Not Social Media

Recently I have been watching social media and the disruption to our social fabric. This isn’t of course new, it is though greater, larger and more ugly. Once upon a time Facebook and others like it came along and invaded our consciousness, invaded our lives in ways no one then could have predicted back in 2004 when Facebook first hit the internet with its innocuous and simple strategy to connect us with family and friends. Today, we are not only connected, we are divided, fighting over politics and anything else. Families are falling apart, lifelong friends are participating in virtual battles reminiscent of WWF cage matches, friends and strangers alike joining in or sitting on the sidelines with popcorn to see who will be emotionally destroyed this time. There is no room for the moderate in this new virtual reality, it is all or nothing proposition in every discussion, every issue must be pro or con, no middle ground is accepted.

I find myself at odds with the world these days. I live in the grey, not black or white, not pro or con, not yeah or nay. I am not a willing participant in the battles any longer, valuing my relationships far more than the debate I once loved. The joy of the examination no longer exists as it is no longer a literate, civil or educated one. I am no longer willing to participate, not with family and friends who I have loved for most if not all of my life. Now and then something so offends me I will offer up a thought, an opinion and then almost immediately regret it. I nearly always  find myself dragged down in the muck, mired in name calling and character assignation (mine) until I bow out of the conversation, defeated by the sheer ugliness of the attacks. These always end with me wondering how my friend or family member could sit back and allow these strangers, these new friends of theirs to attack my character and intellect without mercy simply because of my disagreement with a position. I am stunned by the vitriol within the virtual world of social media. I am brought to my knees some days, but truthfully over the past ten years this has been escalating, the introduction of social media and our ability to sit behind a computer screen to communicate without repercussion has shattered previous norms. I am always hurt by the unwillingness of my friends and family to stop the attacks, I always assume it is fear that stops them. Fear of retribution or ridicule from these friends with very specific and often extreme views.

Are we all becoming more extreme?

I constantly ask myself this question. Is social media enabling extreme views to flourish?

Another thought is, are the extreme views we see today new or simply the manifestation of what has always been part of our social fabric given a new and more anonymous outlet?

If the second question is the more closely aligned with the truth and we as a nation, as a people, are showing our true and terrible colors to the world then our descent from the ‘greatest’ nation to something less than, is well deserved. If on the other hand, social media simply provides an outlet for all the worst and is not representative of us, as a people than still we fail but we have the opportunity to redeem ourselves.

Still it seems I am at odds. The problem is, I am uncertain who I am at odds with. Am I at odds with the majority, truly I hope this is not the case? Am I at odds with friends and family who I have known a significant part of my life, I don’t think this is true as most are like me reasonable, moderate and intellectually curious? Am I at odds with those who I have politically aligned with for a significant part of my life, for better than forty years in fact. Am I at odds with the majority of my gender? Who and what am I at odds with and how in the hell do I resolve these strange disparities in thinking after all these years.

Truthfully the gaps I have found between myself and those who I would normally consider my political allies have too often become great chasms as the current environment has demanded ever more worshipful adherence to a party line moving further and further toward extremes. There is no room any longer for moderation, freedom of thought or thoughtful thinking. Any challenge is considered traitorous and opens the challenger up to being pilloried in the public square. Nevertheless, I continue to challenge. I continue to ask questions. I continue to think freely rather than being led like a lemming to the edge of the cliff. I continue to seek the best answers, no matter where that answer comes from and look for how to fix problems in the best way possible for the nation, not just for those I consider allies and friends. I still believe we have a nation worth saving for all of us. Perhaps I am naïve, yet I believe all our citizens are worth saving and while some are certainly worthy of demonizing based on their horrendous behavior, they are nonetheless part of the fabric of this nation and we must find the means to deal with them within the bounds of our laws, our norms and our hopefulness in a better future.

Someone close to me is convinced this terrible we find ourselves in today began with Barrack Obama, he has his ‘facts’ to show how this is the truth, how the election of this ‘inexperienced’ Senator from Illinois was the source of all our problems.

Someone else close to me points to Donald Trump and says the terrible is laid directly at his feet and prior to him, the nation was not this bad. She can list all the points she has that makes this true and stands firmly by her ‘facts’.

