The Culture War Wants You

When the latest culture war clash (like Basecamp's apolitical manifesto) appears in your newsfeed, what does it feel like? Do you want to click it? Do you feel pulled towards it?

If you're human, the answer is likely yes. This is because the information wants you to click it. It understands how brains work and says "don't you care about this?!?"

It's already common knowledge that smartphones pull you towards them. We know they're addictive.

But we don't have a similar shared understanding around the information itself. That the news wants you to want it. I don't think "addictive" is the right word here. It's more like "alluring." Info like the culture war pulls you towards it.

The culture war doesn't want you to know that it is alluring. That would be like cigarette companies selflessly deciding to warn you they are addictive. Instead, the culture war paints it as Us vs. Them. We learn about Us: the good guys who care and protect victims. We learn about Them: the bad guys who don't care and attack victims. But we rarely examine the "thing itself." What does the information want? And we rarely examine ourselves. Why are we allured by the culture war?

There are many reasons why we're allured by the culture war.

  • It provides us meaning/purpose, connects us to a community of Us vs. Them, and can make us feel like we're protecting the safety of ourselves or others.
  • In addition, the meme of each side is resilient to attempts to remove it. If I say "let's not talk about free speech" to someone on the right, they will say "that's the exact issue, censorship! Don't you care about freedom?" If I say "I'm not sure if all of us need to care about racism all the time" to someone on the left, they will say "that's the exact issue, being complacent! Don't you care about marginalized people?" (People on each side will make fun of the other for being snowflakes about the thing they're optimized for. Freedom snowflakes or caring snowflakes.)
  • Both sides of the culture war want the other to exist. Memes like any attention, even attention from competitors. BlackLivesMatter likes AllLivesMatter like a McDonald's likes a Burger King on the same corner. Knights and Mooks on both sides thrive on the Internet of Beefs. Their main goal is to keep the conflict going.

In the end, the culture war is constantly becoming more optimized to suck us towards it. It has Medium-Message-Environment Fit and is searching for more.

Be aware that never-ending debates like the culture war want you to care about them. Take that into account when determining how much you should actually care.