In George Orwell’s “1984,” citizens of a dark future begin every day with “Two Minutes Hate,” a ritual rage-fest where enemies are violently denounced, demonized and despised at political rallies for exactly 2 minutes.

Later, when 2 minutes are insufficient, the rulers expand the concept to “Hate Week,” a seven-day savagery of political demagoguery to keep people mesmerized with anger.

Orwell, writing satirically in 1949, was warning readers about how mass rage keeps a population distracted and easily manipulated. Today, one might wonder what Orwell would think about a world where we spend all day watching angry political pundits on TV, reading hateful comments on social networks, or uploading “mega rants” to YouTube about the superiority of one candidate over another.

A Trump supporter stands next to a Trump protestor in front of the Hawaii Capitol when the president briefly visited Honolulu in November. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

In today’s Hawaii and across America, we find ourselves increasingly divided and distrustful of one another. At a time when high speed, space age communications makes the Earth seem so small, modern politics somehow makes us feel worlds apart.

Meaningful reform is often shipwrecked by waves of partisan-driven insults, racism, sexism and wild conspiracy theories. Even our political vernacular is littered with military terminology like “drain the swamp,” an aphorism coined by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2001 to describe attacking 9/11 terrorists.

During the contentious nomination hearings for now-Associate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, both he and Christine Blasey Ford were accused by opposing political sides as having “weaponized” their testimonies, a term that alludes to the process of producing enriched uranium for weapons of mass destruction.

These aren’t philosophical terms, they’re warfighter’s words. So why are we at war with each other?

Ironically, one of the reasons modern politics has become so divisive is the rise of the Internet and the information society. In a 2010 white paper, “Congress and National Security,” Kay King, writing for the Council on Foreign Relations, opined that since the 1970s, mass communications technology has “realigned” the political landscape.

“With the advent of cable news, lawmakers quickly learned that public posturing and demagoguery received television coverage at the expense of thoughtful debate and compromise,” King writes. “Similarly, the relentless presence of the electronic media makes deliberation obsolete, forcing lawmakers to respond to blog reports instantly and without careful consideration in an effort to counter negative stories before they ‘go viral.’ The Internet has also tended to encourage incivility, enabling rantings and misinformation to spread without the benefit of an editor.”

If we can all stop shouting at each other, imagine what we might hear when we start talking again.

Psychology tells us that in periods of heightened stress, people look to others to explain their feelings. We also know that anonymity or perceived invisibility can potentially increase deviant behavior. Social media platforms, especially those that allow users anonymity, are springboards for extremely discourteous rhetoric and the sharing of misleading or even slanderous information.

Because humans naturally group into cliques, the convenience of social media also tends to reinforce what we already believe – accurate or inaccurate as it may be – rather than challenging us to re-evaluate our thought process. In spite of these limitations, according to the Pew Research Center, 68 percent of Americans get at least some of their news from social media, with Reddit, Twitter and Facebook as the networks for the most news-focused users.

Another possible reason for the heightened polarization of politics is that candidates, political parties and special interest groups have found it easier to monetize public opinion. According to data from the American National Election Studies, the number of Americans who self-report donating some money to candidates doubled from just 6 percent in 1992 to 12 percent in 2016’s presidential election.

Looking at reported contributions, data from the Federal Election Commission indicates that 432,655 donors gave $537.1 million in political donations to both parties in 1992, but by 2016, 1.6 million donors gave over $4.5 billion in contributions. For 2018’s midterms, some 1.07 million donors have already given $2.5 billion to candidates, parties, and PACs.

Combined with the consultant-driven model of modern political campaigns and an outmoded primary elections system that encourages candidates to go ideologically further left and right, the politics of division is a money-making machine.

For reform to start in a place like Hawaii, we as individuals need to break out of the mold and resist retreating into the strongholds of stereotyping others. This means purposefully listening to others, not just arguing for the sake of being right.

Social media is convenient and entertaining to use, but perhaps arguing and rage posting every day isn’t a healthy practice. If you disagree with someone, disagree with the policy, not the person. Also, turning off national pundits in favor of talking with your neighbors and getting to know not just the issues but how they affect real human beings is a better, more productive way of developing opinions.

If we can all stop shouting at each other, imagine what we might hear when we start talking again.

There is truly a political war raging for our votes and money, but we need not be conscripts in the crusades of the left or right.

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