There is a long-standing and frequently demonstrated sociological principle called “the law of group polarization.” It holds that like-minded people grouped together tend to converge not on the center of their shared beliefs but upon increasingly extreme versions. More confident voices in the room will drown out less confident ones, and individuals will one-up each other to assume leadership roles....So if resistance is futile, and participants in every left-wing debate inevitably defer to the angriest people practicing the purest forms of identity politics, then how did Stephen Colbert survive Suey Park's #CancelColbert campaign, after an inadequately explained allusion to Asian stereotyping went out on his Twitter feed? Why didn't we all just defer to Park and her allies? Why did Colbert not only survive but get a plum job replacing David Letterman a few weeks later, a job he's in no danger of having to give up in response to a lefty pressure campaign?
More recently, other studies have found that group polarization has an even stronger effect if the group meets not in a room but in electronic form, like a chat room....
All these findings, put together, help explain the world of online discourse we see around us. We live in a culture of outrage, nurtured by tribes of fellow believers huddling together around embers of outrage they stoke ceaselessly. The recent rise of social media has created a powerful new role for the interlocutor, framed up in the most outrageous (usually oversimplistic, and often inaccurate) terms....
Political correctness prevents the left from reasoning internally. It makes questions of identity central to all political debate, then deems those topics beyond dispute.
The answer is that even the Twitter-zombified liberals of Chait's narrative were capable of weighing Colbert's worth to them against Park's portrayal of him as a bigot. Activist mass anger is powerful, but it's not all-powerful.
I've argued in the past that people who protest against campus speakers (lefty fascists, in Chait's view) are motivated in part by the futility of bigger, more meaningful fights: against inequality, police brutality, and so on. The rich get richer, the killer cops mostly don't get indicted, and hopelessness spreads -- but Condi Rice or Ayaan Hirsi Ali can at least be compelled to go pontificate somewhere else. What Chait describes as "political correctness" triumphs when the alternative seems to be surrender. But in the Colbert dust-up, the alternative wasn't complete surrender -- being ro-Colbert also seemed progressive because, while Colbert's comedy may not change the world, at least it sometimes seems like a thumb in the eye of the powerful. And so the side Chait regards as pseudo-Marxist totalitarian leftism lost, and what he'd call liberalism won.
Meanwhile, over at Slate, Jamelle Bouie makes a very different argument about the alleged susceptibility of liberals to mass hypnosis:
... as a liberal, college-educated millennial -- the almost prototypical viewer for The Daily Show -- I’m thrilled [Jon] Stewart is leaving.But if that's the case, how did the 2008 Obama campaign happen? Whatever you think of the Obama presidency, it's undeniable that his campaign -- staffed by quite a few Stewart-watching millennials -- was extremely idealistic and, for most of its participants, not at all cynical. Why did the "Yes, We Can" brigade turn out if years of Stewart cynicism had left them contemptuous and jaded?
... I’m saying this because Jon Stewart, with his brand of left-leaning cynicism (sprinkled with occasional earnestness), is a bad example for the liberals who watch and love him.
The emblematic Stewart posture isn’t a joke or a witticism, it’s a sneer -- or if we’re feeling kind, a gentle barb -- coupled with a protest: I’m just a comedian.
... in the world of The Daily Show, the only politics is cable politics, where venality rules, serious disputes are obscured, and cynicism is the only response that works.
... for a generation of young liberals, his chief influence has been to make outrage, cynicism, and condescension the language of the left. As a comedian and talk show host, Jon Stewart has been pretty funny. But as a pundit and player in our politics, he’s been a problem.
Mass jadedness, like mass anger, is powerful, but, again, it's not all-powerful. And for that matter, why does the lefty/fascist/"PC" crowd that causes so much handwringing on Jonathan Chait's part even exist, if Stewart's made everyone such a cynic? If the kids aren't all right, are they not all right because they're fist-shaking zealots or hipster smirkers?
I think the tendencies described by both Chait and Bouie exist -- but there are countervailing factors. Bouie's smirkers stop smirking when they see a reason for hope rather than cynicism. And Chait's liberals will someone who's damned a bigot if the indictment isn't persuasive. Media-driven mass psychology matters, but not to the exclusion of all else.