American Crises: Mental Health and Political Polarization

by Preston Stovall

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U.S. citizens are facing a crisis in political polarization and mental health today. Over the last decade, rates of self-harm and depression have skyrocketed among young Americans. This impact is not evenly distributed across the population, however, as it is centered on heavy users of social media (“heavy use” varies from study to study, but it is generally around five or more hours per day), and the effect appears strongest among young girls. New media technologies have opened up our personal and professional lives to public scrutiny, and the consequent pressure we face to curate a public image appears to be harming the young people most invested in it.

Turning to the trend in political polarization, the PEW Research Center has been studying political sentiments among U.S. citizens since the 1990s. Concerning the degree to which Democrats and Republicans hold not only unfavorable but very unfavorable views of the other side, a striking pattern has emerged. While this number was only 15% for each party in the 1990s, it grew to 40% in 2014. And by 2016, greater than 50% of each political wing regarded the other side very unfavorably. This rise in political polarization appears to be fueled by the consumption of media – both old and new.

During the same period that political polarization spread across the United States, U.S. citizens began overestimating the degree to which the most extreme political views were held by members of the other party. On the production side of things, this result is largely owed to the development of the 24-hour news cycle in the 1990s, with competitors branding themselves along party lines in the interest of securing dwindling market shares across longer spans of time. With the rise of new media platforms in the 2000s and 2010s, and the echo chambers and epistemic bubbles these platforms foster, our political conversations are increasingly dominated by voices that have only the most uncharitable things to say about one another (see also C. Thi Nguyen’s discussion of both these phenomena).

At the same time, this situation gives cause for optimism. Partisans of each side are so misinformed about the other only because it is the vocal extremists who are doing most of the talking. And the data suggests that a substantial number of people, on both sides of the political aisle, agree with each other about more than they realize. On the side of media consumption, then, if we could keep the extremist voices to a minimum (or if we were better at tuning them out) we would discover we share more common ground with one another. And so what appears as a public health crisis now seems to admit of a treatment: our situation calls for more thoughtful production and consumption of media content.

Over the last few years, growing attention has been given to media literacy, which aims to give young people and adults better methods for responsibly consuming news and social media. Organizations that foster media literacy include the National Association for Media Literacy Education, the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University, the curriculum for Civic Online Reasoning at Stanford, the News Literacy Project, and the critical evaluative project Mapping Impactful Media Literacy Practices. With support from Humanities Montana, and hosted at the Center for Science, Technology, Ethics, and Society at Montana State University, MSU philosophers Kristen Intemann, Bonnie Sheehey, and I have been working on a program bringing Critical Thinking about Social Media to high schools in Montana. Our aim is to sensitize young people to the kinds of manipulation, misinformation, and misanthropy breeding in online public spaces today.

A project of this sort seems not only worthwhile, but something like a task of the period in which we live. Just as the technologies of writing and the printing press opened up new avenues for social, scientific, and material cultural development, so have the public and semi-public fora of online interaction introduced a wealth of new opportunities into human life. As surely as it was important for users to direct these earlier technologies toward ends that foster human flourishing, no matter how imperfectly pursued, so is it incumbent on us today to think carefully about the uses and abuses of new media, social and otherwise.

Preston Stovall is an assistant professor in philosophy at the University of Hradec Králové in the Czech Republic. He works in the philosophy of language, the philosophy of mind, and metaphysics.

Comments

44 responses to “American Crises: Mental Health and Political Polarization”

  1. Great initiative! That was part of our lessons in school, focusing on how the news is presented in print and TV media (back in the 70s).

  2. I scanned through some of the websites. I like this idea of lateral reading and it is something I do all the time.

    But I don’t like the way these sites overemphasize potential biases and the importance of “credible sources.” Biased sources often provide relevant facts.

    “Fact checkers” have become a joke and are now hardly different than an opinion pieces. “Fact Checkers” often do not seem to even know what a fact is.

    Listing these “fact checkers” is a laughable:
    https://www.centerfornewsliteracy.org/resources/

    In the end there will never be a substitute for teaching basic critical reasoning and logic, and the difference between facts and opinion/argument.

  3. Bob

    I spent the last hour looking through the ‘resources’, and still have no idea what the point of most of them is. They seem designed to say absolutely nothing about the controversies that are at the heart of online polarization, but instead provide simplistic platitudes designed for everyone to feel good rather than think.

    For example, in my circle the biggest controversies revolve around income inequality, abortion, trans issues, Ukraine vs NATO expansion, Palestinian self determination, etc. I have no idea what these resources on ‘media literacy’ add to these discussions.

    It becomes especially pernicious when you come across the Medial Literacy Practices here https://mappingimpactfulml.org/guide/start/
    What does ‘prioritize marginalized and underserved communities’ mean? Why should I do that? What makes marginalized communities more trustworthy? In fact who defines what is a marginalized or undeserved community is? The other suggestions are just as cringe worthy and speak less of media literacy and more of idealogical indoctrination.

  4. Animal Symbolicum

    I detect a shortcoming with the idea that “media literacy,” as articulated in the web pages you linked to, will somehow lessen polarization.

