There is no better contemporary indicator of the prosperity and level of individual freedoms of a nation than the average per capita number of hours a nations’ citizens spend trolling and harassing each other online (I specify trolling and harassing because though they may be a source of amusement, they are not productive hours spent online).
Let me back up a bit: in grade and middle school we had to write book reports and essays about historical events and people, and geographical areas. I don’t know how they do it now, but ~25 years ago, when it came time to enlighten your teacher about Pearl Harbor, Thomas Jefferson, or Norway, it meant going to the school and/or town libraries and cracking open a boring-ass encyclopedia. The pertinent facts about a subject would then be transcribed in a notebook or loose leaf paper (this was before high school and college, where making endless photocopies of books was the norm, and before the miracle of Google and .pdfs), and then at home you’d put these amazing tidbits about a country’s capital city, its square mile area or miles of coastline, and its official or predominately spoken language(s) into paragraph form…or your parents would do it for you if you threw a bad enough temper tantrum.
These reports were devoid of analysis. We weren’t supposed to have opinions about these facts, just report them. So, reports about a country would include what form of government it had or what drove its economy, but we were neither expected, nor asked, to comment on if it was good or bad that a country was communist and its economy consisted of modest exports of plantains.
It’s been a long time since I examined an encyclopedia, but in the intervening years since I had to write those reports, there are a few facts that should be considered to indicate whether or not a country is thriving or failing. These are indicators that are derived from the greatest invention of the last 25 years, which, of course, is: auto-erotic asphyxiation.
J/K, that’s been around for centuries. No, I’m talking about the Internet, and particularly, social media.
As a libertarian that spends a decent amount of time on social media, and as the managing editor and columnist of an online libertarian publication that relies on social media for an audience, I can not avoid the internecine squabbles that take place within the liberty movement. I’m mostly a passive observer, though I do get dragged and/or insert myself into them from time to time. The big one lately is the pissing contest between “alt-right libertarians” who advocate for the state to orchestrate a society derived from so-called “white” and “Western” values, and true minarchists and anarchists who prioritize individual rights. I write “alt-right libertarians” because I don’t think they are libertarians at all, rather paleo-conservatives that have married the writings of Patrick J. Buchanan, Edmund Burke and Hans-Hermann Hoppe (I list the three writer/philosophers above charitably; I’m not the kind of person that defaults to blaming racism for every bad thing, though I fully recognize the influence white supremacists and anti-Semites have had on the alt-right). They call themselves libertarians because conservatives are depicted in pop culture as lame and mean, and libertarians’ typical outsider status affords them some form of hipster street cred.
What I realized recently was that all the bickering between the “alt-right libertarians” and we legit libertarians is just of a piece with how much time the nation spends on social media. Time is a scarce resource like any other, and if you have so much of it to devote to unproductive social media pursuits, than that means you don’t need that time to spend on providing for your basic living expenses; it’s an indicator of how well-off in life you are. The fewer waking hours an individual must spend on providing for his well-being and the well-being of his dependents is in direct proportion to his standard of living. Every minute an “alt-right libertarian” spends online bitching about immigrants, or writing an essay wherein he has to dream up new definitions for words and phrases to prove the threat of immigration (white genocide, public commons), is a minute he is not actually competing in the marketplace for the scarce resources against those very immigrants he feels so threatened by.
Of course, this phenomenon is not exclusive to the alt-right; liberal progressive social justice warriors, radical environmentalists, statist journalists and politicians, and religious conservatives are all guilty of exaggerating the danger of an issue in order to garner support for their agendas. All of this takes place not only on social media, but at rallies, protests, demonstrations, seminars, conventions, or any forum where a person is not actually working to provide food, water, shelter, clothing and the other basic costs of living, to say nothing of luxury items and recreation. Is there any better indication of how great America is that we don’t stand in breadlines, but stand in iPhonelines? Even further to the point, the Internet has removed the necessity of standing in line for concert and sporting event tickets.
It’s been 16 years since 9/11; terrorist attacks in America are routinely thwarted before they occur. Yes, there are still mass shootings, but the frequency of them is low. The FBI’s website showing violent crime statistics shows a general year-by-year downward trend. There is no real pressing social or civil rights issue in this country; anything the alt-right or alt-left complains about, whether it’s illegal immigrants, racist cops or micro-aggressions is greatly exaggerated. Real poverty, due to employment and private and public charity and subsidies for the unemployed and disabled, is virtually non-existent. Technology makes our jobs so much easier to do. Americans have a lot of free time, and this is a credit to capitalism and our negative rights based government, though these systems are constantly assaulted, subverted and twisted.
And when you have an abundance of free time, what do you do when you want to feel important and be recognized? You join a cause and contribute to a perpetual outrage machine, and you do it on social media because why leave the comforts of your own home to make much ado about nothing?
To borrow a chestnut from Papa Hemingway: America is a fine place, and worth the pissing and moaning for.
And that’s the way it is, as far as you know.