The unbearable US-ness of online discourse


My apologies in advance to all my US friends. But…

… one hour ago, I committed a really serious sin: I actively participated to a discussion in a Facebook group. At some point, I snapped, and went full speed against a general problem I encounter every day online. It is a structural problem, nothing personal, and will not stop me from sincerely liking, sometimed envying, many things about the US and Americans, both as a people, and as individuals. But is a problem nevertheless. Here it is, presented in friendship, to build “bridges, not walls”.

The unbearable US-ness of online discourse /img/us-centric-map.jpg
YOU ARE HERE - Er, no, I am there... NO, NO, NO: YOU ***ARE HERE***

The antefact

While talking of something else on that Facebook group, we ended up discussing why Trump won in 2016. After a while, this exchange happened:

SOME-US-GUY: In 2016 “The progressive lost to Clinton, not to Trump.”

ME: Regardless of who exactly lost, the fact that Trump won in 2016 (or similar cases I may quote from Italy, of course) seems to me due in non-negligible part to [the “basket of deplorables” thing, that is…] some part of the non-Trump camp treating like s**t, and canceling/alienating, too many people in the middle, because if they weren’t aligned they surely had “something harmful or indefensible” filling their minds (1)

SOME-US-GUY: stay in Italy your analysis is not valid in the states and reads as uninformed.

and there I lost my cool…

ME: stay in Italy my foot. Why don’t YOU US people “stay in the states” a bit more instead, but paying a bit more attention to how you look from outside, instead of just through your own navels?

Do YOU have any idea of how much YOUR analyses feel uninformed, and YOUR SOLUTIONS unapplicable, to everybody else around the planet, and how heavy it is to be pressed every day to see/manage everything through a US-only or US-first lens? Including basic stuff like “speaking freely”?

At this point, SOME-US-GUY, you are very likely thinking “if you feel so, why on Earth did you step in commenting US politics?”

The answer is easy: because, unfortunately, I cannot ignore them, not yet. I just can’t. How many “in the states” know that there will be a crucial constitutional referendum, and regional elections here in Italy next Sunday?

People “in the states” can just ignore this, whatever the result will be. Because, even if Italy still is a 60-millions people country among the ten or twelve biggest economies of the planet (2), what happens here next Sunday will almost surely have no concrete effects on US daily life for years, if not decades.

In Italy and everywhere else, instead, everybody knows that there will be a US election next November.

Because we HAVE to know, as that will have concrete, if indirect impacts on OUR lives, from exports (trade barriers, relations with China…) to geopolitical security (NATO, stronger Russian influence in Mediterranean thanks to US politics in Middle East), etc…

That is why there are many people outside the US worrying about, or hoping for, and generally trying to understand, things like (just as one of countless examples, OK?)

“what if BLM, checking one’s privilege and all that stuff push the pedal a bit too far, and the concrete end result is four more years of trade restrictions for our economy, or civil wars in Middle East/North Africa pushing many more refugees to our countries? WHY is this happening, and how?”

From now on, SOME-US-GUY, try to pay more attention to what non-US people have to say about US politics and priorities. You will surely find many of them, not necessarily me of course, much less disinformed than you about the situation “in the states”, because it impacts them, too.

As for this Facebook group, there have been recurring complaints and fights, for years now, that it is too much “alt-right”-friendly, too much against intersectionality, too much in denial of structural racism, too much pro-Jordan Peterson and IDW in general etc..

but maybe the REAL problem is simply that the general discourse in this group, and the minds of many of its members (whatever passport they have), are TOO MUCH US-CENTRIC. All the things I mentioned are objective, serious issues all over the world, but having only one, rigid way to prioritize, describe and solve them… cannot work.

While I am at this… White Fragility

As further support of the previous paragraphs, here is another observation I had made a couple of weeks before, in another online forum: “here is a problem with the White Fragility book: even if I agreed with every single word of it, its language, terminology, concrete proposals… are, albeit unconsciously, so US-centric, if not US-only, that if I wanted to port the same message in a format easily applicable to Italy, or Europe in general, I should rewrite almost all of it” (3).

How to take this post, and why I am posting this here

What you just read is not a carefully crafted discourse or paper, presenting the results of extensive research to an international conference. It is just an almost verbatim copy of a personal outburst on Facebook, that I feel useful to share anyway, so take it for what it is, with apologies for the tone if you find it excessive.

Also, it is probably necessary to say that:

  1. this is not about Trump, or US politics, or (geo) politics in general. Those topics just happened the object of the part quoted here of a much longer discussion on other topics. This post exists because THAT whole discussion, as many others in the same group that has a really international membership, was dominated, if not caused, by US-first ways to decode the world
  2. I do not deny the existence of structural racism, or any other of the problems underlined in the text above, or the fact that those are serious problems. It’s only being continuously pushed to see, prioritize, describe, solve those problems… only as if I were either a MAGA or BLM activist in Detroit that is tiresome.

Why here? Because this is a website about how your own civil rights and the quality of all areas of your life heavily depend on how software and digital technologies are used around you, of course. And this is a digital issue.

What I complained about happens everywhere online, and of course it has been going on, in other forms, since at least the foundation of Hollywood. But the way we let digital platforms work today is designed to amplify it so much, that it may make international, inter-cultural discourse almost disappear. I do not want that to happen.

  1. in case it matters, I have that feeling because I see the same thing happening here in Italy. Trump 2016 looks so much like Berlusconi 1993…
  2. for how long, it’s another issue…
  3. I have not read that book yet. I have, however, read LOTS of verbatim quotes from it, and LOTS of endorsements of its message, and all concurred to form that opinion

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