I recently saw an essay complaining about Burning Man. This is nothing new; complaining about Burning Man is a full time job for a lot of people. It was better last year. X Y and Z has ruined it. The art sucks. Etc. But this particular essay was well written and was much larger in scope than just an art festival in the desert. The author talked about how the pandemic has changed us, and what we've lost as a result. And one of the central themes in his essay was the sort of toxic "rugged individualist" meme that the pandemic has only reinforced. We are all social animals. We need human contact to grow up, to develop our minds and morality, and to survive and prosper in the world. And we evolved to do this in person. We have actually evolved structures in our brains that have allowed us to confidently and accurately navigate the sort of societies we evolved in - groups of 20 to 500 people all living near each other. We read signals both verbal and non-verbal from people, and our own responses feed into this. We feel, exhibit and sense shame, for example. And if someone in your society does something stupid or dangerous, and they exhibit shame afterwards, you have an indication that they probably won't do it again. If they do NOT exhibit shame, then it might be a good idea to keep a careful eye on them, put them in a position where they can't do any damage or even eject them from the society. It is a way to keep a society in regulation, and we evolved this because societies without such a regulatory mechanism tended to fall apart more often when people could not determine who was likely going to work in the society's best interests. We feel homophily and are more comfortable with people who look, talk, act and smell like us. We exhibit this in what we wear, how we talk, what we buy and how we ornament ourselves. And when we see someone radically different - we become suspicious. We are cautious and fearful around them. And again, this came from a time when a stranger suddenly appearing in a tribe of people was usually a danger sign. Was he from a different tribe that wanted their food? Would they take over their territory? Societies that felt homophily and xenophobia simply survived better. As we developed our own moralities, this kept working for us, but it took effort. Homophily/xenophobia is at the very heart of most of the racism and bigotry we see out there, and we have to work to overcome it. Fortunately, for decades, we have been making that effort, and gradually things have gotten better. First at a personal level (i.e. we don't immediately attack or flee if we see someone of a different race) and eventually at a societal level (i.e. all races have similar rights today.) But then technology arrived. And all that mental circuitry we evolved over the centuries doesn't work when you can't see/hear/interact with people. You no longer see the cashier at the store, so you lose that connection to the larger community. You no longer talk to people face to face, and so that ability to see shame (and anger, and sorrow, and all those other emotions) went away. Larger cities also caused problems. Even if stores still had cashiers, they'd change all the time - and no one can get to know even 1% of the people who live in a city like Los Angeles or New York. That link to the larger community was impossible to maintain directly. And this played into one of the more toxic US memes, the "rugged individualist" who doesn't need anyone or anything, who rides off into the sunset on his trusty horse (or his truck) self sufficient and proud of it. Of course that's a myth from the get-go - he didn't build that truck or drill for oil or refine the gas for that truck. He got it from other people. And it's a myth at a larger level, too. We cannot exist as normal people without contact with anyone else, because we need that feedback at a very basic level. We evolved to use it. Then the pandemic hit. And now not only were other people obstacles that the rugged individualist had to avoid - now they could actually kill you. People avoided society for their own protection (and the protection of that society.) There was absolutely a good reason for this, and we need only to look to Italy to see what would have happened if we had not isolated to that degree. But it certainly didn't help with the growing barriers between people. And then the right wing lost power, and they needed some wedge issues to bring themselves back into power. So again they turned to fear of the other - they used that xenophobia to their advantage. They played up the fear of immigrants who were swarming our borders and were going to steal our jobs, take over our neighborhoods, attack our women and bring drugs and crime. Fear of criminals in big cities. Fear of government agents who were going to do all sorts of nefarious things like take your guns away or disable your car remotely. Fear of the "Deep State" whatever that is. And one of the side effects of all this was the sense that you needed a gun to protect yourself from all those "others." It didn't matter that that gun might hurt others, because they were rugged individualists who didn't need anyone else, and the greatest threat was from those "other" people anyway. Another result, of course, was the radicalization and extremism we see on the web right now. It became possible to convince people that liberals were pedophiles who wanted drag queens to take over teaching kids, because if all you see is your carefully-curated Facebook page, you don't see any of those cues that once convinced you you lived in a society. And that mental machinery that classifies people as "us" and "other" starts trying to run without any of its normal input, and so comes to preposterous and bizarre conclusions. (i.e. the Lizard People, the pizza basement child sex ring, "I have to kidnap Pence to save us.") And of course the not-quite-diametric opposite of rugged individualism - socialism - has become a pejorative for one political party nowadays. The same socialism that brought us national parks, our military, our roads, the Apollo program, nculear power, the Internet - has now become a curse word for people who identify with that sort of rugged individualism. The idea of a society coming together to support something like the Apollo program is now seen as some sort of vile perversion that takes away their independence and freedom. That attempt to divorce people from society, unfortunately, works politically - because the more isolated you make people, the more you can frighten them. This is the pattern that David DePape (Pelosi's attacker) followed. Starting out as a fairly normal guy, people who knew him watched him descend into a pit of "isolation and darkness, spending his time immersed in an online world of conspiracy theories and bigotry." His former employer said that "if you got him talking about politics, it was all over. Because he really believed in the whole MAGA, ‘Pizzagate,’ stolen election — you know, all of it, all the way down the line." And of course to the right this isn't a bug, it's a feature. Because if you can do that to people, they will vote the way that republicans want them to. So I don't see a good way out of this. Once a party realizes that fear and isolation works, and they think the benefit (power and money) is worth the cost (violence and degradation of American society) there is nothing to stop them from working towards just that.