This is a podcast feature from our contributor Tim Rodgers. Tim is a voracious consumer of podcast content with a keen interest in history, society, and investigative shows. Please do comment with your reaction to this piece at the bottom of the post.
Common Sense With Dan Carlin
Common Sense #318 - For Whom the Bell Trolls
I know I am late to the party with a commentary on a political podcast episode that was released a couple of months ago, but every breath that Dan Carlin uttered on his Common Sense podcast Show #318 is still very relevant and will be so the foreseeable future.
In these polarizing times, we desperately need to hear from the studied, measured voices of individuals like Carlin. I am making an outright plea for Dan Carlin to keep producing and publishing his brand of informative and impactful content through his Comment Sense podcast show.
The world seems messy and stressed right now, to a point where we all might rather bury our heads in the sands, but we have to stay diligent and sort through our societal dysfunction.
It is not just Carlin that is troubled by what he sees in the public discourse, but also the likes of Joe Rogan, Mike Boudet of Sword and Scale, Adam Carolla, and Dr. Drew. They have all expressed concerns over this troubling paradigm shift in our society towards highly polarized camps shouting each other down.
This shift is most plainly observed through virtual mobs that have permeated the social media ether, viciously attacking others behind the cloak and shield of anonymity.
Many comedians, including Jerry Seinfeld, will not even play on college campuses anymore because of the outrage culture, oversensitivity, and safe spaces that have overrun the institutions that used to be sanctuaries for open and honest debate.
Carlin finds all of this troubling. He notes we no longer have constructive arguments anymore and that a lack of a healthy discourse does not move us forward as a civilization.
A Regressing Civilization
Everything that Carlin describes as problematic in our society, specifically in the civil discourse, is pretty self-evident. The venom that exists online, the tribalism, it is all pervasive. Carlin describes it as not as a “hot” civil war, per se, but rather a “cold” civil war going on in our very own country.
It is obvious. The country is clearly divided into two sides, although through the lens of my political science background, I see some nuance in the landscape. I would argue there are actually four main divisions. Those four being the Clinton moderate liberals, the Bernie Sanders socialist populist, the Donald Trump populist alt-right, and the classical neocon Republicans. Those affiliates are all dug into their respective camps too but that is an entirely different article.
People are now going exclusively to their own news sources and echo chambers, if you will, for information. In my opinion, they are attracted to the news or information sources that reaffirms their preconceived narratives and preconceived world views.
Carlin declares that there are no credible outlets for news anymore and that people just go about life experiencing their own truth. There is also the mean-spirited culture of trolls that Carlin reductively and disparagingly refers to in the episode.
I recognize that even commenting on this subject opens myself up to criticism and the trolling that Dan is referring to. I am self-aware enough to know that partaking in this mind-blowing, meta-existential task of holding up a mirror for all of society to face the issues we are plagued with will open me up to the trolling and criticism as well.
Humanity And New Media
Carlin ponders if humanity is even able to handle the technology it is creating like social media and the hand-held computers it is flourishing on.
I think like most technological advances there are two sides to the coin. Social media has given a voice to the voiceless and allows instant communication, but the information overload, particularly the misinformation, is a real problem.
Carlin, in this Common Sense episode, specifically refers to the Russian trolls that had a huge role in the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election.
Carlin goes on to mock the outrage of people who are offended by the Russians interfering in the last Presidential Election. He points out that the United States is the number one interferer in global elections and that number two is nowhere close to our track record of intrusion.
We still do meddle in elections and have done often in our past. Carlin refers back to a famous picture of Boris Yeltsin holding up the American flag after the United States obviously helped Yeltsin win his election in the 1990’s.
Why wouldn’t the Russians use the obvious tools of social media to influence the election as a little payback? He is shocked that our government did not expect it, let alone deploy those tactics ourselves. He further decries the phony outrage of the United States government, suggesting then a global treaty amongst nations committing to never interfere with each other’s elections to see if the United States would even sign it.
I personally came a little late to the social media party. I created my Facebook account around 2010-2011 as I noticed that my younger millennial family members and younger colleagues at work were all using MySpace and Facebook constantly.
I was amused that the younger generation felt the need to post about everything they were doing, like what they ate, what they did, and how they felt, all in real time. I also came from a bygone era where I actually enjoyed talking and debating politics with friends and people across the bar.
If I read a new book or learned about a new political philosophy, I was eager to put my knowledge to the test and listen to thoughts other people had, whether I agreed or not. I naively thought, like so many others, that Facebook was a cool platform to further expand these types of conversations.
Some ideas I thought were clever, some I felt strongly about, and some were purposely provocative in hopes of sparking a discussion. I quickly found out what trolling was, though, and that the mob was ready with their pitchforks to come out and pounce on just about any post. It became evident that people got vicious on social media.
People were engaging in this trolling behavior almost as if it was a sport. I also realized that people got sucked into this behavior not even knowing they were trolling. At times, I observed many folks who seemed to feel obligated to comment on every thread and thought, especially if they disagreed.
I personally remember getting what felt like an endorphin rush whenever I got involved in a heated thread. It lead to a constant checking of the comments in the feeds to see if anyone responded, agreed, or argued a point further.
I also remember many times, witnessing an online mob getting the best of someone and personally feeling an emotional let down as a result of witnessing this behavior. It was a feeling of regret that prompted myself to ask if any of this was even worth the time and energy being spent online?
