Excerpts from Damon Linker‘s “How Twitter Could Be The Death of Liberal Democracy,” posted yesTerday (1.22) on The Week:
“In 1984, George Orwell famously described a totalitarian political order in which people were kept as docile subjects in part by a daily ritual called ‘Two Minutes Hate’ in which the population directs all of its pent up fury at ‘Goldstein,’ a possibly fictional enemy of the state.
“Thanks to Twitter, we now know that the same dynamic can arise spontaneously, with fresh ire directed at a new manifestation of the partisan enemy nearly every day. It shows us that under certain circumstances — our circumstances — people can and will fasten onto an endless succession of real-life Goldsteins for the sheer, addictive joy of it — for the pure, delirious pleasure of denouncing manifestations of evil in our midst. Nothing, it seems, is quite as satisfying as singling out our fellow citizens for their moral failings and indulging in fantasies of their fully justified punishment.
“Too little attention has been paid to what may be the most potent facet of the social media platform: its ability to feed the vanity of its users. There’s always an element of egoism to intellectual and political debate. But Twitter puts every tweeter on a massive stage, with the nastiest put-downs, insults, and provocations often receiving the most applause. That’s a huge psychological incentive to escalate the denunciation of political enemies. The more one expresses outrage at the evils of others, the more one gets to enjoy the adulation of the virtual mob.”
“They display an impulsiveness and unhinged rage at political enemies that is incompatible with reasoned thinking about how we might go about governing ourselves, heal the divisions in our country, and avoid a collapse into civic violence that could usher in tyranny.”