What would it have been like to live in Babel in the days after its destruction? In the Book of Genesis, we are told that the descendants of Noah built a great city in the land of Shinar. They built a tower “with its top in the heavens” to “make a name” for themselves. God was offended by the hubris of humanity and said:
Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.
The text does not say that God destroyed the tower, but in many popular renderings of the story he does, so let’s hold that dramatic image in our minds: people wandering amid the ruins, unable to communicate, condemned to mutual incomprehension.
The story of Babel is the best metaphor I have found for what happened to America in the 2010s, and for the fractured country we now inhabit. Something went terribly wrong, very suddenly. We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth. We are cut off from one another and from the past.
It’s been clear for quite a while now that red America and blue America are becoming like two different countries claiming the same territory, with two different versions of the Constitution, economics, and American history. But Babel is not a story about tribalism; it’s a story about the fragmentation of everything. It’s about the shattering of all that had seemed solid, the scattering of people who had been a community. It’s a metaphor for what is happening not only between red and blue, but within the left and within the right, as well as within universities, companies, professional associations, museums, and even families.
Babel is a metaphor for what some forms of social media have done to nearly all of the groups and institutions most important to the country’s future—and to us as a people. How did this happen? And what does it portend for American life?
The Rise of the Modern Tower
There is a direction to history and it is toward cooperation at larger scales. We see this trend in biological evolution, in the series of “major transitions” through which multicellular organisms first appeared and then developed new symbiotic relationships. We see it in cultural evolution too, as Robert Wright explained in his 1999 book, Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny. Wright showed that history involves a series of transitions, driven by rising population density plus new technologies (writing, roads, the printing press) that created new possibilities for mutually beneficial trade and learning. Zero-sum conflicts—such as the wars of religion that arose as the printing press spread heretical ideas across Europe—were better thought of as temporary setbacks, and sometimes even integral to progress. (Those wars of religion, he argued, made possible the transition to modern nation-states with better-informed citizens.) President Bill Clinton praised Nonzero’s optimistic portrayal of a more cooperative future thanks to continued technological advance.
The early internet of the 1990s, with its chat rooms, message boards, and email, exemplified the Nonzero thesis, as did the first wave of social-media platforms, which launched around 2003. Myspace, Friendster, and Facebook made it easy to connect with friends and strangers to talk about common interests, for free, and at a scale never before imaginable. By 2008, Facebook had emerged as the dominant platform, with more than 100 million monthly users, on its way to roughly 3 billion today. In the first decade of the new century, social media was widely believed to be a boon to democracy. What dictator could impose his will on an interconnected citizenry? What regime could build a wall to keep out the internet?
The high point of techno-democratic optimism was arguably 2011, a year that began with the Arab Spring and ended with the global Occupy movement. That is also when Google Translate became available on virtually all smartphones, so you could say that 2011 was the year that humanity rebuilt the Tower of Babel. We were closer than we had ever been to being “one people,” and we had effectively overcome the curse of division by language. For techno-democratic optimists, it seemed to be only the beginning of what humanity could do.
In February 2012, as he prepared to take Facebook public, Mark Zuckerberg reflected on those extraordinary times and set forth his plans. “Today, our society has reached another tipping point,” he wrote in a letter to investors. Facebook hoped “to rewire the way people spread and consume information.” By giving them “the power to share,” it would help them to “once again transform many of our core institutions and industries.”
In the 10 years since then, Zuckerberg did exactly what he said he would do. He did rewire the way we spread and consume information; he did transform our institutions, and he pushed us past the tipping point. It has not worked out as he expected.
Things Fall Apart
Historically, civilizations have relied on shared blood, gods, and enemies to counteract the tendency to split apart as they grow. But what is it that holds together large and diverse secular democracies such as the United States and India, or, for that matter, modern Britain and France?
Social scientists have identified at least three major forces that collectively bind together successful democracies: social capital (extensive social networks with high levels of trust), strong institutions, and shared stories. Social media has weakened all three. To see how, we must understand how social media changed over time—and especially in the several years following 2009.
In their early incarnations, platforms such as Myspace and Facebook were relatively harmless. They allowed users to create pages on which to post photos, family updates, and links to the mostly static pages of their friends and favorite bands. In this way, early social media can be seen as just another step in the long progression of technological improvements—from the Postal Service through the telephone to email and texting—that helped people achieve the eternal goal of maintaining their social ties.
But gradually, social-media users became more comfortable sharing intimate details of their lives with strangers and corporations. As I wrote in a 2019 Atlantic article with Tobias Rose-Stockwell, they became more adept at putting on performances and managing their personal brand—activities that might impress others but that do not deepen friendships in the way that a private phone conversation will.
Once social-media platforms had trained users to spend more time performing and less time connecting, the stage was set for the major transformation, which began in 2009: the intensification of viral dynamics.
Babel is not a story about tribalism. It’s a story about the fragmentation of everything.
Before 2009, Facebook had given users a simple timeline––a never-ending stream of content generated by their friends and connections, with the newest posts at the top and the oldest ones at the bottom. This was often overwhelming in its volume, but it was an accurate reflection of what others were posting. That began to change in 2009, when Facebook offered users a way to publicly “like” posts with the click of a button. That same year, Twitter introduced something even more powerful: the “Retweet” button, which allowed users to publicly endorse a post while also sharing it with all of their followers. Facebook soon copied that innovation with its own “Share” button, which became available to smartphone users in 2012. “Like” and “Share” buttons quickly became standard features of most other platforms.
Shortly after its “Like” button began to produce data about what best “engaged” its users, Facebook developed algorithms to bring each user the content most likely to generate a “like” or some other interaction, eventually including the “share” as well. Later research showed that posts that trigger emotions––especially anger at out-groups––are the most likely to be shared.
By 2013, social media had become a new game, with dynamics unlike those in 2008. If you were skillful or lucky, you might create a post that would “go viral” and make you “internet famous” for a few days. If you blundered, you could find yourself buried in hateful comments. Your posts rode to fame or ignominy based on the clicks of thousands of strangers, and you in turn contributed thousands of clicks to the game.
This new game encouraged dishonesty and mob dynamics: Users were guided not just by their true preferences but by their past experiences of reward and punishment, and their prediction of how others would react to each new action. One of the engineers at Twitter who had worked on the “Retweet” button later revealed that he regretted his contribution because it had made Twitter a nastier place. As he watched Twitter mobs forming through the use of the new tool, he thought to himself, “We might have just handed a 4-year-old a loaded weapon.”
As a social psychologist who studies emotion, morality, and politics, I saw this happening too. The newly tweaked platforms were almost perfectly designed to bring out our most moralistic and least reflective selves. The volume of outrage was shocking.
It was just this kind of twitchy and explosive spread of anger that James Madison had tried to protect us from as he was drafting the U.S. Constitution. The Framers of the Constitution were excellent social psychologists. They knew that democracy had an Achilles’ heel because it depended on the collective judgment of the people, and democratic communities are subject to “the turbulency and weakness of unruly passions.” The key to designing a sustainable republic, therefore, was to build in mechanisms to slow things down, cool passions, require compromise, and give leaders some insulation from the mania of the moment while still holding them accountable to the people periodically, on Election Day.
The tech companies that enhanced virality from 2009 to 2012 brought us deep into Madison’s nightmare. Many authors quote his comments in “Federalist No. 10” on the innate human proclivity toward “faction,” by which he meant our tendency to divide ourselves into teams or parties that are so inflamed with “mutual animosity” that they are “much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good.”
But that essay continues on to a less quoted yet equally important insight, about democracy’s vulnerability to triviality. Madison notes that people are so prone to factionalism that “where no substantial occasion presents itself, the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their unfriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.”
Social media has both magnified and weaponized the frivolous. Is our democracy any healthier now that we’ve had Twitter brawls over Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s tax the rich dress at the annual Met Gala, and Melania Trump’s dress at a 9/11 memorial event, which had stitching that kind of looked like a skyscraper? How about Senator Ted Cruz’s tweet criticizing Big Bird for tweeting about getting his COVID vaccine?