There were no consequences to being as mean as possible, especially being hidden behind a computer. In this new frontier, if it “won” the argument then that is all that truly mattered to the online bullies and trolls.
I laughed as I realized there were many people who unfriended me because they disagreed with my political views. When did all this start to happen and when did people get so political? I noticed people that I knew back from High School were now firmly dug in on respective political teams and loudly proclaimed those allegiances.
The Polarization Of Society
Initially, on Facebook, I was excited to connect with former schoolmates fifteen years after high school, see what they were up to, who they married, and if they had any children. Looking at their profile pages, though, the only things being clearly revealed on their feeds were a disdain for Barack Obama or George Bush. Was it the war in Iraq that began to polarize so many people?
People showed no deference to those they disagreed with and it was an open sport on social media. Is it a good thing for people to be so politically charged?
I have a degree in political science with a minor in American History. I am passionate about these subjects but I consciously search out all sorts of varying political philosophies and opinions. I am eager to hear other’s ideas and thoughts and do not get offended by different perspectives.
The trolling mentality that is pervasive on social media has seemed to cause people to team up and wall-off from varying opinions. There is strength in numbers and a feeling of reassurance knowing that other people are in their camp. People are dug in and the identity politics serves as the ultimate defense mechanism.
On the coinage of the United States, it reads “Y Pluribus Unum”, which is “From many one”. It is supposed to acknowledge and celebrate the fact that our country encompasses a diverse people from every corner of the globe, but we are all Americans in the end.
When I was in High School, being a conformist was the worst thing you could be. Being your own person and being a rugged individual was the cool move. Now those same people that railed against conformity all now ironically want to be part of the same group or tribe. Furthermore, for these same people, economic socialism has this grand appeal to them which seems to fly in the face of being a nonconformist. What is happening here?
A Plethora Of Disinformation
I have developed a rule now that If something online does not make sense, it is probably not true. I now have to read each headline, social media post, and tweet with a filter. I applied this policy recently to a headline that insinuated Donald Trump supports firearm purchases for the mentally ill. I thought to myself, “Wow, he does? That’s outrageous, who would support that?”
I had to read several articles and actually read the statute itself to understand what exactly happened. President Obama, with good intentions no doubt, signed an executive order empowering the Social Security Administration to intervene and block anyone that received social security disability money from purchasing a firearm.
Opponents and critics of the move, including the ACLU, argued that people that are disabled should not be discriminated against and that their Second Amendment Rights should not be infringed upon merely because they received social security payments.
President Trump agreed with the ACLU and reversed the Executive Order. It is most likely true that there are a lot of mentally ill people that receive social security and perhaps it is a creative way to prevent them from purchasing a firearm.
Why were critical facts omitted from almost every news story I read? It is a legitimate issue and a legitimate debate on the means of preventing mentally ill people from obtaining firearms, but to this podcaster, discriminating folks based on whether they receive social security payments seems punitive. There has to be a better way to prevent the mentally ill from obtaining firearms.
All I saw online, though, was the misleading headlines of Trump supporting mentally ill people obtaining firearms and that the NRA had paid him off. I understand both sides of the debate but if misleading narratives and articles are an end to justify the means it is a dangerous road we are going down.
Yes, I think it is a good thing to regulate mentally ill people from buying firearms, but I also think it is bad policy to discriminate against people solely on the basis that they receive government assistance.
I think if all of the information were included and available to the public, we as a society could compromise on creating better policy, for everyone. It is almost as if there is something to be gained by keeping us divided. The bottom line for me, if it does not make sense, it is probably not true.
A Cold Civil War
The last few episodes of Dan Carlin’s Common Sense show has a running theme that we are headed down a path towards civil war. This ever-growing sentiment that it is OK to punch your political opponent in the nose because you have demonized them is a dangerous tactic that governments have used in the past.
We must be careful in calling people extremists merely because we disagree. A regretful word I see in the discourse is “Libtard” used by the alt-right to debase people that have compassion for others. People are also quick to label others racist because they favor capitalism over socialism. When did we start attributing bad intentions to people’s views?
Let us have a discussion and find out why someone supports lower taxes and not just assume it is because they are greedy and do not care about the poor. Undoubtedly, I will be painted as some right-wing Trump supporter by the left and as a traitor by the right, but I want what Dan Carlin wants. I simply want to be able to sit down at the dinner table and have a conversation that does not devolve into name-calling and being inconsiderate of others feelings.
Dan concedes he has stopped creating and publishing Common Sense episodes because he has no solutions for our current state of divide, but he deeply wishes America could live up to its purported values.
We need more moderate voices like Dan Carlin out there to inject a dose of sanity into the discourse. I know Dan leans left and I lean right, but I respect Dan’s opinion because it is credible and he acknowledges arguments from the other side. It is not always about winning but making this a better place to live. However, if you attribute bad intentions to someone’s opinion, it is easy to dismiss it.
Carlin mentions George Orwell in this episode. There is nothing more Orwellian to me than the phrase, “We need an honest discussion on…'topic du jour'”, which really just means shut up.
Is not the very nature of the trolls out there a modern-day version of Orwell’s thought police? Get your views in line with ours or suffer the consequences,
I wonder what effect there will be on me for just pointing these things out when this is published? For whom the bell trolls? Will he troll for thee?
How do you feel about our current state of discourse in society? Have we become too entrenched in tribal camps for our own good? How do we grow past this current state of polarization? Please do comment. We would love to hear from you.