Whatever Happened To The Internet Dream? (Part 2)
Something I almost never do in this blog is talk about politics and religion, and I am only going to talk about it in the most generic terms here. My thesis for today is that the wealth of information available through the internet is having unexpected consequences on what should be the most stalwart and unchangeable institutions of society. The consequences on politics is very different than the consequences on religion, but ultimately just as potentially fatal.
The Death of Religion
Full disclosure, I’m and Atheist, and so seeing religious institutions in decline does not bother me much. But, I have not always been. I grew up in a religious community, and why I no longer share the beliefs of the community, I still care about the people as they are pretty much lifelong friends. I don’t stand in the way of their practices, I congratulate them on their achievements in church, I just avoid all religious discussions with them, and they with me. So I am not really anti-religion, because I understand religious institutions can fulfill social needs of its members.
That said, religious institutions are seeing declining conversions, and participation across the board these days. The problem is the Internet. Religions have thousands of years of practice in controlling what information its members have access to: Embarrassing histories are expunged, scientific evidence is denied, and secret rites are kept secret. With the internet that has all gone away. Potential converts to your church can find all the dirt on your church in just a few clicks. Worse already converted members can find this info too, and they can also find support groups for ex-members ready to help them unconvert.
The Internet presents a world view where science is as full of awe and wonder as inspiring as any sermon, a world view where people are moral because it is in their nature to be and do not need threats of punishments and rewards to make them so. This world view is not really a threat to the true believers faith, but it seriously weakens the interest of the potential and wavering members. It is no surprise that “non-affiliated” is the fastest growing religious category in the Western world, especially among the young.
While the internet is a major threat to “religion”, it is not necessarily a threat to “belief”. In fact the internet is a source for a diversity of beliefs. People will be worshiping deities for millenia to come no doubt, but do they need organized religion to do it? I’m guessing, “no”.
The Death of Politics
While religious institutions struggle with their inability to keep secrets from the public, to the politicians its a long tradition of dealing with bad press via spin, denials, and rhetoric. Therefore, the Internet’s threat to politics is very different from its threat to religion. While religions shrivel up and blow away, political parties becomes stronger, more radicalized, and more stubborn.
What the Internet has done to politics is expose the backdoor deals, the necessary compromises needed to get things done. It has soured the public’s view of politicians to the point where much of the public seems OK with things not getting done, until they find out how it affects their lives.
What we have today is what one author accurately describes as “Attention Deficit Democracy“, which has basically numbed us to outrage except when it comes to our special interest causes. There in lies the thing that will kill politics: the cow towing to special interests, even when it is ultimately bad for the general public to pursue those interests. Politics is being increasingly dominated by what I call “Meme Politics”.
Meme politics is good for fundraising: 1. Propose a radical, unconstitutional bill that threatens the lives and welfare of a minority group. 2. The internet gets a gander at your outrageous proposal, posts it all over the web like a meme. 3. Radical political extremists who feel threatened by said minority group send you lots of campaign contributions.
Meme politics is almost normal these days. Politicians feel comfortable proposing stupid and outrageous legislation because it brings immediate fundraising results, and eventually the general public will forget about it come election time.
Why does America spend so much money on a shoddy health care system? Special Interest groups. Why does America spend so much on military? Special interest groups. Why does America’s tax system punish the poor and help the rich? Special Interest Groups. Why the war on drugs? Why are guns not better regulated? Why the overboard security at airports? Why do we still have pennys? All can be faulted by the involvement of special interests with deep pockets. Meanwhile, nothing is being done about global warming and peak oil, because there are concerted efforts by special interests to deny their existence. Poverty is a major problem in this country, but unfortunately there are no special interest groups to advocate for them.
The internet has brought us the politics of the outrageous, where actually getting things done is counter productive. From the politicians standpoint it is better to not do anything, and keep collecting money from those that want something done. Because if you actually do what they want, they will stop contributing and stop voting.
Society won’t last long without good governance. Deadlocked politics is not good for anybody. There are good substitutes to religion, there are no good substitutes to government. Can politics reinvent itself for the information age and become a functioning democracy again? Or are we destined to become a dictatorship?
Thanks to the internet, politics is becoming deadlocked, and religion is becoming irrelevant. I’ll let others decide if this is a good or bad thing.
Next Part 3: The Internet affect on tv and movies.