It’s not just the waste of time and scarce attention that matters; it’s the continual chipping-away of trust. An autocracy can deploy propaganda or use fear to motivate the behaviors it desires, but a democracy depends on widely internalized acceptance of the legitimacy of rules, norms, and institutions. Blind and irrevocable trust in any particular individual or organization is never warranted. But when citizens lose trust in elected leaders, health authorities, the courts, the police, universities, and the integrity of elections, then every decision becomes contested; every election becomes a life-and-death struggle to save the country from the other side. The most recent Edelman Trust Barometer (an international measure of citizens’ trust in government, business, media, and nongovernmental organizations) showed stable and competent autocracies (China and the United Arab Emirates) at the top of the list, while contentious democracies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Spain, and South Korea scored near the bottom (albeit above Russia).
Recent academic studies suggest that social media is indeed corrosive to trust in governments, news media, and people and institutions in general. A working paper that offers the most comprehensive review of the research, led by the social scientists Philipp Lorenz-Spreen and Lisa Oswald, concludes that “the large majority of reported associations between digital media use and trust appear to be detrimental for democracy.” The literature is complex—some studies show benefits, particularly in less developed democracies—but the review found that, on balance, social media amplifies political polarization; foments populism, especially right-wing populism; and is associated with the spread of misinformation.
When people lose trust in institutions, they lose trust in the stories told by those institutions. That’s particularly true of the institutions entrusted with the education of children. History curricula have often caused political controversy, but Facebook and Twitter make it possible for parents to become outraged every day over a new snippet from their children’s history lessons––and math lessons and literature selections, and any new pedagogical shifts anywhere in the country. The motives of teachers and administrators come into question, and overreaching laws or curricular reforms sometimes follow, dumbing down education and reducing trust in it further. One result is that young people educated in the post-Babel era are less likely to arrive at a coherent story of who we are as a people, and less likely to share any such story with those who attended different schools or who were educated in a different decade.
The former CIA analyst Martin Gurri predicted these fracturing effects in his 2014 book, The Revolt of the Public. Gurri’s analysis focused on the authority-subverting effects of information’s exponential growth, beginning with the internet in the 1990s. Writing nearly a decade ago, Gurri could already see the power of social media as a universal solvent, breaking down bonds and weakening institutions everywhere it reached. He noted that distributed networks “can protest and overthrow, but never govern.” He described the nihilism of the many protest movements of 2011 that organized mostly online and that, like Occupy Wall Street, demanded the destruction of existing institutions without offering an alternative vision of the future or an organization that could bring it about.
Gurri is no fan of elites or of centralized authority, but he notes a constructive feature of the pre-digital era: a single “mass audience,” all consuming the same content, as if they were all looking into the same gigantic mirror at the reflection of their own society. In a comment to Vox that recalls the first post-Babel diaspora, he said:
The digital revolution has shattered that mirror, and now the public inhabits those broken pieces of glass. So the public isn’t one thing; it’s highly fragmented, and it’s basically mutually hostile. It’s mostly people yelling at each other and living in bubbles of one sort or another.
Mark Zuckerberg may not have wished for any of that. But by rewiring everything in a headlong rush for growth—with a naive conception of human psychology, little understanding of the intricacy of institutions, and no concern for external costs imposed on society—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a few other large platforms unwittingly dissolved the mortar of trust, belief in institutions, and shared stories that had held a large and diverse secular democracy together.
I think we can date the fall of the tower to the years between 2011 (Gurri’s focal year of “nihilistic” protests) and 2015, a year marked by the “great awokening” on the left and the ascendancy of Donald Trump on the right. Trump did not destroy the tower; he merely exploited its fall. He was the first politician to master the new dynamics of the post-Babel era, in which outrage is the key to virality, stage performance crushes competence, Twitter can overpower all the newspapers in the country, and stories cannot be shared (or at least trusted) across more than a few adjacent fragments—so truth cannot achieve widespread adherence.
The many analysts, including me, who had argued that Trump could not win the general election were relying on pre-Babel intuitions, which said that scandals such as the Access Hollywood tape (in which Trump boasted about committing sexual assault) are fatal to a presidential campaign. But after Babel, nothing really means anything anymore––at least not in a way that is durable and on which people widely agree.
Politics After Babel
“Politics is the art of the possible,” the German statesman Otto von Bismarck said in 1867. In a post-Babel democracy, not much may be possible.
Of course, the American culture war and the decline of cross-party cooperation predates social media’s arrival. The mid-20th century was a time of unusually low polarization in Congress, which began reverting back to historical levels in the 1970s and ’80s. The ideological distance between the two parties began increasing faster in the 1990s. Fox News and the 1994 “Republican Revolution” converted the GOP into a more combative party. For example, House Speaker Newt Gingrich discouraged new Republican members of Congress from moving their families to Washington, D.C., where they were likely to form social ties with Democrats and their families.
So cross-party relationships were already strained before 2009. But the enhanced virality of social media thereafter made it more hazardous to be seen fraternizing with the enemy or even failing to attack the enemy with sufficient vigor. On the right, the term RINO (Republican in Name Only) was superseded in 2015 by the more contemptuous term cuckservative, popularized on Twitter by Trump supporters. On the left, social media launched callout culture in the years after 2012, with transformative effects on university life and later on politics and culture throughout the English-speaking world.
What changed in the 2010s? Let’s revisit that Twitter engineer’s metaphor of handing a loaded gun to a 4-year-old. A mean tweet doesn’t kill anyone; it is an attempt to shame or punish someone publicly while broadcasting one’s own virtue, brilliance, or tribal loyalties. It’s more a dart than a bullet, causing pain but no fatalities. Even so, from 2009 to 2012, Facebook and Twitter passed out roughly 1 billion dart guns globally. We’ve been shooting one another ever since.
Social media has given voice to some people who had little previously, and it has made it easier to hold powerful people accountable for their misdeeds, not just in politics but in business, the arts, academia, and elsewhere. Sexual harassers could have been called out in anonymous blog posts before Twitter, but it’s hard to imagine that the #MeToo movement would have been nearly so successful without the viral enhancement that the major platforms offered. However, the warped “accountability” of social media has also brought injustice—and political dysfunction—in three ways.
First, the dart guns of social media give more power to trolls and provocateurs while silencing good citizens. Research by the political scientists Alexander Bor and Michael Bang Petersen found that a small subset of people on social-media platforms are highly concerned with gaining status and are willing to use aggression to do so. They admit that in their online discussions they often curse, make fun of their opponents, and get blocked by other users or reported for inappropriate comments. Across eight studies, Bor and Petersen found that being online did not make most people more aggressive or hostile; rather, it allowed a small number of aggressive people to attack a much larger set of victims. Even a small number of jerks were able to dominate discussion forums, Bor and Petersen found, because nonjerks are easily turned off from online discussions of politics. Additional research finds that women and Black people are harassed disproportionately, so the digital public square is less welcoming to their voices.
Second, the dart guns of social media give more power and voice to the political extremes while reducing the power and voice of the moderate majority. The “Hidden Tribes” study, by the pro-democracy group More in Common, surveyed 8,000 Americans in 2017 and 2018 and identified seven groups that shared beliefs and behaviors. The one furthest to the right, known as the “devoted conservatives,” comprised 6 percent of the U.S. population. The group furthest to the left, the “progressive activists,” comprised 8 percent of the population. The progressive activists were by far the most prolific group on social media: 70 percent had shared political content over the previous year. The devoted conservatives followed, at 56 percent.
These two extreme groups are similar in surprising ways. They are the whitest and richest of the seven groups, which suggests that America is being torn apart by a battle between two subsets of the elite who are not representative of the broader society. What’s more, they are the two groups that show the greatest homogeneity in their moral and political attitudes. This uniformity of opinion, the study’s authors speculate, is likely a result of thought-policing on social media: “Those who express sympathy for the views of opposing groups may experience backlash from their own cohort.” In other words, political extremists don’t just shoot darts at their enemies; they spend a lot of their ammunition targeting dissenters or nuanced thinkers on their own team. In this way, social media makes a political system based on compromise grind to a halt.
Finally, by giving everyone a dart gun, social media deputizes everyone to administer justice with no due process. Platforms like Twitter devolve into the Wild West, with no accountability for vigilantes. A successful attack attracts a barrage of likes and follow-on strikes. Enhanced-virality platforms thereby facilitate massive collective punishment for small or imagined offenses, with real-world consequences, including innocent people losing their jobs and being shamed into suicide. When our public square is governed by mob dynamics unrestrained by due process, we don’t get justice and inclusion; we get a society that ignores context, proportionality, mercy, and truth.
