Polarisation takes us back to the 19th century


We seem to be on the cusp of another age of sharp tribalisation, where people of different beliefs and persuasions increasingly lead different lives and share different spaces, passing each other like the proverbial ships in the night – except well-lit ones and with their crews screaming at each other through megaphones. The institutions, the forums and the spaces where we can all mingle together as fellow humans and citizens are becoming dominated by an intellectual monoculture that brooks no differences of opinion, forcing more and more people to create their own alternative venues and outlets to express themselves freely. This is not a healthy state of affairs, as it divides and insulates us from all the others who are different. People might be wired to seek the company of “their own”, but nowadays it’s less a matter of preference than necessity.

It’s all too reminiscent of the centuries past, with their sharp divisions not just of socio-economic class but also of political and religious beliefs. Our grandparents can still remember separate youth or men’s or mothers’ groups for the Catholics, the Anglicans or the Methodists. The Irish would have their own social clubs and activities as would the Germans or the Italians. Newspapers and periodicals would support and be in turn supported by particular political parties. Pubs would be associated with specific groups and therefore be no-go zones for others. From the cradle to the grave, our ancestors used to inhabit their own sectarian spaces in a world of distinct and self-contained communities like a giant Venn diagram with minimal common overlap. We seem to be regressing now into a similar reality, one largely determined by political differences and where all other differences acquire their own political meanings to categorise and divide us even further.

It started with the news business, as it has come over the years to acquire a detectable left-wing tilt in its sensibilities. And so now we have the “mainstream media”, which leans left, and the whole alternative world of media for people of the right. The mainstream media continues to swear to its professionalism and balance, treating outlets like Fox like an aberration and abomination but it is merely a rational commercial response to the exclusion of half of the electorate whom the MSM no longer seeks to inform but to insult, ridicule, preach to and browbeat.

Now we are seeing a similar phenomenon in the world of the social media and the internet, where the left-wing beliefs combine with the economic power and influence even more heavily concentrated than in the world of media. Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, all the way down to Pintrest and GoFundMe, are banning, shadow-banning, demonetising and censoring those they disagree with. The left, which has spent centuries hating and distrusting big business now find themselves the staunchest defenders of the corporations’ right to conduct their business with whom they want and on whatever conditions they want. The right, on the other hand, increasingly sounds like Teddy Roosevelt reborn in their zeal to unleash the legal armoury of anti-trust against the Rockefellers and the Carnegies of our times.

One can prefer market solutions to government diktats while at the same time feeling zero sympathy for the Big Tech, should the regulatory hammer fall on them. Take this from yesterday: “A Google insider who spoke anonymously to Project Veritas claims the company is devoted to preventing anything like the 2016 election of Donald Trump from happening again.” Companies like Google and their employees have the freedom to engage in the political process like everyone else – they can donate time and money, they can even run their own campaigns. But here we are talking about the¬†covert manipulations of the service they provide to hundreds of millions of people who access it in good faith. It’s the ethical equivalent of a doctor slipping in a laxatives to all the patients of the opposite political persuasion.

The monopoly-busting might or might not eventuate, and if it does, it might or might not actually work. In the meantime, the excluded “right” – which is really an umbrella term for all those with whom the progressive forces disagree, and includes trolling homosexuals like Milo Yannoupolis as well as fundamentalist Christians like Israel Folau –¬† has little choice but to try to set up their own alternatives to social networks, content sharing platforms or fundraising websites, where they will be able to express themselves and work towards their goals without the fear of technological retribution.

It is very much an inferior solution to the overall problem of the left domination of institutions – such alternative vehicles will allow the right to have their own private ghettos and reservations but won’t in any meaningful way compete with or threaten the tech giants. Sure, Gab will never ban you like Twitter, and the Australian Christian Lobby website might raise funds for Folau at an even faster rate than GoFundMe, but these are just pale shadows of their “mainstream” equivalents. Still, an inferior solution might be the only feasible one at the moment; you can’t exactly stay behind and fight for what you believe in if the other side doesn’t argue but simply excludes. The left are smart operators: rather than wasting time building counter-culture you infiltrate and take over the mainstream and change its direction from the inside. For one, this guarantees you a much further reach, where you can work to indoctrinate and sway the great apolitical middle ground, rather than preaching to the converted.

Things are on a trajectory to get even worse, I suspect. After the media and the internet, the polarisation is bound to extend to all the service industries, from banks and airlines to your neighbourhood bars and restaurants, with people patronising or avoiding businesses based on their public positions, pronouncements and participations in campaigns. The world where everything is political and politicised is now one I’m looking forward to. In just over a hundred years we’ve come a full circle back to the world where the “No dogs and Irishmen”/”Only dogs and Irishmen” divide is the everyday normal. Most people might genuinely want equality, fairness and tolerance but the real life turns out to be the struggle about who’s on top.