Sunday, April 24th, I caught an exceptional interview on a global, international news-station that I found utterly resounding and spot-on with America’s recent dumbing-down of internet consumers. The interviewee was Johnathan Haidt, an American social psychologist, author, and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University Stern School of Business. Haidt also wrote an exceptional article on this subject for The Atlantic Magazine which I found poignantly true called, Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid: It’s not just a phase. He examines the uncanny similarity of an ancient Jewish biblical story with what James Madison, in 1786-1787 in Federalist No. 10, feared most about our Republic Democracy’s vulnerable, fragile Achilles’ Heel:
The story of Babel is the best metaphor I have found for what happened to America in the 2010s, and for the fractured country we now inhabit. […]
Babel is a metaphor for what some forms of social media have done to nearly all of the groups and institutions most important to the country’s future—and to us as a people.
jonathan haidt – The atlantic, april 2022
Jonathan Haidt further explains, the top five behemoth ‘Social-media companies [at the time] brought web-connected Americans into enhanced virality by 2009 to 2012 and deep into Madison’s nightmare.’ Madison’s prophetic knowledge of human nature was:
…the innate human proclivity toward “faction,” by which he meant our tendency to divide ourselves into teams or parties that are so inflamed with “mutual animosity” that they are “much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good.”
jonathan haidt – the atlantic, april 2022
I have written a few blog-posts about this very topic and how it is a mystery to me, that ordinary internet-browsers seem to contract all too often Critical-thinking Amnesia once they get on social-media sites or the sensationalizing tabloid-news platforms known for conspiracy-theories and ill-repute, let alone spreading blatant misinformation. Suddenly their ability to think independently, question opinions or claimed facts or ideologies, or to do necessary fact-checking… just vanishes! Is it because we all desire confirmation bias? Are we afraid of what the real facts will be, challenging our tiny comfort-zones? Where did our U.S role-models and 1776 motto of E Pluribis Unum go?
A quick list of those posts before I continue to The Atlantic’s link to Jonathan Haidt’s article…
In a November 2019 issue of The Atlantic, Haidt wrote another equally exceptional article with Tobias Rose-Stockwell called The Dark Psychology of Social Networks: Why it feels like everything is going haywire. There is a link from the first Haidt webpage to this one with Rose-Stockwell. I highly recommend both articles, in any order.
But gradually, social-media users became more comfortable sharing intimate details of their lives with strangers and corporations. As I wrote in a 2019 Atlantic article with Tobias Rose-Stockwell, they became more adept at putting on performances and managing their personal brand—activities that might impress others but that do not deepen friendships in the way that a private phone conversation will.
Once social-media platforms had trained users to spend more time performing and less time connecting, the stage was set for the major transformation, which began in 2009: the intensification of viral dynamics.
jonathan haidt – the atlantic, april 2022
So here’s the link to Jonathan Haidt’s Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid. When you’ve read it, or both articles, feel free to share your own thoughts, point-of-view, or questions to startup a discussion. Hopefully a discussion of how we can better manage these private social-internet platforms without violating our Constitution’s First Amendment of free-speech—that is…while simultaneously upholding (in the public sectors) the legal accountability and any criminal/civic Accessory charges upon the (free-)speaker or writer. These are called Speech Crimes. After all, it is the latter case that most Americans forget or are ignorant of their own Constitutional laws.
A “free-speaker,” under our said comprehensive, federal Constitution, must be held responsible for what she/he publicly proclaims. Otherwise, defamation, threats, inciting violence, or obscenities can (and often do) run rampant without consequences. This is, in my opinion, a large untreated cancer that exacerbates our current U.S. sociopolitical stupidity, as Haidt puts it, and fuels our sinking into “factions” and severe polarization of which Haidt alludes and eerily James Madison foretold.
Live Well – Love Much – Laugh Often – Learn Always
Curious to know what exactly is SMSD Disorder? You will not find the definition in an electronic software manual today nor will you find it in the DSM-5 or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. At least, not yet. However, after almost 28-years, the last ten being the most disturbing illuminating, there will probably soon be a SMSD Disorder officially entered in the psychiatric DSM-5. I will answer your curiosity later. Meanwhile, allow first a preamble.
