#339: America Has Been Dumb Lately
Hi Loyal Readers,
Happy Thursday and thank you for being here.
Last week was all about listening and empathy. I’m keeping up with that theme this issue with a thought-provoking article by Jonathan Haidt that helps explain how our country got so messed up. Not to give too much away, because after all, I want you to read the article, but Prof. Haidt argues that our problem is that we spend too much of our time attacking not only people who disagree with us but also people who agree with us.
And to what end? Instagram and TikTok and Facebook and Twitter likes.
Even before I tell you a little more about the piece, I’m intrigued by what you’ll have to say – both about Prof. Haidt and about his argument. Do you buy what he’s saying? Or is he naïve? Most importantly, are we all doomed, or is there something we can do to save ourselves?
📫 I’d love to hear what you think. All you need to do is hit reply.
PS - If you like The Highlighter, please consider forwarding it with someone in your life who might like it, too. Thank you!
The Past 10 Years Of American Life Have Been Stupid
If you want to know when the United States really began to decline, the answer, according to Jonathan Haidt, is 2009 – the same year that Facebook published its Like button and Twitter introduced the Retweet. Americans were no match for the advancements (and dangers) of social media, and instead of listening to one another and seeking compromise, and rather than going out in public to meet real people who might disagree with us, we started to care more about building our personal brands and performing for our audiences because that’s what neoliberalism and Mark Zuckerberg told us to do.
The results? Stupefaction and dysfunction. An emphasis on emotion and outrage over reason and consideration. A greater visibility of extreme (i.e., white and rich) and hostile viewpoints. An online mob policing divergent perspectives. And most important: a deep decline of trust in our relationships and our institutions.
Really, has social media caused all this? Prof. Haidt thinks so. I’m not so sure. Are we really beholden to our phones and newsfeeds? Can’t we all decide to sign off of Twitter (and Elon Musk) for a while? Couldn’t our politicians become less petty if they wanted to? Or are we too far gone?
“If we do not make major changes soon,” Prof. Haidt warns, “then our institutions, our political system, and our society may collapse during the next major war, pandemic, financial meltdown, or constitutional crisis.” Good thing he proposes three solutions (one good, one unlikely, and one that will infuriate teenagers). But of course the questions remains – as it does with climate change and other existential crises – will we do anything about it?
+ Click here to read the article. Or click on the headline above. Or click on the blue link below. Or save it to read later on Pocket. Then hit reply and share your thoughts.
Thanks to loyal readers Genna and Kiera, here’s the serene and majestic Kauapea, enjoying the beautiful beach in Kauai before heading back out to sea. hltr.co/pets
Want more great articles? Sure!
+ If you want to read something inspiring, I’ve got you. In Bastrop, Texas, Norma Mercado helps kids experiencing homelessness: “These students just need someone to tell them they are smart enough, they are beautiful enough. They deserve the very best.” A One-Woman Rescue Squad for Homeless Students,” by Jason DeParle, The New York Times.
+ Author of “The Battle for 1042 Cutler Street,” featured in Issue #294, Eli Saslow is back with another outstanding article about how for many people, the American dream is more like a nightmare. “The Death Spiral of an American Family,” The Washington Post.
+ “Before Enis could finish, Bebo started listing facts about cockroaches. That there were more than four thousand different species, and the one on his right hand, an American cockroach, could grow up to two inches long, and ate just about anything.” “Bebo,” by Jared Jackson, Kenyon Review.
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