Twitter isn’t Real Life

In 1985, media critic Neil Postman wrote, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” in which he argued that the ascendancy of television was destroying public discourse in America. The primary support for this claim was that television is so structurally biased toward entertainment, triviality, and spectacle that it is incapable of fostering serious, sustained, and rational deliberation.

It seems in 2019 that an equally seismic cultural shift occurring, one that is moving us even further away from healthy public dialogue.

Just as the Age of Typography gave way to the Age of Television, the Age of Television is now giving way to the Age of Twitter. Nowhere is this shift more evident than in Donald Trump’s obsessive use of the platform. But Lord Dampnut is far from alone, as the popularity of congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitter feed suggests. Given Twitter’s growing centrality in our politics, it seems prudent to highlight the defining traits of this platform and the dangers it poses.

Twitter is defined by three main characteristics: simplicity, impulsivity, and incivility. Thanks to its 280-character limitation, Twitter structurally disallows communication that is sophisticated and complex. While people can say things that are smart and witty on Twitter, they cannot convey complex ideas.

This is significant because the issues and concerns confronting us today, from climate change and healthcare to terrorism and immigration, are exceedingly complex, and talking about them 280 characters at a time ensures that we will never develop workable solutions. You cannot fix a problem that you do not actually understand.

Also, Twitter does not invite serious contemplation and thoughtful consideration. Generally speaking, people do not spend hours carefully crafting 280-character messages. They fire them off in the “heat” in the moment. This is due to the structural properties of the platform, whose simplicity of use invites impulsivity. People can tweet from virtually anywhere at any time. Tweets are, well, tweeted usually with no forethought and reflection. As such, Twitter frequently contributes to misunderstanding and escalates sensitive situations.

While there are positive and civil messages on Twitter, research concerning the platform points to three interrelated findings that privilege incivility.

First, Twitter usage is positively correlated to the personality traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy.

Second, people are more likely to communicate in uncivil ways when the target of their message is not immediately present.

Third, negatively-toned messages travel both farther and faster on Twitter. Consequently, while it is certainly possible to be civil on Twitter, the medium is biased toward incivility. So, is it any wonder that our politics have become so divisive and mean-spirited?

These traits ensure that we are not having thoughtful and civil conversations on Twitter. To be clear, I am not anti-Twitter. The structural biases of any medium make it ill-suited for some types of communication and well suited for others. For example, Twitter may be the most effective emergency alert system ever created. It is ideal for conveying simple messages quickly and widely. But it is exceptionally ineffective at fostering meaningful and mature public deliberation.

Choosing the right tool is essential to successfully performing any task. You would not use a screwdriver to dig a ditch, and you should not use Twitter to conduct national and international politics.

Other social media platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, do not serve us much better. They overwhelmingly expose us to information we already agree with, leading to confirmation bias. Much of the information they spread is unreliable (and even propagandistic). Also, social media are designed to elicit emotional rather than rational responses from us.

As we enter the 2020 campaign season in earnest, it’s important that we look outside social media for our news and information. We should actively seek out serious and sustained discussions of public issues, and we should remember social media was never designed to inform us or conduct our politics.

How it Could Be

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez expresses the messages behind an urgent video on climate change released Wednesday by The Intercept.

“Before we can win a Green New Deal, we need to be able to close our eyes and imagine it. We can be whatever we have the courage to see.”

The video, A Message From the Future with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was produced by The Intercept‘s Naomi Klein. Narrated by AOC, the short film is presented as a look back to the present day from a future in which the Green New Deal passed Congress and reshaped America and the planet for the better.

The video features art from Molly Crabapple and was written by Ocasio-Cortez and Avi Lewis. It was co-directed by Kim Boekbinder and Jim Batt.

Check the video:

Another One Bites the Dust

Decades of Democratic politicians accepting the role of being the Washington Generals of politics, and generally being spineless cowards have lulled Republican politicians into false confidence in their intelligence. They’ve bought into their own hype about their success being a result of their cleverness and hard work, and not the result of being sellouts to the highest bidder.

How else to explain Republicans continued attempts to dunk on New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez only to be embarrassed when she effortlessly outmaneuvers them? Despite her undefeated record against Fox News, Right-wing twitter, and Republican politicians, they just keep lining up to take un-advised shots at the title, only to end up owning themselves half of the time.