Since the tower fell, debates of all kinds have grown more and more confused. The most pervasive obstacle to good thinking is confirmation bias, which refers to the human tendency to search only for evidence that confirms our preferred beliefs. Even before the advent of social media, search engines were supercharging confirmation bias, making it far easier for people to find evidence for absurd beliefs and conspiracy theories, such as that the Earth is flat and that the U.S. government staged the 9/11 attacks. But social media made things much worse.
The most reliable cure for confirmation bias is interaction with people who don’t share your beliefs. They confront you with counterevidence and counterargument. John Stuart Mill said, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that,” and he urged us to seek out conflicting views “from persons who actually believe them.” People who think differently and are willing to speak up if they disagree with you make you smarter, almost as if they are extensions of your own brain. People who try to silence or intimidate their critics make themselves stupider, almost as if they are shooting darts into their own brain.In the 20th century, America built the most capable knowledge-producing institutions in human history. In the past decade, they got stupider en masse.
In his book The Constitution of Knowledge, Jonathan Rauch describes the historical breakthrough in which Western societies developed an “epistemic operating system”—that is, a set of institutions for generating knowledge from the interactions of biased and cognitively flawed individuals. English law developed the adversarial system so that biased advocates could present both sides of a case to an impartial jury. Newspapers full of lies evolved into professional journalistic enterprises, with norms that required seeking out multiple sides of a story, followed by editorial review, followed by fact-checking. Universities evolved from cloistered medieval institutions into research powerhouses, creating a structure in which scholars put forth evidence-backed claims with the knowledge that other scholars around the world would be motivated to gain prestige by finding contrary evidence.
Part of America’s greatness in the 20th century came from having developed the most capable, vibrant, and productive network of knowledge-producing institutions in all of human history, linking together the world’s best universities, private companies that turned scientific advances into life-changing consumer products, and government agencies that supported scientific research and led the collaboration that put people on the moon.
But this arrangement, Rauch notes, “is not self-maintaining; it relies on an array of sometimes delicate social settings and understandings, and those need to be understood, affirmed, and protected.” So what happens when an institution is not well maintained and internal disagreement ceases, either because its people have become ideologically uniform or because they have become afraid to dissent?
This, I believe, is what happened to many of America’s key institutions in the mid-to-late 2010s. They got stupider en masse because social media instilled in their members a chronic fear of getting darted. The shift was most pronounced in universities, scholarly associations, creative industries, and political organizations at every level (national, state, and local), and it was so pervasive that it established new behavioral norms backed by new policies seemingly overnight. The new omnipresence of enhanced-virality social media meant that a single word uttered by a professor, leader, or journalist, even if spoken with positive intent, could lead to a social-media firestorm, triggering an immediate dismissal or a drawn-out investigation by the institution. Participants in our key institutions began self-censoring to an unhealthy degree, holding back critiques of policies and ideas—even those presented in class by their students—that they believed to be ill-supported or wrong.
But when an institution punishes internal dissent, it shoots darts into its own brain.
The stupefying process plays out differently on the right and the left because their activist wings subscribe to different narratives with different sacred values. The “Hidden Tribes” study tells us that the “devoted conservatives” score highest on beliefs related to authoritarianism. They share a narrative in which America is eternally under threat from enemies outside and subversives within; they see life as a battle between patriots and traitors. According to the political scientist Karen Stenner, whose work the “Hidden Tribes” study drew upon, they are psychologically different from the larger group of “traditional conservatives” (19 percent of the population), who emphasize order, decorum, and slow rather than radical change.
Only within the devoted conservatives’ narratives do Donald Trump’s speeches make sense, from his campaign’s ominous opening diatribe about Mexican “rapists” to his warning on January 6, 2021: “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
The traditional punishment for treason is death, hence the battle cry on January 6: “Hang Mike Pence.” Right-wing death threats, many delivered by anonymous accounts, are proving effective in cowing traditional conservatives, for example in driving out local election officials who failed to “stop the steal.” The wave of threats delivered to dissenting Republican members of Congress has similarly pushed many of the remaining moderates to quit or go silent, giving us a party ever more divorced from the conservative tradition, constitutional responsibility, and reality. We now have a Republican Party that describes a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol as “legitimate political discourse,” supported—or at least not contradicted—by an array of right-wing think tanks and media organizations.
The stupidity on the right is most visible in the many conspiracy theories spreading across right-wing media and now into Congress. “Pizzagate,” QAnon, the belief that vaccines contain microchips, the conviction that Donald Trump won reelection—it’s hard to imagine any of these ideas or belief systems reaching the levels that they have without Facebook and Twitter.
The Democrats have also been hit hard by structural stupidity, though in a different way. In the Democratic Party, the struggle between the progressive wing and the more moderate factions is open and ongoing, and often the moderates win. The problem is that the left controls the commanding heights of the culture: universities, news organizations, Hollywood, art museums, advertising, much of Silicon Valley, and the teachers’ unions and teaching colleges that shape K–12 education. And in many of those institutions, dissent has been stifled: When everyone was issued a dart gun in the early 2010s, many left-leaning institutions began shooting themselves in the brain. And unfortunately, those were the brains that inform, instruct, and entertain most of the country.
Liberals in the late 20th century shared a belief that the sociologist Christian Smith called the “liberal progress” narrative, in which America used to be horrifically unjust and repressive, but, thanks to the struggles of activists and heroes, has made (and continues to make) progress toward realizing the noble promise of its founding. This story easily supports liberal patriotism, and it was the animating narrative of Barack Obama’s presidency. It is also the view of the “traditional liberals” in the “Hidden Tribes” study (11 percent of the population), who have strong humanitarian values, are older than average, and are largely the people leading America’s cultural and intellectual institutions.
But when the newly viralized social-media platforms gave everyone a dart gun, it was younger progressive activists who did the most shooting, and they aimed a disproportionate number of their darts at these older liberal leaders. Confused and fearful, the leaders rarely challenged the activists or their nonliberal narrative in which life at every institution is an eternal battle among identity groups over a zero-sum pie, and the people on top got there by oppressing the people on the bottom. This new narrative is rigidly egalitarian––focused on equality of outcomes, not of rights or opportunities. It is unconcerned with individual rights.
The universal charge against people who disagree with this narrative is not “traitor”; it is “racist,” “transphobe,” “Karen,” or some related scarlet letter marking the perpetrator as one who hates or harms a marginalized group. The punishment that feels right for such crimes is not execution; it is public shaming and social death.
You can see the stupefaction process most clearly when a person on the left merely points to research that questions or contradicts a favored belief among progressive activists. Someone on Twitter will find a way to associate the dissenter with racism, and others will pile on. For example, in the first week of protests after the killing of George Floyd, some of which included violence, the progressive policy analyst David Shor, then employed by Civis Analytics, tweeted a link to a study showing that violent protests back in the 1960s led to electoral setbacks for the Democrats in nearby counties. Shor was clearly trying to be helpful, but in the ensuing outrage he was accused of “anti-Blackness” and was soon dismissed from his job. (Civis Analytics has denied that the tweet led to Shor’s firing.)
The Shor case became famous, but anyone on Twitter had already seen dozens of examples teaching the basic lesson: Don’t question your own side’s beliefs, policies, or actions. And when traditional liberals go silent, as so many did in the summer of 2020, the progressive activists’ more radical narrative takes over as the governing narrative of an organization. This is why so many epistemic institutions seemed to “go woke” in rapid succession that year and the next, beginning with a wave of controversies and resignations at The New York Times and other newspapers, and continuing on to social-justice pronouncements by groups of doctors and medical associations (one publication by the American Medical Association and the Association of American Medical Colleges, for instance, advised medical professionals to refer to neighborhoods and communities as “oppressed” or “systematically divested” instead of “vulnerable” or “poor”), and the hurried transformation of curricula at New York City’s most expensive private schools.
Tragically, we see stupefaction playing out on both sides in the COVID wars. The right has been so committed to minimizing the risks of COVID that it has turned the disease into one that preferentially kills Republicans. The progressive left is so committed to maximizing the dangers of COVID that it often embraces an equally maximalist, one-size-fits-all strategy for vaccines, masks, and social distancing—even as they pertain to children. Such policies are not as deadly as spreading fears and lies about vaccines, but many of them have been devastating for the mental health and education of children, who desperately need to play with one another and go to school; we have little clear evidence that school closures and masks for young children reduce deaths from COVID. Most notably for the story I’m telling here, progressive parents who argued against school closures were frequently savaged on social media and met with the ubiquitous leftist accusations of racism and white supremacy. Others in blue cities learned to keep quiet.
