In his novel “Lost for Words,” the British satirist Edward St. Aubyn wrote, “We are entering the Dark Ages, my friend, but this time there will be lots of neon, and screensavers, and street lighting.” While presented as a comedic testament to the technological trappings of the digital world in 2014, St. Aubyn’s point strikes at the very nerve of our current societal – and political — struggles.
The July 13 release of twelve indictments against members of the Russian intelligence organization known as the Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU, typifies that fact. This release truly got to the heart of the issue: private information was stolen from an American political organization and released in order to embarrass a candidate for President.
Not just the United States, but the United Kingdom, Germany, France and others, find themselves on the front lines of a war on information. It’s not simply that citizens are discovering disinformation through social media or fraudulent sites, but the mass takeover of local news stations by Sinclair Broadcasting has led to opinion pieces with scant supporting evidence presented as fact on a regular basis and against the wishes of anchors. The consumption of news has become overtly political. Ideologies have aligned with networks to provide echo chambers for those who search for comfort in their confirmation bias rather than fact. Those who reject the political balkanization of their news now find themselves losing faith in the words, thoughts, and opinions of informational sources they have relied on and trusted for generations.
The integrity of the system is further eroded by the Trump Administration’s unwillingness or inability to condemn the brazen efforts by Russia to subvert our democracy while simultaneously demonizing the Fourth Estate as not just biased, but dishonest and even fake. The occupant of the most powerful seat in the entire world attacks members of a community who have long been pivotal to the very fabric of American democracy. His actions are condemned as uncalled for, unorthodox, uncivil, and outright dangerous, yet they persist.
The integrity of the system is further eroded by the Trump Administration’s unwillingness or inability to condemn the brazen efforts by Russia to subvert our democracy.
And Congressional leadership, made up of members of the President’s own party, has thus far proven ineffective in holding him accountable. While some members strive to determine the true nature of Russian aggression, others aim personal partisan attacks at civil servants or take actions that seemingly run afoul of investigative efforts.
Never has the country or the world been so interconnected. Never have we had so much information at the speed of light literally in the palm of our hands. While these technological advances work to keep us better informed, holding those with ill intentions accountable for their public actions, they also provide the means by which those who wish to spread disinformation and instability can commit their misdeeds.
In this way, technology operates to exacerbate our already well-entrenched divides, along with underlying issues like partisan political ideologies, race, gender, and income inequality. Everything from viral videos to combative cable network panels work to dig us in deeper. America again finds itself at the precipice: what nation do we want to be? What world do we want to live in?
This is no longer some metaphysical hypothetical meant to test the limits of our philosophical thinking. It’s a real and tangible question. Our history is plagued with ugly, vicious truth. Our past is troubled by violence and hatred. But our evolution has always been about our struggle towards a more perfect union, our effort to be something greater holistically than we have been historically.
Today, however, America is renouncing its position as world leader. We’re relinquishing the long fought diplomatic collateral that has defined our security and western world stability since World War II. If we allow this digital black plague to spread further, the shining city on the hill will undoubtedly find itself alone in the darkness for years to come.
It is imperative that we do all we can to not only survive, but rebuild and thrive.