Enter Ted Cruz, Republican Senator from Texas most famous for being a servile lapdog to a man who publicly insulted his wife and slandered his father.

It all started Monday when Ocasio-Cortez posted this tweet lamenting the cost of the buttery, flaky pastries at New York’s LaGuardia Airport:

When AOC tweeted about the high price of airport croissants as compared to the low wages of employees, Cruz thought he saw a perfect chance to score political points.

Fortunately for AOC, Ted Cruz is an idiot:

Not only did he faceplant in making SOCIALISM seem scary, but he even went the extra mile confirming AOC’s point that the GOP doesn’t care about workers. Maybe by backing hikes in the minimum wage so they can earn enough money to buy fancy rolls?

Needless to say, AOC was not put in her place:

Mike Lee is a Crazy Person

The Onion is going to go out of business because it can’t make up anything more absurd than our current reality. We must, as a country, find and punish the interloping time-traveler who has plunged us all into the worst possible timeline.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted on the Green New Deal resolution put forward by Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The measure went down 57-0, because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell only brought it to the floor as a stunt for Republicans to mock it, because that’s just the kind of turtle he his. To protest, Democrats voted present en masse.

Even though 80 percent of Americans support most of the key measures in the Green New Deal, which calls for a massive public works investment in carbon-neutral infrastructure with the goal of net-zero emissions within 10 years, Republicans believe that they can poison it in the public debate.

No one demonstrated this more enthusiastically than Senator Mike Lee, who used his time on the floor to engage in a series of absurd prop-comedy stunts to attack the Green New Deal, delivering a bunch of lines sure to have Republicans splitting their sides.

Here are the five craziest moments in Lee’s totally bonkers speech:

  1. Gun-toting Ronald Reagan riding a velociraptor.

Yeah, be brought memes, you know, because that’s what the youths like!

“This is, of course, a picture of former president Ronald Reagan,” said Lee, gesturing at his board. “Naturally, firing a machine gun, while riding on the back of a dinosaur. You’ll notice a couple of important features here. First of all, the rocket launcher strapped to President Reagan’s back. And then, the stirring, unmistakable patriotism of the velociraptor holding up a tattered American flag. A symbol of all it means to be an American.”

“This image has as much to do with overcoming communism in the 20th century, as the Green New Deal has to do with overcoming climate change,” Lee added.

This happened on the floor of the United States Senate in the year 2019.

  1. We’ll have to navigate Alaska using Tauntauns.

“The Green New Deal calls, essentially, for the elimination of airplanes,” said Lee. “How are we supposed to get around the vast expanses of, say Alaska during the winter? Well, I’ll tell you how. Tauntauns, Mr. President, it’s a beloved species of repto-mammals native to the ice planet of Hoth.”

“Not only are Tauntauns carbon-neutral, but according to a report a long time ago and issued far far away, they may even be fully recyclable and usable for their warmth, especially on a cold night,” he continued snidely.

No mention of course, of how bad they smell.

The Green New Deal does not eliminate airplanes. Lee is taking this from an FAQ sheet put out by AOC’s office that actually says the opposite: that the plan will require “net-zero” emissions rather than “zero” emissions because it does not anticipate eliminating airplanes, because they are pretty much unavoidably carbon emitters. As of now, this is not a practical possibility.

Lee was so busy ham-fisting a that Star Wars reference, that he didn’t bother to actually read the proposal he’s mocking with it.

  1. We’ll need Aquaman to help us get to Hawaii.

Oh, did you think that Lee was done mocking the straw-man argument of a world without airplanes?

Because he wasn’t!

“What about Hawaii?” he continued. “Isolated, 2,000 miles out in the Pacific Ocean … how are people there supposed to get to and from the mainland? And how are they supposed to maintain that significant portion of their economy that’s based on tourism? At that distance, swimming would of course be out of the question, and jet skis are notorious gas guzzlers. No, all residents of Hawaii would be left with is this. This is a picture of Aquaman, a superhero from the undersea kingdom of Atlantis, and notably here, a founding member of the Super Friends. I draw your attention, Mr. President, to the 20-foot impressive seahorse he’s riding. Under the Green New Deal, this is probably Hawaii’s best bet.”

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The honorable gentleman from Utah 

  1. The closest Utah has come to seeing climate change is Sharknado.

Lee went on to say that it is not that he doesn’t take climate change seriously. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “No Utahn needs to hear pious lectures about the gravity of climate change from politicians from other states. For it was only in 2016, as members of the SyFy network will well remember, when climate change hit home in Utah, when our own state was struck not simply by a tornado, Mr. President, but by a tornado with sharks in it. These images are from the indispensable documentary film, Sharknado 4.”

