I’d rather focus on stink bugs.

The political season is at a fever pitch. Anger at those who disagree with others’ political views, the result of increasing polarization, is rampant.

I don’t have the stomach for what our politics and public discourse have become.

So I focus on stink bugs.

The brown marmorated stink bug, increasingly common in Pittsburgh, originated in east Asia.

The first documented U.S. stink bug was collected in Allentown, Pa., in September 1998 after likely hitching a ride on a shipping container.

Prehistoric-looking and persistent, the creature takes any opportunity to sneak into our homes each fall to survive winter’s cold — and boy, does it stink.

Just as I turn on a good movie and flip back my recliner to escape all things political, I see one of those buggers crawling along my crown molding — puzzled at how it got there.

Then my heart sinks.

According to Prevention, when threatened, a stink bug sprays a smelly fluid up to several inches toward me as I struggle to get it into a bottle.

I loathe that smell — almost as much as I loathe modern politics, which has begun to stink even worse.

Just after capturing my latest stinky invader the other night, I watched “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix.

It argues that social media platforms are damaging our society — and our politics — by deploying powerful computer algorithms that monitor our online usage patterns to better understand our likes and dislikes, so they can hold our attention and keep us logged in.

The more we use these platforms, the more they know about us — and the more ads these platforms can sell for us to click, generating billions of dollars.

These platforms are designed to be addictive — to give us a dopamine hit when someone “likes” something we posted — so that we spend as much time as possible online, generating revenue by clicking on ads.

But it’s more than that. Social media platforms have the power to not only predict our behavior, but to shape and manipulate it — by feeding us content and friends customized to our unique likes and needs, which we find agreeable and validating.

If you have liberal views, liberal content will pop up in your news feed. If you have conservative views, conservative content will display. If you have conspiracy views, left or right, guess what you’ll see in your news feed.

Is it any wonder that fewer people are able to distinguish between bogus theories and legitimate news — and that more people discredit legitimate news as bogus theories?

If your primary information source is social media, it’s no wonder if you think those with opposing views are wrong-headed or even evil. This endless feedback cycle, designed to exploit you for profit, contributes to our increasing polarization, poisoning our political process and resulting in violence in our streets.

I lack the stomach for all the angst brought on by the closing of our minds, which is getting us nowhere and harming our country, politics and every last one of us.

My primary escape these days is preoccupying myself with the stink bugs that keep sneaking into my house.

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Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Send comments to Tom at Tom@TomPurcell.com.


I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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