Ted Cruz and Echo Chambers

This most recent nonsense out of Ted Cruz gave the predictable response from everywhere, with people all speaking out against him, yelling on twitter, facebook, reddit, pointing out how wrong and stupid he clearly is, and why net neutrality is so important.  But I was really annoyed.  Not at all about Ted Cruz, because this is only the most recent example of insanity he spouts in every political situation.

I’m mostly annoyed because the responses of nearly everyone are pointless.

The only people reading the angry pontificating on how stupid Ted Cruz is, are the people who already think he is stupid, and are doing the same things themselves.  None of this is reaching Ted Cruz, none of it is reaching anyone who is persuadable by good arguments.  Its being angry so that people who agree with you can say look at me, I agree with them, and we can be angry against this common enemy together and not do anything about it.

This doesn’t mean their arguments are necessarily bad.  Take TheOatmeal for example.  This is a concise, funny, accurate argument that is very persuasive about this point.  If there was an argument being had, it would be incredibly persuasive.  But there isn’t one, and there probably won’t be.  The people who see these, are most likely already in favor of it.  Those who aren’t in favor, are likely the ones who stand to benefit from removing net neutrality.  And those who haven’t already made a decision?  They’re mostly outside of the debate entirely, they don’t engage with the internet in a manner meaningful enough to care or understand, if they even engage with the internet at all.

But that is VERY hard to see from most communities!  A lot of well-written work has already been put down about how societies self-segregate, and how in the modern era, people self-organize into groups that reaffirm their existing opinions.  There’s this very good piece by Jones about racial segregation in America following ferguson.  Or this piece by Zuckerman about ferguson and the coverage itself.  But this isn’t limited to just any racially charged events.  Humans self-segregate constantly.  Ethnic or religious groups often face intense pressure to marry within their own group, a process called Endogamy (Cue the endless refrain of older parents/ grandparents telling their descendants to find a nice X boy/ girl and settle down.)  We’re much more likely to move to areas which hold our political views, and people who don’t share views with their neighbors are likely to move away, or even have a harder time finding jobs.  A process explained in amazing detail by Bill Bishop.

Perhaps the most obvious example of this though, is to take a gander at reddit.  There are boards for conservatives, for liberals, for atheists and christians, libertarian fanatics and people who still think communism is a good idea.  But the threads contained in these forums are filled with upvotes, and extremely few downvotes, and almost no dissent of opinion.  If you don’t agree with those policies, you aren’t even aware they exist on the site unless you go looking.  And this is an extreme problem, because it means we end up being blind to important things going on in the world, and flaws in our own beliefs.

The gut reaction of the typical reader is probably going to be “Yeah, those fox news echo chambers are terrible, those people don’t listen to new ideas.”  They’re not exactly alone.  Liberals probably segregate just as much as conservatives. And you’re moving to become more partisan just as much as the republicans.   And this isn’t a harmless process.

Not even the president of the United States is immune and he has people specifically enforcing this segregation.  A policy that is leading to an increasing frequency of fuckups like Chickenshit-gate.

And for problems this causes among normal Americans, why not the climate-science denial on the right.  Or how about the liberal left pretending we live in a post-racism society, and don’t believe in racial segregation.

These echo chambers are everywhere, and they’re poisonous and dangerous, because they aren’t obvious to people who live inside of them.  Its hard to realize where your biases are, when they’re never challenged.  And this is why the Ted Cruz debacle annoys me.  Its people yelling amongst themselves, and nobody interacting with anyone who needs to be talked to.  As long as we continue to just exist in a realm of endless retweets, following our favorite hashtags, reading only our own subreddits, we aren’t learning anything new, and we aren’t growing in our understanding of the world and doing something to improve it.

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