The end of Democracy is here.

Photo Credit: Reuters

There is nothing like a tragedy where 22 people’s lives, 19 of them children, are snuffed out by a psychopath on the heels of a domestic terror incident that resulted in 10 deaths to remind Americans how screwed we really are. The tragic events were terrible on their own, but the canary in the coal mine is the hatred that neighbors in this country began showing towards each other moments after the reports of the first person being shot rolled in.

Fellow Citizens were not embracing one another and coming together to collaborate on solutions and console each other. Rather we were all sprinting to our battle stations, hurriedly typing out talking point torpedoes and firing them across our social media landscapes affixing blame to the respective opposing ideology.

What else are we supposed to do? Even if we collectively come up with a solution it will never be enacted. Our politicians, mostly ensconced in heavily gerrymandered districts, are desperately signaling their total devotion to their respective ideology. They understand the threat to their political existence will come from within their own party at the primary, so they refuse to compromise. They, like us, eagerly repeat the talking points of their ideology handed down by their propaganda machines, while letting virtually all real legislation be written by corporate lobbyists.

These are our political “scientists”. These are the experts that are supposed to engineer solutions to society’s most controversial and complex issues. We charge this cohort with the responsibility of governing and generating legislative solutions to societal problems on our behalf. This is the function of our elected officials in a democratic government. This is not what they have been doing and we have not been holding them accountable.

A significant part of the problem is the precipitous devolution of political discourse. The advent of social media greatly contributed to this decline. Algorithms elevate the most controversial content to the top of our feeds, enraging us to engage, and spend more time on the site. We like and share reductionist simplifications of complex issues. Collectively deluding ourselves and constructing a reality of oversimplified straw man absurdities where we paint ourselves as the righteous protective crusaders and our counterparts as the evil villains seeking societal destruction.

There are entire media ecosystems that feed off of this Manichean world view. There are countless podcasts, YouTube channels, and TV programs that seek to profit off of this insidious demonization of half the country. Step into either one of these bubbles and you will find a rigid cult ideology that viciously rejects any deviation from crafted narratives. Any nuance is zealously attacked as weakness, any attempt to compromise is met with howls of traitor.

Each bubble is defined as much by what it is not as it is by what it is through the process of schismogenesis. A key node from the opposing ideology states that the solution to problem X is B, moments later the alternate bubble is engaging in a frenzied denunciation of B and everything that even hints at being pro B. Anyone who was ever for B is a traitor and deserves to be exorcised from the group. This is cancellation in action, and both bubbles consistently engage in it. Deviating from the cult’s ideology is unacceptable and will get you banned. We each do it on our social media feeds, pruning the voices that we dislike to protect ourselves from cognitive dissonance, and each cult polices itself for purity.

Each of these media ecosystems profits of the daily manufacturing of rage in conjunction with a soothing reaffirmation of warped world views. They relay every societal issue in terms of a battle, warning all their consumers of impending barbarians at the gate. They each assure their audiences that the only way to win this war is to fight fire with fire, refuse all compromise and encourage the most ideologically pure zealots as true warriors.

It is against this dismal backdrop that I propose that Democracy is dead. We have two opposing hoards neither of which will be satisfied until total societal domination as proscribed by their respective ideology has been achieved. There is no room for compromise. How then would each react to a hijacking of the government by a member of their cohort? Is it not perfectly reasonable that the takeover would be quickly portrayed as justified and necessary? Of course it would be. Since our government controls the most powerful military in the world this takeover would quickly evolve into a despotic dictatorship.

We cannot even come together to engineer a solution to children being murdered by a person that was barely not a child. We can’t stop reactively lobbing insults at each other long enough to attempt to collaborate on a solution in good faith. Our political scientists have settled into letting lobbyist legislate while they take carefully choreographed media stances that signal they are loyal to their ideology. At best they may generate stunt legislation that is ensured not to pass because they failed to collaborate in any meaningful way since of course they would be punished by their homogeneous constituents for doing so.

We have to disengage from our ideological media bubbles. We have to engage with good faith content creators that present a complex multifaceted analysis of contentious issues. This will be challenging and painful. Most of us are used to main-lining rage porn that simultaneously ideologically radicalizes and comforts us and stymies any philosophical growth. A good rule of thumb is if you agree with 90% or more of what is being said or written then you are probably slurping down ideological drivel.

Recognize that the primary benefactors of a hyper polarized political landscape are not the citizens, regardless of their affiliation. They are the media carrion that feed off of discord with their transparently absurd partisan content. They are the corporations that leverage the conflict and twisted campaign finance laws to engineer an exploitative market environment that benefits themselves. They are the social media “legislators” that greedily pocket corporate donations while propping up superficial talking points. These scavengers all feed off of our mutual hatred.

We need to hold our legislators accountable for their failure to perform their basic function, to legislate. We should expect them to collaborate with their fellows rather than demonize and ridicule them. When they put on a show, behaving like petulant children refusing to compromise on social issues while rubber stamping legislation beneficial to corporations, we should remove them from office. They failed to do their job and their stated reason was that the other side didn’t give them everything they wanted. We collectively have to declare that pattern unacceptable. These elected officials have all the resources of modern civilization at their disposal to generate a suitable solution. Their failure to legislate shouldn’t be treated as anything less than criminal misconduct.

We need to stop parroting talking points manufactured by key nodes in the propaganda machine. If you find yourself engaged in a conversation comprised of regurgitated spins crafted by pundits try to suggest a reorientation of the conversation to one focused on the goal of establishing an empathetic mutual understanding. Earnestly endeavor to understand opposing world views and how they relate to the values of the human being that believes them.

Assume that most humans are doing the best they can and that their world views that contradict your own are not based on an inherent evil nature but rather an earnest belief that their views fully implemented will make the world a better place. In short, learn to love and respect your fellow humans, and through that process gain a better more complex understanding of the world. In order to revive the spirit of democracy we have to restore our faith in one another and eschew hate. It starts with each of us finding the person closest to us that is mired in this synthetic rage machine and loving them radically until they choose to let it go.

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Bert James

I am a full time Network Engineer and a Masters Student studying Statistics. I love philosophy, economics, and playing with my chunky chocolate lab.