    The shortcoming I see is this: Media literacy programs are addressed to what are mere symptoms of an underlying disease they aren’t designed to treat, the disease being our collective attention-investment in national and international issues du jour.

    The economy at stake here is not an information economy but an attention extraction economy. (Economies are organized around scarce resources, and information is not scarce.) News outlets these days, large and small, compete to pull your attention toward divisive national and international issues, bathing them in a light under which they appear always urgent, always momentous, and always immediately material to your life. The reasons this competition arose are many, but it is worth singling out the move from advertising-based revenue to subscription-based revenue, which gives more motivation to flatter your subscribers’ pre-existing sensibilities and ideologies. Media literacy programs are for those who consume these sorts of news outlets, for those who invest their attention in national and international outrages du jour. But these issues are not worth the attention we are paying them. They serve mainly as grist for the mills of the chattering class. Local, community issues deserve more of our attention. And, indeed, local news outlets reporting local issues — a dying breed, to be sure — do not cry out for media literacy interventions in anything like the way national outlets do. The default should be to pay attention to what’s happening in your community and to pay attention to what’s happening nationally or globally only when it becomes apparent in your community that you need to. Right now, our national default is vice versa.

  5. Animal Symbolicum

    If I may add something to my original comment . . . .

    I understand the original post was not arguing that media literacy programs were a silver bullet; neither am I faulting them for not being a silver bullet. I simply submitted one reason to think their effect would be superficial at best.

    Here’s another reason. We who are in the creative, chattering classes tend to look at certain cultural, societal, or political problems as problems of intellect. So for the problem of polarization, the problem of the dissemination of sham knowledge, and other problems in their family, we propose regimens of mental hygiene. At the same time, we neglect to consider the deeper problems that are not purely intellectual. (Cf. Ryan Brown’s review in Commonweal of Nadler and Shapiro’s mental-hygienic tract, When Bad Thinking Happens to Good People.)

    For example: by now, we should all acknowledge that the primary factor in either submitting or declining to submit to outlandish or dangerous ideas or views is trust. And trust is simply not a purely intellectual phenomenon; it can be neither broken nor built by web-delivered outlines of mental hygiene regimens. Trust in, or faith in, or even interest in maintaining institutions, for example, is born and nurtured by experiences at home, at school, and in one’s friend group. Those who don’t trust institutions are often those who’ve been genuinely harmed or otherwise wronged either directly or indirectly by them. And yet trust in institutions is the unacknowledged precondition of submitting oneself to the rigors of learning — learning about media bias, for example.

    That my trust cannot be won by my recognizing the brilliance and applicability of a mental hygiene regimen, but might be nigh irretrievable because of political and economic decisions made before I was born, or because I had a broken family and spent my early life as a ward of the state, or because the public schools I attended had no way of actually educating me — we in the creative, chattering class do not want to accept this. We can’t abide the possibility that a mind largely immune to nonsense might mostly be a matter of growing up in a healthy family and community (bad words for the neoliberal progressive!) and developing habits and sensibilities in mostly tacit imitation of the adults and peers we hang around during our childhoods.

  6. Preston Stovall

    Thanks for the thoughts everyone. Concerning the worries raised by Joe and Bob, I agree that reliance on (what’s come to be discovered as) hokey social science, and appeal to fact checkers like Buzzfeed, aren’t terribly praiseworthy. My sense is that media literacy is still a new-enough area of public interest that many of the details of individual proposals will need to be worked out more carefully as we go along. We’re like 18th century chemists in that regard, and faced with a similar sort of problem: the old theories and methods aren’t working, and we need to come up with better ones. So long as enough of us work at that together, I’m confident that, as with the revolution in chemistry, we’ll settle into better pathways eventually.

    As for guidance in topical debates about income inequality, abortion, and the war in Ukraine, I don’t think we should expect media literacy per se to offer much instruction. The aim is to help us develop a more credible understanding of the kinds of uses and misuses that media platforms lend themselves to, and to thereby put us in a better position to understand one another. For as the data linked above suggests, while U.S. citizens agree about more than they realize, that agreement is being obscured by the extremists shouting at one another from both sides. Insofar as media literacy offers guidance in polarizing conversations about specific topics, then, it comes by way of a general program to help people develop a more accurate view of the common ground we already share.

  7. Preston Stovall

    I agree with both of your remarks here. Media literacy by itself isn’t going to address either the unhealthy and excessive attention we’re giving to media today, or the breakdown of trust in institutions. Still, I think media literacy should be one part of program to address both these problems.

    Concerning the first, one of the issues that’s come out of the study of media literacy over the last decade, flagged in my essay, is the rise in mental health problems among young people. As noted, increased rates of depression, anxiety, and self-harm among adolescents are strongly correlated with extreme social media use (as Jonathan Haidt remarks at one point, this is some of the strongest data in social science). The problem appears to be affecting young girls most severely. As you note, media platforms are designed to attract and capture our attention. This introduces all sorts of systemic dysfunctions into the production and consumption of media. Consider click-baiting headlines. With a print newspaper, you could scan the headlines of articles to get a general sense of what they were about. This was an efficient use of the space. But owing to the positive relationship between site traffic and revenue, even conventional news media websites are now intentionally obscuring the headlines and ledes, forcing you to click through to see what the story is. Or consider the influence that the “like” button has had on drawing our attention to what we do and say online — a manifest good for the revenue of entities like Facebook, but probably not the best intervention on adolescent mental well-being. Awareness of these dysfunctions won’t of itself solve them, but if we can be aware of what these dysfunctions do to us then we might not be so easily susceptible to them. And media literacy should help on the latter front.

