The paradox of being a “civicrat”
Alex Schiff

We are indeed in an uncomfortable, if not unprecedented, period of estrangement between the tech communities and the public policy communities. What’s particularly awkward at the moment is the general lack of respect for those not members of one’s own immediate community. This in turn results from a convergence of several trends.

First, we have a general breakdown in communication. We increasingly associate with and listen only to people whose perspectives are like ours, and shut out alternative ideas. Social media make it easy to do this. We have to control the overall flow of information somehow, in the interests of sanity; it’s so convenient to limit our inputs to what we find comfortable and reinforcing to our own ideas.

Second, the information flood furthermore gives priority to the loudest and most outrageous expressions, in order to be heard above the rest; so anything conciliatory and potentially constructive is drowned out. There is a continual competition for bandwidth, which always favors the least nuanced and most colorful expressions.

Third, our society increasingly privileges “winning” over all other goals. Look at the Olympics. The second-best swimmer in the world, coming in .2 of a second behind the first guy, is universally derided as a loser and promptly forgotten. Where does that leave the other couple of billion or so swimmers? In this, the tech communities are as complicit as anyone. Unless you’re a “unicorn”, who cares about what you or your company have done? There’s no place worth being except the top, and the only way you know you’re there is if you can crush your opposition. This attitude so pervades society that we’re practically unaware of it.

Politics these days has become a blood sport, where what matters is “winning” and demeaning the opposition, with the ultimate purpose of permanently eliminating it. Just listen to the public dialogue. It’s all about how bad, even evil, anyone is if they express a contrary idea. Never mind the idea; go for the throat out of which it emerges.

A society that socializes its kids from infancy on to a competitive ethic in which only the top dog has value and deserves respect can hardly expect a whole lot of cooperation to emerge. When “winning is the only thing” becomes society’s mantra, how are politicians going to behave any differently? We’ve been going down this road for a long time; now we see where it leads, and it isn’t pretty.