American politics is getting ever more ridiculous and dysfunctional not because Americans are getting less intelligent. The problem is structural. Thanks to enhanced-virality social media, dissent is punished within many of our institutions, which means that bad ideas get elevated into official policy.
It’s Going to Get Much Worse
In a 2018 interview, Steve Bannon, the former adviser to Donald Trump, said that the way to deal with the media is “to flood the zone with shit.” He was describing the “firehose of falsehood” tactic pioneered by Russian disinformation programs to keep Americans confused, disoriented, and angry. But back then, in 2018, there was an upper limit to the amount of shit available, because all of it had to be created by a person (other than some low-quality stuff produced by bots).
Now, however, artificial intelligence is close to enabling the limitless spread of highly believable disinformation. The AI program GPT-3 is already so good that you can give it a topic and a tone and it will spit out as many essays as you like, typically with perfect grammar and a surprising level of coherence. In a year or two, when the program is upgraded to GPT-4, it will become far more capable. In a 2020 essay titled “The Supply of Disinformation Will Soon Be Infinite,” Renée DiResta, the research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, explained that spreading falsehoods—whether through text, images, or deep-fake videos—will quickly become inconceivably easy. (She co-wrote the essay with GPT-3.)
American factions won’t be the only ones using AI and social media to generate attack content; our adversaries will too. In a haunting 2018 essay titled “The Digital Maginot Line,” DiResta described the state of affairs bluntly. “We are immersed in an evolving, ongoing conflict: an Information World War in which state actors, terrorists, and ideological extremists leverage the social infrastructure underpinning everyday life to sow discord and erode shared reality,” she wrote. The Soviets used to have to send over agents or cultivate Americans willing to do their bidding. But social media made it cheap and easy for Russia’s Internet Research Agency to invent fake events or distort real ones to stoke rage on both the left and the right, often over race. Later research showed that an intensive campaign began on Twitter in 2013 but soon spread to Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, among other platforms. One of the major goals was to polarize the American public and spread distrust—to split us apart at the exact weak point that Madison had identified.If we do not make major changes soon, then our institutions, our political system, and our society may collapse.
We now know that it’s not just the Russians attacking American democracy. Before the 2019 protests in Hong Kong, China had mostly focused on domestic platforms such as WeChat. But now China is discovering how much it can do with Twitter and Facebook, for so little money, in its escalating conflict with the U.S. Given China’s own advances in AI, we can expect it to become more skillful over the next few years at further dividing America and further uniting China.
In the 20th century, America’s shared identity as the country leading the fight to make the world safe for democracy was a strong force that helped keep the culture and the polity together. In the 21st century, America’s tech companies have rewired the world and created products that now appear to be corrosive to democracy, obstacles to shared understanding, and destroyers of the modern tower.
Democracy After Babel
We can never return to the way things were in the pre-digital age. The norms, institutions, and forms of political participation that developed during the long era of mass communication are not going to work well now that technology has made everything so much faster and more multidirectional, and when bypassing professional gatekeepers is so easy. And yet American democracy is now operating outside the bounds of sustainability. If we do not make major changes soon, then our institutions, our political system, and our society may collapse during the next major war, pandemic, financial meltdown, or constitutional crisis.
What changes are needed? Redesigning democracy for the digital age is far beyond my abilities, but I can suggest three categories of reforms––three goals that must be achieved if democracy is to remain viable in the post-Babel era. We must harden democratic institutions so that they can withstand chronic anger and mistrust, reform social media so that it becomes less socially corrosive, and better prepare the next generation for democratic citizenship in this new age.
Harden Democratic Institutions
Political polarization is likely to increase for the foreseeable future. Thus, whatever else we do, we must reform key institutions so that they can continue to function even if levels of anger, misinformation, and violence increase far above those we have today.
For instance, the legislative branch was designed to require compromise, yet Congress, social media, and partisan cable news channels have co-evolved such that any legislator who reaches across the aisle may face outrage within hours from the extreme wing of her party, damaging her fundraising prospects and raising her risk of being primaried in the next election cycle.
Reforms should reduce the outsize influence of angry extremists and make legislators more responsive to the average voter in their district. One example of such a reform is to end closed party primaries, replacing them with a single, nonpartisan, open primary from which the top several candidates advance to a general election that also uses ranked-choice voting. A version of this voting system has already been implemented in Alaska, and it seems to have given Senator Lisa Murkowski more latitude to oppose former President Trump, whose favored candidate would be a threat to Murkowski in a closed Republican primary but is not in an open one.
A second way to harden democratic institutions is to reduce the power of either political party to game the system in its favor, for example by drawing its preferred electoral districts or selecting the officials who will supervise elections. These jobs should all be done in a nonpartisan way. Research on procedural justice shows that when people perceive that a process is fair, they are more likely to accept the legitimacy of a decision that goes against their interests. Just think of the damage already done to the Supreme Court’s legitimacy by the Senate’s Republican leadership when it blocked consideration of Merrick Garland for a seat that opened up nine months before the 2016 election, and then rushed through the appointment of Amy Coney Barrett in 2020. A widely discussed reform would end this political gamesmanship by having justices serve staggered 18-year terms so that each president makes one appointment every two years.
Reform Social Media
A democracy cannot survive if its public squares are places where people fear speaking up and where no stable consensus can be reached. Social media’s empowerment of the far left, the far right, domestic trolls, and foreign agents is creating a system that looks less like democracy and more like rule by the most aggressive.
But it is within our power to reduce social media’s ability to dissolve trust and foment structural stupidity. Reforms should limit the platforms’ amplification of the aggressive fringes while giving more voice to what More in Common calls “the exhausted majority.”
Those who oppose regulation of social media generally focus on the legitimate concern that government-mandated content restrictions will, in practice, devolve into censorship. But the main problem with social media is not that some people post fake or toxic stuff; it’s that fake and outrage-inducing content can now attain a level of reach and influence that was not possible before 2009. The Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen advocates for simple changes to the architecture of the platforms, rather than for massive and ultimately futile efforts to police all content. For example, she has suggested modifying the “Share” function on Facebook so that after any content has been shared twice, the third person in the chain must take the time to copy and paste the content into a new post. Reforms like this are not censorship; they are viewpoint-neutral and content-neutral, and they work equally well in all languages. They don’t stop anyone from saying anything; they just slow the spread of content that is, on average, less likely to be true.
Perhaps the biggest single change that would reduce the toxicity of existing platforms would be user verification as a precondition for gaining the algorithmic amplification that social media offers.
Banks and other industries have “know your customer” rules so that they can’t do business with anonymous clients laundering money from criminal enterprises. Large social-media platforms should be required to do the same. That does not mean users would have to post under their real names; they could still use a pseudonym. It just means that before a platform spreads your words to millions of people, it has an obligation to verify (perhaps through a third party or nonprofit) that you are a real human being, in a particular country, and are old enough to be using the platform. This one change would wipe out most of the hundreds of millions of bots and fake accounts that currently pollute the major platforms. It would also likely reduce the frequency of death threats, rape threats, racist nastiness, and trolling more generally. Research shows that antisocial behavior becomes more common online when people feel that their identity is unknown and untraceable.
In any case, the growing evidence that social media is damaging democracy is sufficient to warrant greater oversight by a regulatory body, such as the Federal Communications Commission or the Federal Trade Commission. One of the first orders of business should be compelling the platforms to share their data and their algorithms with academic researchers.
Prepare the Next Generation
The members of Gen Z––those born in and after 1997––bear none of the blame for the mess we are in, but they are going to inherit it, and the preliminary signs are that older generations have prevented them from learning how to handle it.
Childhood has become more tightly circumscribed in recent generations––with less opportunity for free, unstructured play; less unsupervised time outside; more time online. Whatever else the effects of these shifts, they have likely impeded the development of abilities needed for effective self-governance for many young adults. Unsupervised free play is nature’s way of teaching young mammals the skills they’ll need as adults, which for humans include the ability to cooperate, make and enforce rules, compromise, adjudicate conflicts, and accept defeat. A brilliant 2015 essay by the economist Steven Horwitz argued that free play prepares children for the “art of association” that Alexis de Tocqueville said was the key to the vibrancy of American democracy; he also argued that its loss posed “a serious threat to liberal societies.” A generation prevented from learning these social skills, Horwitz warned, would habitually appeal to authorities to resolve disputes and would suffer from a “coarsening of social interaction” that would “create a world of more conflict and violence.”