I watched a provocative, telling interview segment earlier this week on PBS NewsHour with Judy Woodruff and Jeffrey Brown. Brown was asking author Jia Tolentino to introduce and summarize her new published book entitled Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion.
The book and interview caught my interest primarily because of my under-grad studies and work background in psychology, particularly my previous work-experience at an inpatient Psych/A&D hospital. Self-delusion in psychology is a mental-illness I am familiar with firsthand while employed at the hospital. But the NewsHour segment also caught my attention because of its now greater relevance with the deplorable events surrounding the January 6, 2021 attack by domestic insurrectionist on our U.S. Capitol building and Congressmembers. The insurrection was undeniably incited by the former President and planned on a host of social websites days/weeks prior.
Jia Tolentino is a staff writer for The New Yorker as well as a contributing editor to several popular acclaimed publications. Jia’s newest book is a collection of nine essays addressing our nation’s critical problems with and our reckless consumption-digestion of mass social-media platforms. The specific topics Tolentino examines in those essays are the “scammer culture,” and our intellectually gullible internet culture over the past decade. It also examines one of Jia’s personally resonating subjects: modern feminism. Here is the PBS NewsHour 5-minute Now Read This segment with Jeffrey Brown and Jia Tolentino:
“Yes, the internet’s magic“ Jia states. Due to the relentless, now one year lasting COVID pandemic kept alive by hundreds of thousands of Americans defiant and indifferent to masks, to public health and safety, to the safety of coworkers, and to their own family members, the pandemic has been continually given steroid shots to remain here taking more American lives for the foreseeable future. Those rebels have fueled this killer virus by spreading it and feeding it non-stop with their social contempt.
Besides surpassing the death-toll of all modern U.S wars combined, excluding at the moment the Civil War, another consequence has been the unprecedented number of confined Americans pushed online and onto social-media platforms for much, much longer timespans. Tolentino says this current internet’s virtual world and its “…weird currents of aggression and loneliness[are]evidence of the way that the Internet is, at best, kind of a poorsimulacrumof real life.“
I have to say, “a poor simulacrum” is a soft benign way of describing the sheer potency and addictiveness the online social-media platforms hold on us. Their software algorithm-machinery’s ability to move us, incite en masse thousands of naïve, internet addicts, many of whom possess poorcritical-thinking skills—let alone a modest legal understanding of our Constitutional (elected) democracy operating within a tri-equal branched government—and possess an inability to distinguish what is reliable, factually-based, verified data, news, or knowledge versus what is not. This politicized condition of scientific biological ignorance has reached alarming, lethal manifestations made glaringly visible Jan. 6 at the Capitol.
The vicious jargon was apparent the 9-weeks following the Nov. 3rd elections. The former fake President vomited daily unfounded, unproven claims/Tweets (and over 60 lawsuits) of widespread election fraud, all of them empty. The days following the Georgia state Senate runoffs in which their legal, multiply-verified results injected continued insane, inflammatory conspiracy theories spewed from the White House and echoed on extreme Right social-media platforms. The Twitter fiasco reached unparalleled volume and frequency not seen from any POTUS in American history. Trump and his ardent vassals supporters suffer from SMSD Disorder.
Attention moderate, sane, middle America, you… the vast and sensible majority of this country, it is past time to wake-up to the Coup-sirens! This disturbing, domestic, self-deluded thinking and behavior is no longer sporadic. No longer is it a tiny, trifling gecko lizard. It is a full-blown Godzilla and he is obscenely pissed and hungry. What is distressing though, is that the symptoms of the cyber-disorder in a shark’s tank with many shark’s teeth has been observable and rogue for several internet years. The once captivating Information Age is now The Disinformation Age.
Arab Spring vs American Winter and Free-Speech
Between 2010–2012 social-media was a catalyst for The Arab Spring throughout North Africa and the Middle East. It was widely held that the anti-authoritarian, anti-government protests were in large part the result of “free speech” over social networking platforms. The armed rebellions promoting free elections, regime-dynasty changes, democracy, and a number of other sociopolitical virtues were jubilantly celebrated in the U.S. Many in the West characterized these fights for freedom as evidence of global change for human rights and self-determination. The Arab Awakenings were praised in the West as reflections of the free world with free-enterprise producing technology for an imagined better, more informed, autonomous life as we live in the United States.
