populism is the first refuge of a scoundrel

Why is populism so darned popular in many parts of the world today?

In stark terms, Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist, has defined populism as “an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite.'” … “Populism presents a Manichean outlook, in which there are only friends and foes,” Mudde has written. —Aaron Wherry, CBC 2017-02-26

As we shift from a print and market dominated economy to a digitally networked economy, much of what we take for granted about how society should work goes out the window. Our institutions were not designed for a network era. At the same time, with social media, we all have the ability to participate in global conversations. Many of us want to be heard, but few of us listen. We have no history of engaging in meaningful global conversations on a mass scale and few examples to guide us. In this networked world we are mostly illiterate, digital natives and immigrants alike.

Network literacy is needed everywhere but most of us do not have even the basic skills to sift through the fake/alternate news that flows by each day. Disciplines like personal knowledge mastery are no longer a luxury. We all need trusted knowledge networks to help us make sense of the shifting world. We have to build these soon, before we drown in an ocean of manipulated data.

Self-mastery in the network era starts with a new literacy and understanding of how human and mechanical networks work. With this new literacy we can begin to have conversations on what a networked civil society looks like. Today, we lack the basic literacy to describe networked society. It’s no wonder we seem stalled and so many people fear a bleak future: we cannot articulate a better one.

Self-mastery entails that we train ourselves to undo our conventional internal neurophysiological wiring, to uproot incoherent belief systems, let go of private judgments, stop thinking in terms of banal ideological polarities, and develop the tools necessary to be in a constant state of evolution and committed action.
Civic self-mastery training then extends to a model of civic-engagement. Having awakened ourselves internally, newly empowered, we move to immediate social contextual action. —Rebooting the System from inside the Death Machine

Self-mastery of our own thinking is necessary to counter the effects of a networked world, where words are electrically extended and fragmented by social media. Information manipulation is becoming widespread, driving identity politics. This of course makes a fertile environment for demagogues to wave the flag of populism and anti-intellectualism. In the network era, populism is the first refuge of a scoundrel. A literate, engaged, and networked citizenry gives no such refuge.


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