And while social media has eroded the art of association throughout society, it may be leaving its deepest and most enduring marks on adolescents. A surge in rates of anxiety, depression, and self-harm among American teens began suddenly in the early 2010s. (The same thing happened to Canadian and British teens, at the same time.) The cause is not known, but the timing points to social media as a substantial contributor—the surge began just as the large majority of American teens became daily users of the major platforms. Correlational and experimental studies back up the connection to depression and anxiety, as do reports from young people themselves, and from Facebook’s own research, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Depression makes people less likely to want to engage with new people, ideas, and experiences. Anxiety makes new things seem more threatening. As these conditions have risen and as the lessons on nuanced social behavior learned through free play have been delayed, tolerance for diverse viewpoints and the ability to work out disputes have diminished among many young people. For example, university communities that could tolerate a range of speakers as recently as 2010 arguably began to lose that ability in subsequent years, as Gen Z began to arrive on campus. Attempts to disinvite visiting speakers rose. Students did not just say that they disagreed with visiting speakers; some said that those lectures would be dangerous, emotionally devastating, a form of violence. Because rates of teen depression and anxiety have continued to rise into the 2020s, we should expect these views to continue in the generations to follow, and indeed to become more severe.
The most important change we can make to reduce the damaging effects of social media on children is to delay entry until they have passed through puberty. Congress should update the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which unwisely set the age of so-called internet adulthood (the age at which companies can collect personal information from children without parental consent) at 13 back in 1998, while making little provision for effective enforcement. The age should be raised to at least 16, and companies should be held responsible for enforcing it.
More generally, to prepare the members of the next generation for post-Babel democracy, perhaps the most important thing we can do is let them out to play. Stop starving children of the experiences they most need to become good citizens: free play in mixed-age groups of children with minimal adult supervision. Every state should follow the lead of Utah, Oklahoma, and Texas and pass a version of the Free-Range Parenting Law that helps assure parents that they will not be investigated for neglect if their 8- or 9-year-old children are spotted playing in a park. With such laws in place, schools, educators, and public-health authorities should then encourage parents to let their kids walk to school and play in groups outside, just as more kids used to do.
Hope After Babel
The story i have told is bleak, and there is little evidence to suggest that America will return to some semblance of normalcy and stability in the next five or 10 years. Which side is going to become conciliatory? What is the likelihood that Congress will enact major reforms that strengthen democratic institutions or detoxify social media?
Yet when we look away from our dysfunctional federal government, disconnect from social media, and talk with our neighbors directly, things seem more hopeful. Most Americans in the More in Common report are members of the “exhausted majority,” which is tired of the fighting and is willing to listen to the other side and compromise. Most Americans now see that social media is having a negative impact on the country, and are becoming more aware of its damaging effects on children.
Will we do anything about it?
When Tocqueville toured the United States in the 1830s, he was impressed by the American habit of forming voluntary associations to fix local problems, rather than waiting for kings or nobles to act, as Europeans would do. That habit is still with us today. In recent years, Americans have started hundreds of groups and organizations dedicated to building trust and friendship across the political divide, including BridgeUSA, Braver Angels (on whose board I serve), and many others listed at BridgeAlliance.us. We cannot expect Congress and the tech companies to save us. We must change ourselves and our communities.
What would it be like to live in Babel in the days after its destruction? We know. It is a time of confusion and loss. But it is also a time to reflect, listen, and build.
“In the cruel and terrible time in which our generation has been condemned to live on this earth, we must never make peace with evil. We must never become indifferent to others or undemanding of ourselves.“
Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate.
In a way, we always had. What isn’t understandable is our incapability to learn the lessons of history. As such, from time to time, evil, with new faces and through new forms, regains what it had lost.
I wonder if “we must” is sufficient.
It’s not about trying. It’s about being.
We cannot be indifferent to others nor undemanding of ourselves!
O PS pegou no seu programa eleitoral e transformou-o num programa de governo.
1. Desadequação: Um programa eleitoral pensado para atingir o PCP e o BE eleitoralmente não está em conformidade com as exigências da realidade;
2. Descontextualização: Não tem em consideração as consequências da guerra na Ucrânia, nem as implicações da inflação na vida dos portugueses;
3. Desinteresse: Sabendo-se que agora se verificam outros condicionalismos, tendo o PS maioria absoluta, a teimosia em fazer um “copy paste” só pode ser interpretado como desinteresse ou incapacidade para responder às circunstâncias- Eventualmente pode significar ambas.
Sendo possível caracterizar o programa de governo do XXIII Governo por estes 3 D’s – desadequação, descontextualização e desinteresse –, é este um sinal sobre o tipo de leitura da realidade, da abertura dialogal e da responsabilidade que podemos esperar do Governo?
Este programa parece ser mais do PCP e do BE do que do PS. Os pressupostos gerais demonstram uma clara intenção de intervencionismo directo, a vários níveis, do que de regulação. Para além disso, a maioria das propostas apresentadas implicam um aumento da burocratização como se Portugal já não fosse um país excessivamente burocrático. O que os agentes económicos necessitam é de mais simplificação normativa, baseada em clareza e transparência.
Adicionalmente, é impossível não notar uma postura ideológica que provoca um notório desequilíbrio, direi até permanente, entre as obrigações e responsabilidades que cabem as ambas as partes que estabelecem um qualquer vínculo contratual.
Haverá palavras para classificar os actos dos soldados russos aos civis ucranianos?
Haverá palavras para classificar o que aconteceu em Bucha?
Há duas coisas que são características da espécie humana. Apesar de sabermos, e de até reconhecermos, que a História é o maior dos professores, tendemos para não aprender as suas lições e para mimetizar os erros outrora cometidos.
A 12 set 2020, publiquei um artigo no observador intitulado Do(s) genocídio(s) soviético(s) – o massacre de Katyn. Nele relembrei algumas das atrocidades cometidas, a mando de Estaline.
“Há oitenta anos, pondo em prática ideias defendidas de Marx e Engels, ideias que Estaline aplaudiu e comentou em Os fundamentos do Leninismo (1924), a polícia secreta soviética, na altura conhecida por Comissariado do Povo para os Assuntos Internos (NKVD), executou cerca de 22 mil soldados e cidadãos polacos. Sob as ordens de Laventri Beria, comandante do NKVD, o genocídio, aprovado pessoalmente por Estaline e por Vyacheslav Molotov, Kliment Voroshilov e Anastas Mikoyan, membros do politburo soviético, ocorreu entre abril e maio de 1940.
O exército vermelho, sustentado nos termos acordados no Pacto [Molotov–Ribbentrop], invadiu a Polónia a 17 de setembro, e, devido às instruções dadas pelo governo polaco, praticamente não encontrou oposição. Dois dias depois, sob a orientação de Beria, agentes e colaboradores do NKVD, construíram uma série de campos de detenção onde foi feita uma elaborada identificação e selecção dos prisioneiros. Paradoxalmente, a triagem feita pelos soviéticos foi facilitada pelo próprio sistema de recrutamento polaco que referenciava, como oficiais da reserva, todos os jovens que terminassem o curso universitário. Deste modo, não foi difícil ao NKVD prender igualmente milhares de elementos da intelligentsia polaca.”
Seria expetável que as barbáries cometidas no passado não voltassem a ser repetidas. Infelizmente…
O que se tem passado na Ucrânia, particularmente em Bucha, poderá não ser classificado como um genocídio, mas não há qualquer dúvida que é a manifestação de um comportamento desumano que é perfeitamente identificável como crimes de guerra.
O PAN e o Livre estão preocupados com mais direitos. Para eles, claro. Para os outros não é problema deles.
O PAN devia ter vergonha. Enquanto teve André Silva como deputado único usufruíram de condições únicas. Quando outros partidos passaram pela mesmo condicionalismo, um deputado, que fizeram?
Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa conseguiu condicionar um primeiro-ministro com maioria absoluta.
O Presidente da República disse a António Costa que não espera menos do que o cumprimento absoluto da duração do mandato.
É verdade que Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa já fez avisos semelhantes sem os concretizar. Relembrar o que se passou com a promulgação das 35 horas semanais é suficiente. A despesa aumentou e o Presidente da República nunca enviou o diploma para o Tribunal Constitucional.
