As an observer of popular culture, I have noticed a shift from compassion to meanness. The meanness I see is a function of a number of factors:
The Left/Right Divide
There has always been a left/right ideological divide in politics. That divide is not, in and of itself, unhealthy. Different points of view that are honestly held are of value to the political debate irrespective of which “side” of the political spectrum they come from.
The problem in the current climate of political divisiveness is the belief by either side, that the other side is the “enemy” and needs to be eliminated. That is unbalanced. Based on that unbalanced view there has been a degradation in the civility of the interaction between left and right.
The mainstream news media has been widely criticized for providing biased coverage. This is a fair criticism, although the left/right divide is not as important as is ownership of mass media by a few large corporations that dictate the scope of what is acceptable. I would also note that the current slogan of “fake news” has been degraded to mean “I don’t like what you are saying”.
The Rise of Social Media
Social media allows like-minded people to associate and communicate. The bad news is that those same associations become information silos and create the illusion that everyone shares the opinions of the group. While this is soothing to group members, it is delusional.
Additionally, there is now the phenomenon of “trolling” which allows the disparaging of others anonymously. It seems that “trolls” consider this to be a form of sport and hence offer little value to the public discourse.
Social media also permits the wide dissemination of completed unvetted information. While allowing everyone to express their opinion is valuable, passing around bogus information is harmful. One of the most pernicious forms of this is “memes”. My general view of memes is that, if you a believe a meme provides any valuable information, you may be a six year old.
“Bad” Economic Times
When times are tough it is understandable for people to look for suspects to blame and reach for possible solutions. As an aside, that explains the success of Donald Trump’s presidential election. When the political elites fail the public by selling out to special interest the stage is set for a reaction. Unfortunately, those who are most at fault for contributing to the eroding of the middle class do not wish to be held accountable for what they have done. Therefore, scapegoats become the order of the day. No need to hold the largest corporations and financial institutions on the planet accountable for their role in the collapse of economies and the erosion of the middle class when you can blame foreigners, muslims, jews, terrorists and people of color.
Loss of Faith
This point may be somewhat controversial, since the notion of religious faith has become conflated with ignorance and bigotry. There is no question that some religious groups have used their “religion” as an excuse to marginalize others. While we may fairly criticize groups who rationalize their misbehaviour by adherence to religious dogma, they do not represent the foundation of what spiritual traditions stand for. The foundations of most ethical behavior comes from religious traditions, since at their core, spiritual traditions value the sanctity of every human being. Sadly, when spiritual tradition gives way to religious dogma it becomes a rationale for segregation and confrontation. However, that is a perversion of spiritual values rather than an affirmation of them.
When we affirm the value and dignity of all human beings we have re-connected with the real foundation of a spiritual life.