    I’m less confident about how to use media literacy to address the problem of eroding institutional trust, which I agree is more an issue of upbringing and community norms than a matter of media use. But here’s a suggestion for how trust might be shored up in at least some institutions, for at least some people (as you note, media literacy isn’t a silver bullet). Insofar as we have a more savvy consumer of media content, we would expect producers to tailor their content to meet higher standards, which results in more trustworthy media. This won’t save the QAnon convert from reading Alex Jones, or thinking that the election was stolen from Trump, but it might help bring CNN and Fox News back toward the goal of reporting the news (with the changes Chris Licht has brought to CNN this year, the former seems to have already made a turn in that direction).

    Finally, I just want to second your call for a focus on more local issues and concerns. After living in Europe for 5 years, I spent most of the summer back in Montana, and I was struck both by the vibrant community projects there, and by the level-headedness of the local news broadcasts. Quite a contrast from the stuff that’s broadcast internationally and online.

  8. “For example: by now, we should all acknowledge that the primary factor in either submitting or declining to submit to outlandish or dangerous ideas or views is trust. And trust is simply not a purely intellectual phenomenon; it can be neither broken nor built by web-delivered outlines of mental hygiene regimens.”

    I think you are correct. Trust in many institutions has dropped for good reason. In these websites I have often seen mention of places like the NYT, WaPo and NPR. These institutional media organizations have lost so much trust recently that it is laughable to talk about bias and list them as shining lights.

    The federal government has taken a credibility hit as well. The left does not trust the Supreme Court and the right does not trust the DOJ and people like Fauci. Members of congress are no longer trusted at all by the other side. We can of course disagree on who is correct in their assessments but overall I think it is “the institutions” media and government, that need the “talking to.” Telling people you should trust these institutions instead of your own eyes and ears is not going to work well – nor should it.

    Do I get information from them? Yes of course the AP has many biased journalists but like I said before even biased people can be the source of many facts relevant to a given discussion. The trick is not just trust but also understanding what is stated as a fact and what conclusions the author is trying to draw from those facts. Even very biased sources like NYT and Daily Wire will typically get the facts right. (They will both leave facts out.) You just need find out the other facts and also *think* about whether the facts justify the conclusions they draw.

  9. Paul D. Van Pelt

    I believe the problems addressed here are indicative and illustrative of a broader cultural and social problem. Extremism, excess and exaggeration have mushtoomed, since the advent of a number of other movements and ideals. Groups demand respect from all others, when this is no more than demanding fear. Slogans, such as me too, …say it loud…,and a dozen more add to the extremist culture that has emerged and been nurtured. People move from substandard housing, when economics and opportunity permit and carry with them attitudes and behaviors, critical to survival in a hostile residence, into a kinder, safer one where such antagonism makes them pariahs in the eyes of those who would be better neighbors. Change, though, seems abhorrent and suspicions and animosities self-perpetuate. It was once claimed: “you can take people out of the ghetto, but you can’t take the ghetto out of people.” This seems to remain the same. And it is a generational blight.

  10. Animal Symbolicum

    “Awareness of these dysfunctions won’t of itself solve them, but if we can be aware of what these dysfunctions do to us then we might not be so easily susceptible to them. And media literacy should help on the latter front.”

    You might be right. But I would like to point out that this is one of those “mind over matter” solutions about which I have already expressed skepticism. The forces at play in our current technological-economic arrangement are insidious, diffuse, and inescapable, their tiny but innumerable machinations working from the bottom up into the mind. I’m not denying that each of us is an autonomous agent and has the capacity to think our way into being less susceptible. But assuming the countervailing forces remain, it would take a lot of training and practice for just one agent to reach the point at which she can take requisite control of her mind. We need — and I don’t doubt you would agree — to expend mental energy thinking about how we can rearrange our technological-economic predicament. Otherwise, media literacy programs are like missiles launched in an attempt to combat a sandstorm.

    “Insofar as we have a more savvy consumer of media content, we would expect producers to tailor their content to meet higher standards, which results in more trustworthy media.”

    I’d not thought of this as a possible mechanism. It’s a great response to my worries just above, because it shows how your suggestion, namely, media literacy programs, might actually work to change what I’m worried about, namely, the conditions that make media literacy programs seem necessary. I love it, and hope it’s not only a really possible mechanism but an effective one.

  11. Terranbiped

    Gawd! Like Beelzebub who brings his Hell with him even into the most temperate climes, we all bring our “ghettos”, siloes, echo chambers dirty laundry and baggage with us whether to the White House or the election deniers side of the aisle.

    Every “fact” is filtered through our experience and psychological moral foundational framework. No one is exempt, certainly not the well heeled chattering class.