In the end and as a whole, only modest changes occurred in the regions at the estimated cost of 61,080 people dead. To this day, countries affected by the Arab Spring are greatly divided between those preferring the status quo and those who seek democratic transformations. Violence and hate-speech actually weakened and undermined the hope most ordinary Arabs envisioned for their country.
What took place in America November 2020 and leading up to Jan. 6th, 2021, an American Winter if you will, cannot be compared to The Arab Spring, not in an already democratic context. An Authoritarian regime fighting for its preservation is not an American Winter fighting for civic virtues and sovereignty it already possesses and was established almost 245-years previous. What is arguably identical between the two “people’s protests” was the violence, hate-speech, and the unrewarded loss of lives to murderers. And finally, all the erroneous screaming about censorship, Second Amendment rights and free-speech are only an individual’s right as an American when it is on outdoor public squares or on public property. It does not, nor has it ever applied to the private sector or privately owned social-media companies. The radical Right is sorely lacking in its comprehension of Constitutional Law. They have slipped into nothing other than very perilous, poisonous Populism disguised as the Republican Party.
Monetize the FUCK Out of Personal Internet Identities
As Tolentino was saying, “the internet is magic.” But it has become more. It is now as much white-magic as it is black-magic. Both are exploited by hungry internet consumers. Social-media has become a dopamine addiction for people craving human connection. It was further amplified by COVID-19’s necessary constrainments for public safety and health.
The evolution of the internet from Web 1.0 (1999) to the currently operating Web 3.0 we engorge today provide almost unlimited avenues of profit/revenue for the corporate tech-industry because they monetize the bejesusout of your personal data and tracking your browsing activity and GPS movement. The consequence for many American internet addicts and gullible consumers is what is now emerging. I would like to coin it as SMSD Disorder:Social-Media Self-Delusion Disorder.
Like Tolentino, Dr. Gonzaga also gives another soft benign description of the dopamine fix of the social-media drugs for consumers with SMSD Disorder. However, when does too much liability and criminal accessory, let alone the loss of moral and democratic principles, outweigh or justify excessive monetizing greed? When is too much, too much? Did Twitter, Facebook, and the other social-media companies wait too long to ban the former President? Did he have special, profit-generating privileges for Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube subscribers that thousands of other banned members did not have and could not generate?
Internet social networking is in some ways a marketplace of Human Futures for Corporate drug-dealers. In other words, the cyber history and personal tracking database are the commodity and consumer attention spans are the revenues and products targeted by the social-media companies. The gullibility of the American internet consumers with unbeknownst, undiagnosed addictive personality risks have been exceptionally depicted in the Netflix tech-opic/documentary The Social Dilemma.
One of the computer scientist interviewed and consulted for The Social Dilemma tech-opic documentary was Stanford University grad Tristan Harris. He is a former Google employee who pioneered Google Inbox that quickly rocketed the tech-Giant into the stratosphere. But while Harris was at Google from 2011–2015 he felt all the American social-media tech-Giants should “feel an enormous responsibility to make sure humanity doesn’t spend its days buried in a smartphone.” They listened, but did nothing. If you can spare a brief 17-minutes, watch this online Collision Conference presented by his cofounded and present non-profit organization the Center for Humane Technology, a progressive group addressing the ethics of consumer technology, governance, and the fate of society as we now have it:
Has history taught us nothing? America is losing many Gen X’s, Millennials, and now Generation Z’s to a plethora of phone apps and addictive cyber-networking algorithms. The mental-disorders growing among these three generations—not surprisingly a timespan covering the internet and tech-boom from Web 2.0 to 3.0—are proportionally associated with social-networking platforms. This is our history ignored for the sake of hyper-monetization.
Is it past the time to regulate, monitor, and hold accountable the social-media megabots before they turn into a repackaged Nazi propaganda machine for megalomaniac Authoritarians? Has our collective memory suddenly taken a nose-dive off the cliff of reason and rationale thought? Can we not, or at least the vast majority of us, no longer recognize and stop a treacherous direction, a cult, its Cult of Personality, and their utilization of any and all mass media platforms to pervade gullible brains. History’s deadliest, most sinister, covert, power-hungry cults of personalities are littered across our world continents within historical records of all cultures, including numerous dark times in our own U.S. history.
