Today, objectivity is reduced. More and more people get their news not from dominant consensus sources but niche providers. Just by virtue of reading this non-journalist’s blog, you are demonstrating the trend in action. This is a technologically driven splintering of the news consensus.
As we move into 2012, this trend will accelerate in two ways.
First, consumers will increasingly get their news from non-traditional sources. Social media, blogs, live fees and YouTube will be seen as more credible news sources than traditional media, because they are referred by friends and endorsed by in-group opinion. Never mind that the yellow journalism they are transmitting is often error-ridden, biased or just plain wrong. (A great example is the recent “ Iceland Revolution” story that went around.)
Second, traditional news outlets will move further from a consensus position to more radical views in order to excite their consumers and hold onto share in a hyper-competitive marketplace. This will mean more aggressive fear-mongering on the left and right.
9. Political polarization will accelerate
The polarization of news sources is both a contributor to and a result of polarization of the public.
In good times, it’s easy to take consensus positions. But the economic distress creates insecurity. People long for the certainty and easy solutions that comes from absolutes, rather than the grey positions of compromise and consensus.
The 1930s and early 1980s both saw significant economic downturns and resulting global political polarization. It’s obvious we in another period of growing polarization, one that has been underway for the last few years but is continuing to accelerate.
More voices will be heard on both the far left and far right and political parties will move to adopt some elements of these ideas. This is not to say the market for centrist ideas and compromise is to be ignored. Most Canadians will continue to be essentially moderate. Mackenzie King’s win in 1935 or Dalton McGuinty’s victory last year show the ability of strong centrists to play the “me or chaos” argument. But the likelihood of voters choosing more radical options goes up in periods of discontinuity (ie, UFO in Ontario in 1919, the CCF breakthrough in 1944, Mike Harris in 1995, Rob Ford in 2010.)
10. Showdown with Iran
There will be a significant global showdown between the United States and her allies and Iran.
2011 saw reports by the UN confirming programs in Iran had been underway to develop nuclear weapons and may be continuing. The British embassy was stormed and attempts to extend the Arab Spring to Persia were repressed violently. American authorities say they stopped a bizarre plot by Iranian backed assassins to murder the Saudi ambassador.
The United States tightened sanctions and now the EU is considering banning the importation of Iranian oil. This is would have significant dampening impact on the Iranian economy. In response, the mullahs are threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz, a major transit point for much of the world’s oil supply. They point to a captured American drone and explosions at a solid rocket development facility as evidence of American and Israeli spying and sabotage.
I am no expert on Iran, but I do know that domestic politics drive international politics. A bitter power struggle between religious and democratic conservatives in Iran is spilling into public. Only the threat of an external foe can keep the levers of power working, and compromise is not possible in those internal circumstances. At the same time, the United States, France and Germany all have major elections this year, increasing the demands on their leadership to look tough. These internal circumstances add up to increased sabre-rattling.
Basically, this domestic situation creates a type of “Prisoner’s Dilemma” where the leadership of each country can’t back down for fear of losing domestic support. This showdown will eventually reach a flash point in 2012.