The Internet is a tool of remarkable potential. By allowing people to connect and communicate vast amounts of information, nearly instantly, regardless of distance, has given us a lot. However, as with almost any technology, it is only a tool, and can be equally destructive when misused. The internet has made possible untold changes in the life of those it has reached, nearly overnight. Connecting the world has made us far more aware of life outside our small, individual worlds. It has allowed the individual to learn more about the world than was sometimes possible, and as such, has lead to a massive broadening of horizons. However, the dark side of this technology works to undermine everything that was just mentioned. The internet has, in connecting people with a wide variety of opinions and viewpoints, almost paradoxically allowed every individual to be far more insular and divisive than they were before. Confronting opinions that differ from your own is difficult, and learning from people you disagree with just feels wrong. As such, people seek out groups whose opinions match their own, which leads to those opinions being reinforced both for the person joining, and the group being joined. These tight networks of purity of thought are called echo chambers. These echo chambers are possibly the most damaging things possible for a modern democracy. While it may seem harmless “when I do it”, everyone thinking like that leads to the problem proliferating throughout all levels of American society. “Facts” are created in these echo chambers, validated by others who think the same way, and canonized into “truth” without ever undergoing serious investigation. These ideas are beyond validation, as they have become sacrosanct to those who hold them. They are as fiercely held on to as religious dogma, and defended as zealously. Both sides of the political spectrum, and at all points in between, are responsible for this. In these carefully insulated echo chambers, the loudest voices fill the chamber the most, and those almost invariably belong to extremists. Extremists were usually marginalized before the internet, pushed to the fringes by those who knew better. Today, however, this is impossible, and with the 2016 elections, the inmates are now officially running the asylum.
Feminism. Egalitarianism. Conservatism. Liberalism. Capitalism. Communism. Socialism. Fascism. These are words which, if you are an American, I feel fairly confident in betting that you don’t understand any of the ideologies that those words represent. You undoubtedly think you do, but a couple minutes with the founding documents will swiftly prove that you have no idea what they represent. Approaching these ideologies with an open mind, and learning about them, one can easily understand why reasonable people from a different background could agree with many of them. This allows you to gain perspective, learning more about the world than you knew before. Even so, it requires work to be aware of and put aside your biases, to approach an issue with curiosity, and to be prepared to change or discard a belief you have. As adults, that is our responsibility to society. The human brain, however, hates doing extra work. It would much rather have someone it agrees with explain them, and just trust that they are definitely telling the truth. In the past, it took a huge effort to lie to the people, hiring crooked scientists, or “contributing” to politicians. These days, a Facebook or Twitter following is all you need. Nothing is ever fact checked, so saying something makes it true. While people love to trumpet the achievements of social media, nobody likes to talk about the literal and figurative lynchings that it has made possible like never before. A person running afoul of one of these groups can expect to have their personal information leaked, have their reputation and career destroyed, and finally, to become a martyr for the opposing groups, whether they wanted anything to do with it or not. This slide has been going on for some time, and now, we may have reached the point of no return.
Donald Trump sits down for work, when he feels like working, at The Resolute Desk, in The Oval Office, in The White House. He is the President of the United States of America, and he is the president as a result of everything I mentioned above. He took the nation by whipping up false controversies, telling bald-faced lies about his opponents, and playing off the anger of the internet. While he was doing all of this, he was being cheered for at his rallies. These were his echo chamber. Nothing he said was wrong, and anyone who called him on anything was branded a liar. Facts no longer matter, and as a result, he was elected to the highest office in the land. All the while, the echo chambers within his own party meant that even though the Republicans now control all branches of the Federal Government, they are still unable to agree enough to do anything but pass bills blatantly written for donors. The American Government is now a farce, and we are all to blame.
Notice that, unlike many of the other articles, I didn’t bother looking for specific precedents, cases, or sources. That’s because each of you reading this article already filled in the blanks for yourselves. Everyone does this, which is why it’s so hard of a problem to address, because it requires each of us to do a lot more mental work than we want to. That, however, is the price we, as a species, must pay for advancing to this level.