Thursday, April 21, 2022

Insight from Jonathan Haidt - "After Babel"

This article by Jonathan Haidt in the May 2022 print edition of The Atlantic is a long, frightening, and rewarding read. It lays out the mechanisms by which social media have catalyzed civil society's world wide disintegration over the past 10 years. I will not presume to do my usual extracting of summary chunks apart from passing on the first few paragraphs to whet your appetite:
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. Something went terribly wrong, very suddenly. We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth. We are cut off from one another and from the past.
It’s been clear for quite a while now that red America and blue America are becoming like two different countries claiming the same territory, with two different versions of the Constitution, economics, and American history. But Babel is not a story about tribalism; it’s a story about the fragmentation of everything. It’s about the shattering of all that had seemed solid, the scattering of people who had been a community. It’s a metaphor for what is happening not only between red and blue, but within the left and within the right, as well as within universities, companies, professional associations, museums, and even families.
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. How did this happen? And what does it portend for American life?

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