Squirrels and Democracy

Essay in progress (w GKH):

HRC criticized DJT as unfit to lead because he could fly off the handle over an insulting tweet, get distracted by a minor outrage. Is the opposition, collectively, guilty of the same thing?

Was the Hamilton tweet affair a case of the left half of the country having a “squirrel!” moment and thus taking its eyes off the nomination of some seriously scary men to cabinet and agency head positions?

More generally, does our hair trigger ability to pounce on racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, culturally appropriative, or personally insulting comments, our readiness to rush to join in on an internet “take down” of someone who says or does something ideologically scandalous, reduce our capacity for thoughtful and effective counterplay?

Does the other side know this, at least implicitly, and take advantage of it? Are we duped into thinking that accumulating likes from people who already are like us is effecting positive change?Are we sometimes party to a media loop in which we react to something, react to one another reacting, and then satisfiedly watch ourselves on the news (or as something trending online), basking in the solidarity of shared outrage?

Weber famously described politics as the long, slow boring of hard boards.  Has the internet become such a drug of instant ideological gratification, has it so enabled instant, coordinated outrage that the demos, too, is unfit to rule?

Author: Dan Ryan

I'm currently an Academic Program Director at MinervaProject.com. I've been a professor at University of Toronto, University of Southern California, and Mills College teaching things like human centered design, computational thinking, modeling for policy sciences, and social theory. I'm driven by the desire to figure out how to teach twice as many twice as well twice as easily.

One thought on “Squirrels and Democracy”

  1. Who are the “We” in your speculations here, who, e.g, cannot both walk AND chew gum at the same time? I mean to say, I'm sure that there are some people who fit your characterization, but that's probably true of most characterizations (e.g., “Are 'we' inclined to yield to the temptation to make substantive claims in the guise of asking questions?” Clearly so, for some “We”s). I also think that your questions here are sometimes related but definitely distinct: joining a mob isn't the same thing as being distracted by Today's Outrage isn't the same as hermetic self-congratulatory bubbles isn't the same as mistaking schadenfreude for effecting changes. And none of them is the same as being unprepared or unable to carry out the long, grinding, uncertain work of resisting and countering everything that's going to need resistance and countermeasures during the years to come. :-\

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