An article in the May edition of The Atlantic is a timely and compelling look at how America has splintered — and what'll happen if we don't find a way to patch it.
In the essay, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt at NYU’s Stern School of Business, writes:
"In the 20th century, America built the most capable knowledge-producing institutions in human history. In the past decade, though, they got stupider en masse."
All day long we're barraged with this or that data point, this or that hot take, breaking news about this or that mostly underwhelming but nonetheless stress-producing developing story –
Unless, that is, we’re disconnected from a smart phone, cable TV news shows or social media. And these days, there aren’t that many of us who are.
Mike Allen says Haidt's view of America in 2022 is an excuse to “step back and behold what future historians will see.”
In "After Babel," Haidt invokes the Genesis fable of the Tower of Babel, where God is angered by the rampant and excessive pride shown by early humans, then scrambles their languages.
Haidt sees that story as "a metaphor for what is happening not only between Democrats and Republicans, but also within the left and the right, as well as within universities, companies…and even families."
He believes that in the past 10 years — especially 2011-2015 — something "went terribly wrong, very suddenly. We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth."
Some of what he says happened includes the early internet, which looked like "a boon to democracy" —
"Myspace, Friendster, and Facebook made it easy to connect with friends and strangers to talk about common (emphasis added) interests, for free, and at a scale never before imaginable."
Instead, we got things like the "Like" button, retweets and far too often uncivil comments that have "encouraged dishonesty and mob dynamics" and, I’d add, a tendency toward a growing reticence.