The internet killed religion, politics, and neighbours

No, not the TV show. Got the theme tune in your head though, didn’t it? You’re welcome.

I’m talking about neighbours – those people that live next door, ‘across the way’ and nearby. This is probably perception, and I’ve yet to bother searching for any actual research (if there is any), but there does seem to be less ‘neighbourliness’ going around. Maybe that just makes me sound like an old codger, but when I think about my parents being friendly with half the street when I was going up it doesn’t marry with the relationships I’ve seen since I moved out.

Of course, maybe I’m just an unsociable ass hat.

Recently I’ve been deeply interested in the blog of Ryan Bell, a former pastor turned atheist who is writing about his journey. In a post this week he talked about the prevelance of switching between faiths. What got my cogs clunking was this part of one of the quotes he’d picked out (my emphasis);

Americans with no formative religious experience often have very different expectations and attitudes about religion that are drawn not from personal experience in church, but from the views of friends, family, and also popular culture.

So that’s that.

Then there was this tweet from James Smith;

Now, let me just get this out first of all (sorry James): I hate the phrase “consumer-nationalism” – it sounds awful. I can imagine a Daily Mail journalist picking something like that up and turning it into some sort of “Google to start political party” bullshit.

However, that along with Ryan’s blog post got me thinking about how as a society we probably used to get a lot of our guidance, our moral compass, beliefs, perceptions and expectations from our neighbours, family and fellow religious worshippers (where relevant) – a relatively small pool of minds.

We’re much more likely now to become friends (even lovers) with people we meet via the internet. We’re much more likely to adjust our world view based on things we read on the internet. We’re much more likely to educate ourselves using the internet and form our own opinions than rely on the anecdote and perceptions of a small group of people we happen to be near to.

Locality and religion are both communities that hang together partly because of our in-built need to socialise. Many relationships in those communities may exist – or may have existed – purely because of that need, not necessarily because of mutual world views. But the internet presents an opportunity that, less than three decades ago, wasn’t really available – an enormous array of communities much more aligned to individual preference.

If I have racists neighbours, I don’t have to think about moving because I despise their views, I can simply not associate with them and find a more suitable community to spend my time with. I’m not limited by where I live, or which church happens to be close by.

I think this makes sense when polls about religious observance are taken into account. Many of them now show that people refer to themselves as ‘cultural Christians’ or ‘cultural Muslims’ and so on, as opposed to practising theists. A huge proportion of Christians no longer believe that Jesus was the son of God and yet they still go to Church. Probably for the social interaction.

What am I getting at?

What Ryan’s post also mentioned was that more people are growing up unaffiliated to any religion. These people are growing up with the internet as ubiqutous as the TV was to my generation, as the radio was to the previous generation and the phone to the generation before that. From an early age they are learning that they can discover more knowledge on the internet than they can ever get from the people around them, and they can use it. They can join clubs, societies, organisations, charities, parties that match what appeals to them, not the environment they were brought up in.

That individual cultural liberty I think means that we’re also going to see a shift in the way people interact with politics.

Rather than right vs left, the political landscape is going to become more and more fragmented and more focused on individual issues. This individualisation of political affiliation will break down political parties and funnel that enthusiasm into much more granularly focused campaigns.

We’re kind of seeing this already with the likes of 38 Degrees and which allow people to get behind “bite-sized” causes that they believe in outside of the standard party political framework.

As I type I even wonder whether that means efforts like the OpenPolitics Manifesto, to which I enthusiastically contribute, are serving a system doomed to failure as an unattractive “one size fits all”  monolith that only presents a “best of a bad bunch” choice.

If I’m right, who knows how politics will adapt. I certainly haven’t a clue. Have you?


P.s. If you’re concerned/angry/fed up with politics, help Democracy Club do something.





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