  12. Bob

    My point was that the polarisation seems to have nothing to do with literacy, of media or otherwise. When liberal journalists and academics were only too happy to call Trump a Russian plant, these people were not short on media literacy. They just didn’t care. And its too easy to always blame extremists, especially when you don’t identify any. What is the middle ground in the debate regarding ‘Transwomen are Women’?

    I think the effects of our modern media environment are more pernicious. The ability to stream news, information and entertainment constantly, on an individual basis leads to greater information fragmentation. The amount of information may have increased exponentially, but we are still constrained by the same brains and bodies. We can spend only so much time reading and watching and listening and thinking. The great amount of information, always there, makes us feel like we have all the answers, but our personal grasp of it is far too small so we end up constantly deluded about our own understanding.

    This leads to an extra reliance on motivational reasoning. If we don’t have all the answers then surely our peer group does. But our peers are just as trapped by the fragmentation of information as we are, and so we are lead to mutually reinforcing epistemic bubble. The common ground is always shrinking.

    Personally I doubt there is any way out of this mess, especially as ‘thinking differently’ comes with a significant cost of ostracision from our peers. Most people will continue to think the way they do because of the comfort it provides rather from a careful examination of the evidence.

  13. Preston Stovall

    “My point was that the polarisation seems to have nothing to do with literacy, of media or otherwise. When liberal journalists and academics were only too happy to call Trump a Russian plant, these people were not short on media literacy.”

    Media literacy targets, in the first instance, the consumer. Nevertheless, as suggested above in conversation with Animal Symbolicum, if we have more discerning media consumers this will force media producers to be more careful about what they say if they want to continue to be taken seriously — as noted, it appears something like this is already taking place at CNN. And this applies to media production and consumption in more local conversations as well, e.g. among friends on Facebook, colleagues at professional blogs, or strangers in comment sections. The trick is to speak to the better angels of our natures, and to encourage such speech in return. That’s a slow, methodical process, and it requires good grooming of dialogical habits from a young age. But I see no reason to think, barely a decade into wide-spread social media use, that it’s something we can’t collectively accomplish.

    Concerning a tendency to rely on peer group validation, here again media literacy is addressing the problem, as flagged in reference to echo chambers and epistemic bubbles above. Sometimes the best thing to do is lay out the case for one’s position, in language meant to speak to the majority of people who already agree with one another without knowing it, and let the savvy consumers decide for themselves.

  14. Preston Stovall

    “You might be right. But I would like to point out that this is one of those “mind over matter” solutions about which I have already expressed skepticism. The forces at play in our current technological-economic arrangement are insidious, diffuse, and inescapable, their tiny but innumerable machinations working from the bottom up into the mind. I’m not denying that each of us is an autonomous agent and has the capacity to think our way into being less susceptible. But assuming the countervailing forces remain, it would take a lot of training and practice for just one agent to reach the point at which she can take requisite control of her mind. We need — and I don’t doubt you would agree — to expend mental energy thinking about how we can rearrange our technological-economic predicament. Otherwise, media literacy programs are like missiles launched in an attempt to combat a sandstorm.”

    Agreed. There’s no magic bullet for these problems, and media literacy is only part of the solution. But it’s important that we start by recognizing the situation we’re in, and that’s something media literacy addresses. Equipped with an awareness of what’s going on, we can begin to try out possible solutions and revise them as we go along. It’s early days, but the last few years have seen a lot more attention drawn to the situation, and I’m optimistic that we’ll productively adjust to the new technological terrain, much as we did with the printing press, radio, and TV.

  15. In the meantime much of our American legacy media condemns Meloni as a fascist, even though her political rival, Matteo Renzi, says that accusation is fake news. Hopefully Italy will not allow our legacy media’s polarize that country as well.

  16. Meloni is most certainly a fascist.

  17. Here is a quote from Wikipedia which I suppose is as good as any starting point:

    “Fascism is a far-right, authoritarian, ultranationalist political ideology and movement, characterized by a dictatorial leader, centralized autocracy, militarism, forcible suppression of opposition, belief in a natural social hierarchy, subordination of individual interests for the perceived good of the nation and race, and strong regimentation of society and the economy.”

    Here is her own view from an interview with the WP

    “Q: There are many terms to choose from when describing your party: Nationalist right, far right, conservative. That’s the grab bag. What term do you think best fits your party and what’s your argument for it?

    A: Conservative. I’m the president of European Conservatives, and for a long time now I have called Fratelli d’Italia a conservative party. I think there’s no doubt that our values are conservative ones. The issue of individual freedom, private enterprise in economy, educational freedom, the centrality of family and its role in our society, the protection of borders from unchecked immigration, the defense of the Italian national identity — these are the matters that we preoccupy ourselves with, so there’s no doubt about that.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/09/13/giorgia-meloni-italy-interview/

  18. Are you seriously quoting to me the definition of ‘fascism’ from an online encyclopedia?

    This is another unproductive line of discourse that I am not going to engage in with you.

  19. As bad as it is, it is more productive than everyone calling everyone they don’t like “fascists” with no indication at all what we even mean by that.

  20. I know perfectly well what ‘fascism’ means, and I do not “call everyone I don’t like” fascists.

    Meloni is a fascist.

