Thursday, 27 November 2014

Ferguson: Anger McNuggets

My interview on Ferguson, continued. ... 

... the second thing I noticed about the news from Ferguson is that it went out to a million little media outlets and blogs, each with their own spin and designed to cater to an audience with their own ideological bubble. And that’s normal these days – that’s the case with any piece of news. The insularity of those bubbles are new.

It used to be normal – and still is normal in a lot of other countries – for people to know their extended family and neighbours, and perhaps to be part of fraternal and professional organisations that took people from all walks of life. In my own country today, though, there’s been a huge transformation that no one talks about.

Many of the people I talk to increasingly connect to the outside world through these little glowing rectangles, and when they interact with other humans, it’s with people staring at other glowing rectangles, usually of the exact same subculture, class, race, politics, hobbies, and the same church or lack thereof. They all watch many of the same television shows -- and many people I know, more and more, don’t socialise with anyone outside their bubble. And many studies back this up.

They hear media specially designed for their own bubble, and I find that when I talk to people, they don’t have any common language to even begin to understand each other. And I’m often disappointed to see how many people live in some other world than I live in, as their views just get more and more extreme and amplified as they bounce back and forth across their echo chamber.

Almost everyone I know in my native country, from all religions and races, struggles to get by, feels disappointed with their government and their country, and despairs of the future. And everyone looks for whose fault it is, and most decide that everything that’s going wrong is the fault of this conspiracy of people who are frothing-at-the-mouth insane, idiotic, and filled with this inexplicable hatred.

Acquaintances of mine who are with the Green party and the Tea Party, Democrat and Republican, Atheist, Catholic, Evangelical – most people think this same way -- it’s just that everyone thinks they’re one of the only ones that think this. Everyone thinks they are one of the few who took the red pill, that see through the lies of the mainstream media, and that are completely different than the rest of the sheeple. And most people talks about politics in the same way, by circulating memes or stories about crazy, hate-filled morons on the other side.

I’m from a Christian conservative background myself -- I know people active in the Republicans and Tea Party, and of course I still write for Pat Buchannan’s magazine. But I never liked the vaudeville acts you’ll see on Fox News – that doesn’t resemble what the word conservative used to mean, back when it meant something more honourable.

And I was interested in science and ecology from an early age, I volunteered for environmental causes, knew people in Earth First and other radical groups, joined anti-war protests and the Green Party – all things that people don’t find conservative, for some reason. So I’m connected to people from all different backgrounds over social media – my main contact with the USA from rural Ireland -- and when something like Ferguson happens, I get all these different versions at once.

More Tea-Partyish acquaintances will forward headlines to me that say things like “OMG! Left-wing loon thinks government needs to kidnap Christian children!” and Green Party acquaintances will send me headlines like “Outrageous! Right-wing preacher thinks gay people should be burned at the stake!” Some of these headlines are hoaxes, of course – no one actually said that, or if someone did they are not typical of their group. But that’s not the point of forwarding such things – it plays a social function in their bubble.

Most of the web sites where Americans actually get their news are not in the business of delivering news to people. Neither were the newspapers that I used to work for – they were in the business of delivering people to their advertisers – but there, at least, they needed the support of a number of companies with different interests in a geographical community. Now web sites and other media deliver most of the news, and they are in the business of generating outrage, so their stories can go viral and everyone can keep circulating these anger McNuggets.

Many of my American acquaintances – again, liberal or conservative or whatever – depend on this outrage drip for what I call their NABA NABA fix – N-A-B-A, for Not As Bad As. Everyone is deeply invested in being able to say they are Not As Bad As those crazy, hate-filled morons on the other side, that we can all laugh at and hate together. Everyone hates the people who are extreme or closed-minded or racist, but that’s always somebody else – it’s never them.

 So with any issue, I would get lots of contradictory information – but in this case, I happened to be from the area, and was getting first-hand information from people who were there, and had some basis for gauging the accuracy of what they were saying.

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