It’s like shitposting but in real-life. On the floor of the United States Senate! Because for some reason, Mike Lee thought that his constituents would be best served by tolling?

There are actually real climate change problems affecting Utah right now. The state’s winter precipitation has increasingly shifted from snow to rain, meaning flooding is increasing during the winter months, and because less of this water is entering aquifers, drier growing seasons in the summer.

All of this is making it harder for farmers in Utah.

If Lee wasn’t so busy making up graphics of Sharknado, that’s a problem his constituents might expect him to work on.

  1. The best way to fight climate change is to have more babies.

“The courage needed to solve climate change is nothing compared with the courage needed to start a family,” Lee said. “The true heroes of this story aren’t politicians, and they aren’t social media activists. They’re moms and dads, and the little boys and girls that they are, at this very moment, putting down for naps or helping with their homework, building treehouses or teaching them how to tie their shoes.”

“This is the real solution to climate change: babies,” Lee concluded. “The solution to so many of our problems at all times and in all places is to fall in love, get married, and have some kids.”

Fucking WHAT?

Lee’s remark doesn’t even make a little bit of sense. Having fewer children, not more, alleviates climate change. Not to mention, birthrates are in decline largely because Republicans have been unwilling to make investments in anything that makes having a child or parenting affordable, from the social safety net, health care, or education.

I doesn’t seem to have been read this way in the media at large, but this read to me like Mike Lee subtly trying to tell Alexandrea Ocasio-Cortez to get a husband, pump out some kids, and shut up and get in the kitchen. Maybe that’s unfair, but who the hell can say what is going on in Lee’s head?

What is even happening? If someone tried to make this up, they would be laughed off the planet. But here is Mike Lee, Senator of Utah, thinking that he is nailing it with these pop-culture references and lazy, nonsensical arguments.

Did Lee not run this by anyone before he went on the floor of the Senate? Does he not have any friends of people on his staff who could say to him, “Dude, you’re going to look like a fucking clown if you go out there and do this”?

Stuff like this is what prompted me call this blog “Dispatches from the dumbest timeline.”

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AOC Dares to do Her Job

For those just joining us, Fox News’ morning show Fox & Friends is the lead paint of “news.” Donald Trump’s favorite executive time program has for years been making its viewers dumber, one segment at a time.

Late last week, Fox and Friends expressed sincere concern over the well-crafted questions Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) has been peppering witnesses with during House committee hearings. Questions well above the grade of the usual posturing, harrumphing congressional haircut or Fox News talker:

NOT STEVE DOOCY: Somebody’s writing her questions. I saw the questions at Michael Cohen and saw the questions at Wilbur Ross. And there are some forces behind her, I think there’s a story there.

TWITTER COMEDIAN MIKE HUCKABEE: Well there very well could be. There have been some allegations she was almost like the Manchurian Candidate. Recruited, prepared. You know, I don’t know.

This is a perfect example of a Fox News interaction, a microcosm of conservative distrust for, well, the competent and sand of the country. This congressperson whom they absolutely obsess over, is suspiciously smart according to one of the co-hosts of America’s dumbest news program. It may indeed be a conspiracy, says the day’s chosen buffoon.

Some malevolent force must be behind this suspicious ability to ask not-stupid questions!

I could mock the obsession the Fox News right has with AOC (and I have), who the network has decided will be a major focus of their latest attempts to send their audience into spasms of pants-wetting terror. But it’s the particular accusation that’s instructive. They get really twitchy when someone in a position of power actually takes their job seriously.

Lord Dampnut’s bizarre, grievance-infused speeches, where he goes off on his inexplicable tangents and spouts demonstrably false nonsense get non-stop thoughtless praise from Fox hosts. Asking serious questions of Michael Cohen or Wilbur Ross, though? Something is amiss!

Incidentally, of course AOC gets help from her staff and from outside subject matter experts when it come to questioning witnesses. Because that’s the smart thing to do. Like Socrates said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

The fact that Fox News finds this suspicious reveals why their network is filled to bursting with ignorant paste-eaters.

This is why Fox & Friends is the lead paint of news. Don’t watch it kids. Don’t lick that windowsill.