I think part of what I struggle with when it comes to social media is that lately I'm trying really hard to be present and think critically. I believe social media platforms are specifically engineered to trigger attention (click bait, anyone?) and thus unfairly short-circuit my efforts, and I resent it. I don't like most advertising for this reason.
I also understand it is folly to reject these forces, for the world in which we live is constructed of them and saturated with them. To try to divorce oneself completely would never succeed; I'd end up a frustrated wreck and I'd still
find myself feeling manipulated (see also: institutional racism
and Howard Zinn's You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train
). Better to take up humility, wry awareness, work to become a more awesome fellow human, and try to keep a sense of humor about it all.
That said, this post-truth hogwash drives me nuts. Partly because SCIENCE, dammit, and partly because holding myself to the standard of thinking critically means occasionally I have to choke down evidence of ideas I find distasteful. Blogger Jim Wright over at Stone Kettle Station has a couple of good essays on this, Blind Spot
and Blind Spot II
. I've been trying to unpack my own hang-ups around this for a while and it still trips me up (because SCIENCE, dammit, you can't fuck with the SCIENCE). Intellectually I understand that presenting facts that don't align with someone's strongly held beliefs not only doesn't change their mind, it's likely to backfire: they'll stubbornly stand by their argument anyway and now they're not listening to you anymore. Such is how corrosive echo chambers are born.
Emotionally, I also understand that calling someone and idiot and a liar for believing what they believe, science or no science, probably makes you a jerk. But man, I really did try to open up with people I disagreed with, set aside my emotional reaction and get past the stupid red team/ blue team banner-waving nonsense into something real. At best my results have been mixed. Sometimes we'd emerge from the encounter feeling mutually respected and moderately triumphant; other times we'd come through mentally black and blue with no one feeling good about the exchange. I try and learn to choose my battles carefully enough that I don't end up in the loony bin, but not so carefully that I paint myself into a different kind of echo chamber.
We create our realities. We build our beliefs. Our beliefs inspire passionate acts. Beliefs should be subject to scrutiny; realities are remade and perhaps passions burn less bright for this consideration. I like passion, darn it. I'm a bit sad to feel it diminished. Sometimes it seems like too high a price to pay and ferocious zealot-ism might just be preferable to enlightened insight. I believe that compassion is a different kind of inspiring force, a powerful one. But I could be wrong. Who knows?