I clicked „Join the conversation“ after Jeremy Scahill’s article on groupthink on The Intercept_’s web site, hoping to participate in a forum discussing the piece, and was forwarded to Twitter, to find (at the time I posted) 11 tweets which are all just abuse, three of the tweets graphics. The effect this has would seem to be deft illustration of Scahill’s points, however my guess is the posters would see this otherwise.

The names Seymour Hersh and Daniel Ellsberg were both in international headlines recently as a result of Hersh’s article on the bombing of Nord Stream and Ellsberg’s announcement he is dying of cancer. I was reminded of the early 1970s, when Hersh’s work on Mỹ Lai and Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers made their names household words. I remember Life Magazine’s photographs of Mỹ Lai on my family’s coffee table, the morning paper’s headlines about Vietnam including frequent mention of Ellsberg.

In our school’s Social Studies and History classes we children debated Vietnam, Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers, as we later debated Watergate. Teachers coached debate clubs, and trained us in the art of argument, how to use logic to make points which we had previously researched through careful reading in the library. It did not seem unusual to assume that when I grew up I would live in a world of adults who, like my parents, their friends, our teachers, and the other adults I knew, used careful words to discuss politics.

Cartoons were on kids‘ home televisions after school, of course. We were all familiar with and enjoyed cartoons. But cartoons and scatological humor were not how adults communicated with each other. Our parents might watch Johnny Carson in the evening, but the words of late-night comedians were not what informed adult views of the world.

In 2023 it is odd indeed to be able to continue looking reliably to Seymour Hersh, Daniel Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, Alfred McCoy for informed commentary on world politics, but to see public discourse take the form of children’s cartoons, name-calling and schoolyard taunting, the red-baiting directed against Vietnam War critics who post-9/11 were characterized as sympathizing with „The Terrorists“ now become slandering people as being pro-Putin.

As a child I much enjoyed science fiction novels and movies, the enjoyable frisson of fear when imagining the life of Winston Smith or Guy Montag, D-503, THX or Bernard Marx. At the time I longed for adulthood, for the world of adult challenges. Having now the immersive experience of 2023 and Twitter-based „discourse“ I must say this particular dystopia is not the one I was expecting.

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