American society as a whole, and politics in particular, has become considerably ruder, cruder, and more paranoid than it used to be. Many factors have contributed to this latest round of cultural degeneration, but I think the Internet deserves to get more than a smidgen of the blame — and that’s a heck of a thing to say for a guy who is on the net incessantly because he makes a living as a professional blogger.
So why has the Internet so uniquely contributed to the deterioration of our society?
Well, you have individuals from all over the world who can talk anonymously to people with whom they have no personal connection, and they can say absolutely anything without fear of being punched in the nose. Put another way, the Internet takes away all the factors that keep people from saying the rude things that they may be thinking, but wouldn’t blurt out if they were face to face with another human being. On a more sinister note, the Internet allows misfits, sexual deviants, and sociopaths to form communities outside the mainstream where they can reinforce each others’ values. Instead of being a weirdo or loner that society may be able to cajole back towards normalcy through negative social reinforcement, everyone from pedophiles and conspiracy theorists to hackers and “I did it for the lulz” trolls can meet up with hundreds of like-minded souls on the net who tell them what they’re doing isn’t abnormal; to the contrary, it’s great!
That sort of compartmentalization is one of the reasons politics has become so ferociously partisan. On the Internet, people have broken up into small, like-minded groups where they have minimal contact with people who disagree with them. As a result, there is little pressure to show respect for the opinions of people who see the world differently — since those people are, for the most part, not present. It means that facts that run contrary to their ideology will tend to be viewed with suspicion at best and will be totally ignored at worst, thereby creating groupthink on a titanic scale.