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Anti-technology movements are not without serious risk

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Across the world, in varied and often disparate subcultures, many anti-technology movements have proliferated in 2018. They are often termed Neo-Luddist political constructs, with diverse philosophies - turbocharged after the release of the Netflix series Manhunt: Unabomber. As worldwide politics becomes more polarised, our dual fears of the power of big technology firms and of economic inequality have often inadvertently split those in many fields, ranging from education, philosophy, and healthcare to the traditional news media.

"Fake news" is more than what we understand it to be currently. There are core misunderstandings around seemingly simple words and phrases, especially in the English language, across the world. This is because, especially for young people, social media has fragmented our languages. Traditional and online news-media headlines, when taken out of context, can become misunderstood depending on where they are read, the tone in which they are repeated and the political climate they are echoed throughout. Populist leaders take advantage of this, both by labelling the traditional news media "fake news" and perpetuating misinformation. Whilst linguistic misunderstandings have been present since prior to the development of agrarian society, never has our planet been so connected, and never have the misunderstandings come with such high risk.

We need to reflect on how often we are misunderstood, by analysing our core ethical and political beliefs, the words we use to express them, and what we have in common across the political spectrum. We can achieve this by engaging and analysing those who oppose our views, what their core economic concerns are, and the purpose they have for spreading misinformation. There is urgency to this kind of strategic repositioning of our politics.

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Political polarisation, however, paradoxically brings opportunity where none previously existed. Those across the political spectrum can recognise two core global crises: the child mental-health crisis, and the risk of extreme far-right terrorism. By involving experts in the medical, anthropological and counterterrorism fields, these can be addressed. From my personal experience, I suspect that due to the fragmentation of the English language over social media and the dark web, that there is emotional similarity for people at risk, between the terminology of Neo-Luddist splinter movements and the extreme far right. The emotional confusion is heightened particularly in less-enfranchised younger males, who are crying out for answers, evidenced in Brazil and in the United States. The resultant tribalism, online organisation, and waves of violent crime are occurring, which will inevitably result in legislation of knee-jerk discriminatory policies across the developed world.

To counter what is clearly happening to a far greater extent elsewhere, as proposed in Victoria, Australia, a fundamental review of mental health is required, as we approach precision psychiatry. This should address compounding risk factors in political policy and social stratification with the rise of the big technology firms, resulting in careful repositioning of our strategies in regard to mental health and technology. Technology is here to stay, and all strata of society are dependent on good mental health. Both political discussion and technology, when carefully considered, can be optimally utilised in mental health by clinicians and the community, including in maintaining wellness. The political opportunities lie in focusing on the child and adolescent mental-health crisis, the necessity of economic stability, and the risks and benefits of technological skepticism, as pan-partisan constructs.

Our children and young people have never been so aware of the political climate at such young ages, and they need our reassurance that unique, even radical solutions can be found for them. By developing these novel solutions, with compassion in politics around these issues, we may begin to repair our divisions and produce a more egalitarian society.

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(Article changed on November 3, 2018 at 11:33)


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Peter is a medical registrar in Melbourne, Australia, with experience and interests in Infectious Diseases and Addiction Medicine. He is currently completing a Masters of Science (Infectious Diseases) at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical (more...)

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