Warning: many words ahead. No pictures, no soundbites . . . nothing but words expressing my opinion.
The Internet has become a contentious marketplace of canned ideas, and I have a hard time adjusting. Gone are the days of nuanced and meaningful discussions. Perhaps, those days are no more than a false memory, a figment of wishful thinking.
Whether I changed or others changed, the result is the same. It’s getting increasingly difficult to “learn” anything from anyone. Oh, sure, I can learn the canned message, the blanket generalization, the “easy” solution to whatever cause-de-jour is trumpeted by this, that, or the other side.
On a related matter, I’ve made Facebook “friends” by way of specific interests. Outside those interests, we have near-zero in common. How is that related to the opening of this piece?
I can count on very few fingers the number of people whose opinions I respect. Their opinions may be counter to mine, but they have earned my respect and I will listen to them . . . especially when their opinions counter mine.
“What does that even mean?”
Well, Bob, it has to do with a word I like:
Nuance – sensibility to, awareness of, or ability to express delicate shadings (as of meaning, feeling, or value).
Here’s a word I dislike to no end:
Dogma – a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted.
There’s very little I don’t like about the series Firefly and the movie Serenity, but I do object to Book’s dying words:
“I don’t care what you believe in, just believe in it.”
I know what the phrase means in the context of the movie but, frankly, it’s CRAP. Belief without reasoned and persistent questioning, without doubt, is dogma.
Pick whatever issue, and there are three levels of responses you should be aware of, both within yourself and others.
The first is based on idealism. Examples: there should be no poverty. There should be no crime. There should be no hate. All people should be free to live/do/follow what they believe in. All people should love and care for each other. Your view of the world around you is shaped by the highest ideals one could aspire to.
The second is based on personal experiences. Examples: you know someone who drinks or does drugs and they a) are unaffected, b) are really messed up, c) complete assholes. You know someone who is religious, atheist, liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, or anything you care to pick, and they are a) wonderful human beings, b) sanctimonious uncaring ideologues bastards, c) a mix of a & b. You decide based on what you experience. Opinions are strong in you, for thine own eyes have seen the ways of people and the world.
The third is based on peer/social pressure. Examples: you have no experience and have never met a gay person, don’t know anyone of another nationality, have little contact with people of different races, are clueless about the teachings of other religions, and so on. You shape your opinion based on what others have experienced or say they have experienced, especially if your own experiences are lacking in the subject.
Understand, I am not a social psychologist or any kind of psychologist. Also, I’m not a philosopher beyond being an observer, and a biased at that, of human nature. I’m sure there are others who will point to less or more responses based on all sorts of criteria.
The three I mention above are what I see in myself and everyone I meet. Here’s the thing; the actual response of any individual is based on mixing and matching those three responses, idealism, personal experience, and peer pressure, in various quantities.
It’s a dynamic mix and match. How much weight you give each of the responses is constantly adjusted based on what you see, hear, read, and, of course, what you experience.
All of it coalesces into weaving a “narrative”. We have narratives for everything we experience; it’s how we make decisions, and that’s good. Here’s what’s bad: we simplify those narratives so that our decisions are “easy”. Humans, for having the gift of reason, are curiously reluctant to put it to work. We want the easy decision, simple answer, clear-cut, black-and-white answer. It makes our lives simpler, you see; no thinking involved.
I mean, who needs nuances?
If you start looking at nuances, you immediately see all sorts of problems. All those idealized viewpoints ignore the basic nature of human beings. We can talk about how humans “should” behave, but that has nothing to do with reality. By definition, “ideal” is something we can and should strive for, but even then, people will differ on what “ideal” means.
Those personal experiences? Well, they only apply to you, and only in your immediate sphere of influence. You can’t even begin to understand how or why the person down the street makes decisions that are different from yours, let alone people half way around the state, country, or the world. Sure, we can all roughly agree on what is good or bad, but it’s the getting there, the details on how to achieve a goal that sets us at odds with others, especially if we can’t even acknowledge that someone else’s problem is a “real” problem. After all, can’t they see that our own problems are much more pressing and important?
Your buddies, of course, are going to agree with you; that’s why they are your buddies, right? I mean, who wants to drift away from the easy, the black-and-white, the world of certainty, and into the quagmire and confusion of a gray world? Who wants naysayers questioning our narratives?
Damn few, I can tell you.
Why this post? Because I am about to dump a whole bunch of Facebook friends.
Mind you, I have nothing against them, but they are not really my friends. We have one or two common interests, but that’s it.
“So?” you ask.
Well, the problem is that many are dogmatic in their narrative. Tribal, even, and I less I speak up, my association with them makes it seem as if I’m part of their tribe. Many post blurbs that tempt me to engage them in discussions. This is especially true when they post this or that blurb designed to enhance their own narrative and denigrate all others.
Blurbs aimed not at SOLVING a given problem, but at DIVIDING people into narrowly defined camps.
“Some tribes are good, right? They are the ‘correct’ tribes, the ones you want to belong to, right?” you ask.
Sad that, because if you ask that question you really missed the reason for this post.
Before I answer that question, let me point you HERE. I do so as an example of other voices I am beginning to hear. Few and weak, but more than used to be. I point to it because reading it from someone else might have you actually pay attention. You could also listen to THIS. Just substitute “Russians” for whatever group you want.
Here’s my answer to the question; it’s Book’s quote, but with a twist.
“I don’t care what you believe, but ALWAYS question it.”
To my Facebook current, ex-, and future friends:
- Before you pick up a flag, make sure it’s helping bridge division and discord, not promote them.
- Before you post that blurb, make sure it’s offering a solution, not merely widening the chasm.
- Before you dismiss criticism, make sure you understand what is being criticized; is it the goal, or how you are going about it?
- Before you dismiss others as unenlightened, consider their point of view; make sure it’s really crap and without merit, and not just uncomfortable for you to hear.
- Before posting something, ask yourself the reason for it . . . are you really helping, or just building your self-image?
- Before spewing your views, have you sufficiently questioned them?
- . . . and always, always, always question the easy answer, facile narrative, feel-good platitude. That way lies not progress.
Finally, if you see me fail in any of those, do challenge me with a reasoned argument. I might not ultimately agree, but you might earn my respect even as I hope to earn yours.
Many people could care less if they have my respect, so don’t put much stock in it.
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. . . my FP ward . . . chieken shit.