Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Crack In The Filter Bubble

As much as I am interested in and opinionated about politics, I rarely see political arguments in person. I sit here writing this in my room, with books on politics and economics scattered across my line of sight, and yet it feels like the closest to a political argument I observed in 2015 was a discussion about the proper level to set a universal basic income to, which is a wee bit different than what most of the rest of the country is arguing about.

Part of the reason there aren't those arguments is my own filter bubble. Not just the internet software filter bubble that the Wikipedia page I linked to talks about, but how we filter our friends and acquaintances. Homophily as sociologists say. People tend to associate with those who are similar to themselves. I am a fairly liberal person, and so are most of my friends, and hell, I live in San Francisco. A good book I read a few years ago, The Big Sort (not to be confused with The Big Short), makes some good arguments that clustering of like-minded American subcultures and political groupings has accelerated significantly in the last several decades, making it much more likely for people to mostly be surrounded by those of similar political and religious beliefs.

Still, I do have friends, and relatives, that I know to vote Republican. At least three. Yet, I rarely see them get into arguments either. I believe most of the reason for that is wanting to be polite, not wanting to ruin Christmas dinner, or simply knowing that our beliefs diverge so wildly that there's not much of a chance of one of us to change one another's mind.

With that level of non-confrontation and self-filtering in our daily lives, there are some rather unfortunate effects. If the only people I argue with are mostly anonymous asshats on the internet, it does lead to dehumanizing the other side. And believe me, my internal conception of the other side is rather dehumanizing. I see conservatives in America as either idiots, willfully ignorant, ideologically insane, greedy, or bigoted. So, yeah. Not much of a beginning to argue about.

Which is why the last month has been very interesting for me. I certainly feel as though I've seen more political argument in the last month as I have in the last seven or eight years. Possibly longer. The reason for this, is of course, the Hillary Clinton vs Bernie Sanders primary. I've actually seen friends get into long extended arguments with each other in public view! It's wonderful!

Of course, yes at least three quarters of those arguments quickly degenerate into either shouting, or passive aggressive sass, but at least it feels like a step in the right direction.

So, what makes things different now? I'd posit that it's a few main things. The positions are relatively new enough that we haven't had time to set up our filters and know who already agrees with us. Then, because we don't know other's opinions already, we tend to assume our friends agree with us, and get a good bit offended when they don't, thus throwing the wanting to politely deescalate arguments out the window. The surprise is a bit of a shock, and leads us to argue.

It certainly makes me wish I saw more arguments in our daily lives. Actual arguments, with the potential for allowing minds to be changed. Not sure what that would lead to, other than shouting a your uncle over Christmas break, but, damn. Better than ignoring each other for fear of causing an upset.

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