prepared to criticise, condemn or call to account a President who actively sought to overthrow a pillar of Government and backed an attempt to decapitate the Congress, to have killed the whole of the elected line of succession?
Elsewhere, this would be a grand Coup, with the perpetrator immediately removed from power and imprisoned. In sections of the US media, this is lauded and applauded, the antithesis of Democratic principles and responsible reporting.
The problem with the "American Disease" is that "where the USA goes, the world follows". No country is immune from copycats or the consequences of changes in US politics.
We didn't get here by accident. This was predictable, preventable and foreseeable, a consequence of well known, well tested principles.
For a century of more, our brains and psychology have been consciously exploited and used against us by those who'd you hope might have our interests at heart, but sought power or fortune for themselves and associates.
Social Media and new Media via the Internet have increased the power of this exploitation many fold, resulting in dysfunctional Government in many Western Democracies and the destabilisation of the largest, the USA.
How we 'work'
Our Brains / Minds are wired for efficiency and speed: we filter everything we perceive and think through the filters of our Beliefs then Knowledge. To quote Alan Kay [pdf], "If you don't believe it, you can't see it."
The 'unvarnished' Truth is always uncomfortable because it challenges this filtering: it jibes with our view of the World and our brains need to resolve the conflict. This internal conflict is "cognitive dissonance", a powerful agent of change, and is resolved in many ways - from attack & denial, ignoring, or 'partitioning' our world view to acceptance and 'integration' into a persons' belief system, knowledge or world view.
All of these approaches are adaptive and successful to some degree. The proof is Social & Genetic "Selection": more functional adaptions, genetic, mental or social, by definition, survive more often, while less functional, or wholly dysfunctional, adaptions lead to lower rates of survival and possibly extinguishing the trait or approach. Skills / behaviours that lead to an early death cannot be directly inheritable.
Deep Change is hard and challenging because we need to change our view of the World and, quite probably, our Beliefs as well.
People routinely die for their Beliefs, not just in Wars, Protests or Imprisonment, but in much more mundane ways: on the roads, in hospitals, on the streets, at work and at home.
The easiest example is the number of people addicted to legal drugs / activities - smoking, drinking, gambling - who would, and do, rather die than Change. Cancer & Cardiac wards see many deaths of smokers who would, or could, never quit.
The notion that we are all wired, at a basic level, to fight for survival, no matter what is only partly true. This primal survival instinct is surprisingly strong for those who've not experienced it themselves.
There's many people who know they need to change to improve some aspect of their life, even exactly how their 'choices' are destroying their lives or killing them and how they need to change to survive, yet choose to continue along the same path.
The reasons are always complex, but always revolve around being unable or unwilling to change.
Political Polarisation and Hyper-Partisanship
You're with me or against me: the rise of polarised, Black & White arguments and positions.
The Canadian, Marshall McLuhan, studied the interaction of Media on Society and vice versa, in the late 1960's formulating the maxim, "The Medium is the Message".
First came the Polarisation of the Media with the normalisation of extreme views and hyper-partisanship involving abuse, disrespect, denigration and high-emotion instead of reasoned debate, listening to other points of view and working hard to find common ground or workable solutions.
Politics became polarised and partisan because of the Media and the Media fed off the Political conflict and partisanship. This created a vicious circle, where the Media and Politics reinforced each other, feeding back via isolated "echo chambers" where people were only ever exposed to one side of an argument, inveigled to join 'a tribe' who "all thought the same (correct) way" and attacking anyone outside 'the tribe' as wrong, ignorant or uninformed.
This march to extreme, entrenched & intractable positions, sometimes on both sides, was slow, incremental and unstoppable because of the underlying principle of difference, not uniting / commonality - this was the break from the past.
Nations in the Western Democratic tradition are Common-Wealths:
they exist to increase the Common Wealth of everybody, not the few, not an elite, not just one 'tribe', group, ideology or political party. Democracies are run in the interests of everybody.
American Politics have had a guiding principle:
National Interest before Party Interests before Personal Interests.
This principle has been steadily undermined, forgotten and abandoned over the last 5 decades. To the extent that a President can, and has, without censure or consequence ignore not only all normal conventions, but black-letter law that limits his powers and actions meant to ensure public office and the public purse aren't abused and misused.
The role of 'the Internet' in creating extremists
With the rise of the modern, fast, "always connected, anywhere" Internet since 2000, the term "self-radicalised" has come into being and is used more frequently, no longer restricted to militant and extreme non-Christians, but now "home grown" white, Christian terrorists.
It's not The Internet that radicalised people, it's Social Media, specifically the "Algorithms" used select what is included or excluded in users "feeds" or offered as selections.
There are two interlocking feedback mechanisms at the root of how Social Media select what users see:
- including "more of the same", expressed as "you've liked these in the past, here's more similar",
- whilst excluding material and views not consistent with a user's "likes", "interests", or "preferences", usually consistent with their online social connections, directly leading to "echo chamber", or "like minded people" effects.
- increasing "engagement", increasing how often people 'like', 'follow' or view items in their feed.
- People "engage" more when they react emotionally, not logically, and engage most after having a highly emotional response.
- This leads to a slow and inexorable march to being shown more and more extreme views and material in their feed.
- As a person normalises a sets of views / material, their emotional reaction to those items diminishes: Social Media firm can only generate more strong responses by increasing sensational, shocking or "outrage" provoking items in a users' feed.
- From decades of TV studies, before age 10, most children are desensitised to violence and murder. The gaming genre of "First Person Shooter" amplifies this desensitisation.