  21. Terranbiped

    True that the term fascism is often carelessly bantered around but look up The Brothers of Italy on Wikipedia and you might get a better insight why the term neo-fascist isn’t that far from the mark.

  22. or just listen to her lunatic, ranting speech.

    she’s not being subtle about it. and watching American self-styling “conservatives” make excuses and dissemble about her is just pitiful. then again, they are so compromised by Trump that nothing they do surprises me anymore.

  23. Yes I agree that is troubling. Many political parties in Europe and even in America are connected to evil groups of the past.

    What I find interesting is that on the left politicians like Sanders and AOC, will flat out say they are socialists but then when conservatives want to campaign against socialism they are accused of demonizing the other side. Yet when a conservative says no I am not a fascist, and explains what specific policies she supports, we are told it is a dog whistle or some other secret code for fascists due to some symbol or something from the parties past.

    I am not saying we should rule the possibility out that she is a fascist in disguise. But I would like to see the actual evidence in terms of policy or statements about policy. If someone thinks that pro-life, pro-family, Christian and believing in biological sex makes you a fascist ok. People can make that case if they want and at least we know what they mean when they use the word “fascist.”

    But from my view the big issues for fascists involve removing individual rights to control individuals, taking anti-democratic measures (including reducing free expression), centralizing power, and trying to control private companies in the economy through regulation/corporatism. She claims to be anti-fascist on those issues.

  24. I just watched one of her speeches. She is a bit excitable for my personal taste.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_Z1LClnhsk

    But I would point out that much of what she said is very anti-totalitarian. She wants to preserve institutions other than the state – including family and religion. Totalitarians want “Everything Within the State, Nothing Against the State, Nothing Outside the State” She wants people to be able to speak freely. And say what you want about the evil totalitarians of the last century they were not trying to instill the view that all human life is sacred.

    I don’t know everything she is talking about with the whole “perfect consumers” bit. I also think the genocide of Christians bit is almost certainly overblown and adds more heat than light. Just like those who claimed police were committing a genocide against black people in America. But I am not Italian so perhaps she is referencing something I am not aware of.

  25. Fascism need not be totalitarian. Mussolini and Franco were not totalitarian. Neither was Pinochet or Peron.

  26. That is a fair point. Mussolini used the quote and I think fascism’s and totalitarianism fit well. But other systems can also be totalitarian so there are differences.

    In any case people assign several different qualities to fascism and some people emphasize certain qualities over others.

    Peron I view as more of a populist and his backing of labor generally make me think of him as somewhat on the left, but the label fascist being applied to him is not something I would take much issue with. Pinochet I just considered a military dictator but that gets us pretty far into the fascist playbook so again no big deal. Both of course used a police state to suppress rights and cause fear.

    Peron definitely had a certain cult of personality that some link to fascism.

  27. Meloni is an authoritarian and a nationalist in the manner of Orban. Certainly strongly fascist-aspirant.

    “We are all heirs of Il Duce,” her predecessor said of her party. She’s Italy’s own Marie Le Pen.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2022/09/giorgia-meloni-italy-election-fascism-mussolini/671515/

  28. Terranbiped

    Are you aware that fascism only incubates within the womb of democracies where it nourishes on that it would destroy; free speech, family, religion, political parties, elections, the press, and morphs into blood and soil.

    Her party, her affiliations and friends, her subtle populism and nativism are all red flags that have waved before in the not distant past. Trump reads out of the same playbook, checking off almost every essential point.

    No, it’s not the fascism of the 20c; that smell would not stand today. It’s David Duke in a three piece suit instead of a sheet, a pig with lipstick on.

    A writer unknown said “ when fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” No democracy is immune from this potent combination when the time is ripe.
    Eternal vigilance required.

    Yes, technically you are correct, not everyone that acts like a fascist is a Hitler and not everyone that says they’re a socialist is a Stalin. That’s political shorthand with fuzzy borders and a sliding scale of perceived degree. There’s calculated contrivance, emotional reflex and political gamesmanship that purposely and randomly befuddles the body politic and the denizens of the polity with hyperbole.

    What’s to be done may be never be known. How do you tame the political animal? Yet, people seem to fall on one side or the other with the exception of the so called independents, who frankly befuddle me.

  29. Not at all subtle. Quite brazen.

    When people try so hard to defend, deflect for, excuse, rationalize, etc. political actors like Orban, Le Pen, and Meloni, they inadvertently expose either their own extremism or their ignorance. Thomas Bogardus, a Catholic and conservative philosopher seemed to like her speech, as he was inclined to quote verbatim the Chesterton excerpt she offered at the end of her ravings. Made me lose a lot of respect for him.

  30. Unfortunately, those who want a modern, civil, liberal society face serious opposition — from people yearning for one variety of authoritarianism or another — on both the Right and the Left.

  31. Terranbiped

    Perhaps I should have said insidious instead of subtle. Subtle in the sense that small popular sentiments, seemingly not un-democratic in context of the current social mood paves the way to illiberalism and eventually incipient fascism.

    Yes, the dangerous irony is that democracy loving people think they are only temporarily making a deal with the Devil (as does the Catholic Church et al).
    These blind ignorant Trumpists and the Faustian GOP are not to be countenanced with liberal cognizant empathy. No whitewashing this insanity. If ever Meloni and her Brotherhood deny their election results, we’ll know they have caught up with us.

