Semi-regularly, supporters of Bernie Sanders complain about the insulting behavior of Clinton supporters, especially the labelling of them as “Berniebots,” and the like.
- A supporter of Bernie Sanders for President, who uncritically accepts everything positive about that candidate and uncritically rejects everything negative.
- A supporter of Bernie Sanders for President, who spams a discussion forum with memes ridiculing Hillary Clinton’s appearance, ideas, and occasionally, even her political positions.
When the Berniebot spams out these memes, what is the goal of the activity? Not to persuade Clinton supporters to change their votes, of course. Even allowing for the fact that they’re bots, and not thinking about what they’re doing, the bot programmer would understand that caricature and ridicule persuade no one to change a position on any subject.
I believe the activity can be laid to three intentions. First, the Berniebot gets a frisson of smug satisfaction at its own cleverness and at its own above-average intelligence. The bot is not “one of those fools” who has “fallen for” the other candidate’s lies. Nor is it “one of those hypocrites” who falsely professes liberal or progressive views.
Secondly, the bot wants the positive reinforcement of generating amusement among its compatriots. Ridiculing the outsider is a well-known tool with which groups solidify and maintain their cohesion.
Finally, the bot wants to drive away the supporters of the other candidate. On the one hand, Berniebots have free play in spamming the forum with rude messages. On the other hand, supporters of the other candidate are cautioned repeatedly to “stop the insulting behavior.” When the group is split unevenly, maybe 70-30, it’s natural for the bot programmers to want to scrape off that 30% holding the wrong views. The political circle jerk is one of the most common forms of intellectual masturbation. Sanitized conservative groups have no exclusive patent on holding members of the collective responsible for maintaining purity of thought.
This relentless pursuit of group think is one of the oldest forms of political activism. Many people are that insecure in their understanding and comprehension of complex issues, that they need constant reinforcement from “their own kind.” They have my sympathy, but not my time. I have no difficulty in maintaining my integrity in the face of fierce opposition. While the Berniebot is building up mad skillz at the meme generator, I’m analyzing voting records, reading position papers, listening to interviews, searching out background information and expert analysis. Perhaps, one of these days, a Sanders supporter will program a bot to do the same.
Many Democrats who voted for Obama in 2008 were shocked and angry at decisions he made in his first term. The willingness to sacrifice Social Security, to cut spending in social services, to “vigorously pursue” whistleblowers, to maintain NSA spying, to use drones to bomb villages back to the Stone Age. They were shocked and angry only because his speeches were the only part of his campaign to which they paid attention. I wasn’t one of them. Whichever candidate shows up on the ballot in November 2016, I won’t be surprised by the post-election behavior then, either.