Rage, Parallel Societies and Compliance

An almost self-aware piece on growing anger in American society is worth the short read. It’s not easy to excerpt: it documents a growing number of heated exchanges and encounters across the US.

The 3 issues mentioned were all deeply performative: Covid, climate change and election audits. None of these would be divisive were it not for the English-speaking media blaming the working class for having wrongthink on them. It’s become mainstream thought on the Left that enforcing compliance with rightthink is the height of virtue.

In fact, I keep hearing the word “comply” in the US. It’s often coupled with ominous threats such as “failure to comply will result in prosecution”. I had to pause and think for a minute how I’d even say that in Russian or Ukrainian. Even in official settings, I never hear things phrased that way. I don’t think I heard the word comply at all during my quick stay in the Netherlands.

In Europe directives are clear, brief and rare:

Please wear a mask.

In the US I hear canned announcements repeating constantly:

Failure to comply with the federal mask mandate can be punished with a fine and removal from the facility.

That’s the language of an authoritarian society; it’s the source of the rage. The two main parties are locked in a zero-sum game to force their version of society on the other: absolute abortion bans and vaccine mandates leave no room for discussion or compromise. Neither side rejects the use of state power to enact their agenda, rather they squabble on which authoritarian agenda should be enacted.

It’s draining and destructive. The media keep promoting it. My only solution is to stay away from the news.

I’m reminded of Moxie Marlinspike’s essay on why we should all have something to hide. Society can only advance when enforcement isn’t 100%, otherwise it’d be impossible to generate new ideas:

Imagine if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100% effective, such that any potential law offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. If perfect law enforcement had been a reality in MN, CO, and WA since their founding in the 1850s, it seems quite unlikely that these recent changes would have ever come to pass. How could people have decided that marijuana should be legal, if nobody had ever used it? How could states decide that same sex marriage should be permitted, if nobody had ever seen or participated in a same sex relationship?

The cornerstone of liberal democracy is the notion that free speech allows us to create a marketplace of ideas, from which we can use the political process to collectively choose the society we want. Most critiques of this system tend to focus on the ways in which this marketplace of ideas isn’t totally free, such as the ways in which some actors have substantially more influence over what information is distributed than others.

This is why I’m so weary of asking big tech companies to be the arbiters of wrongthink. It’s only going to fuel more rage and zero-sum thinking. Bruce Schneier takes the idea further in stating that the mere the presence of surveillance is enough inhibit free thinking.

The lack of shared experiences and common space is also leading to rage when people of different factions do end up encountering one another. This is the reality of post 9/11 and Corona theater combined:

When third places vanish, as they have since the attacks, communities can falter.

Without these spaces holding us together, citizens live more like several separate societies operating in parallel. Just as social-media echo chambers have undermined our capacity for conversations online, the loss of third places can create physical echo chambers.

There are few places where I can conceivably see a truck driver and an upper middle class person who “takes Covid seriously” having a chance encounter — at least one that leads to conversation and understanding. Unless you’re having casual conversations with people completely different than you, it’s going to be mighty hard to learn to compromise and be tolerant of opposing views.