Mas aqui é diferente. António Costa tem uma possibilidade real de desempenhar um cargo internacional de relevo. É muito possível que volte a ser convidado para a Presidência do Conselho Europeu. E é provável que Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa tenha inveja. Afinal, depois da Presidência, que papel de relevância política poderá ter?
P.S. – Tendencialmente inclino-me para o cumprimento integral dos cargos públicos a que fomos candidatos.
P.P.S. – A probabilidade de termos eleições antecipadas é alta. Que será mais interessante para António Costa? Dez anos como Presidente do Conselho Europeu ou dois como Primeiro-ministro? A escolha não é difícil. É evidente que António Costa fará o que quiser. Mas sabe que terá consequências. E no caso de António Costa sair e de Marcelo aceitar uma transição de poder para a Mariana Vieira da Silva, não acredito que Pedro Nuno Santos fique sossegado. Sinceramente, penso que António Costa não queria eleições antecipadas e que não estava à espera da maioria. Quer goste, quer não, António Costa está “preso”. Veremos o que o tempo nos trás.
(Não é à toa que uma das colaborações mais antigas para a análise política é a ligação entre a psicologia e a ciência política).
No passado dia 11 de fevereiro, publiquei este artigo no Semanário O Diabo – A hora da verdade – onde abordei o que considerava ser importante para que o PS revertesse o neo-socialismo que o vinha a caracterizar de modo a regressar ao socialismo democrático. Um dos pontos que referi foi a questão da valorização do papel do Parlamento no escrutínio ao poder executivo.
Nesse âmbito, expressei o seguinte:
1. Outro dos sinais que António Costa pode dar está relacionado com a valorização do papel do Parlamento. António Costa referiu uma maioria absoluta de diálogo. Pois muito bem. Nem António Costa, nem nenhum socialista pode negar que o Parlamento sempre foi um fórum de discussão e de debate. É-o desde os tempos imemoriais que nos remetem à sua génese.
2. Mais recentemente, com a democracia representativa, os parlamentos adquiriram importância suplementar como o centro por excelência do debate político. É no Parlamento, a casa do poder legislativo, que os titulares do poder executivo prestam contas sobre as suas decisões. Ao fazê-lo, não respondem apenas aos deputados. Respondem igualmente aos portugueses por eles representados, incluindo os que elegeram os deputados da oposição.
3. O líder de um governo maioritário, especialmente no contexto dum regime democrático, não deve ter qualquer razão para se opor ao escrutínio. Pelo contrário. Precisamente para reforçar os principais fundamentos da democracia – o Estado de Direito e o Princípio da Separação dos Poderes – é nos momentos em que a voz da oposição é mais ténue e frágil que a mesma deve ser protegida é potenciada.
4. LORD ACTON disse que “o melhor teste para avaliar até que ponto um Estado é realmente livre é pelo nível de segurança usufruído pelas suas minorias”. Num contexto de maioria absoluta, o melhor teste para avaliar até que ponto um Estado é democrático é pelo nível da liberdade de expressão dada à oposição.
5. O retomar dos debates quinzenais representará um aumento de qualidade da democracia portuguesa.
A Iniciativa Liberal apresentou ontem uma proposta para que os debates quinzenais com o Primeiro-Ministro voltem a ser uma das bandeira da democracia portuguesa.
Veremos agora até que ponto a tal maioria absoluta de diálogo era intencional e sincera.
Estão mesmo admirados por o Fernando Medina comentador poder comentar o Fernando Medina político?
Já se esqueceram do Mário Centeno governador do Banco de Portugal a comentar as políticas do Mário Centeno ministro das Finanças?
António Costa vive a hora da verdade. A vários níveis. A maioria absoluta que alcançou será determinante para o seu legado político e fundamental para a sua classificação na história da democracia portuguesa.
No período em que António Costa é Primeiro-ministro foi incapaz de governar sem o apoio e as exigências da esquerda radical. Esse apoio levou a que tivesse de pôr o PS democrático na gaveta e a conviver com socialistas extremistas dentro do seu próprio governo.
António Costa, que sempre negou a deriva socialista para o radicalismo, tinha agora a oportunidade para provar que o PS faz parte do socialismo democrático de Mário Soares. Infelizmente, assim não aconteceu.
Pedro Nuno Santos, Marta Temido, por exemplo, não são pessoas disponíveis para o consenso. Não entendem que a democracia representa a procura dum compromisso. E tendo em conta a postura que foram manifestando sem uma maioria absoluta, a probabilidade desta tendência comportamental se acentuar é alta. O tempo o dirá
Embora reconheça que os Negócios Estrangeiros são a sua casa, estranho também a permanência de João Cravinho, principalmente depois do episódio que envolveu Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
Sobre a Elvira Fortunato, por quem tenho uma enorme admiração, espero sinceramente que consiga pôr em prática o seu conhecimento e as suas ideias. O conhecimento, cada vez mais, é a riqueza das Nações.
Pedro Adão e Silva está no governo por causa da sua capacidade em comunicar, sobretudo, comunicar a propaganda socialista.
Dito isto, há outros sinais que não podem ser ignorados. Estas escolhas representam carreirismo, nepotismo e favorecimento. A confiança política não justifica tudo.
É uma pena que Sérgio Sousa Pinto e Francisco Assis, por exemplo, não façam parte das opções para o Governo.
Finalmente, António Costa ficou com os Assuntos Europeus. Isto tem significado. No presente e para o futuro.
Apesar de ambos serem seres humanos, quis o acaso que Fábio Guerra fosse branco e que Cláudio Coimbra fosse negro. Ambos tinham sentido de missão. Um tinha-o para o serviço na polícia, o outro no âmbito das forças armadas.
Num momento, duas atitudes. E da agressão adveio uma morte.
Porém, o mais criticável é o desrespeito dos auto-proclamados arautos da igualdade e dos assuntos raciais.
O sectarismo da esquerda, alimentado por uma suposta superioridade moral que manifestamente é desprovida de qualquer ética, está aqui perfeitamente exposto. São incapazes de demonstrar respeito. São incapazes de atitudes humanistas. Sem ganhos políticos permanecem em silêncio.
Martin Luther King, Jr., sonhava com um mundo onde as pessoas seriam julgadas pelo seu carácter. Pessoas como o Louçã, a Martins, as Mortáguas, o Sousa, o Tavares, o Mamadou, a Joacine e afins são a negação desse sonho.
Por isso, a escolha é simples. Continuarei a defender os princípios de Gandhi, King e Mandela enquanto combato o discurso de ódio, radical e tendencioso, daqueles que só se indignam quando os assuntos são favoráveis aos seus objectivos políticos.
The Russo-Ukrainian War is the most severe geopolitical conflict since World War II and will result in far greater global consequences than September 11 attacks. At this critical moment, China needs to accurately analyze and assess the direction of the war and its potential impact on the international landscape. At the same time, in order to strive for a relatively favorable external environment, China needs to respond flexibly and make strategic choices that conform to its long-term interests.
Russia’s ‘special military operation’ against Ukraine has caused great controvsery in China, with its supporters and opponents being divided into two implacably opposing sides. This article does not represent any party and, for the judgment and reference of the highest decision-making level in China, this article conducts an objective analysis on the possible war consequences along with their corresponding countermeasure options.
I. Predicting the Future of the Russo-Ukrainian War
1. Vladimir Putin may be unable to achieve his expected goals, which puts Russia in a tight spot. The purpose of Putin’s attack was to completely solve the Ukrainian problem and divert attention from Russia’s domestic crisis by defeating Ukraine with a blitzkrieg, replacing its leadership, and cultivating a pro-Russian government. However, the blitzkrieg failed, and Russia is unable to support a protracted war and its associated high costs. Launching a nuclear war would put Russia on the opposite side of the whole world and is therefore unwinnable. The situations both at home and abroad are also increasingly unfavorable. Even if the Russian army were to occupy Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and set up a puppet government at a high cost, this would not mean final victory. At this point, Putin’s best option is to end the war decently through peace talks, which requires Ukraine to make substantial concessions. However, what is not attainable on the battlefield is also difficult to obtain at the negotiating table. In any case, this military action constitutes an irreversible mistake.
