For much of Western civilization, self-loathing is ancient. For many, it is our very creation story.
And yet, outrage and despair, while not new to our time, seem to be accelerating and boiling over in the 21st Century. A 2018 NPR-IBM Watson Health poll showed that 84% of Americans believe that we are angrier now than a generation ago. A 2014 Pew Research Center poll found that in the United States highly negative views of the opposing political party had more than doubled since 1994. The 2019 Gallup Global Emotions Report, polling over 150,000 people from more than 140 countries showed that the world is the angriest it’s been, having climbed steadily over the past two decades. Something has allowed our outrage, despair, and self-loathing to kick into overdrive.
This acceleration of outrage and despair largely coincides with the advent of our vast global communications networks.
For millennia, humans would get a slow trickle of news from neighboring villages or towns. Every so often, there’d be news from far away. But for the most part we were largely confined to our communities and the surrounding vicinity. This news from abroad helped us grow and evolve. We’d occasionally hear cautionary tales that would help us avoid the pitfalls other communities experienced. But ultimately, we were comforted in rarely having to confront radically new ideas that challenged our core values and beliefs The amount of new information coming in was controlled and manageable.
Today, we are inundated with information from around the world. We can look up news on any topic or location at the press of a button. We can watch and interact in real-time as events unfold in Hong Kong or Afghanistan. We can play video games and make friends with strangers in Korea.
This revolution in our access to information brought the possibility that we could greatly amplify the positive effects of news, allowing us all to learn from a much larger and more diverse pool of cautionary tales and innovations. There was great hope that it could rise all ships and connect us together as a global village.
And in some ways it has. We can show solidarity with and actively facilitate the protests of the Arab Spring from halfway around the world. We can support strangers through GoFundMe campaigns when they face with skyrocketing medical bills. We can create niche communities of like-minded people from around the world, when before we might be isolated in our small hometowns with few people with which to share our passions. We can cooperate to create a vast, democratic global encyclopedia of knowledge available to everyone in the world for free.
But we are also now blasted with a firehouse of beliefs and viewpoints that challenge the very foundations of our values. We see a friend of a friend of a friend expressing viewpoints we find objectionable. We hear about a government two continents away instituting a policy we find reprehensible. We seemingly hear all the cautionary tales from all the communities around the world.
We, in the blink of an eye in historical time, have to cope with unprecedented, unrelenting bad news and challenges to our beliefs, worldviews, and identities.