[Sorry folks, but I’ve been brooding on this for the last 48 hours which has driven the possibility of fun and productive posts temporarily out of my head. Bear with my through my brief! digression into existential political season angst, just for today, and we will be back to B-Movies and nerd metal that much faster.]
I came home from work Thursday with every intention of leaving Facebook, at least until well past the elections and quite possibly for good. Things have been bad for a while, but I spent Thursday all day nauseated and utterly disgusted with the whole social media mess. I am sick and tired of folks of every political stripe who can’t disagree with others without personal attacks. And most of the time I’m convinced they don’t even realize they are doing it.
It most frequently manifests during these volatile pre-election days as “I disagree with this politician (or political position), therefore anyone who votes for them (or supports that position) is a shit eating scumbag who can’t possibly think for themselves or have any reason for their decisions.” Then, since their friends clearly are *not* shit-eating scumbags, assume that it must be true that all their friends agree with them and therefor feel free to post vile attacks on “those people.” It’s logic of a sort, but flows from false premises.
The same for religion. Someone I consider a good friend and whom I know to be a good person posted some really nasty statements about my faith. As they consider their alternate path deep and spiritual (and I don’t deny that it may well be, even though it isn’t mine) no-one they like could have those ‘backwards’ beliefs, and therefor they can’t ‘really’ be the folks said person is talking about. Apparently that makes it OK.
People are scared and hurting due to acts of violence that have happened around this nation recently, but I watched a friend this week who was brave enough to try to be honest about their confusion and fear and try to engage with others and work out those feelings, who was immediately jumped on by people in their circle determined to shut the dialogue down before it started by attacking their character for daring to express those doubts.
After a while you start to wonder if any of your friends are left who would be around if they knew the truth about your thoughts and beliefs and principles, given the horrible things they say about people who share them when you aren’t face to face. For anyone with even the mildest degree of social anxiety it is nightmarish and it is starting to cripple my ability to go out into the world and interact.
So why am I still here? I got on yesterday evening to tell folks I was dropping off and figure out alternate means of staying in touch. There was a message waiting in my inbox. My best friend’s parents’ house had burned down.
And here’s the thing, for all the vileness that social media can be used for, I still have friends who are in trouble, friends who are hurting, hell, friends who are dying and Facebook is the way we all stay connected and support one another in love. I had two good friends on two coasts having surgery yesterday, I have two others who’ve had parents in the hospital this week. I have a cousin fighting cancer for the second time. I have a friend who just announced her engagement, a nephew who had a birthday, friends whose children are doing great things. As a community, we plan our get-togethers there, organize events, raise money for charity, and find new places and activities that bring us all together. I can’t give that up. I shouldn’t give that up.
I have to do something for the sake of my emotional health. So, I block all the political sites that everyone is posting attack memes through, but it only turns the noise down a bit, it doesn’t mute it because there is always another site, always another vile meme, always another thoughtless post about the evils of some group or another. I don’t want to hide my friends themselves, then I can’t find out who needs what.
I try not to post anything much political myself, although I do like to engage others on their posts and a few things I think are important enough or interesting enough that I’d like folks to look into them for their own further education. But I doubt anything gets through the braying coming from every side of every political divide, the constant need to shout down dissent and signal our virtue to all right-thinking people (by which we mean anyone who thinks like us). I’m sick, spiritually and emotionally sick nigh unto death. Is there an answer to any of this?
The easiest answer might be a return to something as simple as that old-fashioned thing called manners. I was raised that one did not talk politics or religion socially. Not because they are inherently inappropriate subjects, but because it is very likely that in any gathering there are folks whose faction is different than yours and it is unkind and impolite to make them feel uncomfortable and unwelcome with your words.
And if avoiding the subjects altogether is too much to ask, at the least we could all do a better job of thinking through what we are actually saying before we hit ‘post’. Are you attacking a specific politician for their policies or behavior? Are you arguing for or against a specific policy position? A specific idea? Fine, have at it, I make disagree, I may even argue, but that’s a method of learning too, and a way that things and ideas can actually change.
However, if what you’re posting is an attack on every single voter for a politician you dislike, or everyone that holds a particular position, or follows a particular faith, then, unless you live in a complete bubble comprised only of your like-minded clones, I guarantee one or more of your friends falls into the category of people you’ve just attacked and probably feels pretty damned hurt and angry. This is not a way to affect positive change. It will likely cost you a friend or two in the end, but what it won’t do is change a single mind.
Why am I saying any of this? I don’t know, I feel like King Canute, failing to hold back the tide. But I’m so damned tired of nastiness and incivility and I’m stupid or stubborn enough to hope that maybe we can just treat those with disagree with as human beings with their own interests and agency instead of as speed bumps slowing the path of whichever glorious future we think are supposed to be racing to. Manners cost nothing and in a political season this volatile, maybe they’re an old-fashioned notion that is nevertheless worth exploring.