At one level, the Web facilitates diversity. At another, it encourages uniformity. Paradox and contradiction seem to be the hallmarks of complex, interconnected systems.
In politics, the Web has allowed those of similar views to flock together. The center struggles as the wings and peripheries bulge. Tribalism and groupthink are flourishing. “The divisions between Republicans and Democrats on fundamental political values – on government, race, immigration, national security, environmental protection and other areas – reached record levels during Barack Obama’s presidency,” as stated by Pew Research Center in October 2017. “In Donald Trump’s first year as president, these gaps have grown even larger.”
However, there are countercurrents. “Today, more than one-third of marriages start online,” according to an article in Technology Review. Online dating is now “the second most common way for heterosexual couples to meet. For homosexual couples, it is far and away the most popular.
Online dating has also led to a significant increase in interracial marriages, particularly in the United States. “It is intriguing that shortly after the introduction of the first dating websites in 1995, like Match.com, the percentage of new marriages created by interracial couples increased rapidly,” said researchers Josue Ortega (at the University of Essex in the U.K.) and Philipp Hergovich (at the University of Vienna in Austria).
In addition, according to a Pew Research Center analysis published in 2017, “In 2015, 17% of all U.S. newlyweds had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity, marking more than a fivefold increase since 1967, when 3% of newlyweds were intermarried.”
“In 2008, about 27% of OkCupid users reported that they would date someone with a vocal racial bias,” a datingadvice.com article stated. “In 2014, only 10% of users said they’d be willing to entertain a racist date.”
Perhaps the trends of polarization and diversity are not that far apart as they might have initially seemed. Where we are born is an accident of geography and race is essentially an illusion. In 2016, Scientific American wrote that, “the mainstream belief among scientists is that race is a social construct without biological meaning.”
Consequently, Paul Reynolds, a Republican National Committeeman from Alabama, stated that “If I’ve got a choice of putting my welfare into the hands of Putin or The Washington Post, Putin wins every time.” Reynolds is, by no means, alone in his views. A 2017 Morning Consult-Politico poll found that 49% of Republicans considered Russia an ally.
The idea that a significant percentage of U.S. citizens would prefer to be ruled by a Russian who shares their worldview rather than a fellow U.S. citizen who has a different worldview is not really surprising. Nationalism is a flag of convenience for most, and patriotism, as Samuel Johnson once stated, is often “the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Most nations are no more than accidents of geography. People may be physically close but emotionally and attitudinally miles apart.
Given time, the Web will remake nations and states and create a new geography where the like-minded find each other: where those who share the same values and outlook on life come together and coalesce.