I disagree with most of Jeff’s political views. But I know him as an exemplary colleague and friend, both inside and outside the workplace. He’s a creative and iconoclastic scientist, and academia needs more people who relish challenging common beliefs, while being committed to examining beliefs based on evidence rather than expediency.
Unlike Jeff, I think the President is either a racist and a white supremacist, or someone who is happy to give cover to racists and white supremacists out of amoral self-interest. I prefer to cite the great, late Toni Morrison on this point (https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/11/21/making-america-white-again). I’m 99.9% sure Jeff and I would have a long and drawn out argument about this, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t like or respect each other.
Jeff supports the President. But Jeff doesn’t deserve the ire of an internet mob. Based on my reading of Daniel Kahneman’s classic book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, I hypothesize that much discourse on social media and internet comment boards favors rapid, intuitive, and emotional responses. By contrast, I think understanding, love, and compassion all demand slower, contemplative mental processes. That’s why I think understanding, love, and compassion are often in short supply on the internet.
In addition, I think collective human intelligence scales non-linearly. Two or three or five people are smarter than one person. But in many situations, 100, 1,000 or 10,000 people making a collective decision are far less intelligent than one person. It’s far too expensive computationally for 10,000 people to think carefully, come up with a consensus solution, and coordinate action in a reasonable amount of time. I hypothesize that this is another reason why so much of our politics is completely insane and unrelated to the real and deep problems that we face (such as climate change). But more to the point, I think it’s why internet mobs easily converge to hateful and automatic censure and judgement despite limited facts about who a person is, and what they are actually like in person.
If you are someone who judges Jeff for his words rather than his actions, or someone who judges him despite having little real-world contact with him, you should probably reconsider. It’s easy to be tolerant and compassionate toward people who are similar. But we would we better off individually and as a society if we extended that tolerance and compassion to those with whom we disagree vehemently.