People become addicted to Social Media, suffering pain, anguish & other symptoms on withdrawal, as well gaming and other Internet Media as new Media firms better understand our Psychology and provoke automatic responses. The extreme cases are people who die while binging or engaging on-line. There's a growing genre of "the last selfie" as people are accidentally killed trying to capture their "ultimate" selfie.
This is deliberate behaviour with intentional effects by Social Media companies, designed to manipulate us into spending more time with them, consuming more of their content (because they assume copyright of the images, videos and text users post), giving up more information about ourselves and, finally, generating more revenue for them.
This should not be shocking to any adult.
This has been the modus operandi of all Advertising, especially TV, and Casinos & gambling / gaming venues for most of the 20th Century. Gambling addicts don't just happen, they are wilfully created by Gambling venues by preying upon ordinary people when they're susceptible.
"Qanon" and the 6-January insurrection & invasion of the Capitol Building were directly mediated and created by Social / Online Media. The impact on, and threat to, Western Democracies is no longer theoretical or improbable: in military terms, this is a Clear and Present Danger.
McLuhan would not be surprised at either the power of New Media or the outcomes from it's unregulated use.
There are very strong arguments to regulate Social / Online Media, Gaming Industry, Advertising & Gambling Venues to put limits on how, and how much, they can prey on customers.
The Public Interest, especially in Western Democracies, should be mandated as coming before all commercial interests or we will have exponentially increasing dysfunction, such as the Insurrection, leading to the end of Civil Society. Literally, our survival depends on it.
This same principle should apply to Food (Obesity & Diabetes epidemic), the Environment (pollution, habitat destruction, species extinction), Sustainable Energy, Manufacturing and Transport, Safe Housing and Healthcare. In our Age of Abundance, is there any reason for anyone in a Western Democracy to live in poverty or with a treatable illness?
Critically, where is the line, where does our responsibility to our Fellow Man end? Is it on arbitrary national borders, geographical boundaries or what?
Who can offer a limit on others that they'd be happy to have imposed on themselves? This is the essence of Christian Doctrine, at the heart of Western Democracies: Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you.
Free Speech and Free Markets may be basic Rights and may be the cornerstone of our financial and economic systems, but they are not, have never been without limit or Responsibility.
If the Public / Common Interest doesn't come before all political, economic and commercial interests, then what does? Who are the privileged few who we are going to gift unlimited benefits? On what grounds do they deserve this gift?
Trump in the USA and BrExit in the U.K. can be traced directly to hyper-partisanship in Politics led by the the Extreme Right capturing the Conservative right and leading to escalating and complementary responses from other groups, even some Progressive / liberal groups.
"Political Debate" has devolved to personal attack, shouted abuse, paranoia & populism, unabashed lying, denial, deflection, distraction and "the Big Lie". The zenith demonstrated first by Trump winning the Republican Party nomination, then his election campaign leading to uncontrolled, escalating behaviours as 45th President.
New double-speak phrases arose in this fact-free, unaccountable world: "Alternative Facts", "Fake News", "Enemy of the People", "Very fine people on both sides", "people are saying"
FCC "Fairness Doctrine" est 1949, abandoned in 1987 under Reagan & his "Deregulated Free Market" approach, leading in part to "Political Polarisation", due to a perceived“chilling effect” upon Freedom of Speech with Cable & Satellite networks claiming exemption. Like many things, it's a complex issue.
- required broadcast licensees to both present controversial issues of public importance and
- to do so in a manner that was honest, equitable, and balanced.
- with subjects of Editorials, or perceived unfair attacks, given the Right of Reply.
- candidates for Public Office given equal air-time.
Schooling: without fluency in the current Information Tools, how are people supposed to use them well and wisely. To avoid falling for conmen and charlatans, to discern real vs 'fake' news or information?
The failure of general US public school system to teach well and prepare young people for their adult lives, directly gave rise to the current Polarised, hyper-partisan culture and politics.
Qanon: "Research it for yourself": False premise, these people know how to do good 'research'.
but if people aren't taught at school how to do research, how to critically assess what they see and hear, and importantly the "quality" of the source -
=> Fox News, Pushing the extreme right political & economic ideology of Murdoch. Amplified by other media reporting their most outrageous comments. 1.5M subscribers and $1B revenue - with a much larger impact.
-> Trump's autocratic, demagoguery accepted, amplified and normalised on Fox News.
=> Tabloid Journalism and "Race to the Bottom": Sensationalism, pandering to prejudice, fears & paranoia of audiences.
=> Republican Party has been corrupted by hyper-partisanship and holding onto power with Senate being a road-block to legislation for decades: "Power at any Cost, Unquestioning Loyalty to Ours, Uncritical Demonisation, attacks and denigration of 'Others'" demonstrated by their unflinching resolve to not impeach #45 regardless of evidence (Russian 2016 Interference) or unequivocal incitement to attack them personally with the possibility of decapitating the entire Congressional Line of Succession.
Normalisation of "Common Sense" and "You just know it's true", alongside distrusting and questioning Expert Opinion and Advice, leading to rejection of the Science of Climate Change without rational cause.
People are proudly "Anti-Expert". What the?!?!?!
The mass perversion of "Christianity". "The love of money is the root of all Evil".
The "Great American Dream", the "opportunity for prosperity and success for everyone" has devolved into greed and a desire for riches, leading to just three of 300 million people controlling or owning half the assets in the USA, and one thousandth of the population owning 80% of its assets.
For a notionally religious, Christian country, this state of affairs where "avarice beyond dreams" is accepted and unremarked seems contradictory.