2. The conflict may escalate further, and the West’s eventual involvement in the war cannot be ruled out. While the escalation of the war would be costly, there is a high probability that Putin will not give up easily given his character and power. The Russo-Ukrainian war may escalate beyond the scope and region of Ukraine, and may even include the possibility of a nuclear strike. Once this happens, the U.S. and Europe cannot stay aloof from the conflict, thus triggering a world war or even a nuclear war. The result would be a catastrophe for humanity and a showdown between the United States and Russia. This final confrontation, given that Russia’s military power is no match for NATO’s, would be even worse for Putin.
3. Even if Russia manages to seize Ukraine in a desperate gamble, it is still a political hot potato. Russia would thereafter carry a heavy burden and become overwhelmed. Under such circumstances, no matter whether Volodymyr Zelensky is alive or not, Ukraine will most likely set up a government-in-exile to confront Russia in the long term. Russia will be subject both to Western sanctions and rebellion within the territory of Ukraine. The battle lines will be drawn very long. The domestic economy will be unsustainable and will eventually be dragged down. This period will not exceed a few years.
4. The political situation in Russia may change or be disintegrated at the hands of the West. After Putin’s blitzkrieg failed, the hope of Russia’s victory is slim and Western sanctions have reached an unprecedented degree. As people’s livelihoods are severely affected and as anti-war and anti-Putin forces gather, the possibility of a political mutiny in Russia cannot be ruled out. With Russia’s economy on the verge of collapse, it would be difficult for Putin to prop up the perilous situation even without the loss of the Russo-Ukrainian war. If Putin were to be ousted from power due to civil strife, coup d’état, or another reason, Russia would be even less likely to confront the West. It would surely succumb to the West, or even be further dismembered, and Russia’s status as a great power would come to an end.
II. Analysis of the Impact of Russo-Ukrainian war On International Landscape
1. The United States would regain leadership in the Western world, and the West would become more united. At present, public opinion believes that the Ukrainian war signifies a complete collapse of U.S. hegemony, but the war would in fact bring France and Germany, both of which wanted to break away from the U.S., back into the NATO defense framework, destroying Europe’s dream to achieve independent diplomacy and self-defense. Germany would greatly increase its military budget; Switzerland, Sweden, and other countries would abandon their neutrality. With Nord Stream 2 put on hold indefinitely, Europe’s reliance on US natural gas will inevitably increase. The US and Europe would form a closer community of shared future, and American leadership in the Western world will rebound.
2. The “Iron Curtain” would fall again not only from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, but also to the final confrontation between the Western-dominated camp and its competitors. The West will draw the line between democracies and authoritarian states, defining the divide with Russia as a struggle between democracy and dictatorship. The new Iron Curtain will no longer be drawn between the two camps of socialism and capitalism, nor will it be confined to the Cold War. It will be a life-and-death battle between those for and against Western democracy. The unity of the Western world under the Iron Curtain will have a siphon effect on other countries: the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy will be consolidated, and other countries like Japan will stick even closer to the U.S., which will form an unprecedentedly broad democratic united front.
3. The power of the West will grow significantly, NATO will continue to expand, and U.S. influence in the non-Western world will increase. After the Russo-Ukrainian War, no matter how Russia achieves its political transformation, it will greatly weaken the anti-Western forces in the world. The scene after the 1991 Soviet and Eastern upheavals may repeat itself: theories on “the end of ideology” may reappear, the resurgence of the third wave of democratization will lose momentum, and more third world countries will embrace the West. The West will possess more “hegemony” both in terms of military power and in terms of values and institutions, its hard power and soft power will reach new heights.
4. China will become more isolated under the established framework. For the above reasons, if China does not take proactive measures to respond, it will encounter further containment from the US and the West. Once Putin falls, the U.S. will no longer face two strategic competitors but only have to lock China in strategic containment. Europe will further cut itself off from China; Japan will become the anti-China vanguard; South Korea will further fall to the U.S.; Taiwan will join the anti-China chorus, and the rest of the world will have to choose sides under herd mentality. China will not only be militarily encircled by the U.S., NATO, the QUAD, and AUKUS, but also be challenged by Western values and systems.
III. China’s Strategic Choice
1. China cannot be tied to Putin and needs to be cut off as soon as possible. In the sense that an escalation of conflict between Russia and the West helps divert U.S. attention from China, China should rejoice with and even support Putin, but only if Russia does not fall. Being in the same boat with Putin will impact China should he lose power. Unless Putin can secure victory with China’s backing, a prospect which looks bleak at the moment, China does not have the clout to back Russia. The law of international politics says that there are “no eternal allies nor perpetual enemies,” but “our interests are eternal and perpetual.” Under current international circumstances, China can only proceed by safeguarding its own best interests, choosing the lesser of two evils, and unloading the burden of Russia as soon as possible. At present, it is estimated that there is still a window period of one or two weeks before China loses its wiggle room. China must act decisively.
2. China should avoid playing both sides in the same boat, give up being neutral, and choose the mainstream position in the world. At present, China has tried not to offend either side and walked a middle ground in its international statements and choices, including abstaining from the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly votes. However, this position does not meet Russia’s needs, and it has infuriated Ukraine and its supporters as well as sympathizers, putting China on the wrong side of much of the world. In some cases, apparent neutrality is a sensible choice, but it does not apply to this war, where China has nothing to gain. Given that China has always advocated respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, it can avoid further isolation only by standing with the majority of the countries in the world. This position is also conducive to the settlement of the Taiwan issue.
3. China should achieve the greatest possible strategic breakthrough and not be further isolated by the West. Cutting off from Putin and giving up neutrality will help build China’s international image and ease its relations with the U.S. and the West. Though difficult and requiring great wisdom, it is the best option for the future. The view that a geopolitical tussle in Europe triggered by the war in Ukraine will significantly delay the U.S. strategic shift from Europe to the Indo-Pacific region cannot be treated with excessive optimism. There are already voices in the U.S. that Europe is important, but China is more so, and the primary goal of the U.S. is to contain China from becoming the dominant power in the Indo-Pacific region. Under such circumstances, China’s top priority is to make appropriate strategic adjustments accordingly, to change the hostile American attitudes towards China, and to save itself from isolation. The bottom line is to prevent the U.S. and the West from imposing joint sanctions on China.
4. China should prevent the outbreak of world wars and nuclear wars and make irreplaceable contributions to world peace. As Putin has explicitly requested Russia’s strategic deterrent forces to enter a state of special combat readiness, the Russo-Ukrainian war may spiral out of control. A just cause attracts much support; an unjust one finds little. If Russia instigates a world war or even a nuclear war, it will surely risk the world’s turmoil. To demonstrate China’s role as a responsible major power, China not only cannot stand with Putin, but also should take concrete actions to prevent Putin’s possible adventures. China is the only country in the world with this capability, and it must give full play to this unique advantage. Putin’s departure from China’s support will most likely end the war, or at least not dare to escalate the war. As a result, China will surely win widespread international praise for maintaining world peace, which may help China prevent isolation but also find an opportunity to improve its relations with the United States and the West.
by US-China Perception Monitor
Hu Wei is the vice-chairman of the Public Policy Research Center of the Counselor’s Office of the State Council, the chairman of Shanghai Public Policy Research Association, the chairman of the Academic Committee of the Chahar Institute, a professor, and a doctoral supervisor.
O liberalismo jamais deixou de se preocupar com a segurança.
O liberalismo não advoga a eliminação do Estado, nem da autoridade pública. É certo que preocupação liberal começa pelo indivíduo. Mas o Estado, as entidades e instituições políticas, económicas e sociais, até porque sem indivíduos não existem, também são objecto de consideração pelos liberais. Aliás, no contexto da teoria e a práxis liberal, a atenção dada ao Estado, à sua representação e atribuições, foi primordial. São as Constituições que limitam o poder do Estado e que garantem as liberdades aos cidadãos. A observância do Estado de Direito e da Separação dos Poderes é essencial para a segurança dos indivíduos.
Neste sentido, a observação dos mesmos pressupostos no contexto das relações internacionais é perfeitamente inteligível. Assim, pese embora não seja possível de ultrapassar as circunstâncias inerentes às formulações de Jean Bodin, o liberalismo, respeitando a autonomia dos Estados, defende o direito internacional que visa a paz e a segurança internacional, começando pela Carta das Nações Unidas. O respeito pelos convénios internacionais de colaboração, cooperação e até de integração que visem a defesa e a segurança internacional, ao revelarem uma preocupação com a segurança dos indivíduos, só reforçam os fundamentos do liberalismo. Ou seja, tal como o faz no contexto nacional, o liberalismo também se opõe ao abuso do poder e da força no âmbito internacional.