Someone else I know says Bill Clinton’s presidency and the investigation into Whitewater and then later the Monica Lewinsky scandal are where the Terrible began, where the nation experienced the first great divide. Where the polarization of the body politic first happened and that we have never truly recovered.

presidentsI think we must go much further back to find the initial cracks. The first crack, when LBJ signed Civil Rights and the parties shifted. The next with Nixon and the Southern Strategy. The continuation with Reagan and Trickle Down Economics, shifting wealth from the middle to the top creating larger and larger gaps in income each decade since. Barack Obama’s election simple brought fear to the surface, fear of other and fear that what White Folks had been hearing for years was coming to fruition, they were no longer the dominate majority. With the election of Donald Trump, that fear showed its ugly underbelly, it is manifest across the nation and of course vibrant and quivering on Social Media.

So back to where I started, does social media provide or enable a disruption to our social fabric, to norms and values? Are we enabled by the anonymous nature of social media to act on our worst nature? Do we reveal in it or is it simply easier to allow are worst angels their flight wings.

If the above is true, do we have the ability to stuff the ugly and terrible back into the box or is this it, the electronic version of The Purge where friends, family and imperfect strangers attack driving those they disagree with off in virtual bloodletting frenzies.

Comments

  1. I think social media has simply let some big cats out of the bag. Once they felt the daylight on their coats, they were ready to show their stripes and find their prides. The polarization is a result of all parties tiring of the “your freedom impinges my freedom” stance from their fellows, the corporate beasts which demand fascist support whilst claiming capitalistic exemptions, and the politicos acting in their own self-aggrandizing best interests, both philosophical and monetary.

    The sickest twist to the tale is how no one, repeat… NO ONE has had one scintilla of responsibility for the entire quagmire. Each person holds themselves innocent and victim to the other side. Whichever person, group, party or entity is opposite, or even slightly out of alignment, is fair game for demonization. The labels are slapped on, even if they are the diametrically opposed to the truth, and the package is sent on its way postage due. After all, those same “no one”s are not spending *their* money on someone who is not precisely the same.

    All empires come to an end, especially theocracies*. In doubt? Ask the Jewish nation, wherever they are. The American one seems content to be on the decline as a civilization as well as a nation. The fragments and factions all believe their beliefs are paramount and all who are not with them are against them. There is absolutely no reasoning with someone who believes, rightly or wrongly, they are being persecuted.

    I am bereft for my grandchildren. I doubt they will know anything of the United States in which I was born, warts and all, for truly it was very much a work in progress. Even today, my children cannot read about it in a book. We have returned to the old ways, of storytelling over a meal with questions, discussions and explanations. In the words of my brilliant, autistic daughter, “This is terrible and so stupid.”

    * Yes, I know the United States is a democratic republic on paper. The tax-exempt, multi-billion dollar worship industry insidiously influences the political system like the corporate beast it truly is.

    • Yes to most of this, however, I am more in awe of how the individual responds. I watch normally kind individuals suddenly turn into vicious and truly nasty mobs, ready and willing to rip friends and strangers to shreds without an single thought to consequences. I watch life-long friends turn on each other, over the most ignorant of things single words misplaced in sentences these days it seems.

      This loss of civil behavior to friends and strangers alike, this is what I find so worrisome. You are right, our grandchildren will not see the USA we were born into, the dream we were able to still see. I fear for what will be left.

  2. A thoughtful post as usual, Val. You pose many questions that have no easy answer. Perhaps we have always been divided and social media simply makes it easier to voice that difference without having to face one another. At times I want to shut down my limited social media activities, but then I don’t want to give up the good parts of it I don’t engage in arguments online but will stand up when necessary in a civil way. And I won’t give up on this country either! Nice to find a post by you.

    • That is me my friend, I don’t want to give up the good parts. I use to love the debate too, no more though. I think the social fabric is torn, we forget we are woven of a single cloth and it it important we find that again before it is to late.

  3. Before the broken fabric can be rewoven, it must completely unravel … unfortunately, we aren’t there yet. Is social media the cause? Oh no …. as you mentioned, we have a long history – or as I see it, a long string of dominos. Politically, it’s horrible – and I’m one of the few non-Trumpians who see his re-election as a high probability … and I hope this is incorrect.

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