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Saturday, April 03, 2021

We Shift from Religious Polarization to Big Tech Polarization

Fewer than half of U.S. adults belong to a religious congregation, a new Gallup study shows. This is down from 70% in 1999.  That figure fluctuated only a few percentage points over a period of 6 decades beginning in 1937 (the first time this question was surveyed) when 73% of U.S. adults said they belonged to a church, synagogue, or mosque.

Under Half Of U.S. Adults Belong To A Religious Congregation, Survey Says : NPR 

Another Pew study (Feb 2019) showed 69% of US adults use Facebook (74% visit at least once per day), 73% use YouTube. 10 facts about Americans and Facebook | Pew Research Center

One way to look at this is that we've shifted a locu s of polarization. Religious membership has long been a source of polarization and intolerance. Remember those lyrics from the insightful Tom Lehrer in National Brotherhood Week:

"Oh the protestants hate the catholics
And the catholics hate the protestants
And the hindus hate the muslims
And everybody hates the jews ..."

But we've replaced it with the individualized narrowcasting of social media where we get our information curated for us, and find it easy to demonize those on the other side and become righteously convinced that we are correct.

This polarization is different. Religious (and patriotic) convictions that you are right and they are evil resides in a shared orthodoxy -- and many of the adherents are sincere in their beliefs. Big Tech has no orthodoxy beyond the dollar.

Religious orthodoxy, particularly when combined with the power of the state, has brought us a variety of evils, despite the "moral compass" of religion (or because?): Roman martyrs, the Crusades, endless religious wars, the partition of India (etc. etc.).

Will we do better as that "moral compass" of organized religion declines in importance, particularly as Big Tech provides its own form of customized-for-use newsfeed orthodoxy? An empirical question.

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