Thursday, November 10, 2016

So, what have we learned, America?

Right about now most of America is trying to figure out what just happened because against all odds, Donald Trump is going to be the next President.  While I didn't think he'd win in the end, I don't wonder why or how he did, nor do I need to join the myriad of people trying to explain it.  I already did that way back in August of 2015 both here on my blog and over at HotAir.

It's been a long couple years in that regard. I've spent an inordinate amount of time arguing with people who are wrong on the Internet.  I spent even more time trying to convince people of the importance of things like #GamerGate, which we now just watched play itself out all over again in the form of a national election. (Unsurprisingly, most of the people who seemed to really get what was happening with Trump are the same people who followed the happenings of #GamerGate.)

And as much as I would love to just spend a whole post gloating, I think the real question worth talking about is, what can we learn from this going forward?  So here are the things I learned from #GamerGate and our Trumpening:

1. Yes, This Generation Is Different
Every generation claims its experience is too different for the last one to possibly comprehend. "You don't know what it's like to be 13 and have feelings mom!" Of course, in the history of humanity, that has only ever really been true three times.  It just turns out the third time is right now.  Like the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions, the transition into the Information Age has fundamentally changed things once again.

Now there's a device in my pocket capable of giving me access to the sum total of human knowledge, all of our goods and services, and real time interaction with anyone, anywhere on the planet, instantly.  This is why so much of the conventional wisdom isn't so conventional anymore.

For example, Trump won without a particularly big GOTV operation, especially when compared to the Hillary machine.  Why?  Because a person with a Twitter account can have a thousand strangers dressed exactly the same way appear in the same place at a designated time and break out into a synchronized dance routine they've never practiced together.  Essentially, you don't need people knocking on doors and calling phones when one Tweet can reach 100x the people at the tiniest fraction of the time and cost.

The pollsters were totally blindsided.  Why? Because virtually every single phone in America has caller ID.  Do you pick up for numbers you don't recognize?  If you do, and it's a pollster, are you more likely to be honest with them, or more likely to mess with them?

Hillary absolutely crushed Trump in TV ads.  Didn't stop him.  Why? Because people were watching Netflix, which has no ads.  Or they DVRed their favorite shows and skipped over the ads.  Or they were watching Youtube with their AdBlock turned on and never saw the ads.

On the rare occasion an ad slipped through, it got shrugged off because everyone knows these things are usually manufactured BS.  When your average Youtuber can cut together 2 minutes of sound, images, and music to make someone look however he wants, it's hard to take any of that stuff seriously.

2. Head To Head Polling Is Useless

How many times did we hear from our betters that Trump was the only person in the whole world who would lose to Hillary? The head to head polling said so, after all. Yet Trump didn't just beat her, he absolutely wrecked her from top to bottom, from his Electoral College votes right down to the statehouses going or staying Republican.

Even if the H2H polling happened to hit right on the money, nobody would've known whether or not it was a lucky guess or a predictive model since you can't go back and run the election again with someone else to test it.  It may have told you where everyone lined up at the start of the race, but it wasn't going to tell you who could run the fastest or who was going to trip and fall.

In years past, that starting position might still have been somewhat useful as things didn't tend to shift much, but going back to #1, now we live in an era where news cycles are measured in hours, if not minutes, and any new information is instantly available to the entire electorate.  Thus there is simply no way to know where two people are going to stand a week from now, much less a year after your first primary debate.  Everything can, and did, change in a flash.

3. The Internet Does Not Reflect Reality
No, Trump has not awakened the sleeping white nationalists who long for the days of the KKK running roughshod over black people.  No, there is no sudden rise of anti-Semitism and racism in the country, or even on the Internet. What you actually are seeing is the dark side of the Internet, the part that lives outside the kiddie pool of Twitter and Facebook, coming out to play.

#GamerGate kicked off with the very same kind of accusations, where the likes of Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn declared the rise of sexism in the video gaming community because they were "harassed" online.  Turns out none of that harassment led to anything tangible in real life, except for the revelation that most of the worst of it actually came from the very people claiming everybody was sexist.

As the gamers told the Anitas of the world then, there are simply a ton of people out there with a lot of free time and no compunctions about messing with people online.  Most of all the garbage you see on social media, whether it be nasty Tweets or crazy Youtube comments, comes from robots, sockpuppets, and anonymous people whose motives are indeterminable but usually are just looking to wind somebody up.  (There are also some extremely disturbed people who are just doing whatever sick stuff the voices tell them to do.)

Like most bullies, they tend to go for provocations of the lowest common denominator because it's easy and effective. So women get misogynistic comments. Black people get racist comments.  Jews get anti-Semitic comments. Ben Shapiro gets mocked for how short he is.  And most people respond, which only encourages the behavior. For every one person you "smack down", five more see they can get attention from you with some base level insults, and soon it's a deluge of assholes.

The rest of the "-ism" really does come down to how we have distorted and abused the definitions of words like "racist" until they lost all meaning.  Opposing illegal immigration becomes bigotry. Not caring for radical Islamic terrorism becomes racism.  Posting cartoon frogs becomes anti-Semitism. Paying a woman a compliment becomes sexism.  Scientific fact becomes transphobia.

And while the trolls love being called names (because it means they're getting attention) real people do not.  Real people are sick and tired of being lumped in with the darkest parts of the Internet because people are too lazy or dishonest to recognize the difference between the guy who supports Trump because he feels like our political system has failed him and the 13 year old who spent 6 months developing a fake pro-Trump Nazi profile just so they can get a kick out of being a jerk on Twitter.  Most especially, real people do not want to be called some of the worst pejoratives in our language for a mere difference of opinion.

So like with #GamerGate, many have simply decided not to put up with those accusations anymore.  Now they will be intentionally provocative and openly hostile to the accusers, and that's why all the institutions that have made those collective judgments, whether Democrats, mainstream media, or conservative pundits, are now on fire.
 
4. Culture. Is. Everything.

This is the big one.  Andrew Breitbart famously said that "politics is downstream of culture." Over the past few years, I've come to the conclusion that he didn't go far enough with that statement. Politics is actually an island in the middle of an ocean of culture.  The tide washes things up on its beaches and just as easily pulls others back out to sea.  The spray of the salt and sand erodes long standing political edifices until they crumble.  And every once and a while, a strong storm shows up to shake the whole island to its core.

Trump may have arrived in a Category 5 hurricane, but he didn't start the wind blowing.  This began as just another nameless depression, one that was bolstered over time by the warm waters of resentment and disillusionment until it became a full fledged tempest.

Rather than battening down the hatches or looking to sail out around the storm, the media, the punditry, the "principled", and the politicians came down to the beach to scream insults at the oncoming maelstrom as though they could shout it into submission.  Instead the heat of their words only served to add to its fury, and now here they stand in the aftermath wondering, "how did this happen?"

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