Por isso, a defesa, e a segurança a ela adstrita, é uma condição sine qua non para os liberais. Para a manutenção dos elementos do Estado e a prossecução dos seus fins, é imperioso que a defesa seja entendida como uma função de soberania. E é assim que os liberais a entendem.
Defesa e segurança são dois conceitos distintos, mas conciliáveis e interdependentes, que, ao considerarem as razões do Estado democrático, contemplam e legitimam no âmbito destas o uso legal da força para a conservação da ordem social democrática. Pela Segurança, o Estado procura criar as condições que possibilitem ao indivíduo viver em liberdade, usufruindo do bem-estar em comunidade, livre de ameaças. Já a Defesa respeita aos instrumentos e mecanismos que possibilitam proteção, englobando todas as circunstâncias estruturais e conjunturais, tangíveis e intangíveis, desde a manutenção da paz à resistência a um ataque externo.
Sou apologista de que o Estado deve honrar os seus compromissos, nomeadamente, no que respeita à defesa, aqueles que foram estabelecidos com a NATO. Mas isto não é suficiente. As Forças Armadas têm de ser objecto de um reforço orçamental que vise a adequação das mesmas às realidades, quer de infraestruturas, quer de recursos humanos como também de objectivos estratégicos. Por exemplo, sendo Portugal classificado como um país arquipelágico, é natural que o investimento na Marinha e Força Aérea deva ser prioritário (até pela dimensão da nossa Zona Económica Exclusiva).
Sendo a defesa uma função de soberania é essencial para a existência e afirmação do Estado, é vital que não continue a ser descurada como tem sido. Para além disso, é primordial que os investimentos sejam executados e fiscalizados de forma a evitar o desperdício.
Com a invasão russa da Ucrânia, a realpolitik na Europa acabou de ganhar outra preponderância. A NATO, da qual muito nos honra fazer parte, não é suficiente com apenas a capacidade dos norte-americanos. A NATO precisa de ter um pólo europeu mais fortalecido e Portugal não pode deixar de fazer a sua parte.
A avaliação feita no âmbito da NATO Defense Planning Process, revelou que Portugal tem falhas nos recursos humanos (uma carência superior a quatro mil efetivos; o Governo português tinha indicado seis mil) e deficiências na prontidão dos meios, devido ao contínuo desinvestimento nos três ramos das Forças Armadas (desde 2010, o Exército, a Marinha e a Força Aérea perderam €127,4 milhões nos seus orçamentos de “operação e manutenção”).
Obviamente, como o nível de recrutamento também tem vindo a diminuir, o treino, o manuseamento e a manutenção dos equipamento não vai ser afectada apenas pela falta de verbas. Com menos 36% de verbas e menos recursos humanos é impossível que a programação para a pronta utilização dos equipamento não seja afectada. Note-se igualmente que muitas das infraestruturas das Forças Armadas estão degradadas, que não há um programa de reequipamento consistente e que os programas de manutenção não são cumpridos.
Em 2014, na Cimeira de Gales, Portugal assumiu responsabilidades que ainda não cumpriu plenamente. Há poucos dias, na Cimeira da NATO em Bruxelas, o Primeiro-ministro acabou de as reiterar dizendo que os Estados-membros da NATO se comprometeram a atualizar o seu plano de investimentos em Defesa até à cimeira de junho (Madrid), indicando que Portugal irá aumentar o seu investimento em equipamento, recordando que já em 2018, os Estados-membros tinham assumido um compromisso escrito quanto à progressividade do reforço do orçamento em matéria de defesa. Que fez o Governo de Portugal?
A proposta de Orçamento de Estado chumbada em outubro passado continuava a considerar a defesa como um parente pobre entre as políticas públicas. Algo me diz que assim continuará a ser.
O resultado das legislativas de 30 de janeiro vai alterar vários pontos na dinâmica política que tínhamos como adquirida. O vector de todas essas mudanças está na maioria absoluta alcançada por António Costa. Não tenham a menor dúvida que o exercício do poder será pleno, ou seja, será praticado maximizando toda a abrangência possível.
Como tal, a probabilidade de se verificar uma deslocação do centro da importância das questões legislativas, e das votações a elas adstritas, para o debate e as discussões dos diplomas é altíssima. Isto significa que o parlamento, que é um fórum de discussão e de debate desde tempos imemoriais, vai passar a ser ainda mais o centro de excelência do debate político. Isto significa que a comunicação dos conteúdos em discussão será fundamental.
O tempo do conseguimos fazer isto acabou. No caso da IL, para exemplificar concretamente, “o conseguimos acabar com o cartão do adepto” acabou. Com a maioria socialista e a previsível utilização desse poder acrescido – note-se que António Costa foi capaz de tomar conta da maioria dos reguladores, ou melhor, partidarizar os reguladores, sem essa maioria – será a discussão política que poderá potenciar a afirmação política da oposição. Para esse efeito, os “debates quinzenais” serão estruturais para a IL retirar dividendos políticos.
Os condicionalismos da segunda circunstância são substancialmente maiores. O escrutínio ao poder executivo é fundamental. Num contexto governativo com maioria absoluta é essencial que exista uma efectiva capacidade de escrutínio parlamentar. Mas como fazê-lo?
Sabemos que a primeira função de um deputado, como titular do poder legislativo, é escrutinar o governo por este deter o poder executivo. Porém, a prática demonstra que os primeiros a desrespeitar essa função são os deputados do partido que governa. O PSD anda à deriva e não é verdadeira oposição. A esquerda extremista não conta. Só vão procurar estancar as feridas e continuar a comer algumas migalhas. Como o Chega não tem projecto político, a oposição será meramente de protesto (não creio que o PS altere a sua estratégia de comunicação contra o Chega).
Tudo indica que a capacidade de escrutínio vai ser menor. Para além disso, como referi acima, se o foco vai passar a estar na discussão, ter meios para divulgar e comunicar as posições políticas da IL vai ser primordial. Sabendo-se que a comunicação social é fundamentalmente de esquerda e que é praticamente controlada pela geringonça (pouco se alterou neste âmbito), será vital desenvolver ou criar formas de ultrapassar um bloqueio mediático para potenciar e maximizar a visibilidade política da IL.
(Há outros pontos a considerar mas, como são sobre a realidade interna da IL, não os abordarei aqui).
Dois burgueses. Jamais fizeram ou conseguiram representar o proletariado. Dois manipuladores oportunistas. Nada mais, nada menos.
O Estado não existe à-priori. Resultou, paradoxalmente, de uma consciência de limitação da liberdade impossível de forma a concretizar a liberdade possível. O Estado é a convenção à-posteriori que previne a arbitrariedade enquanto assegura a liberdade.
Reencontrei hoje esta relíquia. Fazia parte das notas de pesquisa para um trabalho de investigação académica que fiz na altura. As coisas que se escrevem aos 20 anos.
Acabei por também a incluir nesta colectânea de pensamentos:
VFS, Livro dos Pensares e das Tormentas, 57, 1987.
Que irá acontecer ao PS? Mais radicalização?
Pode-se sempre contar com Ferro Rodrigues.
Toca a ser felizes.
Tenho muita dificuldade em dar o benefício da dúvida a Augusto Santos Silva. Sempre tive. Mas faço-o. Augusto Santos Silva é o tipo de pessoa que acha que não deve explicações a ninguém e que detesta ser questionado.
O Ministério dos Negócios Estrangeiros, onde quase tudo é confidencial, classificado e raramente transparente, foi a escolha perfeita para um homem que não gosta nada de prestar contas. Infelizmente, sob o seu consulado ficou ainda mais nebuloso, opaco e sombrio.
Veremos o que nos revelará este caso.
Para se celebrar o cinquentenário do 25 de Abril, vai ser necessário mais tempo do que aquele que foi despendido a planear e a executar a revolução.
Podem pensar que Pedro Adão e Silva é o mais novo capitão de abril. É um erro. Na realidade é um general. Com motorista (talvez o Pedro Marques Lopes?) e tudo.
Eis a bazuca em acção.
Ah, sim, mais uma escolha sem escrutínio ou concurso.
É preciso dizer mais?
Nada como alguém do tempo da URSS…
Vamos lá ver se nos entendemos…