Yesterday’s election was a contrast between two strongly differentiated candidates with sharply different visions on many significant issues. My social media feeds flooded today with discussions of the election result.
I think that the election result itself, while immediately pressing, is not the main takeaway though. Social media algorithms have been extremely effective at putting each individual in a personal echo chamber of sorts, in which you tend to follow people whose ideas you like, amplifying those ideas to the extent that they dominate your feeds, creating an illusory vast majority. I think that the biggest takeaway was not that the election slipped from Clinton’s apparently dominant position, but that the voting results reveal that nearly half of the American people identify with a set of values which is considered toxic by the other half. (That statement applies symmetrically.)
What makes us human is our ability to think and reason, and neither half should expect the other half to accept their policies by force of majority. If we believe that our policies are the correct ones, we should work to communicate with people outside of our comfort zones, explaining instead of democratically forcing, and engaging in reason and dialogue which conveys our point of view. We might sometimes discover that our opinions are not properly justified, but can collaboratively come to better understanding together.
That, unfortunately, is an ideal which is currently impossible. Our inbound information is dominated by short (even 140 character) segments which try to sound informative, but lack the substance to carry analysis. Societal influences celebrate the joy of not thinking, often sidelining intellectual discussion in favor of what provides immediate entertainment value. In a world dominated by large organizations and entities extracting value from the common person, perhaps it makes business sense to shorten attention spans.
I’m an optimist though, and also like to find concrete action to take to work towards a solution, and then take that action. I decided to contribute by working on this (really global-scale) problem of mass-education, not only locally, but across every postal code, age, and language. We must encourage thinking, sound logic, curiosity, scientific method, and love of knowledge. Only then is the democratic process safe. I started on this path about 3 years ago, when I took on a responsibility to lead coaching of American mathematics. The way I thought to generate impact, as an individual, private citizen, was to use inexpensive computation to magnify and relay the educational efforts of some on to the great many. I don’t think that our work is the only solution, and the more attempts there are to collaboratively boost the world’s appetite for thinking and thirst for knowledge, the better. Ideally, we can even help develop economically valuable skills across all segments of the public, removing the opportunity gaps that foster division, and replacing them with meaningful prosperity.