Civility will help win hearts and minds

(February 9, 2017)

The first casualty of the Donald Trump administration was not truth. It was civility.

The crude and rude taunts of the campaign trail have been mainstreamed into American political discourse.

However distressing “alternative facts” might be, at some point, truth (like murder) will out. But civility, once lost, is hard to regain, and that does not bode well for anyone affected by American politics.

Civility requires me not to call you a doofus even if that is what I think you are. It also requires me to consider, even for a moment, the possibility (however slim) you might have a valid point and I might be wrong.

Descend to name-calling, and you are not likely to learn anything from me, either.

The lack of civility means positions harden, battle lines are drawn, conflict is perpetual — and compromise or reconciliation means defeat.

None of this seems like a good idea south of the border or closer to home, unless this conflict is precisely the intention of the instigators.

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A tweet, full of sound and fury, signifying…

(January 25, 2017)

It is not entirely a misquote of Polonius, in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, to say “brevity is the soul of (t)wit.” Certainly this vain, false and generally unpleasant character — who uses these words to tell the king and queen their son is “mad” when he is not — would have enjoyed spewing his opinions on Twitter.

Profound ideas can be expressed in few words (as in Japanese haiku), but “profound” is not usually an adjective applied to the transient wisdom of a tweet. It used to be said that “today’s news is tomorrow’s fish wrap.” In comparison, much of what passes for social media today is instead more easily depicted as breaking electronic wind.

We could blame Marshall McLuhan for this problem, as misquoting him to conclude that “the medium is the message” excuses a lack of content in the Twitterverse. But when 140 characters describe the policies and intentions of political leaders, nothing good comes of it.

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The Flash Mob for Freedom

Flashback to 2011 — five and a half years ago, long before the current downturn in US presidential politics:

(March 27, 2011)

The events in Tunisia and Egypt, and now Libya, Bahrain and Yemen, demonstrate the resurgence of oral culture and the power of social narrative in the digital age. Fuelled by cellphone video and Internet access, and abetted by Facebook and Twitter, social narratives are changing the nature of global society. In countries where illiteracy makes the spread of conventional liberal ideas impossible, tweets do what books could not.

Create the story where the dictator’s government is evil and corrupt, and where the desired outcome is the overthrow of tyranny and the celebration of freedom. Spread such a narrative by word of mouth as much as by electronic means, and the flash mob for freedom becomes both virtual and real.

Digital communication in the 21st century allows ideas to spread at the speed of light, unconstrained by the conventions and barriers inherent in literate culture. Sights, sounds and images unfold in the palm of the receiver’s hand regardless of whether he (or she) has any education, the right social background, or an understanding of the politics involved.

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