view of the statue of liberty
The web is facilitating both diversity and uniformity PHOTO: Annie Spratt

At one level, the web facilitates diversity. At another, it encourages uniformity. Paradox and contradiction seems to be the hallmark 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,” Pew Research Center stated in October 2017. “In Donald Trump’s first year as president, these gaps have grown even larger.”

However, there are counter-currents. “Today, more than one-third of marriages start online,” according to an article in MIT 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 marriage, particularly in the United States. “It is intriguing that shortly after the introduction of the first dating websites in 1995, like, the percentage of new marriages created by interracial couples increased rapidly,” say researchers, Josue Ortega at the University of Essex in the U.K. and Philipp Hergovich at the University of Vienna in Austria.

“In 2015, 17 percent of all U.S. newlyweds had a spouse of a different race or ethnicity, marking more than a fivefold increase since 1967, when 3 percent of newlyweds were intermarried,” according to a Pew Research Center analysis published in 2017.

Perhaps the trends of polarization and diversity are not that far apart as they might initially seem. 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.”

Republican National Committeeman from Alabama, Paul Reynolds, recently 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 percent of Republicans consider Russia an ally.

The idea that a significant percentage of U.S. citizens would prefer to be ruled by Russia than someone from their own country 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 close physically but miles apart emotionally and attitudinally.

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.