It’s Us, Too

Roger Ailes’s objections notwithstanding — I’ll come back to them in a minute — David Ignatius’s column in today’s Washington Post comes close to saying the same thing I said in the “Patriotism v. Paranoia” post below. I wrote,

In the past century or so our species, worldwide, has undergone some seismic social shifts. People no longer remain neatly sorted by skin color, language, and cultural history. All over the globe people of diverse ethnic and social backgrounds are having to learn to live together. Once upon a time “foreign” places were far, far away. But air travel has brought them closer in terms of travel time; now every foreign place on the globe is just over the horizon. Soon foreigners will be sitting in our laps.

I think nationalism arose and became dominant in the 20th century largely because of these seismic social shifts. People who can’t handle the shifts retreat into nationalism as a defense.

Ignatius describes what he calls the “connectedness to conflict” paradox, which says that more “connected” people become, the more conflicts seem to arise.

… as elites around the world become more connected with the global economy, they become more disconnected from their own cultures and political systems. The local elites “lose touch with what’s going on around them,” opening up a vacuum that is filled by religious parties and sectarian groups, Sidawi contends. The modernizers think they are plugging their nations into the global economy, but what’s also happening is that they are unplugging themselves politically at home.

In his column Ignatius quotes Francis Fukuyama and a couple of over over-educated ivory-tower types as they try to figure out why it is that the Middle East is in such turmoil because of its contacts with the West. And that’s the problem; these guys are all westerners trying to figure out what’s wrong with Middle Easterners and not noticing that a variation of the same thing is going on right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., not to mention Europe and other western-type spots.

If by “elites” you substitute “people who aren’t afraid of other cultures and of social and cultural change” I think you get a clearer picture. I don’t think the not-afraid people are necessarily “elites.” Some of the most retrenched nationalists are wealthy, well-educated and well-connected. What they’re not, is modern.

And in a kind of double-paradox, many people who are working hard at “plugging their nations into the global economy” are some of the same people who exploit local nationalistic and xenophobic feelings to stay in political power. Think Republicans Party.

Ignatius, Fukuyama, et al. scratch their heads over democracy and alienation, and of “elites” becoming “disconnected” with their own cultures, and write up a lot of verbose papers expressing highfalutin’ theories. Look, guys, this isn’t difficult. People are afraid of change. They are especially afraid of change that seems to threaten their autonomy and self-identity. And if they think this change is being imported by odd-colored people with exotic accents, don’t expect ’em to roll out the welcome wagon.

This rebellion against change, this retreat into nationalism, is happening all over the globe. It’s happening in Europe, big-time. It’s in the Middle East. And it’s happening here, too, although we’re a bit more subdued about it. So far. But as I noted here, the ongoing Muslim cartoon crisis, for example, amounted to Middle Eastern anti-modernists and western right-wingers whipping each other into a mutual hate frenzy. Granted the western wingnuts haven’t resorted to riots and destruction; they’ve been content with escalating hate speech. But the distinction is merely one of degree, not of kind.

Here’s where Roger Ailes comes in — in the remainder of his column, Ignatius postulates that all these people around the world are going berserk because they have the internets. Ignatius writes,

McLean argues that the Internet is a “rage enabler.” By providing instant, persistent, real-time stimuli, the new technology takes anger to a higher level. “Rage needs to be fed or stimulated continually to build or maintain it,” he explains. The Internet provides that instantaneous, persistent poke in the eye. What’s more, it provides an environment in which enraged people can gather at cause-centered Web sites and make themselves even angrier. The technology, McLean notes, “eliminates the opportunity for filtering or rage-dissipating communications to intrude.” I think McLean is right. And you don’t have to travel to Cairo to see how the Internet fuels rage and poisons reasoned debate. Just take a tour of the American blogosphere.

The connected world is inescapable, like the global economy itself. But if we can begin to understand how it undermines political stability — how it can separate elites from masses, and how it can enhance rage rather than reason — then perhaps we will have a better chance of restabilizing a very disorderly world.

Oh, good. Just cut ’em off from the Web and the natives won’t be so restless. Roger Ailes writes,

Oh, for the good old days — pre-1990s — a time when our sectarian wars and riots and lynchings and genocides were civilized affairs, based on pure, sweet reason. Oh, paradise lost!