  32. Back on to the original article. I think it is worth noting that perhaps the constant concern with the “crisis” in political polarization is part of the problem for the mental health of young people. By calling political polarization a crisis it tends to increase the concerns over it. Polarization on political issues is something that America has lived and thrived with for centuries. Americans have disagreed on abortion, immigration, LGBTQ issues, the role of government for a long time. Why suggest that this disagreement/polarization somehow creates a crisis that needs to be remedied by better reading skills? It’s unlikely that will work.

    Instead I think we should start talking about tolerating people with different views. I have several views that are very different than many others here. You might say we are quite polarized. Is this some sort of “crisis”?

    I recently heard a quote that went something like “Lenin wants unity like a man wants to unify with a piece of bread.” Concern for unity I think is the opposite of what we need. It suggests that half of us need to be convinced we are wrong (very unlikely) or that we need to be forced to step in line. Calls for unity when people obviously have deep disagreements is unproductive and even dangerous. I think we need to just say yep we have lots of disagreements and that is ok, because we can tolerate people that disagree with us.

  33. This is all very well, as generalities and pleasantries, but at the end of the day, it comes down to hardnosed electoral politics. You can talk about “tolerating differences” and “tolerating disagreement” all you like, but when you are now compelling women to give birth, against their wishes, through the force of law, you’ve gone way beyond toleration. And don’t even get me started on the nightmarish, lunatic gun universe we’ve decided to live in, with its massacres, school shootings, and the like.

    See you at the ballot box.

  34. We covered this before. Only a very fringe number of states allowed abortion right up to birth – and those were relatively recent developments. So the vast majority always have “compelled women to give birth” at some point in the pregnancy throughout history. Likewise our second amendment is nothing new that we should think there is a “crisis” of polarization suddenly going on. Has America always been in a “crisis” of polarization?

    Crisis is what demagogues often claim in order to use the power of the state to suppress views they don’t like. And both sides have their demagogues (and some politicians with good but misguided intentions) claiming this polarization is somehow different and therefore justifies a state response dealing with how political views are expressed or distributed.

    The supreme court will be looking at some of these issues this term. I hope they make it clear that the state has no business telling people what political views they can or can not express.

    “See you at the ballot box.”

    Sure see you there. It looks like Dems will lose the house but the senate is too close to call.

  35. Yes, we did. Nothing further to say about it.

  36. Terranbiped

    “I hope they make it clear that the state has no business telling people what political views they can or can’t express. […]
    What a strange way to wrap up your point.

    But, they (the Supreme Court) can tell you when they will force you to give birth or, interpret “militia” so that military style assault weapons are readily available to open carry lunatics and school shooters.

    On a positive note both you and Dan express the beauty and hope of our liberal democracy; meeting to fight it out at the *ballot box*. Hopefully, the latest trend of incipient fascism will not deny the results.

  37. “But, they (the Supreme Court) can tell you when they will force you to give birth or,”

    You know the Dodd’s decision says the opposite right? The Dodd’s decision says the supreme court has no business saying what the abortion laws should be because the constitution obviously does not address when abortion should be legal or not legal.

    “interpret “militia” so that military style assault weapons are readily available to open carry lunatics and school shooters.”

    The interpretation of the word “militia” is irrelevant to most of the cases. The relevant clause is the clause that says “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” It is not adjudicating the rights of militias or what a militia might be. The court is simply following the clear language of the constitution that says the right *of the people* to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

    Here is the second amendment in full:
    “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

    I agree that we both should have our views counted at the ballot box and hopefully we agree that although there may be some issues with our elections (that both sides can argue about) they are by and large fair and legitimate. The country is not in such a crisis despite what certain media have an interest in portraying. There is plenty for Americans to be grateful for this election.

    My point about hoping the state stays out of free expression is strange today because I am unusually strong in my stance that the government has no business meddling in free expression of private people or groups. There are increasingly vocal factions on both the left and the right that think government should take a more active role in regulating expression. I am, and have always been very much against this.

    The issues can get complicated though and several of these complicated issues may be before the court. But I have my own views on all these cases and in every case I hope they resolve the case in a way that makes the government back off and allows private individuals to be able to speak without fear.

  38. Terranbiped

    Well, SCOTUS says the right to bodily autonomy of a pregnant women is not a stated Constitutional right. They threw it back to the states which I’ll grant is arguably a judicious move. But, the prevarications during the nominating process casts doubt on the integrity of an ostensibly Roman Catholic bloc.

    How can you possibly read the literal language of the 2A and not acknowledge the qualifier and dependent clauses? Can you imagine if contracts or any other business were written and interpreted this way?

    Of cause I believe in free speech and expression. Who are you implying doesn’t besides nut jobs and radicals of every ilk.

  39. You are right on both counts. And the game-playing has undercut my motivation to keep engaging.

  40. “How can you possibly read the literal language of the 2A and not acknowledge the qualifier and dependent clauses? Can you imagine if contracts or any other business were written and interpreted this way?”

    How do you think different interpretations of the word “militia” would effect the clause “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”?

