I have come to realize that the federal election here in Canada is just not something I want to pay attention to. This is a bit of a revelation for a former “political junkie” who now doesn’t even want to look. Here’s the thing: I have no faith that people’s voting decisions will be based on anything even close to a clear perception of reality. As I was rambling on about Facebook, I realized what has changed … the world now works like a social media site.
Pardon me: I’m making this up as I type:
- The facts don’t carry any weight at all. This is happening constantly, but recently Stephen Harper gave me a good example. He said “marijuana is 1000 times more harmful than tobacco”. I don’t even need to look anything up to assure you that is just complete rubbish. Granted, inhaling anything into your lungs (including the polluted air that we breathe) can lead to problems of varying types, but the ingredients in cannabis simply are not harmful, and can be ingested in many ways that do not involve inhalation. In fact, now that people can actually do research on the plant (that was pretty much impossible for decades), there are more and more cases where it is shown to help people. Tobacco, on the other hand, has virtually no redeeming qualities, and has been shown quite definitively to kill people by the millions. Do any of the facts matter when the “leader” of our country speaks? Not a bit. Nobody challenges him, he has no need to respond to any questions. People go about their lives, now with the phrase “marijuana is 1000 times more harmful than tobacco” in their heads, despite the fact that Harper just made that up, and it has no resemblance to reality. This goes on pretty much every day on a huge variety of topics. Reality is just like Facebook.
- When it comes to elections, people just listen to the people that they agree with and avoid dealing with ideas that may suggest that they need to change their thinking. Not unlike only communicating with your “friends” on Facebook, so that everything you ever hear is just people agreeing with you, people now choose the channels where they get their information to make sure that their ideas are never challenged. Do you want to believe that gun ownership has nothing to do with gun deaths? There’s a channel for that. Do you want to believe that lower taxes will boost the economy? There’s a channel for that. Do you want to think that everyone in one religion is exactly the same and a threat to your way of life? There’s a channel for that, too. It is remarkably easy these days to only hear what you want to hear, and never be challenged on what may be stupid ideas. Reality is just like Facebook.
- No politician will ever say anything unless it improves their polling, even if unpopular things are completely true. It has not always been this way. Politicians used to frequently address difficult issues or tell us that we are going through times that may require us to adjust our lifestyles. No more. Over-extended your credit or have a house that you can only afford if interest rates remain at zero? Don’t worry. Even if raising interest rates might be crucial to our survival, nobody is going to talk about that. Nobody is going to say “time to tighten our belts”. They will all say, “go buy a BMW, you deserve it”, because people like to hear that.
- There doesn’t seem to be any content to political discourse anymore. Apparently, the most pressing issues of the day are whether people can wear their traditional clothing to work, or whether Justin Trudeau is “arrogant”. While those topics might be a part of the discussion, nobody is talking about missing Aboriginal women, the destruction of the environment in the tar sands, immense infrastructure problems in our cities, the fact that the world now looks at us like villains, or the fact that our military is now a combat force when we all seemed to like them as a peace-keeping force. I’m sure people ARE talking about these things, but it’s not what I hear about “on the street”. I hear “if the NDP get in, we’ll be working on collective farms”, and “that Justin Trudeau just worries about his hair.” The election may swing on these ridiculous topics while the country has some real things to deal with. Facebook, anyone?
Having an immense number of channels to choose from has not made us smarter. It has caused us to retreat into little comfortable bubbles where we can hear what we want, never engage in meaningful debate, and just pretend that real issues don’t exist. Instead of opening minds, it has narrowed thinking. Instead of being “our memory”, all of the available channels have caused us as a species to have short attention-spans, and forget things immediately. I don’t feel as though reality (which may, I’m afraid, occasionally cause you to change your mind), has a role to play in today’s debate. Pretty scary stuff.