That piece touches on a lot of themes that will be familiar to Epsilon Theory readers and one of those themes involves a continual critique of tribalism in America. A related discussion seeks to explore the distinction between coordination games and competitive games, with the former having been relegated to the backburner, subsumed by or otherwise subjugated to the latter in America anno 2017. Consider this excerpt from Ben’s “Always Go To The Funeral“:
What’s happening today isn’t new in theory. It’s a tried and true strategy for political entrepreneurs throughout history, ancient and modern.
But what’s happening today is very different in scale for two reasons, I think.
[One reason] it’s different is because of the unprecedented effectiveness of the technology and social media systems that drive what I call fiat news – highly political statements constructed and presented as apolitical fact.
Note that our use of those pieces and excerpts to frame what follows isn’t an attempt to ascribe political leanings to Ben and Rusty (you can divine a thing or two about how they lean, respectively, from reading their work). And indeed their description of the current state of affairs (defined as it is by the use of competitive games to advance tribalism) is apolitical to the extent it is simply a useful framework for analyzing an objectively dour state of affairs in public discourse and civic interaction.
Well with that in mind, it’s worth taking a second to consider what Barack Obama told Prince Harry (of the U.K. royal family) in a much-hyped interview released on Wednesday.
Obama did not reference Trump by name, but he was clearly alluding to Trump’s role in perpetuating the competitive game.
“One of the dangers of the internet is that people can have entirely different realities. They can be cocooned in information that reinforces their current biases,” Obama said. Here are some other excerpts:
The question I think really has to do with how do we harness this technology in a way that allows a multiplicity of voices, allows a diversity of views, but doesn’t lead to a balkanization of our society, but rather continues to promote ways of finding common ground.
On the internet everything is simplified, and when you meet people face to face, it turns out they’re complicated, there may be somebody who you think is diametrically opposed to you when it comes to their political views, but you root for the same sports team.
And you find areas of common ground because you see things aren’t as simple as has been portrayed in whatever chat room you’ve been in.
Social media is a really powerful tool for people of common interests to convene and get to know each other and connect. But then it’s important for them to get offline, meet in a pub, meet at a place of worship, meet in a neighborhood and get to know each other.
It’s hard to be as obnoxious and cruel in person as people can be anonymously on the internet.
While not as nuanced as the discussions linked here at the outset, it’s consistent in many respects with the notion that civic responsibility and societal norms are being rapidly supplanted by a supercharged competitive game that increasingly finds expression in 140-characters.
Something tells me Twitter’s recent move to expand the character limit to 280 won’t be sufficent when it comes to solving this problem.