When will we learn? When human symbols, alphabets, and writing were invented 5,500 years ago, news, political propaganda, sales and marketing, bookkeeping, fine arts, along with lies and half-truths among social groups began. When Gutenberg’s printing press was invented in 1440, mass publishing, at least on a quicker wider scale, more information began reaching individuals, not just kings, queens, and nobility. When the telegraph then AM/FM radio was invented in the 19th and 20th centuries, all of the above was magnified exponentially to the world, to nations, to any group, company, or family home that could afford such technology, including more political propaganda, sales and marketing, lies and half-truths. By 1933 Joseph Goebbels and Hitler’s Nazi Germany seized total control of all German radio stations in order to censor and hide their atrocities, genocide, and war crimes from the ordinary non-Jewish German citizens. Instead, Goebbels fed the people daily with blatant lies and half-truths for over a decade. The German people believed every fanatical, inspiring false word, to their demise in May 1945.
When the computer and world-wide-web (internet) were invented in 1989, everything aforementioned above was further disseminated, amplified, and exponentially multiplied, limited only by the number of homes which could not afford a computer and modem, later to become cable-internet or satellite WiFi/internet. The once unfettered Wild Wild West frontier of lawlessness in the early and mid-19th century America was reborn in the Wild Wild West of unstoppable, lightening-speed, mass information and insatiable consumption never before imagined. Like alcoholism or drug addiction, its moral-ethical consequences and impact could not have ever predicted or reeled in the speeding uncontrollable train train-wreck we have today. And yet:
When we do not pause, take a moment to think rationally after hearing or reading shocking information or news before speaking, acting/reacting, or writing, we risk and possibly deface or sacrifice our own integrity and dignity. When we impulsively blurt-out vocally an idea, thought, or reaction without first verifying or confirming its validity or without doing the required legwork/homework before speaking, acting/reacting, or writing, we risk and possibly deface or sacrifice our own integrity and dignity. Case and point:
That was in the late hours of January 6, 2021. Today Rep. McCarthy has done a complete 180-degree reversal of his moral integrity and once again is an ardent Trump vassal. This is a symptom of SMSD Disorder of not only online conspiracy theories, but also of being enslaved associated, in bed with a Cult of Personality. Both are dangerous simpatico concoctions. Unfortunately, the same gullible American internet consumers forgive and forget repeatedly political offenders or criminals as long as they make a public apology, no matter how many apologies they’ve made in the past. Too many apparently suffer from chronic dementia when it comes to repeating offenders by public figures and government officials. What sort of precedent does that behavior set? Did Nixon or Reagan set it? Do American voters even know who Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan were?
The “Sexual Free-for-All” Promoted by Social-Media Platforms
In 1997 while inside an electronics store for televisions, stereos, etc., and crude computers by today’s standards, a salesman who was apparently a subcontractor by the store, approached me with a brand new, cutting-edge service called the world-wide-web. After his 3-4 minute sales-pitch, I told him it sounded fascinating, but no thanks. Why did I turndown his “ground floor bargain price“? I couldn’t honestly tell him what I thought at the time about his offer and the earliest concepts promoted of the world-wide-web, or internet, and its networking potential and perceived promises. However, I can say it here.
What I thought back then in 1997 and have repeated ad infinitum, ad nauseum to this day is this. The internet is like a wild, 24/7, 365-day world orgy where seemingly limitless pleasure (dopamine & connection) abounds for everyone online, but without condoms, IUD’s, spermicides, and other protections from unwanted pregnancy and STD’s. The internet is a modern Roman Floralis Ludi, if you will. Is it wise to ignore all the risks and promote only the benefits? Some large number of social-media users are absent-minded, wear rose-colored glasses, and are reckless with those they engage and sleep with at the risk of very serious infections. Very little has changed, I think, since 1997. I still hold firm to my 24-year old assessment of online social-media given the rise and growth in America of the psychological SMSD Disorder.
Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always