    Interpreting the law is very similar to interpreting contracts. And how you understand militia might influence the types of arms people would be allowed to carry it would not change the fact that the right to bear arms is given to “the people.” So ok on the “military style assault weapons” I think you have a point. But generally speaking the question is not whether people can carry military assault weapons – which would mean they have the option to become fully automatic. Rather they want to carry semiautomatic weapons – the same sort of weaponry that police carry. Police officers should not be carrying weapons that are for self protection and the protection of others as opposed to indiscriminate killing. Would you agree with that is a reasonable limit?

    And yes we agree known lunatics and known school shooters should not be able to buy guns.

    “Of cause I believe in free speech and expression. Who are you implying doesn’t besides nut jobs and radicals of every ilk.”

    I am not implying anything of the sort. I am just saying I am very pro-free speech and very anti-government infringement – so I am just saying I seem to find my own views in the minority. The issues are complicated but generally speaking there are at least 3 issues the court may deal with that are all a bit different:

    1) The publisher versus platform issues under section 230.- twitter has a case. Typically a platform can censor certain content but still not be considered a publisher but the line can get messy. Essentially the allegation is Twitter did not censor its conduct enough and knew its platform was being used in ways to aid and abet terrorism. (If I recall right) (I think Twitter should win)
    2) Youtube has a case that sort of breaks that mold because they “promote” certain videos through their algorithm. So that seems to be something in between publishing and just being a platform. (I think youtube should win)
    3) NRA has a case where they claim guidance from a new york official basically amounted to a threat that others need to stir clear of supporting their views or they would take action against them. Generally speaking government officials can express their own opinions but when they threaten to take government action against endorsing certain views that is deemed a violation of the first amendment. (I think the NRA should win and BTW I think Planned Parenthood should win if a conservative politician gave the same sort of guidance to companies in a red state.)

    I wouldn’t say people who disagree with me are fascists, I think reasonable people can disagree. But I do think these cases are important and it will be a mistake if the court does not support free expression (and protect against government overreach) in every one of them.

  41. Everyone has different red flags. Mine is when the government starts to control free expression and starts using the state police for its own partisan purposes. These are actually beyond red flags and instead signs that the we are already becoming an authoritarian regime.

    Demonizing all opposing political parties/viewpoints is another red flag to me.

    Populism is a big red flag for others. But it is not such a big red flag for me. But when we get into the strange loyalty that an FDR or a Trump has then yes it at least gets on the radar. Reagan was a populist, but he seemed to want to reduce the power of government so I didn’t see him as concerning.

    Nativism is a concern as well. And I agree Meloni’s concerns with increased births is suspect.

  42. That’s the whole point, what militia? There isn’t any much less a well regulated one. You need to square that before you go off trying to figure out what type of arms would be permissible; a flintlock or an M16. If you want to make a credible argument in support of almost carte blanche to arm and carry it would behoove you to read the pertinent section(s) of the Federalist Papers where the meaning of arms in society are thrashed out. Then you could at least make a decent case based on intent because the actual words of the SecondA are quite precise about flintlocks being available for local (suppressing slaves) and national defense in the world of the 18c.

    “Police officers should not be carrying weapons that are for self protection and the protection of others as opposed to indiscriminate killing. Would you agree with that is a reasonable limit?” I assume you mean – “should be carrying”? Self protection is in the eye’s of the beholder and unfortunately these things have a tendency to evolve into, pardon the pun, arms races. The police themselves have no option but to carry effective
    deterrence or be outgunned. Anyway, we are getting far afield about the type of gun in lieu of how to interpret the 2A. My original insinuation was about the objectivity of SCOTUS decisions, the 2A only being one example. No need to discuss further, unless a new court sees things differently.

    Free speech:
    We start with the acknowledged premise that free speech isn’t absolute. I think that is readily accepted by all rational sides.

    Caveat: Social media platforms are unprecedented in human history and raise new and unique problems that are still being worked out. Unfettered threats to public safety, security and welfare have to be viewed through a new restrictive lens to avert the worst instincts of group hysteria and mob mentality that can sweep through every household at the speed of light boosted by an exponential feedback loop. This is a fine needle to thread while still remaining true to our sacred trust of self expression free of government interference, influence and censorship.

    Your –
    1) This is a can of worms, in my mind, only to the extent of proving that Twitter supposedly knew better but did not do *enough*. If the state cannot prove that Twitter thought it was doing what was expected of it, regardless of 1A rights which are not absolute and Twitter is a private, not public enterprise, then Twitter should be held liable to a certain degree with a promise not to repeat. You can’t have immunity to preach or instigate violence, sedition, libel or fire in a crowded theater, nor false information about a spreading pandemic.

    2) I am not aware of this case nor 3) and have absolutely no expertise on these matters. I simply offer my opinion on what you have stated.

    Interesting case. YouTube is after all a private company offering entertainment more than anything else and it behooves their economic model to keep viewers by catering to their inferred interests. Without further information I have no idea why charges would be brought against them, unless certain political points of view are claiming being squashed or hate speech is being censored, deleted or black boxed. On face value I see no harm in viewer generated algorithms. Again the differentiation between publisher and platform is a novel phenomenon with critical and far reaching consequences. There are plenty of political platforms of every stripe and cesspools like 4chan, 8chan and Gab for those so inclined.
    So, leave my YouTube alone. I would go nuts without it.

