What’s wrong with the world today?
That’s me, asking a rhetorical question in response to an actual question that no one actually posed to me, which goes something like, ‘Hey, a–hole, what do you think is wrong with the world today?’
I mean, in those specific words I’ve never been asked it. In so many others, I hear the question all the time, behind the exasperation, consternation and outright frustration and resentment and worry people have in their lives about things that happen to them, or happen to other people hundreds or thousands of miles away that don’t affect them, and things that happen those same distances that actually will wind up affecting them and everyone else or their children in the long or short run.
All of which, really, revolve around climate, politics, the politics of economics and civil discourse.
The climate is one thing. One thing you should fear for the future of, if you have any far-flung sense of…well, anything, really. But politics? It’s no different than it’s been for decades. Same thing with civility among those of us who stew like stew inside this great, big, giant melting pot that is the United States of America.
People hate each other and have as little tolerance for others as they always have.
A quick glance at the history of urban violence, lynching, mobs, rioting, organized crime and criminal justice will show you that.
Only what’s made it worse, in the minds of many, has been social media. For good or for ill (mostly ill, I think), social media has become the new civil discourse. Television is still a thing that might qualify by some standards, but no one gets on TV who can’t both look and sound good, and keep their ideas and responses concise. Or isn’t already famous in politics or entertainment.
And there’s no functional discourse on TV. It’s always been: ‘Listen to us.’ Or: ‘Listen to these people argue, isn’t it entertaining? Now buy the crap our advertisers are selling.’
On social media, everyone has the chance to be someone no TV producer otherwise would have allowed anywhere near a television camera, and be heard. Or at least voice their opinion on a scale they’re very likely not worthy of having access to, for all they lack in informed sense and intellect. And for all the opinion-based misinformation and disinformation they birth. The vetting here is virtually nil.
Which brings me to a point I want to make. This week I happened to be in the next room to a podcast being streamed, and after some jumbling discourse by the hosts about president Joe Biden (I wasn’t really paying much attention to it), it turns out Joe Biden, the president, actually walks in, puts the headphones on and sits down at the microphone. I started paying attention then, because I wanted to know why the hell Joe Biden would have agreed to go on a podcast hosted by two idiots who really had nothing worthwhile to say, based on a half-assed job of listening to them from an adjoining room.
Well, because they were famous.
One of the things he brought up in the interview was the fact that social media has no editors, and how it’s a big problem for politics and civil discourse in America, emphasis on the ‘civil’. This is true, in the traditional sense—newsrooms, magazines, anything in print has always had an editor or several who had the last say (or second-to-last, after the owner or directors) regarding what goes out, and what stays in publication limbo.
I thought about that for a while. It was a good point to make. But not the only one. And, in fact, a far more important facet was left in broadcast limbo during the interview.
This week I’m going to link to recent stories that illustrate the power of influence those who possess prestige or expertise or celebrity or some other type of media-induced credibility (or just an absolute huge following of listeners or hangers-on) have in the world today via social media, and how it’s almost entirely negative. And, sure, anyone and everyone can say anything within the legal, Supreme-Court-ruled boundaries and get away with it, but those with the largest audiences or respectability (without taking into account how that respectability was acquired or bestowed) have a much greatest influence on people’s thoughts and deeds, and can inspire the worst of humanity from what they post in the textual, pictorial or short-video pseudoreality that is all of social media.
We’ll start with Elon Musk. Not long after Paul Pelosi was hammered (literally) after being roused in the middle of the night by a ball-peen-wielding psychopath in his own home, stories began to circulate on social media about the relationship between Pelosi and his attacker, how the two might possibly have known each other prior to the attack, that they might have had some kind of weird sex thing going on. And Elon Musk, now the head of Twitter, rushed to tweet a link to an article that helped sow the seeds of actual fake news on the internet. He deleted it not long after, but the fact was he tweeted it to begin with, and thousands of people likely saw it before it disappeared, and likely re-transmitted it in the meanwhile.
It was untrue, and all the misinformation tracked back to a now-retracted story aired by NBC, based on a lone, questionable source, which first raised the possibility that the two were previously acquainted.
And then there was Kanye West, who for weeks has continued to make remarks about Jews which not only hurt and pissed off a ton of people, but got massive support from and subsequently emboldened far-right organizations (read: actual Nazis) to hang signs and wave to traffic like they were selling Sunday papers or other stolen goods to motorists on the street in Los Angeles, in Florida, and pretty much all over America. Here’s the latest on that bit of nonsense.
In the Alex Jones trial, where the man himself was found guilty of profiting off his repeated fallacy that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax perpetrated by actors who were paid by the liberal establishment to take guns away from gun-owning Americans, it turns out big-fat-liar-influence was the key reason a lawsuit was brought in the first place. Flame-fanning bullsh– is really the essence of Alex Jones, and anyone with the power of independent thought could’ve seen the dubious points, the spurious premises and all the disinformation coming ahead of time, but the consequences were so vile and severe for the families involved that Jones has, so far, been required to pay out $965 million, from which (the lies) it was shown he has most certainly and directly profited (experts testified that when he began to mention the massacre regularly, his audience numbers began to significantly rise [in number, not the other way]). But it was made into a never-ending nightmare for the victimized families, directly because of the threatening actions undertaken by the low-conscientious types, the narcissists, Machiavellians and sociopaths who listen to Jones, precisely because of his influence and persuasion. And their own vacuous susceptibilities to being manipulated.
And one last thing, about NBA Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving. A five-game suspension was handed down by the Nets’ front office last Thursday, because of (you guessed it) a tweet he had posted, and his refusal to right-away apologize or back down from the perceived anti-semitic message implied therein. The same day, the FBI had reported a “broad” threat to synagogues all over New Jersey, not too far from where the Nets happen to play, and where Irving happens to live. Coincidence? I don’t know. But taking into account the power and influence by the powerful and influential on social media, it seems like it’s probably not necessarily unlikely.
I’ll stop there. Those are just examples from the last couple weeks. They’re by no means outliers, and by no means nothing new in the world.