I’d like to apologize personally to David Ignatius and Tom Friedman and Francis Fukuyama and Thomas P.M. Barnett and, most of all, to Charles M. McLean, who runs a trend-analysis company called Denver Research Group Inc., for coarsening the discourse. It was wrong of me to think that my opinions might be worth consideration even though I knew I didn’t have a book contract. Clearly, it was my rage that blinded me to the fact that I was poisoning reasoned debate and undermining political stability and separating elites from masses.

And I was such a nice fellow before October 2002; really, I was.

Let the healing begin.


7 thoughts on “It’s Us, Too

  1. IMHO, the first “rage enablers” were the talk radio shows of Rush Limbaugh’s ilk. People would call in and rant and rave and Rush would rant and rave with them–reinforcing them. However, I think the problem with the talk radio and TV shows is that they become a form of brain-washing. The listeners (this includes TV because you don’t have to watch TV) listen everyday to the same talking points and it soon becomes their thinking. If you watch or listen to TV news everyday, you will find that because there isn’t a lot of new news every hour, the newscasts are identical and repeated over and over. More brainwashing.

    Now, while there are a lot of websites that rage on; e.g., Michelle Malkin, etc., there are many that offer just good thoughtful writing and debating; e.g., Mahablog, and that is good. Additionally, as has been brought up on numerous occasions that most of us left leaning Americans have had to go to the “internets” to find truth and fairness. I think people like Ignatius are worried about how newspapers are losing their readership and it is easy to blame the internet. However, the solution lies with the newspapers themselves to become real newspapers again instead of the state sponsored propaganda mechanism.

  2. Very thoughtful post, Maha. Good points about the “Limbaugh phenomenon,” Bonnie. I agree with you totally about the damage it’s done to the public’s ability to discuss issues in a reasonable manner. He’s warped our civic discourse no end and his listeners don’t even realize it. He’s the baby-boomer’s “rage-enabler.”

    I’ve been pondering over the issue of the world’s retreat into nationalism for some time, too. I often read BBC news and am aware of the growing pains going on over there in Europe. Does France try to catch up to the increasingly “commercialized” Great Britain so that its economy will survive? Must it give up its traditional way of life – its people-centric quirkiness? Isn’t this why we visit Europe? Is it going to be there in 20 years? Multiply this by 100 for countries around the world and there is definitely a sense of loss. We yearn for the old now, just because it’s leaving us so quickly. History is moving too fast.

    Some of us turn to others to whom we can vent our frustrations. We want that sense of community that we’ve lost – we crave “us vs. them.” It all goes back to our earliest ancestors; it’s part of who we are. We’re frightened of the future and we don’t trust the leaders who are taking us there. (Did we ever? Peter the Great comes to mind.)

    Anyway, I’ve been poking my nose into some of the “other side’s” blogospheres. I backed out most of them right away, but some weren’t too bad. A few were actually kind of neighborly. I tried Dennisthepeasant, Maha, and some of those folks were right nice. Can’t we chat over the fence with them once in a while? Break the ice a little bit, maybe? Is it possible we can find some common ground? It would be nice to think of the internet as that kind of place – not just as a “rage-enabler.”

  3. Can’t we chat over the fence with them once in a while? Break the ice a little bit, maybe?

    Tried several times. Got my hand bit off each time, virtually speaking. Something like trying to make friends with a rabid rottweiler. If you want to try, go ahead; but I ain’t doin’ it no more. Certainly, there are moderates out there who are reasonable people, but the hard-core Right is beyond reason.

    This is not to say that I want to be a “rage-enabler.” I think the strength of the Left Blogosphere is in the way we collectively generate and grow ideas and analysis, and also in the way we use the blogosphere to organize real activism.

  4. Pingback: The Mahablog » Follow the Money

  5. Aw, heck. I know you’re right. There are always some “red flag” issues that come up and all analysis goes out the window.

    If we’re having trouble in getting along over here, how can we be surprised by the erupting civil war in Iraq? The surprise is that it has taken so long. Shia and Sunni can try to reach out to each other in Kut, but I am not optimistic. I can’t help but admire them for trying, though.

  6. I thought of one more thing I wanted to add about the true “rage enablers”–the radical right wing. They are a textbook example of “projectionism.” They project their own traits onto us gentle, peace-loving, thoughtful lefties.

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