    3) Sounds like a clear and blatant violation. I hope just an anomaly.

    I think we agree on the sanctity of free speech and expression, keeping in mind my formerly stated caveat. I think we probably do it way better than others, and under the most taxing of circumstances. Social media is a new frontier that we must explore gingerly, guided by due diligence and the spirit of the 1A. Like I said, I believe all but the rabid ideologues agree.

  43. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I won’t try to argue everything but just make a few points.
    If you are interested in the history here is a decent article that understands that the framers in writing the constitution very clearly gave some rights to the Federal Government some to the states and others to the People. This is constitutional law 101 and so you should not think that the framers were just sloppy when they gave the right to the people as opposed to a state or federal government controlled militia:
    https://www.heritage.org/the-constitution/report/the-second-amendment-and-the-inalienable-right-self-defense

    Just saying speech is not absolute is not really saying much as there can be pretty clear lines drawn for most of the issues such as conspiracies or fraud. The issues come in when we talk about defamations suits and sometimes vague language talking about aiding and abetting terrorists. In the latter case consider that telephone companies aid terrorists since they use them to communicate their plans. The same can be true of internet platforms.

    “If the state cannot prove that Twitter thought it was doing what was expected of it, regardless of 1A rights which are not absolute and Twitter is a private, not public enterprise, then Twitter should be held liable to a certain degree with a promise not to repeat. You can’t have immunity to preach or instigate violence, sedition, libel or fire in a crowded theater, nor false information about a spreading pandemic.”

    Private entities are protected by the first amendment the government is restricted by it. So being a private organization does not lessen the free speech rights. But what you say when you say “what was expected of it” is the key. Expected of it by who? If you think the government should tell companies what they can and can’t allow then you are *directly* violated the first amendment. If the government can not give these expectations then where can they come from? What does twitter know about? Is sending something to customer support “knowledge” within 24 hours? What sort of staff does twitter need to look at this stuff? Do they need to investigate the grounds for every claim posted?

    The internet is the printing press 2.0. People freaked out with the printing press and did all sorts of things to suppress books with “false information.” But history has taught us that was not the way and caused more problems than good. The same is true of the internet. People just need to understand that if they read something on twitter or facebook or hear something on youtube, it is not the case that some youtube council of truth reviewed and confirmed it. I think *all* reasonable people already know that about the internet. The government and these providers should just keep emphasizing that point. But holding twitter liable for every libel published that they “knew about” (whatever that means) is absurd.

    Keep in mind that twitter or these other big players would love a regulatory scheme that has to be followed. That is because these sorts of regulatory schemes are something they can do but smaller players that might want to compete with them can’t. I mean I know Dan reviews all the posts on this site. But can he check out every claim made? How is he supposed to know? Will he have to pay some authorized “fact checker” site? So they are happy to recommend that the Federal Government give regulations, large businesses are always happy to push regulations that will cement their lead in the market.

    Conservatives tend to whine that these platforms censor too much. But these cases are alleging they censor too little. IMO the government is required to stay out of it altogether due to the first amendment. The government can not force private people to keep or censor speech.

    I am not saying that people disagree with me are not reasonable. But I also think that this is an extremely important issue and the government (both left and right) is already threatening these companies in a way that I think violates the first amendment. Its a free country they can leave the speech or delete the speech as they see fit and the government has no business in their decisions.

  44. Your linked article was informative and to my view, well balanced and objective. So, the 2A morphed from protecting the nation from foreign invaders and homegrown tyranny by the sop of a militia to quell all concerned (problematic as a bridge to original intent) and ultimately to the final iteration of self defense, especially in urban settings. All very atavistic in the rear view mirror. Still, there it is in black and white longhand on the original parchment, so, we live with it and interpret and adjudicate into the future and in a very real sense, remain a prisoner of the past.

    I strongly suspect we do not differ to any great extent about free speech but dialogue on these formats are always semantically difficult. Listen, as far as I know, no one is officially stifling free speech willy-nilly without due notice and precise suggestions as to desired outcome. Surely you agree that we can’t have a nation fighting a pandemic, simultaneously fighting a plague of dangerous medical disinformation, or foisting sedition by unsubstantiated deceitful political misinformation about the legitimacy of an election.

    Of course these independent platforms have the right to censor their own content and they can with government advise or directive figure out what should be acceptable content delineated narrowly for specific circumstances to protect the public good. During a pandemic, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to notice if one’s platform is being used to to cause harm or mayhem by an onslaught of bots or delusional anti science wingnuts and for the programmers to come up with an effective algorithm to weed out most. I think there are reasonable requests by the government that can be complied with without much abrasion to even the most rational of free speech purists.

    I agree that government interference in the exchange of free ideas should be exceedingly rare and by due process during exceptional circumstances of national or local crisis and emergency.
    Comparing the printing press to Social Media is like comparing the soap box to a televised bull horn. Times are changing in the ability to communicate unfiltered thought at the speed of light and, not all for the good. As with the 2A, we can remain true to the word but adapt and not be total prisoners to the possible seeds of our own destruction.