Politics Out Loud

Meatspace. No, it is not that shallow drawer in the fridge where you keep your plastic enshrouded deli slices. This is the world where human bodies actually interact, often poorly, in social and public spaces. A person can speak directly to someone else in real-time, and there is no editing after it is put out there. People with differing opinions talk and interact everyday, and it is not a big thing. People of different ethnic backgrounds, religions and political parties get work done all day long without any incidents. Yet, within fifteen seconds of scrolling down my Facebook feed, I am deluged with hate and vitriol. Why has this become a battleground? Is it because we have a cyberspace filled with Twitter and Facebook? Maybe it is because we can search for any opinion we want to find buried in online forums, blogs and click-farms?

I am not here to decry the fall of civilized society because of social media. Rather, I think it is time we learned to put social media in the right perspective. Let's just start with Facebook as a baseline. There are those that "curate" their posts thoughtfully, with definite goals in mind. Some of these people share prayers, find and link positive stories, and will post inspirational quotes by famous people. Companies use the same mechanism to reach their consumers with cheap attempts to instill perceived value into their products. "Click bait" advertising sites are now designed especially for social network sharing of stuff that you won't believe until you watch to the end. This is the effect, and counter-effects, of a personal brand concept. A personal brand is just a meatspace version of your High School image, which I believe everyone can relate to.

Back when you actually cared what others thought of you, you were careful to choose the friends you wanted others to see you with, which reflected your desired image. Shallow by comparison to grown-up life, I know. High School is a closed society, and the development of hierarchies is completely encouraged through many vectors- grade rankings, student council elections, clubs, class privileges, etc. If you wanted to be a rebel, you worked yourself into rebellious friendship circles. Whether they were actually rebellious or not is immaterial, they were just collectively thought to be rebels, and that was close enough. They matched the myth of being a rebel. If you were more of a jock, it was easy enough to find others just like you as well. Even if you never really fit into any of the big groups, there was still a place for you. The misfits. While everyone may have wanted to be one of the "cool kids" it was always a possibility to fall into the misfits by making the wrong social decision. This group may have been looked down upon by the others, but they never had the fear of being pushed out by so-called "friends" because of a social gaffe.

Opinions are everywhere, and it is fine to discuss them. I am fine with disagreeing with some very close friends, and I accept that I am sometimes side-eyed for my own actions and ideas. That is part of meatspace. There are plenty of other topics and things to discuss. Let's get back to Facebook. Actually, let's just focus on the "Like" button. That one click has created a firestorm. To begin, the number of "Likes" has become many more things that it was intended. As a simple mechanism to express agreement, it is fine. It encourages and reassures the poster that they are not alone in their thoughts or announcements, and shows that their friends can relate with their struggles and opinions. But then ego kicks in.

How many likes did I get? This is actually the undoing of our society. This is where meatspace and cyberspace diverge. As usual, it is because of self-aggrandizement. Posting is a rite of passage now. Some do it via snarky and sarcastic Tweets, others via Facebook posts and shares, and many rely on pictures alone on Instagram. Even the workplace is becoming more and more social in it's frameworks. The way you stand out is to be noticed, to cause a wave of agreement. There is nothing wrong with that in itself. If you have an opinion that resounds with those you encounter on a regular basis, then this is a strong way to bond. But, if your opinion is repeatedly ignored, that should speak loudly enough. That test balloon should be an indicator that you are an outlier on that opinion, and you might want to temper your thoughts to something more palatable. You may recognize the risk of ostracism, which means you might not get the event invites to those parties anymore. If you are not at the parties, how are you going to get tagged? Nobody wants to be that person taking selfies with your cat everyday. But that is not what happens, is it?

If a post does not get more likes than it deserves, whatever that means, then it is probably because the others don't get it. It means that your friends don't care, or they are stupid. They must be blinded by the glare of big media and lies infiltrated the ones in charge. They need help to understand how stupid and uneducated they actually are. Maybe they need to see others like you with the same opinion, or maybe have their wrong attitudes changed by sharing numbers and facts that reinforce your minority opinion. Back when the Internet was still shiny, and you were forced to articulate opinions in text, we called these flame-wars. People would start a war of words over the lamest topics and opinions. Nothing good ever came from them. No opinions were changed, no intellectual points were made, and certainly no friendships were ever forged through meaningful debate. It was exhausting.

And so the cycle continues with Politics and Religion. Name-calling, dubious facts, twisted statistics, finger pointing, and all the other classics of low discourse are presented in social media now. This is not unforeseen, but the dread of it is still just as palpable. Nothing is different, and people are still people. The sad part is that we have not grown from the experience. I take that back. The ones that did live through it, did move on to higher ground when they learned to stop feeding the trolls. You do that today with the Like button.

I wish I had a box on Facebook that I could check to stop showing me what my friends liked. I don't want to stop liking things, I just don't want to have my feed filled with friends' likes of their friends' stuff, shared by someone I don't even know which was posted by some clever stranger that can work Photoshop. Just....No.

I had rather hear the words of my friends expressing their opinions than see a bad picture of a politician with jeers overlaid. I had rather poll friends and people I know and trust for their opinion than to read what some superstar thinks of the mess. Can we take back social media from the dunces that don't get how to have a civilized discussion? It is easier than you think. Read it, and don't react. If it is just too much, understand that your assessment is valid, and simply unfollow or unfriend. When the number of followers or friends starts to drop, well that speaks for itself. If you have grown up and respect different opinions, then you are already fine and the stuff on your feed will not disturb you. In other words, the vitriol and flames are going to happen. The questions is how much grace you will exhibit in the midst of the fighting, and how you react to others that cannot grasp your own position. This is letting ego go, letting opinions remain just that without assigning right or wrong. Opinions are ephemeral, so how could they possibly hurt anyone that selects not to take them seriously? Politics and Religion, that is how. Public resources, laws, and wars are waged and funded through opinions. So, you must engage. Dammit.