Critique of Pure Niceness

Tom Whyman in The Baffler:

OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS—slowly at first through the aftermath of the 2008 economic meltdown, but especially since the 2016 Trump and Brexit votes—a certain polite consensus has developed. In a world marked by profound, multifaceted, and still-worsening crisis, there is—or so the story goes—one big thing wrong with people, on both the left and the right alike. They are becoming increasingly hardened in their views, increasingly hostile to those who disagree. Amid all the urgency of our political situation, people are becoming unpleasantly, perhaps unsalvageably, uncivil.

Unsurprisingly, the apostles of embattled civility point to social media as one of the big culprits here. In this view of things, the algorithms that filter content for Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, and Facebook are prone to produce endlessly recursive “echo chambers”—feedback loops of agreement through which no dissenting views can penetrate. This summer, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey announced in an interview with the Washington Post that he was planning to alter his website’s algorithm in order to promote alternative perspectives on users’ timelines. The idea was to burst social media’s suffocating bubbles of self-congratulation, as well as tackling related problems—such as the rampant proliferation of conspiracy theories and “fake news” across the social mediasphere.

The other big problem we tend to see cited is the intractability and censorious moral certainty of the left. In Kill All Normies, Angela Nagle blamed an online left-wing culture of “hysterical” call-outs and “ultra-sensitive” identity politics for driving many young people into the arms of the alt-right. This hypothesis was initially popular among those on the left who objected to a certain sort of puritanical posturing: a recognizable phenomenon, albeit one whose prevalence and influence tends to get wildly overblown. And, naturally, the same claim was then enthusiastically endorsed by Nagle’s more recent fans on the political right. (Tucker Carlson, hello.) Calm down lefties, the argument seems to go, or else we’ll start believing things that you find really foul.

More here.