The Real News
Angelo de Codevilla, argued in mid-2017 that America was in a state of Cold Civil War from which he could see no easy exit. "So many on all sides have withdrawn consent from one another, as well as from republicanism as defined by the Constitution and as it was practiced until the mid-20th century, that it is difficult to imagine how the trust and sympathy necessary for good government might ever return. Instead, we have a cold civil war."
Worse, he could not see how it could be rebuilt. America no longer had a set of common premises on which connections could be restored, as was once possible in the 1860s.
America is in the throes of revolution. The 2016 election and its aftermath reflect the distinction, difference, even enmity that has grown exponentially over the past quarter century between America’s ruling class and the rest of the country. During the Civil War, President Lincoln observed that all sides “pray[ed] to the same God.” They revered, though in clashing ways, the same founders and principles. None doubted that those on the other side were responsible human beings. Today, none of that holds. Our ruling class and their clients broadly view Biblical religion as the foundation of all that is wrong with the world.
The RAND Corporation called this divergence in understanding "truth decay". RAND President Michael Rich wrote that "Truth Decay and the polarization that drives it are grave threats to America." Unlike Codevilla, Rich thinks the problem could be fixed through reforms to education and journalism. Yet among the drivers of truthlessness that RAND identifies are things that cannot be fixed by simple changes notably:
- the rise of social media and other changes to the information environment
- demands on the educational system that limit its ability to keep up with changes in the information ecosystem
The effects of social media will be particularly hard to reverse because its divisive effects are rooted in its structure, in the small world network effect. Such networks generate hub-and-spoke configurations whose clustering effects now alarm us.
Small world effects are how the familiar (and divisive) polarities, tight crowds, brand clusters, community clusters, broadcast and support networks that collectively make up the landscape of 21st century divisions emerge. Cliques are part of the package. The dynamics of clique building are as old has history itself. The Paris salons of the 17th and 18th century were social networks before the term was invented. The salon movement even had virtual postal extensions which academicians have called the Republic of Letters. It was described by Stanford University in this way:
Before email, faculty meetings, international colloquia, and professional associations, the world of scholarship relied on its own networks: networks of correspondence that stretched across countries and continents; the social networks created by scientific academies; and the physical networks brought about by travel. These networks were the lifelines of learning, from the age of Erasmus to the age of Franklin. They facilitated the dissemination -- and the criticism -- of ideas, the spread of political news, as well as the circulation of people and objects.