It's 2016 and not much seems to have changed over the last decades when looking at the big picture. Very few people are getting richer and richer while the rest has less and less. There are many violent conflicts around the world. People are divided by religion, race, line of descent and social standing. People don't even understand the concerns of others and often political discussions cannot even be started because one side already feels offended when the other side disagrees with them. I thought that further improvements to our political systems, a free press and the Internet would change a lot for the better, so we as a society could work together on deciding what issues matter most and get rid of them one after the other. But there are many negative developments that slow down the process and they could even invert a lot of positive change.
I blame a lot on the bad political elite we currently have almost everywhere. Most people are not even interested in politics anymore and they don't see themselves represented. They rather spend they spare time with various distractions. I consider the biggest achievement of chancellor Merkel that now a whole young generation in Germany is completely disenchanted with politics. If people are going to vote, they are not passionately casting their vote for their favorite candidate but for the candidate that will probably cause less damage than the others. The politicians in power won't change anything about this because this is exactly how they want it. A disinterested population is the best population for a ruling party in a democracy and they can do what they want: either nothing or that what the currently highest bidder wants. However, they should bring the population together and cause progress.
Take a look at the United States presidential elections: Among the American population of over 300 million people, the electoral system of the two biggest parties managed to designate two of the worst possible candidates: a gabbling populist and the personification of corruption. One candidate represents a dangerous group of people that is fueled by hate, distrust in the political elite and that believes that all their problems can be solved by oversimplified solutions at the cost of others. The other candidate represents the status quo, a small group of people in Washington that is busy meeting lobbyists all day, that won't be prosecuted of any crime they commit and that discusses the next violent regime change in their cozy think tank conference rooms. But the real scandal about the presidential elections are not these two ambassadors of the apocalypse, but that most Americans don't know that there are more than two candidates running for president. This is due to the media that is not reporting on them.
And this brings us to the next issue. You may think that a free press gives our politicians a hard time and informs us in a neutral way about relevant issues. This may be true in many cases and there are many talented and passionate journalists out there working hard for all of us. But the press cannot be completely neutral or objective. The selection of issues to report about already intentionally or unintentionally pushes a certain agenda. If a newspaper doesn't report on an event, then this event never happened to the readers of the newspaper. Then there are various conflicts of interests if many newspapers and publishing houses are owned by rich and influential individuals or families. Furthermore, bringing the news first seems to be most important nowadays, so the quality of the reporting is often low and newspapers are more or less copying the same article from one of the few news agencies. All of this makes it hard to get different perspectives about the same issue and to form an informed opinion.
There is another amplifying development: The mainstream media is more and more filling the void that religion has left in our secular world. It is important to stick to a certain message. The message should be short and broadcast by everybody in the same way, so we all have something to believe in and don't have to worry about the real complexity of the problems we are facing. Facts are not that important anymore and are ignored if they don't fit the narrative. Whoever is casting doubt at the current narrative, is called a conspiracy theorist, even if she or he is not even proposing a theory. This is in no way different than the propaganda during the Cold War. The "shooting the messenger" principle is also used frequently. Let's attack the bearer of the information if we don't like what he is telling us. Among others, Wikileaks published a huge amount of emails that shows corruption among the leaders of the Democratic Party and collusion with the Clinton campaign. The media rather speculates about the possibility that the data was originally obtained by people that work for Putin. Edward Snowden showed us widespread surveillance and illegal activity of the NSA and others. Let's rather talk about the theory that Snowden is an agent working for Putin. By the way, this childish Putin blaming also leads to less detailed reporting about issues inside and outside Russia that are caused by president Putin because he is already established as the personified evil.
This behavior of the media boosts the societal segregation. Everyone that keeps in line will have difficulties to form their own opinion due to lack of details and perspectives. Furthermore, she or he is encouraged to not worry and do something about our problems because there are already good people working on solving them. Everyone who comes to different conclusions and wants a discussion is alienated by hostility. This leads to the many forms of radicalization we see today. People are breaking out of the bubble. But instead of trying to get a more complete world view, they seek a new bubble where everyone has their opinion and detests everyone else that doesn't have their opinion. They are just following the path of least resistance.
I hoped that the Internet would change something about this. In fact, the group of the well informed seems greater than ever and investigative journalists have numerous sources. For activists it is much easier to organize themselves. But it's also easier than ever to find someone that confirms the craziest claims and biggest lies. Sources are either not checked at all or in a very sloppy way. If someone we know and trust shares a story on social media, then it has to be true and we don't need to read more than the headline. So while the internet fosters knowledge and communication, it also helps to gather people in their own little radical groups and pushes us more apart. Maybe the Internet is just too complex or it still costs too much effort to do proper research on current topics?
Maybe people need to be taught how to do the research itself and handle the vast amounts of different sources we have today. For sure, lack of time plays a role, too. Besides all the working and self-optimizing we have to do, there are not much time and mental resources left to follow up what is going on. More political influence for everyone in the sense of direct democracy may also improve the situation, but only if everyone is well educated on the issues and seeks discourse. Otherwise, it will probably lead to more uninformed decisions, more frequent policy changes and more harm to everyone.
I'm not sure what exactly needs to be done. There are obviously more causes than politics and media. The situation is complex and I cannot come up with a simple solution that can be broadcast as a short message.